More Dreamy Pictures

I am still negotiating time zones, hotel rooms with heating systems which require a degree in electrical engineering and dodgy in-flight entertainment, so I am not quite in the frame of mind to write something substantial here. Although odd fragments of poetry keep cropping up…  So here are some colourful escapist images to feed my imagination.

Balcony garden, decoist.com
Balcony garden, decoist.com
Coolinteriors.com
Coolinteriors.com
Cats in bookshelves on Tumblr.
Cats in bookshelves on Tumblr.
Macarons in Yvoire, France
Macarons in Yvoire, France
Artwork, Art en Campagne.
Artwork, Art en Campagne.

 

Hopefully, yours too!

 

 

Surprised by Languor

P1010374Her blood is tar treacle.

The pump runs on mute,

Enchurned in inner workings,

Warped in glossy yearnings.

 

‘Where does the sweet butterfly of summer alight?

Who will be touched by gossamer twinkle?

When will it be my turn?’

 

The moment  was passed.

By far, so long ago.

By blindness, eyes firmly planted

Ahead.

Periphery be damned!

Jungle Tropics

room42.wikispaces.com
room42.wikispaces.com

If I were there

timorous would encircle to describe me

with flutter-crawl of insect wings.

Milk-white skin best left to curdle

would be my hurdle in sweltering rays.

Foliage whisper would impinge

on my dreams with rumours wild.

Somersaults turned in haste to tinge my conscience.

 

I cannot understand

this rainforest calling in me:

relentless beat of fevered blood

faraway wonder

perfection untouched.

commons.wikimedia.com
commons.wikimedia.com

Snowy Friday? Let’s Dream…

… of romantic, remote places where we could write the best work of our lives.  Never mind that there would be no internet connection and probably no corner store if you have forgotten to buy bread or milk.  One can only close our eyes (to the downsides) and dream…

Treehouse-finca-bella-vista
Finca Bella Vista, http://www.inhabitat.com
CabinWinter
Writing Cabin, Connecticut, http://www.itsnicethat.com
newforestcentre-credittbc
New Forest Treehouse Study Centre, http://www.cet.org.uk
Purple Garden Shed-Country Gardens Spring 2009
Country Gardens, Spring 2009
Tree-House-Seattle-Washington
Treehouse, Seattle. Photo credit: Will Austin, willaustin.com
island
Can’t find credit for this one, but cannot resist showing it. Please get in touch if it’s your picture.

Baumraum Haus, www.inhabitat.com
Baumraum Haus, http://www.inhabitat.com

The Washing Machine Chronicles

As a child I enjoyed spending time in the bathroom.

Not that I was vain, you understand.  I scraped my knees along with the boys, cut my own fringe and let my mother buy clothes for me, usually two sizes too big so that I could grow into them.  I did occasionally long to have red hair and freckles, in the belief that might make me as strong as Pippi Longstocking, but I didn’t lose too much sleep over it.  I seldom looked in the mirror and even resorted to the age-old trick of wetting the soap to simulate handwashing rituals I had no intention of observing.

So, no, it wasn’t vanity driving me into the bathroom.  The reason I disappeared ever more frequently in there was that this was where the washing machine was busy at work.  And at some point during the tenth or eleventh year of my life, I discovered the pleasure of sitting on the washing machine during its spin cycle.  Its rumbling vibrations brought unexpected pleasures.  I would cling on for dear life, unsure of the exact position to adopt, simply trying to avoid the sharp corners.

I must have felt there was something slightly reprehensible about this sudden passion for doing the laundry, as I used to lock the door.  I could almost slice through my mother’s rising dough of disapproval.  We were a family used to seeing each other naked.  No shame culture in our house!  But I instinctively knew that these pleasing thrills were best kept to myself. And the bathroom door was the only one with a lock in our house.

It took me a few more months – or maybe years (I was not a precocious child in this respect)- to realise that these delicious sensations could be replicated without the baritone growl of the washing-machine, or a cramp-inducing climb.  I made sure I made up for any lost opportunities.  Seasons came, seasons went, and so did family, friends and lovers.  For a while, I went astray and betrayed the washing-machine with a succession of dry-cleaners.

The next washing-machine, the one in my marital home, was no longer all sharp, masculine corners.  The modern forms were softened, rounded, pure femininity, a collusion in my oppression.  Its location now moved to the kitchen, where there never was any privacy, it now became subject to tantrums and food-throwing, and witness to my staggering up and down the stairs with overfilled laundry baskets, in search of the perennially lost sock.

I had no tender feelings for the washing machine.  Its noisy yammering reminded me too much of a petulant toddler.  Its mouth too wide and hungry, never quite satiated, never quite done.

I wish I could talk of redemption, of how the washing machine, in whichever of its incarnations, inspired me to or reconciled me with or taught me about something.  But that would be untruthful.  Real life does not offer neat, circular solutions. Instead we stagger off into endless linear distances, petering out in our own boredom.

So the truth is this: despite my best care and Calgon, the washing machine developed clogged arteries and flooded messily at random intervals.  I couldn’t really use it much, so it became a repository for magnets and a jar of change.  Postcards from places with names that still had the power to provoke the dreaming: Samarkand, Seychelles, Salvador de Bahia.

Now that I seldom use it, I miss it.  Its virile force, its clueless humming, the daily bustle.  I watch it in its idleness and I wonder where it all went wrong.

Rereading ‘The Great Gatsby’

I blithely said at some point that I would write regularly about the writers who have most inspired me.  Well, not only have I not been ‘regular’ about it, but – with some ‘dare you to’ from Marilyn McCottrell over at the very funny and wry Memos from the Middle blog – I will also now break my promise about sticking to the less obvious suspects.  Yes, I will brazenly talk about that much-praised, over-analysed book called ‘The Great Gatsby’, a.k.a. ‘The Great American Novel’ by some.

I don’t know how many times I’ve read this and it does seem to get better and better with age.  I suspect that my infatuation with it in my youth probably had something to do with the image of Robert Redford at the swimming pool, waiting for Daisy’s phone call, pouting beautifully and moodily in the mid-distance.  This was the movie adaptation of it, of course, sumptuously clothed and filmed (quite a bit of it in England, incidentally), but ultimately not considered a triumph by the critics.  The upcoming adaptation of it, with Leonardo Di Caprio in the title role… well, I beg to reserve judgement, but suspect he cannot quite replace Redford in my mind.

Yet, no matter how much I love it, I’ve been surprised that it’s considered the ‘Great American novel’, because it seems so far removed from the confidence, language and bluster that much of the American literature has. Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, Hemingway – there are so many contenders for the title of the Great American Novel, but this one seems atypical.   It certainly talks about the dangers and the failure of the American dream, which is perhaps why it has grasped the public’s imagination for so long (and why it is being remade as a film and also currently onstage as a musical these days). The long sentences, the tentative statements, the moral ambiguity make the novel feel European in many ways.

There are some things that struck me instantly when first reading the novel and that have stayed with me since: the description of Daisy’s thrilling ‘money’ voice, the green light at the end of the pier, Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes towering on a billboard above the grey badlands.  Oh, yes, F. Scott Fitzgerald is clever with his symbolism, foreshadowing of tragedy, the recurrence of the eye image, all of that.  I remembered that clearly from my previous readings.

But here are some things that I did not quite remember, or maybe only just now noticed:

1) Although it’s such a short novel, it does not feel rushed.  The pace is leisurely, gentlemanly.  For heaven’s sake, it does not even plunge straight into the story, but opens instead with a statement by the narrator, Nick Carraway, of just how uncritical and non-judgemental he has taught himself to be (thus breaking all the rules given to fledgling writers).  And the novel does not end with Gatsby’s death or pathetic funeral, but with the author painstakingly tying up all the loose ends, while the narrator muses cynically and at length about all of the characters in the drama.

Book cover for the Great Gatsby2)I had forgotten just how long and complicated his sentences are, abounding with semi-colons, commas,  adjectives, piling of details – accumulation which works wonderfully in the chapter describing Gatsby’s extravagant parties.

‘By seven o’clock the orchestra has arrived, no thin five-piece affair, but a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos, and low and high drums…. The groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath; already there are wanderers, confident girls who weave here and there, among the stouter and more stable, become for a sharp, joyous moment the centre of a group, and then, excited with triumph, glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices and colour under the constantly changing light.’

Occasionally, this can lead to some meandering but intriguing side alleys, which just adds to the unhurried pace of the narration.  And yet each details feels perfectly placed and not all superfluous.

3) I had also forgotten that Nick Carraway is such an unreliable narrator, despite his initial exhortation that ‘I’m inclined to reserve all judgements’.  I had initially taken his character assessments at face value: ridiculed silly Myrtle, condemned brutish Tom Buchanan, despised shady Wolfsheim, was wary of the golfing Jordan Baker.  My perception was coloured first by Gatsby’s naive dream, then by Nick’s cynicism.  Now I have begun to distrust Nick’s version of events, his critical and often far too self-righteous tone, his tone of omniscient interpreter of events.  I feel more pity and empathy for all of the characters, even Daisy, who ultimately fails not because she is a horrible, weak, selfish and self-centred person (although she is all of that too), but because she is human, not the goddess that Gatsby had built her up to be in his memory.

4) There are layers beneath layers beneath layers in this rich book – which is why I never tire of it.  There is no simple answer or explanation or solution.  There have been so many interpretations of it: a condemnation of wealth and excesses, the hollowness of materialism and the American Dream built upon it, the impossibility of replicating the past… yes, it is about all of that and more.  It triggers something within the readers, puts all sorts of ideas in their heads and feelings in their hearts, which cannot be easily summarised.  There is one instance when Nick says ‘Life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all’.  And supposedly we are looking at this story though a single window, Nick’s window of insight.  Yet Fitzgerald has the skill to hint at multiple windows and to reveal the complexity and ambiguity of something far deeper.  There is something here we can barely explain but can only feel, like an image half-glimpsed, half-imagined in the moonlight.  There is always that hint of something ‘almost remembered’, an ‘elusive rhythm’, which we have to believe in to get through the everyday.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on ‘The Great Gatsby': did you love it or hate it, especially if you had to read it at school? And do classics get better when you reread them?  What have you recently discovered upon rereading an old favourite?