Monday, January 22, 2007

A wet weekend with stonechats and Bergman

It rained all morning on Saturday and much of the afternoon. I had got up even earlier than usual and the morning seemed to go on amorphously long. I had a nagging feeling I needed to ring my sister-in-law, which I did eventually after lunch and the Early Music Show on the radio. She'd had news about her health yesterday, which was mixed, which of course must be seen as good, in that it could be worse. Chemotherapy looms, but she is brave and positive, while shakey and tearful.

My spirits were likewise mixed; I want to support her courage and be positive for her, but wish I could alleviate the inevitable fear and loneliness and the hurt of the blow. And when you've received a shock, and have something frightening and unpleasant hanging over you, you don't necessarily want people being all bright and breezy and making out it's nothing much when what the hell do they know.

I took a risk on the weather. The sun was breaking out below bruise-dark banks of cloud, there was a chill wind, and a great aeriel perspective wedge of the rain-bearing stuff funnelling up out of the west chucking a few cold spots at us. But we pressed on, Molly and I, to the top of the hill, along the upper road and down the lane leading to La Tantouille, where once Chouans, brigands and other outlaws (- then as later, the distinction between Resistance and criminality was not always clear) lay in wait, attacked, were apprehended and executed, the village was razed to the ground and only rebuilt on prescribed lines not favourable to ambush.
The high banks of the lane are dotted with trees twisted and swept and stunted by wind and weather: small oaks, blackthorn, crab and wilding apples. Each break in the hedge, each field gateway opens onto a slightly changed aspect inland, gently sloping strata of woods and fields and tree-lines.

I love these views into the interior, but I have little wish to go there, though I know some of it is pretty: old granite towns with castles, lakes and rivers, stepping-stoned streams in woods where you might see deer. I am happier to be on the coastward slope, looking toward the bays and headlands. In there feels landlocked, closed, stagnant, even hostile. How quickly one acquires these impressions, and how quickly impressions become prejudices.


Two trees dance a strange tarantella at a field edge, and we strike left and back toward home. A male and a female stonechat accompany us some of the way, flitting and bobbing off the fence and gorse bushes just a head of us, remarkably confiding, these cousins of robins. Many birds are busy and singing now, and these two have evidently paired already. Too early

The sun broke through a lowering sky of amber and alabaster, and illuminated the remainder of the walk.

So back home without a wetting, to a casserole in the oven and Harry Hill on the telly, followed by my new DVD of Bergman's "Winter Light", a veritable move from the ridiculous to the sublime. I don't watch any of the TV that Harry Hill makes fun of, but that doesn't stop me being rendered helpless with laughter by him. Unfortunately, goaded by my continually telling him he really wouldn't enjoy Bergman, Tom insisted on watching the film too, and consequently we ended up laughing nearly as much at that as at Harry Hill. So now he's banned from watching any more, if he's going to make me laugh at them.

I'm a beginner at Bergman; my collection comprises four: The 7th Seal, Wild Strawberries, Winter Light and Smiles of a Summer Night, and I've watched the first three, oh, and I've seen his delightful film of The Magic Flute. My elder sister has warned me off The Virgin Spring, blaming her long-standing phobia of frogs and toads on the toad sandwich scene in that film, which she saw as a young and impressionable art student in London in the 60s. I'm not quite sure what the fascination is, and whether I'm just being pretentious. It does all so easily topple into the laughable; it's all the subsequent parodies, of course, the stereotype of the terminally existentially gloomy Swede, the long drawn-out shots of hardly anything happening, the sombre black-and-white, the close-ups of dour, anguished or solemn faces in long, ponderous monologues, and the infuriating, unkind, narcissistic, self-absorbtion of the despairing and the suicidal, which makes one shout impatient and facetious remarks at the screen ( "Hold them cheap/May who ne'er hung there...").

And yet and yet... there's the sheer beauty of it, the elegance of the monochrome (yes, yes, I know I just said it was sombre) in the glacial northern light, the action of "Winter Light" seems to take place more or less in real time in that short hour or so of daylight of the north Scandinavian winter. This shot of the chalice and host looks like an exquisite still life, that one with the crucifixion at his left shoulder looks like a haunting symbolist painting, and is echoed a little later by the death's head in the same position, and that motif appears again when the cynical organist speaks into her ear over her shoulder (-is he Satan, tempting her to abandon her mission of love and self-sacrifice, or is he the voice of sense and self-preservation, telling her necessary truths?) And the slowness, the spareness and simplicity, forcing you to wait and look, the sense that everything must have weight and importance is a welcome antidote to so much about modern entertainment, modern life.

And, laughter notwithstanding, we were both stopped short by the final insights of the stoical, enduring, crippled churchwarden:
" The Passion of Christ, his suffering. Wouldn't you say the focus of his suffering is all wrong? The emphasis on physical pain...I feel he was tormented far worse on another level.
Maybe I've got it all wrong, but just think about Gethsemane... Christ's disciples fell asleep, they hadn't understood the meaning of the Last Supper or anything, and when the servant so the law appeared, they ran away. And Peter denied him. Christ had known his disciple for three years, they'd lived together day in, day out, but they never grasped what he meant. They abandoned him, to the last man, and he was left alone. That must have been painful, realising that no one understands. To be abandoned, when you need someone to rely on, that must be excruciatingly painful.
But the worst was yet to come. When Jesus was nailed to the cross and hung there in torment, he cried out 'God, my God! Why hast thou forsaken me?', he cried out, as loud as he could. He thought his heavenly father had abandoned him. He believed everything he had ever preached was a lie. The moments before he died, Christ was seized by doubt. Surely that must have been his greatest hardship, God's silence?"

Sunday morning was bright and sunny. We walked much further, and came back hungry.


andy said...


I'd better explain, in case you've not yet come across this particular element of blogger's shorthand.

I think it was Dale over at mole who invented - or if he didn't invent then at least popularised - that emoticon.

It's a pebble; it says "I was here, I heard you, your words touch me". A useful communication when you want to acknowledge but don't actually have any specific words to say. Perhaps something which would said with the eyes in realspace.

'course, you might already know that. I just didn't want you think I was sticking my tongue out at you :-)

Lucy said...

Thank you, Andy. I'd seen it but wasn't certain that was what it meant. It's a good one.

herhimnbryn said...

(o) again! I found you via Tall Girl's Blog. Am so glad I foolowed the path! Your words and images had me gazing out of the window afer I had read them. I was seeing grey skies and windswept trees and thinking of casseroles. In fact outside is very hot, bright and dry. I miss your sort of landscapes.

I like your blog and will come knocking again.