DAY 231: Ein kurzer goldener Zeit

November 30th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

We all consider the stream of time, or consciousness, as it flows past us, in different ways, we wouldn’t be different people if we didn’t; and a fine muddle we’d be in if we were the same people. But I’ve started digressing before I’ve even started. My theme today if I can stick to it is how we think about our lives, looking back at them; which I’ve been doing from time to time. Particularly since an exceptionally thoughtful Nablus student
(no, I won’t tell you who), who I was ‘testing for her level of English’ – so as to put her in the ‘right’ conversation class – asked me: ‘What was your most effective experience?’ This immediately turned the tables on who was testing who or whom or for what. After some disentangling, it became clear that she meant ‘experience which had an impact on your life’, and told me a story involving some sort of hallucination or

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waking death or one of those things.

I’ve never had any such experience having steered clear for the most part of those substances with which many of my friends used to fuck up their heads (this is not meant in a spirit of criticism; and many of them went on to be professors or barristers or CEOs of indeed drug companies and good luck to them). Oddly, after about four minutes’ thought I concluded – at the age of 77, which I then was, that my most effective experience was that of becoming, with a group of mostly ridiculously young friends, involved in the already desperate situation of the refugees in the Calais jungle, and trying both to understand it (the situation – are you still listening?) – in all its ramifications, and to do something about it. And to watch it as the French and British authorities did everything within their power to make a crisis into a disaster. That is, my most effective experience was about three months back. Had I lived? ObviouslyI had, in spades: I won’t bore you with a list of the amazing people I’ve met, places I’ve been, the highs, the lows, the evenings at the opera in Verona or in intense discussions with tiny left groups,the failed attempts to make crême brûlée or makhlouba, the broken ribs and noses gained while climbing frozen fells under the influence of this or that, the unwritten papers on the shape of the universe, the nights walking up and down trying to get a succession of

migrant-628095children to stop crying,… Maybe my memory had mysteriously lost a large chunk; but maybe the most recent events had become for whatever reason hugely more significant.. And I cling to the belief that this is because they are; what is happening now is of huge importance and, however horrible it may be, we have to keep our eyes focused on it.

And (this is the significance of my title – for it does have one – that in all this mêlée of my life, the three months which I spent concentrated on the jungle, before it was destroyed, and before (rather earlier) my knees stopped working do stand out as a short golden age – the attentive reader will have picked up the reference to Azdak’s rule in Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Not as an age of justice, no one could claim that in those days – but as a time of friendship. I’m glad and lucky to have lived through that time; and when I meet others who share those memories, and who know how much worse it is now, and will be, and how much still to do, there’s a bond.

And you, reader? Because, obviously, your memories are at least as important as mine and I’d be happy to sit and listen to them if you’d only talk. The problem with a blog – do you have this, my fellow bloggers – is the constant sense that you are talking to yourself.  (What would have happened, I wonder, if the Wedding Guest had broken in on the Ancient Mariner: ”Funny you should say that, I had a similar
albatrossproblem with albatrosses myself..”) Isn’t it often more fun to be a listener? Which was your most effective experience? The protocols, I know, are many these days involving not interfering in others’ trauma, boundaries, and all that stuff. As Bob Dylan memorably said, I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours.

At the Movies

Have I mentioned Sue Clayton’s really good film ‘A Case to Answer’? documenting the destruction of the jungle, and the chaos and dispersal and betrayal of the children who lived there. I saw it for the second time last week, and it improves. I contributed some pitiful amount of money to the funding, and as a result my name’s on the credits which is quite bizarre to me.

I’ve mentioned Bob Dylan; and here in a mood of unashamed nostalgia is his 1963 song ’Bob Dylan’s Dream’ (a riff on the classic Lord Franklin, of course); with its tribute to lost youth and friendship. It seems vaguely fitting.

 

DAY 230: Last things

November 19th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink


Skipping all these trivia which I’ve been concerned with for oh so long about the state of the world and all the people in it who are constantly being oppressed and dying and that kind of stuff, I realised yesterday on listening to an amazing performance of Die Winterreise interspersed with readings from Derek Jarman’s diaries when he was dying of AIDS that I haven’t spent much time thinking about my approaching end. Try, there’s not much wrong with me apart from epilepsy, rheumatic knees which lead to appallingly slow walking, the occasional incontinence and… in short, nothing you die from. I’m more likely, as all my friends keep pointing out, to get run over if I keep jaywalking at 1 m.p.h. [I'm not alone: An item in Singapore's 'The New Paper', reporting an elderly jaywalker,

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adds: 'She was not alone. In just 30 minutes, The New Paper saw at least 10 elderly citizens jaywalking along a stretch on North Bridge Road, resulting in many close shaves.'] Still, you get drawn to wondering about what kind of a send-off you’d like, even if (especially if) you aren’t there to see it. During the longueurs characteristic of Quaker meetings, it’s a distraction to read the section on how to do your funeral in Quaker Faith and Practicealthough if you don’t want a ‘celebration of your life’ as is the fashion – what is there to celebrate? – I’d sooner have one of the cool Anglican lady vicars from St Pancras

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which I’ve started eclectically attending booming ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life’, an unbeatable start. I don’t suppose that my idea of being cremated and having my ashes scattered in the Jungle will get much traction – it would fall foul of either customs or immigration. Can I get Heloise Werner to sing ‘Aperghis’ Recitation N.9 ? Not unless I’d prebooked, and how would I do that?

Anyway, friends, you know what you’ll want to do on that dark day when I stop bothering, and there’s nothing I can do to stop you. You can play a selection of my favourite tracks, or read my favourite poems; though I’ve given you so many of both it would take much too long. You can dance, or run half-marathons to raise money for Phonecredit for Refugees (say) or Haringey Migrants Support Centre. I’ll be past caring, as I keep stressing.

Here’s a track I haven’t given you yet, and it seems relevant;  Purcell’s cheery ‘When I am Laid in Earth’ aka Dido’s lament.

And here’s ‘Le Cimetière Marin’, by Paul Valéry. I’m not asking either for it to be read at the ceremony (it’s pretty long) or for me to be buried in the cemetery at Sète, which Georges Brassens didn’t get (or didn’t want). It’s a cemetery too far.

Ce toit tranquille, où marchent des colombes,
Entre les pins palpite, entre les tombes ;
Midi le juste y compose de feux
La mer, la mer, toujours recommencée !
O récompense après une pensée
Qu’un long regard sur le calme des dieux !

Quel pur travail de fins éclairs consume
Maint diamant d’imperceptible écume,
Et quelle paix semble se concevoir!
Quand sur l’abîme un soleil se repose,
Ouvrages purs d’une éternelle cause,
Le temps scintille et le songe est savoir.

Stable trésor, temple simple à Minerve,
Masse de calme, et visible réserve,
Eau sourcilleuse, Oeil qui gardes en toi
Tant de sommeil sous une voile de flamme,
O mon silence! . . . Édifice dans l’âme,
Mais comble d’or aux mille tuiles, Toit !

Temple du Temps, qu’un seul soupir résume,
À ce point pur je monte et m’accoutume,
Tout entouré de mon regard marin ;
Et comme aux dieux mon offrande suprême,
La scintillation sereine sème
Sur l’altitude un dédain souverain.

Comme le fruit se fond en jouissance,
Comme en délice il change son absence
Dans une bouche où sa forme se meurt,
Je hume ici ma future fumée,
Et le ciel chante à l’âme consumée
Le changement des rives en rumeur.

Beau ciel, vrai ciel, regarde-moi qui change !
Après tant d’orgueil, après tant d’étrange
Oisiveté, mais pleine de pouvoir,
Je m’abandonne à ce brillant espace,
Sur les maisons des morts mon ombre passe
Qui m’apprivoise à son frêle mouvoir.

L’âme exposée aux torches du solstice,
Je te soutiens, admirable justice
De la lumière aux armes sans pitié!
Je te tends pure à ta place première :
Regarde-toi! . . . Mais rendre la lumière
Suppose d’ombre une morne moitié.

O pour moi seul, à moi seul, en moi-même,
Auprès d’un coeur, aux sources du poème,
Entre le vide et l’événement pur,
J’attends l’écho de ma grandeur interne,
Amère, sombre, et sonore citerne,
Sonnant dans l’âme un creux toujours futur !

Sais-tu, fausse captive des feuillages,
Golfe mangeur de ces maigres grillages,
Sur mes yeux clos, secrets éblouissants,
Quel corps me traîne à sa fin paresseuse,
Quel front l’attire à cette terre osseuse ?
Une étincelle y pense à mes absents.

Fermé, sacré, plein d’un feu sans matière,
Fragment terrestre offert à la lumière,
Ce lieu me plaît, dominé de flambeaux,
Composé d’or, de pierre et d’arbres sombres,
Où tant de marbre est tremblant sur tant d’ombres ;
La mer fidèle y dort sur mes tombeaux !

Chienne splendide, écarte l’idolâtre !
Quand solitaire au sourire de pâtre,
Je pais longtemps, moutons mystérieux,
Le blanc troupeau de mes tranquilles tombes,
Éloignes-en les prudentes colombes,
Les songes vains, les anges curieux !

Ici venu, l’avenir est paresse.
L’insecte net gratte la sécheresse ;
Tout est brûlé, défait, reçu dans l’air
A je ne sais quelle sévère essence …
La vie est vaste, étant ivre d’absence,
Et l’amertume est douce, et l’esprit clair.

Les morts cachés sont bien dans cette terre
Qui les réchauffe et sèche leur mystère.
Midi là-haut, Midi sans mouvement
En soi se pense et convient à soi-même …
Tête complète et parfait diadème,
Je suis en toi le secret changement.

Tu n’as que moi pour contenir tes craintes !
Mes repentirs, mes doutes, mes contraintes
Sont le défaut de ton grand diamant …
Mais dans leur nuit toute lourde de marbres,
Un peuple vague aux racines des arbres
A pris déjà ton parti lentement.

Ils ont fondu dans une absence épaisse,
L’argile rouge a bu la blanche espèce,
Le don de vivre a passé dans les fleurs !
Où sont des morts les phrases familières,
L’art personnel, les âmes singulières ?
La larve file où se formaient les pleurs.

Les cris aigus des filles chatouillées,
Les yeux, les dents, les paupières mouillées,
Le sein charmant qui joue avec le feu,
Le sang qui brille aux lèvres qui se rendent,
Les derniers dons, les doigts qui les défendent,
Tout va sous terre et rentre dans le jeu !

Et vous, grande âme, espérez-vous un songe
Qui n’aura plus ces couleurs de mensonge
Qu’aux yeux de chair l’onde et l’or font ici ?
Chanterez-vous quand serez vaporeuse ?
Allez! Tout fuit! Ma présence est poreuse,
La sainte impatience meurt aussi !

Maigre immortalité noire et dorée,
Consolatrice affreusement laurée,
Qui de la mort fais un sein maternel,
Le beau mensonge et la pieuse ruse !
Qui ne connaît, et qui ne les refuse,
Ce crâne vide et ce rire éternel !

Pères profonds, têtes inhabitées,
Qui sous le poids de tant de pelletées,
Êtes la terre et confondez nos pas,
Le vrai rongeur, le ver irréfutable
N’est point pour vous qui dormez sous la table,
Il vit de vie, il ne me quitte pas !

Amour, peut-être, ou de moi-même haine ?
Sa dent secrète est de moi si prochaine
Que tous les noms lui peuvent convenir !
Qu’importe! Il voit, il veut, il songe, il touche !
Ma chair lui plaît, et jusque sur ma couche,
À ce vivant je vis d’appartenir !

Zénon! Cruel Zénon ! Zénon d’Êlée!
M’as-tu percé de cette flèche ailée
Qui vibre, vole, et qui ne vole pas !
Le son m’enfante et la flèche me tue !
Ah ! le soleil . . . Quelle ombre de tortue
Pour l’âme, Achille immobile à grands pas !

Non, non ! …. Debout ! Dans l’ère successive
Brisez, mon corps, cette forme pensive !
Buvez, mon sein, la naissance du vent !
Une fraîcheur, de la mer exhalée,
Me rend mon âme . . . O puissance salée !
Courons à l’onde en rejaillir vivant !

Oui! grande mer de délires douée,
Peau de panthère et chlamyde trouée
De mille et mille idoles du soleil,
Hydre absolue, ivre de ta chair bleue,
Qui te remords l’étincelante queue
Dans un tumulte au silence pareil,

Le vent se lève! . . . il faut tenter de vivre !
L’air immense ouvre et referme mon livre,
La vague en poudre ose jaillir des rocs !
Envolez-vous, pages tout éblouies !
Rompez, vagues! Rompez d’eaux réjouies
Ce toit tranquille où picoraient des focs !

DAY 229: The day of the onion

November 16th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

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So here I was again finally, after, I calculate, about eighteen months, back in the old warehouse; or if you prefer  it, the new warehouse (there are more renovations to come), peeling onions in a group of about a dozen volunteers, with bruised nails and smelly fingers. Calais never stops being Calais in some way; but how dreadfully, how drastically it’s changed

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since the barbaric destruction of a year ago! Where the same kitchen and warehouse had served a kind of community, with shops and schools and mosques; now it fed a huddled mass of a
thousand people (including, of course, children), constantly deprived of shelter. The feeding only took place at set distribution points as a result of a successful lawsuit; the vans which took food to the refugees were (are) liable to be stopped by the CRS and have non-food items such as blankets confiscated.

 Under what law are these absurd cruelties being perpetrated, and with what aim? Macron, the newly elected ‘centrist’ president is happy that the north of France, under the ongoing state of emergency, should become a permanent police state. Agamben, thou shouldst be living at this hour! (He is, of course, alive, a sprightly 75; and for all I know is involved in the struggles of refugees to survive in his native Italy.) I got a backache, was found a chair,felt better, and failed to go on a ‘distribution’, the only allowed contact between the kitchen and the actual migrants. I met up with a couple of old friends from two years back – but where are the people I remember from those days? Some have made it to England, some may be dispersed over France; but there’s always the lingering fear of those who may have frozen or been beaten to death. Virginie, Zimako, Liz Clegg, I assume have moved on

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Where to?

A student standing next to me on the onion peeling table asked how old I was, I said 78. (Yes, that’s it, reader, if ere theyou’d forgotten or lost track or I never told you anyway but who cares?) Awesome, she said, as people do; and then turning to the philosophical or historical implications, said: ‘I wonder if I’ll be here peeling onions when I’m 78.’ I find the imagination it takes to ask this question breathtaking, and not surprisingly I was quite at a loss for an answer. I hope this world, rather than destroying itself, will have turned into a decent and humane place where, if people continue to flee wars, they are welcomed. I hope for many things, but what nightmares the next forty years may have in store for my beautiful neighbour (aside from disease, rejection in love, loss of loved ones, poverty, persecution and so on) – I hate to think. That we should continue to peel onions and collect blankets and help those who need them (the onions and the blankets), although far from ideal, is perhaps not a terrible outlook. Jesus said that we’ll always have the poor with us, and you have to assume he knows.

 

 

DAY 228: Viral

November 7th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

It’s been a one-off celebration in the life of this blog. one when the possibility of a huge virtual audience could be glimpsed. First, just before lunch, came an admission from a near-stranger, that she admired one of the previous posts (it was the unusually well-crafted one in which I wove together Calais (of course), Lesvos and Bethlehem and added a bit of Sappho to show that the world was not always as ruthless as it is now; there were times when one could spend one’s time going into one’s feelings about how godlike, nay frenzied, it felt to be close to a significant other person. And then when I mentioned this fact to another friend, she owned up to being a secret admirer too. Maybe all this ranting has not been words thrown at the wind. If I’ve gained two unknown readers in a day, why not 2K? Let me not go berserk.

But the first contact led to more: a commission to write about ‘any aspect of my experience (as a volunteer) which I wished to share’. Where to start? Setting aside the five volunteer roles which I’m rather incompetently filling at the moment, I’d go back to a couple of days in September 2015 when I strolled down to ‘The Hive’ in Dalston where a newly formed organisation called CalAid was collecting donations for the jungle. I joined in and sorted shoes, not for the last time, with twentyish volunteers; and had the opportunity to observe the formation of an NGO. Little CalAid already, it was clear, had two levels of membership – the leaders, who talked loudly to the press (they’d turned up, in Dalston, in September 2015, to observe this new phenomenon) about their ideals and their mission; and the rank and file e.g. me who sorted shoes, socks, blankets et al. and put them in bags. (I later met several people who shared memories of the sorting experience, though I never met any of the leaders again.)

Calaid unfortunately mushroomed, moved to Slough or somewhere unreachable, and transferred most of its  operations to Greece. I started taking trips to Calais and volunteering in the warehouse;

warehousewhich had the same hierarchy with different coloured hi-viz but no self-important leaders speaking to the press. It became a community in which I felt at home. It couldn’t last.

My last experience of ‘Calais’, still jungly, was in May 2016 when an event called The Big Cleanup’ was being staged; I went, with Leo, Hala, Matt, Liz, to dredge some pretty repellent not to say dangerous ditches (rats on the macroscopic level and who knows what on the microscopic.) To add to the drama, I went on a stroll, fell over (again!), and recovered over a generous cup of tea with some Syrians; we chatted, and my host, since escaped to the U.K., is now a friend, has leave to remain, and is enrolled on a degree

What exciting times we live in! At the age of 79, I wasn’t really prepared to live in them; but nor, I expect, was anyone else. I spend Tuesdays worrying about asylum claims, which is a pleasure if they aren’t your own. As Right to Remain reports, for example, last year’s case ‘MST and Others (national service – risk categories (CG)’ shook up the rules on Eritrea  ‘The judgment is long (459 paragraphs) but if the country guidance case could be useful in your case or that of someone you are supporting it’s a good idea to try and read it all!’ What sort of advice is that to the gritty-eyed asylum lawyer? And when I start on the said MST, looking for guidance, I find sentences like:

‘However, since there are viable, albeit still limited, categories of lawful exit especially for those of draft age for national service, the position remains as it was in MO, namely that a person whose asylum claim has not been found credible cannot be assumed to haveeritrea left illegally.’

My brain starts spinning – surely there are too many negatives here?  What can be assumed if my claim has not been found incredible? I’d rather cut the assumptions and just leave, credibly or not.

But I’ve strayed much too far from my original narrative of life as a volunteer in Calais. And it’s an ongoing life, as is yours, reader, until that one of the Fates who holds the scissors decides to give it a

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merciful snip.

Where next on this adventurous textual journey? What further horrors does 2017 have in store for us, recalling that it still has nearly two probably bloodstained months to run?

Music

How long is it since we had a bit of Bach? (Not long enough, I hear from the admirers of Nat ‘King’ Cole and Tansy Davies; but you can’t please everybody), so here, strictly to please myself, is the cantata ’Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen’, BWV51. My friend Sharif has come up with a poem, so I’ll add that in with permission [and as Sharif and I are both volunteers on the phone credit programme, this brings us back to 'my life as a volunteer'.]

Poetry
Sharif Hasrat
At the desert of my heart
You came from unknown
You rise from nothing
You lush like a rose
From the dust
I rise to you the sun of my soul to grow you up
I watered you with the midst of my lips and years to quench your thirst
you had no shade
And the shade that you had
Was made from my being
To you
If I were not there
You would not be
You came to me
For God created me and then all things to me
The shining sun made you dry
The passing nights made you grey
Your beauty fade away
But the love that you earned from my heart
Grew day by day
You forgot all
For the time made you pride in the mirror of selfish
so one day when I needed shade
you went away
with a passing caravan
We all alone we all die alone
None is for anyone
Thanks for reminder