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After recently coming across Novalis’ statement that the true reader must be an extension of the author, I began thinking about how readers become the final “producers” of the “screenplay” they’re reading and more specifically, about how the settings in novels and stories are constructed in the reader’s mind. While reading the first volume of Marcel Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’ not too long ago, I had imagined the setting of the fictional town Combray to be based on the neighbourhood where I live, Ealing. My flat, located in a two-story ex-council building, became not unlike a stage on which the narrator’s childhood house in Combray was constructed. My room had become the narrator’s bedroom. It lost its stacks of papers, books and Ikea-esque furniture and acquired high ceilings and long curtains that flanked the now wooden-framed windows. The narrator’s “magic lantern” which would project colourful figures of a medieval knight and castle, now cast these figures onto my wallpaper. The view from the windows changed from that of a small back garden with a clothes hanger to that of a vast garden with an orchard visible in the distance. My room on the ground floor had now moved to the first floor and was found at one end of a long corridor lined with paintings in ornate frames. At the other end of the corridor was a staircase which lead down to my living room where, the narrator writes, the family would entertain dinner guests. The view from this dining room window incorporated my neighbour’s trees through which could be seen the distant steeple of Combray’s church.

This hybrid house and neighbourhood came into being as I began to modify my flat and surroundings to more closely match the descriptions of the narrator’s house and surroundings. I hadn’t consciously decided to base Combray on Ealing, rather, the spatial arrangement of my neighbourhood and street had simply “appeared” in Proust’s descriptions. The fact that I read most of the book at home might explain why the surrounding environment had somehow become part of the novel. With other novels it seems that the settings are usually based on familiar places: those from everyday life, those remembered from childhood or settings from films.

Last year I had a similar experience of my surroundings being used in imagining a place. While travelling on a train at dusk somewhere in southern Poland, the landscape outside the window seemed to have seeped into Borges’ short story, ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’, which I was then reading. The narrator describes the history and structure of the utopian world, Tlön, which he learns about from a single volume of an encyclopaedia of Tlön. The existence of this planet, though, remains uncertain throughout the story. Created (or imagined) by a secret group of scientists, this world is governed by a Berkeleyan idealism. On Tlön, novels and stories have plots that include all possible variations. Objects can cease to exist once someone forgets them (once a doorway disappeared after a beggar who would visit it often died). The snow-covered fields I saw from the train window began to provide an image of Tlön and it became a planet whose external features would solely consist of fields of snow, occasional railroad crossings, derelict small railway stations, signal boxes and forests, all in a perpetual dusk. (Other objects and places perhaps had already disappeared as a result of being forgotten.) The story continues on to describe how the press then spread the discovery of the literature about Tlön and soon after our world was obliterated by Tlön. Its history replaced our history, its language would soon replace English, Spanish and French. The world would become Tlön. It would become vast expanses of snow and railway track at dusk.

In Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cites, Marco Polo describes to Kublai Khan the cities he has seen in his travels. By the end of the novel, it becomes apparent that all the cities refer in fact to Venice. One of the cities, Baucis, is a city entirely built on stilts projecting from the ground and extending above the clouds. Marco Polo states that one possible explanation for the placement of the city above ground is the inhabitants’ love for the earth as it was before they had existed. Consequently they prefer to observe the uninhabited earth with telescopes. If Baucis’ inhabitants prefer to observe from a distance, then maybe they are like readers, looking down into another place or planet, their view of it partly obscured as a result of that distance and partly created through their imagined presence in that other space.

Julie Rafalski is an artist living and working in London, especially in video.  Is she Polish? American? Perhaps  ‘European’ makes more sense. Julie Graduated from the Slade in 2006 and has contributed to the Henningham Family Press since 2005. In one film she asked Polish contacts what was missing under Soviet influence, but soon conversation turns to what is missing today; the oppressed exchange one lack for another.

20 minutes later I’m off the train and breathing in the clear air of Kirkcaldy.  Years ago the place stank of Linoleum, the weird thing was that the whole of Britain seemed to know about it; at Leeds City Station in 1980, I was having my ticket checked by an elderly rail employee; he looked at the ticket, punched it and as he gave it back said, Eee Kirk Kaldie. Ikun smelLeenolleeum frum thaa!

The production of Linoleum in the town was the doing of a Mr Nairn and although he and his factories are now well gone his benefactor gave a rather special collection of paintings to the Museum and Art Gallery that’s just a minute walk from the station.

The ground floor Museum has an eclectic collection of Fife pottery and memorabilia including John Thompson’s Scotland Jersey.  John Thomson by the way was born in Kirkcaldy and grew up in Cardenden.  He was the Glasgow Celtic and Scotland Goal keeper in the late 1920s and died tragically following an accidental collision with another player during a match in 1931.  The woollen Scotland Jersey now in a display case at the museum looks like his mother might have knitted it.

The Paintings which were gifted to the town are upstairs and include work from The Glasgow School and the Scottish Colourists, namely, Peploe, Cadell, Fergusson, Hunter, McTaggert and Hornel.  I have a soft spot for these pictures; as a teenager they were the first real paintings I had ever encountered.  On recent visits, I have found the clutter of stuff building up around the gallery space a bit depressing.  The only recent acquisitions seem to be 3 things by the Kirkcaldy born painting phenomenon, Jack Vetriano.  He is the scourge of any one claiming to be a painter in Scotland, for whenever you are in new company, whether formal or relaxed, within a few minutes of them finding out you are a painter, you find yourself spitting with rage and announcing to them that you do not consider Jack Vetriano to even be a painter!  While your gentle inquisitors sit quietly smiling, silently accusing you of being merely jealous of his fame and fortune.

Leaving his soft- scrubby-porn daubs behind I head down the staircase and out towards the high street of the Lang Toun.

Kirkcaldy has another famous son; the boundary signs announce – Welcome to Kirkcaldy, The Birthplace of Adam Smith.  My knowledge of Adam Smith is shamefully pitiful and somewhere along the line his name became synonymous with that of Margaret Thatcher.  Considering the two missed each other by almost 200 years, I have slowly been able to extract him from Maggie’s bed, (perhaps another theme for Jack Vetriano?)  But since working on this blog I feel I now must at least try and read The theory of moral sentiments, if not his more widely known book, The wealth of nations.  It would be too pat to now link the more famous book, which in 1776 advocated a free market economy as more productive and more beneficial to society, to the current state of Kirkcaldy High Street, but one can’t help but see something highly ironic in it all.

Kirkcaldy High Street is very long.  It runs parallel and one road up from the esplanade which faces south onto the Firth of Forth.  I’m not too sure about Adams Smith’s time but in the 1970s I knew The High Street as a bustling town centre with busy shops, restaurants, cafes and a cinema.  Today, it is just one of many high streets that has suffered from the general decline in heavy industry and a further onslaught from the out of town shopping centres.  But then, right there, not all that far from where the cinema once stood in which I saw Towering Inferno, Herbie rides again and Jaws.  Just sitting in between Greggs the Baker and a closed down discount store, there’s a small darkened plaque on the wall which reads. ……ON THIS SITE STOOD THE HOME OF HIS MOTHER IN WHICH HE LIVED FROM 1767 – 1776 AND COMPLETED “THE WEALTH OF NATIONS”

I ran into Adam Smith again that day, on The Royal Mile when I returned to Edinburgh; he stands just a little way down from where his friend, David Hume is sitting.  Unfortunately their enlightened spirit doesn’t seem to have touched the fat fingered sculptor (I presume he made the pair) who has entombed them as statutory statuary.  (Poor David Hume looks like an oxidised Jabba the Hut).

In part one I promised you two public toilet stories, here’s the second.  On my last day in Scotland we took another trip over to Fife only this time by car.  We stopped off at Wemyss, the birth place of Jimmy Shand and the last resting place of my father, then followed the coast up to Leven where we stopped for a toilet break.  As we approached a damp looking concrete bunker between the golf links and the beach a woman suddenly sprang out carrying a roll of orange cloakroom tickets and a money bag.  It’s 30p to use the toilet.  I was dutifully finding some change when I said in passing that it used to be free to go to the toilet in Scotland.  Aye it’s all changed now, she replied.

And changes are afoot or certainly back at the two Bridges.  The Forth road suspension bridge built in 1964, which we had crossed twice this day has problems.  The massive network of steel cables strung over the upright stanchions and support the road are corroding.  A friend told me about this several years ago after he had watched a TV program which had recorded the pinging noises coming from the fraying cables.  On hearing this I immediately thought about the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse (America 1940) and the otherworldly film footage made of it. Apparently, aeroelastic flutter had turned the road into a billowing streamer.  The first time I saw these incredible images I couldn’t believe it was a steel bridge that was oscillating and bending in such an extreme way.  I also remember getting emotionally involved with the drama of a dog trapped in the abandoned car on the bridge.  After an hour or so of these structural gymnastics the road finally cracked then shattered and fell into the river below.

Looking beyond the disaster movie aspect of the Forth Road Bridge, certain practical questions come to the fore; how do you get 20, 30 or even 60,000 vehicles (predicted use) over the Firth of Forth every day and as we are told, the bridge will be lucky to last until 2020, where does the money come from to build a new one?  While pondering this, something obvious struck me which I understand has been articulated by the Green Party and environmentalists some time ago.  Why not bring into the equation a drastic reduction in car use?  As good citizens of the planet, could this present crisis not be a perfect opportunity for Scotland and her newly reinstated Parliament to show the way.  To be enlightened.

the_skating_minister

Back on the Royal Mile is the Scottish Parliament.  It sits in and on a more forward looking plinth than the statues mentioned earlier.  A few years ago I took a tour of the building designed by architect Enric Miralles.  I was impressed by the layout of the debating chamber, which unlike the Palace of Westminster where the Government and Opposition face each other, here everyone sits facing forward; more like how an orchestra would be arranged.  We were also shown one of the offices used by Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSP’s). Each of the 108 offices, our guide told us with some pride, has been given a specially designed Contemplation Space; a small semi private window seat.  In this retreat, (the shape of which was inspired by Sir Henry Reaburn’s painting of the Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch) the MSPs are encouraged to take some moments away from the everyday grind of politics and to simply sit, relax and think.

contemplation-space

I asked an obvious question; do the MSPs use their Contemplation spaces? Our guide gave a small pause before replying.

I shouldn’t think they have the time.

I visited Scotland a couple of weeks ago. It was an early start from Berlin and as the plane juddered high above the Forth Estuary on approach to the Scottish capital, I hadn’t had a wink of sleep; the constant offering up of tea, luxury coffee, Panini’s, gambling and snacks (Snaarks),had seen to that. To my left through dark, puffball clouds I could see The Crags and Arthur’s  Seat cradling the cities east side and to my right, the two bridges straddling the Firth of Forth which lies between Edinburgh and the Kingdom of Fife.

When I accompanied my Brother in Law to Costco cash and carry at Loanhead a few days later, snacks were still the focus of attention, only this time they were enormous.  Everything about Costco is enormous, from a car park full of family 4 wheel drives to the walls of goods inside. I did what I always do when in large supermarkets; grab hold of a trolley and attempt to give myself purpose.  The trolley however, was massive; more like an open top caravan; I was dwarfed; my arms could barely reach across the width of the push bar.  This Alice in Wonderland status was highlighted when seeing everyone one else in the store in perfect proportion to their trolley.  Pondering replacing the barrow-baskets with the tiny trolleys that most supermarkets now have for kids to push around, I wondered if everyone would shrink down to the new scale? – A policy Nutrition Scotland would do well to consider.

Drinking Scottish beer for the first time in over a year, did nothing for my equilibrium; waking up one particular morning with a hangover from hell and a longing nostalgia for the chemical free Bier of Germany.  The Jordan Valley Food Store on Nicholson Street provided a welcome anchor point though; along with a selection of whole foods, they are still producing a Scottish/ Middle Eastern Snaark supreme; it is a scotch pie casing with either a nutty rice or chick-pea and onion filling.  These have been a favourite of mine for years and still retail for under a pound.

My two public toilet encounters occurred on trips to Fife.  The first was at the Waverly Railway station, where I joined a long line of tourists struggling to find exactly 30p in silver to put in the turn-style.  I always feel cheated when having to pay for a pee and I’m often transformed into a monies-worth lunatic, producing the behaviour that eat all you can for a fiver buffets can effect on some people.  So having had a pee I then hang around, over washing and over drying my hands, then unnecessarily considering, squeezing something out while I’m there.  Well, I’ve paid for it!

brig-2web

This concept is readily understood from Baker’s ‘human cantilever’ model with his assistant Kaichi Watanabe representing the live load. The pull in his supporters arms indicates the tension in the ties and the push in the lower struts the compression in the tubes.

From Waverly I boarded a Dundee train and within ten minutes was at the Forth Rail Bridge.  I remember the exhilaration I experienced as a child when crossing this red steel monster for the first time on my family’s move up north, to a fresh beginning in Glenrothes Newtown.  I was a little anxious of the crossing then, having seen a photo of the bridge some weeks before; due to its undulating shape I had expected more of a big dipper ride than a level train track journey across.  All the windows were rolled down that day and children wished and threw lucky coins out into the river below.

The über safe cantilever construction that makes the shape and scale of the bridge unique only really happened because of the Tay Bridge disaster in 1879.  So, from its completion in 1890 this once regarded eighth wonder of the world has successfully combated 120 years of constant rail crossings, harsh east coast weather and two world wars.  It’s a little sad to consider then that the large sickly yellow patches of restoration work that currently cover the Bridge, may be in part due to an attack of Compulsive Competitive Tendering; the Bridge has always had a somewhat Hans Christian Anderson story attached to it concerning its maintenance; painters would work from one side of the bridge with a special red paint and as soon as they had reached the other side, it was time to start all over again.  The story is almost as famous as the Bridge itself; a Zen like, life-long occupation.  In the 1990’s when I lived in South Queensferry, the village under the south side of the bridge.  It was possible to see a new, more efficient technique of maintenance being practiced.  This involved contractors, abseiling from the Bridge, spot painting and restoring the worst bits.  Looking at the bridge today I wonder how successful and cost effective the plan was, as the current extensive stripping and repainting of the hulk, (which is hoped to last for the next 20 years) has already reportedly cost 180million.

 Having passed above the Hawes Pier, ( the starting point for Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Kidnapped), I take a last look over at the troubled Forth Road Suspension Bridge, then we speed off into Fife……….

Eddie Farrell: Speak

July 3rd, 2009 | Posted by Eddie in Eddie Farrell (UK/DE) - (3 Comments)

When I was 45 I moved to Berlin and overnight lost my voice.

7 months on, I consider myself to be in a very privileged place; floating between languages

These bright summer mornings I wake up early to bird song and the sound of the odd car on the road. Both posess an international language; (Olivier Messiaen may have queried this about the feathered ones; he observed that from continent to continent the same species of bird could have a different song.) But to my untutored ear the soundscape could be that of 10119 Berlin,  NW5 London or Fife, Scotland.

It is only when the radio is switched on that location becomes linguistically specific. The channel, Deutschland Funk, (nothing to do with the music of US black origin ) spews out a flock of words that soar and flap around the room and I begin another day of trying to Lug them. Slowly my catch increases; to put a percentage figure on it would be difficult, perhaps anything between 25 and 65 percent. From this I can get the gist and sometimes, completely the wrong gist.

It is one thing accumulating words but it’s another putting them into a sentence. On the occasions I have attended language classes, I have become utterly dejected as fellow classmates from Malaysia, Japan, France , Spain, Italy, Lebanon and Turkey, reel through conjugation tables and identify Dative and Accusative sentences. At the end of each class and in the coldest winter I have ever experienced, I became at times the unnamed vagrant from Knut Hamsun’s novel, Hunger; trudging the snow, slush, grit pavements, hating everyone around, because they could speak German and I couldn’t!  At times like this I would seek refuge in the Melodic language of Schubert and Haydn or convalesce in the silent ward of Renaissance painting at the Gemaldegalerie.

A sobering thought occurred to me quite early on when surrounded with exercise books full of indecipherable sentences and pages of my incoherent notes; language is an egalitarian currency, equally available to all. Was it this that attracted a young Noam Chomsky to study linguistics? My desire to live an enlightened life drives me on to try and learn a new system of speech. However, belief in the ability to do this often leads me to grimly meditate on the life of an illiterate pauper.

A few months back a friend noting my frustrations with language studies, offered this advice; You don’t learn language through the head it comes through the gut. At the time I liked the saying but wasn’t quite sure what they had meant. Another friend said recently, that they retain much more of a new language when they are relaxed; perhaps sitting in the sun, having a coffee and cake or a beer, taking in the smells, the air, the weather, the touch and feel of something. I offered up a similar experience with a life spent drawing in small books which I always carry around. On the odd occasion that I flick through them,( some going back 25 years), a whole flood of memories can come rushing back to the exact time they were made; the taste of a cigarette or a specific conversation. This is not the same for me when looking at old photographs.

I have noticed that if one does concentrate just as much upon the context as what is being said, you can pick up a lot. I mean, I dare say we could all identify a fire in the building by the clouds of smoke and fumes before we needed someone shouting Fire, to convince us of the fact. A final demand bill is easily detected by its warning total being printed in red ink; although this could be an occasion when you turn, not being able to read or speak that specific language, to your advantage.

It is here as an artist, that I begin to consider the pace of learning a new language; for once you get over the sudden shock of not even having the words to ask for the right kind of bread, and once you get use to, linguistically, feeling like a complete fool, then you can begin to enjoy the Tabula Rasa; a new beginning and all its freedoms.

I am currently reading a biography of Leon Trotsky; The Chapter of the book that deals with the first World War, talks about his brief time in Zürich. He, a Russian could read and speak French, English, Italian, German and Austrian, and he was just about to go off and lead a revolution!  Although there is no mention of this in the book, I have been thinking about another group of revolutionaries in that city, a year or so after Trotsky. For the Cabaret Voltaire, language had betrayed the world; the pen pusher, statesmen and Politician, had through their eloquent use of language, lead the world to the logical insanity of mass slaughter on the battlefields and in the trenches of the Great War. Even though the Dadaists could probably speak as many languages as Trotsky, they chose to grunt, scream, bang and dance; destroying and creating language and often saying much more with nothing.

Last Year I attended a lecture given by Gustav Metzger and really liked the point he made about waste in language. He focused specifically on the mobile phone and not just on the unknown damage it may be doing to the environment. He also spoke about the absolute waste of language through the mountains of unnecessary phone conversations had everyday.

In the past months I have kept in touch with people in the UK mainly through the internet . Whenever I speak to my good friend Michael Wedgwood on Skype, he is often accompanied by his 6 month old daughter. In recent times she has become increasingly vocal as she lies in the background, at first I thought she was distressed and kept asking if he wanted to check all was ok. Oh no, she’s fine. She is just making noises. listening to herself and learning.  Giacometti’s deathbed, is the other end of the life scale but one account told of the strange noises coming from the dying artists mouth. When asked if he was in pain he communicated that he wasn’t, he was just enjoying the sounds he was making. Shortly after, he passed away.

So now in Berlin, where each day I behave a little less like Kasper Hauser and speak a little less like a German version of Manuel in Faulty Towers; I must also be aware and alert to how the huge gaps in my language are filled in. Did I really move to another country in order to repeat all the things I was doing already? If that is the case by the time I am 90 I will be back chasing my own dusty tail and still banging my head against the wall, only then in fluent Deutsch. However, in these salad days, I should celebrate all the things a new country and language offer. Especially the absolute bliss of now and again, hearing, speaking, and understanding absolutely nothing.