Thursday, March 31, 2016

Nature of the diarist

‘What a diary must preserve - the attitudes and nature of the diarist. Therefore, all excision, amendment, clarification, cleaning; one must think. The language can be cleaned, perhaps; but every change from the written word is a lie.’ This is John Robert Fowles, British author of The Magus and The French Lieutenant’s Woman, born 90 years ago today. In the last years of his life, he revealed himself as one of the 20th century’s most interesting diarists, publishing two volumes of intimate and very revealing journals.

Fowles was born on 31 March 1926 in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, an only child until his sister was born 15 years later. His father ran a tobacco firm in London. Schooled locally, and much interested in nature, he won a scholarship to board at Bedford School, which he didn’t much like at first, though in time he excelled at sports and became Head of School. His parents, meanwhile, had moved to Ipplepen in Devon, where he spent his holidays in a rural idyll, and where he lived during the early war years. After completing his national service in the Royal Marines, at the tail end of the war, he went to New College, Oxford, in 1947 to read modern languages, completing his degree in French. His university years, biographers suggest, led to a flourishing of experiences, social and cultural, that set him on a road far removed from that of the youth that had been a head boy and a marine.

Although receiving an offer of a job from Winchester College, Fowles chose to become English master at a school on the Greek island of Spetses. There, he began an affair with Elizabeth Christy, wife of another teacher. After a couple of years he and other staff were dismissed for trying to bring in reforms, and Fowles ended up in Hampstead, London, teaching English as a foreign language at St. Godric’s College, where he remained for a decade. In 1954, he married Christy; her daughter, Anna, lived with them. His first published book, The Collector (1963), was a literary hit and was quickly adapted into a film (1965), allowing Fowles to forego teaching for full-time writing. The year 1965 saw a move to Dorset and publication of The Magus, a long and complex novel he had written (before The Collector) based on his experiences in Greece. He and his family lived first at Underhill Farm, west of Lyme Regis, but when a section of their land eroded into the sea they moved to the town itself, to Belmont House.

Fowles remained in Lyme for the rest of his life, although occasionally he took long trips to Greece and France. In 1969, he published The French Lieutenant’s Woman (described as a ‘postmodern historical fiction novel’), his most famous book, and critically acclaimed film, which established his international reputation (and, incidentally, did wonders for Lyme Regis tourism). This was followed by a collection of long stories, The Ebony Tower (1974), and then his most autobiographical novel Daniel Martin (1977). From 1979 to 1988, when he had a stroke, Fowles served as curator at the Lyme Regis Museum. During this time, he also published his last two novels, Mantissa and A Maggot. Elizabeth died in 1990, and Fowles married Sarah Smith in 1998. After several years of poor health, he died in 2005. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, The Paris Review, or The London Review of Books.

Although Fowles was considered something of a recluse in his later years, intriguingly his last published works were two volumes of private journals, which are among the most intimate and revealing of any literary diaries. John Fowles - The Journals - Volume 1 was published in 2003 by Jonathan Cape (edited and with an introduction by Charles Drazin). A second volume followed posthumously, in 2006. According to Drazin: ‘The diary itself supplanted a future novel by becoming the major literary preoccupation after the death of his first wife Elizabeth in 1990. At this critical stage, it provided the obvious means to look back over his life, to attempt the self-understanding that was an important aim of the novels themselves.’

In his introduction, Drazin explains that he made a conscious effort not to censor the diaries in any way, though ‘it was impossible not to have qualms about many passages that were bound to upset people’. ‘I thought it was important,’ he goes on to say, ‘that John should have the opportunity to consider whether there were any comments that he regretted and wished to remain private. From our resulting conversations it quickly became clear that there were many comments he regretted, but he had made them and, however foolish or wrong or hurtful they might seem now, the vital quality of the journal was to record how he had felt at the time. The decision to leave such comments, even when they tended to be particularly hurtful to his closest friends - who after all were the most readily available victims - stems from his deepest instincts as a writer.’

Extracts from the journals can be read at the John Fowles Books or Penguin Random House websites or at Amazon; and The Guardian website has an interview with Fowles about publishing his diaries. Here, though, are several extracts from the first volume.

3 October 1952
‘To Greece again: at the last moment I packed this diary, unable to cut myself off from such bitter-sweet memories. Here the sun and strange existence is already burning the past away. Never so much difficulty in writing as here; a constant temptation to be idle in lotusland.’

6 October 1955
‘This diary has suffered these last two years. It no longer - it seems to me - adequately reflects either my physical or my mental life. It does all - this period - seem something of a desert, in any case. I lack no confidence that the desert will end. I can think. I can write; I know that. But waiting-rooms are always dull.

Writing: the Greek book has been criticized by the agent’s reader - he calls it ‘shapeless, discursive’; but Paul Scott thinks it worth a trial with the publishers. I have just finished an opuscule - ‘For a Casebook’ - which I intend to try on the London Magazine and Encounter.

Meanwhile, this:; I’ve decided to keep, for a month, a ritual day-to-day account of events; what’s interesting me; what we do.’

28 April 1958
‘What a diary must preserve - the attitudes and nature of the diarist. Therefore, all excision, amendment, clarification, cleaning; one must think. The language can be cleaned, perhaps; but every change from the written word is a lie. In my case, if I ever revised, I should want to hide the self-excusing, the priggishness.’

2 April 1957
‘We got married today; a grey day, a grey day, but mist-grey; and the mist cleared when we went off; E in a pale yellowy-green suit, olive shoes, an egg-custard-yellow hat. We met the Kemps, whom we haven’t seen for months, but they do not change; if we saw them after a thousand years it would be like a week - we met them at Belsize Park, had a drink. I felt nervous; didn’t want to be seen, as no one at the college knows. I’m going back tomorrow; and couldn’t stand the odd looks such unromantic behaviour would bring me. But no one saw us; we slipped in. A sort of boardroom with canvas and steel tube pile-chairs; a large gilt basket of faded flowers; two men, one rather bored and beery, the other suave. The silly little ritual, so short, so empty. Outside a tired little garden, and the chimney of the hospital furnace gently smoking in the pale blue sky. I paid the 11/3, we slipped out, up the road to the nearest pub. Then home to our nice new flat, and a nice good lunch, and Asti Spumante, and the sun in the room, and a feeling that it is good to be married, because it was fundamentally unnecessary - marriage won’t alter our relationship which is outside anthropology; because none the less we are now what the others think, or expect, or hope, we are - legal; and as a sort of symbol, a crowned, sealed look-we-have-come- throughness.

The Kemps gave us a pepper-mill; and a friend of E’s, a Canadian architect, brash, glossy, like a sober American car, bought a nice Persian vase.

So we’re married.’

7 November 1964
The Magus. First complete draft finished.’

15 March 1965
‘Miserable cross-currented days, windless above and seething below, waiting for the first reactions to The Magus. Tom Maschler came the other night and took away a typescript of it. As usual, he was full of himself, of the excitement of publishing - but full less in a natural than an aggressive way. Some strange drive in him forces him to humiliate, to depress the writers he comes in contact with - Edna O’Brien said the same thing the other day. As if you are the writer he mistrusts, has no confidence in. Instead of joining his writers, he isolates them.

Anthony Sheil came to lunch today. He has been reading the typescript in bits all through the week, as he has to fly to the States tomorrow. ‘It’s superbly written and I’m sure it will be a success, but.. .’ and there followed a long list of criticisms. I don’t doubt he means them sincerely, I don’t doubt, even, that quite a lot of them are valid, but no one realizes the ludicrously tender state of the writer at this stage. One is the shorn lamb, and even the warmest breezes cool. And then too, as soon as one enters the literary world, all motives are suspect. Tom M would never say good of the book, because it might prejudice the buying price. A. Sheil has his agent’s prerogative to protect - his right to ‘guide’ and ‘criticize’ - and in our age inability to find fault is almost synonymous with lack of intelligence.

Meanwhile my nerves jangle I don’t lose whatever fundamental confidence I have in John Fowies the novelist, but if lose all confidence in novel-writing as a significant activity, I feel like giving up that side of writing, of concentrating on poetry, think-pieces - even learning to paint. Partly this is because I have a fascinated horror of the showbiz side of writing (rather, a horrified fascination!) The other day we took Edna OB, and Terry Stamp and his girlfriend. Jean Shrimpton the model, out to dinner; and then the next evening we went to a party at Edna’s, where she has a sort of microcosm of All London - all artistic London, anyway. Kingsley Amis and Elizabeth Jane Howard and Mordecai Richler and Wesker and the film directors Clayton and Donner and Desmond Davies. Edna thrives in all this glitter of names; this demi-paradise of celebrity. And at one level I feel envious of her (though I like her as well as any writer I have met). But I distrust intensely that drive to be in the limelight, in the okayest current of the age: where the cinema and the novel meet. Everyone in this world is driven frantically to destroy his or her nemo; all the talk is half vainly of one’s own prospects, or half enviously of other people’s. Who has an option on So-and-so’s book, who will direct this, who will act in that. All this must be inimical to good writing, let alone good living.’

Worse by training

Roger Black, the mid-distance British runner who was internationally successful in the 1980s and 1990s, is 50 years old today. He must keep a diary, or at least have kept a diary during his competitive years, for he quotes from one in an autobiography published in the year he retired from competitive athletics. As one might imagine, health and injuries, trainers and training often dominate the diary entries.

Black was born in Gosport, Hampshire, with a twin sister Julia, on 31 March 1966. He went to Portsmouth Grammar School, becoming head boy, and then to University of Southampton to study medicine (his father being a doctor). However, he left college after a few months to pursue a career in athletics. Aged 19, in 1985, he won the 400m European Junior Championships, and the following year, no longer a junior, he won gold medals at the Commonwealth Games and the European Championships for both the 400m individual race (breaking the British record in the process) and the 4x400m relay. Despite suffering injuries and illness over the next few seasons, he again won gold medals for both races at the 1990 European Championships.

At the 1991 World Championships, Black won silver for the individual 400m, and gold with the 4x400m relay team creating a new British and European record. Five years later, he also won a silver medal at the same distance, coming second only to Michael Johnson, and he won silver with the relay team at the 1997 World Championships (though more than a decade later this silver was upgraded to gold because an athlete in the winning US team admitted to drug use at the time). Subsequently, injuries and illness again hampered his form; and, after not being selected for the 1998 European Championships, he retired from competitive athletics.

Black has a daughter from his marriage, in 1999, to Elsa de Vassoigne, and has twin boys with his second wife Julia Burgess. He is often to be found presenting for the BBC, but also has made a career for himself as a motivational speaker. He says: ‘My standard speech is designed to engage the audience in the lessons learnt throughout my athletics career, which resulted in me achieving my dream of standing on the Olympic rostrum in Atlanta in 1996.’ Further information is available from his own website, Wikipedia or British Athletics.

In 1998, Andre Deutsch published How Long’s the Course? - My Autobiography written by Black with the help of Mike Rowbottom, athletics correspondent at the time for The Independent. In the book, Black refers to, and quotes from, a diary, though there are no more than a score of such references, and most are incorporated into the text.

Here is Black explaining an aspect of his training philosophy followed by a supporting extract from his diary.

‘The balance of training and rest is crucial in athletics, and the careers of too many athletes have been destroyed because they haven’t had the confidence to do nothing when it is necessary. The belief is, ‘I get better by training. No pain, no gain.’ What many people have found out is that you actually get worse by training because your body doesn’t get time to recover, so you never really run to the best of your ability. Jenks [David Jenkins] really believed he didn’t rest enough in his career. Steve Cram too has said the same thing to me. Here’s another diary entry [17 July 1986], ‘Jenks phoned me tonight and thinks I can win the Commonwealth Games if Clark is unable to handle the rounds. He says that I mustn’t train tomorrow, so I won’t. There’s so much he wants to tell me but he is unable to do so over the phone. He says I mustn’t do the opening ceremony.’ ’

And here are several more quotes from Black’s diary as found in his autobiography.

14 April 1989
‘Mike Smith cannot now become as big a part of me as he was before because he hasn’t stood by me. He will still be my coach, but not my controller. I must use the right formula of myself, Kriss, Mike Smith, Mike Whittingham and Joe Picken. I must do what I feel to be best for me, and I can no longer rely entirely on Mike Smith’s judgement - but I do need the group.

I hope Mike will be able to step back a little with me. Remember those who have stood by you, they are the only ones you need to involve. The rest mustn’t have the pleasure of association with your success.’

On 4 August 1989
‘Mike Whittingham has been working with me one-to-one since 18 June. His contribution has been invaluable. We work well together and I know I’m getting it right. Mike Smith could never relate to me like this because of the size of the group . . . A CT scan yesterday showed the bone in my foot has repaired.’

23 February 1994
‘I’ve moved on in leaps and bounds since October. My body still gives me problems but I can run with them. The left foot is much better due to the taping and the orthotics and the exercises.

My hip is still very sore but that’s life. In January I confronted the reality that my hip will never be 100 per cent and I have a choice. It can stop me running or I can run with it. Only the clock can tell me if I can get better.’

Monday, March 28, 2016

Diary briefs

Biteback wins rights to Campbell diaries - Iain Dale

Algerian Diary - West Virginia University Press, Star Tribune

Diary of a company controller - The Virginian Pilot

Top of the Pops girl’s diary - The Mirror

The Private Life of the Diary - Unbound, The Independent

Split WWII refugee tales - Total Croatia News

NZ’s first weather diaries - Voxy

Diary of Germanwings pilot - Deutsche Welle

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Lost behind my camera

I face the fact that I find myself really happy only when I am lost behind my camera or locked in my dark-room. So today I became happy for a while: I photographed more of my “juguetes Mexicanos”, this time the “pajaritos” - little birds - in blue, - exquisite things in line.’ This is Edward Weston born 130 years ago today. He was one of the most influential of 20th century photographers, and he was no mean diarist either. His so-called daybooks, covering his Mexico period and several years after, are rightly regarded as unique documents, not only for the detail they provide of his colourful life, but for the way they show how his artistic style, his photographic creativity, developed over time.

Weston was born on 24 March 1886 in Highland Park, Illinois, to a surgeon and his actress wife. His mother died when he was but five years old, and he was looked after, mostly, by his older sister, Mary, though their father did remarry. Aged 16, he was given his first camera, and began spending much of his free time taking photographs. He left school early, and took a job in a department store. A few weeks after his 20th birthday, Camera and Darkroom published Weston’s picture Spring, Chicago - the first known publication of any of his photographs.

That same year Weston left the Chicago area to live near his sister who had moved to Tropico (now Glendale), California, though he returned to Illinois for several months to study at a photography school. In 1909, he married his sister’s best friend, Flora Chandler, a teacher who was several years older than him but who was part of a wealthy family. They would have four sons together. Having worked in photography studios for several years, Weston now began working full-time as a photographer. In 1911, he started his own business in Tropico, The Little Studio, taking commissioned photographic portraits. With very high standards for his own work, he soon made a name for himself, winning prizes, publishing photographs in specialised magazines, and being invited to stage one-man shows.

Weston’s work at this stage was considered to be in the pictorial style, imitating Impressionist painting by suppressing detail in the darkroom, but it would not be long before he moved away from atmospheric effects, towards realism, and a new emphasis on abstract form and sharp resolution of detail. In particular, he developed a technique that concentrated on the image as seen, eschewing any later darkroom manipulation.

In 1913, Weston met the photographer Margrethe Mather, a liberated Bohemian, and began an intense affair. She became his studio assistant, and then some years later, his business partner. She was the first person, apart from his family, that he photographed in the nude, starting around 1920. That year, he met a Los Angeles couple Roubaix de l’Abrie Richey, known as Robo, and the actress, Tina Modotti. With Richey’s knowledge, Weston carried on an affair with Modotti, who also modelled for him in the nude, and became his main model for several years thereafter. Meanwhile, Weston visited New York and photographers there, being much encouraged by the great Alfred Stieglitz.

Soon after Weston’s return form the east coast, Richey moved to Mexico City to set up a batik workshop. He was arranging a joint exhibition for his work and Weston’s when he contracted smallpox. Modotti when to join him but by the time she arrived, Richey had died. She decided to continue with the exhibition. It proved a success, and established Weston’s reputation there, leading him to spend most of the next few years in Mexico, mostly with Modotti, but also sometimes with one or other of his sons, holding exhibitions, travelling round the country taking photographs of many ordinary objects, but also folk craft, and generally strengthening his artistic reputation. When his relationship with Modotti finished, he returned finally to California in 1926.

Now, Weston turned to large scale close-ups of natural objects, such as shells, vegetables (see Pepper No. 30), trees, revelling in the textures, and to a more abstract form in his nudes. He, and his son Brett, moved to a studio in San Francisco but then settled a little further south in Carmel. In 1929, he met the photographer Sonya Noskowiak who became his muse, and stayed with him for five years. The Art of Edward Weston, a first book exclusively devoted to his work, was published in 1932. The same year, he formed, with other photographers, Group f/64, which held a critically successful exhibition at the De Young Museum. In 1934, a new love -  Charis Wilson - replaced Noskowiak, and a nude of Wilson taken in 1936 would become one of Weston’s most famous photographs. Around this time, he and Brett again moved, this time to set up a studio in Santa Monica Canyon.

In 1937, Weston became the first photographer to receive a prestigious Guggenheim grant, which eased his ongoing financial problems, and led to publication, in 1939, of Seeing California with Edward Weston, written by Wilson. The same year, he married Wilson, and the following year they published together California and the West. Subsequently, Weston was invited to illustrate a new edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which led him to travel thousands of miles, and take many hundreds of photographs, of which 49 were selected for the book. From 1945, Weston began to suffer from Parkinson’s Disease. A major retrospective of his work opened at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946, by which time he and Wilson had separated. Weston’s last years were spent organising his negatives, and selecting images for exhibition or publication. He died in 1958. Further information is readily available online, at the official Edward Weston site, at Kim Weston’s website (Kim being Edward’s grandson), Wikipedia, and Encyclopaedia Britannica.

For many years - until he met Charis Wilson in fact - Weston kept a diary, or, as he called them, daybooks. He is known, however, to have destroyed diaries that he kept prior to going to Mexico, leaving no trace of them. He also burned his Mexico diaries, but not before editing them and having a typescript made. It is this typescript, edited by Nancy Newhall, while Weston was still alive and with his approval, that was published in 1961 by The George Eastman House as The Daybooks of Edward Weston, Volume I - Mexico. George Eastman House announced publication of the first volume in its bulletin, Image, saying: ’Seldom has an artist written about his life and art as vividly, as intimately and as sensitively. We know of nothing comparable in the literature of photography. [. . .] Day after day Edward Weston wrote down his thoughts about life and photography, outlined his hopes, catalogued his despairs, mercilessly criticized his photographs, and recorded every experience which moved him.’

Newhall, in the first volume, gives a firsthand account of how Weston’s daybooks came to be published: ‘The Mexican period exists now only in a typescript badly done sometime in the late 1930s or early 40s: “Yes, the MS was ‘monkeyed with’ by a German girl. It was supposedly just copied... In my original copy, which was longhand, the punctuation was dashes - (‘modern’) - Since the first typewritten copy, each person has punctuated, paragraphed and spelled according to heart’s desire.” Edward burned the original MS; he had already cut from what the various typists received nearly all references to the agony he suffered over Tina Modotti’s other lovers; nothing at all remains of his agony over his eldest son, Chandler, a thirteen-year caught first in the cross-fire between his mother and father, then in the crossfire between Tina and Edward. What remains of the Daybook in this period, battered and twisted as it is by the German girl’s attempts to give it a romantic Goethean style, is still valid. I have cut only redundancies - the parties, the bullfights, the Mexican toys which in the original become monotonous, - and a few vulgarities and sentimentalities of the kind Edward could no longer stand: “Reading, for example, such lines as ‘I drew close to her and kissed her’ shivers me, makes me out a pretentious prig. I can’t take it! Seeing it in a book would turn me into a hermit. Is there much of that stuff?…Otherwise he thought it “not too bad - except when I try to write.” The years in Mexico were only the beginning. “Did I tell you that I have eight years of Day Book, post Mexico? Memory tells me it makes the Mexican period seem pallid.” He was right, and here, though it has suffered heavily from his razor, we have the original MS in his massive scrawl. It is briefer, more incisive; his passion like fire eats at what in him was unessential to his purpose: “to present clearly my feeling for life with photographic beauty... without subterfuge or evasion in spirit or technique.” ’

The second volume - The Daybooks of Edward Weston, Volume II - California - appeared in 1966, and together with the first volume are a remarkable, extraordinary record not only of a great artist’s private life, but of the detailed progress and development of his art, his artistic genius. Here are several extracts from Volume I.

1 November 1924
‘The exhibit is over. The naked balcony walls presented a sad and stripped void as we glanced back to be assured no print was forgotten; but no time for tears, for already a new exhibit is on! Tina and I for the first time are showing together; indeed, it is her first public showing, and I am proud of my dear “apprentice.” We went directly from the “Aztec Land” and under the auspices of the Secretaria de Education Publica hung ten prints each in the Palacio de Mineria. It is a big affair: Rafael, Chariot, Felipe among our friends are also showing.’

2 November 1924
‘El Dia de los Muertos. Like mushrooms magically appearing over night, los puestos - in celebration of the Day of the Dead - once more are with us. More numerous, more varied than ever, they line both sides of two blocks and the street centres as well, I wondered and searched untiringly for my occasional concrete reward; this time I found more “Mexican porcelains” - animales de barro - clay animals - a magenta-colored dog mouthing a green basket, excellent in form, and, at the same booth, a wildcat biting into a green snake . . . [. . .]

Yesterday, with the band’s salute, President Obregon formally opened the exhibit at the Palacio de Mineria. Our photographs are simply and well displayed. Tina’s lose nothing by comparison with mine - they are her own expression.

Sunday Evening. D. H. Lawrence, English author and poet, in with Louis Quintanilla. My first impression was a most agreeable one. He will sit for me Tuesday.’

3 November 1924
‘After experiencing the ever-recurrent condition of being “broke”, I have sold two prints: “Palma Cuernavaca”, and a nude; besides, I have four definite dates for sittings. Such prosperity is overwhelming! Tomorrow I dine at a luncheon in honor of the United States Ambassador to Mexico. God knows his name - I don’t - but duty calls. In preparation I trimmed the fringe from my trousers and borrowed a hat from Rafael. Now to buy a collar and I shall be ready for the fray.’

4 November 1924
‘The sitting of D. H. Lawrence this morning. A tall, slender, rather reserved individual with a brick-red beard. He was amiable enough and we parted in a friendly way, but the contact was too brief for either of us to penetrate more than superficially the other: no way to make a sitting.’

21 November 1924
‘To Fronton - Juego de Pelota - with Pepe, Chandler and Tina. “You may find it more thrilling than ‘los toros’,” said Pepe. I did not, though it was exciting, to be sure - a game to make, by contrast, our tennis and baseball appear quite tame. The Latins evolve sports that are spectacular, sensational, dangerous, and always elegant. Every second of the play was scintillating; one fairly gasped as the pelota shot through the air like a bullet while the players executed most miraculous passes, involving dramatically tense and beautiful postures.

Preceding our departure for Fronton, a surprise was afforded us by the arrival of Chariot, Nahui Olin, Federico, Anita and several bottles of wine. They had come to celebrate! And this is why - at the recent exhibit in the Palacio de Mineria, I was awarded first prize for photographs (one hundred and fifty pesos)! Quite unbelievable. I shall await undue enthusiasm until the money is collected. The honor of winning amounts to nothing: we had no real competition. Diego Rivera was on the jury, who else I know not.’

24 November 1924
‘Sunday in the “Secretaria” patio I made two dozen Graflex negatives of Diego Rivera. As yet they remain undeveloped. Also started an undertaking which I have already given up, that of copying his work for reproduction in a book to be published about him in Germany. It looms as too great a task without ample renumeration, which is uncertain. There are some who feel that Diego’s work is too calculated, too entirely a product of his brain. For me it is emotional as well as intellectual. For a man to paint murals twelve hours a day - sometimes even sixteen hours at a stretch - and day after day working quite as a day-laborer might, not awaiting “mood” or “inspiration”, it is amazing to me how much feeling he attains in his work. Only a man of great physical strength, possessed of a brilliant mind and a big heart as well, could have done what Diego has.

Yesterday I felt, as I have before, the preoccupation of his work. Direct questions were often entirely unheard, his eyes would be utterly oblivious to surroundings - then suddenly he would start out of himself, break into a broad, genial smile, and for a few moments Diego the dreamer was gone.’

25 November 1924
‘I said to Tina, having noted several interesting items in a downtown bookstore, “Let us go on a book-hunting expedition, I am hungry for a new thrill.” We were successful in acquiring a number of additions to our library, mostly books reproducing the work of contemporary painters. Ferat, Grosz, Dérain, and a volume on African sculpture - what splendid things! - and how fine is Derain!

Now my orders are printed and the stage set for more sittings. It will take many orders to pay the expenses of our return trip.’

29 November 1924
‘Diego, refering to my head of Galván, said, “Es un retrato - portrait - de Mexico.”

I cannot work in such feverish haste as I do with my Graflex and register quite the critical definition desired. F/ll is the smallest stop possible to use without undertiming when making portrait heads in the sun, - setting the shutter at 1/10 second and using panchromatic films, - thus when depth is required my difficulties are increased. Diego’s ample belly as he sat on a packing box in the Secretaria patio, swelled forward quite like a woman pregnant, presenting much difficulty.

Jean thinks they are the most interesting set of proofs from a sitting that I have done in Mexico. Well - I do like some of them, yes, a number of them, yet I could wish, especially with Diego, that I had made something to be very enthusiastic over. In each proof I find a fault, granted a minor one, and I had hoped for a quite perfect negative from this sitting, not just because Diego is a big artist, rather because he is especially interested in my work.

Last evening we went to a “studio tea” at Fred Davis’s home: a genial host, delicious food and drink, many beautiful things, mixed to be sure with an overwhelming number of bad ones. But I am impatient, I cannot enjoy social gatherings; the meeting with a few friends, one or two at a time, is the only form of contact that appeals to me.

I face the fact that I find myself really happy only when I am lost behind my camera or locked in my dark-room. So today I became happy for a while: I photographed more of my “juguetes Mexicanos”, this time the “pajaritos” - little birds - in blue, - exquisite things in line. I combined two of them on my ground glass. Perhaps three negatives will be considered worth printing. Martial music, - soldiers pass below, - a bedraggled lot but with brave front: not to be denied, dogs of sorry mien march with the procession somewhat lowering its essayed dignity. Tonight Chapultepec Castle is a blaze of light. - All this is preparation, for tomorrow is Calles inauguration.

Surely here in Mexico we live in another world for Thanksgiving Day was passed quite unremembered! - perhaps it should have been.’

30 November 1924
‘Technically dissatisfied with what should have been my best photograph of “los pajaritos”, I spent another several hours attempting to duplicate it: impossible to place even inanimate objects exactly as seen before. I still think my failure the best seen negative though the actual difference is ever so slight.’

2 December 1924
‘In the same way that I ruined part of my last sitting of Tina done two months ago, I fogged today’s by turning on the white light during the development. It almost seems that fate has decreed against my doing what I wish to do in the way of portraying Tina. But one of the negatives made this morning pleases me: the glare of light on the azotea destroyed all the delicate modulations in Tina’s face. It was flat and uninteresting, - too, the eyes were filled with unpleasant catch lights. I must call the sitting a failure. We shall try again tomorrow.

After ordering prints on our exchange, amounting to 230 pesos, Mr. Fred Davis intimated that he would like at least four or five more prints, so I shall have clothing to the value of some 380 pesos. Good luck indeed!

Tomorrow a big day: in the morning Tina again, in the afternoon Jean Chariot. Diego was pleased with his proofs. They are, I will say, well seen. His choice was one in which his huge bulk was exaggerated, and his face expressed a cynical sadness.’

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Jailed for making soap

‘A lady friend of mine got three weeks in jail for making her own soap, an article monopolized, but not supplied, by the Soviets and much missed by the people who under the old regime had become accustomed to buying it in the open market in any quantity and at a low price.’ This is from the Russian Civil War diary of Alexis Babine, an author and scholar, born in Russia 150 years ago today but who emigrated to the US, and spent much of his working life at the Library of Congress. For a decade or so in his middle years, however, he returned to Russia, and was caught up in the Civil War. The diary - written in English - is now considered a unique historical resource.

Alexis V. Babine was born into a family of provincial merchants in the small Russian town of Elatma (170 or so miles southeast of Moscow), on 22 March 1866. He studied at the prestigious Institute of History and Philology in St. Petersburg, between 1885 and 1887, and then taught at Okhta Trade School. Following a shooting dare, he accidentally killed his best friend. His parents paid ‘blood money’, while Babine worked his way across the country, eventually to Riga. There, in 1899, he was taken on, as a stoker, by a German ship, which carried him to the United Sates.

Once in the US, Babine studied American history and worked in the library at Cornell University, after which he was appointed a librarian at Indiana University. He moved to Stanford where he was given the post of assistant librarian, and where he taught bibliography and Russian. In 1902, Sabine arrived at the Library of Congress, according to its own website, where he took the position of ‘specialist in charge of the Slavic literature’. He is remembered for negotiating the purchase of a large Russian language collection (from a wealthy Siberian merchant, Genadii Yudin), not only making all the necessary arrangements, transferring 80,000 volumes from Russia to the Library of Congress, but also publishing a bilingual description of the collection, and beginning the work on a catalog for the collection.

In 1910, however, Babine returned to Russia, partly to see his mother who was ill, and partly because he wanted to publish a popular history of the United States in Russian. With that project completed, he worked as an inspector of schools in Kharkov province, and then, after the February revolution, he was appointed to teach English at Saratov university. He may well have died from starvation during the civil war years, but for his participation in the activities of the American Relief Administration (ARA), which supplied its employees with food, as well as with packages from friends in the United States.

Babine went back to the US in 1922, as an émigré, and from 1927 served as the assistant head of the Slavic section of the Library of Congress. He died in 1930. The only further information about Sabine available online appears to be at the Library of Congress website. The Library also holds Babine’s papers, including a very detailed journal he kept in Saratov from 1917 to 1922. This documents the deprivation experienced by the city’s population during the civil war years. The journal has been used by Eugene G. Pivovarov, a visiting scholar, to analyse price changes of basic foodstuffs. 
Pivovarov concluded: ‘The increase in prices, together with other factors, resulted in the destruction of the middle class in the entire region. Merchants, teachers, engineers, and craftsmen lived in equal poverty. They sold practically everything they had before the revolution and food became “a great blessing” for most of them’

Otherwise, Babine’s journal has been edited by the historian Donald J. Raleigh, and was published in 1988 by Duke University Press as A Russian Civil War Diary - Alexis Sabine in Saratov, 1917-1922. According to Raleigh: ‘Sabine kept his diary in the expectation that it would be published someday. He also wrote it for an American audience. Disgusted with what he called the “backwardness and barbarity” of his native country, Sabine could be a myopic observer. He expressed longing for a return to the old regime that had become politically and morally bankrupt even in the eyes of Saratov’s (and Russia’s) middle class. [. . .] The diary is a unique historical source because it offers readers a rare glimpse into daily life during the Civil War in the provincial city of Saratov. Sabine not only had an unusual story to tell, but also the ability to do so, and his writing casts fresh, if refracted, light on the Russian Civil Ware from an unfamiliar angle.’

Here are several extracts from the published journal.

19 March 1917.
‘I was waiting for my relay horses to rest before taking me to my next school, when an excited traveler suddenly broke into the dirty station room and gleefully announced the new millennium: Nicholas II has abdicated in favor of his brother Michael. A free constitutional rule, perhaps even a republic, is assured. The man’s accent bespoke a Pole. The stationmaster and his peasant help looked at him sourly. One could read in their eyes: “What joy can there be in a tsar’s abdication - except for an infidel like you?” It was now questionable whether I should hurry home by rail and cut short my school inspection program, or disregard the change of rule and carry out my plans as though nothing had happened. I chose the latter course.’

21 March 1917
‘At Nikolsk the liberals - social revolutionaries - are forcing themselves to the fore in matters of local administration. Old government officials are beginning to feel pressure from the oncoming disorderly tide. Teachers feel their positions threatened by anarchist inroads and do not know where to turn. I calmly ignore the new developments and attend to my work in utter disregard of what has happened in St. Petersburg.’

27 March 1917
‘Meetings have been held in the auditorium of the Totma Manual Training School by revolutionary agitators who would not have even dreamed two weeks ago of entering the school premises without proper - i.e., my - sanction. The master of the relay station tells me that German prisoners living in a house nearby claim that the war will soon be over. “And they know everything.” ’

29 March 1917
‘Straggling, worn out, shabbily clad soldiers are beginning to line the road, trudging wearily along, with half empty knapsacks on their backs, homeward bound.’

7 March 1918
‘3:40 p.m. At about 5 p.m. yesterday I saw on the corner of Nemetskaia and Aleksandrov streets a number of Red Guardsmen rather energetically ordering the crowd assembled there to disperse. I had barely time to return home from Tiedeman’s music store when sharp firing was heard from the same corner, and people rushed up Nemetskaia Street. A few minutes later the howl of what sounded like a wounded boy filled the air. From my window I saw two soldiers driving the crowd and brandishing their muskets on the opposite side of the street. But the street was full of people again in a few minutes.

This morning I was told that a number of people had been killed and wounded on Aleksandrov Street. My informant with his own eyes saw a wounded man.

In front of the post office building a young man came up to the crowd assembled there and without any warning shot a man dead. The crowd made a rush at the murderer and killed him on the spot. Mr. Luchinkin told one of our janitors that on his way to the university library this morning he saw on one of the streets the body of a man killed apparently last night, and by ten o’clock this morning not yet removed.’

22 November 1918
‘At the tea table of a socially humble friend’s, with the samovar hospitably whispering and sizzling, I was introduced to a friend of the family, a Soviet official, pale from rheumatism, but good-looking and well built, apparently a mechanic by profession. When the conversation turned to the treatment of the bourgeoisie by the new regime, my new acquaintance spoke firmly in support of a statement of his: “I by no means regret shooting and killing my fourteen men, not in the least.” My friend, giving him a quiet look, explained: “Of course, you only saw to their being executed,” and nicely shifted the conversation to another topic. My friend is a perfectly respectable man, but his company - sumptuously treated considering the times - was a revelation to me.’

24 November 1918
‘Was fortunate enough to get the address of a peasant woman in Monastyrka that sold me 10 lbs. of onions for only forty rubles. It was a three-mile long jubilation to carry them home on my back in a gunnysack, without risk of confiscation, onions being an article the Soviets have forgotten to nationalize.

25 November 1918
‘The Allied powers are said to have presented an ultimatum to the Bolshevik misrulers in Moscow, demanding unconditional surrender. An order is said to have been received here from Moscow to disarm the Red Army. Some local companies have refused to part with their weapons, though willing to surrender.’

26 November 1918
‘Petrograd is said to have been occupied by the Allies - to everybody’s secret joy.’

28 November 1918
‘A sudden search of guests in one of the new socialist cafes produced an unexpected result. One customer had a large amount of small change that is so scarce nowadays; another had a large sum of money in Astrakhan and Samara local currencies.’

15 August 1919
‘A lady friend of mine got three weeks in jail for making her own soap, an article monopolized, but not supplied, by the Soviets and much missed by the people who under the old regime had become accustomed to buying it in the open market in any quantity and at a low price.’

27 August 1919
‘Not wishing to patronize the dirty Soviet barber-shops and out of respect for the typhus raging all around, I have been clipping my hair myself with a 000 clip. It takes over two hours, and two mirrors, to do the work right. Two years ago I would not have thought the trick possible.’

28 August 1919
‘A couple of bachelors have been poisoning cockroaches in their kitchen with arsenic. They threw the dead insects into the yard, upon which their neighbors’ chickens died one after another. “Don’t worry about our being suspected,” quoth the younger of the two: “I’ve already thrown a quiet hint that our Jewish neighbors must have done it.”

5 September 1919
‘A paroled prisoner of war happened to come in quest of milk. My peasant landlord wanted to know what Denikin’s political platform was. The soldier mentioned among other things “the one and indivisible Russia.” “That is right,” said my landlord, with an air of supreme satisfaction stroking his long gray beard: “What’s mine is mine, and I ain’t got to divide it with no riff-raff as they wants it done under this here Communism.”

21 February 1922
‘Robberies of supplies from our trains are so frequent, the transportation so bad, cooperation on the part of the railroad authorities, employees, and the Soviets in general so luke-warm and inefficient, that both Kinne and Cobb feel very much discouraged and want to leave the country as soon as they can. Our town transport agent (a young German-Russian) has been reported as removing, with the connivance and cooperation of the railroad service, supplies from the care of ARA before making out his statements of shortages. He is being watched by Soviet secret service men - who know too well on which side the bread is buttered.’

22 February 1922
‘Someone told me about Professor Stadnitskii’s statement in his lecture this afternoon to the effect that a country doctor had been eaten up by the starving peasants in one of the outlying districts. Dr. Uroda has corrected the statement: it was a feldsher (a trained male nurse) that had been eaten, at Balakovo. He was a big, portly man, and his patients did not want him to go to waste when he died from some cause or other. A medical friend of Dr. Uroda’s has had an occasion to taste human flesh. Lost in a blizzard in the boundless Novouzensk prairies, he and his companion came across some frozen bodies, probably victims of the same blizzard and, to save themselves, they carved up, cooked, and ate part of them. The doctor stated that the worst part of that experience was the insuperable and uncomfortable craving he and his companion had acquired for human flesh.’ [. . .]

‘A medical inspector of ours, driving through a German village, caught glimpse of a couple of little girls running toward the road. He looked back and saw the girls pick up the fresh, warm horse dung and eat it.’

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

An antiphonal chorus

Alasdair Maclean - a Scottish shipyard worker, a poet, a sometime crofter, and eventually a recluse - was born 90 years ago today. He published two books of poems, but his most memorable work is an unusual literary memoir - Night Falls on Ardnamurchan - in which he uses diaries kept by his father as well as his own diaries to, well I suppose, mourn the passing of the crofting way of life. As he explains in the book’s preface, he wants to tell ‘something of the rise and fall of a crofting hamlet in a remote and little-known region of these islands’ through the life and hard times of his father. However, he is aware that a few of his own concerns, not least his literary aspirations, might appear here and there, and concludes: ‘The reader should picture me as an antiphonal chorus to Father and make what allowance he can when I show myself too much the soloist.’

Maclean was born on 16 March 1926 in Glasgow where his father had come after the First World War in search of work. His father, in fact, had been born in the tiny hamlet of Sanna in Ardnamurchan, a wild and remote peninsula in Western Scotland. Maclean left school when only 14, and worked in the Clydesdale shipyards before doing his National Service, in India and Malaya. He lived for 10 years in Canada, and then, on returning to Scotland, studied English at Edinburgh University (from 1966 to 1970). His parents, who had retired to the family croft in Sanna many years previously, both died in 1973.

Although Maclean had written poetry from an early age, he returned to writing poems in his 40s, publishing a first collection From the Wilderness in 1973. Waking the Dead followed in 1976. In 1984, Victor Gollancz published Maclean’s third and final book, the autobiographical work, Night Falls on Ardnamurchan: The Twilight of a Crofting Family, which brought him a modest amount of literary attention. It includes a substantial section from his father’s diaries (never named, and only called ‘Father’ throughout) in 1960 and 1970, with a commentary by Maclean, as well as a series of Maclean’s own diary entries from the time when he was living in Sanna and working on the book (1979-1980).

Subsequently, Maclean lived an increasingly isolated life at his Fife cottage, journeying less and less often to the Sanna croft. He died in 1994. There is very little further information about Maclean readily available online, but Wikipedia has a short entry, and The Herald has an obituary.

Here are a few paragraphs from Maclean’s preface to Night Falls on Ardnamurchan: ‘I can at least inform the reader that my book is built around extracts from two journals, my father’s and my own, both set (mostly) in the same small village but featuring rather different ways of life and having very different aims and methods. About the circumstances in which each journal was kept and about the plan followed in using it I shall have more to say later. Father was a working crofter, if that is not too much like saying of someone that he was a fare-collecting bus conductor, and his portion of the book constitutes a factual and totally unadorned account of his daily round, an aide memoire for his own benefit as much as anything. His record of crofting life forms the backbone of the book.

Following the extracts from his journal I have included selections from my own daily notes. These sometimes gloss Father in a more extended and looser way, a more indirect way, than the immediate glosses I have given him. Sometimes, too, they reflect on his life and work and sometimes diverge totally into my own concerns. To the extent that I was a crofter it was intermittently and never considering it my chief of occupations. I was a part-time assistant to my father and, briefly after he died, a later and lesser follower. Mainly I thought myself a writer, a poet, and the records I kept necessarily suggested my quite different business. I have tried to prevent the more strictly literary part of my life and thought from overwhelming the rest of my material, reckoning a tale of poetry and its production too narrow a specialization in this day and age for the general reader. But that aspect of things was naturally insistent for me and I have let it intrude on a number of occasions. Were I to present any other picture of myself I should be guilty of serious falsification.

What matters is that there should emerge from these pages something of the rise and fall of a crofting hamlet in a remote and little-known region of these islands, and that this should be displayed through an account of the life and hard times of my father, who was the last man to practise the art of crofting in that hamlet. If, parallel with this account and rounding it off, there should also appear a little of myself, who watched that life and that death and who, perhaps, survived it, I trust the reader will not think it too great an imposition. My literary work, indeed, grows out of that background, or did so when I kept my Ardnamurchan journal, and even where I may appear to depart most radically from the matter in hand a link of some kind could generally be found, for all that it might take a course in psychoanalysis to trace its windings. The reader should picture me as an antiphonal chorus to Father and make what allowance he can when I show myself too much the soloist.’

And here are several extracts from Maclean’s diary.

8 October 1979
‘It is two o’clock in the morning and I feel very tired. But a point of terminology nags at me and I may not rest till I have said something about it.

I have been describing this record of mine, I notice, as a journal, not a diary. What is the difference?

I think that a diary functions at a lower level. It represents - or is thought to represent - a lesser species of literature. It is more gossipy and slapdash, more concerned with jottings, more practical, less obviously intended for other eyes. So we speak of Pepys’ Diaries but of Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals and mean, I believe, to denigrate Pepys a little when we make the distinction. Yet who would exchange the former for the latter? Not I, at any rate, though I am fond of both.

I suspect that nowadays at least, there is an element of snobbishness involved in the journal-diary antithesis. Schoolgirls, archetypally, keep diaries; poets, therefore, must write journals. (It is true that Yeats wrote a diary but true also that he took the precaution of dignifying it with a fairly resounding tide: ‘Estrangment’ [sic].)

My father, old seaman, was unbothered by such nuances and called his daily notes a ‘log’. I shall stick to journal.

5 December 1979
I came today to a corner on the seaward edge of the dunes where a mummified thistle, one of last summer’s crop, still held its form against rain and gale. It was not a Carline Thistle, so attractive and about here so rare. These commonly survive as husks sometimes well into the next season. This fellow was an ordinary Spear Thistle, brown and shrunken, like an old man dead in all but will. It might have been nature’s master copy, struggling to preserve the idea of a thistle for the next generation of plants. Two or three of its heads lolled brokenly in the wind, yet its spikes stuck out more prominently than ever from its withered leaves. I thought of a cornered dog, retracting its gums the better to show its teeth. How admirable it was, how puritanically beautiful! I stood beside it for a long time, studying it and trying to fix it in my mind.’

10 January 1980
‘How trusting-hungry are the small birds now! When I scattered crumbs at the garden gate this afternoon (later than usual for it was dusk and town-bred birds would have been well-filled to bed an hour before), a dozen of sparrows hung precariously in the gusts, a bare yard or two from my hand. Though the gale thrust them constantly downwind, away from the source of food, still they persisted, flapping like little machines in an effort to keep pace with their own lives. At times they took the whirling nourishment on the wing.

I wonder now, sitting over my late journal, in what corner of this many-cornered village do these birds roost? Surely there is no hiding-place here that can so well hug its angles to itself but that the wind pokes a long cold finger in? Yet somewhere they crouch, fluffed out and twittering, and their thin blood slowly crystallizes as the stars wheel overhead.

Not all survive such nights. You find them here and there in the mornings, on their backs, their claws tenaciously gripping air. Even when they live who can tell what transformations may not haunt them as they perch the dark away? When a night like this comes along I think it is a little hibernation that sees these sparrows through. Ghost birds I think they become, for the space of a few hours; approximate creatures. Yet when day appears, or even the appalling masquerade that may substitute for it at this time of year, out from bush or cave they tumble, like toy trumpets from a lucky dip.’

26 March 1980
‘I am now well into 1970 with my editing task. Another month, at most, should see me finished. As well, too, for I grow very short of money. I must look to the future now. I must consider what may happen when the last shilling goes and I have to leave here.

If I were sure of being able to support myself with my pen I should not care so much. But freelance writing is such a precarious and at times degrading way of earning a living. Constantly a buttering up of editors, constantly a hinting at commissions. And constantly, too, looking out for the postman, with his good news or his bad news and constantly waiting for a cheque that may or may not be coming or may be coming when someone in an office somewhere gets around to sending it.

I have had my share of all that in the past and am none too keen on going through it again. It is hardly even that the freelance is doing what he wants to do or is doing something at least closely related to his vocation. Very often he isn’t.

Yet a small voice inside me says, ‘Still it is better than working.’ Perhaps so. I have had my share, too, of soul-destroying jobs and know what they can do to one. Nevertheless I have taken the precaution of pulling the one or two gossamery strings I yet hold, to see if I cannot arrange for employment of some kind in Kirkcaldy, where I lived before and where I know people. I should get on faster if I were better able to transfer my written notes to typescript. The typewriter is a hateful machine. I had rather have the toothache than change a ribbon. And I have coined a new definition of Sod’s Law: ‘When two typewriter keys are struck at once the one that gets to the paper first is never the one that is wanted.’

The Diary Junction

The longest whisper ever

‘My words can give no suggestion of the self-transcendence invoked, and I fear, too, that any music I eventually write can only give the palest hint. One of the most serendipitous moments came when a snow avalanche poured and billowed down the mountain directly to starboard - imagine the mightiest, gentlest, longest whisper ever - we were enveloped for a space in mad, dancing flakes, a white-out - a moment that will last a lifetime.’ This is from the diary of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies - who has just died - on a visit to the Antarctic, some 20 years ago, a journey which provided the inspiration for his Antarctic Symphony (Symphony No. 8).

Peter Maxwell Davies (most commonly known as Max) was born in 1934, in Salford, Lancashire. He had piano lessons and began composing from an early age, submitting a composition called Blue Ice to the BBC when only 14. The BBC producer Trevor Hill nurtured Davies young talent, introducing him to professional musicians. After attending Leigh Boys Grammar School, he studied at the University of Manchester and at the Royal Manchester College of Music. With fellow students, including Harrison Birtwistle, he formed New Music Manchester, a group committed to contemporary music. He studied for a year under Goffredo Petrassi in Rome thanks to an Italian government scholarship, and, in 1959, became director of music at Cirencester Grammar School.

In 1962, Davies won a Harkness Fellowship for Princeton University (with the help of Aaron Copland and Benjamin Britten), after which he was composer-in-residence at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, University of Adelaide. In 1966, he returned to the UK and went to live in the Orkney Islands, initially to Hoy and later to Sanday. In 1977, he was part of a group that founded the midsummer St Magnus Festival held on the islands. He was artistic director of the Dartington International Summer School from 1979 to 1984, and from 1992 to 2002 he was associate conductor/composer with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, a position he also held with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. He conducted a number of other prominent orchestras, and was also Composer Laureate of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Davies published over 200 musical works during his lifetime, including 10 symphonies and 17 concertos, operas (such as Taverner, The Martyrdom of St Magnus and The Doctor of Myddfai), and the full-length ballet Salome. One of his most popular shorter works, An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise, was written on commission for the Boston Pops Orchestra. He also wrote many works for performance by children, premiering them at the St Magnus Festival. Other notable compositions include Antarctic Symphony (Symphony No. 8), jointly commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra and the British Antarctic Survey, Mr Emmet Takes a Walk, and Sea Orpheus.

Davies was openly homosexual, though had a messy, and all-to-public separation from his long-term partner in 2012. He was often at odds with the establishment, whether politically or musically, though time found him embracing, and being embraced by, this very same establishment. Once considered a kind of enfant terrible, producing overly avant-garde music, he became one of the world’s most respected composers, being knighted in 1987, and, in 2004, being appointed Master of the Queen’s Music. Davies, for his part, abandoned his youthful republicanism, turning latterly to support the idea of monarchy. Davies died on 14 March. Further information can be found online via the official Peter Maxwell Davies (MaxOpus) website, Wikipedia, Boosey & Hawkes, inter.musica, Schott Music or many obituaries (The Guardian, for example, The Telegraph, The New York Times, and The Scotsman).

Before writing the Antarctic Symphony, Davies was invited by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) to join its supply and research vessel RRS James Clark Ross on a visit to the region, and, in particular, BAS Rather station. Davies kept a detailed diary on the journey, which was later published in a limited edition of 1,500 as Notes from a cold climate : Antarctic Symphony (Symphony No. 8). The diary text can be found on the MaxOpus website, which is the source of the following extracts.

21 December 1997
‘A procession of icebergs, mysterious and deeply awe-inspiring. Of course it is we who are moving faster, but in calmer waters one has the illusion of a stately mannequin parade, as the model’s outlines modulate, revealing new and secret shapes and colours. Contours suddenly glow with an irridescent blue of an unimaginable intensity: this is the best exhibition of abstract sculpture I ever saw. All that one has read of fractals and the Mandelbrot set floods the brain, perhaps as some kind of bulwark against the wonder, which I quietly admit is overwhelming, even transcendental. Some icebergs pick up and maintain the upward surge of wave motion: some repeat and develop the forms of clouds: others, seen against a backdrop of snow-covered cliffs and hills, take up the forms and energies characteristic of these, while the best combine all of these features with a capricious dynamism that constantly modifies and transforms as we pass. A whale, travelling at a furious fifteen knots, faster than the ship, briefly surfaces, its back confirming a neighbouring iceberg’s. Another iceberg suddenly appears as a gigantic swan. Another reveals a Norman arch, fifty foot high, with ice packed above this for another hundred feet - a broken-off fragment of a medieval abbey.

Sometimes I find mealtime conversation quite baffling - top scientists talk shop, their jargon bristling with acronyms. They are very patient when I enquire about their particular speciality and any possible future practical application.’

22 December 1997
‘The engines stop, and 33 scientists, Judy and I file down a rope ladder into a launch already bulging with boxes, barrels, crates. We are delivering supplies to the tiny station of Port Lockroy, and dropping off Dave Burkitt and Rod Downie who will man the place, alone for three months. It was established in 1944, and abandoned in 1962. In 1996 it was restored by the U.K. Antarctic Heritage Trust, and now boasts a small museum and post office, to open in summer for visits by cruise ships and private yachts.

The pack ice has broken up enough for us to land without problems - a very small, rocky island, with gentoo penguins nesting everywhere, so that you must take great care not to disturb them, right away upon beaching. The smell of penguin guana crinkles your nose - all pervasive bad fish. Everybody carries the cargo into the store-shed or up to the house: each case is clearly marked, and checked on a tally by Dave, who semaphores the operations. The privilege of raising the British flag to the top of its mast, at the highest point by the house, falls to Linda, on behalf of BAS, and me. Such an unaccustomed honour makes me very nervous, as I fumble with intransigent ropes, tugging ineffectively and desperately. A great relief when the flag ascends and unfurls.

A magical spot, an island surrounded by mainland cliffs, monumental white mountains. The all-pervasive sound is of broken packice lifting on and off the shore rocks - a Gargantuan cocktail shaker. Add to that the gentle buzz of conversation among the ubiquitous penguins, with the occasional raised squawk as a sheathbill - a small grubby white seabird - lunges towards a penguin egg - and that’s the island's sound spectrum.

The mainland is only 100 yards away from one point, but safety regulations determine that the keepers are not allowed to have a boat. Their accommodation is sparse but solid - there is plenty of coal still from the forties - and the museum has relics evocative of that time - ancient cans of food, oatmeal packets, tools in situ, all with excellent explanatory displays.

Once we have determined that the radio link to the main station at Rothera is operative, we pile back into the launch and return to the RRS James Clark Ross. This was the first time I had worn any of the Antarctic gear issued by BAS - it was surrealistic being kitted out at headquarters in Cambridge last July, pulling on the layer after layer of thermals and waterproofs on one of the hottest days ever - but here we would not survive without these. It is a great relief to take them off for lunch - particularly the huge guana-smeared boots. There are strict dress codes for meals on board, to be transgressed at one’s peril.

This afternoon we glide through the Lemaire Strait - a narrow passage between the almost vertical sides of mountains jutting thousands of feet up into cloud. Apart from the gentle hum of the boat’s engines - the JCR is extremely quiet, to facilitate very precise sonar experiments - the silence is profound. There is hardly any talk, either on the bridge or on deck - everyone is so over-awed by the grandeur, the power of the unfolding spectacle. My words can give no suggestion of the self-transendence invoked, and I fear, too, that any music I eventually write can only give the palest hint. One of the most serendipitous moments came when a snow avalanche poured and billowed down the mountain directly to starboard - imagine the mightiest, gentlest, longest whisper ever - we were enveloped for a space in mad, dancing flakes, a white-out - a moment that will last a lifetime.

Shortly after 4 p.m. a small party descended a very long rope ladder into a very small launch, to take Christmas mail to Vernadsky, the Ukranian Antarctic Expedition base. This base was formerly British, named Faraday after Michael Faraday, the Physicist and was handed over to the Ukrainians in 1995. John Harper, the mate of the JCR, was in charge, standing tall at the stem, shouting instructions and semaphoring to the wheel-house, to ensure a safe passage through the ice-flows. Even the unfrozen sea-water was like oil, thickly viscous. A gaggle of long huts on a small rise, where we tie up, welcomed enthusiastically, and are helped through deep snow to the Christmassy domestic warmth of the settlement. Such a joyful, beautiful welcome from the dozen or so men and women - we take off our boots and layers of gear, and troop up to the bar. This is the biggest and most famous bar in the Antarctic - a riot of decorative carving, made by over-enthusiastic British joiners, who, for the waste of time and wood, were promptly sent home.

Delighted hosts and guests, excellent black coffee of the kind that dissolves the spoon and scalds your tonsils, chocolate, generous globes of Ukrainian cognac. A welcoming speech from Vladimir Okrugin, the head of the team, and we are shown round the base by Svetlana, a meteorologist, climbing champion, guitarist and computer expert. Many things - equipment, notices, photographs - have been left as they were when the British ran the station. Up a ladder into a loft office, where we met Daphne, a Dobson spectrophotometer, the piece of scientific equipment, from 1957, which was the means of discovering the hole in the ozone layer. A speech by Julian Paren, generous vodka all round, stirring Ukranian music, and we are bobbing our way through corridors of ice back to the RRS James Clark Ross. A huddle of figures waving on the jetty: one wonders when anyone will visit them next. Pete Bucktrout, our official photographer, asks why all international and diplomatic relations can’t be like this. Why indeed?! I sport the badge of the Ukranian Antarctic Expedition, and clutch a book about their homeland.’

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A disappointed man

William Bagshaw Stevens, born 260 years go today, died laughing. But, in his relatively short life, he had been an ineffective headmaster of Repton School, a failed poet, and a disappointed lover. Ironically, perhaps, he is best remembered for a journal he kept, one in which he chronicled his disappointments so candidly that one can hardly imagine he would ever have wanted to see it published. Nevertheless, it was kept safe and passed down the generations, and was finally published in the mid-20th century - it’s editor describing the work as the journal of a disappointed man.

William Bagshaw Stevens was born on 15 March 1756 in Abingdon, Berkshire, the son of an apothecary and surgeon. He studied at Magdalen College, Oxford, and after graduating in 1776 went to teach at Repton School, Derbyshire, succeeding to the post of headmaster. He took deacon’s orders, and was appointed domestic chaplain by Sir Robert Burdett of nearby Foremark Hall (but didn’t take priest’s orders until 1798). 

Having published a volume of verse in 1775 (Poems, consisting of Indian Odes and Miscellaneous Pieces), Stevens published a second in 1782, but it was not reviewed well. Hugh Brogan, however, in his brief biography for the Oxford National Dictionary of Biography (log-in required), says: ‘Stevens was a better poet than his contemporaries knew. Some of his verse was still unpublished 200 years after his death, but, if the whole of it is read, he emerges as a man of real talent, humour, wit, and feeling, though trapped in the limbo of poetic diction that the great Romantics would soon blow apart.’

A promise by Sir Robert to bestow a good living on Stevens came to nothing over the years, and Stevens considered himself too poor to marry - though he did pursue liaisons with some passion. Repton School languished under his headship, as he was, it is said, naturally idle and neglectful of his duties. He did keep up a connection with Magdalen College, and for short periods later in life was a fellow and praelector of moral philosophy. Only in his last year did he attain a rectory (Seckington) and a nearby vicarage (Kingsbury) in Warwickshire, thanks to Sir Robert’s grandson and heir. Stevens died in 1800, from a fit of laughing at the antics of an Italian and his monkey in the village high street! (This knowledge comes from an unpublished journal kept by Stevens’ sister who lived with him - as reported by Galbraith, see below.) Further biographical information can be gleaned from an old version of the Dictionary of National Biography.

Stevens left behind six octavo volumes of a diary he had been keeping since his 37th birthday. This was not published until 1965, when Oxford University Press brought out The Journal of the Rev. William Bagshaw Stevens, as edited by Georgina Galbraith. In her introduction, Galbraith explains how the manuscripts had survived through various generations, well cared-for but quite unexamined, until they were sold in 1957 to Huntington Library, where she found them when researching Repton. The manuscripts are marred, Galbraith says, by many deletions (removal of leaves, blackening out, crossings out etc), especially in the first volume, mostly about his neighbours and benefactors, the Burdetts. She believes most of these deletions were made by 
Rev. Thomas Bosvile, Stevens’s closest friend, because it would have been dangerous to leave about attacks on the family who were supporting Stevens’s sister.

Many of Stevens’s entries - especially the longer ones - are simply the contents of letters he received or sent, and many shorter entries simply state who he dined with or visited, or where he preached. However, he does write with candid intimacy about his love for Fanny Coutts - a story with a bitter, sad ending - so much so in fact that it’s surely unlikely he would have wanted these diaries to have become public. Galbraith notes that the journal is one of a disappointed man, ‘disappointed in every one of his activities’. Here are several extracts from the published book, including the first few entries and the last three.

15 March 1792
‘On this day I commenced my thirty-seventh year. May God of his mercy grant that the remainder of my Life be spent more agreably to his Will, and with more satisfaction to myself than the former Part has been! . . .’

16 March 1792
‘Dined at the Mitre on Turbot and Claret in consequence of a Wager between Sir R. Burdett and Mr Pyott. Sir R. had laid that old Ashly would live to the 17th of this month. The Bet was made on the 17th of last March. Ashly is now in his 92nd Year. . .’

17 March 1792
‘Drank Tea at Spilsbury’s. Dalrymple there. Much conversation upon the Slave Trade. Dalrymple and Dodsly defended the Trade strongly upon the ground of Policy. I cannot but think that the Policy which disclaims honesty, humanity and religion is not the policy of a Good Man or a Great Minded Nation; but the Policy of a Thief, a Highwayman, and a Murderer.’

18 March 1792
‘After service at Foremark set out for Ashford for the sale of Mr Bullock’s Library on Monday. Spent the evening alone at Wirksworth.’

19 March 1792
‘Reached Bakewell by 10 o’Clock. Found that the Books, a mere collection of trash, would not be sold till Wednesday. Viewed Bakewell Church, a curious structure with a Saxon arched doorway, and an octagon Steeple. The Church contains some of the Richest Monuments in the Kingdom with a very singular large Saxon Font adorned with the Images of Saints in relief.’

14 August 1792
‘All went to Chee Tor, a most romantic, lovely spot - dined on the grass by the head of a Spring - ‘Lady Burdett, You have not performed your promise. You have not given me Fanny’s Picture.’ ‘That’s not my fault. You should have asked me for it.’

Jones and I were to go to the Isle of Man the next day - postponed our Journey that I might get Fanny’s Picture copied. It was agreed to leave Buxton on Saturday and go all together to Foremark. Lady Burdett hoped I would go with them to Tunbridge.’ 

30 July 1792
‘Rowed on Windemere round Christians Island. Curwen and his attendant fleet passed by us - The Bishop of Landaff’s Seat - Wilberforce’s pretty Cottage - The lake said to be 14 miles long and in some places two across, surrounded with magnificent well-wooded Hills - a glorious scene -After dinner rode to Coniston Water of much inferior merit to Windemere. Observed the Ruins of an old Abbey near Hawkshead. Coniston Water about 7 miles from Windemere. The Old Man, a huge Mountain against which the Clouds are continually dashing, appeared at Windemere to stand on its edge. At Coniston we were near it; it stood on the far side of the head of that Lake. Walked in the Evening to Gill Force, a Cascade near the Inn at Ambleside. Thought when filled by a thunderstorm with water, superior to the cascade of Tivoli, it falls in the shape of a Y about 50 yards.’

15 August 1794
‘Before breakfast met Fanny in the Grove. She had found great Comfort, she said, in having talked with me on the Subject. I was the only Person that ever inspired her with a desire of communicating her grief. O that I had the power of pouring balm into your wounded affections. What would I not do? But my Heart was not without an ‘emballed heaviness.’ I thanked her for the ingenuous tale and tender confession of her unfortunate Passion. It was worthy of her. As to myself, if I could do nothing to soothe her Grief, she might be certain I would not abuse her Confidence. I would listen to her for ever and mingle tears with hers. She had one comfort, at least, that Her sorrows were not now shut up in her own breast. Yes, in me she confided. To a younger Person she could not with propriety have unbosomed herself, but she was sometimes amazed at the impulse she had long felt to communicate her Distress of Mind to me. I spoke feelingly. She felt the force of my feelings. ‘You allow me to consider you as my Friend. You may safely place Confidence in me. Fanny, you may have occasion to pity me but shall never blush for me. It shall be the peculiar satisfaction of my Life, my Pride and my Glory to compell You in despite of yourself to esteem me.’ [. . .]

After breakfast again walked with Fanny. Her Heart, she said, was a great deal lightened. It was her duty to struggle with her grief. She wished I could be with her, wished I knew more of her Father, spoke enthusiastically of Him. When You are no longer with us in your Walks You will often think of us, We shall think and talk of You, and we shall know that you think of us, and this will be a great Comfort.’

15 March 1796
‘I am now Forty. . . A Fool at Forty is a Fool indeed. Dined at the Widow’s. - late home.’

1 February 1797
‘Gouty Pains in my feet - return home - Burdett with me. In his usual kind manner he gave me the Horse that brought Jones and Me from the Isle of Wight. He cost Burdett 60 guineas.’

1 April 1800
‘Leave Tamworth - dine at Wolferston’s. Home.’

5 April 1800
‘To Donnington.’

6 April 1800
‘Dine at Ingleby.’

The Diary Junction

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Damascus diaries

It’s four years since Britain, and many other countries, closed their embassies in Damascus, Syria, and withdrew their diplomatic staff, the famous city having become too dangerous to live in or to visit. Before then, though, it had an exotic appeal to Westerners, especially Peter Clark, who fell in love with the place in the 1960s and then returned in the 1990s to run the British Council branch there. His diaries of that time have just been published by the specialist Middle East publisher, Gilgamesh. They paint, Gilgamesh says, ‘a vivid and almost nostalgic picture of life in this remarkable city’. I, too, have visited Damascus, in the mid-1970s, staying just a couple of days as I hitchhiked my way from Europe to Australia. As my own diary entries remind me, I found the Syrians most friendly and hospitable.

Peter Clark was schooled in Loughborough and Southend before studying at Keele, Cambridge and Leicester universities. He joined the British Council in 1967, mostly working abroad, in the Middle East and Africa, remaining with the institution for 30 years or so. In 1992, he was invited to reopen the British Council office in Syria, a country he’d first visited in 1962, and he remained until 1997. He enjoyed good relations with the British diplomatic staff, and, briefly, met successive foreign ministers, Douglas Hurd and Malcolm Rifkind, on their official visits to Damascus. Among Clark’s cultural successes were a production of Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas in Arabic and an exhibition of Freya Stark’s Syria photographs. After retiring from the Council, he returned to Syria occasionally leading lead tour groups.

Clark is fluent in Arabic, and has translated novels, drama, poetry and history by contemporary Arab writers. He has written books on the Islamic scholar Marmaduke Pickthall and the explorer Wilfred Thesiger, and published a collection of writings on the Middle East - Coffeehouse Footnotes - as well as a book on Istanbul. He is a trustee of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, a contributing editor of Banipal, and an adviser on cultural tourism to Turkey and Syria. He is married, and lives in Frome Somerset. A little further biographical information is available from Debretts, The International Prize for Arabic Fiction, the Gilmour Print Service or a Marmaduke Pickthall fansite.

Throughout most of his adult life, Clark has kept personal diaries, and his time in Damascus was no exception. Perhaps because of the troubles now afflicting Syria and its capital, Gilgamesh - a specialist in Middle East books - has chosen to publish Clark’s diaries of his Damascus years. It says of the book - Damascus Diaries: Life Under the Assads - ‘Here we see the dramas and routines of everyday life played out against the backdrop of the world’s oldest continually inhabited city on the eve of collapse into civil war. Enchanting and alarming by turns, everyday events combine to paint a vivid and almost nostalgic picture of life in this remarkable city.’ Reviews can be read online at The Economist and The Tanjara. Here are several extracts (with thanks to Gilgamesh Publushing).

23 October 1993
‘I am at the office early and at precisely 9.30 we hear the screaming of sirens, and Douglas Hurd, his detective, and the Ambassador arrive, followed by members of his entourage - Richard Culshaw in charge of the press and his Principal Private Secretary, John Sawers, whom I last saw in Yemen in 1980. I take Douglas Hurd round the exhibition of Freya Stark’s photographs, and he talks to some of the staff. He also signs my copy of his novel, The Palace of Enchantments, which was already signed by the co-author, Stephen Lamport, in Abu Dhabi. And that is that. The party disappears and so do we.

Douglas Hurd has called on the President, with Andrew Green. It is the first time Andrew has met him.’

24 October 1993
‘I am in the office very early. The Hurd visit has been seen as a success. A tide is moving in our favour, an enhancement of Syria-British relations. Meanwhile the situation in Algeria gets grimmer by the day. The country is slipping into confusion and foreigners are being kidnapped and assassinated. At this rate the British Council will withdraw and there may be extra funds for Syria. Every cloud has a silver lining.’

20 January 1994
‘In the afternoon we go for a walk, due north, beyond Muhajirin and up the mountain. Jabal Kasiyun has slowly had the city encroaching upon it. We climb up roads that are at a gradient of about 1 in 3. The views over the city get more and more splendid - skyscrapers stand out, tall white buildings, with here and there to the west patches of green, all that is left of the gardens of Damascus. It is invigorating. We descend, passing by an office that is surrounded by dozens of black Mercedes cars and lots of security people. I learn later that this is where the President has his office. It is a shabby building but one can, at least, walk within 20 yards of it, and the residential flats nearby in these leafy suburbs must be desirable.

We are invited to dinner with Dr and Mrs Drubi. He is a prosperous doctor from Homs. She has three daughters, one of whom is studying English at the British Council. Another was Miss Syria in 1986 and is now in Canada. I talk to Zelfa Samman, half-sister of and 20 years younger than the novelist, Ghada, who chooses to live in Paris. Zelfa’s mother is a Shishakli, a niece of the former President, Adib. Her mother’s mother is a sister of Akram Hourani, who is still alive, in exile in Amman, over 80 and frail. Zelfa’s father was President of the University of Damascus and has been briefly Minister of Higher Education. Our host’s brother was Minister of Petroleum. The older ruling official and the contemporary elites merge.’

22 January 1994
‘We walk into the city centre. There are more people around than usual. Men in dark suits persuade shopkeepers to close up and by 1 o’clock all shops have their shutters down. Groups of youths process in hooting cars, carrying pictures of Basil [the President’s son, who died the day before]. Newspapers with large photos are stuck on shop doorways and people pause to peruse. One paper has a long poem by the Minister of Culture. Yesterday people seemed to be too stunned to show any reaction. Today there are demonstrations. A human tragedy is perceived. Everyone can deplore the death of a child before his parent. Basil was writ large across Syria. His father, prematurely aged, must be shattered. I hear there were troop movements all last night, including tanks in the city. The accident, we hear, was on the road to the airport, perhaps late on Thursday night. Basil was perhaps drunk, driving to see a Makhlouf cousin off to Germany.’

23 January 1994
‘I try unsuccessfully to get some guidance from the Embassy. I decide myself to keep the teaching centre closed today. We arrange to put a notice of condolence in the paper and to send a cable to the President. Yesterday there were manifestations of grief: fake orchestrated and genuine. Today there are further demonstrations that border on the contrived. Shops and schools remain closed. I think in years to come Syrians will look on Basil al-Assad as the herald of a golden age that never dawned. His early death will be an alibi for frustration or disappointment.’

8 November 1995
‘At noon I get a summons to go to the Embassy to meet Malcolm Rifkind (or Rifkunt as one of my Syrian colleagues calls him). I bump into a breezy, relaxed Andrew Green who is accompanying him. The Secretary of State is in the loo when I arrive. The top floor of the Embassy is transformed into a mobile office. One man is busy on the phone. Another is scanning faxed press cuttings. A girl is at a typewriter. Coffee pots, teapots and cartons of fruit juice are on a shelf. Malcolm Rifkind comes in, relieved. We stand talking for my allotted five minutes. He fires questions at me and seems well briefed. I tell him that we see our role as subversive, promoting the values of an open and plural society. He laughs encouragingly. He has heard of the success of the opera. (Bully for him!)

I go to the airport to meet Leila Abouzeid, the Moroccan writer. I have been told that she is quite a big woman. I accost all the larger women coming off the plane from Tunis and Algiers and get “old-fashioned looks”. Eventually Leila accosts me. Actually she is quite petite in appearance, looking older than I expected. I take her to the house before the hotel. She is surprised at my interest in contemporary Arabic literature. I tell her I am an endangered species.’

14 December 1996
‘I am translating Sa’dallah’s play and am having difficulties. There is no problem getting the meaning but I am not getting the brio of the Arab text into English. I feel my present version is mechanical. The challenge is the dialogue that has to be spoken. It is different from translating a novel or story that has only to be read. I am now translating something with a production in mind.’


I have my own Damascus diaries, but they are only two entries long! In my youthful travelling days, back in 1974, I hitch-hiked from Europe to Australia, by way of the Middle East, stopping in Damascus for only two days. I was befriended by a young man named Khald, who so generously let me stay in his house, and took me around the city with his friends.

13 July 1974, Damascus
‘After a cold shower, I’m up and out quick. The bus driver tries to rip me off 40L for a ride to Syria, so I hitch - 8km of no mans land signalled by barbed wire. A visa costs me nearly £2 - big rip off. I should have got a transit visa. By 10 I am in Syria. I hitch a ride to Allepo and take a bus to Damascus S£5. There is an English couple on the bus, but I take an immediate dislike to them. We three English are befriended - given cucumbers and nuts and asked our names. One of the passengers, a teacher, speaks English so we talk for a while. Several little girls are always smiling. The journey is long - five hours sitting and standing. At first, all the land is ploughed, but dry-looking with something growing but later it becomes arid and desert-like. I see many soldiers, and tanks shunting backwards and forwards. On the bus, Khald befriends me. We arrive by 6:00. Khald takes me to his flat which he shares with his brother and a friend. In the evening, we stroll slowly around the town, stopping to talk to friends, and always shaking hands when meeting and leaving them. Many boys walk together with arms or hands joined, very strange - everywhere is very lively - a glass of ice with lemon juice - a chapati with egg and mayonnaise and tomato, and another with meat and cucumber. I sleep well on the floor even though I sweat a lot at first.’

14 July 1974, Damascus
‘This morning I walk for a few hours - it’s very, very busy with numerous street sellers, and a lot of smoke. I pass by several long narrow covered streets selling mostly clothing, shoes and fancy goods, handicrafts, copper, wood - rickety overhangs balanced on bent beams provide the shade. Everywhere, there are old buildings, once beautiful, but now falling down, and much building of modern blocks too. I visit the Umayyad Mosque. This is the most beautiful place I have yet seen. As you enter through the arches of a vast courtyard, there are the most fantastic mosaics of bright colours far above, with enchanting pictures of villages. To one side, there is a vast edifice with two beautiful altars of mother of pearl in wood and very detailed wood carving. People come here for cool and rest and prayer. In the middle is the tomb of the Prophet Yehia (John the Baptist) with a velvet cloth covering. So beautiful. For S£1 I go next to the Al Azm Palace, the 18th century home of The Pasha - one of the ruling class, a typical rich man’s house - here too are many lovely things. The rooms are smallish with the most beautiful wood carvings on doors and ceilings - painted so intricately with dour colours and gold in square patterns. The courtyard is very pretty, with many green plants - but this is usual. There’s a folkloric museum here too.

Later, I sit in a cafe drinking real lemon juice and watching a game of chess - everyone plays chess, backgammon or cards - a lot of water-pipes being smoked - iced water is free for all - shoe cleaners takes people’s shoes and clean them while they play or smoke. Khald is very happy because he has money. We all eat chicken brought to the house. They sleep, but I go out to walk a long way up a very steep hill. I turn and see Damascus - a panorama. Hot and weary I return. Khald goes to the cinema with his girl, while I walk in a pleasant garden in a mosque. I play a little chess with someone who claims to be the fifth best player in Syria. Khald is happy; but sad that I am going.’