Friday, October 30, 2009

FROM CALYPSO, VIA CHANIA, CORLEONE, CONNEMARA TO CREWE - TRAIN OF THOUGHT




odysseus

Throughout my 3 years at U.C.C., certain books , characters, philosophies etc. popped up across various disciplines and modules on a continual basis. There was no holding these heads down under the water...they were just not going to be ignored. Although impossible to explore these 'distractions' in any greater depth, because of the timeframe of essays and exams; I struck a deal with myself, to return to them once the degree was over. I didn't grapple with the whole research thing particularly well, enjoyable as I found it... always seemed to cast my nets too widely. Whilst studying Dante's Divine Comedy, names like Ulysses, Aeneas, Odysseus, Virgil and hundreds more came up, as well as John Milton's Paradise Lost, James Joyce's Ulysses, The Iliad, The Aenead ...and so on.


I decided my first port of recall would be a revised English translation by D.C.H Rieu of his father's translation, E.V.Rieu of Homer's The Odyssey. It's enthralling! I read only a few pages at a time, so as to digest thoroughly, the names of all protagonists and places. It is no wonder that modernist writers like W.B. Yeats and James Joyce referred to mythology in their writing, it allowed a freedom of transportation and escapism, in contrast to their realist predecessors. In lst year I was fortunate to study Celtic Civilization, which for someone like me, who hasn't a word of Irish, required my establishing my own code of deciphering and pronunciation of these strange, but beautiful Irish words, for essay and exam recall purposes. That was hilarious fun! We made a whistle-stop tour of the Druids and Celts, their gods, the bog-bodies, the bronze and iron ages, the gauls in Hallstadt and Europe and their defeat by Julius Caesar, and the Tain (Maeve and the bulls!) Of course it was the early christians who wrote down these stories of the oral tradition, and, as they were the only ones who could read and write at the time, there was plenty of room to modify and manipulate, adding their own religious/anti-pagan slant on things. I was intrigued by Fergus, who struck me as being the only character from the Tain, who had a conscience. I wondered was he a sort of Jesus Christ figure, inserted by the early christians. That's one to go back to. The order of geiss, which covered the criteria of honour, bravery and hospitality was paramount to being a great hero or god . I became totally embroiled in the whole magic, sometimes not being able to tell fact from myth and legend, and was horrified when I discovered that Cuchulainn was killed by his own son. I took it all terribly seriously, apart from Dagda, who had such a long penis, it was wrapped round his neck several times! Dagda provided much light relief from stress of exams and essays for myself and Mary, another mature student. So Dagda, whether you're in the liminal world of Tara or Tua Nuath, thanks for the laughs! So what has all this got to with the Odyssey?


I have only read as far as page 70 and already Telemachus, who sets off to search for his father Odysseus (who has not returned home to Ithaca since his battles in Troy, having been waylaid by Calypso along the way) has already been feasted on at least six occasions. Not unlike celtic mythology, and stories like Bricriu's Feast, there is a huge emphasis placed on hospitality in Greek mythology. Half the time, the visitors are fed before they're even asked who they are. (Could you imagine any of us doing that today. Imagine an absolute stranger at the front door. 'Come on in! Sit down there now love and I'll get you a fry. Would you like a bit of black pudding with it?') Telemachus is urged by Zeus's daughter Athene, who can transform herself into anything or anyone, to search for his father, as Penelope (Odysseus's wife and Telemachus's mother), finds herself besieged by suitors, who believe Odysseus to be already dead, and are making themselves far too comfortable, drinking all the best wines, ransacking and pillaging the household. While reading this wonderful story, my thoughts stray back to my beloved Crete, and in particular, the working village of Kalives...a place I find myself wishing to return to again and again.



Kalives

I have visited Crete several times and feel that somehow, when the plane touches down, I am home! With the colours of soil, sea and sky, light drowning everything in sensual mystery and magic, soothing smells of wild oregano and majoram, welcoming rattle of crickets in olive groves, the senses simply explode. Of course, then there are the people... who consider themselves to be Cretans first and Greeks second. That is not difficult to understand, when you read about their history of Turkish and other invaders/ marauders and the disasterous, bumbling and extremely inept decision-making of the Allied Forces during the German invasion of the island in World War II. They are an incredibly steely, proud race of people. Greek people, are, as a rule very laid back and welcoming, and remind very much of Irish people, especially, when they say 'eet's no problem!' However, there is something particularly hospitable about Cretan people. I have a very dear friend Manolis, who works as a curator in the museum in Chania, whom I met five years ago, whilst staying in one of his villas in Megala Chorafia, a small village close to the ruins of Aptera. We celebrated my daughter's 21st birthday party during that holiday. He organized a barbecue, wouldn't hear of my supplying any food or wine whatsoever and even organized a magnificent chocolate birthday cake. He took us on a personal tour of the ruins in Aptera, and provided an excellent historical account. He brought us to a family christening in the village square, where we were feasted like royalty, where even the Greek musicians brought us over wine to the table and the locals tried to teach us to dance Greek-style! As the chief navigator, Mano arranged maps for me, when we caught the overnight ferry to Athens, to visit the Acropolis and various other places of interest. I have been back there several times since and on one occasion, he was genuinely deeply offended when I sneaked up to pay a bill while his back was turned. The last time I was there, he took us to a taverna in the mulberry tree-lined village square in Stylos, about four miles from Megala Chorafia, nestled in the White Mountains. All Cretan food is grown or produced on the island and everything is eaten as it comes into season. Sheer heaven! Mano came to Ireland to visit us in the January that the smoking ban was introduced. My heart went out to him as he stood outside, freezing, in our cold climate, smoking in the doorway of the restaurant. How hospitable was that for our Cretan visitor!

Chania, the magnificent harbour of North Western Crete, was known over the centuries as the gateway to the East. It is also home of the second airport of the island. Chania, Souda Bay (naval base) and Rethymon were also military intelligence headquarters of the Allied Forces during World War II. The Venetian buildings of Chania, stretching out across the harbour, ooze romance and mystery. I stayed in the most exquisite room at Hotel Captain Vassilis overlooking the water. A dream-laced bed danced in the breeze, filtered through half-closed shutters; a white victorian bath only a few steps away to cool hot, satiated bodies in candle-lit shadows.



chania

Likewise, while reading the Odyssey, Godfather 1,2 and 3 sprang to mind. They all begin at a christening or a wedding or some kind of family function. Here we go again, the whole feasting, hospitalaity thing! I only got to see those films quite recently and was blown away by them. I don't like the whole blood and guts thing, but I love Italian culture, their food, their music, their passion, and raw sensuality of the language. These movies are cinematic triumphs and the final scene of Part 3, is probably the most incredible filmic moment I have ever witnessed


Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino had never wanted to follow in his father's (Marlon Brando) footsteps, but could not escape the restraints of family duty. His wife (Diane Keaton) while still loving him, could no longer live the mafia lifestyle and had left some years previously. During the final scene on the steps of the opera house, where his son had made his opera debut, Michael and his ex witness the horrific shooting of their daughter (Sophia Ford Coppola, daughter of the film's director, Francis Frod Coppola)... a bullet that was meant for him. During this scene, there are no words, only images and music; Al Pacino's performance during this scene is quite spectacular. The blistering torment at the death of his daughter, the death of his marriage, the waste of his own life, is vomited all over the screen in a silent scream, which is taken to another level of excruciating pain, as sound resumes mid-scream. As the camera alights upon Corleone's ex-wife's face, it is obvious that this is the first time , she really understands her husband's torment; that he had no choice but to go with the family dynasty, that in someway, he sacrificed his own life and just how miserably difficult it had all been for him. It is an unforgettably powerful moment. I visited southern Italy and Sicily last year, and tried in vain to get to Corleone, but others within the travelling party were not as enthusiastic as I. I'll get there next year, however, even if it means taking a selfish sabbatical!



Corleone, Sicily


My Cretan friend, Mano, texted me recently, asking me where I was, because he had been expecting to see me in October. However, there has been no time for holidays so far this year, but I am hoping to get to Connemara in November when the Clonmel show is finished. I need to feel the wind on my face, get soaked to the skin and covered in mud, swim in the ocean and smell peat burning. Hopefully I will find a house at the edge of the ocean; so that when leaving windows wide open, I will be surrounded and overwelmed with sounds of crashing waves and howling winds! Will cook a huge pot of stew to last a couple of days, then a pan of chilli to last another few, lighting lanterns and candles to read by. The first time I passed through Oughterard and saw the sign that describes the town as the gateway to Connemara, I took that as mere publicity hype. However, my head was stuck to the windscreen as I drove from the town into perhaps the most beautiful landscape I had ever seen. Oughterard is undeniably what it says on the tin; it is a portal to another magical world, another planet almost, of not just ocean, but mountains, lakes and streams. It is quite instantly astounding! So you see from the hospitable feasts of the culinary type as written about in Celtic and Greek mythology, and seen in such mafia movies, there are also feasts for the soul. I'm also a great believer, that being hospitable is great for the soul.


Connemara

There aren't too many rules in our house, and as the girls grew up there were really only two. 1. They should always always say 'please' and 'thank you'. 2. No matter who came into our home, they would be treated with kindness and dignity, which meant putting on the kettle, offering whatever was on the go and switching off the television! What is it like when someone offers you a smile...what a gift!... particularly if you're having a bad day. Another form of hospitality? I hadn't been in Ireland very long, and still a little precious about dear old Blighty, when a man, for whom we had waited two years to fix the roof, was sitting having a cup of tea and a slice of apple tart, said: 'In England, they ask you do you want a drink and they never give you as much as a biscuit with it, plus they all wash their cars on a Sunday morning.' I was quietly piqued, but sure enough, the next time I went home to Crewe, visiting mum, my dad, the uncles and aunts etc. etc. I didn't get as much as a slice of bread, never mind a biscuit, and as I walked around my old haunts one Sunday morning, guess what... they were all out on their fronts washing their cars!

Crewe railway station holds many magical memories for me. I would travel with two very excited little toddlers, from Limerick Junction,Tipperary by train as far as the boat in Dun Laoghaire and by train from Holyead to Crewe. The journey took approximately thirteen hours in total. What fun we had; such interesting people and conversations. Pulling into the station, stepping out on to the platform, looking for a taxi or a bus with my young family, introducing them to part of my heritage and indeed theirs, was very special. Many of my Irish friends spent the night on Crewe railway station waiting for a connection to Euston, London during the 60's and 70's when jobs were scarce or they were visiting relatives in Kilburn. Crewe is mainly associated with being the main railway junction in the North West of England, having a pretty decrepid soccer team, Crewe Alexandra and is home to the Rolls Royce and Bentley factory, which has now been taken over by BMW as far as I know.




Crewe Railway Station

So from the reading of The Odyssey, one train of thought, gathering momentum as it passes through various connections, arrives finally in Crewe. Flights of fancy fuelled by imagination need no aeroplane or field to land in. Like mythology, our minds can transport us anywhere. Isn't it just so exciting!
To finish on a musical note, from an old music hall song, ' Oh Mr. Porter, what shall I do? I wanted to go to Birmingham, but they dropped me off at Crewe!'

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


LAWS OF ATTRACTION
Quite recently, a male friend of mine asked me in a rather piqued fashion how men like Salman Rushdie and the French Primeminister, Nicholas Sarkosy, whom he would consider to be rather unattractive, managed to snare such beautiful women. I considered his question, and remembered Sarah Brightman, an ex-wife of Andrew Lloyd Weber sharing with Michael Parkinson and television audience, that Sir Lloyd Weber was great in bed! He, of course, is now on his third marriage and has remained on amicable terms with all his women, past and present. Now, I have to admit that, while impressed by his musical virtuosity, Andrew Lloyd Weber would not immediately wow on a physical level. His face is reminiscent of a potato with plasticine bits, stuck on as afterthoughts. Perhaps if we had dinner or lunch, and I actually got to see his eyes or his ass, some revision of first impressions might be called for.
Why do men look for younger women, and why, more increasingly, do women look for younger men? Why do I feel slightly irritated when men ( in their forties and fifties) say of women in their 40's, 50's and 60's, that they are great fun? Are they really saying, that they think we are more desperate, and therefore more willing to put up with silly macho talk; dress up in the latest kinky gear etc. etc. just to hold on to them. Or, on the other hand, have men quite genuinely realized that older women, while secretly wishing that bum and boobs were more pert, are better at seizing the moment; and perhaps the empowerment that comes with the education of life, and a curiosity in sex for their own hedonistic pleasure, is curiously more attractive. There is something about middle age that somehow clicks you into gear. 'Hey I've lived more than half my life...its all down hill from here unless I do something about it.'
I've arrived at the conclusion, that its the predictability and unforgiving routine of our lives, that is the precursor for unrest and unease within us. Women, in particular, are governed by cyclical routine for much of their lives. From approximately 11 years of age until around 50 or so, there is menstruation. If one is lucky to fall pregnant, there is the gestation period of 9 months. If mum breast feeds, she may find herself on call for, in some cases, as long as 2 years. If baby is bottle-fed, the chances are that mummy will be more omnipresent in the feeding process than daddy, unless of course daddy is a 'stay at home daddy.' Women then hit the menopause, which I'm told can last for another 10 years, which takes them up to 62 /63/65ish. Then there's all those years in between, where Johnny and Sarah go to music classes on Tuesday, or GAA on Wednesday, swimming on Friday and so on. Dinner has to be on the table, for hubby, because, bless him, he's had a terrible day at the office!
Now I'm not for one moment saying that men don't have a hard time. Of course they do. They grew up reading stories about Hercules, Zeus, Billy the Kid and dreamt of being heroes, and in some workplaces and personal relationships, they feel nothing like the hero they dreamed they would one day become; their spontaneity and potential sometimes not being acknowledged or respected.
Sameness is a killer. It kills our soul and our relationships. We tend to do the same things in the same way...every single, solitary day. We become bloody boring! If you ask me, it gets worse as we get older. Leaving aside the obvious physical attributes of youth, like pert boobs, bums, and six-packs, its no wonder people look for younger lovers and partners, they're less set in their ways, they're more spontaneous and if we were honest...doesn't everyone want a piece of that...element of surprise? Some people scare me...isn't there enough routine in our working schedules to last several life-times without knowing what they're going to eat for dinner on any given day of the week; planning their entire holiday wardrobe complete with all the matching accessories, labelled in small plastic bags...Tuesday 15th etc. perhaps a month before they go; sitting down at the same time every day to watch the same soap; visit the same pubs (every night); visit the same countries year after year for holidays (and sometimes even the same hotel); deal with their mail at the same time every evening, walk the dog along the same patch of grass at the same time every day etc. etc. etc. etc.
Words of undying love expressed in song, poem or prose might well be seen as the ultimate declaration of love. Not to sound discouraging or cynical, it may well be worth bearing in mind, that sometimes words are just words; an author, poet or speaker... might just be playing with sound of words, rather than their meaning. Just veering of the track for a moment, I wrote a piece/play last year in U.C.C. which explored the uses of the Mouth. The main theme was centred around eating disorders, but it also focussed attention on the of business of 'lip-service', and words being used as tools of deceit and manipulation by the likes of our government ministers, advertising moguls etc. etc. There was no text, except for keening (female funeral lament practiced in Ireland - highlighted in J.M. Synge's play, Riders to the Sea and in Ralph Vaughan-Williams opera of the same name) and tribal-like exclamations, accompanied by physical gesture and movement, film footage and a musical score. I am convinced its easier to lie and manipulate by written and spoken word than it is by physical gesture and movement. I'm not an expert on this, but it would seem, if someone says something disturbing, it is much easier to control a vocal response and therefore conceal the authentic reaction, but much more difficult to control a physical reaction, which exposes the truth; the latter being a more instantaneous response. (A different part of the brain?)
Surely one of the greatest skills any negotiator must possess, is the ability to read faces and body language, because therein lies the immediate truth. Even in a situation, where confrontation is not on the menu, the prospect of sitting opposite someone, or even talking over a telephone can send some heading for the hills. I wonder is that a fear of exposing our selves...our vulnerability. On a cynical note, perhaps, it might also be an attempt to hide our true motives.
Anyway, back to the main road... what attracts us to another? I'm more inclined to think that its in the being surprised, wrongfooted, spontaneously challenged, made to laugh at ourselves, doing something out of what has become the 'norm' - the 'boring routine', that is most attractive and satisfying. I'm not saying for one moment, a cute ass isn't good to look at, and that certain men and women are not, on an initial level, more physically attractive than others, but they're not necessarily to be found in the stereotypically 'tall, dark and handsome' groove. It's more likely to be something in the eyes or the smile that says, 'I am fun, intelligent, passionate, good company, and know how to throw a few surprises your way!', that is most compelling. Age or looks rarely come into it! At grammar school, my German teacher, Herr Schmidt (Mr. Smith from Manchester had been headmaster of a boys secondary school during the second world war) was seventy, white-haired, tall, proud, moustached, housed spectacular dancing blue eyes (Deine blaue augen!), beautifully baritoned...and I fell in love with him at fifteen years old!!!
There is no doubt that some people are attracted to wealth and power, and maybe, that's exactly what women see in men like Salman Rushdie and Nicholas Sarkosy. However, if you look at Rushdie's eyes, there is something weirdly attractive about them. They remind me of half-closed shutters... there's definitely something going on behind them. Not sure I would want to find out what, though! On the other hand, Mr. Sarkosy has big brown doe-like eyes that perhaps smack of 'I need you', which, in turn, might bring out the mothering instinct in some of us females.
Jack Nicholson, who is now in his 70's, just arches his eyebrow, smiles and I just go...'Yeah, bring it on!' I've read that he is incredibly good fun to work with, spontaneous and most generous to his fellow actors, and gets on well with his ex's. He's aging, overweight and balding, but as far as I am concerned, he is still the most attractive man on celluloid. George Clooney, who reminds me of Clark Gable, who was just so gobsmackingly magnificent in 'Gone with the Wind,' would finish a very close runner-up. Their sexiness springs from their ability to laugh at themselves and be the clown!
That's just about as good as it gets!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Endings and Beginnings

Me, Maurice and Maroon Shirt on Graduation Day!


Well, this has been a year of Endings and Beginnings. I graduated from a three year Joint honours arts degree at University College Cork in Drama and Theatre Studies and Italian in September, this year, which also saw the beginning of a new chapter in the relationship between myself and my father. My dad, Maurice, who is quite possibly the worst, most terrifying driver on the surface of this planet, is a retired mechanic (ironically!), a gifted singer, dancer and artist. He is married to a woman, who has somehow tamed him into wearing gold jewellry, maroon shirts and anoraks. (Yuck!) Growing up, I was secretly proud of the fact that my dad looked a trifle like a film director in his yellow custard trousers. He appeared to be totally oblivious of the prevailing fashions of the time. He had quite a temper, instilling quite a degree of fear, but sthat would not have been unusual for the post-war fifties and sixties. Now I have more insight into the reasons why, and all that matters is that I love him dearly, have much to thank him for, and that he makes me laugh and sing!

Maurice swearing an allegiance to God Knows What!


I am directing HMS PINAFORE for Clonmel Musical Society in the White Memorial Theatre, which starts on November 17th and runs for five nights. We are into week 3 of production and its mayhem. The stage is small and there are 55 in the cast. Moving a company of this size is a mammoth task and involves excluding some members of the cast from doing some of the main business at times. However, whilst still trying to provide an authentic background and setting of a ship, I have managed to incorporate levels in the form of steps, ladders, ropes, barrels etc. They are a very talented and willing company and the atmosphere is warm and most condusive to what I hope is going to be a lively, fast-moving production. Of course, there is much riding on this production. Other societies will attend and hopefully, if they like what I have done, will employ me to do more work with themselves. Well that is the plan. Eighty percent of the work is done before arriving into the theatre. I am not particularly good at winging anything, particularly with such a large crowd, so it's vitally important, that I am absolutely on top of every note and every stage direction. As director/producer, I am responsible for the finished product...the book stops with me.



I work in three national schools in Co. Tipperary with children from 4 to 12. What fun we have, talking in Italian (I try to teach them something new in Italian every week); experimenting with music, art and drama takes us on so many mysterious journeys. I do a wonderful exercise, where they can only use Italian words like crescendo and diminuendo as they improvise a greeting of a long lost relative or loved one at an airport arrival lounge for example. This stresses the importance of the tone of the voice and the inescapable truth of a physical gesture or movement. In this case the actual words are unimportant, only that the Italian language has a raw sensuality.



I run my own music and drama group in Tipperary town, call Class Act Theatre Productions. I also work with an older age group here, where subjects like drug, alcohol, physical and sexual abuse are frequently discussed through improvisation. We look at the standard options for performance, but it is essential that they explore their own innate creativity and experiment with their own expressions of self. I often bring art materials into the space, play some music and just give them the time to explore the impact that music plays upon their artwork or their dramatic work. This process is quite often extremely liberating for them. The sight of a quiet, shy child unfurling their straps of constraint is particularly touching, and that you are somehow a part of their metamorphosis is humbling.


I have two beautiful daughters, who are both involved in performance studies of one kind or another. Katy is a songwriter/singer/musician, studying in Cork. 'Skate' (her nickname) has a voice of similar texture to Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac and hopes to have an album of her own songs completed this year. Emma is studying classical singing in the Guildhall College of Music, London. 'Mems' (Emma's nickname) hopes to find work as a professional opera singer with aspirations to perform in Covent Garden and other opera houses around the world in the not too distant future. Last year I wrote short pieces for each of them. Katy was quite seriously ill at the time. Suffice to say, and thank God, we are still annoying the crap out of each other! Seriously, she is quite simply the best company.


Katy and Emma in Edinburgh




FOR KATY

YOU HAVE A SONG TO SING OH!


It is not your time
Not sung your song
Slide back to womb
Long legs first.





FOR EMMA



THE KISSING SPOT

Emma leaves for London on Friday! As I lie on a hard floor somewhere in Cork, I think about the day we first met; the day we actually set eyes on each other for the very first time. She had been a guest in my body for a little over nine months. Sheltered, nurtured, she had endured my music. I wondered, had she ever wished I’d switched off Beethoven and Tchaikovsky more often, for the intermittent summer-feelin’blasts of Bob Marley and Barry White. She had been a lady-like tenant, her presence felt, but ever so gently!
It was almost Christmas, my favourite time of the year and with one final festive push, she exploded into a yuletide world in true Broadway fashion, only short of top hat and cane. Wasn’t sure from her first cry whether she was a soprano or mezzo. My legs strapped up and out, a position, that would normally have felt humiliating, enabled a ‘Danny de Vito-like’ doctor to repair her debut gateway with a stitch or two. I provided some background music by chirping a chorus of Abba’s ‘Super Trooper’. I loved everyone and everything, myself included. I was deliciously happy!
Ravenous, after hours of hard labour for a crime of passion, I did commit, a bubbly nurse brought me a gourmet meal, which, to this day, has never been equalled. Hot sweet tea and melted butter dribbled down my chin as I sank teeth into cosy, squelchy toast.
Later, as I held my little miracle so close….so close, I discovered a secret place where lips could whisper their love. Just above her nose, my lips settled into a little nook… soft and downy… the ‘kissing spot’.
Almost twenty-seven years later, I still return to that garden of feathers and whispers.



When I embarked upon my degree, I could just about switch on a computer. I was dragged screaming and kicking into the 21st Century, but now that I'm here...what a place! Well this is my first blog, so that in itself is a beginning of sorts. As part of the introduction to my world and my thoughts, I would have liked to insert photos of my animals, home and garden, but hey...enough is enough technology for one blog!


The fact that we have had dreadful summers for the last three years leaves me somewhat unfazed, when given the glorious gifts of the last three autumns. Driving home following rehearsals, last night, listening to Barbra Streisand, leaves danced across my windscreen, curtseying in the glare of headlamps. I wished I was driving to Australia, instead of relatively nearby Thomastown. Touching base, I was met by creaking trees and singing winds. Wanting to bathe in the magic, I threw on hat and scarf, headed out with torch and dogs, feet crunching, down and up a leafy-faced boreen, which runs alongside our house. Caressed by breath of autumnal majesty, remnants of queen's crown... myself and leaves... danced secretly. No-one saw us in the dark, except the stars.


I lay thinking about it later. In all probability, at the moment of my exhilaration, people were ringing the Samaritans, because of loneliness, desperation, finding themselves in dire financial straits, feeling unloved and uncared for. I was reminded of this short poem by Norman Dugdale:



OLD MAN SITTING IN THE PARK


To renounce the world is one thing:


To be abandoned by it quite another.





I need to remind myself of that, even in the midst of all my joy!










So proud of you dad, inspite of the maroon shirt!