Tag Archives: london

A NOD TO NATURE

15 November 2017

The sky is darkening early as another storm approaches from the north. I watch two large roses at the garden gate, their heavy pink heads bowed, yet nodding, as if to say, yes, come what may we will rejoice. I cannot imagine how I would keep my own head up in these turbulent times if it weren’t for nature.

I try to have the courage to be honest when I write, although sometimes my opinion might offend others. While it is not my wish to be offensive, or hurtful, neither is it my way to pretty-up my opinions. They are merely mine, and valuable to me as I hope all of yours are to you. I’m referring in particular to the reaction I received recently from three readers in response to a September post in which I expressed my discontent with New York city, Manhattan in particular.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how easily we can touch a nerve in another person? We are, all of us, attached to something, or someone, or some place. Yet while it might be okay for us to criticize our own mother, or city, or country, when someone else does so our backs go up immediately in defense. It would seem that each of us is guilty to some degree in the way in which we barely listen to someone else without needing to assert our own opinion as the only one valid. We see this on a large scale now, with regard to how divided so many nations have become: north-v-south, right-v-left, red-v-blue, Brexit-v-Remain and on and on.

I lived in Manhattan from 1994 to 2013 and it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I also lived there during the 70’s and loved it; loved it for its diversity, its grit, its edginess. Sure it was more dangerous then, but it was also more real, more creative. And even though expensive back then, it wasn’t prohibitive. Maybe I’m overly sensitive, (although actually I don’t believe there is such a thing, either you are sensitive or you’re not), but part of what turns me off about cities in general and New York in particular is the enormous, ever-widening divide between the rich and the poor. I find it hard to see past this in order to enjoy the good stuff, of which there is much: museums, entertainment, fine food etc. But I wonder what percentage of people living in New York can actually afford any of those things? To that point I might better be able to appreciate those who leap to the city’s defense if any one of them had not been privileged enough to own homes in the country to which they can regularly escape the city’s relentless energy.

I mean really, how many people who have to take the subway every day see or experience joy? When was the last time the immigrant who delivered your dinner to your home was able to afford a visit to a museum or take his or her kid to a Broadway show? I remember days when I lived in New York when I would look at the teeming humanity on buses, sidewalks, subways and, yes, I would feel deeply connected to everyone; would feel profoundly moved by the fact that every single one of us had the courage to survive another day; each of us doing the best we were capable of. But these last few years what I more often experience is the pain and stress and anxiety etched on those faces, which, coupled with the non-stop roar of sound brings me to my knees. Maybe it’s an age thing for some of us. All I know it that after three and half years of living on a farm nature provides me with more wonder and joy than does New York. That said, I respect and am happy for those of you for whom the city is still a thrill.

There are some truths that none of us wish were so, but the truth is that for now, at least, America and New York have lost their way, and I find that upsetting. We were just in Paris for five days, lucky us. It, too, is an expensive city, yet it is still managing to hold onto some measure of humanity; some measure of what I call right-size. It’s comforting to see its citizens walking along, baguette in hand; to see tiny shops specializing in ancient trades, to catch a whiff of butter on every block.

But even though I find Paris charming I wouldn’t want to live there, anymore than I would want to live permanently in my home city of London. I just don’t need millions of people around me anymore in order to feel alive. A handful will do…along with those two roses at the gate, still nodding as evening falls.

 

With love to you all

Maggie

SLIP STREAM

 

 

6th February 2016

elephant eye

Yesterday we returned to Tuscany after 2 weeks in London and I was surprised by the sadness I felt to leave my “hometown.” Perhaps it’s because it was the first time in many years that it actually felt like my hometown and not like a mutant offshoot of New York. It would seem to be another example of how important it is not to cement anything or anyone or anyplace into a once-and-for-all judgment or ideal.

London is the place I ran to when I ran away from home at 16. I had no idea then that I was about to spend 3 years living in the place in the world. London in the 60’s was equivalent to Paris in the 20’s; revolutionary, wildly creative, ‘mod,’ avant garde; A thrillingly reckless time in a once staid city of bowler hats. In truth, it was also overwhelming in that it still carried, along with its anything-goes new image, a deeply rooted class distinction and prejudice, the hierarchy of which deigned that those of us on the lower rungs would never gain acceptance into the loftier realms, nor enjoy the freedom and privilege such status bequeathed to its heirs. So, on the one hand, I might go to bed with anyone, irrespective of class, but breakfasting together could well be out of the question.

chalcott

Now, 50 years later, I launched my new novel there, a homecoming I could once have only dreamed of. What a thrill, to sit in the beautiful lounge of a friend’s house, the fire gently burning and read from a narrative that takes place before another fire in another lounge. How apt that the novel’s central theme is the nature of personal belief, why we have them, and how they affect one’s life and the lives of strangers and loved ones. I, who would never have believed that one day I should hold sway in such a home, never mind provoke discussion.

light transport

The gathering was a mix of family, friends and strangers from different backgrounds, yet in modern day London we all have the right to freely express ourselves. To the 6 beliefs in the novel 6 more were added in the discussion that followed my reading: altruism, empathy, dreaming, individuality, family and responsibility. I only wish we had discussed them at greater length. But what I am most grateful for is that this little book has the ability to make people think.

pip novel

The other reading was to standing room only audience of 130 + at the Photographers Gallery Bookshop. Not a place where one would normally expect to read fiction. At the director’s request, I was able to find a way to tie the novel in to photography as well as to the essay I wrote for Joel’s new book: Morandi’s Objects. And I must thank both Morandi and Meyerowitz whose coattails I gladly held in order to gain entry.

london reading

After reading the essay, Joel gave a beautiful talk and power-point presentation describing how he has journeyed from street photography to the still life. Then I sprung back up before anyone had a chance to sneak out, inviting all to strike the downward facing dog pose, or let out a primal scream in order to energize the reading which I cleverly (I thought) presented as a series of portraits, choosing to read a short childhood flashback into each of the 6 characters lives. And joy of joys, no-one left and many bought books!

I was 19 when I left London with a cheap blue suitcase and 2 pairs of shoes, to begin what I thought at the time would be my around-the-world-in-2-years trip. I never did make it back home as I had assumed I would, to live out the rest of my life. Over the intervening half-century I have visited England many times, experiencing varying degrees of belonging, outsider-ness, familiarity and sometimes, unrecognizable traits of stupidity in a nation once known for its common sense. This time it felt as though the city and its populace had settled back into the best of itself, taking those values along in a manner both positive and creative. There is an air of tolerance in the city, which nicely goes hand-in-hand with an acceptance that anything could befall us at any time.

And what joy to speak my native tongue…English, not American or Italian. Only by living in other cultures amid other languages can we fully understand how much we are formed and influenced by the place in which we grew up. These familiar pieces of ourselves we pack away in order to take on the new. Some of them, mothballed as they may be, stay intact and like a pop-up sponge soaked in water, can be revived and put to good use.

Maybe because Joel and I have now lived in Tuscany for 2 years, a life uninhabited by a lot of friends or ease of language, it allows us to slip easily into the city current; to be surrounded by friend and make new ones, to pop off to the theatre or cinema on a whim, to say yes to dinners and museums or dash off to Portobello with Pip.

portobello

Talking of dinners and museums, on our last day we did both and each beautifully underscored the importance of diversity and the acceptance what we have different needs at different times. We fell in love with each other all over again as well as falling in love with London. It was about people really. We felt as though we had been reminded of a part of ourselves that had been up in the attic for a while and we both wanted to bring our intact selves home to the farm. So we made a dinner party for 14 in the little rental flat and wrapped ourselves in laughter and friendship.

new friends

old friends

Earlier in the day we had visited the Royal Academy to see the glorious exhibition: The Modern Garden; From Monet to Matisse. For 2 hours we were inside nature and light as we entered the artists’ gardens. Even then, a hundred years ago, they were speaking of the need for nature as the antidote to the brutality of industrialization and city life. Not to mention war. A whole room was give to paintings Monet made while surrounded by WWI, the wall text, and I paraphrase, quoting Monet’s statement that if the savages wanted to come, then let them kill him in front of his life’s work. A modern garden indeed.

virulent

And now we have returned to ours. The sun, low but not yet setting, rakes the hillsides startling the winter crop into virulent green; the olive groves a shimmer of silver in the still air. In the garden, the rose plants are sprouting their first new leaves and there is much weeding to be done in the Mediterranean beds. Rain is forecast for the next three days; a wonderful excuse to lay low by the fire, to read, to paint, to write. By Tuesday the earth will be softened, making those weeds easy to pull. London will be a memory and the river will rush onward to the sea.

waterbottle blues

NB.  A gentle reminder that my novel : From Dusk to Dawn is available as hardcover or e-book from:  Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound. Tell your friends!

Cover and Maggie