Other Plagues

This is not the first time obviously, nor will it be the last so let me remind you that epidemics have always been a potent inspiration for interesting and sometimes great, art. Let’s start with my least favourite in this moment. Daniel Defoe’s “Journal of the Plague Year” published in 1772 but purporting to be an eyewitness account of London’s great plague of 1665….though of course it wasn’t as our Dan was only 5 years old at the time! But there you are , poets’ licence I guess,a narrative cobbled together using old documents and eyewitness accounts. Apparently he did a very similar thing when he wrote his more famous “Robinson Crusoe”.

“Love in the time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Now is this just a sentimental, absurdly romantic love story? Certainly not a story of “true” love! And what IS this love? Is it a disease just like the plague? Colera is certainly passion in some languages (even in English we have choleric) so not just an epidemic. Which of the two diseases do we want to eradicate? It’s also striking in its treatment of love at advanced age, pretty unusual for a best seller. And what about the film? It got quite critical reviews for its tone, swinging as it does from a great, life-long unrequited love with Bardem gazing eternally at his love with big moist doggy eyes, to hilarious sex scenes of the eternally “faithful” lover. But there you are , it whiles away a few hours.

La Peste” by Albert Camus, and here we are on firmer literary ground with the description of the effect of the epidemic on a town in Algeria, perhaps based on an actual plague in 1849.But is that what Camus is really writing about? What resonates with a reader in our current situation is the uncovering of “paltriness and generosity” and “small heroism and large cowardice” (Marina Waldner). It is almost impossible not to notice the similarities with today’s news items which literally steamroll us with similar information of caring generosiy as well as me-first idiots and virulent loathsome uninformed criticism.. What IS receding is possibly the historical memory or even the desire, to see Camus’s chef-d’oeuvre as a comment on advancing Nazism and even there I’m afraid, there are parallels

And lastly I can’t avoid talking about my favourite film “Nosferatu”by Werner Herzog with Klaus Kinski in the title role absolutely perfect, and underlined by a score performed by Popul Vu a German group as far as I know underestimated in the AngloSaxon world and of course, as Jonathan Harker rides out to meet Nosferatu the glorious breath -stopping prelude by Wagner. Herzog’s masterly market place scenes of wild abandon of the people who knew they were on the Grim Reaper’s list reminded me of the Danses Macabres that you can find on walls all around Italy. “the scene in the town square is brilliant: moving because of the wonderful music and important to the understanding of why this too could be linked to Nazism. Anyone who has ever seen Ani-Jewish Nazi propaganda will immediately make the link. I do realise that it might be difficult to watch as we who live in Italy are having to deal with images of coffins almost every day.”

My Diary


I have a bit of a problem. My worms. I buy them regularly at the garden exhibitions I go to and they reward me with a wonderful soft friable soil. I must admit that the first time I bought FIVE EUROS of worms and the man said: “Remember to feed them” I was shocked. “I’ve never fed my worms!”

“Well you should”. So I crept out in the dead of night so the neighbours didn’t see me and think I was a cranky old lady, dug a hole for the household waste ,and another for my wrigglers….and I’ve never looked back!

Until recently. A couple of rather cheeky blackbirds and their missuses have taken up reisidence. They swoop down anywhere I move the earth and steal my precious “soil improvers”.They ignore the bird seed I bought for them! But they are so beautiful, so shiny black and glossy with their bright yellow beaks and their song. The thieves at least serenade me! Unfortunately I have a recurring problem with slugs in the garden but I’m frightened to put down slug pellets in case the birds eat them .If there are any gardeners out there….please help what shall I do?



It was an interesting Friday for music. I was very excited about the first piece of the evening because it was the first time I had ever heard a concert for percussion. When we entered the auditorium the stage was ready with some instruments I can’t name but they looked like xylophones or probably marimbas and a variety of drums and cowbells (yes I believe that really is the term!) In Any case I wondered how anyone would be able to get round to play them all, but the percussionist did, he moved really quickly round the group playing them. It was so different and really exciting especially when he began to vocalise. That was so unexpected. Although it was difficult to understand the piece it was absorbing and I would certainly like to hear more. He’s on Instagram and seems to be very busy with concerts in Europe and Japan. The piece we heard was by Dorman



la Scala, for Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette” . I’m not really used to the style of French opera

( here exemplified as Drame lyrique which avoids blatantly theatrical or grandiose effects) but I can’t resist a good love story and apparently nor can a lot of other people.Shakespeare was the major leaguer in this tragic tale closely followed, well, by more or less everybody! Bellini wrote one, Berlioz too, not to mention Riccardo Cocciante. I’ve seen the play in the theatre directed by Zeffirelli, on film by Zeffirelli and disguised as “West Side Story” (Bernstein), speeded up by Baz Lurman, and loads more. The very best comment I heard was waiting in a queue with some teenagers who were discussing how it might end for Leo (Di Caprio, Romeo in Lurman’s film)! Ignorance is bliss as we say, or let’s face it, at least a surprise! I also have a happy memory of prancing out of a cinema in Greece after seeing WSS feeling terribly excited -arm -in -arm with friends almost dancing down the street, to the disapproval of the Greeks,and singing “Maria” at the top of our voices! I hate nostalgia so now I’ll get back to Gounod whose opera was first performed in Paris 1867. This particular production came from the New York Met.

It’s interesting because it eliminates the final “reconciliation ” theme which we find in Shakespeare. Everyone has their own opinion about this. Do you want to leave the theatre dry-eyed because the youngsters’ deaths have sealed a kind of pact and brought some kind of peace to Verona? or would you prefer to sob your way to the train moved by their tragic destiny? Then again, did they get to have a last kiss? In Shakespeare no, Gounod yes. And while we’re at it, what is it about? A macho culture with an obedient Juliet letting the Fra sort out her difficulties? A very modern idea about the expendibility of youth by the older generations? Hmmm.

Costumes describing a very Venetian-looking Italian settecento, scenery effective, an athletic Romeo very credibly climbing up to the balcony. And his singing too was mostly good, a little too audience -oriented at times maybe. Juliet’s role was taken over at the last minute and I found her voice a little modest but it was a last -minute solution. Among my music -loving and very expert friends and acquaintances there was no consensus.


Auditorium ? Wow!

I don’t know what was wrong with me but I was vaguely bored last night, my own ignorant fault of course. Or maybe I was simply waiting for what I really wanted to hear. “Thus spake Zarathustra!” Of course it’s one of those popular pieces that everybody knows but not everybody knows whose it is. So here’s the lowdown.

Written by Nietsche in 1883/5 to delve into the eternal recurrence of the same, the death of god and the emergence of the ubermensch prophecy, themes to which he would return over and over again in various other writings and which led to some fatal misunderstandings by a certain other German. Apparently he stumbled on the idea while walking near Rapallo (some say Switzerland) but I say be careful where you walk! His declared intention was to find alternatives to repressive moral codes,and he was very “trendy” in the period in which existentialism made the underground headlines with young people wearing black sweaters in smoky French jazz dives back in the day.

In 1896 Richard Strauss wrote a tone poem of the same name, the introduction being variously interpreted as a creation or superman theme which is the most famous part but it is well worth your time to listen to the whole piece only around 30 minutes long with some parts seen as citations from liturgy.

Its life continued in 1968 in ” 2001 Space Odyssey” by Kubrick, adapted from Arthur Clarke’s book.. The 1968 film, as is usual for Kubrick, stirred up a hornets’ nest of argument. Rubbish or genius? In any case it is still much remembered, dare I say ,especially for its sound track.