A good get-up

23/03/2012 § Leave a comment

I am wearing yellow tights today and my colleague compared me to Gudrun from Women in Love. (Actually, he called “What price the stockings?” at me.) 

But that reminded me how amazing the outfits are in Women in Love. Which is available in searchable form on Project Gutenberg, so here are the most luscious outfits described in the books (and all of them here [pdf]). Surely Gudrun is the most stylish literary figure ever written?

Gudrun was the more beautiful and attractive, she had decided again, Ursula was more physical, more womanly. She admired Gudrun’s dress more. It was of green poplin, with a loose coat above it, of broad, dark-green and dark-brown stripes. The hat was of a pale, greenish straw, the colour of new hay, and it had a plaited ribbon of black and orange, the stockings were dark green, the shoes black. It was a good get-up, at once fashionable and individual.

… all the far end of the place began booing after Gudrun’s retreating form. She was fashionably dressed in blackish-green and silver, her hat was brilliant green, like the sheen on an insect, but the brim was soft dark green, a falling edge with fine silver, her coat was dark green, lustrous, with a high collar of grey fur, and great fur cuffs, the edge of her dress showed silver and black velvet, her stockings and shoes were silver grey.

[Hermione] was a strange figure in the class-room, wearing a large, old cloak of greenish cloth, on which was a raised pattern of dull gold. The high collar, and the inside of the cloak, was lined with dark fur. Beneath she had a dress of fine lavender-coloured cloth, trimmed with fur, and her hat was close-fitting, made of fur and of the dull, green-and-gold figured stuff. She was tall and strange, she looked as if she had come out of some new, bizarre picture.

And I couldn’t agree more with this:

‘One gets the greatest joy of all out of really lovely stockings,’ said Ursula.

‘One does,’ replied Gudrun; ‘the greatest joy of all.’

If I can find it later, I will add a bit from the very amusing essay in which Angela Carter accuses D.H. Lawrence of being a stocking fetishist.

We travel like other people

13/03/2012 § Leave a comment

We travel like other people, but we return to nowhere. As if travelling
Is the way of the clouds. We have buried our loved ones in the darkness of the clouds, between the roots of the trees.
And we said to our wives: go on giving birth to people like us for hundreds of years so we can complete this journey
To the hour of a country, to a metre of the impossible.
We travel in the carriage of the psalms, sleep in the tent of the prophets and come out of the speech of the gypsies.

We measure space with a hoopoe’s beak or sing to while away the distance and cleanse the light of the moon.
Your path is long so dream of seven women to bear this long path
On you shoulders. Shake for them palm trees so as to know their names and who’ll be the mother of the boy of Galilee.
We have a country of words. Speak speak so I can put my road on the stone of a stone.
We have a country of words. Speak speak so we may know the end of this travel.

—Mahmoud Darwish, b. 13th March 1941, d. 9th August 2008

Rusalka: Royal Opera House

13/03/2012 § 5 Comments

‘Surely you’re not going to see that!,’ my grandma said, ‘The Telegraph said the music is lovely as long as you close your eyes.’ The Telegraph went further and described the production as vandalism, stretching the outrage into a further five columns.

There wasn’t any booing the night I saw it, but the Telegraph was right that the music was lovely: somewhere between Wagner and Tchaikovsky. Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s conducting was superb. I thought Camilla Nylund as Rusalka was either not quite up to the part or having an off-night, although I liked her rolling languidly over the stage in her mermaid’s tail in Act 1, but Bryan Hymel as the Prince and Alan Vodnik as Vodnik, the water goblin, were both splendid.

The plot is very similar to (possibly based on?) Hans Christian Anderson’s The little mermaid. Rusalka the water-nymph falls in love with a human Prince and trades her mermaid’s tail for feet, but in return must lose her voice; and if the Prince betrays her love, the two of them will be eternally damned. Agreeing to horrific terms in order to win the love of another is never a good idea, of course, and in the third act Rusalka has to choose between saving herself by killing the Prince, or damnation for both.

Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito’s production sets the underworld action in a brothel, moving to a comically tacky mittel-European court, with the courtiers in a combination of dated formal wear and Austrian Tracht (formal folk costume). The Intermezzo blog points out something I’d missed: that the rotating set dividing two worlds, half pine box, half velvet-lined underworld/brothel, has more sinister overtones in Austria, where this production was first shown, than it does in the UK.

Tucked away in the cheapest seats I possibly didn’t catch all the nuances of the production and set design, but I didn’t think it was shocking or ‘over-intellectual’; the brothel-as-underwater-world metaphor was a good idea. The water nymphs are creatures of instict, motivated by pleasure and not by convention. Rusalka’s silence when she is given feet becomes more than just her punishment; it reflects the impossibility of such a creature operating in the court world dominated by calculation and convention.

I might be soppy, though, but I do find these deliberately banal, unglamorous productions dull. All that fluorescent light and Rusalka in badly fitting stone washed jeans, with the witch in grubby popsocks and a zimmer frame; I don’t mind it, and I know it’s there as an opposition to the massively over-lush grand opera productions you get sometimes, but it’s so dreary! Last year’s Hänsel and Gretel did the same thing, with the stepmother toting shabby SPAR carrier bags. I suppose it evokes that Elfriede Jelinek-y rather sordid central European realism, which seems quite appropriate to the spirit of the production; I just don’t madly enjoy it.

I must add in conclusion that while I’ve seen chickens, donkeys and horses on stage  (Carmen and La Fanciulla del West) I’ve never seen a cat on stage and I thought the transformation of the witch’s cat, from a human in a cat costume in Act 1 to a real cat in Act 3, was absolutely marvellous. (You can see the cat here.) In fact I didn’t quite believe it was a real cat—you can’t stage train a cat!—until it leapt up and scampered off the stage. Whether that was planned or not I don’t know. It got a ripple of laughter though; if any of my readers see the same production they must comment to say whether the cat does the same then.

You can read a round-up of all the reviews—from 5 stars to 1—here.

Soviet propaganda: red dresses

08/03/2012 § Leave a comment

The second one, wonderfully, says ‘Down with kitchen slavery!’ Happy International Working Women’s day.

Modernism in Stratford E15

01/03/2012 § Leave a comment

That is the Stratford ziggurat, which until it was demolished in 1998 housed council offices next door to my secondary school. Isn’t it amazing? I have been looking for a photo of this for years, but yesterday discovered the Newham Story website, which is full of fascinating bits and bobs of Newham history.  Here’s Stratford Bus station as it looked when I was growing up; here’s Stratford Broadway during the General Strike; and here’s a report on the 20th anniversary of the Victorian housing development I grew up on. Street names of Forest Gate! I could read random bits for hours, possibly days. There are photo archives, including one related to shipbuilding and the docks, a reminder of how recently Newham had flourishing industry right on its doorstep.

The building above was replaced by this, by the way. Isn’t that utterly depressing?

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