Friday, 1 May 2009

A visit to the Louvre

I was mildly depressed yesterday after hearing the gloomy news about the mighty Waterstone’s axing hundreds of job. I thought there must be a “W” curse – after Woolworth's and Whittard's, now it’s Waterstone’s turn to tread dangerously on the brink. I think that shoppers will have to queue even longer at the till this Christmas – not because of longer queues, but because of staff reductions. And I have a feeling that publishers will soon have to start selling their books door to door, pace Google and Amazon.

To cheer up, I went to Calder Bookshop for a Finnegans Wake recital. The bookshop was packed – there were at least sixty people – eighty per cent nostalgic Irishmen I think. But the event, Mark Ryan’s flawless recital of the famous Anne Livia Plurabelle passage entirely by heart, was truly one of the most sensational things I have seen or heard in many years. The crowd of course was delighted, not only by the performance, but also by the ensuing conversation, which “cast some obscurity” on the most difficult bits of this dense and hardly intelligible text. I must admit that hearing Finnegans Wake out loud won me over completely. As you may remember, I recently gave up reading the book after only a few pages. I may try again reading it when I retire.

After the event, Mark and I joined John Calder for dinner at the nearby Italian restaurant, where wine and spirits are served with great liberality to habitués, especially those who are Italian or speak Italian (Mark’s wife is from Sardinia).

The dinner was the cherry on the cake of an unforgettable evening. John was, as usual, in full reminiscing mode. He told us how he used to spend afternoons playing chess with Max Frisch, Beckett and Vicky (an artist), coming always bottom of the table (not surprisingly), or about his occasional meetings with Graham Greene or Trevelyan (it's got to be GM Trevelyan, not the nineteenth-century Trevelyan), or some story about Alexander Trocchi or Sadegh Hedayat, or about a thousand editorial projects he would like me to pursue. In short, after a couple of hours with John, your mind goes into intellectual overload, just like when you see too many paintings at the Louvre or at the National Gallery.

Just before I tottered back to Waterloo station, Mark also explained the meaning of the Irish expression “fond of the drink” – and I could not help but think that all the people we had talked about during the evening fitted very well with this description – the three of us included.


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