Laurie Duggan 4: Europe, March-May 1987

  Laurie Duggan 4

  Europe, March-May 1987

  Notes from a Journal

[Editorial note: To avoid ambiguity, dates are given in the ISO 8601 date format: year, month, day. For example, the fourth of March, 1968, is given as 1968-Mar-04.]

Laurie Duggan, 1987, with Gael Turnbull, UK Lakes District, photo by Jill Turnbull.
Laurie Duggan, 1987, with Gael Turnbull, UK Lakes District, photo by Jill Turnbull.
Introduction [2014]

Paragraph 1 follows:

In 1987 I received an Australia Council grant, enabling me to travel overseas for the first time. I spent six weeks over April and May in Italy, Spain, France and Britain. My route had a partially Poundian agenda, taking in Rapallo and various places like Montsegur and Périgueux in southern France. In England I visited Gael Turnbull and Christopher Logue. Advance copies of The Ash Range appeared at the Pan Books London office while I was en route.


1987-Mar-23: Spent the weekend with Chris & Cath McConville at Clunes. Weather largely grey and mildly damp, though we went for several walks. I’m looking at everything, the streets, signs, folds of hills, agriculture, natural vegetation, as though storing it all up for the European trip as a kind of resource. Meanwhile I’m reading travel books: Edmund Wilson on Italy after the war; Mary McCarthy on Florence; Freda White on the Dordogne. I attempted D.H.Lawrence but found him totally unreadable.


For the Florentine artist in his studio, the charting of the rules of linear perspective made possible voyages of exploration in a fictive space that were not less marvellous than the voyages of discovery just being undertaken by navigators of real geography.

— Mary McCarthy: The Stones of Florence


1987-Mar-30: Now reading about the Troubadours and the trip seems to be shaping into an exploration of some of the related locations. Colin McDowell dropped in photocopies of a few Paideuma articles including a dreadful Cook’s Tour of Pound’s Italy conducted by Terrell and written up by a couple of the participants in the manner of a high school magazine report on an excursion to Mt Buller. I wonder they didn’t all have E.P. t-shirts and Mickey Mouse ears.


1987-Apr-04: In the air, somewhere over the Indian Ocean. The flight was delayed because they had to change a tyre. The landscape below altered gradually from dense rural to sparse rural population — the paddocks larger & dryer. Then all of this broke up into white lakes of salt, red ridges with light brush and an occasional green watercourse. Parts looked like a big Clyfford Still painting. Then I couldn’t look at it anymore because the in-flight movie came on (first a short about robots, then some fairly dumb comedy). Now the films are over I’ve just had a can of Peroni & the sun is setting over banked grey clouds.


Singapore. Changi airport. A glittering city or City State — duty-free equivalent to some medieval palatinate (and no doubt about as brutal). But beautiful… the ships blinking offshore.

Lightning over the Nicobar Ids.

Bombay. Shoals of light.


1987-Apr-05: Finally after breakfast, daylight, the coast of Italy. Snow on mts. Lights isolated in wild areas. Then scatters of houses dropped almost at random on hillsides. Low cloud, and through it, Rome — I notice first the Colosseum, then St Peters. Frost at Leonardo Da Vinci. Through the defence systems & customs without complications, then on a bus to the Termini with an Aust. businessman who recognizes my shearers’ boots. Mist lifting over flat fields with buildings with curved tiles. Block after block of flats, then above it all Mussolini’s fake classical piece.


None of the bells ring on time.


I buy a drink at a cafe which I can only drink inside, then move out to a table on the plaza and order ‘uno birra per favour — grosso’. For this misinstruction I receive the equivalent of a jug. I drink it in humiliation — it is part of being a tourist — and also because I figure it not too bad an idea.


It’s Sunday and almost half the accents on the street are from elsewhere, and even many of the Italians are reading guide books.


1987-Apr-06: The Museum of Modern Art appears shut, so I divert back through the Borghese and around to the Plaza del Popolo. En route to the American Express office in the Plaza di Spagna I go into a large (& seemingly good) bookshop and buy a 2 vol. anthology of modern Italian poetry [I couldn’t have done better — it’s Poesia Italiana del Novecento, ed. Eduardo Sanguinetti. Yet the book has one huge failing: there’s not a single woman poet included].


1987-Apr-07: I wonder if the Futurists would still be jumping up and down with traffic like this outside their windows?! (When the light says ‘Avanti’ baby, you move.)


1987-Apr-08: The train glides out and circles round via the Tiburtina, the rows of flats and tumbled down buildings and slices of market garden. I realize that the buildings and landscape are most familiar to me from war photographs & documentaries. The castles on the hills are further evidence that for this country war has been a part of ordinary existence. At Chiusi a ½ hour wait as I change trains. The place is almost totally silent.


The two-carriage train climbs into the mountains through country villages where the field labourers — stacking hay, cutting twigs, hoeing — seem to be mainly women. Suddenly in an otherwise ordinary farmyard appears a Brancusi-like white stone sculpture. The hills close in; the wood looking like a bushfire has been through it not so long ago. In the higher areas vineyards give way to (birch?) plantations; the trees still bare with visible bird nests. At Siena I am confused at first, but buy a map and catch a taxi. We circle the walled city then enter a medieval gate and pass up impossibly narrow streets to Il Campo — a dazzling clearing among all these tenements.


The streets all tend to bend round and the absence mostly of any open viewpoint makes it hard to navigate, but I make the most of this and determine to get lost interestingly. Once away from the Duomo and Il Campo, the Germans thin out considerably. I bump into things like the Monti di Paschi bank of Siena (the one Pound spoke about) and then see some roadworkers working with hammer and chisel on the stone and sheltering their work behind odd wicker half-baskets.


1987-Apr-09: Yesterday I saw a woman extricate a car out of a position which would have taken the average Australian driver about half an hour and a bit of paint.


Through the mountains and then, after Poggibionsi an industrial area which extends intermittently to Empoli. The train then follows the Arno upstream into the hills again until the outskirts of Florence/ Firenze appear. Large dumps of wrecked cars. Auto yards and intensive garden plots with all sorts of objects collected between the chicken coops (a wooden horse).


I look at Dante’s house which is dark and full of rather relative pieces of memorabilia (things Dante might have done).


1987-Apr-10: In the Uffizi:


Ghirardo Sternini (c1354-1415): ‘Tebaide’ — A surreal long densely populated landscape with figures in all scales. Dark blues, grey browns & greens. Tiny castles & bridges like a toy city with large figures beyond them. An angel rocketing down from heaven to a bearded man clutching a bush, seemingly menaced by a small bear. Hermits on crutches. And many other invalids.


Ucello’s ‘Rout’ — central panel: at once seems much more ‘vorticist’ than a reproduction would suggest. Note especially the crossbows. It’s also (ref. McCarthy) a meeting of movement and immobility.


Filippo Lippi: ‘Annunci della morte della’ — A monk, pen & paper in hand, stuck full of arrows. A crowded ‘Incoronazione’. But the people look just like the ones you see in the streets around here. Beautiful women & stylish men who ride motorscooters like maniacs. It’s like a production still — the whole cast having been called on set, still half-acting but participating in something else.


Piero di Cosimo: ‘Persca libera Andromeda’ — Strange woolly painting. A figure (Mercury) running in the sky. Strange musical instruments and a beast which George Lucas could have used.


The Tribuna has restricted access & a queue forms. Bright red walls. Mosaics up into the ceiling of the dome & light through the cupola. Each arch of the dome is a gold band with blue & brown-red filler; the panels between are a dried blood colour dotted with cream apple-shapes.


Parmigianino (aka Francesco Mazzola) was trying to do something. Note the bizarre perspective in which the figure lower right exists (the ‘Madonna dal Collo Lungo’). Maybe it was simply a tiredness of sheen.


Veronese’s ‘Annunciazione’ — similar thought — on the distance between the main figures — a space between columns with a recession into gardens, otherwise empty.


Caravaggio: ‘Sacrifino di Isacco’. The boy, held down like a hunk of meat, and not liking it either.


Why are all the stones in the Piazza outside the Uffizi numbered (and in different coloured stencils)?


Later to the Duchamp exhibition, which, characteristically, is largely composed of photographs and drawings of already existing Duchamp objects. Duchamp’s art is not designed for those who like to stand in front of an object and gradually realise more of it. The pleasure of these objects today lies in their neatness: the idea of a suitcase full of a ‘collected works’ where everything slides into little compartments and the whole thing is meticulously catalogued, dated &c is aesthetically pleasing.


1987-Apr-11: The church near the stazione has on its facade a kind of astrolabe one side and a complicated set of sundials on the other — the church and science were not totally estranged once.


At Pisa. Barthes should have (may have) written about the leaning tower. It suddenly appears as I pass out of a side street into the densely populated plaza. It induces vertigo even from ground level. Apparently they’ve finally figured out a way to stop it from falling over. Meanwhile it stands there surrounded by stalls with multiple images of itself (is Marcel Duchamp any better than this?).


Several kilometers out, before Viareggio, I photograph a mountain which could be ‘Taishan’, and further, two more, one of which must be Mt Giovo [references in the Cantos]. Left of the train is flat, only a few kms from the Tyrrhenean sea while the mountains rise sharply close to the line on the right, and in their sides are marble quarries (this is near Carrara).


After La Spezia the train enters a long tunnel, and at the other end suddenly, for two seconds, the Mediterranean is right below. From here there are momentary snatches of the sea and fishing villages for several kms, then the line passes inland for a short stretch. Arriving at Rapallo at 2.30 I figure I will have difficulty finding a pensione (or at least a non-exorbitant one), seeing as how this is the beginning of the Italian Côte d’Azur. But no: I’m in a room with a balcony and a (diagonal) view of the sea, in the Albergo Fernanda on the Piazza Pastene — just around the corner from Mr Pound.


I photograph the supposed rear and the two possible frontages (one presently advertised as such) of the Albergo Rapallo, Pound’s residence from 1924 to the war. I’ve already photographed, without knowing it, the Hotel Italia & Lido, his residence after return from incarceration — because it is just outside my window. The cafeteria out front of the Alb. Rap. is slow. The orange-shirted waiters have stepped out of Fawlty Towers and into the Cantos! Over on the promenade people are paying to have their photographs taken beside a stuffed lion.


I walk around to the Giardino Ezra Pound. It’s marked thus on the map, but the nameplate has been removed. However, the park contains a gum tree. But this isn’t the only eucalypt in town — I can see a few more further on — and it appeared that E.P. plucked the seed pod from one on the turnoff to S. Ambrogio and up on the hill. So I climb up the Via E. Pietrafraccia all the way to where it crosses the freeway and a road to San A. branches off — but no eucalypts here save one in a private garden down on the V. Aurelia Lev. And none of the images compare well with the memory I have of a photograph shown to me by Colin [Colin McDowell had asked me to bring back a seed pod of the tree Pound had plucked one from]. Since I’m up there I continue along the Via Carcassoni with a great view of Rapallo and down via the wonderful Sal al Pianello, which is mostly steps; flat pieces of rock buried vertically. A smell of woodsmoke and burning rubber from a garden. And a zigzag down the lower stretch and back to the Via Aurelia.



A two hour wait for a train
and a seat
           on the banks of the Torrente

And you ole Ezra
          the pond in your garden
surrounded by green cement frogs

You should be so lucky
          The canal runs clear
          over smoothed pebbles
and the mountains rise up beyond
small terraces and chapels in the hills.

And last night the moon was almost full
                    over S. Ambrogio
and old women in fur coats
      walked fluffy dogs
                round the promenade.


1987-Apr-13: Barcelona. I’m in the Pensione Ysard in a narrow street not far from the Ramblas. I discover by accident the markets: huge strawberries, all kinds of dried chillis, thick yellow fingers of asparagus, and whole stalls of dried fish. Overhear an American saying (of the fish) ‘They’ve sure got a lot of this stuff.’ Yes. And this fish — bacalao — is probably the reason for the discovery of America.


Note that Spain is the first place I see punks. I wonder if they worship the relics of 1977 or if they have an active underground music scene here. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. In Italy hippies look pretty weird and slack; but the Spaniards are not into style as the Italians are — not in the ‘look sharp’ sense.


1987-Apr-14: It’s a Gaudi afternoon. First I make my way up the Passage de Gracia (the place of grace) and view the Casa Batllo and the Casa Mila. Then along to the Sagradia Familia, still under construction in its 103rd or so year (this is a truly gothic time-span). It is an extraordinary building and if most of twentieth century architecture comes to dust I’m sure this one will stand — even if it’s a bit of a cake for God.


1987-Apr-15: Breakfast at my usual stall in the markets. As I’m eating the radio plays the 1910 Fruitgum Company doing ‘Simon Says’. I buy bread, empanada and olives for tonight’s train ride, then go to the Picasso Museum. There is an additional show — work from a German collection. A strange Cézanne nude where two pears appear in weird perspective beside the figure. Some works disappoint after reproductions; some are much better than these would suggest. In the first category, Nolde and a lot of the early expressionists. In the second — De Chiroco. Kirchner’s paintings are good, as are Paula Modersohn-Becker’s still lifes. Max Beckmann is great, Léger too. Kokoschka seems to me like a German William Dobell on speed.


The Picasso collection focuses on his early work. The artist donated most of these paintings to the city in 1970 (after Franco’s death). Looking at these charming paintings and drawings it seems he could have been a Spanish Vuillard (circa 1895-99). Then around 1900-1903 maybe some kind of precursor of expressionism. There are only a handful of classic ‘cubist’ works here but they are good. And despite John Berger’s arguments about his post-Guernica work, the Meniñas Suite are wonderful paintings (all c. 1957). Only a very great artist could have painted these works. And from an early age it seems, despite the produced evidence, Picasso knew how good he was. Early sketchbooks reveal him practising his signature.


1987-Apr-16: Up into the mountains after Tarragona. Through a tunnel and a high ridge appears, striated, white, red and yellow; the rocks and soil breaking through scrub. Then terraced hills, but with seemingly no commercial growth. The terraces are constructed of loose stone walls, and the dry fields on the flatter land are broken up by similar walls. (Around Morte La Nieva.) The appearance of the soil here makes me wonder what the driest areas in the south-east would look like. There doesn’t seem to be distinct topsoil and it looks pretty gravelly.


Asco, an old town (with a modern apartment block) on a very steep, dry hillside with a ruined tower on top. On an old wall: PINK FLOYD POWER.


And alongside the tracks, from some distance back, the Ebro, almost a borderline for part of the civil war.


Then the country opens out, drier and scrubbier. I realise that this is the furthest I’ve been inland anywhere.


Zaragoza is a strange place. It’s as though the Romans and the Moors had been to Australia then left and a few centuries later the Housing Commission had moved in. But it’s more or less the capital of Aragon. And the people of Aragon, like the Catalans, like the Basques, want to split from Madrid-centred Spain. This place would have been in the middle of some of the thickest civil war scrapes. The road sign pointing across the Ebro (here wide and fast flowing — it’s the dams that stop the flow further east) names Huesca, Teruel, Lerida — all familiar from poems and accounts of the war.


1987-Apr-17: The approach to Madrid is through a weird landscape of wide green commons between outcrops of apartments broken up by piles of ash, rocks and broken glass, with shanty towns scattered across these areas and an occasional herd of sheep.


1987-Apr-18: ‘When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez and it’s Easter time too’.
The Prado:
Goya. The ‘black paintings’.


(And a note. With some of the hillside towns in Catalonia and Aragon, how could Picasso not have been a ‘cubist’.)


Rubens was essentially a fruit painter manqué. If he were alive today he’d have designed record covers for Spandau Ballet (or the Moody Blues) and used an airbrush. His ‘Saturno’ is more child pornography than horror (c.f. Goya). Though I rather like the R. and Snyders’ ‘Ceres y Pan’. There are some vegetables in this one (and in the ‘Filoprenes (?) Descubiarto’ by the same duo). But Adriaen Van Utrecht does this sort of thing better.


Pieter Brueghel el Viejo ‘Il trianfo de la Muerte’. Jigsaw puzzles are not a bad way to explore the work of artists like P.B.


Murillo — where the drawing room and religion meet.


And the Velazquez room.


‘Vista di Zaragoza’ which I’ve never seen reproduced. A broken bridge on the r., and l., one which appears temporary. Not much of this Zaragoza remains.


‘La Rendicion di Breda’. Here is a large painting which warrants its size. Note the burning hill town. The spears on the right, and centre, mid-distance, more vertical spears. This and the Goyas the best things so far.


Around the corner, the 2nd and the 3rd of May [Goya]. The blood isn’t decorative — it’s there for the horror rather than the perverse aesthetic pleasures of many St Sebastians. May 3rd — the horizontal (guns) have replaced V’s vertical (spears). The line of the hill and the line of the soldiers’ hats intersect almost in the middle as a diagonal cross. Light from a box illuminates the executees.


Tintoretto, ‘El Paraiso’. A crowded heaven, and below, mid-picture, the curve of the globe with mountains and ships. And is the head lower right the artist? It doesn’t relate to the rest of the figures. Paradise is a wonderful subject for artists. The movement of this painting between the darker and lighter masses of figures seems particularly modern — Boccioni-like (or Wyndham Lewis). Is there ventilation in heaven?


‘El Lavatorio’. He’s a great composer of figures. A much greater artist than I’d figured.


At this point I have to give up!


A man on the Gran Via, face deadpan, hand working the trigger of a toy gun.


1987-Apr-19: In Spain ‘Do the right thing’ would have about as much of a chance as animal liberation. The small creek is full of old mattresses.


1987-Apr-20: Outside Madrid. Deer grazing in open paddocks. At the foot of the mts, El Escorial?, mist and smoke from a burning dump. Stone-fenced paddocks isolated on vast hillsides. Up in the high-country stone outlines of buildings — ruins of what age. A blue car parked in a paddock of black cows. Nth of Venta de Buños the hills to the west seem covered with white soil. The line here crosses what is marked on the map as the ‘Ruta de las Catedrals’. On the outskirts of Burgos there is an interesting gothic church in the distance and what appears to be a large palace on a hill overlooking the town. The spires of the church are structure without fill-in — the kind of building which Gaudi would have examined. The whole town looks as though it has just been placed on this plain.


Railway workers are like Santa Claus figures: you know what they’re supposed to do but you never actually see them doing it.


At Pancorvo the line swings into a gap in the range. An old broken viaduct and the freeway below. We are leaving Castille and approaching Basque country. Trees I can’t name — pine-shaped but with lighter green leaves. Logs float in a pool of green slime. A farmer pitches his black umbrella in a field and walks off with his dog. Over the rise is San Sebastian. Blue and grey apartments and piles of rubbish. An estuary, stone-walled. At the end of a street, the Atlantic.


On from San S.; the port; then Irun and the border, watched over (on Spanish side) by a high, flat-topped hill with several towers. Across a river and into France. Suddenly the human landscape changes. It’s all squeaky-clean at Hendaye-la-plage and onward but I manage to spot a rubbish dump and am reassured. Surf’s up at Guéthary!


The fact that I know a few more words and expressions (and even a smidgin of structure) in French doesn’t make it much easier. My first task was to go out and find a cake of soap. Hommage a Francis Ponge!


1987-Apr-21: Just outside Bayonne, a wood with some miniature horses (image of an illuminated ms.). Around Orthez: House roofs of concave pitch.


River rapids at Pau.

           Gothik follies on a hillside.

Steeper hills around Saint Pe
           as the clouds descend.

At Lourdes, the cathedral,
a factory labelled ‘Un Jour — Bernadette’
      and I forgo the cure.

A castle on a rock in the middle of the town.

A group of singing kids with pink scarves.

A prominent W.C. for the handicapped.

        mais, I did not come for the waters
        and was not deceived.


Amperevielle (could this be translated as Old Watt?).


The texture of the growth in these parts is a kind of fine mesh (if central Spain was blotchy).


In Toulouse I get a brochure, translated into bad English on the Cathar castles. Saw a book with music of the troubadours for abt 350F. in the Rue du Taur.


Drink beer (at the Bar Bruant) and read about the Black Death. The bar plays French punk/ new wave music which sounds o.k. though it’s making me feel like a character in a Woody Allen movie. And now it’s an old Stones tape with ‘Yesterday’s Papers’ on it. The clientele have deserted and the owners eat their dinner down in the bar. I ask ‘vous êtes ferme?’ and they say no, not till 2 a.m. The tape has a ludicrous French version of ‘Tell him’ on it. And then a great French/ English version of ‘No particular place to go’ which has to be by Chuck Berry himself. And Trini Lopez. Too much!

Soviet chic, Toulouse, 1987. Photo by Laurie Duggan.
Soviet chic, Toulouse, 1987. Photo by Laurie Duggan.


1987-Apr-22: Il pleut doucement sur la ville. There are sex shops in the Rue Stalingrad. I don’t know about the Rue de U.R.S.S. Once out of Toulouse, the fields of yellow (lucerne?). Mirepoix — a small walled town. Then the mts ahead looking impossibly high.


Lavelanet is largely a modern town and not in consequence ‘picturesque’. It’s also a tourist centre and has some peculiarly tourist features such as a merry-go-round and a dodgem car set-up along the main street. About 6 kms away in a direct line is Mont Ségur. The mountains behind it which looked so high are all around 1900 metres; beyond them are some above 3000 metres but invisible from here. It’s only around 60kms from the borders of Spain and Andorra. And on the map I note that Montaillou — the village Ladurie wrote about — is only a few kms further south.


1987-Apr-23: A taxi ride up the foothills and, at 10.30 a.m., I’m on the battlement of the chateau of Mont Ségur. Sth, the white Mt St Batheleme. East, a sharp drop into a gully with a torrent that sounds clearly up here, and beyond, mountains on mountains. Nth, Lavelanet. And W., the tower, valleys heading off towards Foix. I sit with my back to the chateau, looking east. On the W. side as I examined the tower I heard a cuckoo in the valley. And picked four purple flowers growing near the foot of the wall. And opened my pack and ate bread roll and chorizo.


I decide to go a bit further and walk through the village of Mont Ségur before returning. The village seems mainly shuttered except for a restaurant set in a closed garden in the middle where I stop for a refresher and small meal before my 12km descent. The village dates from the period of the chateau and was Cathar. Even in a location like this they were not safe from the papacy.


I begin to understand more clearly Pound’s concerns — how it was easy to shift from Provence to China (and the U.S.): the attempts to create ideal cities and states — and the troubadours concept of romance and its religious element (which is missing from the romantics’ vulgarized version — which is in turn the grandparent of today’s fossil customs like valentine cards and Mills & Boon books). Of course it became an obsession with Pound, but you can forgive an obsession for its productions. The troubadours’ concept was essentially a heresy and hence condemned to perish in its original form with the Albigensians/ Cathars.


The chateau is taken over by the lizards, black slugs, and small brown snakes. Down below, the horses graze in fields with electrified fences.


A cowbell sounds from the street. Then several others — and the faint odour of cowshit.


I notice for the first time this evening that Lavelanet still has its Christmas lights suspended across the main street.


1987-Apr-24: Someone has placed a pot-plant on the head of the town’s (Lavelanet’s) stone great man. The bus radio plays French M.O.R. pop — surely the worst pop music in the world.


At Toulouse it’s grey and cool. Up the Rue de la Taur to the bookshop where I noticed the book on troubadour music. The proprietor is friendly and she is obviously pleased that I’ve gone for this one. The book is thick and will weigh my backpack down a bit, but it has the sheet music and original Occitan text plus prose translations into Fr., German, Sp., and English. Add to this a map of Occitan. Then cross the road to a bar which advertises ‘Scottish owner. English spoken. Tea like Granny’s’.


Toulouse often seems to be pronounced closer to its medieval spelling — Tolosa. And there are distinct traces of the Spanish lisp in these parts. Occitan isn’t dead.


Aujourd hui, ma chambre is also Ezra Pound: floral wallpaper and a Burne-Jones print. A glance at the troubadours, then a catnap. Wind groans across the eaves. Outside the air of Toulouse seems full of brick dust.



‘I see the white light
             and the night flies’


A building labelled ‘Nirvana Club’ in the middle of a field. Before Agen a crucified Christ in the middle of a group of glasshouses. Into the Dordogne, the frequency of round towers and high pitched roofs increases. At Les Eyzies (houses built against the rock) a hotel called the Cro-Magnon made me wonder what its staff would look like.


Périgueux, in the centre of town — a room with a skylight.


1987-Apr-26: If Pound went to Montségur, Eliot visited Lascaux — only one of numerous archaeological sites out from Lez Eyzies. Perhaps he was less bound by history. Garlic and sapphires rather than the eyes of a Botticelli or Burne-Jones.


Settle in a place called Le Clap (?) on the Pl. St Louis (the logo is a movie clapboard). A few doors along, modern piano music from an upstairs window simulates the rain. But no, the bar turns on its music. It’s haircut people, but with music that sounds like Elton John. Ah France! Toulouse-Lautrec enters the bar. He’s a short, limping man (partially disabled) with a goatee, whom I’d seen earlier wandering around town. He has a short black coffee and fumbles with his change. I notice his hands are grimy, he has a rubber band stretched around two fingers and his forehead is clammy with perspiration. He downs the coffee with a cigarette and leaves. Meanwhile one of the barpersons (the male one, who pours beer badly) enters with a top hat full of ice.


1987-Apr-27: The First W.W. was, I think, very largely responsible for the directions Pound’s work took. Pound, though a non-combatant, was affected more profoundly than ‘war poets’ like Owen, Sassoon &c. The war only changed the content of their work (and often enough improved its quality) but didn’t basically alter its nature. They remained ‘Georgians’. This, in a way, makes a mockery of those who would isolate these poets in anthologies with the assumption that what they were doing was somehow a basis for ‘modernism’, a turning point, or whatever. But the ones that didn’t die went back to fox-hunting and the closet. They were born for the academy.


Paris. At the Cité International des Arts. Alan [Wearne] & Luise’s studio — largish room with green linoleum floor. On the bookshelf — Proust, Balzac and The Nightmarkets (Alan due back tomorrow). We walk across the Seine and around Notre Dame. Note the Shakespeare bookshop (on the Quai de Conti). Luise says Alan refers to its proprietors as ‘the bad people’. The man behind the counter and some of the people out front — all American — look like they were too young for Greenwich or the East Village, but have decided to carry an image of bohemian style on seedily from the early 70s. Yeah, books man!


Back at the Cité. Phone Australia. The advance copies of The Ash Range are out. The good news — Alan has won the National Book Award.


1987-Apr-28: Find the Portuguese language bookshop where, without difficulty, I locate a copy (a school edition with questions at the back) of the Lusiads. This Paris would have very little of Pound’s Paris left in it but it is still, unlike most of the other places I’ve been, a kind of centre. It must be a difficult one for any artist to operate from: how can you work in an environment which has been described, recorded, depicted as incessantly as this place. On the banks of the Seine, amateur artists still do ‘impressionist’ cityscapes. Everywhere, in every shop, are images of images of the image. In front of Notre Dame, at any given second, someone is taking a photograph (this is literally true — I don’t think I’ve seen so many cameras anywhere). Writing simply has to abandon description; create wordscapes or imaginary cities. Or, like M. Hocquard, go back to archaeology and geology (and he lives outside the arondissiments).


Alan arrives back abt. 7.30 p.m., a bit flustered after the Portugal flight. He has obtained a copy of the Brazilian anthology he was after as well as numerous vols. of Pessoa.


1987-Apr-29: The ‘Lav Club’ laundromat(thought a few days back of getting a t-shirt printed ‘l’Étranger’). Drink coffee nearby. On the radio ‘Ghost Busters’ sounds especially brilliant.


In the evening Alan and I go to the Village Voice bookshop in the 6th Ar. where a Canadian poet, Fred Wah, reads his work. This is tedious father-searching stuff. He is one of the many poets who somehow believe in the importance of their own consciousness — that their act of psychological self-discovery is somehow ‘universal’. He also spends far too much time explaining his family circumstances, which underlines the poems’ worship of personality. This is award-winning poetry.


1987-Apr-30: In the Louvre:


The Winged Victory on a shiplike chunk of masonry (‘piercing regret for the lost head’).


Peintre Flanard Travaillent A Paris: ‘Retable (?) du Parliament de Paris’. A cleric — cardinal?, pope?, carrying his head, nerves sprouting from the neck, 2 to the right of the crucified christ.


Jean Cousin. ‘Le Judgement Dernier’. Heaven is pretty conventional, but the swathes of panicked figures below — bands across an avenue stretching back vertically to the centre of the picture.


Poussin, ‘Apparition de la Vierge a St Jacques.’ Poussin uses colours like an abstractionist. Vivid golds, reds and royal blues in an otherwise dark painting — like the colours that jump out from behind the blacks in a painting by Soulages. If a distinction could be made, the lighting in these paintings is artificial but not ‘studio’.


Georges de la Tour. ‘Le tricheur.’ He is the ancestor of those who wanted to make nude photography respectable (in the 50s) through ‘artistic lighting’.


‘Diogene jetant son ecuelle.’ In this painting there’s nowhere to spit!


Claude. ‘Fête Villageoise.’ But the sunsets tend to pall after a little.


Chardin: ‘La Raie.’ A cat among the fish.


Boucher: a cupid’s chafed anus.


Hubert Robert. Large paintings of classical edifices. Giant postcards for the rich.


Ucello’s other panel for S.R., ‘Bataille.’ Here it’s all foreground, but the staves remain angling on the left of the picture so that they and the legs of the horses all point into a confused mass of bridles and shields. Heads of the humans are beside the point.


With Rubens and Van Dyck, the next room is suddenly populated by pressed hams.


David: ‘Mme de Verinac.’ Wd. this femme have been impatient for coffee? Bonaparte looks like Rod Stewart.


Bronzino would have painted his house pink.


Géricault. ‘Raft of the Medusa’ is an almost ridiculous painting which manages to rein itself in, size and all. The light on the bodies avoids the hyper illumination of Girodet. It’s also not a lurid presentation, given its subject.


Delacroix does for death what Monet was to do for waterlilies. ‘The death of Sardanopolus’ is ultimate Delacroix. Parts of the upper b/ g appear unfinished c.f. the richness of the brocades, jewellery and bodies below. It’s like a kind of mythological version of the act of making a painting: that you kill, silence, or bring to stasis something which you love; that ‘life is not art’.


Head back to Metro Pl. Monge and the P.T.T. at the top of Gay Lussac to check ph. numbers of Pierre Rissient (yes) and Emmanuel Hocquard (not in the book). But there are about 30 Rimbauds.


On the way back to the Cité, a youth with a can of beer in his hand, and two of his friends, block the way on the footpath for a woman carrying a large parcel and an old man. They are pushy, belligerent, and voices are raised and in a moment the old man has been knocked over. I step between the parties as youth No 1 waves his beer can about and the old man gets up and wants to have a go at them. Luckily one of the trio restrains his friend a bit and they turn and walk off as I ask the man if he’s o.k. A difficult situation because I didn’t know enough French to tell the trio to piss off or whatever; all I could do was put an arm out between the parties.


1987-May-01: Montmartre. An essay could be written on the desire people have to own an image of themselves made by an artist [Walter Benjamin did just this]. It’s talismanic perhaps. Across the square are the stalls of paintings of Montmartre — acres of sub-Utrillo productions. But every view down every street (esp. the ones pointing towards Sacre Coeur) is like one or another Utrillo painting. Utrillo: an alcoholic who painted his often bad pictures for drinks. Montmartre is like Balmain without water.


1987-May-02: At 5 p.m., in the Gallery Clivage, waiting for Pierre Rissient and looking at an exhibition of paintings by Colette Brunschwig. These paintings could be described as infusions. Vertical and slightly angled bands make their way up/ down through colour. It’s hard to describe the effect of these works without running the risk of naturalizing them. A looseness of edge at the top of the bands, inscriptions, molecular movements, hachures. The solid and the insubstantial exchange elements. The columns are often ‘ghosted’, but what is substance? In two weeks the second part of this artist’s exhibition will open and it will consist of paintings after the poems of Paul Celan.


Pierre is indeed in the gallery. We head on to a restaurant which P. has booked, having ordered yesterday a special dish. It’s a Cambodian restaurant in the R. Dante and the dish is a richly prepared duck, followed by a durian sorbet. Over this we talk poetry, film (I ask about the movie I liked a few years back — ‘Clean Slate’ — and it turns out the director is Bernard Tavernier (who directed also ‘A month in the country’ and ‘Around Midnight’) whom Pierre knows well.


1987-May-03: Note also that once you are more relaxed, people start asking you for directions. It’s cold and changeable, but I go with A & L and some sculptors and painters from the Cité, Greg, Anton and Annette, out to the Bois de Vincennes for a picnic lunch and a bit of football. As soon as we find a lunch spot it begins to rain heavily, but we find shelter under the projections of a Beethoven monument. In between hail showers, steam comes off the grass and we kick the ball around a bit [to the amazement of the locals].


1987-May-04: The train rockets north towards the coast, through slightly undulating country. Light on a distant cultivated hill reminds me of a Paul Nash painting. By 9, we’re in Amiens. Out to the east somewhere, my uncle died in 1918. Bits of Amiens remind me of North Melbourne. Liver-coloured brick. The Somme, off to the right. Waterlogged country with scrub and peaty soil. Small sheds built into the water on the edges of ponds. A glimpse to the left of sunlight on what seems to be a coastal village. Then a bridge across an estuary. Mud flats and finally the English Channel, Pas de Calais. Sunlight again on the coast at Wimereux. Through frosted first floor windows, women work in a sweat shop. Ships in the channel. Around 11 a.m. we’re in Calais.


The ferry rolls out past the Calais breakwater and parallels the beach, sand dunes, cathedral spires. The windows in the ‘Sun Bar’ are coated with salt spray: not the kind of day you’d see one country from another in. The tables in the bar are liberally covered with white paper bags labelled ‘Sealink SNCF’. Outside, patches of sun show up yellow on the water. The structure of the boat shudders and the wind sounds gale-like outside. Sounds of people screaming as they descend/ ascend the stairs on a swell. France greys and gradually disappears. An English passenger says the wind is apparently force seven. And an announcement comes over that ‘during poor weather conditions, passengers should take great care while moving about the ship’. A French girl who was looking particularly jovial at Calais now looks rather grim. Now she has picked up her bag and disappeared. Others seem unperturbed. But it’s very quiet on board. I took a seasickness pill before we got moving, but this is a part of the trip I’d prefer to speak of in the past tense. I put my earphones on and my remaining cassette and prepare to settle in, then turn around and see the English coast, houses on the cliff tops like specks on a chewed hunk of apple.


1987-May-06: [London:] In the National Gallery:


Botticini’s ‘Assumption of the Virgin.’ Heaven appears like the roof of an old picture theatre.


Pontormo’s strange and confused paintings. The light always emanating from the left.


Tintoretto: ‘The Origin of the Milky Way’ You could turn this canvas upside down or put it on its side. The figures around the nude woman all seem to hang off her like moons off a planet. The painting is so crowded and yet gives a sense of open space through the flying limbs, some disappearing off the edges of the canvas.


Poussin: ‘A bacchanalian revel before a torso of Pan.’ Pan’s statue is armless and appears to have no legs but the testicles and penis are intact. In ‘The triumph of Pan’ the statue’s face is beetroot-red. The lighting is pure studio. But it doesn’t matter. The trappings lie on the ground (masks, panpipes and the heads of artichokes).


Constable looks better than ever. Much more robust than the repros suggest. ‘Stratford Mill’, ‘The Haywain’ and the lurid ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the meadows’ where the surface seems like a scraped net of paint with a shiny backlight.


Later:phone [Gael and Jill Turnbull]. Then head up into Soho and have a pint at the Fitzroy – which advertises a ‘writers and artists bar’ downstairs (the sort of place no writer or artist would be seen dead in – pictures of Dylan Thomas and Orwell on the walls).


1987-May-07: Across to Camberwell to Christopher Logue’s new house. The builders are still working on it. It’s four storeys with a long backyard which is at present all cleared soil. The basement has kitchen, storage, pantry and dining spaces; the ground floor, Rosemary’s workroom and a sitting room; the first floor, main bedroom and bathroom; and the second floor, C’s workroom, a spare room and second bath. We go down to Elephant & Castle to a pizzeria for lunch and Italian red wine. On the way C asks me to summarize Europe. I start with a few small impressions — the roadmenders of Siena, the hooded monks in Zaragoza. In the restaurant we talk art — the Velazquez and Goya works in the Prado — and poetry — about Pound and Eliot (if only Pound had been as good an editor with the Cantos as he was with The Waste Land — or if only Eliot had edited the Cantos); Bunting (neither of us up on Briggflatts — it seems, like Zukofsky, too condensed, too much music and not enough speech); George Steiner — a fraud.


1987-May-08: On the train to Green Park – a middle aged gent with black hair and moustache, gold framed glasses, a paisley tie and a psychedelic grey suit. On the connection to Victoria, the train stops along the tube. It’s dead silent; then someone belches very loudly. Everyone in the carriage grins. Egg and bacon breakfast opp. the station. The Stones and some good dancing music on the radio. The black girl behind the counter bops as she serves up the bacon. Middle-aged American men come in and ask for their cholesterol hits. For the third day in a row the weather is fine and warm.


The bus hits a traffic snare in St John’s Wood and takes about half an hour to reach Swiss Cottage. I have a seat at the front upstairs and view the M1 through an impasto of dead insects. A video comes on – it’s the British Candid Camera – but I am ahead of the box and can only hear the soundtrack. The route veers around Coventry and through the outskirts of Birmingham (on the M6), bypasses the potteries and touches on the outskirts of Liverpool at St Helens. Change buses at Preston – which seems largely red-brick, and get off at Lancaster – which is grey stone – an attractive city which it would have been interesting to spend some time in. I catch a train from here to Ulverston, which crosses two flat estuaries (the tide out). Between them a bizarre resort village (Grange-over-Sands).


At Ulverston, Gael Turnbull waits almost opposite the door of my carriage. He takes me out to his Renault – one of the wonderful froglike models – and we drive back to Church Walk where I meet Jill and we immediately have dinner. Tomorrow we’re going into the hills, but this evening, Jill says, G. is going to take me if I wish to an unexpected event. Gael had in fact said something on the phone about going dancing, which I’d interpreted as ballroom or some similar variety. It turns out he’s a Morris dancer. He explains that he is tone deaf and it’s a way of enjoying the experience of music without having the technique. We drive to a village called Bouth in the hills and buy pints in the pub – then the other dancers arrive (from an earlier assignation) and gather on the green and begin their performance. I couldn’t really have blundered on anything quite as good as this. After several dances we all move on to another village, Lowick Bridge, where we assemble at the Red Lion pub. The dancers use the street outside the pub and any traffic there is has to wait until the end of each dance. The country around here is striking in the late twilight. North is the solid round shape of the Old Man of Coniston. The dancers take it in turns to be in the groups – usually six or eight at a time, and there are four or so able musical accompanists – not more than two playing at once. Each member of the troupe has some local feature or symbol on the back of their red jackets – ranging from a ‘green man’ to something modern like a crane over the Barrow harbour. When the dancing finishes here, everyone adjourns to the inside of the pub. A meeting is held re. proposed activities (next weekend they’re going to a festival in Essex). Then to close the proceedings, each person in the troupe either plays a tune, sings a song, or recites a story or poem. There are several very good singers. Gael recites an original ballad about the local bitter ale, which is very funny and which requires everyone to join in on the chorus.


Ulverston is the birthplace of Stan Laurel.


1987-May-09: 9 a.m. in Church Walk. A man with a motorcycle helmet, riding a horse.


We drive up around Lake Windermere and into the hills past Stavely to High House, which looks back down on the town and backs onto an old slate quarry and the high roads up towards [Kentmere] Pike and the mountains from which you can see (on a clear day) Scotland.It’s brisk up here (c.f. the Wen). Talk on the way up about Black Mt, Olson &c. And G.T’s travelling childhood (son of a Scottish Presbyterian minister and an American mother).


At High House we take a cut lunch up to the nearest high point and look around 360°. The wind is icy, but easy to escape from. And the Hoad – a Victorian lighthouse-folly built above Ulverston is visible from H.H. (and on a clear day v.v.). Back at the house Gael gets the stoves going. Outside the visibility gradually improves through the late afternoon. Jill arrives and after a break we drive over through Kendal to Sedburgh and Brigflatts (the local signs have only one ‘g’). There is Basil Bunting’s stone in the small Quaker graveyard and beyond it the farmhouse where B.B. stayed as a youth – the house of Peggy Mullett. The meeting house is open so we go in and stand or sit silently for a few minutes. There is a modern wall clock which ticks loudly – the only sound in the room. The windows behind the table frame a large bare limestone hill. Then we look up in the gallery. I start to read a proclamation – a kind of marriage document, and Gael explains the Quaker wedding ceremony – that there is no one to marry you – that each partner marries the other, the only witness necessary being God. Outside we take photographs. There is a small beautiful garden adjoining the meeting house lawn. The house itself was originally erected c. 1675 but in its present state dates more or less from 1712 (George Fox c. 1660s, and I remember that Gael wrote a poem about Fox).


We drive on into Dentdale, the country gradually changing all the way. G. and J. point out the ‘shepherds hut’ that Jonathan Williams and Tom [Meyer] live in, and also the rather out-of-place studio/gallery their rich American friend occupies out front of the house (it must be the only shepherd’s cottage in the world with a sauna). Ahead of us, two men drive cattle down the road, enabling us to view the house at a slower pace. Dent itself is, like many other places, suffering trendification. The interiors of several cottages are ripped out; the doors and windows replaced by mass produced ‘rustic’ numbers.


The colours of sky and landscape change gradually as we head back on another route – a road paralleling a brook and a big bald ridge, the grey rock showing through. Across the valley in the late sun a brown glow of dead bracken (killed by the snow). We circle through Barbon, a pretty village, and past the (Middleton) Swan Hotel (Lune Valley), where G. and J. last saw Bunting, then back to the High House. It’s still twilight at 9.15.Eat a solid rustic meal and wash the dishes, then in bed ready for a longer walk tomorrow.


Earlier in the day Gael had rung the Whitehaven hospital where the poet Norman Nicholson is in a critical condition. Nicholson had contracted TB while still a boy and had recovered, but with weakened lungs. Now in his early 70s, he had come down with something in Liverpool en route to a reading. Apparently N.N. had learned to write through being a reader – as a child he had performed poems by other writers and was noted for his recitals.


1987-May-10: In the morning you can see clearly out to the Hoad, to Heysham and to the folly on the hill above Lancaster.


Around 11.00 we drive via Stavely to Moor Howe, and walk up a track – Dubbs Road/Garburn Road – around Applethwaite Common. Down below is the long village of Troutbeck and back down its valley, Windermere with its boats and islands. Just after a steep track from the village joins there is a large disused slate quarry. Stone fences on either side of the road – the ones on the high side have high stones on their sides at intervals, drilled and connected with wire. At Garburn Nook we take a break and eat cheese, pate and chive sandwiches and look out towards the Brent Knott. As we climb higher the view opens up of the whole of Windermere, the Hoad, the factory at Ulverston, the Irish Sea, the power station at Heysham, and on the horizon even the tower of Blackpool. We climb further up the Yoke – Jill takes a break at Sheepfold – and reach the Star Crag overlooking Kentmere reservoir before turning back. Over to the west we can see Langdale Pike and north the higher shapes of (Skiddaw and Helvellyn), and over towards Barrow and Millom, the Black Combe. The weather remains beautiful with moving cloud and the colour patches of dead bracken and burnt heather against the bright green of the hills.


In the evening I help Gael to fix the driveway surface – filling up patches with gravel. We eat and head back to Ulverston, talking all the way about Turner and painting – the long fiasco of Turner’s will and the fate of the Turner collection, now finally assembled.Back at Church Walk, Jill shows me photographs of Périgueux and the Dordogne, and of High House and the surrounding country in the snow, while Gael looks at my book of Provencal songs. Afterwards he takes me up to his study and gives me copies of his recent small press work and also several recent Migrant Press books (I hadn’t known he was still printing books).I also see copies of the Black Mt. Review – a wonderful looking magazine. Collapse, pleasantly tired, around 12.30.


Further details on the region. This part of Cumbria probably has the most radioactive coastline in the U.K.At Barrow there’s the shipyard which builds Trident, and across the sands, at Heysham, the nuclear power plant which can be seen for miles. Bird varieties along the shore have mysteriously thinned out, but no-one can ‘prove’ any connection. And the nuclear industry has large sums at its disposal for ‘public relations.’


1987-May-11: Jill brings me a cup of tea in bed. Outside it’s raining and has been during the night. Rain which slants over the tiles opposite. Ulverston, grey on grey stone. Raincoated figures scurry into the school opposite. I have a hot bath – untold luxury – and breakfast, writing notes to J.W. and to G. and J.(I leave them my map of the Languedoc).


On the train back to Lancaster it’s high tide. What were endless flats of sand are now expanses of water, right up to the moss. At Lancaster I have a counter meal of steak pie, peas and chips and a half-pint of lager in a pub on the ‘main street’. The people in there friendly. Lancaster bus station is however icy – colder than the Star Crag – and the bus is late. When I finally get on board I’m seated next to a ‘Londoner’ with a northern accent who tells me about the blondes in Newcastle who come across after a few drinks. When we reach the interchange at Preston I’m gladly separated from this by no means unpleasant gent – though tranquillity is shortlived: the bus video comes on with a deafening sound level – so all the old biddies can hear it I suppose. It’s a dreadful film about ballet dancers defecting from the Soviet Union, full of crass stereotypes: nasty Russian secret-service types, helpless women &c.


1987-May-12: Tate Gallery:


The ‘sublime’ is difficult to distinguish from the ‘ridiculous’ esp. in the work of William Williams — ‘Thunderstorm with the death of Amelia’ — a tree splits and the two figures pose against the backdrop of a burning castle on an overhanging cliff. Fuseli takes things to a grotesque level (where such productions belong) and it almost works. The best Fuseli in here is ‘The shepherd’s Dream, from Paradise Lost’ for its circle of joined arms flying upwards through the picture.


After this, Blake is austere, though not for the most part all that great an artist until late. The large colour prints of 1795 are unique productions esp. ‘God Creating Adam’ and ‘Newton’. The paintings often are murky. The Dante illustrations are good.


Samuel Palmer was better with thicker paint e.g. ‘The Gleaning Field’ and ‘The Golden Valley.’ ‘Sheep Shearers’ is almost Millais (not as well drawn though). He’s good with light and shade (sometimes), but not as good as W.B. at drawing.


John Martin: ‘The plains of heaven.’ Brett Whitely-like in its scale, ambition and idiocy (‘The Last Judgement’ is like James Gleeson. This is immense vulgarity. It’s a relief that Frith stayed clear of mythology (what would he have done!). But Martin caps it off with ‘The coronation of Queen Victoria.’


I can’t look at the Pre-Raphaelites with much sympathy either. Except for ‘Beata Beatrix’ which is a special painting. And William Dyce’s ‘Pegwell Bay, Kent,’ which is something more than a landscape. Burne-Jones’ figures always look like they’re pickled, though he’s a better painter than the rest of the bunch. G.F. Watts is awful.


Sickert doesn’t look as good as the reproductions suggest.


Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant are middling. Matthew Smith is better. Augustus John does a good portrait.


Wyndham Lewis is much better (and better than reproductions). ‘The surrender of Barcelona’ (1934-37). The dates suggest the title was an afterthought. The colours more intense than I’d imagined. ‘La Suerte’ — a woman dealing cards, largely an ochre yellow, the reds of hearts and diamonds and the eyes and gestures of the hands sharp. ‘Edith Sitwell’ also a great portrait. ‘Creation myth,’ pen and wash and thicker paint which manages to look like a collage.


The lovely light David Jones watercolours where everything floats and yet is stable. And ‘The garden enclosed,’ the geese escaping children’s book illustration.


Make my way slowly across towards Notting Hill from Fulham Rd. Traverse part of Earl’s Court and Holland Park Walk, then up to the Notting Hill tube and north from there to Westbourne Park Rd and Surinder’s Restaurant (an Indian chef with a French cuisine). Christopher [Logue] arrives, and sadly Rosemary is not well and can’t come. But a third guest, Clare Bonham-Carter, who is at a postgrad Royal College art school does turn up and we spend most of the time talking about painting c.f. writing. The meal is excellent and the restaurant is very relaxed. C. B-C gives me a lift back to Belsize Sq. Her boyfriend is a composer and musician and is at present touring France with Dagmar Krause, the Brecht interpreter.


1987-May-13: Six weeks is not enough time to see many things in but probably slightly too long a period for me to be able to consistently ‘take in’ what I’m seeing. The powers of perception start to wilt. There’s so much that needs time to assimilate; to be ‘recollected in tranquillity’ — Wordsworth’s right on this one.


Picked up at 9.30 by Geoffrey Mulligan [Pan Books]. We take the M40 out of town en route for Oxford. Pass the Ruislip turnoff: G.M. says Ruislip is where they’re always discovering Russian spies. It’s a very boring place, they’ve lived there for 20 years, and the neighbours always say ‘but he was such a nice young man.’ Once in Oxford it’s hard to park — always a problem here (there are buses of tourists from all over the place). On the river scullers practice. The halcyon is broken when one of the coaches loses something from his pocket. ‘Shit!’ echoes over the water as he rams his bike into a fence. Later I hear through his megaphone: ‘Keep your eye on that great boil on the back of Reese’s neck. You don’t row very well if you’re looking at your gonads.’


1987-May-14: I’m en route for Rome in the company of the Malcolm Sargeant Festival Choir.


1987-May-15: By 12.30 a.m. the Australia-bound plane has left Rome. Woken up at 5.30 (U.K. time) — about 9.30 local — for breakfast. Scattered islands of white cloud, then it’s totally clear. A whitish drift across the ocean. A small cloud and its shadow. Then a peninsula and a half-moon bay: the coast of India. At Bombay airport old planes rot beside the tarmac — DC-3s, even a seedy looking Super Constellation, shanties behind them. The India Tourism Development Corp Ltd’s duty-free shop sells bug-eyed cuckoo clocks.

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