24 February, 2009


Reading: I've started, somewhat tentatively, on Peter Weiss's The aesthetics of resistance. It's actually going much better so far than it did the last time I had a go at it.

Listening: more Lotte Lenya. I even bought the original Broadway cast album of Cabaret, which has Lenya playing the old landlady. I'd forgotten how many good songs get missed out of the film of Cabaret.

Watching: have finally (thanks, Niall!) started Mad Men which is brilliant fun if a bit self-conscious: they make great play of the political incorrectnesses of the day, which gets a bit much, sometimes. The clothes are amazing.

11 February, 2009

Women and children first - Craig and Cadogan

This was another fun cultural survey by the women who wrote the marvellous You're a brick, Angela! (which I wrote about very briefly a couple of years ago). This time they were looking at literature written for women and children about war, starting with the first World War up to the contemporary literature (well, seventies) about the second World War. This was interesting and funny (not as funny as YABA but the material doesn't have such a wonderfully camp ghastliness about it).

The difference between the overt jingoism of the first world war and the contemporary books about the horror of war is very interesting, as is the way the second world war is approached at the time: there's far more jolly whimsical stuff about blackouts and Home Guard japes than there is serious stuff about people actually in the war on the continent. The Holocaust barely seems to feature as a subject for fiction until the 1960s.

They miss out a good example of WW1 jingoism, though - Rilla of Ingleside (the chronological last of the Anne of Green Gables books) is really fascinating, especially given that it's set in Canada. The deeply unpleasant characterisation of the 'pacifist' of the village is particularly interesting for what it says about the attitudes of the time. [12]

10 February, 2009

Interior of the Grote Kerke at Haarlem - Pieter Saenredam

Tariq Ali

I LOVE Tariq Ali. He is one of the people on my new list of people to write to and tell them how great they are before they die and I regret not telling them. (Susan Sontag, Stephen Jay Gould and Linda Smith all died before I could do this, hence this project).

Tariq Ali was on Private Passions the other week which inspired me to read his autobiography Streetfighting years. It's good fun and much less self-regarding than a lot of autobiographers, especially considering some of the amazing things he's done (including being mistakenly arrested in Bolivia when someone took him for one of Che Guevara's companions). It's also very funny in places. I like that Tariq Ali takes some things very seriously but seems to having a pleasing disregard for the way he is portrayed in the press.

The other thing I really loved about this was the introduction, which is a long discursive essay about the changes to the political climate since the sixties, interspersed with beautiful, loving tributes to Derek Jarman, Paul Foot, and Edward Said. I thought it was a wonderful summary of the way the sixties movements in politics and culture have influenced so much since then. [9]

Anyway, that sent me on to one of Tariq Ali's novels, Shadows of the pomegranate tree which is set in Moorish Spain during the Inquisition, when the Arabs in Spains were being persecuted by Catholic fanatics. It's a lovely book - I love all the detail about the cooking and the habits of the Arab characters (the bathing and sleeping arrangements - even recipes!) and draws such an alluring, beautiful picture of life in Moorish Spain. It also works much better as a novel, I thought, than the only other novel of Ali's I've read*. The story is about a family living near Granada who have been there for generations, and now have to choose between conversion to Catholicism or exile from their homeland. It goes into the family history

It's impossible not to draw comparisons between the Arabs in Spain and the pre-1948 Palestinians - both groups pinning their hopes on assurances of fair play from the ruling governments, but in the end having to make the decision between conforming to the ideologies of others, or retreating to another part of the Arab world, where they will share a religion, but not really a way of life. This is particularly poignant when it comes to the story of the eldest son of the family, who decides that he must resist along with a small group of his friends. They are all killed.

The last thing I liked about this was that it was an interesting look at a bit of Islamic history I don't really know much about (well, I don't know anything about Islamic history, but you know what I mean). You hear about other bits of Islam, and it was interesting to read about the way Spanish Muslims lived alongside Catholics, and the way Islam was interpreted in a fairly laid back sort of way, in sharp contrast to the Inquisitorial side of Catholicism. [10]

* Fear of mirrors, which I really enjoyed, but which hangs together quite clunkily as a novel. I like all the detail about left-wing politics throughout the twentieth century, and the cameo appearances by people like Kim Philby, and the message of the book is wonderful.


Reading: having raced through my two books by Tariq Ali, I'm now reading Elizabeth Ewing's book about Twentieth Century fashion, which is very interesting.

Listening: still not much, really.

Watching: I watched the Edith Piaf biopic, La vie en rose/La môme and sort of saw more what the chopped up narrative was trying to achieve, but I still don't think it worked.

06 February, 2009


Reading: am racing through my women's group book, The myth of Mars and Venus by Deborah Cameron.

Listening: I bought a CD of the 1930 recording of Die Dreigroschenoper, which is excellent (also has Marlene Dietrich doing some of her early songs).

Watching: haven't really been watching much recently. I have a pile of DVDs waiting for me to get around to them.