Beethoven


After I’d heard Sara Collins interviewed on Scala Radio (one of many fascinating interviews I’ve heard on this station since I abandoned, most of the time, the ‘other classical music station’) I just had to read her first novel, ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’. The story is just as fascinating as I’d hoped but it has made me equally fascinated to know on what criteria the Costa prize in awarded.

The writing, in my opinion, is terrible.

Too many similes

I struggled through the first five chapters, much of the time not knowing what the author was talking about. From there it became easier but the overload with similes continued as did the often tortuous metaphors (the word ‘like’ seems to occur on almost every line – now it irritates me every time it occurs).

Nevertheless, I determined to keep going as the story seemed to be becoming as fascinating as the interview promised. As I write this I’ve reached the eighteenth chapter, having recently read at least a chapter a day.

During the interview I was interested to hear Sara Collins say she “hated” the necessary research into 18th/19th century London. I’ve been surprised to find that I’ve disliked my necessary research into 60s/70s London as I try to finish my novella/novel subtitled ‘A tale of unlikely love in 1960s-1970s London’.

Disliking research

I’ve been surprised because before this I’ve really enjoyed research, first in a research laboratory, then as a journalist. Perhaps now it’s just frustration that my memory fails so often as my novella/novel is based on real experiences. An example: I was at Covent Garden the first time Margot Fonteyn danced with Nureyev; I remembered much, including the 23 curtain calls and, of course, the balletGiselle – but I  could  not remember the precise date (easy to find – 15 February 1962) or details of the environment inside the opera house at that time, vital for my story. I’m still having problems with the latter.

One of the things I often dislike about the writings of ‘indie’ authors is that, as someone who has travelled a lot, it is obvious to me they have never set foot in the place in which they have set their story or action nor done the necessary research.


More on Scala Radio

I’ve found it worth listening to Scala Radio just for some of the interviews (not all, some of the ‘celebrities’ are, as usual, tiresome but not all: Howard Shelley talking about Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto was wonderful).

However I’ve been surprised how much I enjoy much of this station’s output, exceptions (as I’ve said in a past post) being programmes about film music, video games music and pieces from many ‘modern’ musicals. What is certain is that Scala has introduced me to quite a bit of classical music which I don’t recall having heard before, a pleasant surprise as I’ve been listening to classical music for about eight decades.

Unfortunately Scala is not on FM as we cannot get it on DAB at home and don’t have DAB in the car; I listen at home on the app. For the regular listening in the car, school runs morning and afternoon, the Classic FM presenters are two of my favourites: Tim Lihoreau and Anne-Marie Minhall). The third is Alyd Jones but unfortunately he usually shuts down on a Sunday morning at ten in favour of that gardener, just when one of the other Scala programmes I don’t like comes on.

I am not by nature a city dweller, I much prefer rural life. However, it has been a real pleasure to return briefly to the city where I lived, and taught English, for several years in Romania. The city is Iasi (pronounced ‘Yash’ – in Romanian the ‘s’ has a comma under it, rather like a cedilla, and so has the sound ‘sh’), which is a major city in north east Romania with the country’s oldest University.

Fountain in the Palas Mal park, Iasi, with the Culture Palace museum in the background

One of the pleasures of living in Iasi was that artistic culture was very much alive and to share in it cost very little, but the downside was that many of the facilities were very run down. Today, many of the buildings are being renovated, some almost complete. The building in the background in the picture above is ‘Palatul Culturii’ (The Palace of Culture), in fact a museum. The Romanians cleverly allowed a developer to build an enormous shopping mall, together with a delightful park (pictured below), only on condition they undertook the renovation of the museum building, an enormous and incredibly costly project. It is now almost completed.

Entrance to the Palas Mal park, Iasi

When I visited the park, complete with carousel, it was full of families with young children, courting couples, older couples, all looking happy and contented in a green and colourful environment despite the severe drought which has made much of Romania look like a desert. (When I left Romania in 2004, this area was also a desert of waste ground). Looking up through the pierced copper roof of a cupola on a lake in the park, seeing the ‘biscuits’ stamped out from the sky, prompted my ‘sky biscuits’ picture haiku, posted on 3 August.

Carousel in the Palas Mal park, Iasi

Nearby is the church of St. Nicholas, which was renovated some year ago. It is the church in which I was married and where I went on many Sundays to listen to the magnificent choir, at Easter, and at Christmas to hear the wonderful Romanian carols.

St Nicholas's church, Iasi (Sf Nicolae Domnesc)

The ‘Filarmonica’ (Concert hall) was almost a ruin when I went every week throughout the ‘season’, a season ticket costing less than £30 for more than 20 concerts! Every five years this included all the Beethoven string quartets performed over several weeks by a magnificent Iasi quartet, ‘Voces’, whose playing reminded me of the renowned ‘Amadeus’ quartet (I have vinyl LPs of the complete cycle played by them at home in UK). Now the concert hall has been renovated and looks magnificent.

The 'Filarmonica' concert hall, Iasi, and poster advertising performances of Shakespear's 'Midsummer Night's Dream'

In the foreground of the Filarmonica a poster advertises Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – outside the nearby ‘Teatru National’ (‘national’ theatre), a smaller version of the theatre in Vienna but just as magnificent now that it is almost completely renovated.

Something which impressed me about Romanian high school pupils – 12 to 18 years old – when I lived here was that I could stop one at random in the street and ask them to quote me a line of Shakespeare and at least 9 in 10, probably 99 in 100, would do it flawlessly, often not one of the most quoted ones. What would the proportion be in the UK? I doubt better than 1 in a 100, if that.

The 'national theatre', Iasi, with street banner advertising opera

Another banner across the whole street outside the theatre advertises opera (and I do not have to remind opera lovers that one of the world’s leading ‘divas’ now – Angela Gheorghiu – is Romanian).

Talking of pupils, below is a picture of one of the three high schools at which I taught English in Iasi – Colegiul National which was founded in 1826 and remains one of the top two high schools in the city.

The 'National College', Iasi

It was becoming twilight when I reached Piata Unirii (Unity Square), which celebrates the unification of the different regions to become Romania in 1859 (Transilvania became a part of Romania in 1918). Dominating the square is another magnificent building – the Hotel Traian.

Grand Hotel Traian, Iasi, at twilight

Nearly ‘home’, I passed by what was the only antique shop in Iasi when I lived here – in what was in the distant past the city’s main street – Str. Lapusneanu. A model galleon in full sail sits in our living room back in the UK; I bought it in this shop, which lights up the wares in its window in the evening.

The antique shop window in Str. Lapusneanu, Iasi, in the evening

Buildings in this street are now being renovated and a gigantic protective cover reminds the people of Iasi what they have and need to protect, as said to them by one of the country’s most renowned historians, Nicolae Iorga, a superb writer, who was assassinated by fascists in 1940.

Protective cover over a building in renovation, with quote from Nicolae Iorga, Romanian historian

“These are our historic monuments, so many, from the beginning until 1850, so full of value both materially and in an historic sense, with their surroundings devasted, with everything destroyed, with the patina of age covering each, so varied and original in which is seen what they were. Where you see it, recognise it, respect it and raise them up, if you have the strength, from the ruin and disappearance”. (My translation, not perfect but hopefully adequate). Nicolae Iorga, 1871-1940.

It’s taken a long time but the rebirth has begun.

All these ‘snapshots’ were taken on a Panasonic GF1 with 14-42mm Lumix G ‘X’ lens. I may be able to get some C41 black and white film (Ilford XP2) developed and scanned here towards the end of next week, but colour and ‘conventional’ black and white will have to wait until I’m back in the UK.