Katy with snake

Wotan

Saturday 3 March
I've thought about it for a week and I still don't like Bryn Terfel as Wotan in the BBC TV version from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Bryn may sing like a god, but opera isn't only about singing, and he doesn't act Wagner's Wotan, though I don't know whether this is his failing or that of the production. Bryn plays Wotan as a seedy, shabby, shambling incompetent, who fumbles with his robe like a hungover used car salesman who's lost the cord of his dressing-gown. What's happened to Wagner's tragic hero, lover of goddesses and mortal women, powerful warrior god and dreamer of an impossible dream? Instead of being passionate and wrathful in his defeat by Fricka and then by Brunnhilde, this Wotan is simply petulant and vindictive, a petty domestic tyrant. And it matters, because unless I'm listening with my eyes tight shut (and I, for one, still need the English subtitles) I, the audience, fail to be torn apart as I should be by the clash of conflicting values, because this Wotan fails, visually, to seduce my sympathies to his side.

We've had Rheingold and Walkure; there's Siegfried to come, next week: perhaps he's better in that, but I'm not holding my breath.
Katy with snake

Towersey Festival

Breaking a longish silence to celebrate the standing ovation given to the folk-singer Roy Bailey at Towersey Festival earlier today, when he read out the letter he'd written last week giving back his MBE in protest against the British government's current foreign policy. Yay!
Katy with snake

3 July 2006: Salaam Music Village

We spent yesterday in Kew Gardens, at the Islamic music festival which was part of the Salaam Music Village festival event. Got there early, had coffee outside among the hanging baskets at a pavement café near the station, where the whole area feels so old-fashionedly civilised, or perhaps I just mean affluent and middle-class. We strolled down to the gardens and went into the Marianne North gallery, and wandered round the Temperate House, and then headed towards the pagoda and followed the music, and came upon the Yemeni group practising: one man playing a double-reeded pipe with circular breathing, and another on a drum, while three practised a dance – reminiscent, I thought at the time, of Eastern European circle dance.

The concert itself started around noon, near the lake, and we found ourselves a tree, for shade, and laid out our rucsacs and cushions in order to save a space for the friends who were joining us. There were chairs set out in rows, but almost no-one on them because of the relentless sun: a few hardy people with parasols, but almost everyone was finding spaces under the trees instead, and most people had brought picnic rugs and provisions.

There were groups from a wide swathe of the Muslim world, including China, India, Indonesia, Yemen, Iraq, Bosnia, Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan and Kenya. The Moroccan Aissawa musicians, Sufis, processed around the site with drums and remarkable, ten-foot-long narrow trumpets and, again, double-reeded pipes. The Bosnians, from Sarajevo, are a young group in all senses: put together in 2004 "in the spirit of remembrance and hope for the future", they seemed mainly teenagers, including a very powerful female vocalist and an astonishing female violinist who looked no older than 12. They perform the poems of Rumi and Hafiz, and use both classic traditional and modern Western forms.

The Yemenis, on stage, with more instrumentalists, four dancers, and in traditional dress rather than the jeans and T-shirts in which we'd seen them practising, were mesmeric. Some of the dances incorporated the ceremonial dagger (one in each hand). Whereas the practice reminded me of circle dance, the real thing suddenly paralleled English Morris-dancing, stick dancing and sword dancing, with the dancers interacting in pairs and weaving between each other, and the daggers (sticks, swords) punctuating and emphasising the movements – as well as demonstrating the degree of skill needed in order to avoid nasty injuries. Common ancestry, parallel evolution, sheer coincidence? The popular explanation that "Morris" derives from "Moorish" had I thought been discredited, but now I wonder.

It was a brilliant people-watching occasion: there were folk of all ages, ancestries, backgrounds and styles of dress. At least, I thought so; David, though, pointed out that the music as mainly from Sufi traditions, and that there were very few of the stricter Muslims there. This seems to me inevitable: my understanding of the event is that it aims to widen its audience's appreciation of the range of Islamic music, and through that an appreciation of the depth of Islamic culture. Slightly tricky ground: this necessarily includes aspects of culture foreign to, or not favoured by, some British Muslims. And I suspect that the non-Muslims Brits who were there were mostly the ones who didn't especially need lessons in not stereotyping. But I can't help feeling that nine hours of sunshine and music and being in a large, friendly, diverse crowd is a Good Thing anyway.
Katy with snake

Monday 12 June

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later … beloved laptop has given up the ghost, died, snuffed it, turned up its little grey toes. Quite suddenly, too, with no warning, just Poof! I suppose over the next few weeks I’ll discover what I lost (that is, what I’d put on it, and not also put elsewhere, since I last backed it up); it’s probably a good thing for my state of mind that I can’t remember what was in most of the email messages I hadn’t deleted; either that, or a sign that I didn’t need them anyway.

So now to go and look for a replacement. David’s pushing a Toshiba Satellite L100-171, about which I know nothing; but we’ll probably go and look at one (and others) in John Lewis.

I do like hot weather. Working the full moon late last night outside in the garden, accompanied by frogs and passing bats and miscellaneous rustlings, and the different white flowers glowing gently in the dark, was magical.

I spent the day in London, at the Tate Modern – a group of us had lunch in the restaurant at the top of the building, with a spectacular view over the river to St Paul’s and the Gherkin, and then had fun looking at different parts of the re-hang (with which I’m very impressed). The train journey into London passes through an English landscape worryingly similar to the one John Major was so mocked for conjuring up – mocked by London journalists who never catch a stopping train on a Sunday. Market towns, people on bikes, cricket matches, a car boot sale in a station car park, sheep, smooth lawns; and closer to London idiosyncratic gardens attached to suburban terraced houses; coming home, families picnicking, more cricket matches, long shadows, railway stations with fretwork roofs and latticed footbridges and neatly-kept gardens. It’s still there – still England for millions of people.
Katy with snake

Damned anachronisms!

Another good Dr Who tonight ... but why, when they have historical settings which are within living memory, don't they get someone who was there at the time, and actually remembers the period, to run through the script?

If you played the National Anthem in 1953, even on television, no-one stayed sitting down.
Katy with snake

Tate Modern, Monday 24 April

I seem to be making a habit of getting to exhibitions only when they’re on the point of closing. Today it was Rachel Whiteread’s “Embankment” at the Tate Modern, which is only on until 1 May. http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/whiteread/

Train to Marylebone, tube to St Pauls, walk across the Millennium Bridge; looking back, the top of the Gherkin was lost in low cloud.

I looked down at the mass of moulded box-interiors from above, and then I went down into the Turbine Hall and walked in and around and through. I came out thinking that she’d missed the opportunity to escape the verticals and horizontals: most of the boxes seemed to me too level, too like what I’d be trying to achieve in my own garage for the sake of tidiness, and not how boxes pile themselves up higgledy-piggledy when left to themselves.

I went and had a cup of coffee, and pootled round some of the other exhibition spaces. Typical of the way my mind works, what I remember in particular is a portrait painter from between the wars, who had two striking paintings shown; the short blurb on the wall alongside one of them included something to the effect that “the inclusion of the magnolia flowers suggests passion”. But, exasperatingly, they weren’t actually magnolia flowers at all. Doesn’t anybody check this stuff? Should I write to someone? And why can I remember this but not the name of the painter?

Then I went back to the Rachel Whiteread, and, because I was looking for them, I did begin to find the very slight off-horizontals in the stacks, and carefully and deliberately enjoyed them. I wondered how many people actually, imaginatively, grasped that these “boxes” weren’t casts of boxes themselves but casts of the spaces inside the boxes. It takes a bit of getting one’s mind around.

I also thought that if only they weren’t glued together she could have sold them after the exhibition, separately, and if she’d got, say, a fiver for each of them, it would have been a lot of money …

As usual with the Tate Modern, I found one of the most visually interesting things wasn’t an exhibit at all: it was the experience of going down the escalator between the third floor and the Turbine Hall. This escalator bypasses the second floor, which is only visible through a glass wall; but the glass wall also reflects the escalator as we’re going down on it, so there’s a simultaneous moving image in which people on the second floor, walking past the glass wall, are crossing the reflection of the people (us) descending on the escalator. I went up and did it again.

Walked back across the bridge towards the looming presence of St Paul’s Cathedral, scaffolded but draped in one of those trompe-l’oeil depictions of what it would look like if the drapery weren’t there; and I was assailed by the unexpected scent of hyacinths as I walked through the churchyard. Coming back on the train through the Chilterns, it’s very obvious that this year the ashes are out before the oaks: so a wet summer, then.