Redonda and Iles Flottantes
9.30 Saturday evening. The journey back took much longer because the car wouldn’t start and we had to wait about two hours for the mechanic to arrive. In the meantime I sent off the last day’s journal from an internet café and picked up emails.
For this week alone I am keeping a double journal since I have been writing my own blog (from web log meaning web diary) for about fifteen months now. Our son Tom designed both Clarissa and I websites, hers for her art work and mine, originally, as a resource for enquirers regarding books, career and some forthcoming events. I also asked him to save a space for random thoughts. It was this space that inadvertently became a blog through my habit of elaborating on events. Even now it is less a proper blog - I don’t have a comments section and have only just got permalink - than a diary and occasional essay.
Keeping it up however has brought me into contact with a number of people I had never before met, but some of whom I have met since. These include writers, academics and scientists, most with an interest in politics and public events. It is a fascinating half-invisible circle, and while I am by no means a political writer in the strict sense of the word, it is by and large a kind of left/centrist politics that has brought me to them. I read some of them regularly since they often provide more information and a wider perspective than press or radio or television do; and with far more intelligent comment. They are not under any commercial obligation and write because they enjoy writing. Most of them write very well.
The ethics, and indeed very nature, of blogging was of some interest to me. What kind of communication was it? Personal? Public? Semi-public? And if so, what were the most useful analogies or precedents that could determine its manners, its poetic? I began to think of the News section of my website as something like a private newspaper column with limited circulation (though the circulation was growing month by month). A simple diary would not be interesting enough since, like most writers, I don’t lead an exciting social life, so I decided to write on whatever did interest me – books, visual art, particular poems, issues of translation, poetics and poetic processes and politics now and then – the only true imperative being that whatever I wrote would have to be written clearly and gracefully. The writing part has been perfectly addictive. The blog has offered a place in which to experiment , chiefly in terms of language, subject and tone. I put up new poems sometimes, or new poems by writers I like. It’s like being king of Redonda, the tiny uninhabited isle between Montserrat, Antigua and St Kitts, the kingdom of which has been passed from writer to writer, its current monarch being the Spanish novelist, Javier Marias. It is the best kind of kingdom in that it has no subjects. All poets should have one. Floating isles.
Iles flottantes reminds of one of my favourite childhood dishes, referred to by my mother as madártej. I cannot tell how exquisite a pleasure it seemed then, sometimes with currants and little bits of vanilla. There are certain flavours that intensely conjure a Hungarian childhood. There is white szeder berries whose existence I had entirely forgotten until one of my many visits to Hungary a few years ago when finding and tasting one: the full Proustian bloom opened up for a moment. If I think of it now I think I can conjure the taste in a not entirely focused way. But what is it called? Is it the mocsári hamvas variety? Pale ghosts of berries, surprisingly firm, with a touch of sweetness. Tiny brains full of forest and hedge.
The main news today is the separation of a well-known Secretary of State, Tessa Jowell, from her husband, who is under suspicion of having taken a bribe from Berlusconi. Did she or did she not know that an extra £350,000 was deposited in their bank balance? No one knows yet but that does not prevent a fever of partisan speculation. Then why did they separate? Because of the stress? For strategic reasons? No one knows this either. British politics is obsessed by presentation and rumour to an almost comical degree. Britain is in some ways a very moral society, a post puritanical scandal-loving stew that may be best characterized as part maiden-aunt, part-motorway carcrash-watching ghoul and part hard-nosed cynical go-getter. And floating over it all, if you strain really hard, you can smell the sour, romantic, cold sea. Redonda.
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