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Friday, 30 December 2011

George Seferis, Greek and English Websites

Just discovered an invaluable website, which has many of George Seferis' poems in Greek, as well as a number of his key statements and speeches:

There are also good sections for other Greek poets and writers, such as Sikelianos, Papadiamantis, Solomos, Ritsos, Karyotakis, Dimoula, Palamas, Kavvadias, Elytis etc

Soft Power at its best!

See also Princeton papers on Seferis

And an interesting interview, in English

BBC Greek Service and George Seferis

Thomas Hardy, New Year's Eve, 1900

The Darkling Thrush, from the Hardy Society blog

Last verse:

"So little cause for carolings

Of such ecstatic sound

Was written on terrestrial things

Afar or nigh around,

That I could think there trembled through

His happy good-night air

Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew

And I was unaware."

A cheerful prognosis for 2012 from 27 economists! The return of recession. Thanks for the good news. I think I'll consult the oracles at Delphi and Dodoni.

The answer will be...

One note of optimism!

But I've just discovered the grim concept of "managed decline" which has apparently been in use for a very long time.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Monday, 26 December 2011

Soft Power, Hard Concept

Boxing Day, and I have restarted work on a paper I will be giving in Athens at the end of January.

As part of this work, I am thinking about the concept of "Soft Power", a term coined by Prof. Joseph Nye of Harvard University.

There's an interesting contribution to the debate here, by John Glen, in the UK edition of the Huffington Post.

Professor Nye, Q and A (watch)

His 2010 London lecture (watch)

His 2010 London lecture. Listen

The Wikipedia entry on Soft Power

It's the word 'power' that bothers me in this context. The term may be ok if confined to the idea that most countries have a cultural allure, or attraction for foreigners, important assets which shouldn't be undervalued.

Plastic Money and VAT Collection in Greece

Pay your VAT!

Hardy's Christmas

Another good link, to Hardy's  House of Hospitalities.

Much as I like Hardy, his use of language can be very odd:

"Since the viands were outset here"

The Siege of Corfu, Vivaldi, 1716

Thanks to Spyros Kurtis, I have discovered a fascinating piece of music by Vivaldi.

"The Siege of Corfu".

Something to include in the next edition of "The Ionian Islands and Epirus"!

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Bob Dylan in Greece, 1964

I hadn't realised that Dylan's "I'll keep it with mine" was probably written in Greece, at the time when Bob was also working on a number of songs for his fourth album, Another Side of Bob Dylan. Songs included "It Ain't Me Babe" (he'd also worked on this on an earlier occasion in Italy) and the lovely demo, "Mama you been on my mind" (if you prefer it, this is the Joan Baez version)

Apparently "I'll keep it with mine" was written for Nico (Christa Paffgen), who died in July 1988; she recorded a version of the song.

Commentators seem to be unable to identify the village near Athens where she and Bob are said to have stayed for a short period in May/June,1964.

Nobody can find the village near Athens called Vernilya, the location of so much creativity. It remains a mystery.

Robert Shelton calls it Vermilya in "No Direction Home, The Life and Music of Bob Dylan":

"After an appearance in London in May 1964, Dylan made a lightning trip to Paris and then Greece, where, with his road manager, Victor Maimudes, he visited the small village of Vermilya."

Victor died in 2001. The late Suze Rotola does not have good words for Bob's "buddy-bodyguard" in "A Freewheelin' Time", page 285.  Wherever Vermilya/Vernilia may be, it deserves a plaque.

David Hajdu, in "Positively 4th Street", writes that "Bob wrote nearly all the songs for his next record in about a week at the end of May, while vacationing in Greece between engagements in a one-month tour of Europe."

I once suspected that some of the verses in "Mr Tambourine Man" were also written in Greece that May. Then for a while I thought they could also have been inspired six months later by the Cacoyannis film "Zorba the Greek" (eg the lines about dancing beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands...Let me forget about today until tomorrow- remember the reaction of Zorba after the collapse of the cable railway?). But Dylan had written the first version of the song around February 1964, or maybe as early as 1962. He recorded a version in the Columbia Studio on 9 June, 1964 (with Rambling Jack Elliott on back-up vocals). He performed it at the Newport Folk Festival (with that verse) in the summer of 1964. Zorba the Greek didn't open until December 1964 (first reviews, 18 December, 1964).

The Zorba link seemed a plausible idea, given the acknowledged influence on Dylan of Fellini's La Strada and Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player. When Nat Hentoff conducted an interview with Dylan (January 1966) for Playboy Magazine (February 1966), he asked him if he had any unfulfilled ambitions. Dylan replied:

"Well, I guess I've always wanted to be Anthony Quinn in La Strada. Not always-only for about six years now; it's not one of those childhood-dream things."

The fact is that Dylan worked on many of his songs at many different times and places. I'm certainly not  a Dylanologist, and  we'll probably never know the answers to many questions, unless Dylan chooses to write about them in some future volume of Chronicles.

Judy Collins also recorded the song I'll Keep It with Mine. She has said that Bob told her that the song was written for her.

Some other notable songs with a stronger Greek connection:

Leonard Cohen, Bird on a Wire

Donovan, Writer in the Sun

Cat Stevens, Rubylove

Pulp, Common People

Someone helpfully posted a Greek translation of the first line:

Ήρθε από την Ελλάδα, είχε μια δίψα για γνώση. Εκεινη σπούδασε γλυπτική στο St.Martin 's College...

Saturday, 24 December 2011

African Sanctus, David Fanshawe

Listen again to the first section of David Fanshawe's unforgettable work, African Sanctus, with recorded music of the Acholi people (Bwala Dance) mixed with his composed choral Latin Sanctus. This recording starts by bringing together Dorset voices and East African musicians- and presents other excerpts from the work.

Culturally inappropriate? Musically eccentric? For me African Sanctus still works, magnificently. It conveys a powerful message of unity. Although not the most obvious choice of music for Christmas Eve, it illuminates my own cross-cultural experiences and a life of travelling and international bridge-building. I share his love of indigenous folk-music.

Kyrie - "The Kyrie combines a western choir with a recording of the muezzin in the Mohammad Ali mosque, Cairo. Fanshawe combines the muezzin with a choir singing the Kyrie in a way that is totally respectful to both traditions".

David Fanshawe, Devon-born musical visionary, composer and explorer, died on 5 July 2010.

We met in Stockholm in October 2003. Maybe he would have enjoyed my film about Ethiopia.  It includes a sequence on the Ethiopian Christmas ceremony at Lalibela.

Good Title for a Topical Christmas Book

This book cover caught my eye at the local library. It was not what I thought. In fact it's a popular children's story by Anthony Horowitz.

I was beginning to speculate as to the identity of "the Greek who stole Christmas". Any nominations?

Friday, 23 December 2011

To What Strange Place, Music of the Ottoman-American Diaspora, 1916-1929

This is a 3 CD set for the stocking. See trailer

Background from Ian Nagoski

Russell Hoban, One Less Octopus at Paxos

Russell Hoban, the writer, died on 13 December 2011.

His very short story  One Less Octopus at Paxos, a model of flash fiction (although it's probably a true story), appeared in Granta Magazine in 1983. It's the second story in this Granta Travel Issue link.

"Modern Greece has lived through the Asia Minor disaster of 1922, Axis occupation in 1940s, civil war and military dictatorship. But in those critical times there was at least an enemy, a cause and the belief that popular action could bring about significant change. But the current national crisis feel different. Different every day, different every week, different every month. As the most recent 48 hour national strike gripped the nation, the writer Maria Margaronis navigated her way through her beloved country to hear - above the din of protest and the hiss of the tear gas - those voices trying to make sense of this spiralling crisis in Athens and in the mountains and villages beyond".

Richard Pine, on the outlook for Greece

Richard Pine, The Irish Times. 

The Nights are Drawing In- Soul Song from 'Corfu Blues'

I've been meaning to post a link to this song, The Nights are Drawing In,  for quite a few months, even though it hasn't been through the full remix and other post-production adjustments.

I wrote the lyric many years ago (the situation is entirely imaginary), but Raul Scacchi has given the tune an excellent arrangement, and Stefania Kaloudis (Stefanie) has given it a deep, sad, heart-felt rendering .

I always found it difficult to sing this song myself- for technical reasons. Corina Hamilton also did a great job on it, but her version was never recorded. Here's Raul's own demo version.

The song lyric appears in my book "Corfu Blues" (pp93-94), Ars Interpres, Stockholm, 2006.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Having a Party, '50s Style; Wanda Jackson

Hard Headed Woman, Wanda Jackson

Let's Have a Party, Wanda Jackson

Mean Mean Man, Wanda Jackson

Singing the Blues, Wanda Kackson

A little nostalgia, why not.

The Fujiyama Mama really knew how to rock...

and the Queen of Rockabilly is still going strong: Merry Christmas, Baby

An Unexpected Review of The Ionian Islands and Epirus

Just received the 2011 edition of the Wadham College (Oxford) Gazette. I was pleased to find the following book review. Fran Woodcock, the reviewer, calls my  "The Ionian Islands and Epirus" "a dynamic, compelling narrative". Most welcome at the winter solstice!

The same issue features two satirical poems by Maurice Bowra on Patrick Leigh Fermor, printed for the first time.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Long Live Havel! (Prague Christmas Card, 1988)

My Last Christmas in Prague,
Kaprová Koleda, Christmas Eve, 1988 

I’d like to write a Christmas poem,
Or, better still, a carol.

Dujdaj, dujdaj, dujdaj, da!

“The carp in the tanks,
The tanks in the squares,
The squares in the cities,
The cities in chains”.

Veselme se? Radujme se?

A dying fall of Ryba.

A few months later, a thousand brave people signed their names in support of Havel, at the time of his trial, on 21 February 1989. I noted then:

“The Czechs don’t want a new Mandela
Within the heart of Europe.”


October 1989:

 24 October, 1989:

Prague, Academy of Sciences, 23 November, 1989,  the roars and chants of the crowds outside:

At’ žíji herci!

Pravda vitĕze!

Long live Havel!


                                                                    Farewell, Václav.
Funeral on Friday

One minute's silence at noon, Czech time (11 am UK time)

Not the same as being present in St. Vitus' Cathedral:

From Dvořàk's Requiem

More from the Requiem 

Havel's Journey and the StB

Stoppard on Havel

Havel at the BC, Prague, 14. 4.1992:

pf 2012 At’ žíji herci!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Corfu: Laiki Agora

John's Corfu World features the popular market in Corfu Town, finally in operation. What an extraordinary saga it has been!

I won't be able to offer my own verdict until February. Someone should write the full story of what really happened over the last five years.

Greek announcement

Another fascinating posting from John's Corfu World, on the Paleo-Christian Basilica near Mon Repos

End of an Era: Vaclav Havel has died

BBC reports death of Vaclav Havel, aged 75

Happier days

BBC Obituary

In pictures

Czechs honour Havel

So much sad news these days...Cesaria Evora

Sings Petit Pays

Cape Verde Music Lives On

And Billie Jo Spears...Blanket on the Ground

Friday, 16 December 2011

Christopher Hitchens

Following the sad passing of Christopher Hitchens, the BBC has posted this recorded conversation with Jeremy Paxman (from 29 November, 2010).

+ audio, talking to Nina-Maria

Simon Marks reports for FSN

Britain and the EU

Another think piece from Bagehot, The Economist.

On "Benefit Tourists", from Russia Today

El Pais, " Page Not Found" (ratings war & the French 'war of words')

Eurointelligence linked to a page in El Pais. I tried it. Page Not Found!
This message appeared instead. Second thoughts about this French attack on the UK? Something lost in translation?
Page Not Found
Reason: File "Paris seems to have assumed that the loss of its AAA credit rating maximum is a matter of days or perhaps hours. All day yesterday circulated reports that the indigestible Standard & Poor's was to communicate the reduction of the note assesses the credit risk of sovereign debt at nightfall. The denial of the Elysee only prolonged the agony, and did not mitigate the resounding echo of the statements of the Bank of France governor and chief executive of the ECB, Christian Noyer, who launched harsh criticism of the agencies, and in an undiplomatic gesture, fired United Kingdom: "Agencies should start to degrade Britain's triple A," Noyer said, "they have higher deficits, more debt, more inflation, less growth than we and credit is shrinking."" was not found (2)!

Never fear, The Telegraph has it.

BBC update

BBC on Fitch ratings

FT: On the "Anglo-French spat"

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, Memorial Service

I had hoped to be in London today, for the Memorial Service for Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, and to meet friends (writers about Greece and the Balkans) at the Frontline Club this evening. My regrets.

Order of Service

Sound recording

An online celebration

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Lorentzos Mavilis, 2012 Centenary

2012 marks the centenary of the death of the great Greek poet Lorentzoz Mavilis (see part one of documentary).

From his sonnet on the Temple and Spring of Kardaki, Corfu:

"Whatever foreigner wets his lips there
Will never return to his home again".

Για τα 100 χρόνια από τον θάνατό του


Από την Εταιρεία Κερκυραϊκών Σπουδών

Σειρά εκδηλώσεων για τον Λορέντζο Μαβίλη ετοιμάζει για το έτος 2012 η Εταιρεία Κερκυραϊκών Σπουδών (Μουσείο Σολωμού), καθώς το έτος αυτό συμπληρώνονται εκατό χρόνια από τον ηρωικό θάνατο του Ποιητή στο Δρίσκο στους απελευθερωτικούς αγώνες της Ηπείρου.
Οι εκδηλώσεις θα ξεκινήσουν την 11η Ιανουαρίου 2012 με ομιλία του συγγραφέα Νάσου Μαρτίνου και θα ακολουθήσουν κι άλλες συναφείς ομιλίες, ενώ θα επιδιωχθεί και μια κοινή εκδήλωση με την Εταιρεία Ηπειρωτικών Μελετών, στον χώρο της θυσίας του.
Στις εκδηλώσεις εντάσσεται Επιστημονική Ημερίδα για το έργο του Ποιητή με πανεπιστημιακούς νεοελληνιστές, η οποία προγραμματίζεται για τα τέλη Μαρτίου 2012. Την επιμέλεια της ημερίδας έχει ο αντιπρόεδρος της Εταιρείας Κερκυραϊκών Σπουδών καθηγητής Θεοδόσης Πυλαρινός.
Για όλες τις εκδηλώσεις θα υπάρξει λεπτομερής ενημέρωση από την Εταιρεία Κερκυραϊκών Σπουδών.

Here's a setting of his poem, Lethe (Blessed are the Dead)- although I much prefer the Manolis Kalomiris setting.

The poem in Greek and English

Friday, 9 December 2011

Field Report from Epirus, Greece

Nina-Maria reporting from the Zagori and Ioannina

Scotland in Sweden; Scotland and Scandinavia/the Nordics

This BBC Report takes me back to "Scotland in Sweden", a year-long project - more than 30 events (2002-2003)- with which I was closely involved when working in Stockholm.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh carried out an inquiry and formulated a  response to the question below concerning impact and sustainability:

What are the benefits of the ‘Scotland in’ series of events (such as ‘Scotland in Sweden’, ‘Scotland in Brussels’ and ‘Scotland with Catalonia’), the coherency of the programme and the sustainability of this promotional tool?

"When a number of agencies work together to put together a series of promotional events under a single banner, such as "Scotland in Sweden", the whole can be much bigger than the sum of the parts in that the audience assembled by one organisation can easily be reached by others, thereby multiplying the impact.

The resources for these events do not allow the campaign to continue indefinitely. However, it raises the energy level of engagement of existing relationships and also initiates new relationships. Some of these relationships will generate further activity, some of which may be self-sustaining. For example, the RSE participation in Scotland in Sweden generated a lot of mutual interest in the work going on in stem cell research in each country. This led to Swedish participation in an RSE event held in Brussels a year later. It has also fed into a networking meeting for young scientists which the British Council in Stockholm is planning to run in March 2004. That meeting, in turn, is likely to lead to further scientific joint work, possibly funded from the EU Framework 6 programme."

For a more comprehensive academic evaluation of the Scotland in Sweden campaign, see James Pamment's "The Limits of the New Public Diplomacy" (Stockholm University, 2011).
Preview here

James Pamment expresses some concern about the short-termism of Scotland's cultural relations campaigns and promotions, but the BBC news item seems to point to a longer term strategy and much-needed follow-up activity (regardless of the issue of Scottish Independence?).

See also a paper on "Internationalising Scotland" (Pdf file), by Colin Imrie

The British Design Season had considerable impact.

The Outer Hebrides (translated poem from the anthology)

Update: one controversial view of the cost of Scottish Independence (The Economist, April 14 2012). Scotland's First Minister said that The Economist will "rue the day" it published the "insulting" cover image.

Includes an evaluation of "Scotland in Sweden"

26:1 (and the wisdom of Cameron's "veto")

Bagehot on what really happened in Brussels.

All in all, a diplomatic failure? Kosmopolito blog.

An interesting perspective on European issues by Giscard d'Estaing (Athens News):

Here is an excerpt:

He said that European leaders at their summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, widely seen as a final chance to get on top of the eurozone debt crisis, should forget about trying to revise European treaties.

"Reforming treaties that have to be modified by unanimous vote is impossible. Choosing the path of treaty revision with 27 (EU members) would make the crisis last and would give the impression that it is intractable," he said.

Instead, the 17 eurozone states should consider drafting a simple agreement among members of the single currency, similar to the Schengen agreement that introduced passport-free travel within 22 EU and non-EU states.

"It must be done very quickly, in the first quarter of 2012, a Schengen-type agreement driven by France and Germany and including other countries like Belgium and Italy. But it should only be open to eurozone countries, otherwise it will be a mess," he said.

The possibility of a smaller and more integrated core eurozone has been discussed by senior French and German civil servants, officials told Reuters last month. "I think that in the end that is how it will happen," Giscard said.

On Friday, EU leaders will review Franco-German proposals to reform eurozone governance via an amendment to the EU treaty to bring about more fiscal discipline. Giscard said leaders must agree quickly on debt and deficit limits and on sanctions for those countries that do not respect the agreement.

If some countries found the debt and deficit requirements under the new treaty too severe, they should return to their national currency, he said. "It is necessary to allow for the possibility of eurozone exit. This must be done under conditions that are correct, and not punitive," he said.

Giscard said Europe needed to fight speculators against the euro, whom he suspected were mainly American.
"Europe is like a city under siege. A big city, with a large population, and a strong economy. If its leaders do what needs to be done, this city will be free again," he said.

(Athens News, 7 December 2011)

Bagehot again

William Hague, in The Telegraph, 11 December

On the implications of the split



The Czechs and Hungarians on EU Tax Harmonisation and Control

The Oxbridge Interview, some tips from Fielding

Nice one, Fielding. I didn't meet Mr Amis, but I know what you mean.

When I sat the entrance exams for King's College, Cambridge, at around the same time and year, I got alphas for all the literature papers, but I did woefully on the Biblical Knowledge exam. I can't even remember the interview.

Discrimination? Scripture lessons were never my strong point.

I always imagine I won a place at Oxford, soon afterwards, largely because of an original essay on the treatment of disabled people, with reference to Kafka's short story 'Metamorphosis'.

Where the education system failed a lot of talented people who may have lacked something in self-confidence in their teens was the failure to provide training in interview technique and CV writing.

The Best of Boston

Trinity Church (above)

Boston Public Library, decorative paintings (details) by Puvis de Chavannes, from the mural composition 'The Muses of Inspiration Hail the Spirit, the Harbinger of Light'.

If I only had a couple of hours to spend in Boston, I would head to the Boston Public Library and to Trinity Church across the square.

Alternatively, I'd head for the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art) for the current Dance/Draw exhibition -  and to experience the building itself. 

Works I enjoyed included the crocheted environment by Faith Wilding; Isaac Julien's video installation, Ten Thousand  Waves, and the marble table (artist?) inscribed on top with the words "PROTECT US FROM WHAT WE WANT".

Boston is a great place for children too: they enjoyed running around the ICA, but even more the Children's Museum and the Science Museum.

To get betimes in Boston town, I rose this morning early... (Whitman)

Greece and the use of EU Funds

A radio report for America Abroad, by Nina-Maria in Epirus.

Boston, The Athens of America; Boston and its Poets

Just returned from Boston, only now fully conscious of the extent of the city's literary heritage and landmarks associated with Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, James, Longfellow...and Dickens.

This wasn't primarily a visit for tourism and sight-seeing.

Strange that I should have chosen to go to Lowell, Jack Kerouac's hometown, formerly an industrial cotton mill town, rather than explore in greater detail the Boston and Cambridge/Harvard of some of my favourite twentieth century American writers, poets Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, e.e.cummings, Robert Frost and T. S. Eliot, or novelist John Updike.  One has to imagine the Boston of Eliot's "Prufrock" ('I have measured out my life with coffee spoons'; 'In the rooms the women come and go') and "Preludes", ie the first Prelude which was originally entitled "Prelude in Dorchester (Houses)" 

"The winter evening settles down
With smells of steaks in passage ways.
Six o'clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days..."

Information about Dorchester (Boston), named after Dorchester, Dorset. Eliot's descriptions of urban landscapes are as much St. Louis as Boston and London.

It would be interesting to try to recreate or imagine a seminar from the 1959 creative writing course  (English 306) given by Robert Lowell at Boston University, which was attended/audited by Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and George Starbuck. See Peter Orr's British Council interview with Sylvia Plath, 30 October 1962, in which she mentions Lowell and Sexton.

Some hints in her journals:

February 25, 1959: "Lowell's class yesterday a great disappointment.: I said a few mealytmouthed things...Lowell good in his mildly feminine ineffectual fashion...The main thing is hearing the other student's poems and his reaction to mine. I need an outsider...."  (Journals, p. 471)

March 20, 1959: "Criticism of 4 of my poems in Lowell's class criticism of rhetoric. He sets me up with Ann Sexton," an honor, I suppose. Well, about time. She has very good things, and they get better, though there is a lot of loose stuff" (Journals, p. 475).

Some lines by Lowell:

"Joy to idle through Boston" (Bright Day in Boston)

"I've come a third time
to live in your dour, luxurious Boston..." (To Mother)

"Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston." (For the Union Dead)

An e.e.cummings poem  ('the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls')

Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost's The Gift Outright :

"The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed."

And, from the early poem "Clear and Colder- Boston Common"

"As I went down through the common,
    It was bright with the light of day,
  For the wind and the rain had swept the leaves
   And the shadow of summer away...

As I went down through the common,
  Then felt I first delight
Of the city's thronging winter days
  And dazzling winter night..."

"What was  New England? It was the first little nation that bade fair to be an English-speaking nation on this continent. In the first hundred years it had pushed off from England (it had drawn off and been pushed off, both,) into almost a nation, with its capital at Boston...There was Boston. There was much beautiful architecture, art." (from Frost's address, 'What became of New England', 1937).

Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath lived at 9 Willow Street, Boston in 1958-1959.

"We have an enormous view- the Charles river, sailboats, reflected lights from MIT- the moving stream of car lights on Riverside Drive- the hotels & neons- red, blue, green, yellow, above the city- the John Hancock building, weather tower- flashing- rooftops, chimneypots, gables- even the tree tops of the common from the bedroom- a fine place, dark green & light blue" (The Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962, ed Karen V. Kukil, Faber & Faber, 2000; p. 417)

Bob Dylan poem (1964):

"Jim Jim
where is our party?
where is the party that's one
where all members 're held equal....
a Boston tea party dont mean the
same it did in the new-born
years before...
and I'm still on that road, Jim
I'm still sleepin' at nite by its side..
an I look t you, Jim
where is the party for those kind of feelings?"

(sleeve insert, The Times They Are a -Changin' LP)

And, from the song "Highlands":

I’m in Boston town, in some restaurant
I got no idea what I want
Well, maybe I do but I’m just really not sure...

"New England" really begins here, with John Smith's Description of New England.
For Eliot, Frost, Lowell and Plath, England itself became a kind of new New England.

Not, perhaps, for John Updike?

"My beloved land,
here I sit in London
   overlooking Regent's Park...
exiled by success of sorts...

But it is you,
   really you I think of:
     your nothing streetcorners
     your ugly eateries
     your dear barbarities
     and vacant lots...
Don't read your reviews,
you are the only land."

(from Minority Report, Seventy Poems)

Sunday, 4 December 2011

On the Road with Jack Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts

On the mystery train, in truth, from Boston to Lowell, home town of Jack Kerouac, to explore the sights and sounds that inspired five of his novels.

Sweet Lowell by the river, O dark Lowell, O My Lowell
Jack Kerouac, October 12, 1955, Letter to Stella Sampas (from The Sea is My Brother, The Lost Novel).

Lonesome travellers- three generations on the road:

We visited Lowell High School (where Jack graduated in 1939, aged 17), the Boott Cotton Mills, the Kerouac Commemorative, the Mill Girls and Immigrants Exhibit.

Why there? There's a display case with his backpack, camping gear, typewriter and a pair of his hiking socks!

"From Chelsea I carried that woesome pack of mine clear around downtown London in the foggy night, ending exhausted at Fleet Street..." (Desolation Angels).

This small display is in the Immigrants' section (French Canadian), alongside items from the Greek community- a bouzouki, a record of Tsitsanis, and items from the Orthodox Church.

Kerouac had many close connections to the Lowell Greek community.

A Boston Greek 78rpm record on "Hellenic Dawn" -  "O Meraklis"

No time to visit his birthplace at 9 Lupine Road, or his grave site at Edson Cemetery (remember when Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg went there to pay homage?).

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, The Canticle of Jack Kerouac

O tall red chimneys of the Cotton Mills of Lowell, tall redbrick goof of Boott, swaying in the terminus clouds of the wild hooray day and dreambell afternoon--, The usually blue windows of the Boott Mills in the night are piercing, heartbreaking with a blue that's never been seen before-- terrible how that blue shines like a lost star in the blue city lights of Lowell...(Doctor Sax, 1959).

The extracts from his novels inscribed on the granite columns at the Commemorative, and his backpack and typewriter, seemed  a lot more relevant and meaningful. Not sure about the socks.

Some of the inscriptions are beginning to fade. If I were asked to select a quotation from Mexico City Blues to inscribe on a stone column, I'd choose these lines from the 231st Chorus:

When rock becomes air
I will be there.

A great day out (thanks Alex). Now back in Boston, listening to Hey Jack Kerouac, by 10,000 Maniacs, Cleaning Windows by Van Morrison, Home I'll Never Be by Tom Waits, and Jack and Neal by Tom Waits- followed by a cassette copy, an amazing private recording from Allen Ginsberg's library, given to me by a dissident Czech professor of American Literature and Beat specialist (before the Velvet Revolution) of Kerouac reading from his Lowell novel Doctor Sax, with a Sinatra ballad playing in the background. Thanks Professor Josef Jarab!

1952 article by John Clellon Holmes, "This is the Beat Generation".

Here's a suitable song for Jack: The Vagabond (Bryn Terfel, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Robert Louis Stevenson)

Something more appropriate? Tom Waits talks about Kerouac and sings

Update, February 2013:  Photo Essay here

Lowell Visitor Centre Exhibition

Jack Kerouac, An American Haiku:

All day long
Wearing a hat
That wasn't on my head.