JUDY KRAVIS

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Thursday, 27 September 2018

A letter in The Guardian Weekly recently, from a reader in Texas, said he was writing notes in the flyleaf of some of the more unusual books he read, so that future readers, if any there were, might have an introduction to books they mightn't have heard of. It is an act of faith, that someone in the future might open a book and find one reader's response on the flyleaf and so be encouraged to read it. A generous-spirited idea, though it confirms that books and reading seem to need special pleading, special behaviours and rare levels of encouragement.

When I am feeling low about books and reading, I might well turn, as I did a week or so ago, to L.P. Hartley's Eustace and Hilda trilogy, which I have read about twenty times since I first bought it in the early seventies. It must be the recessive, perhaps faux-modeste narrator who calls me back each time, plus the quiet narrative and social assumptions of about seventy years ago. This is comfort reading, confirmed by the exceptional quality of old Faber paperbacks, which have travelled through so many readings and emerged reassuringly bent towards the end but sturdy as ever. Today I read a a few chapters of the third volume up at the reservoir on a cloudless day, still warm for the end of September, both the book and the afternoon. I was negotiating Venice with Eustace, watching a magpie take a bath at the water's edge, and sometimes closing my eyes for these two scenes and all their virtues to marry.
.... events never moved while you were watching them, and his own particular scrutiny, he sometimes felt, had a peculiarly arresting effect. He becalmed things.
Only when he turns his back on things do they change and take him by surprise. Eustace and Hilda are brother and sister, with low parental presence (the mother died young and the father not much older) with one of those aunts in literature who take the place of parents but are so much quieter. The sibling friendship similarly takes the place of other kinds of relationship that L.P. Hartley, a frightened gay, could not describe or perhaps even contemplate. Eustace is mainly concerned with managing, or trying to manage, Hilda's relationships; all the worry he and his creator may have had on their own behalf, is transferred to Hilda.

Whether or not this blog survives the predations of bots and spam-slingers, I have no desire to sully the Faber flyleaf.

Monday, 17 September 2018


In Cork City R is reading The Ginger Man, which is funny, he says, smiling, and M is reading John Banville whom she finds very self-conscious. This is part of the local mycelium of reading. I trawl Vibes and Scribes on a Saturday morning and pause most by something autobiographical about Daphne Du Maurier and leave with nothing.

I have been reading William Gerhardie, The Polyglots, and The Beautiful Summer by Cesar Pavese, one very long and the other very short.

I have looked at what passes for communication around this blog and found in the contributing sites and urls non-visitors from unknown regions and pornsites. It is hard to believe I am in any way speaking to friends.

So I am considering my options.

William Gerhardie when he was a child home for the holidays, sat on the hat rack and imagined he was a bird.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Why Old Calabria now, on a drizzly day in County Cork, with territorial bad dreams occupying my head? Old Calabria is a thick-papered hardback from a 1990s Picador travel series, written by Norman Douglas about a hundred years ago. He was a friend of Elizabeth David, who was roaming food in France and Italy when he was a grand old bon vivant, a taste of European Englishhood in the era after Grand Tour travel. Norman Douglas, though rich, wasn't quite an aristo, he was a cultural refugee with a strong nostalgie de la boue, in need of the liberty of someone else's history, someone else's landscape.

OId Calabria is a rich, eccentric read in 2018, era of saturation tourism, with European cities foundering, visitors lodged in all styles everywhere. Norman Douglas, ex-Scot, ex-diplomat, adoptee Italian, writer and seeker after the perfect moment, finds lodgings that airbnb could not conceive. Here he is at a railway station late at night:
On my arrival in the late evening I learnt that the hotels were all closed long ago, the townsfolk having gone to bed 'with the chickens'; it was suggested that I had better stay at the station, where the manageress kept certain sleeping quarters specially provided for travellers in my predicament.
Certain sleeping quarters exhale an indescribable esprit de corps, he says, at the start of an eventful night in which we acquaint with his scanty stock of household remedies: court plaster and boot polish, quinine, corrosive sublimate, and Worcester sauce (detestable stuff, but indispensable hereabouts, he says), and the possible interest of the flea-ridden, already occupied couch in a cowshed (I would like to know what is corrosive sublimate).
Herein lies the charm of travel in this land of multiple civilisations—the ever-changing layers of culture one encounters, their wondrous juxtaposition.
Such a traveller, sleeping in cowsheds and worse, researching flying monks and ravening Saracens, walking all day to find no food at the inn. I read more than half the several hundred pages this afternoon, while the drizzle tried to occupy the dry land, and large earth-movers down the lane prepare for tarmac. Norman Douglas found that towns that cleaned up lost their charm. My dreams echo this almost every night. I can't engage with the history he seeks out, but his instincts as he travels Old Calabria ring true.
A landscape so luminous, resolutely scornful of accessories, hints at brave and simple forms of expression; it brings us to the ground, where we belong ....  The sage, that perfect savage, will be the last to withdraw himself from the influence of these radiant realities. ... From these brown stones that seam the tranquil Ionian, from this gracious solitude, he can carve out, and bear away into the cheerful din of cities, the rudiments of something clean and veracious and wholly terrestrial—some tonic philosophy that shall foster sunny mischiefs and farewell regret.
We travellers go where we will, even at home. From gracious solitude to cheerful din. Sunny mischiefs  and farewell regret. Norman Douglas first spoke German, then Russian, then Italian.; he wrote in English. No wonder he reads like a translation; he is a translation. A Scottish not quite aristo with German & Russian experiences at loose in Old Calabria, reshaping at will in chicken and cow sheds.