Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Sunset on the Beach

It’s 7.30 in the evening, on the beach at Marina di Pietrasanta, and we have it almost to ourselves.  The tourists have all gone back to their hotels and the bagnos are empty.  The umbrellas make a kind of post-modernist installation of colour and line along the sand.

There’s a couple walking their dog along the edge of the sea - just pinpoints in the distance along miles of naked sand.

 The waves are rolling in with un-mediterranean ferocity.  We had a thunderstorm last night and some wild and windy weather, the remnants of cloud still clinging over the hills, and it’s washed up the odd tree trunk on the shore.  But here are the tractors that clear the drift wood every evening to make it pristine for tomorrow’s bathers.

This is the time I love - an hour or so before sunset, warm-ish at 20 degrees with a cool breeze off the sea.  I like the angles of light and the fact that there are no human sounds to interrupt the constant roar and hiss of the sea.

Neil is doing boy-things in the sand, trying out some ideas for a sand sculpture. 

Neil digging to Australia
Every summer there’s a performance art festival on the beach and the artists here make sophisticated sandcastles.  Neil, perversely, is digging.  He’s not sure yet whether he’s going to take part, but I think it would be fun.

Now the dog-walkers and the tractors are gone and it’s only the two of us and the sea. The sun is setting over the Cinque Terre.  After all the frenetic travelling and the earthquakes of recent days, such peace as this is perfect bliss!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Tuesday Poem: Terremoto in Italy

In the last few days we've had a series of earthquakes in northern Tuscany - most of them between 4 and 5.4 in severity.  No damage, but a lot of rumbling and shaking.  My first real experience of an earth tremor was in Italy three years ago and I wrote a poem about it, which was also about the minor quake going on in my own life at the time, involving the decision whether to move to Italy or not.  Since then, of course, I've experienced Christchurch, where the earthquakes were not so benign. I seem doomed to spend my time in shaky countries!


Camaiore: May 2010

Today I felt the earth shudder
under my bare foot and
my head was dizzy as a ship at sea.

A cup shuffled along the shelf
and a green lemon dropped from the tree and rolled
across the cracked marble of the terrace.

For a second I was arrested    
in the moment of lifting a jug of iced
water that slopped over the rim onto my toes.

The roof-tiles chattered as if
someone was running a thumb along the edge
of a deck of cards at Scopa.

And then a pause - everything still.
A breeze fluttering the leaves of the olive trees.
Everything as it was before,  except

that the rock I am standing on has shifted
a centimetre further south and,
bare-foot, jug in hand, my life has moved with it.

Copyright Kathleen Jones

Please hop on over to the Tuesday Poem main site and check out what the other Tuesday Poets are posting! Today's hub poem is 'Oh Dirty River' by New Zealand poet Helen Lehndorf.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Nature Walking with Norman Nicholson

On Saturday it was 'Norman Nicholson Day' at Millom, organised by the Friends of 'Nic' (as his friends called him).  Norman Nicholson country is the 'Edgelands' of post-industrial Cumbria - a fringe of land between the hills and the sea that was once much used and abused by industry - particularly coal and iron production.  At Millom the old works have become a nature reserve, which is appropriate because Norman was a keen naturalist. The group met on the coast at Haverig and went walking along the outer sea wall built by the mining companies at Millom to protect the underwater seams of iron from inundation by the sea.  This wall was one of two they built to keep the sea out so that they could exploit seams further and further from the shore. Hodbarrow is a strange and beautiful environment - the sands of the estuary on one side and the lagoon and Lake District fells on the other.

Looking inland towards Black Combe

Nature won in the end - the sea penetrated the mines - Norman's uncle was one of those who died in rock falls - and the inner sea wall subsided and collapsed.   The lagoon is now a haven to wildlife.  We saw greylag geese, plovers, oyster catchers and terns nesting and grazing.  But the star of the show is the bee orchid, which Norman famously wrote about.  One or two were just coming into blossom when we were there and difficult to photograph.  But the orchid does look rather like a bee alighting on a flower.

There are few relics left to show where the mines and the ironworks once blighted the landscape.  The old bases of a lighthouse and a windmill still stand - ruined stone structures that Norman used in one of his novels 'The Green Shore' as the refuge of the eccentric recluse, Anthony Pengwilly.

Finally we went down onto the seashore to look at one of the very first iron mines - an 'adit' that goes straight into the cliff along the lode.

It's been bricked up at some point, but you can get through the breach. The walls inside are still stained red with the iron ore.

It was a beautiful day, though very windy, and it makes a great difference to the understanding of a writer's work to visit the places where they lived and wrote, walking the landscape that was the fabric of their poems and prose.

The Norman Nicholson Society can be found by clicking on the link.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Awesome Indies 'Seal of Excellence' for the Sun's Companion

Lovely award for The Sun's Companion, which is currently on offer with Amazon for £1.02 - don't ask where the '.02' comes from - Vat?  Amazon has a mind of its own!

Link to Awesome Indies here:
Thanks guys!

Awesome Indies are a great place to go for well-reviewed, screened-for-quality, independent books.  Tahlia Newland runs the site and she's committed to helping readers find good books.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Peirene Press Supper Club

Having spent two days in Manchester at the John Rylands Library reading up on Norman Nicholson, I had to go to the British Library for some material they didn't have.  And, by lovely serendipity, it also happened to coincide with one of the Peirene Supper Club events.
I'm a great fan of Peirene press's european literature in translation and have had some very interesting, sometimes challenging reads - a great antidote to what's available in mainstream these days.  I loved  the Scandinavian The Murder of Halland, the Catalan classic Stone in a Landslide, Friedrich Delius's Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman, translated from the German, and the tragic French novel Beside the Sea - but my favourite was definitely The Brothers by Finnish author Asko Sahlbeg.

 This time the Peirene Supper Club was hosting another Finnish author, Kristina Carlson, and her translators - the same team who translated The Brothers - Emily Jeremiah and her mother Fleur. Fleur is Finnish and translates the text word for word, which is then re-written by her daughter Emily who has an MA in creative writing and also translates German literature.  Only Emily and Kristina were there at the event, plus Meike Ziervogel  - who created Peirene and whose energy drives it (and is also herself a novelist).  There were only 12 of us altogether, with delicious food and wine provided by the Hospital Club in Covent Garden.  There were a wide range of nationalities and occupations round the table, but we all had one thing in common - a passion for books.

The Hospital Club
 Kristina talked about her novel - Mr Darwin's Gardener - and how this was the novel she'd been wanting to write since she was 16.  The book is almost impossible to classify, but it's been described as a 'Post-modernist' novel  about love and grief and human relationships within the claustrophobic boundaries of a 19th century village where traditional beliefs and Darwinism have to co-exist. She writes slowly, and admits, more honestly than most authors, that it is difficult to write well.  'For me, writing well involves clarity, precision, brightness, finding just the right mood and rhythm'.  Novels like this, where language, voice and rhythm are so important, are fiendishly difficult to translate into other languages.  Krinstina's translator Emily talked about the difficulty of translating 'the soul of the novel', and how what works in one language doesn't in another.

Mr Darwin's Gardener is written in several voices, representing the 'mass consciousness' of the village - literary polyphany.  It is written in the kind of poetic prose you'd expect from a novelist who is also a very fine poet.  A free copy was on everyone's dinner plate, though some had already read it.  I've just devoured it on the train back to the north and it's a beautiful read.  Immediately I want to go back and re-read big chunks of it - this is a book to keep and read - like a collection of poems.

Books like this satisfy some deep need for literature that isn't just about plot - words that sing - lines that carry the imagination.  Kristina Carlson is the first author I've heard talk about leaving space for the reader in the book.  She doesn't write historical fiction - she writes fiction that is timeless because human beings feel the same as they did a hundred years ago. Our basic needs and conflicts haven't changed.  I'll be putting up a review of Mr Darwin's Gardener once I've read it again.  In the meantime - can I recommend the Peirene Supper Club?  Where else do you get the chance to meet author, translator and editor and have the opportunity to ask them all the questions you're bursting to ask over several glasses of wine and a wonderful meal?

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Using Pinterest to Promote your Books

 A few days ago, I blogged about how to use Pinterest for promotion, by making your books into illustrated stories, over on Authors Electric. 

I'm currently in damp and gloomy Manchester researching Norman Nicholson.  Tomorrow it's London.  Living out of a suitcase - not to be recommended!

Oh, and if you're using Pinterest - be careful with copyright - anything that's watermarked to share, or available under 'creative commons' is fine so long as it's attributed.  And, of course, label your own, and don't share anything of your own you don't want 're-pinned' by anyone else!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Creative Writing slams in the Piazza - and shoes!

One of the features of the literature festival, which ended last night, was a creative writing slam on the big stage in the piazza.  A group of students read their work over the microphone, critiqued each other and then voted a winner. I'm not sure I'd ever have had the courage to allow my work to be criticised so publicly.  They were a very lively group, but my Italian wasn't good enough to judge the stories and poems being read out.

The atmosphere on a Sunday afternoon and early evening is always buzzing - it's the 'passagiata' - where everyone puts on their best clothes and wanders around saying hello to everyone else.  It's the perfect opportunity for people watching.  And shoe spotting.  Italy has some of the most amazing shoes in the world and they're worn with flair.  Here's two pairs that caught my eye.

Handbag dogs are always on display too - they're called handbag dogs because they're very small and often to be seen tucked into a handbag on someone's shoulder.  They don't walk!  This one was occupying a bar seat and had its own little dish to drink out of.

And finally, the Piazza wouldn't be the same without the characters who live on the street.  This is the Tibetan, dressed in full Tibetan costume and playing strange instruments.  He used to have a dog and a rabbit in a cage, but the animal welfare took them away.  He's probably not Tibetan at all, - his story varies depending on the listener. Sometimes it was his wife who came from Tibet, sometimes he just visited, sometimes he came from Tibet.  Whatever it is, his soul is obviously in the high mountains of the Himalayas.


Sunday, 9 June 2013

Orhan Pamuk and the Museum of Innocence

It was Orhan Pamuk’s night at the Pietrasanta LitFest, newly arrived from Istanbul, where he’s been actively supporting the protesters in Taksim Square.  He was originally booked to appear in St Agostino - a large church which is now an arts venue - but so many people came to hear him the queues were round the block.  It was obvious only a fraction of us were going to fit in.  So at the last moment, they swapped the venue and we all made a mad dash for the seats in the Piazza.  Italian queuing on a small scale resembles a rugby scrum and on a large scale - it’s a riot! Almost trampled to death in the crush.  After all the messing about, the event finally got under way at 10.30pm.

Pamuk opened the event by saying that he wanted to make humanitarian comments on the spontaneous uprising in Turkey and he began to tell us the story of his family.  They have lived in Istanbul for a very long time and in 1957 they fought a battle with the authorities to preserve a chestnut tree in the street outside their house.  All their neighbours, family and friends gathered round the tree to protect it from destruction and they succeeded.  The current protest in Taksim square began as a means of protecting the trees in Taksim Park from being cut down for a development. Orhan Pamuk believes passionately that people should have the right to protest peacefully.  Istanbul, he said, has changed more in the last 15 years than in the 45 years before.  There's huge economic growth, a massive population explosion and a demand for more personal freedom generated by the numbers of people and their increased wealth. They expect to be listened to.

Orhan Pamuk on the right with his Italian translator

Orhan Pamuk went on to talk about his latest book The Museum of Innocence and how he bought a house so that he could set a novel in that particular house and then make it a museum of the objects in the book. His main character is obsessed by the woman he is in love with and collects every object she has ever touched.  So the book became a work of art, which you can visit.  It’s an interesting concept.  Afterwards he realised that he wanted to write a catalogue for the museum, which became the story of the objects in it.  It's called 'The Innocence of Objects' and I actually thought it might be more interesting than the novel.

The Nobel prize-winner says that he hasn’t written a book for 5 years and it makes him feel guilty - he feels like a bad person if he isn’t writing.  But he is now writing a new novel set in Istanbul about a young man who comes from Anatolia to become a street seller and it’s about his hopes and dreams. I really enjoyed listening to Orhan Pamuk  - he is a nervy, passionate, very political person who doesn't seem very comfortable in front of an audience, but is determined to put over his message.

More tomorrow  on the Sunday 'passagiata' with a creative writing slam, shoes and dogs and weddings!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Dan Brown in Pietrasanta

Going to a Literature Festival! A sneaky snap by Neil.

Apparently, Dan Brown wrote his first novel at the age of 5 - dictated to his mother and with a print run of  one.  He still has it and was waving it in front of the crowd last night.  And he hasn't lost his ability to pick a good title either - this juvenile effort was called The Giraffe, The Pig and The Pants on Fire!

I got to the Piazza an hour early, but it was already crowded and people were beginning to stake out positions on the duomo steps too.

This is what it looked like by the time Dan Brown arrived.

It made sense to own a flat overlooking the Piazza!

Everyone and their dog was there.

And some wonderful Italian shoes - most of them going too fast to get a pic.

Some just weren't interested!

The booksellers were doing a good trade.

I found I could hear quite well standing at the back of the crowd - a good sound system and the wonderful acoustics of the Piazza
Dan Brown on stage by telefoto!
fortunately the big screen made it possible to see as well.

Dan talked a lot about his family and what made him a writer.  His mother was a church organist and his father a maths teacher.  Their cars on the driveway had number plates that read 'Kyrie' and 'Metric'.  He said he was confused about religion from birth, but there must have been something in the genes, both creative and rebellious, because his sister is a painter and his brother a musician who composed a mass to Charles Darwin. The other factor he suspects was relevant to his choice of future career was the fact that they had no television in the house, just loads of books.

He made a lot of jokes about being seen as a heretic because of his novels, but the Italian crowd weren't laughing.  I sensed a certain uneasiness - challenging the Catholic church is still a big thing in Italy, though there are a lot of people who would like to do it.

His talk didn't cover a great deal of ground - it was being translated, paragraph by paragraph, which made for slow progress - we sloped off for a pizza towards the end and came back to listen to an Italian cartoonist and satirist, Vauro Senesi, concerned about the level of unemployment, particularly among young people in Italy. By 10.30 it was too dark to take photographs.  Felt very frustrated that my Italian still isn't good enough to follow this kind of complex argument.  Probably much more relevant and interesting than Dan Brown!

No event in the Piazza is ever complete without Mortela - the Senegalese street seller!  There are lots of them, but he's the most colourful. Their stories are fascinating.  How they stay alive I don't know.  Apparently no-one's buying much at the moment.  The tourists haven't started to arrive yet and Pietrasanta residents are already stocked up on hats, friendship bracelets and tissues.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Parole, Parole - A LitFest in Italy

Pietrasanta's summer festival of literature 'Anteprime' - Italian and international, starts today in the Piazza and I'm going to be there trying to catch the odd word or phrase of recognisable Italian!  The line-up includes literary stars such as Dan Brown and Orhan Pamuk, as well as journalists, TV satirists and critics.  The atmosphere is already buzzing.  Yesterday the sun came out for the first time and summer officially kicked off!  We were all out on the streets making the most of it.

Exhibition openings are friendly, casual affairs here, with lots of free wine and nibbles.

We were invited to an art exhibition on the subject of Words - Parole, Parole - at a small trattoria in one of the side streets and I was curious  - and not a little sceptical! - at what I might be going to see. I'm not a great fan of 'installations'.  But the show blew me away.  This is what the whole thing looked like, occupying one wall of the restaurant.

Forty one painters and sculptors in Pietrasanta were given a shoe-box and asked to fill it with an art work on the theme of 'words'.  The results were diverse, beautiful and sometimes challenging.  Here are just a few.

Polish sculptor Szymon Oltarzewski went for simplicity

Flavia Robalo

Flavia Robalo's sculture, above, was one of my favourites, made from cut-out paper like a child's pop-up book.

This is 'Infinity' by Swiss sculptor Rita Meier, carved in marble.

Veronica Fonzo 'Parole - nido del pensiero'
Veronica's figure was leaning out of the box as though trying to speak.  I found it rather disturbing - the traces of blood on the face, and the 'nest of thoughts' on the head like a crown of thorns.  But then, art isn't just to decorate or entertain - sometimes it's there to make you think.

Elena Zanellato:  Le Bois d-amour
 And finally, Venezuelan sculptor Maria Gamundi's 'The Secret' - it's amazing what you can get in a shoe box!

Monday, 3 June 2013

Tuesday Poem: The Year Zero

The Year Zero

It was the year there was no summer
when winter drizzled and froze
through a reluctant spring
into a cloud-shrouded August
snowdrops in April and
February Fill-dyke in July.
We had no name for these new seasons
or the year that refused to turn
in its old rhythms.

It was the year that our mythologies lost
meaning and the oracles were dumb.
Hawberries glutted the warm winter
red skies at night brought only storm.
We had no signs to warn us of the plague
beetle in the bark, no animal or bird
to augur the weirding weather - 
geese stopped migrating and
the swallows stayed.

It was the year we found that we no longer
spoke the language of the land.  The year
science had no answer to the big question.
The year we knew we needed a new story
to tell us how to live.

© Kathleen Jones

We're having some very extreme weather in Europe at the moment - whole areas of Austria, Czech republic, Germany and Switzerland under water and it's been the coldest spring in living memory, which in this village is more than 90 years.  On the 3rd of June in Italy, we shouldn't have the central heating on and be wearing sweaters! The poem was an attempt to put into words the bewilderment everyone is feeling when the solid ground of seasonal patterns becomes unpredictable.  I'm also interested in how we frame our lives through myths and stories.  The traditional one is Demeter and Persephone - but that won't do at the moment.
  What stories can we tell to make sense of what's happening right now?

For more Tuesday poems please go over to the Tuesday poem hub and check out the side bar for lots of interesting contributions from all over the world.   Today's hub poem is Untitled (If you have linen women) by a New Zealand poet called Robin Hyde who died in 1939 at the age of 33.