Saturday, 26 March 2016

I can't easily find myself in any family, institution or society. Easier to sit with a pack of magpies in a sycamore tree. I'm an avid borrower though. This week I watched Visconti's The Leopard and read the book by Guiseppe di Lampedusa. The leopard in his territory in 1860 is a character but not a fiction, unless a fiction is someone we do not know how to be in a place we do not inhabit. Lampedusa knows. He's writing about his grandparents; rueful, reverent, suffused with the weather in Sicily, the smell of the land, the readiness of peaches in the garden.

Burt Lancaster is the leopard prince who graciously cedes to jackals and hyenas as Italy begins to unify.  Lampedusa, the writer, gives his grandfather a benevolence he hopes is true. Visconti, through Burt Lancaster, confirms it. Alain Delon is the Leopard's nephew; he has popped straight and lively out of the novel, give or take a moustache. Claudia Cardinale is the daughter of new money, sumptuous in the garb of the era: all entrances and composure but a stableyard laugh. Waltzes by Nino Rota. An endless palace with a radiant ballroom.

There's nothing more wonderful than our two young people, says Burt Lancaster as Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale waltz around the centre of our picture.

Cinema can't resist large sweeps of land, a pan around chandeliers, a voyage through a hundred palace rooms as Garibaldi lands in Sicily. But it is the novel that focuses on the activities of ants, and thus, between the ants and history, weighs a prince's responsibility.

I can't imagine knowing this much this clearly about the society that brought me where I am today. I can only see ancestors in a miasma of discontent and departure. I can't reckon, as Lampedusa does, eighteen hundred years back to quasi mythical queens and princes. I know more about those magpies in the sycamore and the equinox which comes to rest, if the cloud thins, in that there pack of pine trees up the hill.

A book or a film becomes another layer through which I look at the view outside my window. No view is innocent or I am not a zen mistress, just a woman with an associative affliction and an unwillingness to find herself in any history at all.

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