Thursday, 12 November 2009

London, Berlin, Mexico

What a week for treats I could have had in very few other places than London.

Sometimes I fantasise about a move to the country (where I've never lived), partly in preparation for the coming breakdown of environment and society, which may or may not happen, in my lifetime or for years after, but more because I love views of landscape and having birds around other than the magpies, gulls and pigeons that are all we get in Surbiton apart from the occasional parakeet. (I've saw a single swift on a couple of occasions, and distant swallow once or twice.)

But then I think about the stuff I've been able to do this week by virtue of living in London (on the outer edge but with fast, frequent and free trains to the centre).

Here are the highlights.

Monday evening: a conversation between six writers, historians, journalists and other experts on Berlin, the Wall and the division of Germany. Memorable readings from two autobiographical pieces about the East, comments out of long experience by Misha Glenny with a passionate appeal to make the EU work for the sake of the peace and security of Eastern Europe including the Balkans which should eventually be brought in, and a quite different account, quiet and thoughtful, by David Chipperfield the architect on his restoration -- or reconstitution -- of the Neues Museum, with slides.

Tuesday morning in the British Library, looking at stuff I've had on a list for a year or two. Lovely place to work and the system seems to work beautifully. Because I'd got something wrong in my ordering one item hadn’t been delivered so I'll be back today to get it -- they’re faxing it from Boston Spa, their depository outside Leeds (a talk by the LCC Chief Inspector of Schools in 1948 about the London School Plan.)

Tuesday evening: Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle at the ENO (English National Opera) -- the production got a bit silly but the singing and music were ravishing. I first discovered this opera (1908 0r 1911 as I remember -- that terrific exuberant, inventive, iconoclastic first phase of Modernism) in a tv series on 20th century music, Leaving Home, by Simon Rattle and his Birmingham Philharmonic on Channel 4. I taped it and later bought the DVDs and have replayed them several times. When does C4 do anything like that now?

Yesterday evening: the South Bank again for another conversations: Robert Service and Tristran Hunt on their biographies of Trotsky and Engels. This calls for a separate post. It was as terrific as all those ‘conversations’ on the South Bank are. I've been to loads and never a dud one.

What, in the country, I ask myself, would I be doing at the times when in London I have experiences like these? going for walks? enjoyable once in a while but when the weather’s dull they can be really boring. Gardening? I used to do that and a large part is mindless drudgery.

Could see myself rapidly declining into Marx’s (and Hazlitt’s) state of rural idiocy: fitter and healthier but bored and stupid. So here I stay for the next little while.

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