“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run …”
So wrote John Keats over two centuries ago.
And although the poet lived about 15 minutes walk away from where I am writing this, it seems as if he never had to trudge his way through fallen leaves or the mess they cause and the hazards they bring to simple pedestrians. Mind you, some of them are pretty to look at when they’re still on the trees, adding colour to the mists and mellow fruitfulness.
So much for autumn!
In my last post about a week ago, I mentioned that I had started reading Fintan O’Toole’s We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Ireland Since 1958 and over two days and a bit, I read all of the 700 or so pages, and seeing that I read it on the Kindle and iPad, that was an achievement in itself. I stayed in my seat with my eyes glued to the screen(s) and was in a state of mental exhaustion when I came to the end for not only was the book informative but the author’s writing about corrupt Irish politicians and the equally corrupt members of the Roman Catholic church—and how these were intertwined—contained just about the right level of anger, frustration and cynicism (venom?) to keep my attention without wavering.
While reading the book, it made me realise how much of a closeted, cocooned, and cushioned life I had led in the bubble that was the Jewish community in Dublin Yes, I knew some of my neighbours on the street and was friendly with two of the Catholic youngsters where I grew up — one became Vice-President and Registrar of University College Cork and the other a High Court Judge who would play the mournful Uileann pipes in the back garden on summer evenings. My parents wanted me to attend Wesley College but I wanted a Jewish school so the bottom line was that I knew hardly anything of what was going on around me as almost all my friends were Jewish. This was in stark contrast to my father who grew up in the Northern Irish town of Downpatrick and had only non-Jewish friends (Protestant and Catholic) and was never really at home in Dublin. And even when I spent four years in Trinity College Dublin as an undergraduate and another year completing a Ph.D dissertation, the student body was almost 100% Protestant, from the Republic and Northern Ireland or they were English with some Irish connection. Catholic students, if I remember correctly, had to receive a written dispensation from the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, (about whom and his minions Mr. O’Toole has more than a little to say) if they wished to study there. And after Trinity, I married at 21 and went to live in Israel — and was basically ignorant about Ireland.
O’Toole refers several times to the phenomenon of “the unknown known”, i.e. what people knew was going on (corruption, abortions, etc.) and what they had to pretend they didn’t know or talk about. In fact, the level of corruption was so high and well-developed among politicians and “dignitaries” of the Catholic church that I might never complain about Bibi Netanyahu & his associates again, for he’s a like a toddler in pre-kindergarten learning how to be unprincipled and criminal, when compared to the likes of Charles Haughey & Co. and those to preceded and followed him. (n.b. I wrote “might”!)
The book is a real eye-opener and should be read by anyone who wants to learn about the country and its people in modern times, perhaps in conjunction with Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story Of Murder and Memory In Northern Ireland if one really wants to learn about the IRA, Sinn Féin—and about the enigma that is Gerry Adams, in particular.
The news this week coming out of the United Kingdom mostly concerns the goings-on in Glasgow at COP26 where it is expected (or at least hoped) that there may be some agreements reached over how to make the climate change so that by 2100 levels of what are called “greenhouse gases” don’t rise so high as to stew us all. The only things I can say about all that is that in 2100 I won’t be around to check things out— which is not the same as saying that I don’t care. I’ll have to ask my next-door neighbour here in London who, the last time I saw him a fortnight ago, was off with his wife and child to represent Poland at COP26. I suppose the reason that we’re hearing so much about it all is that it’s all happening (or not happening—we’ll find out at the weekend) in Glasgow.
Meanwhile, one of stars of the show is Greta Thunberg, all of 18 years old, whose mother, I discovered is a Swedish opera singer and whose grandfather was an actor. From that, I take for granted that she’s well-versed in stagecraft as she demonstrated by taking aim at climate platitudes with her utterance of “All we hear is blah blah blah”. Or, more accurately, taking aim at Boris Johnson and Narendra Modi, she is reported to have said: “This is not some expensive, politically correct, green act of bunny hugging”, and “Fighting climate change calls for innovation, cooperation and willpower”, and that the science did not lie. Or as she is reported to have said in Milan the week before Glasgow: “Built back better Blah, blah, blah. Green economy. Blah blah blah. Net zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah,” … “This is all we hear from our so-called leaders. Words that sound great but so far have not led to action. Our hopes and ambitions drown in their empty promises.” Without wishing to belittle Greta’s activism, I cannot but help think that she’s rehearsing for her future role as populist politician herself — and is doing so very well, too.
The other news, of course, concerned the resignation from parliament of a former cabinet minister who used his good offices to represent two commercial companies for pay, which the parliamentary Standards Committee called “an egregious case of paid advocacy” and recommended he be suspended for 30 days. Now, the basic annual salary of a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons is £81,932 and in addition, they can claim allowances to cover the costs of running an office and employing staff, and maintaining a constituency residence or a residence in London — but obviously, this is inadequate. So, the person concerned became a paid consultant for two companies for which he is paid by one £8,333 a month for 16 hours work and £2,000 every other month from another for 4 hours work, which by my reckoning comes to an additional £112,000 annually. Not bad. His reaction was to criticise the decision and the way the investigation was carried out and the Prime Minister, Mr. Johnson, suggested that the person concerned had been given insufficient opportunity to defend himself and that the rules should be changed! Within 24 hours and a cross-party outcry, the government had backtracked on its decision/recommendation and the MP resigned, concluding, perhaps, that he might not be re-electable!
Of course, this is not regarded as corruption, which is defined as “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery” but sleaze, which is defined as “immoral, sordid, and corrupt behaviour or activities”, which to my simple mind is much the same thing.
BUT ENOUGH OF ALL THIS!
About three months ago, I went to the Tate Modern to see the exhibition, The Making of Rodin, an exhibition evoking the atmosphere of the artist’s studio. There were plaster casts in all sizes illustrating how he continually experimented with fragmentation, repetition and joining existing parts in unconventional ways. I was particularly taken by “The Burghers of Calais”, which was represented by the newly restored original plaster.
However, in my ignorance, little did I know that there is a bronze cast near the Houses of Parliament, which I passed while walking from the Tate Britain at Millbank to Trafalgar Square and in addition to the London cast, there are additional ones in Calais, Copenhagen, in Belgium, Philadelphia, Paris, Basel, Washington, Tokyo, Pasadena, NYC and Seoul.
I had been to The Tate Britain to see Hogarth and Europe—Uncovering City Life, an exhibition of paintings regarded as William Hogarth’s greatest works along with those of some of his co-workers in Europe, including Guardi in Venice, Chardin in Paris and Troost in Amsterdam, suggesting the cross currents and parallels across borders. Society and culture across Europe had changed greatly in the middle of the 18th century, an age of opportunity and change, enlightenment and innovation, materialism, exploitation and injustice. Europe was becoming affluent and more cosmopolitan with the beginnings of modern empire, revolution and global war.
In Britain, Hogarth had become well-known for paintings and prints that captured this new modern experience. But across the Channel, European artists were creating vivid images of contemporary life and social commentary about rich and poor, immoral and self-deluding, the selfish and the selfless. All became characters in pictorial stories that caught people’s imaginations and took art in novel directions, including the production of prints for the new missile classes.
In this period of rapid economic growth and profound social change, many artists enjoyed new creative freedoms and explored new modes of working, engaged new audiences and represented everyday experience in novel ways.
Urban scenes painted by Hogarth and his contemporaries may appear liberated and socially relevant and some of the images may still be currently relevant whereas others might appear subversive. Many of the works express critical views of society but also reveal an entrenchment of racist, sexist and xenophobic stereotypes. Though they celebrated individuality, the artists also made disturbing or dehumanising representations of people.
The two pictures below depict “Before” and “After”, and depict the prelude and aftermath of a sexual encounter and according to the curator, it seems clearly to be rape scene, vide the man’s crotch and how he grabs her skirts while she claws at his face and upends the dressing table and mirror. In “After”, she regards him imploringly, after the deed has been done.
Similar things can be observed in “The March of the Guards to Finchley”, in which disciplined guards in the background march to meet the Jacobites while the foreground shows mayhem violence, groping and whatever. What would Margaret Thatcher have thought of her beloved Finchley, which she represented in parliament for so many years?
And then, among the final pictures in the exhibition is one of six of Hogarth’s servants — obviously, he was a decent chap who did well by painting!
In addition, there are a couple off paintings by Canaletto, this one entitled The Grand Walk, Vauxhall Gardens, which I’d seen before and which although not as grand as some of his other London paintings, not to mention his work in Venice, was still grand to look at!
And now for some pictures.
If I started with autumn leaves then here are some more.
Passing the Houses of Parliament, I was reminded that November 5 was Guy Fawkes Day. Also known as Guido Fawkes he was a member of a group of provincial English Catholics involved in the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a conspiracy to assassinate King James I and members of the Houses of Parliament. Fireworks are the order of the day and fireworks used to be set off on just one night. On the experiences of this year, it seems that Guy Fawkes Day has morphed into Guy Fawkes’ Week And there were sufficient armed police around parliament last Friday morning to make one think that Guy Fawkes and his entourage were on their way back!
And once again, there was a very clear notice, that left little opportunity to err !
And continuing up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, I was pleased to see that Horatio was still keeping his one-armed, one-eyed watch on the British government. Boris, look out!
Then on the way home on the Underground, as the doors of the train opened at Euston, and one might even have been deceived into thinking that perhaps it wasn’t autumn verging on winter outside and that it was still very much summertime!
Finally, the garden behind the apartment block where I’m living is teeming with squirrels and pigeons. Gali, my 10-year old granddaughter in Tel Aviv, is very keen on squirrels (at least she’s very keen on images of them although I’m not quite sure how she’d feel if she got close to one. I tend to regard them as rats with bushy tails, and the pigeons with which they seem to share the garden as winged vermin, but then that’s just me). At any rate, I send her photos of the squirrels and she seems to be happy with them.
One that I sent last week prompted Tami, who had taken up painting in watercolours during the first lockdown, to send me a squirrel portrait that she had done in response to what I had sent.
And then a couple of days ago, I observed a squirrel posing in the garden and ran to get the camera. However, by the time I had changed the lens and got back to the window to take the photo, the original bushy tail had vanished only to be replaced by a different and equally handsome one, in this case, Reynard the urban fox.
Finally, although I’ve posted pictures of the iconic Bauhaus Isokon building before, just a 12-minute walk from here and which wouldn’t look out of place in Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus “White City”, each time I pass by I feel that I need to take another photo from a different angle. It really is a grand building.
And as I discovered last week when I visited the Isokon Gallery, which is a refurbished flat on the ground floor open at weekends from spring to autumn, the three individuals whose names appear on the blue plaque lived there at more or less the same time, as did Agatha Christie for seven years. They would have entertained other left-wingish Hampstead intellectuals in the café bar on the ground floor, which was unsurprisingly called the “Isobar“, which was, I suppose a place where all were equally under the same pressure to finish their drinks before closing time!