Last night, just a few miles from the site of the real-life event that inspires the piece, we attended a performance of “Bodas de Sangre” (Blood Wedding) by Frederico Garcia Lorca. Thank goodness I had read the play in translation last year as, naturally, the performance was in Spanish. Lorca, famous for his collaboration with Dali and other surreal artists of the 1920’sand 1930’s was assassinated in 1936. His body has never been found. The play, one of his most famous, is a strange mixture of melodrama and poetry. I enjoyed the performance very much, although what marked the evening more for me was a magical incident that took place before we even entered the theatre.
The performance was advertised on a play-bill stuck up on a kiosk in San Jose where we are staying. It was to take place in Nijar, a hill town about twenty-five kilometres away. We had visited before so we had no doubts about finding the place but once there we had no idea where the theatre was. The town is a maze of steep and narrow streets and the prospect of navigating them blindly in hopes of finding the venue was not a happy one. Fortunately, Joe has the habit of asking directions, sometimes of the most unlikely sources. Yesterday he chose to ask a schoolboy of about ten or eleven years of age. The kid was rolling down a steep street on a scooter and came to a swerving stop when Joe hailed him. He had a head of black curls and an engaging smile.
“Sure, I know where it is. You have to turn around and…oh, never mind. I’ll show you the way. Follow me.” As he sped off he hailed someone called Fatima and yelled out in something that certainly was not Spanish. Off we went! He zoomed down curved and steep narrow streets gliding over speed bumps with both feet on the scooter. We followed behind, our hearts in our mouths. As one point a woman in a hijab called out to him but with a wave of his hand and a few words he dismissed her and carried on leading us – two old strangers – to our destination. Now and then he would look back to be sure we were still with him and with a nod of his head urge us on. After a tight squeeze with an oncoming car at an impossibly sharp turn we emerged at the parking lot of a large modern theatre.
Our personal Hermes who had flown ahead of us as our guide turned out to be called Said. He accepted a few coins with surprise and profuse thanks in what Joe tells me was extremely polite and beautiful Spanish. I think I will remember this “overture” to the play long after the words of Lorca have faded from memory
Hello pale blossom.
Hello damp cool green beauty
so frail, so delicate
forcing your frail delicate way up through
dark dense earth.
Hello faint hope, hello rebirth
hello vanquisher of winter,
pale bell that heralds all the rest.
Golden trumpets and scarlet or dark frilled tulips
and later roses, lilies , dahlias and exuberant vines.
You, small and modest are first.
Herald of change, of relief from cold and dark.
Hello snowdrop and welcome.
Heedless of the calendar
three spirits emerged
into misty late November days.
The merciful gardener
learning of impending frost
clipped and slipped them
into a little crystal vase.
Saved, but do they miss
the homely chaos of the little city plot?
Miss leaves, birds, wind,
the cold mist and faint light of
an alley light?
On Tuesday I read at a charming Cafe in Ste Anne de Bellevue. Twigs and Leaves is located on the main drag just above the waterfront strip and almost under the bridge that leads to Ile Perrot. Street number 73 I think. Search it out and go there. Although it was only my second reading I was greeted as an old hand. I guess in today’s Quebec, English language poets constitute a little pond and even new frogs can loom large. I came with a dear friend in tow. She was a very good person to have with me because I know her to be both sensitive and tolerant. You never know what you might hear at poetry readings. There is a reserved, mostly hidden English strain of DNA that has my toes curling sometimes at poetry readings. Fortunately the Celtic part usually wins out and I can allow waves of unrequited love, deathly disease, raptures on nature, roiling rap and yearning homesickness to wash over me, amaze me, stick wih me if only for a masterly turn of phrase.
I admit I have never met a microphone I didn’t love. I am a ham but one who does not believe in making announcements, explaining the inspiration of work, “helping” the listeners to understand. Most of the “explainers” are teachers, I note. Perhaps they are operating on the principle ,” tell them what you’re going to teach…teach it….tell them what they have just learned.” Ok for geometry but not for poetry, I think.
I read something new, something not in my one and only book, ” Northern Compass”. ( I admit to a four-second pitch of my book before launching into the read). Oh, and it’s not a read. I have to think about what it really is, but it’s not a heads-down read every word without looking up, whew, that’s over – read. There’s something to love in what comes out of the mouth of the poet and at least he or she should love it. What happens in the ear of the listener, drinking his espresso or chewing a sandwich, is another matter entirely.
What sounds good to me? . Go on You Tube and hear Sylvia Plath read “Lady Lazarus” perfect as Lazarus Saturday is coming up. Anything by Dylan Thomas on You Tube is good too. Reading..saying the words…..breathing the words out.
Yesterday the branches and twigs were covered with light snow and with an icy coating glistening in the noon sun.My grandchildren come to have lunch with me on Wednesday. As we were walking back to school after the lunch break, I drew their attention to the sun shining on the bushes bearing their bright decorations. They were fascinated and wanted to touch, to have a short-lived souvenir in their hands of that fleeting moment. And then they were off, kicking a stone along the alleyway that leads to the the school, stamping on a fragile ice puddle.
One thing was a little different though. My oldest grandchild, a boy in grade five, continue used to walk beside me, talking about the poem he would recite that afternoon in class. Victor Hugo, no less! As his brother and sister ran on ahead, climbed up onto a low wall, raced their classmates to the door of the yard, he was interested in something else. He is drawing away from the sensory world and into the world of ideas. I gently noted that the close observation of nature, of one’s surroundings, is at the heart of good writing. It a seemed me to me that Hugo’s poem was rather heavy on the” noble ideal” side.
And then then school bell sounded…..and he ran off.
Heavy snow and freezing rain forecast for today.
Today just a few scenes from a fine day walking around the city. Besides the lovely colonial architecture which has been preserved in San Miguel we often see something pretty to catch the eye. I love this piñata high over one of the streets leading from the central garden. Don’t know who will be able to find a stick long enough to break that one. In a shop that specialized in paper mâché figure piñatas, I saw a Donald Trump one. But this a post about beautiful and intreiging things so I’ll leave that alone!
Yesterday there was was a book fair in another of the squares, close to the bus terminal. All the boks were in Spanish and I had a pleasant few minutes resisting the temptation to buy a poetry book. I have discovered the South American poets and think I should stick to studying them in English first! I wonder if someone could translate the poster for me. I think I have the first part worked out but the end eludes me. Come on readers, help me out here!
I love the little shop of fruits and vegetables stacked up in a stairway. It is this sort of ingeniouity that is lost in Northern societies, perhaps. You can see a picture of the knife grinder on his bike too. For a while I was puzzled by a shrill whistle I heard every so often. Then I realized it was the knife and scissors sharpener who called his customers this way. He goes around on a bike and when he has a blade to sharpen, fixes the wheels and turns the grindstone by pedalling. I am always a little shy of taking people’s pictures when they are working….others not so, as you see.
This much for today and more observations to follow.
The poster says,” La poesie debe ser un poco secca para que arda bien y de este mondo iluminaries y calendarnos.
I am taking lessons from my favourite teacher, Judyth Hill. Look her up. Buy her books. Know that she is a wonderful teacher of poetry. Don’t ask me how she does it, but she’s got it. One of the techniques she taught us yesterday was this idea of opening your eyes and in the first moment of consciousness writing whatever comes. People scoff at this …” I have to go pee…..I need my coffee…..I can’t think at that moment.” One of the most important ideas in this technique is that, yes, you are not ” thinking” in your everyday, logical way. That’s the soul of poetry though. To blend the real and the dreamlike state makes a poem and I would say, good fiction too.
Things have to be set up. You need a clean page in your journal, a pen that writes well, maybe a lamp if you don’t have natural light and a bit of a prompt to set you off. Ours was the scent of any flower we liked. I chose daffodil because even though it is not sweet like a rose or jasmine, I love its sappy promise of spring. We also were given some excerpts from a poet called Mirabai, a 15 th century writer….oh well you can look her up. We had to chose one line, write it on the top of the page and then…off to sleep. The journal is right on the night table beside you.
Trust me, after a day of writing workshop, I was wiped and fell asleep like a stone thrown down the well. Early in the still-dark morning a church bell clanged and woke me up. Roll over and write, I thought. I did, in spite of not being able to find my glasses ( they were later found in the tangle of the bed-clothes. ) I wrote in large messy letters and I have not even read what I wrote but I know it was something about a garden.
More surprises from Judyth today. Daffodil kisses…sort of soft and cool and smelling that spring smell…you know…..to you who read this.