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Arts For Heart’s Sake November 26, 2012

Posted by markswill in Media, Navel Gazing, That's Entertainment.

Returning to Wales today I couldn’t help noticing the contrast between Britain’s post-industrial landscape and the one I travelled through in northern France yesterday aboard Eurostar. Here, nondescript clusters of empty, crumbling brick factories and warehouses sat forlornly skirting Midlands towns, interspersed occasionally with retail park blight, whereas in France the factories were almost uniformly big, white sheds shimmering beyond neatly ploughed fields. Of course those French factories may’ve well been dormant, too, although I rather hope the one whose identifying sign simply read ‘Potato Masters’ still had a life.

The news back home after a few days without it was, according to the Daily Telegraph, predictably grim: flooding across the country – plenty of evidence of that through my Virgin Voyager window – with higher food prices and home insurance premiums ahoy, shipyard closures imminent in Glasgow and Portsmouth, pubs still closing at the rate of seven a week, often bulldozed to make way for supermarkets using convenient planning loopholes and of course the inevitable and continuing recession which, we are now told, may mean wallowing in economic despair until 2018… probably much longer, if we can’t manufacture and export our way out of it, which we can’t. (But I was rather tickled by James Dyson whining about industrial espionage at the hands of an oriental mole, this being the same James Dyson lionised for his industrial savvy but who closed down his factories years ago in favour of outsourcing to… the orient).

Notwithstanding what may or may not have been going on in those shed-like factories, in France, or at least Paris which is where I’ve just been, things appear to be different, although that may well a tourist’s panglossian gaze. The glitzy shops in the Marais, where I stayed in a friend’s apartment, all seemed to be prospering and ditto the myriad restaurants, bars and bistros. The art galleries, which along with serious socialising were the main purpose of my trip, heaving to the extent that after queuing for two hours in the rain for the Edward Hopper show at the Grand Palais we could take it no longer and went round the corner to see The Bohemians after merely a ten minute queue. As my Paris-based companion pointed out, this was hung with a panache that the French seem to do particularly well which made up for the somewhat patchy quality of the works themselves, but there were other treats in store, most notably the Sarah Paulsen show at the very wonderful Maison Europeeene de la Photographie and the ever reliable Musée D’Orsay where a smallish show of Van Gochs, Vuillards and Bonnards (the latter whom I never quite get) alone justified the price of admission.

But slightly hungover from yet another night of over indulgence denied sufficient time to do justice to the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers before hightailing it to the Gare du Nord. This is one of the great neglected musées – it doesn’t even feature in most guidebooks – featuring an extraordinary four centuries-worth of scientific, industrial and architectural instruments, inventions and machinery curated with considerable aesthetic flair and intelligibility.

Now you may say that London and even many provincial British galleries, shops and restaurants are also doing gangbusters business despite the recession, and you may be right. But over here I sense a degree of desperation compelling us to get as much culture under our belts as we can before tightening them even further, and/or the arts lose even more funding and thus public accessibility. (On a tiny scale, I am already involved in trying to replace recently withdrawn government funding for local arts and education institutes here in Wales, with yet more to come).

Enough has been written about the civilising effects of the arts on society, often by me, for such concerns to be obvious to anyone with half a brain, but the plethora of publicly available culture in France – Paris has more museums than filling stations – does seem to be reflected in the mood of the Parisian demi monde who, just looking at the handsome smartly-dressed citizens striding the streets and packing the galleries, seemed somehow happier and more optimistic. Plus of course they let motorcycles park on the pavement – truly the sign of an enlightened society and the reason why so many are ridden round the city.

Still, this year I am again doing my bit to raise the cultural bar by appearing in our local pantomime, on this occasion playing the local county councillor, an aging, eccentrically attired ‘confirmed bachelor’  – typecast again I fear – who dies a hideous death as the second act opens. And talking of ugly demises, I’m currently and simultaneously reading Edward St Aubyn’s ‘Mother’s Milk’ and A.M. Homes ‘May We Be Forgiven’, both darkly hilarious, and both including grandmothers suffering dementia. Add to these ‘Amour’, cheery Michael Haneke’s latest flic which considers the incapacitating aspects of old age… and suddenly cognitive decline seems all the rage. I am tempted to say ‘Bring it on’ as it might provide blessed relief from all that ails us in the world, but for the moment at least, I prefer my oblivion bottle shaped, and let’s face it, the French do produce some remarkably good wines and spirits. Must get back there a.s.a.p.

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Breaking Wind, If Not Silence November 6, 2012

Posted by markswill in About me, Navel Gazing, Politics, Schmolitics.
Tags: , ,

Since my last rant some seven weeks ago, I’ve had a few stabs at composing another but to no avail, obviously.

I don’t know about yours, but I find that in these blighted times and especially if you’re of a certain age and culture, life is an endless tide of disappointment, failure and betrayal relieved only by brief and increasingly infrequent examples of spiritual generosity and soul-stirring creative venture. As such, there isn’t much worth writing about that isn’t just more of the rut-ploughing whining I’ve been doing for years now.

So on the cusp of a right-wing, tax-avoiding, women-hating religious zealot probably becoming Master of the Universe and then bombing Iran, out-sourcing even more jobs to the Far East and ending his female subjects’ right to choose an abortion, I fear we are all in the same bloody boat. But one thing I can be sure of and is perhaps worth noting is that Trouble Rides a Fast Horse.

Which is all you need to know.

And if you can bear to read more of the same, albeit at greater length, check out the column on the right