Monday, October 22, 2007

Rugby World Cup IV: Abiding Images

(1) The haunted look on the faces of Anton Oliver and Dan Carter as they stood on the sideline watching the New Zealand train come off the rails against France.

(2) The grace and power of Victor Matfield as he soared above every other second-row in the tournament.

(3) The pursed mouth and hostile demeanour of Eddie O'Sullivan as he was questioned by Sinead Kissane after Ireland's defeat by Argentina.

(4) Felipe Contemponi pinching a discomfited O'Gara on the cheek as he passed by after another Argentinian score. A real Latin provocation.

(5) The theatrically fearsome Chabal taking time to play with an opponent's baby just after the 3rd place defeat by Argentina.

(6) Hernandez flying fearlessly through the air to field one of his garryowens.

(7) The Argentinian team bursting with patriotism as their national anthem was played.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Anne Enright

I don't have any opinion on Enright's winning of the Booker Prize as I've never read her fiction. I vaguely remember she wrote some book about her adventures having children so I (unfairly perhaps) consigned her to the biddy lit category of Irish writing. However, if you were to judge her by her recent contribution to the London Review of Books (4th October 2007 you'd not be handing her any awards. In passing I smiled at John Banville's reaction to her award - he was happy to see the bookies get it wrong again. Not a ringing endorsement then.

Her LRB piece was an extraordinarily badly judged article on the Madeline McCann case. Its gruesome sub-tabloid speculation seemed more appropriate to a rag like the Sunday Independent than the august pages of the LRB. Enright regaled us with her family's (nice cosy consensus eh) growing belief that the parents had murdered Madeline. This belief seemed to be based on the most spurious speculation about child sedation. There were also suggestions of wife-swapping and excessive drinking. In addition she took the husband to task for the polished corporate speak he used in his dealings with the press. As if she had any idea of the suffering of a parents in these circumstances and the mechanisms they use to deal with this pain. She also threw in, en passant, a wildly inappropriate joke about the serial killer Harold Shipman. All in all an appalling and meretricious piece. For shame Anne.

Thinking more about the piece it reads like she dashed it off while on holiday somewhere - maybe after a bottle of wine or two.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Uncle Vanya at the Gate

The Gate is getting a bit too cosy and staid in its choice of plays. It's all a bit luvvies cosying up to the comfortable chattering classes. Don't rock the boat dear. Uncle Vanya was a very conventional choice for the Theatre Festival - even with the Brian Friel imprimatur. There's something relentlessly middle-class about Chekov. There always seems to be a lot of guff about very little in the drawing rooms of polite society. And there's also something safe about the concerns of his plays. You can argue that Uncle Vanya is about wasted lifes and stifled impulses. However, I'm not sure I care enough to engage with any of the characters. Vanya is ridiculous, Astrov is a jaded cliche, Sonia is everyspinster, the professor is a pompous fool, his gorgeous wife Yelena is a cipher and don't get me started on the character that Tom Hickey hammed up - Termagin or something like that.

The problem for me is the lack of drama. Even Vanya's half-baked attempt on the professor's life seems unlikely and the lack of reaction of all concerned is amazing and unconvincing. Friel bolts on some contemporary concerns anout the environment and lively ups the language but it's a bland night at the theatre. Professional and polished of course. A good cast wasted.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Martha Gellhorn

Just finished a scabrous and entertaining biography of Martha Gellhorn by Caryl Rollyson. I've always admired her journalism and her doughtiness but knew little about her life other than what I'd gleaned from her occasional appearances in Granta. She started life as a bright and ambitious literary moppet. Her family were well-got and during periods of rootlessness she would stay in the White House no less - she was a very good friend of Eleanor Roosevelt (through her mother). Determined to be a successful writer she started by catching the eye of that infamous pussy hound H.G. Wells. He agreed to write a preface to her first collection of stories and she was on her way. She of course provided the kind of reciprocation the old goat appreciated. All through her life she had a pragmatic view of sex as a means to an end. She didn't enjoy it much or set too much store on it - she once famously compared it to giving a piece of bread to a starving man; an act of mercy really. She moved on from Wells to the biggest lion in the literary jungle, Ernest Hemingway. He was equally susceptible to a well-turned ankle and soon they became lovers and eventually married. However, he wanted a home bird and she was intent on keeping on the move and so their Cuban idyll soon fell apart. And the acrimony, oh dear. She described sex with him as "short and sharp". He retaliated by likening her nether portions to an old hot water bottle - not a gentleman then old Papa.

When her literary epitaph is written I reckon she is nailed in this description by Hemingway: "She had more ambition than Napoleon and about the talent of the average high school Valedictorian." She was never an intellectual and found Proust a challenge that was beyond her. A woman of action then and a very fine journalist - although with a serious blind spot about Palestine. Maybe her experiences at Dacchau were to blame for this.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Rugby World Cup III: How Can Such a Thing Be

Rugby is not like soccer. If you dominate possession and territory you usually win. If not through tries then through the penalties, and maybe drop-goals, that accrue when you are camped in your opponent's half. The match between France and New Zealand last Saturday was the 1% of matches where this did not happen. If that match were played a 1,000 times, NZ would win the other 999. But they choked. They had 72% possession and territorial dominance and they didn’t have the presence of mind to chip over a few drop goals as the French defence heroically countered every attacking gambit. The NZ team spent the last 10 minutes of the match bangng its head against a brick wall defence without ever trying to kick their way out of trouble. If Hernandez had been playing for them he would have popped over 3 or 4 drop golas with that kind of possession. There is no redemption here. Every player on that NZ team will know this to their dying day. OK Carter was injured. OK the pass was forward for the last try. OK the referee stifled McCaw from early on. OK the penalty count was 9-2 against NZ. It doesn’t matter. They blew it. They choked. Richie McCaw should have got up from a few of the rucks he buried himself under and given some leadership. The better team lost.

This is written with extreme objectivity and has nothing to do with the fact that I had a large bet on NZ to win the tournament last November.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Long Day's Journey into Night at the Gaiety

Aptly named I'm sure a lot of the crowd felt as they left the Gaiety around 23.30. And there were a number of nodders off in the audience. But what a treat for the professional miserabilists. And plenty of references to and quotes from Baudelaire, Nietsche, and the patron saint of miserabilists my old favourite Ernest Dowson:

"They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream."

Four solid hours of a drunken, dysfunctional, argumentative family. Morphine addiction, alcoholism, tuberculosis, wasted talents, infant death etc. This was a full-length uncut version of the play - designed to test even the best upholstered arse. There were lacunae, it was hard to be engrossed all the time. But the art won out over the discomfort, you kept been dragged back into the drama by the quality of the writing and the acting. It's hard to imagine O'Neill's masterpiece being done better. James Cromwell was wonderful as the patriarch James Tyrone - bringing subtlety and shading to a role that could become one-dimensional. The sons Edmond and Jamie were equally well portrayed by Micheal Esper and Aidan Kelly. These are hard parts, the characters must be both pitiful and pitiable. Marie Mullen was a bit OTT as the mother but it's that kind of part I suppose.

And the constant drinking, and the truth telling becoming more pungent as the drink bit, and the fog rolling in. Splendid stuff.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Frescoes with Attitude

Headed over to the quiet side of Tuscany last Friday - just north of Arezzo - for a friend's house-warming. The house is located near the village of Caprese Michelangelo - the great man's birthplace. The village itself isn't up to much - a few restaurants and a modest museum to its illustrious son. However, it's perched on the side of great wooded hills (alive with deer and wild boar) with glorious views across to Lake ?? and the town of Anghiari (scene of the great battle - the theme for Leonardo's great lost fresco) . Not far away is Sansepolcro, the birthplace of Piero Della Francesca. The Museo Civico contains his "Resurrection" fresco - a magnificent risen Christ with a don't-fuck-with-me demeanour. The colour is a little faded, as frescoes do, and one of the sleeping guards seems to be defying gravity, but there's no denying its majestic presence. It's a shame you can't view these frescoes in their original settings but thanks to the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation and the Second World War these settings have been looted and destroyed and we have to be grateful the work still exists. After this we moved on to Monterchi (about 20 minutes drive away) to check out the "Pregnant Madonna" - one of Piero Della Francesca's greatest works. This is located in a dedicated building at the outskirts of the village. The madonna is very earthed and unromanticised - belly extended and hand on hip supporting her weight. The expression is one of benign resignation. There is something going on with the curtains and the pattern on the front of her dress that suggests country matters. But surely Piero wouldn't be that bold.