JUDY KRAVIS

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Saturday, 29 August 2020

The chance encounters that give rise to reading: watching a film of Brideshead Revisited followed by a sneezy cold in unseasonal weather lead me to re-read the novel over two days, a 1954 Penguin shedding an aromatic buff-coloured dust as I turned the pages, the book's fragility echoing mine as I lay on the sofa half under a blanket in what we still, after more than twenty years, call the new room.

Several of my Evelyn Waugh books are very old. I liked him best in my twenties and thirties when his taut mannerism suited my need for high aesthetic mixed with social savagery. The religious preoccupation got on my nerves but I managed to overlook it. Now, after more than forty years in a country whose Catholicism is everywhere and nowhere, I am no less irritated but a little more interested in how the English version managed to be so consumed in its trappings and its rules, much as it would have been several hundred years ago.

Every satirist hides an emotional maelstrom. Evelyn Waugh is not a likeable writer, but occasionally you feel for him, as, near the end of the book, he cooks up an extended arctic image of a hut in the last blizzard of winter.
Quite silently a great weight forming against the timber; the bolt straining in its socket; minute by minute in the darkness outside the white heap sealing the door, until quite soon when the wind dropped and the sun came out on the ice slopes and the thaw set in a block would move, slide and tumble, high above, gather way, gather weight, till the whole hillside seemed to be falling, and the little lighted place would crash open and splinter and disappear, rolling with the avalanche into the ravine.
In an author's note economically placed on the verso page, beneath the publishing history, he absents himself and those he knows from his book. Which is a sure way of planting them firmly on his pages.
I am not I; thou art not he or she; they are not they.  E.W.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

This summer I have read the five last novels of Virginia Woolf, and the complete works of Roger Deakin. I have grazed elsewhere of course, but this was the backbone. For September I'm thinking of Tristram Shandy again. A poor summer (we have had a pandemic you know) seems a good moment for an old novel that takes a long time to begin and is tongue-in-cheek throughout. There are blank pages and black pages, tons of question marks.

Roger Deakin's Waterlog has blank stretches of water and black stretches of water, endolphins jumping in mountain streams, apprehension in pike-filled, eel-rich, silent, streams. About a third into his journey he wonders what he doing anyway, is he going mad like Ned Merrill in The Swimmer? What is this journey around Britain's waters, defying and seeking out, trespassing with intent, interrupting current practice in oversupervised waters? Enjoying old lidos and swimming holes? Satisfying a restless spirit. For now.

Friday, 21 August 2020

During days of gales and rain and storms I skirt the outdoors. Lay on the floor upstairs and read random bits of One Straw Revolution; more like grazing on a book. How you construct a world view is a subtle affair, a grasshopper on a stalk, for example. Or maybe you were asleep some of the time?

Next day, tail end of the storm, heavy showers, Roger Deakin's diary. He appreciates the principle of writing as flitting, as with diaries, journals. You can note the smallest, most important things:
Every now and again you find yourself slipping into a little pocket, a little envelope, of country that is unknown to anyone else, which feels as though it is your own secret land.
Idle thoughts are at the centre of his activity as a human.
If you want to know what it's like to be a tree, sleep with a cat on your bed and feel it manoeuvring and exploring your curves and hollows for the most comfortable nest.
Notes from Walnut Tree Farm is about his activity as a human, his reflection as a human. The travels and encounters of Wildwood, focused in chapters, are human too, but there is nothing to compare with notes taken on the hoof, swimming in the moat, sleeping in the shepherd's hut.
I slept in the shepherd's hut last night after an eight-length evening swim in the most, now beginning to weed up — a beautiful, nearly full moonlit night. Very bright, hardly proper darkness at all. At ten to four I was woken up by a warbler (not sure which) hopping along the tin roof of the hut, then striking up the most beautiful song, at first utterly solo in the half-light, soon joined by other birds.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Some reading moves me away from language and onto the land. After Virginia Woolf, Roger Deakin. Wildwood.

I read too quickly, to get to the chapters about Central Asia, land of fruit and honey, vision of fruitful valleys and ancient commonage and interdependence where walnuts are currency and everyone is poor.

Poverty must be based on a lie, on a bed of lies, if people who live close to the history of the land, eat walnuts (which resemble the brain) and apples and honey and kefir, are poor.

They are rich in everything that people in otherwise poor, which is to say, wealthy, countries, pay good money to experience: good air, fresh food in season, communality, harvest.

Le Regain. I should read Jean Giono next. Or John Giorno. For the urban translation.

The harvest here, this summer: courgettes, round, pale and french or dark green and long, sugar peas, pale yellow, lots of runaway Red Rapids lettuce, rocket flowering, fennel coming on, pumpkins (ushiki kuru) making their way through other plants, mice eating the beetroot, for the sweetness and the colour, dark red or pink-striped, beans working to make beans, tomatoes eccentric this year, Atomic Grape, forget it, cucumbers, plenty, herbs, coming on in the greenhouse, basil, coriander and dill.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

As I read Virginia Woolf's The Waves this time I slowed and slowed until the last fifty pages took nigh on a week. I still have a few pages left, in fact. Now that she has massed her six characters, Bernard, Neville, Jinny, Susan, Rhoda and Louis, plus Percival, who died in an accident in India, now she has pulled them in close to herself and finally met them as her own creatures, I am not ready; I will never be ready. The coming together of these six or seven creatures, the uniting of them as hers, as mine, I can wait for as long as it takes.
And now I ask, "Who am I?" I have been talking of Bernard, Neville, Jinny, Susan, Rhoda and Louis. Am I all of them? Am I one and distinct? I do not know. We sat here together. But now Percival is dead, and Rhoda is dead; we are divided; we are not here. Yet I cannot find any obstacle separating us. There is no division between me and them. As I talked I felt "I am you." This difference we make so much of, this identity we so feverishly cherish, was overcome.
This has been a late Virginia Woolf summer: Between the Acts, To the Lighthouse, Mrs Dalloway, and The Waves. An uneasy summer with uneasy weather. A communal awareness is always uneasy. The weather, the earth, know what to do.

Virginia Woolf was urban at heart. Gardens registered a little, seascape and blackcurrant bushes, but it was London streets that her creatures walked, that she walked, finding her phrases and writing them down in innumerable notebooks, writing herself down.