April 27, 2008


To celebrate, here's a little something cooked up from left-overs (past fragments shot when I only had my digital still-camera's tiny movie option) with narration written and spoken by me yesterday, plus a bonus: part of Elyne Road by the wonderful Toumani Diabaté  - thanks to Teju Cole for this music which I had not heard before. And by the way, DO NOT MISS Cole's brilliant book, Every Day Is For The Thief , now available from Amazon.

Here are the words of my poem-like thing - thanks to Dave of Via Negativa for this genre-definition. In my case, it means randomly breaking up a normal paragraph into poem-like lines.

WAY OUT  (Update April 28: I've edited out the last iteration of the poem at the end of the video. Thanks, again, Dave)

Peopled patterns moving across the landscape of time in perfect symmetry
every dot intending to go somewhere or to return,
clusters of intention gathering then dissolving
into slow dance or frenzied run,
leaving tracks in the sand and in the air.
What would they look like
if we could see them,
these traces of our restless passage,
on our way in
and on our way out?

And here's what was on Blaugustine on this day in the past five years.

Five years of the Blaug


April 20, 2008


They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

Philip Larkin

Writing about my mother inevitably brings up thoughts about my parents, my childhood, and all sorts of paths leading in and out of that territory, partly factual, partly selective memory and partly buried emotion. The first line of Larkin's poem is so famous because it's so true. It echoes with everyone, or nearly everyone, who has had parents. Some of the things we are fucked up about do not come from our parents but some do, that's undeniable.

Being a good parent, or a 'good enough' parent, is a talent which doesn't necessarily pop up the minute a baby lands in the arms and the life of a formerly baby-free woman and her mate (if a mate is present). Some people are hopeless at the parenting art, some struggle to learn it and a few - very few, in my opinion - take to it like ducks to water or cats to kittens.

I feel very fortunate to have had the parents I had, not because they were good parents (they were not) but because they were two interesting, complex and marvellous people I got to know very well by virtue of being one of their children. As a child - and sometimes far into adulthood - a Parent is seen only in capital letters. Those letters might spell love or rage or need but they are always capitalised. It takes a lot of growing up to finally accept that parents are only people, ordinary humans just like us.

Some years ago, when group therapy was in its heyday, a friend invited me to accompany him to a weekend group led by a psychologist particularly respected for his work on childhood and adolescence. I was curious and went along, unaware of how significant it would be for me. We were about fifteen people of various ages and backgrounds, sitting on cushions arranged in a circle on the floor of a large, bare, pleasant room. We waited quietly for the leader to arrive and take his place on the one empty cushion. Suddenly he was there and the atmosphere became charged with anticipation and anxiety. He asked us to say a few words about why we came. While the others spoke, I rummaged in my head for all possible reasons but when it was my turn I blurted out something like "I keep stopping myself from doing what I want to do." His response was "Are you successful at this?" Startled, I said "Yes, very successful". For the next few hours I sat in stunned silence, watching, listening as a series of mini-dramas were enacted.

The leader's technique was more like that of a stage director than a psychologist: he asked you to pick two people in the room who reminded you, however vaguely, of your parents. Having done so, you - the 'child' - were asked to place yourself and your 'parents' in whatever physical positions represented your relationship. Everyone responded intuitively, creating a succession of powerful tableaux which encapsulated a whole catalogue of parent-child traumas and situations in a few gestures. The director would then elicit verbal expression, in character, from the participants and, astonishingly, the pretend mother or father would spontaneously say something to their pretend children which was precisely what they had heard in the past from their real parents. Painful situations were re-enacted and, with positive input from the director, given new light and new insight.

Each person in the group had their turn in the limelight, if they wanted it, and all this took quite a while. I was so involved in the stories unfolding that I almost forgot I was there as a participant rather than an observer. Yet all sorts of troubling emotions were bubbling up inside me and, finally, I saw a gap in the action and moved into the empty space in front of the director (I can't keep saying the director, I'll call him L).
"I want to work," I said (that's how you indicated you wanted your turn).
It was the end of the first evening, the whole weekend was still ahead.
L looked at his wristwatch.
The exact gesture my father would make, so often, when I started to tell him something.
"Do you always wait until the last minute before you ask for attention?" L said.
Bingo again.
"Allright, what do you want to do?" L said, standing up, looking down at the floor, passive.

At that moment, it hit me that L was the person in the room who was like my father, so uncannily like my father that he had the same gestures, even looked like him.
I answered his question without speaking, without thinking, without hesitation.

I grabbed both his arms and draped them around my neck, bent down and hoisted him up on my back. The fact that he was taller and heavier than I meant nothing. I carried him around the room piggy-back, his legs dragging on the floor. It was funny but also very serious. People laughed respectfully. (I wanted to put here a cartoon I drew of this scene but I can't find it. Maybe later).

" That's it," L said, "You're a carrier. When you were born, your father and your mother jumped on your back." He looked around the group. "Who's your mother?"

I walked straight over to a beautiful
young blonde woman and stood on tiptoe facing her. L brought a cushion and placed it under my feet to make me taller. I stood there with my head resting on her breast. L called some people over and together they carried us and gently laid us down on the floor, mother and baby. I lay on her chest and she unbuttoned her shirt. Then I began to cry and cry and cry and cry, sobbing my heart out, quietly but with an intensity I have never experienced before or since. L and the group sat around us in a protective, supportive circle. I don't know how long it lasted but suddenly it was over and I got up, feeling extraordinary, exhilarated, reborn.

Then the whole group went out to dinner and, in the street, L carried me piggy-back all the way to the Indian restaurant.

This linocut is the original of what became the first image of the gnovel, which is enormously influenced by all the above.



April 15, 2008


My mother's birthday, April 17th, is one of the few dates that are indelibly engraved in my memory and this time of year is particularly saturated with the colours that she left behind. I've written about her before but I wanted to share with you the joy I feel when I look at the paintings she began to create from the age of ninety-four, right up until she died at ninety-seven. If you sometimes (all the time?) feel (like me) that time is creeping up - no, not creeping, galloping - take a look at this and be inspired, refreshed, re-vigorated. Yes, Blanche's paintings are 'naive'. No, they are not technically refined. But can you feel the energy, the excitment, the invention, the youth in those pictures? Are they the work of a little old lady? For me, they are a kick up the ass of apathy, a defiant non-conformity to clichés about ageing.

Bravo ma petite maman, je te salue!


The soundtrack is Josephine Baker singing "J'ai Deux Amours" as my parents would have heard her in Paris in the 1920s. Here are pictures of her in her heyday - a truly great woman in every way.


April 9, 2008


is here so go there and let me know what you think. It's about 18 minutes long and because of having to compress it so much, it's become rather blurry. But please stick with it anyway because there are some good moments, especially on the roof when my niece's beautiful hand gestures, slowed down, seem to be conducting the music or pointing like a frescoed angel.

I go a bit bonkers when I start editing film so I never got to bed at all last night and today has been the same. It's a rivetting and infuriating process, demanding 100% obsessive compulsion. Having removed all my original video soundtrack, keeping only some voices in the children's park, airport noises in Fiumicino and the landing at Heathrow, I had to choose music to insert in the gaps. That was the most fascinating task of all, seeing how places, faces and things are transfigured by merely giving them a new sound.

Wouldn't it be lovely if for at least a day, no one spoke at all, and all ordinary noise would be turned off, replaced by music intuitively chosen to accompany the movement of people and objects in space?

Selene's hands


April 5, 2008


The day I left was the opening day of British Airway's shiny new Terminal 5 at Heathrow and by now everybody knows what a fiasco that was. I can confirm it since I was there. Flights delayed and tempers frayed because of problems with baggage (lost) and personnel (not there). Why? Because the combined brains of architects, builders, designers, technicians, advertisers, promoters, administrators and financiers failed to work out the essential logistics. They were too busy creating yet another gigantic luxury shopping-mall, parking-lot, energy-wasting facility for lifting us up into already overcrowded, polluted skies and dropping us in far-flung places where we will litter the earth ever more with our relentless consumerism. Do I sound grumpy? About air travel, yes. About airports, yes. About mass tourism, yes. About globalised uniformity, yes. All roads lead to the same place now, call it whatever name you like. The  language will be different, the faces will be different, the smells and sounds and tastes will be different but there is a sameness. You know what I mean, you've seen it, wherever you are. The whole planet has been colonised. There may be small hidden pockets of resistance but they're only a few more airports away.

Up and down a ladder in Rome, stacking and sorting my sister's books on her new shelves, hanging pictures, emptying boxes, I'm an efficient and compulsive nest-builder and once I get into my stride, I don't really like being interrupted. But the interruptions were good ones - my sister, my dear relatives and their children, the view of Rome from their rooftop (I shot some videos, will edit and post), a meal together in Trastevere where the food was good but the neighbourhood indelibly changed. It was where Reg and I lived for about a year after Paraguay in a top floor apartment of tiny rooms with a view. At the time, it was a cheap area, narrow streets full of small artisan workshops, simple cafes and a few restaurants. Now, although the streets are still narrow and the buildings still ancient, the apartments inside are among the most expensive in Rome, pricy restaurant tables line the pavements cheek-by-jowl, the artisan shops have disappeared, the piazzas are packed with tourists and ubiquitous clusters of druggies slouch in doorways. Groups of policemen, carabinieri, stand around, unsmiling.

When I left Reg and Rome all those years ago, I couldn't take all my stuff with me so my sister kept some of my things in storage. This time, my niece and her husband brought up on the roof, in the sun, stacks of paintings and drawings of mine which I'd completely forgotten about, work I'd done as an art student in Paris and New York and Mexico. It gave me a jolt, reminded me of who I was. I put the drawings in a portfolio and brought them back home. I've been looking at them, wondering why I've meandered so much, butterflied so much, when signposts are so clearly laid out. Here are some of them.

Early drawings 1

Early drawings 2

Early drawings 3