The Taste of Blackberry Wine

 

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29th April, 2014

Reunification Day in Vietnam and the streets of the ancient capital are lined with flags; red with the yellow star, or the hammer and sickle of the Communists. The bridges are decorated with cheap, washed-out, coloured fabrics; washed-out purple, faded pink, and greens and yellows which were once luminous though shine no more.

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The Return

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Wednesday, 23rd April, 2014                                                                                                                       Đà Nẵng

It must have rained during the night. The roadsides are wet, the asphalt dark with puddles. And the sky this morning is a high blanket of cloud. A finch, darkly silhouetted against the light until you look and can see its proud, white breast beam, glides above the ramshackle rooftops. The bamboo tree in the garden looks green and fresh and the yellow shoots appear vibrant after the rain. Despite the cloud and the rain it’s still hot and the heat is oppressive. It presses down on my chest and sweat runs down my face, my back and my shirt are soaked. Pale green butterflies, invigorated too by the rain, skip in and out of the tree leaves chasing one another, so cool and serene in the heat like something sinister, like intelligent scraps of paper, and since I saw them before the accident, I suspect they be harbingers of disaster. That afternoon out in the country they gathered in the dirt beside the stream, and when we came near they scattered, flying around us like a flurry of snow.

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Ode to a Piece of Sugar

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When we get up the cold dawn is still on the terrace. Helena makes porridge and I brew strong coffee and we have steaming porridge and hot coffee on the terrace and our feet are cold. We don’t say a word, only look out over the lagoon at the distant cape which is hidden in mist and think of it – out there to the west of the island. It’s as though it were drawing us towards it like the disappearing memory of a forgotten dream.

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No More Sardinia

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I used to live in Sardinia. I don’t live here anymore. Though, from on the bus from Nuoro to Cagliari I can still see the green of the trees, the sun-dried, parched, yellow earth and the cerulean blue sky. Such green! Such blue! Though time laps gently like the gently lapping sea on the beaches of the Gulfo di Orosei. All the places we’ve known will be submerged beneath the tide like so many fragments of rock. All the people we’ve known, their faces will fade. The sun will no longer shine. All will be silent. All will be nothing but memory. For us, Sardinia will be no more. 

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The City – Hanoi

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Rain teems down. Bikes dash by on either side, their headlights lighting up blanched faces in the darkness. The taxi moves through the traffic like debris on a surge of water. Bikes careen from one side of the junction to the other beeping their horns, overlooked by a giant TV screen advertising toothpaste and holidays. A bike loaded with packages crashes into the side of two schoolgirls on a bicycle. The packages are strewn across the road and one of the girls’ white socks is blood-soaked and the delivery man delves in and out of the streaming torrent of bikes to retrieve the sodden boxes. He throws his arms up and moans like an old, bedraggled wolf moans at the moon. The traffic never stops, never slows – the city, Hanoi, is in constant flux; huge and mad and bright with neon but dark with night, rich with boutiques and beggar women hauling great baskets of fruit, cruel in its faceless immensity and vastness as the rain sweeps down, and on the TV screen appears Gautama Buddha, his statue on some sunny, green peninsula overlooking the ocean, only it’s just for a second, and then it’s gone, screen-wiped to an advert for silicone sealant.

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End in Venice

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We left Cagliari at dawn and as we stood on the steps leading up to the aircraft we looked at the moon which was small and round in the magnificently dark and light sky which was navy and orange on the horizon.

The urge to travel and to be going was a kindled fire in us; always moving, existing in movement, living for the journey.

We travelled from Bergamo to Brescia by bus and then from Brescia to Desenzano del Garda by train. In Brescia we ran from the bus to the train and were there for just one brief moment, like ghosts of time.

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The Beauty in the Black

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It was March and the winter was showing no signs of relenting. Although our lives were not mired in suffering, failure and unhappiness hungover our heads like dark clouds and the threat of eternal misery loomed in dark time. We had to get out. We had to go and be gone and begin our journey. No more comfortable inertia of the soul. We knew we had to live and to live we had to break free.

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The Lost Writer

angel-cemetery-statue-tombstone-cherub-child-stone-grave-praying-churchThe Lost Generation,’ was the term coined by Gertrude Stein to describe those writers and artists, many of whom were American, who came to Europe, and in particular to Paris, after the First World War. The writers included Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe and John Steinbeck. All but one of those continue to be household names almost a century on. Hemingway remains a giant of world literature. This year saw the release of yet another film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was part of the UK’s GCSE curriculum until recently. James Joyce is still mentioned by contemporary authors as one of the most influential and innovative of writers, and Faulkner was widely considered to be the best of the bunch. And yet Faulkner decreed that Thomas Wolfe had the greatest talent of them all. Thomas Wolfe is the least recognisable name on that list. Wolfe is the writer who truly lived up to the name, ‘lost.’ He’s lost to the world it seems. Lost and forgotten. But why when all these others remain so widely read and maintain such renown in the annals of literature has Wolfe become ‘the lost writer’? 

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Truthful Truman and Spontaneous Jack

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In 1958 Truman Capote published his seminal work Breakfast at Tiffany’s and became the most famous writer in America. Norman Mailer called him ‘the most perfect writer of my generation,’ and Capote himself remarked on his own literary eminence, ‘the prose style is an evolvement —a pruning and thinning-out to a more subdued, clearer prose. I don’t find it as evocative, in many respects, as the other, or even as original, but it is more difficult to do. But I’m nowhere near reaching what I want to do, where I want to go. Presumably this new book is as close as I’m going to get, at least strategically.’ 

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