Tuesday 29 July 2008

Saturday 12 July 2008

Gone on retreat


How I loved this! The joy I feel looking at Vermeer plus the joy I feel looking at Morandi, but also finding something more overtly personal and troubled than in either of these. Troubled, therefore real and resonant. But the light, the lines, the patterns so utterly, satisfyingly beautiful. I stood before Vilhelm Hammershøi's paintings and felt such deep aesthetic pleasure that all the tense, sick weariness slid from my body. Wow.

Friday 11 July 2008

Park Slope

Park Slope is where I stayed, in a Bed & Breakfast, when I arrived in Brooklyn last year. Shady streets of shabby-pretty renovated brownstones sloping towards Prospect Park. Where I sat on the stoop, watching neighbours chat and stop to browse a box of books put out in the front yard opposite, poked at the word as I sat on it: stoop, brownstone - words from my second language that is also English. Waiting with some trepidation for a person I knew quite well (from their blog, of course) and knew not at all to come walking up the street, jet-lagged and time-lagged, sweating in the New York heatwave, I was glad to be somewhere so congenial and comforting, somewhere I'd quite like to live (I never could, of course - considerable affluence is now required to rent or buy there, though some of the longer-standing denizens are perhaps not so affluent).

A Park Slope brownstone is home to psychoanalyst Dr Erik Davidsen, protagonist of the novel I've just read, The Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt, and it's where she lives herself, I believe. I loved this novel, as I've loved all her novels. I note from reviews that readers love it or hate it, with quite a few in the latter camp. Well, it's gentle, cerebral, spacious and messy-like-life. So I suppose that's to be expected. For myself, the powerful but low-key evocation of character, place and mood, interspersed with musings on history, memory, art, psychology pleased me greatly.

I've been noticing that I don't, these days, crave vicarious tension or emotion from novels or films. This takes me by surprise, for it used to be a fundamental need. Now, I find it disturbing, inappropriate, unwelcome - I have enough trouble dealing with real-life emotional ups and downs. So this kind of novel is perfect: painting and peopling its imagined world by circling slowly, building up detail, not by means of frantic pace or busy plot, leaving me not overstimulated and then let down, but pondering images and insights. An artefact to treasure.

Thursday 10 July 2008


Views I photograph over and over - rather liking what I got the last time.

Wednesday 9 July 2008


Yes, I did say I don't have time, and no, I don't have time. But I must just record that via Wood's Lot I discovered a blog called Supervalent Thought, by Lauren Berlant, which has given me much food for thought, supervalent and otherwise. A good deal of her writing is over my head, though if I keep re-reading I understand more than I think I will - a good lesson for one who devours the written word much too fast. It's both frustrating and motivating, because the bits I do understand interest me very much.

Questions I've been asking myself: Why do I continue
as fiercely as ever to want and hope for the things that it's quite obvious by now I can't have? Would it be better if I tried not to want them? Do I have any choice, actually, since, except when seriously depressed, there seems to be a strong drive (miraculous or pathetic?) to keep on going, keep on hoping, no matter what?

A recurring theme in the blog, and presumably in Professor Berlant's current scholarly work, is optimism. In a terrific post from January 2008, entitled The Life Drive, she writes:
" ...A few of the people I talked to on New Year's week were lonely. But they embrace their refusal of optimism about being otherwise. One is chronically ill, and has gotten quite fat and short of breath. The other is chronically depressed, and has been digging a hole to nest in righteously.

The former... only overcomes when she's going to be on display - a high school reunion, a family celebration... She's giving up even that inclination to interrupt her depression, isolation, and mentalized life. She's post fakeness. She says that she's accepted herself, by which she means she embraces expressing her cruelty and disappointment. She tells me that as a feminist I ought to be against fakeness.

What I say is that her survival matters: her fakeness produced for her reminders of what the life drive felt like, a grandiosity that relaxed her enough to provide some time for other pleasures, involving looking around and being curious about things, and being interested in what she saw and, frankly, telling me about it. The reports from her intelligence were always interesting. They didn't amount to confidence or self-love or trust of others or the world, so it wasn't everything. But her attentiveness drew her along through life, made the performance of observational intelligence seem like a good, a contribution to things, a call that could get responses."
This thrillingly perceptive description made me flush with self-recognition.

Tuesday 8 July 2008

Water under the bridge

No time to write. No time to write about the strange texture of this cool, clammy, stormy weather; or about What is the What by Dave Eggers, his novel based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng, and how much I admire the Voice of Witness project; or about The Visitor, (I thought it wasn’t opening in London for a couple of months? Well, I guess that conversation was a couple of months ago.) Zhoen wrote a good review, which speaks for me too.

Clearly living like this doesn’t accommodate having a blog. Equally clearly, I’m reluctant to stop trying altogether.

Monday 7 July 2008

Storm in the city

The dark and the humidity building, building, bursting, quickly over, but there'll be another.

Sunday 6 July 2008

Knitting makes the world a better place!

Too much of this weekend has been devoted to work, but there was time for rr, rr's secondspawn, who is carrying on the great tradition, and me to contribute to the Great British Sheep, which, along with other I-Knit initiatives, makes London and the world a much better place.

Thursday 3 July 2008

Tree creatures

There's a convention in blogging of using mostly photos taken on the day posted, or at least close to that day, and much to be said for that immediacy, that strong sense of transient reality. But I don't think it's the only way: I'm certainly not above pulling out old photos for another look and often find a new resonance or just something I didn't notice before. Photos capture transience, but need not themselves be transient. It's like looking again at notes made on another occasion and finding something you forgot you said that now perhaps inspires you to say more.

When I was in Vienna a few months ago, out for my first walk alone and not too sure where I was going, impressions flashing in and out between periods of worried communing with my Stadtplan, I was drawn to stop and snap some quick pictures of shadows on the ground beneath an avenue of trees. When I looked at these later, I couldn't see the clear, flickering patterns I remembered, shrugged and passed on - you take hundreds of photos and not all of them 'work'.

But looking again, long afterwards, I remember what I saw and I see them afresh: the wild, shy tree creatures, their shadows projected for a moment on the road.

Tuesday 1 July 2008


Things felt clear. Not necessarily good, but clear. Strong outlines in the strong, bright light. Between the strong lines, space, perhaps, to be.