Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sunday Salon: What I'm Doing 46

Another few weeks of culture: first, a political play called 'Whipping it Up' at TipTop - a local amateur dramatics group (as usual the acting was...tip top, of course:-)).  This was about the shenanigans of the whip's office written by someone who knows, I should think.  Entertaining it was too.
Mound of Shotwick Castle

Then, a couple of weeks ago, in blistering sunshine, we went with the Chester Archaeology Group to the site of Shotwick Castle.  All that's left of it now is a mound, the stones robbed away - presumably for other buildings.  But it was built in Norman times, perhaps by the first Earl of Chester, Hugh Lupus, in the eleventh century.  It was later used by the princes as a staging post as they made their way into Wales over the River Dee to subdue the Welsh.  Our little expedition was ably led by Peter Carrington, and it was very interesting hearing from the other knowledgeable people in the group too.

Chester Archaeological Group on Shotwick Castle Site
I, of course, know very little, but I have been reading about this crossing place on the Dee, and came across a book called the 'Cestrian Book of Dead' which maps the many places where people attempted to cross the Dee - only to be drowned by the incoming tide.

Apart from that, my reading has been 'The Gene' by Sidhartha Mukherjee,

'Postwar' by Tony Judt on Audible (both of these hugely impressive works),

and having finished 'Londoners' by Craig Taylor, have now started 'Our Endless Numbered Days'

by Claire Fuller on my Kindle. So far so good.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Sunday Salon: What I'm Doing 45

The summer has brought me an excellent couple of weeks of culture.

What I've seen (live).  Julius Caesar at Storyhouse.

This was the opening night and I've been wanting to write about it for some time.  It started in the foyer with Julius Caesar marching in with the crowd swarming around the audience in adulation.  The flags and banners were in blue, white and red stars, and there was footage of his arrival at the theatre in a black limousine on a big screen - pointing out the link with the modern world.  But then every time I see any Shakespeare I am reminded that all he says is timeless and endlessly relevant.

After the introduction in the foyer, we were led upstairs to the auditorium where the rest of the play continued - the cast sometimes shouting from the wings - which had the effect of including us all in the story.  The first half culminated in a satisfyingly bloody and dramatic assassination - in preparation for a second half that was one of the most gripping I've ever seen.  By complete coincidence, we found ourselves, very happily, sitting next to the poet Aled Lewis Evans, and at the end of it we just looked at each other and said exactly the same thing: 'Wow!'

Julius Caesar is now my favourite Shakespeare play.  I cannot remember ever being enthralled with any of the others I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot) as much as I was with this.

What I've seen (on TV): An Art Lover's Guide to Amsterdam, Barcelona and St Petersburg.
This was great.  Excellent presenters (I've seen them in other things and they've always been good - but to put them together was inspired, I thought). These three programmes looked at the quirky pieces of art available in each of the three cities - my afvourite segment being the one on Irma Bloom and her books.  There's an articl from the New York Times on some of them here.

And then, of course, I've read a few books.  First Gregory Norminton's The Ghost Who Bled:   collection of stories from different places and times, some with an environmental theme:  a science fiction story featuring a cult which pays homage to animals that man has made extinct, for instance; an academic's disillusionment with university life;  and a beautifully written paeon to a past accessed from a future that is lost.  The wistful meandering between now and then makes compulsive reading.

A poignant exploration of a fundamental truth - that saving someone's life forces you to hate them forever -  is joined by stories dealing with advisability of going back; creativity in a world that's falling away; and a Japanese ghost story that twists and teases between cockpit and village.

Showmanship is another motif: an actor changes his mind about a life-changing decisionand in doing so 'sobbed for his body, for the close companionship of bowels, of kidneys, of liver and spleen.'; an emperor who finds a novel way to extract information from a visionary and a ventriloquist wants to end it all.

Each story is exquisitely written but perhaps my favourite is  'In My Father's Garden' - an entertaining look at the varied ways we impose ourselves on our little piece of planet.

Apart from that I've read Engleby by Sebastian Faulks - an intriguing and brilliantly mystery primarily evoked by the unreliabilty of the narrator.

It seemed just as real as The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale that  describes a life that turns out unexpectedly- teaching me alot about life at the end of the nineteenth century.  It reminded me a little of Peter Carey's books - and not just because it was based, in part in Australia (although the Wicked Boy was non-fiction).

Now I'm on Postwar : A History of Europe since 1945 by Tony Judt.  Because I'm listening to this I hadn't realised that it is a thousand pages long, but it impresses me so much I've just ordered it in hardback as well.  I think this may take some time.