Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing

A while ago I read The Golden Notebook. A complex book full to the brim of women, about which I know a fair amount, and communism, about which I know nothing. I am going to read it again this year in the hope that I will understand more of the women's liberation and communism sections. The book left a large, if slightly hazy, impression on me and I recommend it highly.

I met Doris Lessing once. And when I say met, I mean I stood next to her at the sink in the toilets of SOAS feeling awful that I should be the spotty, awkward teenager that I was next to this great personage who has since won the Nobel Prize for literature. I think my father introduced me to her, though I doubt she barely focused her eyes on me, the nonentity that I was.

At that time I had only read The Fifth Child, about a couple who spawn a terrible son that wrecks their lives, although I had garnered a deep respect for Lessing due to her involvement in Sufism in the West under Idries Shah. I have since read more of Lessing's work, and I come back again and again to her short stories in particular.

Here is Lessing reacting to winning the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature. She is told the news by waiting journalists and photographers as she gets home from shopping with her son, who is holding a tasty looking artichoke.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Roby Lakatos: hungarian gypsy music

I have loved Roby Lakatos since I heard him on the Rodrigo y Gabriela track Ixtapa.

I remember playing it in the car with my mum and we kept listening to it over and over again to hear the tremendous violin solo that kicks in at 3.15.....

I had no idea who the violin player was before I looked it up, so didn't I feel like a pleb when I learned it was Roby Lakatos, one of the world's greatest virtuosos and a living relic of the great Hungarian tradition of gypsy violin music.

When you watch Roby Lakatos playing, it's like watching a sort of surreal caricature of a gypsy musician. He is a blend of huge mustache, bushy hair, unfeasibly stubby fingers and deadly musical precision.

I scoured his website several times a year to find out if he would ever come to the UK, and low and behold, a couple of years ago I happened to go on the website and find out that THAT VERY SAME EVENING, Roby Lakatos and his band were playing in Bristol. I booked tickets immediately and we went and saw the most extraordinary concert that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Special mention goes to the Roby Lakatos band whose members were all younger than me (shame) and absolutely peerless, especially the cimbalom player Jeno Lisztes.... my second favourite Hungarian.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Book review: A Canticle for Leibowitz

An amazing book I read several years ago and have only just got over. Hilarious and deeply profound.

It begins in a post apocalyptic world, 600 years after a nuclear war at the end of the twentieth century.

Nomadic tribes led by mad ignorants roam the lands, clashing with mutant humans and "misbirths" - there is a King and in New Rome the Pope still receives pilgrims. But the core of the book is the story of a small Abbey and the inhabitants who worship the blessed "Leibowitz", an electrician from before "The Flame Deluge" whose scrappy note reading: "Pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels, bring home for Emma" is worshipped by the monks as a holy text.

Religion and morality still survives but science and literacy have been abolished. All pre-war knowledge was hunted down and destroyed in The Simplification. Ignorant of their meaning but sensing their importance, the monks strive to preserve and protect any fragments of scientific texts they can find. Gradually, within the next 600 years the interest in science grows and the "Memorabilia" in the Abbey reveals its secrets to visiting scientists.

Unearthing the secrets of the old civilization becomes paramount and the scientists who work to do this find it difficult to accept that they aren't discovering, they are only re-discovering. Brilliant characters live and die throughout the book, but there are constant observers too, The Poet with One Eye, a centuries old Wanderer who is waiting for the Messiah and the saintly carved wooden face of Leibowitz. Tied to neither Religion or Science, these odd characters carry the spirit of "God" throughout the ages and watch cynically as the monks and scientists come to an uneasy truce, neither able to truly manifest Truth.

Meanwhile, the self perpetuating and cyclical nature of civilization continues remorselessly as the World Court prepares for another nuclear war, which neither the re-advancement of science nor the humility and fossilised rituals of religion can prevent...