Umberto Eco (he's a f**king semiologist), Peaky Blinders, grief and a bit of Gladiator...
It's great to see that someone has made a long-form TV series of The Name of the Rose. It's equally great to see that they have, so far at least, stayed true to the tortuous, wandering style and storytelling of the actual book. The risk of making TV like this is that, as it does not move at the frenetic pace that some TV goes for nowadays, it has no car chases, the only fight scenes are very much incidental to the storytelling, the risk, as I say, is that it becomes eight hours of boredom. There hasn't been much that has kept my undivided attention recently, but this, it seems, is it. I suppose Peaky Blinders might satisfy that same criterion - it's not something to watch whilst also trying to read, write, listen, play - that comes at the expense of an incredibly stressful experience. So, interestingly, Peaky Blinders was scheduled at the end of the weekend, Sunday night, when what you really need is something comforting and relaxing. The Name of the Rose is on Friday nights, which seems at odds with its leisurely pace, its frown-inducing plot and frankly opaque storytelling. I've read it twice, watched the film (Connery and Christian Slater - it's not bad, but it's not great). And I still can't remember what happened and, crucially, who did it. Still, it's a diversion. A real one, that is thoroughly absorbing and actually manages to quieten all those other things in my mind (the desire to do at least one, and possibly half-a-dozen, other things at the same time). And, because of the way it moves, it's not something where your heartbeat is elevated for the whole hour, so you don't feel like you've been running around afterwards.
People who read this blog regularly will perhaps be aware that around this time last year, I experienced a sudden and unexpected kind of bereavement: a work colleague (she was my immediate boss, but 'colleague' probably gets our work relationship across better) died. She had been treated for breast cancer, but appeared to be recovering. It was instead a pulmonary embolism that killed her. I am surprise that I find myself able to write these things, because thinking about them over the last week or so, particularly yesterday, has been very difficult and I would have found it almost impossible to speak those same words. The loss of a close colleague, friend, mentor, sparring partner, debating ally and opponent, someone whose life I had come to know, and who had come to know some details of mine that almost no one else had fully appreciated, well, it will be apparent from the list that it would have been hard. But that is nothing compared to the impact on those whose lives she was a central part of, and I feel pity for them still. Has time lessened my grief? I suppose, as there is a way in which it has: time and change and distance have brought me away from the same places, the same faces and routines which I associate with her. The immediacy is less. The best way I can think of it is that the sledgehammer moments of welling up are less frequent, and that is because of the lack of cues. I cannot imagine how difficult it is for those that are left behind, forced to walk the same corridors and be in those same rooms. For me, it is as the poem in the sidebar describes: it is exactly when I feel that weight of memory lifted that I notice, and in so noticing, the weight descends again. The difficult thing is to contemplate the long, desolate future of withoutness, the stark fact that a memory can sustain, but it is not the same thing as the person. The person is gone, distant, unreachable, but the memory is still there.
I cannot help but think that the ability to form these sorts of powerful memories, where these life-altering experiences are kind of burned into the fabric of who you are, is a bit of double-edged sword. It clearly has a value, in that it makes people capable of remembering useful stuff over vast quantities of 'noise', but it also has the terrible power to diminish a life. I have written on here about how I - and my characters, Edward Strelley in particular - try to deal with memories that make me sad by recasting them as happy memories. But I recognise that, taking Strelley himself as the model, an experience like his of a thwarted, doomed love, an intense passion never realised, a desire for another person that is wholly impossible, whilst also, cruelly, the person that he loves feels the same way about him, could shape the whole of the rest of his life. History prevents me from giving him the happy ending I might, as a sentimental old bastard, have given him. But we shall see. There is a kind of vagueness to my long-range planning that means even I do not know what the outcome will be.
So, to end: not Pirates this time, but the even greater work that is Gladiator:
Juba: It’s somewhere out there; my country, my home. My wife is preparing food. My daughter is carrying water from the river. Will I ever see them again? I think no.
Maximus: Do you believe you will see them again when you die?
Juba: Yes I think I will. I will die soon. They will not die for many years. I have to wait.
Maximus: But you would…wait?
Juba: Of course.
Maximus: You see, my wife and my son are already waiting for me.
Juba: You will meet them again. But not yet. Not yet.
PS: That title probably only means something to about three people, none of whom, to my knowledge, read this blog. Make of that what you will.
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When to the sessions of sweet silent thought