Archive for September, 2011

Oh, just flirting

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Tuesday poem: Now all roads …

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

I’m reading a wonderful book: ‘Now All Roads Lead To France’ by Matthew Hollis, about the last years of the poet, Edward Thomas. It’s a glorious achievement; careful, full of insights and emotional power, and as gripping as a thriller. Adam Foulks’s review quotation on the back cover has it about right: “It tells the story of a compelling figure from a half-forgotten England whose influence on contemporary writing seems to grow and grow.” Carol Ann Duffy’s says in part: “The care and diligence which Matthew Hollis brings to the duty of biography gives his prose the quality of light…” I’m loving it; can’t put it down; don’t want to finish it. If you want to read some of the recent reviews, you can find them here.

The book has reminded me of the great friendship between Edward Thomas and Robert Frost, in honour of which I’m posting a Frost poem; one he wrote in 1916 with Thomas in mind, as he explained in the 1950s:

“One stanza of ‘The Road Not Taken’ was written while I was sitting on a sofa in the middle of England: was found three or four years later, and I couldn’t bear not to finish it. I wasn’t thinking about myself there, but about a friend who had gone off to war, a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn’t go the other. He was hard on himself that way.”

The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

For more Tuesday poems you can look at the main Tuesday Poem page where a poem is posted each week. Further poems can be found on the blogs of the Tuesday poet members in the sidebar.

Who’s Sori now?

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

We are the happy owners of something we call the Yellow Book: its official name is Osteria d’Italia. It’s the best possible food guidebook for Italy and it’s helped us find delicious and comparatively simple meals in places we’d never have discovered by ourselves – a basement enoteca in Arezzo (an amazing layered onion soup); a few tables in the side room of a deli in Fiesole (fresh tortelli with a walnut sauce) and a taverna deep in the Umbrian countryside (the best chicken I’ve ever eaten and a fresh strawberry pannacotta that I still dream about).

So when we drove down from the Fréjus Tunnel to have dinner with a friend in Siena we consulted the Yellow Book to find a simple but delicious lunch along the way. ‘Da Drin’ in Sori seemed a good choice and their special stuffed veggies sounded lovely. Yes, it was open for lunch on Fridays; no, it wasn’t too far from the motorway.

Result? Well, not really. ‘Da Drin’ isn’t actually in Sori; it’s in a frazione of Sori that was very hard to find and we missed many turnings, even after asking for directions along the way. And I admit that my heart fell when we finally found the right road up to Capreno: the name should have given us a clue although I think even the most intrepid goat would blench at the camber and gradient. Still, we persisted – well, I say “we”; I mean Bruce did; by then I was in my award-winning state of unhelpfulness offering only high-anxiety comments like “aaaah, look out!” and “yikes, can this be right?” and “oh no!”. I freely admit that I would not like to be the driver with that going on beside me. Especially the bit that involves high-pitched shuddering gasps on hairpin bends.

Well, we got to Capreno in one piece and clambered up more verticality to the trattoria, where they had just closed the kitchen, at 1.45pm. No, they couldn’t serve us any food, and yes, they were slightly sorry about that but not, it seems, quite sorry enough to whip up some pasta and a salad to reward us for our perseverance. So we lurched back down the impossible hill and got back on the motorway.

But yesterday the Yellow Book came good again with a perfect trattoria in a little village close to our homeward road: ‘Da Gagliano’ in Sarteano.  I had this to start:

grilled pecorino and  slice of prosciutto with fresh fig sauce. It was ottimo. So was everything else.

So we’re not Sori.

Fare forward, traveller

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

I’m not convinced that travel necessarily ‘broadens the mind’, although I do believe that not travelling probably makes for a much-narrowed perspective on the lives of others. But as Horace (in verse translation) said, “they change their climes/and not their minds/who haste across the sea”: travel alone isn’t enough to effect alteration or extension of perception and thought.

But of course, travelling is a fascinating experience itself and as we are presently driving down through France on our way to Italy I’m also presently intrigued by this state of suspension; the apparent absence of attachment that I think Eliot is talking about in this part of “The Dry Salvages”.

“Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging;
You are not those who saw the harbour
Receding, or those who will disembark.
Here between the hither and the farther shore
While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.”

There’s certainly a sense in which contemplation of the past and the future seem suspended together in equal balance, and seem simultaneously distant, when you undertake long journeys. (This is probably not unrelated to the ease of driving on French motorways: you put your car into cruise control and don’t have to re-adjust it for hours. But it’s more than that, too.)

I’ve always found walking – in Regent’s Park in London, along the sea cliff on Waiheke, and along the Atlantic boulevard in Key West: all comparatively short journeys of course – to be a good source of reconsideration of anything I’m writing. The physical movement of brisk walking seems to encourage interesting solutions to writing problems to float into my mind, perhaps because if your body’s busy your mind can move into another gear. It feels, when it’s working well, as though some sort of otherwise quiet creative energy has space to breathe. And on this long car journey I think that the suspension of identity – which is one way of expressing something which seems (to me) to be related to Eliot’s poem – is also apparent.

Maybe it’s just that there are fewer practical distractions than usual? Or maybe it’s a form of fugue state, whatever that exactly is – but having now read the Wikipedia entry on ‘fugue state’ maybe I ought to find another alternative: fugue state not only doesn’t sound any fun at all but it’s also apparently a great deal more extreme than what I’m trying to discuss: “Dissociative fugue usually involves unplanned travel or wandering, and is sometimes accompanied by the establishment of a new identity. After recovery from fugue, previous memories usually return intact, but there is complete amnesia for the fugue episode.”

Anyway. It’s a lovely experience and we’ll be in Italy tomorrow, god willing and the creek don’t rise.