According to Garrison Keillor “a postcard takes about fifty words gracefully, which is how to write one… fifty words is a strict form but if you write tiny and sneak over into the address side to squeeze in a hundred, the grace is gone and the result is not a poem but notes for a letter you don’t have time to write…” These are my Postcards from France:
Polling ahead of next week’s elections suggests Scottish Independence is a step nearer. 170 European cultural figures have signed a letter urging that Scotland be given a ‘unilateral and open offer’ to rejoin the EU. Among them, director Richard Eyre (England), political scientist Kalypso Nicolaïdis (Greece), novelist Elena Ferrante (Italy) and philosopher Slavoj Žižek (Slovenia).
Scottish poet and former makar (National Poet) Jackie Kay writes that it’s “in the DNA of our country to be open-armed and internationalist in spirit and it goes against the grain for Scotland to be torn away from our European family”. Writer Ian McEwan believes Scotland will thrive again in Europe “as other small nations do.”
Everything That Rises Must Dance, Complicité’s dance celebration captures large crowds of women weaving fragments of folk dance into the minutiae of daily life. A living archive of contemporary female movement, a political gesture, an anthropological exercise, exploration into the gestures that make us us. It’s a joyous communion, the creation of a new ritual.
Another (unpaid) work meeting at work. The last was to tell us our hours had been slashed, the one before bad news about pay. “Ushering in the next phase of education” this week’s meeting will take place in a virtual co-working space “so realistic it’s like you are actually there”. Entering “a virtual 3D world” we’ll “move through the building with our personal avatar.” Guess where this is leading…..
Playgoers in 1594 might have seen Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, a play directors often get wrong making it slapstick, two-dimensional, rather than dark, beautifully poetic, magical. 1594 was probably also the year Shakespeare’s theatrical equivalent of a video nasty, Titus Andronicus, was first performed in which Livinia has her hands cut off and tongue cut out to prevent her from naming her rapists….
Flash mobs are appearing in France to perform Danser Encore. Here they are in fine voice at the Gare de l’Est in Paris protesting government restrictions: “Fear of death does not kill you but it does prevent you living” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GN5B27zT29Y&ab_channel=PiafEdit
Shakespeare’s birthday and I’m listening to his sonnets read by a wonderful cast that includes David Tennant, Fiona Shaw, Patrick Stewart, Simon Russell Beale, Jemma Redgrave and Cis Berry (to name a few). Each poem read is both familiar friend and new delight. Or, to borrow a phrase, Age cannot wither him nor custom stale his infinite variety …
“Shakespeare has more wisdom and insight about our lives, about how to live and how not to live, how to forgive and how to understand our fellow creatures, than any religious tract. One hundred times more than the Bible. I’m sorry to say that. But over and over again in the plays there is an understanding of the human condition that doesn’t exist in religious books”. Trevor Nunn interviewed, 2014.
Reading the ‘paper in 2021 is rarely uplifting but The Royal Court has come up with a way of making it less depressing. The pioneering venue that rose to fame commissioning new writing (notably in the 1950s) has divided itself up into the sections of a newspaper, employed 300 freelancers and is putting out editions of “Living Newspapers” in Pandemic Britain.
The idea of a “Living Newspaper” was inspired by a federally-funded project devised in America during the Depression. A response to social concerns in difficult times, it in turn had been inspired by Russian propaganda techniques used during the Revolution and ideas explored in by Elmer Rice and Bertolt Brecht 1920s Germany: the value of drama as a vehicle for social change.
An online petition states that since the last election the right to freedom of expression has been disappearing in Toulouse. It began subtly by banning “the right to musical instruments” down by the banks of the river: “a city without open-air music is a city without air” the petition reads; “making music is not a crime.” So far, more than its garnered more than 5000 signatures.
“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country… corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed” – C19th Abraham Lincoln in prophetic mode.
It must be a cultural difference: for me, a hedge is to give a garden privacy. One one side, neighbours keep tearing down plants that grow above 1m20; on the other a man who still can’t, after 5 years, bring himself to say “Hello” is constantly crawling around between his hedge and my fence, staring into our yard, ostensibly looking for caterpillars.
Decades after Ronald Reagan and fellow conservatives tried to convince the public that homelessness was “a lifestyle choice,” increasing numbers of at-risk people – poor, in poor health – are being left to fend for themselves on the streets. Rather than providing shelter, creating jobs and schemes to break the cycle, society choses to criminalise the homeless.
In 1547 King Edward VI, aged 9, introduced a Vagrancy Act that branded any able-bodied person out of work for more than three days with the letter “V” and sold into slavery for two years – or a life time of slavery if they ‘reoffended’. Homeless children were “put to service” and the elderly poor set to work.
2021: Fifty local authorities in England and Wales have banned the homeless from town centres. The dispossessed are fined, sent to prison, made criminals for begging or “loitering.” That vicar’s daughter, Theresa May, worsened matters when as Home Secretary she “strengthened powers to combat antisocial behaviour.”
When did tear gas become a “normalised” form of law enforcement? Developed as a chemical weapon in time of war, designed for physical and psychological torture, it was later banned under the 1925 Geneva Protocol and Chemical Weapons Convention (1993). Nevertheless authorities commonly use tear gas on the streets of so-called democracies to disperse crowds gathering to exercise basic human rights.
High resolution cameras; military grade lenses; orchestrated scores that tell us how to feel; slow motion; time lapse sequences; long-exposure shots of night skies – Nature films have never been more popular but they perpetuate a myth of wilderness covering the planet, pure water, clean air, plentiful forests, animals endlessly free to roam. The reality is very different. We live in an overly-humanised world.
It’s suicidal, the way we treat this planet we call home. The relationship between humans and the natural world is broken, with catastrophic results. Biodiversity, guardianship, responsible land use are all vital to our existence. We need to transform economic systems to reflect the ‘natural capital’ that underpins our economic prosperity.