then come the regrets
This takes place in the Mantiq- al-Tayr (Parliament of Birds) byFarid al-Din Attar. The plot of this allegory, made up of some 4,500 couplets, is striking. The distant king of birds, the Simurgh, drops one of his splendid feathers somewhere in the middle of China; on learning of this, the other birds, tired of their present anarchy, decide to seek him. They know that the king’s name means ‘thirty birds’; they know that his castle lies in the Qaf, the mountain, or ring of mountains that ring the earth. At the outset some of the birds lose heart: the nightingale pleads his love of the rose; the parrot pleads his beauty, for which he lives caged; the partridge cannot do without his home in the hills, nor the heron without his marsh, nor the owl without his ruins. But finally, certain of them set out on the perilous venture; they cross seven valleys, or seas, the next to last bearing the name Bewilderment, the last the name Annihilation. Many of the pilgrims desert; the journey takes its toll among the rest. Thirty, made pure by their suffering, reach the great peak of the Simurgh. At last they behold him; they realize that they are the Simurgh, and the Simurgh is each of them and all of them.
In January I spent a week driving through Upper Alentejo – a rich, agricultural province of Portugal, dominated by the dehesa landscape. Dehesa (in Spanish), or Montado (in Portuguese), is a multifunctional agro-sylvo-pastoral system typical of southern Spain and Portugal. It is a five thousand (or more) years-old system of land management which combines tree cultivation (olives, oak, and cork), herding (sheep, cows, and black pigs), and hunting (it leaves enough tall grass and mid-sized bushes for quail, hare, and the occasional wild pig — which last sometimes manages to enrich the herded black pig stock, too) to thrive all side by side, all on the same land. In January, it is green with winter rains and bursting forth with wildly blooming fruit trees. Cows, horses, black pigs, sheep and goats roam the landscape, mooing, lowing, bleating, and ringing their bells. Hare skip between bushes, quail and pheasant shoot up startled from tall grass, hawks circle above and literally thousands of mating storks stalk in tall grass, performing their mating dance.
I cannot begin to describe the intense — no, the overpowering — at times I felt myself faint in the knees with contentment — sensation of pure, unadulterated, thick pleasure which looking at this land gave me. I have never seen this landscape. Except for childhood summer holidays, I have never seen farmland, and I have certainly never looked at it with any degree of farming interest. But here I was responding to it like my genes had determined I would: like all East Europeans, I carry seven thousand years — 210 generations, or more — of agriculture in my genetic make-up. Looking at a piece of land and realizing unconsciously, unawares by the signs that every farmer reads unconsciously and unawares: this is rich, fat land, it is teeming with four-legged food which will breed, it has the right sun exposure and the right amount of rainfall and subcutaneous water it needs to yield abundant crop; I was… in heaven.
And, predisposed as I am, to seek immediate gratification… I have closed the Lisbon operation am moving there, to the dehesa, as soon as my feet will carry me — next Monday.
I’ve been reading a lot lately, and mostly it has been a disappointment — and how can it not be, generally. I won’t mention the books (no point hurting you by showing you my wounds), but how I wish I could read well-written books by intelligent/not-ideologically-minded persons from time to time.
And how about — on these topics:
1. The Haydn-Mozart quartets. Something not musicological. Something about Mozart as a person, Haydn as a person, their professional lives, their aspirations, their friendship, the new art form of the string quarter (Goethe: “Four intelligent people talking together”), and what it was like for Haydn and Mozart to develop this new art-form; how they struggled as men, lovers, husbands, professionals and yet, in another dimension altogether, how their life had another deeper, secret meaning, appreciated only by those in the know: that of a composer who broke new ground, developed new ideas, presented and solved new problems; and how their takes on the string quartet reveal their personalities; and how Mozart’s Nos. 15-19 respond to Haydn’s op. 20 and how Haydn’s op. 33 in turn respond to Mozart’s. I have been listening to them now these 3 years and forever find much surprising depth in them — intelligence, wit, polish, yes, but also so much intricate, innovative thinking; just take op. 20 no. 4 1st movement with the shocking arpeggio and all its false reprises, how very odd, how very special.
(Btw, if you are just beginning in the field, then the recordings to listen to are: Haydn’s op. 20 – by the Lindsays; Mozart’s 15-19 — by Aban Berg; and Haydn’s op. 33 — by The Borodin).
2. The Paris 1900 World Expo. The largest, the most ruinous, and therefore the last of the world expos; ended in a spectacular bankruptcy; featured grand palaces by all major nations of the world built in a kind of Potemkin Village material; a human zoo; Japanese pavillion with geishas; a two-speed moving sidewalk which circum-ambulated the place; and the Balinese dance troupe which Rodin was unable to draw (like he was unable to draw/sculpt everything else) and — what that troupe’s success tells us about high brow art (that it’s does not rise from the folk art, it is not particular to a culture but — to a kind of brain — to some of us, the unlucky few who have drawn it as their birth lottery-ticket; and how for us it is universal, undivided by languages and borders). And the first showcasing of Art Nouveau, too.
If you can suggest titles – could be in other languages, shout. If no one can, perhaps someone could write these books, please?