Thursday, 31 March 2011

Calooya Calella



Here we are back in one piece after a few days in Catalunya, having heeded Rosie's sage advice here a few days ago to steer clear of any roadside hold-up stratagems.

The latest trick to persuade you to stand and deliver is to stage an accident at a quiet spot where two cars appear to have collided. 'Victims', usually children, lie down by the roadside or even in the road in poses of suggestive of dreadful agony and bloody injury, liberally spattered with tomato ketchup or strawberry jam. The 'survivors' wave you down frantically. Being the kind-hearted Anglo-Saxon that you are (as indicated by your number plate) you stop, whereupon your car is surrounded by chattering, wailing, gesticulating Romanians. As soon as you leave your car to lend a hand, they drive off in it with all your luggage, cards, passports etc, the dead and maimed magically come to life and spring into activity and drive off at high speed in the old bangers that have been arranged to look as though they collided. You speak no Spanish, your mobile has disappeared, you're in the middle of nowhere, you can't prove who you are and you feel that in the course of your life it's just possible that you may have spent better days than this.

Another trick which we managed to avoid involves traffic lights. You stop at a red light, someone taps at your window and informs you that you've got a flat rear tyre. Of course you have: this bloke has just punctured it. He offers to help you change it, but first explains that you have to set up your warning triangle not less than 30 metres down the road. You open the boot (i.e. trunk, Spadoman), fish out the triangle, trot along the pavement to set it up and meanwhile your new friend has disappeared with all your luggage.

*

There is an entrancingly beautiful stretch of the Costa Brava that we try to get away to every now and again. It's too steep and rocky and furrowed with cliff-girt inlets for there to be much development. There are a few tiny fishing ports and the occasional modest marina. It probably hums unspeakably with tourists in summer, but off-season we can count on having it more or less to ourselves. Below is part of the coastal walk from Calella de Palafrugell to Llafranc. Irresistible. And not a wrecker in sight.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Give me the moonight


Some years ago, in circumstances that are too convoluted to go into here, J. and I found ourselves in a St Raphaël nightclub with, among others, some Charlton Athletic supporters.

Although very dark inside, we could just about make out a large central dance area with smaller alcoves round the outside, separated from each other by what appeared to be glass screens. I suppose there were about 15 of us in the group. Some kind of mermaid-hostess suggested we might like a to buy a bottle of vodka at about £500. This seemed a bit steep, even divided between 15, particularly as one of the 15 was a notorious drouth* and would probably want to share it with the hostess and her merpals.

It was possibly at this moment that I quietly drew J.'s attention to the dim outline of a bald-headed old git in the neighbouring alcove, saying perhaps we didn't need to feel embarrassed about being the only people of our generation in the place if they let mildewed old codgers like that bloke in. I then realised that the glass screens were in fact mirrors. In the gloom I was looking at myself. We left unobtrusively.

We haven't been near a nightclub since. We're planning to go to Spain before long. It's a road we've often travelled. In a tiny village well south of the frontier called Tor there's a sign saying 'Bar Nit', I assume the Catalan for nightclub. In a monstrously unlovely place called La Jonquera there are immense flashing signs advertising a nightclub, maybe more of a giant bordello, called Moonight. No, I haven't mis-spelled it. Moonight.

I don't think we'll be stopping at either.

*Drouth: Scots word for drought, thus figuratively a boozer.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Not Herne Bay, surely?


I was rehearsing a song out of The Merry Wives of Windsor the other night with our two tenors, M. and J-C. (not featured in the photo above). The words are:

Fie on sinful fantasy!
Fie on lust and luxury!
Lust is but a bloody fire
Kindled with unchaste desire
Fed in heart: whose flames aspire,
As thoughts do blow them, higher and higher.
Pinch him, fairies, mutually;
Pinch for his villainy;
Pinch him, and burn him, and turn him about,
Till candles and starlight and moonshine be out.

The hordes of Merry Wives Of Windsor (or of Verdi's Falstaff) buffs that come here daily will recognise this as the song the children of Windsor have been taught to sing while, dressed as fairies, they torment the lewd lecher Sir John Falstaff, who has been promised a midnight forest tryst by one of the women he fancies, on condition that he disguise himself as local bogeyman Herne the Hunter by wearing horns. It turns out to be a honey-trap, of course, but Falstaff suspects nothing.

We will be singing this in Scotland in early May. The long wake of life throws up some bizarre eddies.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Beastly rotten swiz


No one managed the desired identification from four days ago, so once again the prize (Burkhardt's Travels in Nubia, 1st edn, bound in morocco, spine slightly damaged) is withheld until next year.

L-R : Perowne, a submariner - Beaumont, a boulevardier - Chris - Sheba the lab assistant (thank you, Rog.) - Mr Putnam, a mustachio'd usher.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Mwah mwah, Muammar



On the principle of trying to find something good to say about people, however desperate their villainy, I want to extend a big thank-you to Col. Ghaddafi.

And, to be fair, to King Idris, Mussolini, Giolitti, the Karamanlis dynasty, Haroun el Rashid, Unkh-el Tomh Qhob'leh and everyone else who at some stage or other has ruled Libya, for their very great personal kindness. In their time they must have given me several tons of the sacred soil of Libya, and their generosity knows no end.

Delivery arrangements are haphazard but effective. It works like this. Vast dust storms blow up in the Fezzan. Zillions of minute particles are swept up into the atmosphere, borne wherever the wind blows them. Mostly humid incoming weather systems coming in from the Atlantic gather some of them up, swirl them about and deposit them in raindrops.

Local winds have all got names, Mistral, Tramontane, Autan, Grec, Albigeois. And the Marin. The Marin, warm and wet, starts in North Africa and blows northwards off the Mediterranean, laden with ochre-coloured particles that J. and I call Sahara Dust. It unloads its rain on the first land obstacles it comes to, especially the hills where we live. Sahara dust gets everywhere, into the minutest cracks and crevices, discolouring everything it lands on.

Almost all of it lands on the ground, as it has been doing for millions of years. The ground round here is very stony, shards and lumps of slates, schists and marble, tortured and twisted from the original limestone by immense geological pressures. All these bits are bound together in a sort of natural concrete by a very fine-grained ochre-coloured clay, the result of aeons'-worth of Marin winds bearing their tribute of Libyan dust. It sets pick-axe hard when dry, has no other virtue and only the coarsest weeds will grow in it.

Drystone wall-building occupies a lot of my time at the moment. Drystone ramparts might be a better description. Just now I'm trying to catch up on the lower rampart with the steps in the photo below, which has advanced quite a lot since the photo was taken. I pride myself on jig-sawing the stones together and never using cement. I don't need to: the invisible bits of stones are all set in solid Sahara dust clay. It's not cheating, is it?

So I'm obliged to you, Col. Ghaddafi. Thanks to you my walls are a lot less tottery than your régime appears to be.


Friday, 18 March 2011

Bang-on japes and wizard wheezes


The other day Rog posted a school photo, and in a sense we got two for the price of one because Dave happened to go to the same school, although there were a few years between them. I don't think anyone identified them without help.

There's mine up there, from more or less the same era. The same century, anyway. There were too few of us to justify the rolling camera they had at Rog's and Dave's place. Someone called Lionel Austin from Lee on Solent used to come every May to take ours, with that ancient sort of camera with sliding plates and a black fabric light-excluding hood for the photographer put over his head.

If you've nothing better to do you can find me in it. The only clue I'm prepared to give is that if you think the early, unspotted, vintage Chris is in the lowest row, 6th from the right, please consider that you may be mistaken.

I remember school photos of the Rog/Dave type. They were taken by a special camera that had to traverse the rows of several hundred kids in an arc in order to get them all in. It was a wheeze - actually, now I come to think of it, we used to say 'jape' - it was a jape for the lad on the extreme left, once the camera had started its arc, to nip round the back of the tiers of benches and tables to reappear on the extreme right, thus having his photo taken twice. Lad? I expect the ladettes of the time were just as much up for this kind of jape as the lads.

It wasn't so very different at dormitory fire drill. We had canvas shutes, tubes of canvas mounted on a hinged frame beneath the window sill. When the fire alarm sounded, the head of the dormitory had to open the window, lever up the apparatus and push the bulk of the canvas out of the window, so that it unrolled itself as it descended to the ground. To avoid being roasted alive and done to a crisp you had to climb into the canvas tube and slide down it, controlling your speed by pressing your knees, elbows and heels against the canvas. Wonderful fun for an 11-year-old. Legend had it that in some heroic age long past kids had managed to run back indoors and up the stairs through the supposed smoke and flames for another go. A wizard wheeze, as I suppose we might have said, a bang-on jape. Happy days.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Elvis: Pure Dead Brilliant


Our friend A. came round the other morning, coincidentally following my car back from the village in a blue van I hadn't seen before.

A. is writing a monumental history of rock and roll. From what he tells me it will be encyclopedic, including rockers past and present. He mentions William Blake and Coleridge in almost the same breath as Jack Kerouac and Malcolm X. Nor will ephemera like Pinky and Perky and Mr Blobby be missing.

But Elvis will be the star. I've never come across anyone with such a universally all-embracing knowledge of any one person as A. has of Elvis. Not just Elvis, but Elvisdom, the lookalikes, the mysteries (e.g. Elvis' twin), the resurrections, the Elvis-based sects and religions. It sometimes seems to me that A. is more interested in Elvis the phenomenon than in his music. In search of material A. has travelled the Elvis trail from start to finish. Or has he?

I expect I've mentioned before that in early May my little choir Les Jeudistes, in which A. sings, will be undertaking what they are pleased to call their World Tour of Scotland. They did their World Tour of Kent and Sussex a couple of years ago. The first leg of the journey takes them from Girona, in northern Spain, just the other side of the Pyrenees from us, to Prestwick, south of Glasgow. It's the only budget out-and-back route from our part of the world direct to Scotland at a sensible time of day.

J. and I were in Prestwick Airport (motto: Pure Dead Brilliant) a few weeks ago. I was surprised to find, in the departure lounge, The Elvis Bar. Why this should be I didn't know.

Did you know there was an Elvis bar in Prestwick? I asked A.

No, he said, in surprise: he'd never heard of that before. He doubted if there was a direct connection. Elvis had only been out of the USA twice, once to Canada and once to Germany, when he was doing his National Service. The best-known song that had come out of that was an extraordinary un-Elvis-like ditty called Muss i denn, muss i denn zum Stätelei hinaus, and....WAIT! When he flew back from Germany, he stopped off in Ireland, wasn't it, or could it have been Scotland?


I looked it up today. It was indeed Prestwick, then a US Air Force Transport Command base. There's not only the Elvis bar, there's a plaque commemorating his visit. When Les Jeudistes arrive, A. will feel particularly at home. It will be an auspicious start.

*

'I haven't seen that van before,' I said to him when he left. 'I saw it in the mirror as I was driving home. I thought for a moment it was that Barbe Bleue bloke behind me.'

[The Barbe Bleue - i.e. Bluebeard - bloke drives a blue van round the villages selling cheap clothes. 'Bluebeard' doesn't have the resonance here it does elsewhere.]

'It's extraordinary,' A. replied. 'You might as well drive a blue sales van around the UK with 'Jack the Ripper' blazoned all over it.'

'Selling ice-cream,' I said.




Sunday, 13 March 2011

Bore War Wear


J. very kindly gave me a Kindle for my birthday a few weeks ago. It took a little time to get it up and running, because there seemed to be a problem with accessing an English-programmed Kindle from a permanent address in France. We've surmounted this now, I don't quite know how, probably by sorcery, and there are only one or two greater pleasures in life than propping it up (on a stand that comes with a snazzy leather cover J. thoughtfully added to the pack) and READING at MEALTIMES. Especially when I'm on my own, as I am now for a few days.

I'm reading a curious work on Kindle by Conan Doyle. Unusually for the creator of Sherlock Holmes and lesser beings like Brigadier Gérard and Professor Challenger, it's a very dull history of the Boer War, 1899-1902.

The tedium is relieved partly by well-I-never-knew-thats! Spion Kop, for instance, probably the most famous of the stands at Anfield, home of Liverpool Football Club: I never knew that Spion Kop was a South African hill from which an area of western Natal might be spied upon. Fortified by the Boers in 1899, it cost the lives of hundreds of Liverpudlians trying to capture it. The Kop is their memorial.

And maybe the first signs of Conan Doyle losing the plot, which he did later in his life with aberrations like believing in fairies? I came across this extraordinarily perplexing sentence:

Every requisite for a great victory was there except the presence of the enemy.

This reminded me of a paradox by Jean-Paul Sartre, who seems to have played at 10, but not for Liverpool, unless navy blue is their away strip. If you can't read it up there at the top, embiggenise™ it, as my friend Dave says. I expect he means 'belargify' it.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Blood and vanity


Carcassonne is:

1. A medieval fortress-city (above) almost the size of Windsor Castle, to a large extent a fanciful reconstruction by a 19th Century French architect called Viollet-le-Duc

2. An unexciting modern French town trailing down from the fortress heights like a moth-eaten musketeer's cloak (and if you're asking whether it's the cloak or the musketeer that's moth-eaten, the answer is it's both)

3. An airport, a lifeline to Blighty for those that need it, where you hear more English spoken than French.

I don't why I'm telling you this, because Carcassonne has got very little to do with what follows. When I first came to live in France 20 years ago, there wasn't much to keep body and soul together, so I signed on at an estate agency, innocent of any idea that in France there is no one so vile and universally despicable as an estate agent. I stayed the course for about 18 months until I couldn't put up with it any longer.

I learnt my way about the area by driving about at my expense taking in properties for sale. I got an extra 5% commission on properties I took in. These were always called by the name of the vendor. One was called Schleintzauer, the then owner. It was a two-story house, stone-built with about half an acre of scrub adjoining on the edge of a hamlet called La Garrigue. It was a waterless place, alive and beautiful with cystus, rosemary and wild thyme in spring, but otherwise a hill-top desert with only breathtaking views over the Languedoc plain below and the thin burnished gold line of the distant Mediterranean beyond to commend it.

The front door of Schleintzauer, surrounded by a Passiflora (passion fruit) vine and with panels of coloured glass, opened into a rather nasty general purpose kitchen-dining-sitting room with a floor of what I learned to call ciment fondu, a smooth concrete. Exceptionally, it was a wet day when I took Schleintzauer into the listings. I questioned M. Schleintzauer, a man originally from Alsace, about a large dark patch on the floor a couple of metres from the door. Was it damp? I asked. (It seemed unlikely, given the arid La Garrigue climate.) It came and went, he said. He didn't know what it was. He couldn't get rid of it and it wouldn't go. If I came back on a fine day it would probably have gone. It wasn't anything to bother about.

Eventually Schleintzauer sold, I can't remember to whom.

*
Some years later I started a new choir. The nucleus was formed of people who had already sung under my baton. We searched about for a name, and a woman called Marcelle suggested, prosaically, Le Choeur des Hauts Cantons, The Choir of the High Cantons. The term 'canton' usually suggests Switzerland to me, but in the south of France it's used to describe collectively the scattered settlements in this very hilly and sometimes mountainous region. Marcelle's suggestion was adopted and Le Choeur des H C eventually grew from the initial 18 members to just over 50 at full strength.

I got to know Marcelle quite well. She became Deputy Treasurer, a post with no functions and no responsibilities. She was a short, dumpy woman of about 65, with a voice the better for being masked by all the other altos round her. She laughed a lot, walked with a limp, had only once been out of the region, on a coach tour of the Tyrol, spoke Occitan, the local sub-language - and as a teenager had lived at La Garrigue.

Yes, I said, speaking to her once, I knew La Garrigue quite well, especially the house M. Schleintzauer used to live in, the one on the edge of the hamlet. A sad house, Marcelle said. She'd lived nearby, but it was because of what happened there that her father had taken her away to live near La Salvetat, miles away to the north.

The story came out. When the occupying Nazis moved north in August 1944, summoned by Hitler to defend northern France from the invading allies, the local resistance fell on the columns of Germans. Only they weren't Germans, Marcelle said, they were Hungarians and Cossacks and Russians. (Marcelle didn't even call them soldats, soldiers: she called them soudards, a derogatory word meaning irregular military thuggish riff-raff.) They'd been sniped at by resistance fighters on the rocky road up to La Garrigue. As a deterrent from further attacks, they'd seized several innocent people from the hamlet, dragged them into the nearest house and had shot them, together with the house owners. When the column had passed, Marcelle's father was among those who recovered the bodies. There was a massive pool of blood beyond the front door. In the August heat it was vital to bury the bodies as quickly as possible. And blood dries quickly.

The slaughter house was Schleintzauer, as you've guessed. No one lived in it thereafter for years. It has changed hands many times since.

As I drove through La Garrigue on my way back from Carcassonne yesterday, I noticed 'Schleintzauer' was for sale again. It was a damp day, with heavy clouds scudding across from the Mediterranean. I wondered if that dark patch was still showing.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Mimosa formimosissima


It's mimosa time here. All along the valley there are splodges of vivid yellow, like egg-stains on a green waistcoat. This specimen grows outside the village doctor's surgery. This photo and all the good wishes that this harbinger of spring can bring are dedicated to everyone, but especially to IE, that well-known connoisseur of yellows.

I'm so very lucky with my little corner of the blogosphere, where spring seems to be perpetual. All the same there are times I feel I let the side down through my utter inability to express through Lydian Airs what others seem able to do so effortlessly. Dave scores so well, displaying to an envious world both his photography and his painting. Spadoman's and Rog's photos lead me willingly by the hand into other worlds. Indeed, Mig has published a book of her photos, several of which have already graced her place. Rosie deeply intrigues us sometimes several times a day with her fascinating artistic inventiveness and passion for guitar music. Sarah gives us rich insights into her artistic flair, techniques and projects. Geoff produces such polished, pointed writing (he's produced a book as well, did you know?) , his rapier thrusts a fine foil for Vicus' masterly axe blows. All this in addition to those heady and subtle accounts, like Z's, of daily life and day-to-day events. And I couldn't let this little round-up pass without bowing the knee to Mamma. (Never mind the Italian, smell the pictures. And no, she isn't my mother, just a wonderful Italian cook.) But what is a humble composer to do, a non-flowering plant in this garden of delight?

When I left school all I wanted to do was to write music. With disdain I threw away any chance - then - of university. (I made up for it later on.) I counted a pilgrimage to the grave of Beethoven in Vienna as valid a qualification as any degree. I enrolled at 18 on the staff of a prep. school. You could do this then. I'm sure you can't now. I expected to have plenty of time for composition in free periods, evenings, weekends, while trousering a modest salary at the end of each term. (First term's salary: £25.) Some hope! After three years of this, gradually becoming sucked further and further into education, it was suggested that I should do something to put some letters after my name.

So with this qualification and that, I sank deeper and deeper into education, while eventually climbing a few rungs of the hierarchy ladder. Over the years composition receded further and further, apart from a few sporadic outbursts. Shortly after coming out of education when I was 49, an extraordinary publishing opportunity fell into my lap (I'll save this story for another day). Composition took a seat even further back while I wrote some books.

Now, freed from all that, I can devote time to writing music, but I'm very much afraid that the Muse who excited and thrilled me so all those years ago is now past child-bearing age, is fast becoming raddled, wrinkled, muffin-topped and no longer much interested in romps on the bed of musical invention.

But I keep trying. Something that keeps the flame flickering is that Patroclus, who holds the key to so many doors, is coming with her basketful of Blue Cats and kittens to see us in June. She'll maybe show me how to post pieces of music. Then I shall feel, if not the equal of the greats in Para. 2 up there, at least no longer a non-starter.

You've been warned.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Through a local lens No. 8


In Through a local lens No. 7 a few days ago I posted photos of the disused railway bridge just outside the village.

Several readers complained of dizzy spells.

I hope those affected will draw comfort from the photo above and find it a suitable antidote to vertigo. This is a hole in the ground not far from the village school canteen. It leads down into an extensive network of caves and underground chambers, I'm told. I've never been down there, and I can't say that I'm much drawn to.

We have a friend M., an ample German lady who is a dedicated and single-minded speleologist with a flair for invention. Using the principle of surveyors' infra-red lasers and fibre optics, she has developed an instrument for plotting the shape and size of caves in three dimensions. The data collected can be displayed on computer screens, not just for the sake of mapping but to aid exploration and even rescue, should anyone fall down this or any other local hole. As you can see, this one is completely unprotected, but it's narrow and triangular. On both counts it's unlikely that M. would feel there was much danger of her falling in irretrievably.

I expect the myriad of claustrophobiacs who come here every day will now begin to feel uncomfortable. I'm sorry. Next time I shall post a photo I took the other day of a mimosa tree in flower outside the village doctor's surgery, for the greater convenience and comfort of hay fever sufferers among my readers. You can't please everyone all the time.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Turnips and taters



I once worked on and off for B., a retired RAF Squadron Leader, who has now been dead for twenty years at least. In addition to many other foibles he used to give his occupation, for reasons best known to himself, in hotel registers and the like as 'Domfosticator'. Sometimes, returning to the same hotel after several years' absence, he would be found to have promoted himself to 'Senior Domfosticator'.

I got to know B. a year or two before I was first married. Retired from the RAF, he ran an outdoor education centre on Southampton Water, where I worked occasionally. By one of those very curious and gratifying coincidences that keep cropping up in life, he was my uncle Roger's CO in the early days of World War 2: my uncle's first RAF posting was to the barrage balloon unit covering Southampton docks, a unit commanded by Sqn Ldr Domfosticator. Unknown to each other, many years later both he and my uncle attended my first wedding, but the coincidence was never sprung, and I only realised it when details of my uncle's RAF career, about which he rarely spoke, came to light after his death in 2008.

Shortly after their service in Southampton, both went their separate ways in the RAF, my uncle to become a Flight Lieutenant (Navigator) in 488 (New Zealand) Sqn - although he had no connection with New Zealand - and Sqn Ldr Domfosticator, profoundly deafened by anti-aircraft fire, was posted to the RAF Provost Marshal's department in Italy.

He used to say of the people of Naples, where he was based after its capture from Hitler's and Mussolini's troops by the advancing Allies, that whenever an air-raid siren sounded, they would wait in the street until the Allied bombers actually appeared overhead. If the markings were American, they would scurry for the shelters as fast as possible. If they were British, they carried on their business normally: RAF bombing, limited to strategic objectives, was pin-point accurate.

B. was a fine man, although not without certain inexplicable traits. (Why would a man pretend his wife was his cousin? Why would he walk away when the name Chaliapin was mentioned?) Until his death he remained a firm family friend. When they were 5 and 7 or thereby my children took the word 'domfosticator' under their wings. We used to sing in the car - but only along a certain lane in Scotland - 'Turnips and taters and domfosticators' over and over again to the same three notes. (G,A,C rising, for the myriad of musicians who come here every day.) Happily the lane wasn't very long.

If you've read so far and wonder what the word 'domfosticator' means, I'm sorry. I don't know. Perhaps you do?

But I didn't invent it, Rosie.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Folk flock focus



Just now I'm assembling and arranging a short collection of local folk-songs to add to the repertoire of my choir, Les Jeudistes. Local folk-songs are mostly written in a language called Occitan, which has as many dialects as there are valleys to have them in. There's no regular spelling and pronunciation varies widely. So it's not easy.

This is the latest, Lou Boièr, the herdsman or ploughman. I can't decide whether it's a ballad of great beauty, a simple, artless crying from the heart, or hopeless twaddle. It's well within the vein of local folk-song falling into two categories, desolate and mournful or relying on spirited nonsense. (Skip to the translation if you'd prefer.)


Quan lou boièr ven de laoura
Planto soun agulhado,
Troubo sa femno al pè del foc
Touto déscounsoulado.

"Se'n es malaouto, digas 'Oc';
Te faren un poutage
Amb uno rabo, un caoulet,
Uno lauzéto magro."

"Quan sérai morto, rébound me
Al pus priou de la cabo:
Metras mous pes a la pared
Lou cap jous la canelo.

E lous roumious que passaran
Prendran d'aïgo ségnado
E diràn : 'Qual es mòrt aicí ?
Es la paura Bernarda !

Que 'n es anada al Paradís
Al cél, ambe sas cabras.'"

[My translation (if any of the myriad Occitan buffs who come here daily would like to suggest corrections, please go ahead):

When the herdsman returned from ploughing,
He laid down his goad.
He found his wife at the fireside,
Completely disconsolate.

"If you're ill, say 'Yes';
I'll make you a soup
With turnip, cabbage
And a lean lark."

"When I'm dead [she said], bury me
Just inside the cellar [i.e. undercroft for animals]:
Put my feet against the wall,
My head next to the spring.

And the pilgrims that pass
Will take the holy water,
And they will say: 'Who is dead here?
It's poor Bernarda!
May she have gone to Paradise
In the sky, with her goats.'"]

*

My attitude to folk music is to a large extent summed up in the following delicious story, which I first came across in Charles Rosen's The Classical Style. Haydn's music is supposedly full to overflowing with folk tunes he'd picked up from his earliest childhood in his native Danubian region on the borders of Austria and Hungary.

A certain professor of musicology, trying to prove this theory, reckoned that the most effective way of doing so was through field research. He travelled round the villages of the region singing the best of Haydn's tunes to see if the local peasantry recognised them.

The peasants were given a bigger tip when they claimed to recognise a tune than when they didn't, and it didn't take long for them to adjust their memories in accordance with the depth of the professor's purse. The more enthusiastic the 'recognition', the larger the tip. And to this day, the story goes, the country folk of that region still sing the songs the professor taught them.

*

It might have been the soup that did for poor Bernarda, of course.