Monday, June 12, 2017

Sunday 11 June


I managed about 100 pages of Rachel Cusk's The Last Supper today. The family spends a week in a rented countryhouse near Barga, in Tuscany, although most of what Rachel writes about this week is focussed on their trip to Lucca:

Lucca stands in an unbroken circle of gigantic walls. They are forty or fifty feet high, dark, and so thick that over time they have become a land formation, a strange circular isthmus with lawns and trees and paths on the top. They were built in the sixteenth century to keep out the Tuscans, those gentle Chianti-quaffing folk, and now, in their retirement, with their neat paths and barbered lawns, they provide tourists with a circular bicycle ride and a view of the plains and mountains from their colossal shoulders.

The walls provide a bulwark against anything modern: within them, an "atmosphere of unusual refinement prevails", with every "infelicitous speck of modernity" "sieved out". Apart from doing the cycle ride, they do little but leave "satisfied" - the hunger to see everything has not yet come upon them.

Unusually, they next settle into a house in an unnamed village (possibly Monterchi - it has a schoolhouse with a pregnant Madonna) near Arezzo, on the border between Tuscany and Umbria for two months. One of the reasons for this location seems to be to check out various artworks by Piero della Francesca - the village is his mother's birthplace. There is a lot of discussion of art - his and that of Giotto. This is one of the pregnant Madonna's he painted:

They encounter a chap from Dundee who has lived here for 14 years and manages to speak Italian without compromising his Dundee accent one bit. Rachel (and presumably her partner - he is present but almost never mentioned) spends a fair amount of time with him - he kind of looks after Brit expats. I'm thinking Rachel is a bit of a snob - he invites them all to a "cha-cha" festivity, but she disdains it. Ultimately they do all go along, and it turns out to be a big Sunday social event involving food - ciaccia, a kind of pizza-bread sandwich.

Assisi, the birthplace of St Francis, is about 80 km away - they go down and explore the Basilica:

They only pay two other visits in today's reading - to the nearby castle and to a hotel, the latter to play tennis against Jim and the hotel owner. This is an odd hotel - its guests are Brits who come over at the same time every year and, once there, don't leave the premises. I liked what Rachel had to say but speaking Italian with Silvio, a fellow who provides care-taking services to many of the local houses:

There is something about him, an atmosphere of fracture and recovery, an inward knowledge of failure and of resurrection, that emboldens me to practice my Italian. Silvio's talk is easy to understand; his listening, so quite and spacious, accommodates my clumsy sentences.   
He lives right at the top of a mountain where, oddly, there are just two houses back to back - the other had contained a mate of Silvio's but is empty.

My favourite chapter, called Gianfanco's Store, is really about food. Every place to eat in the village has the same menu, and this limited offering is reflected in the contents of the store - except for the wild variety of gelato available. If people want to change what they eat, they have to go to the next village. Rachel is not the omnivore she'd like to be, avoiding entire continents because of the food she might encounter - places where they eat monkey brains or cats or guinea pigs. Does she not know that these items are not compulsory? I do wonder if she is right about the early Indian migrants to England washing the sauce off baked beans in order to get something they could cook?

Apart from reading Rachel Cusk, I inevitably read a bunch of blogs and items pointed out to me on Twitter. Here's a selection of three items:

  1. An account, in mock biblical language, of the recent election in the UK, the Book of Jeremy Corbyn - it is very funny;
  2. A particularly savage review by Marina O'Loughlin of the Nova dining complex in Victoria (London);
  3. A piss-take by Nora Ephron in the New Yorker of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - a book I did enjoy, but that doesn't mean I can't also enjoy this.


Just the second episode of Little Dorrit. It is clear that John is infatuated with Amy - he is very relieved when he finds that Arthur Clennam is apparently not interested. John's dad also seems to see a match - has an oblique talk with Mr Dorrit. I can't get over how clean Amy is at all times. Arthur does sit her down and talk with her, in a coffee shop she finds "very grand", but he really does seem to be concerned about putting right whatever his family did to her family (a conversation between his mum and Mr Flintwich makes it clear there is something - the latter says she should have given a chance for redemption).

A theme is developing about debt: Arthur doesn't see the point of locking people up for it, then we see a family on the point of eviction because they lack rent. It tuns out that the rent-collector is employed by an old friend of Mr Clennam, and that he has a daughter who was a childhood sweetheart of Arthur's - their parents forbade a match. She is now made up to be repulsive, but still carrying a torch for him. They all have dinner, along with the rent collector and his mad old aunt - Arthur employs the rent collector to get to the bottom of the problem with the Dorrit family.

This follows a disastrous visit to the Circumlocution Office - Dickens describes its function: "Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving — HOW NOT TO DO IT". Arthur naturally gets the run-around - coming in to ask questions is certainly not how to do it. He leaves and runs into a similarly defeated Meagles.

Still don't know how Rigaud fits in: it is made very clear by the French accents in the hotel he visits that he is still in France - in fact, he is the main topic of conversation in the bar. He takes a barmaid to bed and, oddly, finds his cell-mate. Killing seems to be a hobby for him: the barmaid never wakes.


I went in to Vangaurd for a coffee: there was a chocolate cake that looked so good, it actually provoked an outburst. Not sure what happened, but it was rather mangled when it arrived at my table. I also visited somewhere I have not been for a long time - Fat Harry's - for a Sunday roast. It must be about the busiest dining room in town at 7:00 on a Sunday evening.  


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