Europe & Freedom of Movement

As Brexit continues morphing out over the coming months, I think we should begin sharing experiences of what it has been like to live in and freely travel around Europe before our rights disappear. The ‘good’ the young of Britain in particular are about to lose.

Automatic right to be and travel inside Europe without a visa, attend universities, work without foreigner status conditions, to learn languages, share in the life as citizens of Europe with equal rights.

What the Europe Union does so well is not to look towards obvious economic stimulants as bridges to future social, cultural and economic activity, but to social and cultural stimulants, which when aggregated from individual life-changing experiences multiply in exponential societal ways, not only across Europe but across the world. Europe is a civil and cultural force unlike any other.

Here is an early pre-FOM personal European experience, before freedom of movement was instituted, but giving reason to why it is so good for societies and individuals.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus. The ancient Odeon, built by Herod Atticus 161 AD, situated at the foot of the rock of the Acropolis with the Parthenon as a backdrop. The Odeon of Herodes Atticus written up by Vernon Kidd in the New York Times, describing a 1981 Athenian summer component in a plethora of Europe-wide festivals, The Athens Festival awaiting travellers… “plays of Euripides, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes … presented by the National Theater of Greece, the Amphi-Theater, the Art Theater and Northern Greece State Theater. Tickets: from $1.20 to $6. July 5 to Sept. 25.” As Kidd’s NY times article detailed, Ancient Greek theatre in the ancient Odeon was only a small part of a Europe-wide extravaganza of arts festivals in the summer of 1981.

So, unaware of any of the above, one hot early July ’81 evening I wandered up the road from my Plaka hotel to the Acropolis, this young filmmaker then resident of Hong Kong. As darkness gathered, I sat myself on a wall to take in the dusk scene at a spot overlooking the lit-up Odeon of Herodes Atticus theatre. A rehearsal was going on way down below. Intrigued very quickly by what I saw, I hiked down the hill to find out what it was I was watching. A poster outside the Odeon announced the Athens Summer Festival’s showing of The Acharnians by Aristophanes. Had I see an Aristophanes play before? No.

I returned to my hotel and the next day bought a ticket for the play at a ticket outlet – (prices of the day ranging from $1.20 to $6). I found a Penguin translation of the play in a bookshop, read it, and no wiser I have to say set off a night later to see the performance.

The Acharnians was first performed in 426 BC. A strident anti-war play it is credited with being the oldest staged Greek comedy. I didn’t know what to expect because the Penguin translation did not make anything clear. Still, I had seen the rehearsal. That was enough. The play itself would do the rest.

The Odeon theatre is an extraordinary space, but on a hot July summer night it is other-worldly. The night air made translucent by light was alive with what looked like tiny floating tips of flowers, rising in the warm air all throughout the amphitheatre. In jeans, t-shirt, sandals surrounded by Greeks in evening dress I felt a rank outsider. Yet nobody cared.

What truly resonates with me most, nearly forty years later, is how an ancient play, interpreted, performed and directed as it was, was soon so relevant for a 1981 audience. Filled with dance, mime, mask, and music, George Kounis’ (or Kouns’) production lifted me off my seat. This was not a stilted play from Ancient Greece, a production I remembered too well from university productions. The Penguin translation was swept from my mind.

Dicæopolis, a native of Acharnæ and an ex-soldier returns disillusioned from the Persian wars, heartsick at the miseries and stupidities of the conflict. Not shy in making his views known, with earthy gestures he rails against fellow citizens, while a chorus of startled, indignant citizens in white masks, odd hats and fantastic bed square sewn quilt costumes, rush in dance formation from one side of the stage to the other, all to a cacophony of startling music and sound effects, remonstrating with him and each other. The audience was in stitches inside minutes. I didn’t understand a word yet understood everything.

As a writer it is hard to communicate the effect this experience has had on me: the hot July night, the western world’s most ancient comedy, the mime, dance, costume, design and performances, Greeks all around me ‘rolling in aisles’, the old director helped on stage after the performance – I felt as if theatre itself, not only the ancient Greek concept of  ‘spectacle,’ had finally been made clear to me.

Athen_Odeon_Herodes_Atticus_BW_2017-10-09_13-12-44

photograph by and courtesy of Berthold Werner 2017

Lee, JFK and Stephen King

It’s tough being a writer in this organised politically-controlled oligarchic world of ours. Publishing is a strategic asset in a stable of assets essential to a well-tuned oligarchic universe. The message whatever it is must be edited. That seems to be the last law of the universe, the one Scientists haven’t yet owned up to.

Try thwarting it and you will be edited out of existence says a footnote on the first page of the Oligarchic Manual. Try beating the system and your Sun will shine no more.

So, I guess even the great Stephen King obeys this largely hidden law of our Oligarchic Universe. (I say great because book sales obviously equate with greatness, right?) It has nothing to do with well-oiled sales machines. Sales = Greatness and vice versa.

So, I went, I must say with hope, to read 11.22.63 by the undoubtedly great Stephen King. And what did I find?

Well, my mother always said: if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all. But when did I ever listen to my mother?

What on earth was King thinking about?

Not the truth clearly. His novel is fiction, okay. Only he put some real people in it, no? Like Lee Harvey. Poor old very dead Lee Harvey. The man who some people keep saying was guiltier than his own imagined sin. Lee Harvey with his Carcano Model 91/38 rifle which he probably couldn’t have hit a barn door with from 100 metres, but somehow reverse-actioned Newtonian physics with a tree blocking his way, hitting a moving target, from how far was it? Killing a President.

Go figure. Many have tried. I don’t need to debate this. To my mind at least if Lee were on the sixth floor of the Book Depository that fate-filled day and fated time, he would have had more chance of hitting Parkland Hospital than the man it is claimed he murdered in the way convention says he committed this crime – the myth now co-signed by author Stephen King.

Another Outsider

Mother died today. This morning at 11. Having a sudden feeling suddenly all might not be well I called. The nurse told me my mother had died six hours before.

No one sent me a telegram: Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely. I had been back and left my number just in case she worsened.

Flying back to see her it was winter. Getting off the plane at five in the morning I went and swam in a pool to get my head straight. Driving up into the hills I stopped at a bakery in a small shopping centre. On offer were the same rolls loaves and sweets I knew from my childhood. I ate them in the early sun under a 7am clear sky, drinking hot coffee. Then I drove on to see her at the home. The nurses were kind. You are the one abroad aren’t you? We heard of you.

The home where she lived is half a world away. The nurse on the phone said the funeral will be tomorrow or the next day. The body had been taken away.

I have been away for twenty years this time. If you add up all the years in between the times we saw each other, contact was sparse over the last thirty-five years.

I watched as a Roman Catholic sister came in and said to her: I know you are a woman of great faith, would you like me to give you a blessing? My mother looked up at her with adoration in her eyes. Yes, she said. The sister took her hands in hers. I bless your eyes for all the beautiful things you have seen. I bless your nose for all the wonderful flowers you have smelled. I bless your lips for all the kind things you have said, and I bless your hands for they have held all your children.

What do you do? the sister asked bouncing a little on the vinyl floor. I write, I said. You are all creative. Then she left, coming back to confirm my telephone number. Is this still yours? Yes, I said, mine.

My mother and I used to be very close, before others made a weapon of the distance between us. I am a writer, before that a filmmaker. Not the lawyer my mother wanted me to be. So there was that in the silence between us.

The last thing she said, I hear you have not been well. Given all the laps up and down in the pool I said they would have scraped me off the bottom by now if I weren’t. She didn’t laugh, just closed her eyes, went back to that half dream, dozing morphine state.

I suppose I needed a caretaker to walk in, say, You’ve no need to justify yourself, my boy. I’ve read your file. You just lost contact with what you were once.

It was true. Or maybe I am confused as to what it was in truth. After I left the first time whenever I wrote we were two points in space inching further and further away. She looked at me with her one good eye, her beautiful mouth ruined by a stroke. You are looking well on the whole. I nodded. I keep fit. We only have one body so I guess I have to. I wondered if hers was ready.

The room was oblong, purpose-built, bigger but plainer than I expected, the walls covered with my sister’s paintings. Photo albums were scattered around. Over in the corner on the floor in with some other dusty paperbacks I found a copy of my last book.

My mother liked her apple juice. I helped her drink some. She was connected to a catheter. She couldn’t get up, her life now like Bukowski’s beer sodden sadder than all the dead Christmas trees in the world. In the corridors residents pushed metal walkers.

I never saw my father’s body. I’ll never see hers. On my last day I kissed her forehead near the large cyst. I have to go to the airport, mother. I hope to see you soon. Yes, she said. No anger, no hopes and no dreams. I could  have looked up through the roof at the mass of signs in the stars and laid myself open to the benign indifference of everything, but there are no signs to be had. I left, walking the corridors, thinking: if I meet my family at the door I hope they greet me with shouts of hatred.

Narratorial Unreliability

Christian Mihai discusses his ideas on unreliable narrators, something he likes to see writers use, and a technique he says he uses himself. Still, he misses a fundamental point – all narrators, storytellers, dramatists, poets, are unreliable. From Homer, Shakespeare to Sartre, no writer tells, gets close to ‘the truth’, even if he or she is prepared to die in the process of collecting all the observable details of a factually based fiction.

Catherine Lacey

Do we trust Tolstoy’s account of Napoleon in War and Peace? Perhaps… if we are Russian.

Narrator unreliability doesn’t have to be a first person account, though the most obvious modernist exploitations of narrator unreliability in fiction use that form. The best approach – for this writer at least – is when the writer sets out to deceive us, and by convincing us that he or she has told the truth, transfers any doubt on narratorial reliability to a reader’s interpretation of the tale.

One Writer’s Journey

I grew up watching Superman, The Cisco Kid, O.S.S., hearing war stories, chasing down moth-eaten army uniforms back when milk arrived in a horse and cart marvelling at the colour style of actual coca leaf sugarpop in Coke bottles blinking at motor cycles Dick Van Dyke falling over a couch cowboy films shot in daylight B/W then coloured nights of my father’s home-grown vegetables, born with words in my mouth – ‘gimme-that’ , ‘how-dare-you’,  ‘what-the-fuck’ –

– ideas as fixed and eternal as the motives for every war, growing into Kidnapped bicycles desert boots Seventy Seven Sunset Strip Disney Land Rear Window Psycho Lawrence of Arabia, the annual anxiety of packing the car at holiday time, each and every moment stilled in memory of the forever mysterious parodies of life or art even if parodies weren’t even an option back then. I knew the Beatles before the Monkees, Bogart before Belmondo, but I can’t say I recall the idea behind the Summer of ’42 before it was a film conjured into a Mad magazine parody or whether it co-existed in the smash crash and kill dinky toy mind of George W. Bush. I believe I’m not alone, even growing more bewildered year on year by the incoherence of images and texts surrounding me from birth arresting my natural river environment in the far southern climes the commercial and cultural ink-blotting over my childhood my natural world a parody of some story my mother told me, those seconds on a baked sidewalk hearing JFK was dead, pink socks on the rock ‘n rollers, moments things events sounds sent to make life even more dangerous curious frightening, a direct result of the industrial military complex, Elvis Presley Chuck Berry even, the jack shit political influences beaten into the worrying shame of death in the world, prejudice, organically connected and woven into a general valueness held dear by so many years on from that day when morality was gunned down in broad daylight.

The Frankfurt School Revisited

The objective of  the culture industries – in a critique developed in the 1930s, written and published in the 1940s by Frankfurt School members Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer under the title The Culture Industry – was to keep ordinary folk as docile and manageable as possible… ‘happy’, uncritical, coralled consumers of a ‘capital’ controlled culture.

The idea was: the tranquilized poor, the culturally deceived, the ‘creatively dociled’ buy, watch, listen to and read what they are told to watch, listen to, read. The discourse on culture, being ideologically-fed by capital on steroids, makes phase 2 so easy, the accounts driven bottom-line. This pay-up and now driven discourse leads its proponents still to say –  See! It is what ‘they’ want (the great unwashed unconsidered)  otherwise they wouldn’t buy or want it.

Reminds me of Jack Crabb’s (Dustin Hoffman’s) encounter with General Custer just before the ‘great general’ got whipped at Little Big Horn. “General, you go down there,” Crabb says, when Custer asks him what to do. Thinking Crabb, a pathetic muleskinner, spineless, with not-even guts enough to shoot Custer in the back,  a git who could only lie to him, Custer reasons (aloud, of course) that if Crabb wants Him to go down to the Little Big Horn it’s only because Crabb really doesn’t want Custer to go down there  – Crabb could only lie to achieve a goal. So, Custer does go down there – much to relief of the world, history and the native American.

Little Big Man (1970) was the sort of film American filmmakers made after the film studios lost control in the late 1960s. In that rare moment, spanning a few years only, cultural complexity was synonymous with creativity – the audience and creators were so close they could have been one and the same.

Back to the genealogically disturbed present. No cultural outbreaks, no individual voices, no “surprises” for those in charge right now, no matter how many camp in Wall Street or outside St. Paul’s.  Society, dare I say it, Capital, is under control. No matter what the postmodernists, Foucault, Castells et al want, did and do tell us, culture is still controlled, top down –  never more than in the 21st century (thanks to Lessig {Free Culture, 2004, p12} for reminding us).

So a nod to the voices that seem so still and silent today – to Theodor, Max, Walter and Herbert: We need to hear from you again.

“The web of domination has become the web of Reason itself, and this society is fatally entangled in it.” Herbert Marcuse

Sammakon in Turku

I was in Finland last week, in the western city of Turku, facing down five days of clear blue skies and 30 degree sunshine, weather Londoners can only dream about. Turku is a friendly, gentle-paced city.

I found a bookshop not far from the hotel.

What caught my eye right away was a small John Fante hardcover in Finnish lying on an outside table, selling for 3 euros.

No dumping books in remainder shops, not in this corner of the bookworld anyway. There it was at a price anyone can afford – with the added value of being in translation. Sammakon is not an average bookshop, even if it could be mistaken for one at first glance.

There are two sammakko.com shops, the other in Helsinki. Sammakon’s owner publishes, sells and translates from English himself, especially his favorites – Bukowski, Fante, the beat poets and novelists. His first book was a translation of Charles Bukowski’s The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills. And don’t they just. After coming across this minor miracle for the world of books in English, one that so intimately caught my eyes, all both of them, it was on the bus for the drive back to Helsinki, for a day and a half of restaurants and walks, before flying back to rainy, chilly London.

Harvey Weinstein, M&Ms (MGMs or MFMs), SCB and the dreaded typo

When I wrote Uncorrected Proof, I thought – as it was a novel set in publish9ng, warts, bad behaviour, mistakes and all – what’s the BIG thing that sticks most in an editor’s craw…the typo of course.

Perhaps there are a few more things that stick in editors’ craws but the typo is a great place for me to start....a craw by the way for those who are not up with the term is ‘a pouch in many birds and some lower animals that resembles a stomach for storage’ ..(worth knowing and possibly connected to the punch-line).

But why should typos stick so deep and hard and mean in the editorial craw? Well, I’m sure it is annoying for editorial purists at times to stumble across a (strategic) typo (that OMG moment, that moment of editorial triumph): SEE how much unhoused-trained writers-like-you need us! Let me be frank, thank the gods for the eagle eye of a munificent editor – like Mike Phelps without the coach-guy telling him how to swim – had to drop a sport reference in there somehow.

But heinous literary crimes aside, and stepping back from the taking of an editor’s role in vain, it seems there might also be a wider issue here, one of power (where Harvey comes in) – when is power never involved? Editors play a very important and often uncredited role  in keeping writers ON MESSAGE – for the benefit of all of society. (Heaven forbid writers are left to their own rational devices on the MESSAGE).

In toto, our creative managers play an important role. Just look at how incredibly naughty & thoughtless Charlie Sheen has been over the last few days. If it hadn’t been for the sensible handling of him by Hollywood’s best and finest (Moonves and the rest), SCB* might just have shocked Libya off the front page. What a travesty, the entertainment industry deflecting our attention back to the real battle – extracting mega-media-revenues from impoverished consumers. Eventually SCB will head back to rehab, end of story (for a while), while Libya’s gonad-breaker keeps us politically glued, at least for a few more daily editions.

Apart from his penchant for power what does Harvey have to do with this?  His critique on CNN of SCB’s obsessions, Harvey’s own craw-charged battles with auto-gratification – on the floor chasing M&Ms – but that, like Charlie Sheen’s reel motives, and my typo-fictionalisations, is another story.

* Sacked Charlie Boy, the saga of off-message Charlie Sheen, a not so ‘poor’ not-so young actor learning how to get over himself.

LA

Andy Warhol (30 years ago, today)

Andy Warhol’s screen 16mm tests are now on at MOMA.

Warhol understood our need to stare, reflecting what tabloid newspapers have always been doing – only as Warhol under-hyped, the tabloids by default over-hype.

from Edie Sedgwick’s film test

Turning a ‘cool’ eye to the zeitgeist mood, Warhol caught the details of his (New York) times. He dealt with celebrity and near-celebrity uncritically, his own included. His instinct for finding meaning in what many thought was meaningless is as sharp now as it was then. Warhol invited us to evaluate and re-evaluate the banality of everything. His Diaries (1976-1986) are filled with commonplace responses to his celebrity-laden life, written as if his existence and the objects of his attention were banal – they were and weren’t. This is his entry for 30 years ago today.

Saturday, December 20, 1980

Vincent was having a party so cabbed there ($5). It turned out to be a really great party. I was taking pictures of this handsome kid I thought was a model and then I was embarrassed because it turned out to be John-John Kennedy. Fred brought him and Mary Richardson. And Chris Makos was there taking party pictures. And Debbie Harry gave me a present, and she said to open it up and I said no, that I’d wait till I got home, and I’m glad I did, because I just don’t know what it is. It’s this black thing. I wonder if it’s a cock ring, because it’s rubber with a stick on it, but it has this one piece that doesn’t make sense.

Monique’s getting ready to push her book, and she wants the cover of Interview, which actually might be fun.

Sunday, December 21, 1980

Jed’s decided to move out and I don’t want to talk about it. The apartment he bought on West 67th Street to work in, now he’s decided he’ll live in it, too.

Went to Church. Worked in the freezing cold at the office and I’m not going to send in the rent.