Sunday, 16 August 2009

St Francis, a dog and redemption

The words are mine, the idea, Karel Capek's. I here recreate a pale simulacrum of an out of print story by the author of R.U.R. and War with the Newts. It is done out of respect not cheating. This comes nowhere close to Kapek's prose, even in translation, but the idea is so endearing.

It is a feeble effort but perhaps it will move.

The farmer paused to mop his brow with the soiled towel hanging from his belt. Wiping his forehead and cheeks, he rubbed his naked chest, tanned to the colour of tree bark in the summer sun, and then his arms and, as he folded the towel back into his belt, gazed into the distance along a winding path that led from his smallholding to the next. As he peered at the panorama spread before him, he made out a small figure; a figure the colour of the earth from which the farmer ground out a meagre existence for his wife and family.

“Another mendicant friar,” he thought. As if life were not precarious enough in these foothills with never any certainty that there would be food on the table for those he loved, hours of backbreaking toil in the baking sun from dawn until dusk and beyond; and these friars had the cheek to beg from him! He, who had too little of almost everything, and too much charity. “There is little to complain about, I suppose,” he muttered to himself. “To devote oneself to God, to willingly dispossess oneself of all that is desirable in this world, a wife, children, a place, however small, that one might call one’s own; to do this for the love of God is perhaps a truly wond’rous thing deserving of our charity. For although I love my God with all my heart, this I could not do, and I hope He does forgive me for this.”

The image of the friar grew larger in his sight and he began to discern details: the straw, wide-brimmed hat, which cast a long shadow across his face; the aquiline nose, a rudder steering the friar along his course, along the strait but winding road to salvation. Dust lay thick and heavy around the plain brown cassock, a cord loosely knotted around his middle, the underarms stained a deep brown, almost sepia.

“Come, wife! Bring some food for we have a guest,” the farmer called loudly towards the hovel he called home. A plump woman with long, flowing, black hair appeared in the doorway, a small raven-haired child hanging at her breast. “Bring water too,” the farmer called. “He will no doubt be thirsty and wine, though cheaper, these friars will not take, except at mass!” The farmer’s wife disappeared from whence she came just as the friar approached the gate.

“Hail to you, child of God!" the friar called. "Would you have a crust perhaps to share with an itinerant friar who has yet to break his fast this day though I have been many hours on the road since dawn did first break? It is of no matter if the crust be stale and, perhaps, a flagon of water?” The farmer smiled. “Come, father, we will share what little we have.” The friar opened the gate and stepped up to the farmer and grasping his hand declared: “God bless you, my son! You shall reap many rewards in heaven for the kindness you show.”

“You have a name?” the farmer asked. “Brother Francis, I am called by my brethren and Francis of Assisi by others.” the friar replied. It wat at this point that a small dog, whippet like, its ribs starkly outlined against its chest, hearing the friar's soft voice, crept from behind a barrel, its tail between its legs, its head bowed in submission. The farmer raised his fist and lashed out with his boot. “Begone wretched cur! Begone! Do not torment us so, spawn of Satan!” The farmer aimed another kick at the dog. “Brother!” exclaimed the friar. “Do not treat God’s creatures so! It is needless! What can this poor creature ever have done to you that would make you even contemplate such behaviour. He is, like all of our God’s creatures, innocent.”

The farmer’s wife re-appeared in the doorway, a small muslin bag of bread and cheese in one hand, a flagon of water in the other. She hesitated on the small porch, as though in fear. “Get him away from here!” she screamed. The dog cowered behind his barrel, his body shaking as though a fit were upon him. “Sister,” the friar said, “what has this animal done? Why do you punish him so? He is a creature of God, as you are. Why such scorn? He surely cannot deserve your hatred.”

The farmer beckoned to his wife to come to him and the friar who was now kneeling so as to present a less imposing and threatening figure to the trembling animal before him. As she handed the food and water to Francis, the friar could see that she was crying. “You must forgive us, friar," she said gesturing towards the dog. "Although we have no forgiveness for that in us, yet still we ask. He is our dog, these five years past but we cannot bear him to be here, around us, not now. However he will not leave, whatever violence we do him. He runs but ever he returns, whimpering in the shadows. We only wish that he were gone.”

“But he is your friend, my daughter, a creature of God. He was created especially for his devotion and trust. Why do you wish him gone?” the friar asked . The farmer laid his arm across his wife’s shoulder and quietly spoke. “It is my wife's niece. She left home not 10 miles from here to visit us and help my wife with the baby. A comely child and ever willing to help, she was. Her laughter was like unto a trickling stream, ever bubbling. She did not arrive at the appointed hour and although we searched and searched for days, from dawn until dusk, no trace of her did we ever find. Most like, set upon by brigands, or worse. Her loss was felt by all in these hills.” At the sound of his master’s quiet, calm voice the dog once more crept from behind his barrel, his legs bent, scraping the earth with his belly.

“Then three days ago, that wretched cur returned with a bone. It was an arm bone of a child, slivers of her fine new smock still attached.” The friar gasped. “No, friar, we do not think that the dog was responsible, but how could he? How could he do such a thing? To treat our niece’s sacred body so? To return to us with such a thing? Does she not deserve to have a burial, in the sight of God? To know that she has been ripped apart by scavengers!” The friar hung his head. Moving to one side, he looked into the dog’s eyes. “That was not well done, little one. To so defile an innocent child’s body. To so treat one of God’s own children. That was not well done. She was innocent as you were. Come!” Francis held out his hand and proffered some cheese to the cowering dog. Slowly, the dog raised himself from the ground and, quivering, his tail between his legs once more, slowly walked towards the friar.

His head lowered, ears back, the dog slowly fed from the friar’s hand. “There, little one,” the friar softly said, gently stroking the head between the ears. “You were not to know. How could you? We cannot expect the beasts of the earth to command the wisdom of men. Come! I will forgive you, as God will.” As the friar removed his hand from the dog’s head, it was replaced by one smaller, softer, more gentle.

The dog capered around the ankles of the friar, his tail wagging with pleasure, and the friar smiled.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Guitars, Guitarists and luthiers

Now MG and I and I both share a love for guitar music. We both adore Segovia, Paco Pena, Julian Bream, the flamenco of Manitas da Plata through John Martyn, Richard Thompson and onward to Michael Hedges, taking in the pyrotechnics (literally and metaphorically) of Jimi, the enormously expressive Paul Kossoff, Joe Satriani on a melodic day, the three magi, BB, Freddie and Albert King, Robert Johnson, the list is almost endless. Only almost. Steve Vai sucks!

Well he sent me a link to a piece by a French Canadian, Erik Mongrain, called 'Airtap'. Obviously a party piece, but none the less impressive for that. Reminded me of Stanley Jordan the first time I heard him play. The idea that there was a different way to play.

Well the Mongrain video put me into 'search' mode and off I went. It seems that there is a record label in Canada that specialises in the most amazingly gifted guitar players. For your edification, pleasure and amusement, I cobbled together some of what I think are the best. If you were on the original 'global' for Erik you may want to check some of these out. For the guitar freaks watch and listen and be inspired or primed to throw your guitar in the dustbin and go into Albanian zinc; for the non guitar freaks just be amazed :) (If you have an orgasm, it's not my fault, OK? Just clean up the way you usually do. You are used to it by now, I hope!)

First up, Mongrain for anybody that did not get the email (oh those hatrmonics!)

Next up, Antoine Dufour, French Canadian, listen for the 'tap' 5th harmonic after the 12th harmonic in the chorus, so sublime; will only work when the string is 'ringing' with the 12th (or 7th) and bloody difficult (so MG says, I only have flippers/wings!)

Next in line 'Lindisfarne Lullaby' by Andrew White. A perfect title, especially to those of us who hold 'Lady Eleanor' (by Lindisfarne) in our hearts.

For a 'straighter' approach, Rylynn by Andy McKee (the doyen of the label), prodigious technique (and huge hands!)

Classical influence, yep! You will find it difficult to play like this without Andres' technique - overuse of harmonics, yes, but listen to Pujol transcriptions, they're all over the place! I love the way they have integrated a 'classical' formula into a 'groove.'

And the man that started it all, the great Don Moss!

Oh well he didn't! Here's the one and only! The man that proved that you could tap on an acoustic! The late, great Michael Hedges!

Oh OK, classical guitarists have been hammering, pulling off, tapping, for centuries, harmonics, pinch harminics, tap harmonics, you name it, it's been there for ages! Just sometimes, it all has to be relearnt.

Like life!

And Luthiers? They make lutes! Funny how such an old craft should now be applied to the making of their successors :) The old adage is true. A lutenist spends half of his life tuning the lute and the other half playing out of tune! They used to take them to bed with them to try to keep them in tune. Opens up possibilities for a menage a trois, no?

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Dreams, illusions and beautiful cannibals!

I had this from MG the other day:

“They are strange, those worlds of dreams. The places we go when our eyes close and oblivion takes us. And yet, sometimes that oblivion dresses itself in a different suit, a multi-coloured suit, of psychedelia and presents an altogether strange take on the reality that makes up the waking part of our lives.

I do not, on the whole, remember my dreams. Perhaps once a month, often less and many times those dreams are the same or the same but from a different angle, perspective. The same unknown places, the same unknown faces. Is it possible to dream of places you’ve never seen? Faces, people, you’ve never met? Are these amalgams of different experiences which our brains coalesce into new forms or are they in some sense real? Virtual lovers, friends, enemies just waiting for their opportunity to wink into existence when the energy becomes available only to return to their nether world of possibility when the time comes to pay back what has been borrowed from the energy pool of the universe.

I had a strange dream last night. I was in a world of two three-part dioramas. I was in one diorama and all I could see was the other diorama in front of me. Behind me was only solid rock and beyond each part of the diorama to the left and right was nothing.

What was strange was that although I could pass to the left and the right and in front, only the middle section of the diorama I was in, I realized, after some time had passed in the dream, was ‘real’. Everything else was a simulation of reality. I could touch the people, the artefacts, the stone of these simulations and they felt and sounded and smelt real and yet I knew they were just illusions. It was like being stranded on a desert island with nowhere to go but into the sea.

And yet. At one part of the dream an old (malicious and conniving) colleague appeared in the company of a man I do not/did not know. As the unknown man turned and ran, I levelled a rifle with a glass magazine of large ball bearings at my erstwhile colleague and pulled the trigger. The steel ball missed him by a wide margin and followed a trajectory towards the running, unknown man. It missed him too and bounced harmlessly into the sea where it bounced across the ocean like Barnes-Wallis’ bomb or the pebbles we bounce across a lake.

For reasons that I do not know, or at least cannot remember, I pursued the running man stopping every so often to aim a ball bearing at him from my strange metal and glass gun. Each one missed, bouncing wildly into the sea and careering across the ocean in leaps and bounds just as the first one had. Finally as I looked below and saw the top of his head no more than 12 feet immediately below where I was standing, I saw that the magazine was empty.

It was at that point that a strange creature, in the guise of a young woman approached me and offered to guide me back to where I had come from. Reality? I’m not sure. I do not know how I knew that she wasn’t human, such things are seldom explained in dreams, but as she took my hand and raised it to her lips, It was clear that I was going to be dinner! “I will guide you when I have eaten,” she said. “In which case, let me buy you lunch,” I replied. She dropped my hand and we retraced the steps I had taken in pursuit of the unknown man.

We arrived back at the diorama where I had first taken a pot shot at my old colleague but it had changed. It was however the same place. Everything was different but it was the same place. As I stepped from the first part of the diorama into the centre section, I knew that part one with my cannibal guide was but an illusion and the lion sleeping in the cave to my left was likewise unreal, although I tossed him a toy rabbit just in case he awoke and became peckish.

The gift-wrapped presents in front of me in part 3 of this weird diorama were likewise unreal but I unwrapped them nonetheless. Small packets of fruit, blue shelves from Tescos, a chocolate glued to a pretty greetings card, a spray of lavender . As a small woman walked passed me, I do not where she came from, only that she was only about a metre tall and greeted me with a smile, I woke up.

Now I’m sure we could all play amateur Freuds with this one and I am sorely tempted to do so, especially with my carnivorous guide, but I will not. I will leave it as an insight into a diseased mind and hope that one day/night I’ll get to buy my strange little friend lunch!”

Sometimes I do wonder about what all the booze and fags is doing to his brain :)