#GOSilverBirch: An Inspiring and Authentic New People’s Opera

It’s not every day that a year 5 primary school pupil has a chance to perform in the world premiere of a contemporary people’s opera – but that’s exactly what my ten year old daughter Emily did this weekend. On Sunday night I had the joy of seeing her take part in Garsington Opera’s Silver Birch, (social media #GOSilverBirch, @GarsingtonOpera ), at its base on the stunning Getty owned Wormsley Estate.

Photography of the performance was not allowed, but I snapped the stage just before the start of the final performance.

The Silver Birch opera was composed by Roxanna Panufnik with a poignant libretto by Jessica Duchen, who expertly integrated excerpts of poetry into its modern text that were written by World War 1 Poet and hero, Siegfried Sassoon (a frequent guest at Garsington Manor in Oxfordshire).

What was also moving was the fact that Siegfried Sassoon’s great-nephew was singing in the opera as part of the community chorus. Through interaction with Stephen Bucknill Jessica was able to also meet other members of Siegfried Sassoon’s family to share living memories of their relative and Great War poet.

“I believe that this War is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.”  ~ Siegfried Sassoon

Everything about this project was special. Not least because it was based on certain experiences in 2003 of real life Iraq War veteran, Jay Wheeler (who was in the audience Sunday night), as well as the wartime poetry of Siegfried Sassoon and the participation of so many enthusiastic young people.

Intro into Silver Birch by Garsington Opera (Emily is right at the back of the very last frame):

Silver Birch required the training and co-ordination around 180 people on stage, which in addition to the main characters, comprised of a Primary Company auditioned and selected from 7 local primary schools, a Youth Company of teenagers aged 11 to 18, a small group of dancers, the Foley Company and the Adult and Military Community Company.

Many of the child, teenage and adult participants had never sung or performed in a professional production before Silver Birch.

It’s wonderful that all their names were featured in the programme, and Emily is happy that she is also in the main picture (top far left), on the page where her name appears.

The youngest singer in the opera was the sweet and spirited Maia Greaves, only 8 years old, who co-played the part of Chloe, Jack’s younger sister.

The stand out performances for me were Sam Furness as Jack,  after Mad Jack (nickname of Sassoon from WW1), Bradley Travis who played the ever present ghost of Siegfried Sassoon and Victoria Simmonds, Jack’s mother. I thought the entire cast and crew were just brilliant! I hope Silver Birch is commissioned into mainstream opera repertoire.

Silver Birch Synopsis: 

Anna and Simon plant a silver birch to grow up alongside their children. But later, when Jack and Davey join the army to prove their strength, devastating experiences await the entire family. Spring restores a weather-beaten tree, but can their damaged bonds of love sustain them all through the impact of war?

Interview with Roxanna Panufnik about Silver Birch on BBC Radio 3.

The Humbled Heart by Siegfried Sassoon (sung in Part 1 of Silver Birch)

Go your seeking, soul.

Mine the proven path of time’s foretelling.

Yours accordance with some mysteried whole.

I am but your passion-haunted dwelling.

 

Bring what news you can,

Stranger, loved of body’s humbled heart.

Say one whispered word to mortal man

From that peace whereof he claims you part.

 

Hither-hence, my guest,

Blood and bone befriend, where you abide

Till withdrawn to share some timeless quest.

I am but the brain that dreamed and died.

Even the title of the opera was inspired by a comment from a young boy at Lane End Primary School, who, when asked during a workshop what he would miss most if he were at war, replied that it would be the silver birch his parents’ planted and watched grow up.

Under the auspices of Garsington Opera’s Learning and Participation Programme many individuals of all ages came together for a musical and cultural experience that has changed their lives. My daughter is no exception.

Ruby excited to see her sister perform in Silver Birch.

As a musician and also a passionate speaker about the power of music education, I was keen to get Emily interested in music at a young age. She had piano lessons briefly but didn’t really take to it. She preferred the violin and now the guitar, but it seems her true passion is for singing, and she has a wonderful natural instrument. The only problem was she didn’t believe in it herself – until now.

Performing in Silver Birch seems to have been the catalyst for her confidence to blossom as well as unlocking her creative potential. I have noticed a massive change in her.

I believe her participation in Silver Birch has positively impacted her cognitive abilities, capacity for learning, her emotional and mental wellbeing as well as her social skills and overall self-esteem.  Emily can be quite shy with those she doesn’t know, and being outside her comfort zone has pushed her to higher levels of achievement than she would otherwise have thought possible.

Before the start of the opera Karen Gillingham, the Creative Director of Learning & Participation for Garsington Opera, did a wonderful job of introducing us to key members of the cast and stage crew,  explaining to us (with some fun audience participation), the creative process from inception through rehearsals to the world premiere performance of this compelling, multi-layered opera.

Silver Birch was a truly collaborative effort by many gifted individuals, whose collective efforts produced an emotional and meaningful experience. It was obvious that creativity, talent, love, respect and dignity had been poured into it right from the start, and was woven into every element of the work and its live performance. Silver Birch is a people’s opera on every front.

Douglas Boyd, the conductor and Artistic Director of Garsington Opera, eloquently elucidated in his brief address to the audience how the Silver Birch production had affected not just him, but the whole Garsington company as well as the community participants on a profound level.

His words were completely in alignment with my own ethos about the power of music to transform lives.

Emily auditioned at school in May and rehearsals begin in earnest at the end of June. As she chatted in her animated post performance high, we talked about all the different emotions that she experienced. The times of boredom, how she became physically tired, (the rehearsal schedule was full-on), with no weekend break in the two week run-up to the opening night.

This last week I have been a full-time taxi service. But I don’t mind supporting her in such a worthwhile endeavour! Emily now understands what it means to rehearse when she doesn’t feel like it (a few culinary bribes helped!) along with her lessons in work ethic and commitment to a project.

She certainly felt the euphoria that inevitably accompanies hard work: rehearsing alongside her best friend – culminating in the actual performances themselves, where all the separate companies and the orchestra came together on-stage and were duly rewarded by an appreciative audience. All the bowing and clapping at the end made a big impression on her!

She was standing at the front of the stage singing her heart out in quite a few scenes, and I was able to see her wherever she was on the set. My heart swelled with joy!

Whenever she bursts into song, either in the car or at home, I have noticed how much more powerful and resonant her voice is now. All the singers gave stunning performances. Certain scenes made the hairs on my arms stand on end.

I was so proud of Emily for all she accomplished on her musical journey and and my thanks and gratitude go to Garsington Opera as well as headteacher Miss Mansfield and her colleague Mr Dodd of Millbrook Combined School, without whose support it would not have been possible for Emily to take part in this amazing project.

BBC Arts filmed various aspects of the rehearsals and live performances in conjunction with Pinewood Studios at the Wormsley Estate, which will be broadcast online later this year. I will provide the link in this post when it becomes available.

I can see her love of singing and performance has been ignited, so I hope Silver Birch will be a springboard for future aspirations. Even if it isn’t, it has been worth it for Emily for the experience alone, and I’m sure other proud parents must feel the same way.

Expectant sister and mother in the audience!

Silver Birch certainly seemed to inspire and elevate not only the audience, but all who took part.

After all this excitement Emily can now relax and is  looking forward to our family holiday in Spain, as am I! But she can’t rest for too long – she has her 11+ exam to sit in September…

Happy holidays!

“Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.” ~ Lao Tzu

Mozart, Music, Lust, Murder: Movie Review of Interlude in Prague

“Prague contains all the people who love my music.” ~ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Interlude in Prague)

For someone who has “period drama queen” stamped on her forehead you can imagine I was foaming at the mouth in anticipation of seeing the period thriller Interlude in Prague.

The movie was filmed on location and follows Mozart’s brief time in the city as he was writing his immortal opera based on the infamous and inveterate seducer Don Juan: Don Giovanni.

Having missed its release at the cinema I duly bought the DVD and waited for a quiet evening to indulge in my penchant…

I visited Prague for a long weekend many moons ago, so the cinematography brought back a nostalgic longing. The screen filled with panoramic scenery: vibrant pinky sunsets over the city’s ancient spires, the Charles Bridge at dawn and the cobbled streets of the old city.

Not since Miloš Forman’s brilliant film Amadeus (adapted by Peter Shaffer from his stage play) has a movie been made about Mozart.  Hardly surprising, that’s a tough act to follow!

Tom Hulce’s performance of Mozart in Amadeus was the one that was seared into my mind. How would I react to someone else playing the beloved maestro?

However,  I thought the Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard did an incredible job. I had already become a fan of his from his part as the unfortunate Richard III in the television adaptation of Phillipa Gregory’s The White Princess.

Compared to Hulce’s performance Barnard’s Mozart has more depth, is more relatable; not as jocular and altogether less flamboyant and hysterical (his baby son has just died and Constanze has retreated to a spa to recover).

Barnard looks like Wolfgang and he portrays a thoughtful, but nonetheless jovial maestro; who comes across as a deeply caring person and passionate about his music.

His passion extends to his beautiful new soprano for the role of Cherubino in Figaro; the young and ambitious Zuzanna Lubtak (Morfydd Clark).

Interlude in Prague (directed by John Stephenson), was wise to focus only on one aspect of the maestro’s iconic and turbulent life: his brief time in Prague in 1787.

Many aspects of the film were historically accurate; they filmed the exterior theatre scenes at the Estates Theatre where Mozart actually premiered Don Giovanni in October 1787. In Mozart’s day it was known as the Nostitz Theatre, built in around two years for the aristocrat František Antonín Count Nostitz Rieneck. It is the only surviving theatre in the world where Mozart performed.

The concerts were given by candlelight, the internal workings of the theatre were 18th century, and in rehearsals and the composing scenes Mozart played on an authentic clavichord. The costumes were a sumptuous delight to my aesthetic eye.

Mozart’s last minute completion of his opera is shown at the end of the film in a scene in which the maestro, quill in hand, feverishly completes his autograph score. Constanze immediately hands it to the copyists who then pass the sheets with barely dried ink to the theatre director who distributes it to the orchestra with no time left for rehearsal. They must sight read for the world premiere of Don Giovanni with Mozart conducting.

Interview with the director and members of the cast:

It is December 1786 and soprano Josefa Duchek, (Samantha Barks) is on stage singing an aria from Le Nozze di Figaro.  Whilst her heavenly voice rings out into the hushed auditorium another, less pure act is being committed in a dressing room.  We do not see the participants but we know that the haughty and lecherous Baron Saloka (James Purefoy) is sowing his philandering seeds…

Josefa is the toast of Prague and afterwards in her dressing room, the licentious and predatory Baron Saloka is visiting her with lustful motives. Thwarted on this occasion by the sheer number of fans clamouring outside the door, Josefa’s relief is palpable.

When Mozart arrives and begins composing at his friend Josefa’s residence he tells her about a “diabolically wicked character for one of your operas”.

The plot of the movie cleverly parallels that of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni. The Baron Saloka is the unrepentant rake – but will he be punished?

The baron reluctantly agrees to offer Mozart his patronage at the behest of the enthusiastic aristocracy, who want nothing more than for the great maestro to conduct the final performance of the Marriage of Figaro and to write his next opera in their city.

Baron Saloka has more than what he states is a “professional” interest in the talented Zuzanna Lubtak, but she has lost her heart to Mozart. Although Mozart clearly adores his wife, he is unable to resist Zuzanna’s innocent charm and pure voice as they rehearse her parts in Figaro.

I really loved the scene where she sings ‘Voi che sapete’ to Mozart. If you know the aria and its meaning it has a poignant effect.

There is no clip of this from the film, so here is a wonderful performance (with the words), by Cecilia Bartoli:

The baron’s flagrant abuse of power and position is entirely befitting the dark D minor key of the opening bars of the Overture to Don Giovanni. He preys on servants and nobility alike, assured of their silence out of fear.  Unhindered in his quest for carnal pleasure, his vanity and promiscuity drive him to commit murder.

“Don Giovanni is beginning to frighten me.” ~ Mozart

He even has a scheming manservant like Don Giovanni’s Leporello. The baron is also in league with an envoy from the Archbishop of Salzburg, allied in their hatred for “the loathsome little peacock” who they aim to disgrace for his relationship with Zuzanna.

I do not wish to spoil the plot other than to say if you like thrillers, or Mozart, or period drama, or even all three, Interlude in Prague is a must watch.

There is a tragic scene in a graveyard where Mozart is transfixed on a large, foreboding dark stone statue wearing a helmet – standing before him as the character of the Commendatore.

My only disappointment was that they didn’t feature my favourite aria from Don Giovanni, ‘La ci darem la mano’.

Interlude in Prague mirror’s Mozart’s life in a wonderful blend of fact and fiction, written and created by Brian Ashby.  In addition to the setting, the story, the costumes and music, the actors are all brilliant. Purefoy’s Baron Saloka made my skin crawl…

A special featurette from behind the scenes of Interlude in Prague:

To write a story around Mozart’s time in Prague and the events that inspired his writing of a darker Don Giovanni than the one he originally imagined, makes for an engaging premise. I wish I had thought of it!

In the 230 years since its world premiere in Prague, Don Giovanni continues to serve as an entertaining yet enduring cautionary tale, being one of the most popular and widely performed operas to this day.

Don Juan and the statue of the commander by Alexander-Evariste Fragonard

I’ll bid you adieu with a vintage recording of Don Giovanni:

Remarkable Women: The Life and Times of Immaculée Ilibagiza

“The love of a single heart can make a world of difference.” ~ Immaculée Ilibagiza.

I’m staying in central Africa again this week, to pay my respects to a woman who Dr. Wayne Dyer referred to as a “Saint walking” and hailed by others as Africa’s Anne Frank: Immaculée Ilibagiza.

Fortunately her traumatic and gripping real life story has a happier ending…

Many tissues were soaked as I revisited her inspiring tale of survival and forgiveness. It’s not a lighthearted post I’m afraid, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Immaculée was just 22 when she found herself caught up in unimaginable conditions. She waited – starving,  silent and cramped for 91 days in a three by four foot bathroom in a local pastor’s house, hiding from Hutu thugs on a murderous rampage during the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

I read her book Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, a few years back, it was one of the most moving stories I’ve ever read.

On the 6th April 1994 the president’s plane was shot down during its descent into Kigali airport and his death ignited long-standing acrimony between Rwanda’s two ethnic groups: the majority Hutu and the minority Tutsi.

Before Belgium relinquished Rwanda as a colony in 1962, it bestowed positions of power to those from the minority Tutsi group. After independence the Hutu population took back control, but simmering resentments of the preferential treatment shown to the upper class, intellectual Tutsis ran deep.

The government armed the Interahamwe, a malevolent Hutu paramilitary group, and made frequent radio broadcasts with instructions encouraging Hutu citizens to down their farm tools and abandon their everyday lives so they could assist the militia by killing their Tutsi neighbours and friends.

Their goal was total annihilation.

Photographs of genocide victims at the memorial centre in Kigali.

Racial tension and rancour was stirred up by the government’s evil propaganda, deliberately exploiting collective feelings of animosity that the Hutu’s may have felt since the nation’s independence. Hate preaching fuelled their anger. The Tutsi population were dehumanised as “cockroaches” and a killing frenzy was unleashed in Rwanda.

The West, the United Nations and UNAMIR, to their great shame, did nothing to stop it, which allowed the most horrific slaughter of the 20th century to take place.

Peace keeping units stood by and witnessed mass murders where desperate crowds had gathered. Immaculée’s brother Vianney was shot in a stadium massacre.

No mercy was shown to Tutsi victims; many of whom were hacked to pieces in their homes, on the streets, in the fields, in churches, in schools and wherever they were found.

In the madness that lasted 3 months around one million human beings were slain.

Men, women and children, (including moderate Hutus and those who sheltered Tutsis) were viciously murdered. Their killers callously notched up their death tallies. It’s as though they lost all shred of human decency, dignity and kindness overnight and became machines – devoid of compassion and emotion as they went about their systematic and organised ethnic cleansing.

“I realized that my battle to survive this war would have to be fought inside of me.” ~ Immaculée Ilibagiza

It was so barbaric that it’s hard to comprehend. I remember being frequently in tears as I read about Immaculée’s plight for survival in the midst of the hateful carnage that was sweeping across the land.

Two of Immaculée’s brothers, her mother and father and other relatives were butchered as she hid nearby (as instructed by her father), when news of the killings first broke out. Of her immediate family only one of her brother’s survived. Aimable had been away in Senegal at the time.

A sympathetic pastor hid (in secret from his immediate Hutu family) Immaculée and seven other women in the tiny space for 91 days. They were so cramped that the four tallest stood with their backs to walls and some laid on top of each other on the floor. They could only flush the toilet at the exact same time as the main toilet was flushed so as not to be discovered. Hutu gangs frequently searched the house, taunting and singing of their intended victims.

“They can only kill us once.” ~ Immaculée Ilibagiza

The women were packed in like sardines, unable to move and barely able to breathe for fear of being heard. Immaculée heard her name being called on many occasions and she prayed as she stood just inches behind plaster board from where her would-be killers skulked around hoping to find their next Tutsi victims.

She described the agonising fear of them being discovered, raped and murdered and talked of how her faith in God had given her strength to endure such horrors.

Nyamata Memorial Site

The priest had also risked life and limb to shelter these women, and he took scraps of food to them when he could safely do so. He covered the doorway with a wardrobe that had a suitcase on top. He would also leave the radio on so that Immaculée and the women could hear what was happening on the news.

They had to listen to the terror and live in constant fear of being found and wondering what had become of their loved ones.

After 91 days they heard that a refugee camp policed by French soldiers had been established for Tutsi survivors and left in the dead of night on their perilous journey to freedom.

It’s a powerful story, best told by Immaculée herself:

Immaculée lives in New York and married Bryan Black,  whom she met when they worked for the UN in Rwanda. He is now the head of Special Operations at United Nations Safety and Security Service. They have a son and daughter. She wrote her tale of survival and redemption against all odds and became a motivational speaker. What’s so remarkable about her is her grace in the face of such trauma.

Immaculée did not allow what happened to her, her family and her Tutsi compatriots to make her bitter or become a victim, but instead transformed her struggle into hope and inspiration for others. If that’s not the definition of a remarkable woman then I don’t know what is!

Most of us would be psychologically scarred for life after such a terrifying experience, but Immaculée forgave her family’s killers. She let go of her pain and her anger. There was no talk of revenge, only healing.

“To err is human, to forgive, divine.” ~ Alexander Pope

It seems that 23 years on Rwanda has come a long way to healing the collective pain, suspicion and deep rifts between the two ethnic communities. Inhabitants are now encouraged to say that they are all Rwandans, with no mention of Hutu or Tutsi.

Reconciliation has been ongoing and with some miraculous outcomes:

Fortunately women are getting more involved in politics. Under the 23 year rule of president Paul Kagame fifty six percent of MPs in Rwanda are women, the highest proportion for any country in the world.

Immaculée Ilibagiza is truly a transcendent soul, as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. I wish her a long and happy life as she teaches humanity that it is possible to recover from the worst experiences life can throw at us and to thrive in the wake of such terrible grief and injustice.

“Faith moves mountains, if faith were easy there would be no mountains.” ~ Immaculée Ilibagiza

Book Review: le Carré Carried me Away With The Mission Song

Whenever I read David Cornwell – better known by his pen name of John le Carré – I am left open-mouthed with awe at his storytelling prowess. He is the kind of writer I aspire to be; a lofty and unattainable benchmark for a newbie novelist!

The undisputed master of espionage and geopolitical thrillers, perhaps more psychological than action oriented; le Carré is gifted with a rapier sharp intellect, his characterisations are thorough and utterly believable, his plots are clever and complex but at the same time could be lifted from real life, and his use of vocabulary and descriptive powers are unmatched, in my humble opinion.

He can weave all of this together seamlessly with the knock-out punch of over-arching relevant social themes that leave you reeling with moral dilemmas and unease afterwards.

That is exactly what The Mission Song did to me. My children occasionally interrupted me as my nose was buried within its compelling pages for interminable periods over the weekend.

I became engrossed in the life of Bruno Salvador, known as Salvo, a top interpreter in the languages of Africa and the Eastern Congo.

I haven’t read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, but I feel it’s highly likely that le Carré drew inspiration from his tale of Belgian exploitation of the Congo.

Conrad’s quote precedes chapter one::

“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. “ – Marlow

King Leopold is mentioned only once in The Mission Song, but it does highlight the ongoing plight of the Eastern Congo: corruption, tribal rivalries, their suspicion and hatred of Rwandans, outside interference from greedy developed nations seeking to take advantage of the local strife so they can plunder its considerable natural resources under the veiled auspices of schools, hospitals and bounty for all.

The opening few pages on audio book of The Mission Song, read by David Oyelowo:

I’ll try not to give away too many spoilers in this review, more a taste of the book’s many virtues. The beginning was a slow burn for me, but after the first couple of chapters I was completely hooked.

I empathised with and was beguiled by Salvo’s essentially ambitious but innocent nature. In the early pages he tells of his rather sad and unorthodox childhood; the son of a Northern Irish missionary and a beautiful Congolese woman, born out of wedlock and in sin, fitting in nowhere, he is brought up in various mission schools and becomes fluent in Swahili, French, Shi, Bembe, Kinyarwanda and of course his adopted nation’s tongue: English.

After the death of his father Salvo is duly shipped to Britain courtesy of the Holy See, and comes under the wing of Brother Michael at The Sanctuary, a boarding school for Catholic orphans. They grow close, and later Salvo is supported financially and lives with their wealthy Aunt Imelda in Somerset.

Salvo is impressionable, idealistic, diligent and naïve. His physical attributes are of a confident, tall, muscular, light brown skinned man eager to impress his clients, and so from humble beginnings he has found his niche as a top interpreter.

He is called a zebra later in the novel, a derogatory reference to his mixed race parentage. However, Salvo adopts the sobriquet and uses it in his own motivational way as he pits himself secretly against some Congolese delegates, and later, after his moral paradigm shift, his no-name, ruthless employers.

 

Salvo has married a smart, upper class journalist named Penelope, against the wishes of her authoritarian father. Their marriage is doomed from the start.

Lately he has been doing some under the radar translation work for Her Majesty’s Government in Mr Anderson’s Chat Room. His knowledge of African languages makes him indispensable.

Salvo doesn’t know it yet but his life is about to get a whole lot more exciting and complicated!

The night before he becomes a part-time spy, Salvo meets Hannah, a young Congolese nurse, who needs him to translate her advice to a dying African patient. They fall in love at first sight. Hannah has a young son, Noah, living back in Uganda with her aunt so that Hannah can continue to further her nursing experience and send back money.

They are perfect for each other, and in his guilty heart Salvo knows that his bourgeois life with Penelope is over. Having consummated his love and passion with Hannah, Salvo is still infused with a post coital afterglow when he is summoned to meet with his Chat Room boss, Mr Anderson, about a ‘special’ mission that requires a change of identity and complete deniability.

Given new, but somewhat shabby clothes in comparison to his usual attire, his identity is changed to Brian Sinclair. He signs the Official Secrets Act. His task: to be a top interpreter for a no-name syndicate between tribal warlords and a businessman of the Eastern Congo.

Before they leave, Bruno is taken to a large London townhouse where he meets his immediate boss, ex-special forces tough man, Maxie, who reminds him of his long-dead maths teacher from The Sanctuary. Prominent politicians and business leaders are coming and going, including a hero of his, Lord Brinkley.

Soon our boy is being whisked by helicopter from London to Luton airport where he boards a private charter with Maxie and his spy cohorts: Spider, Anton and Benny, various security detail Salvo calls ‘anoraks’ and the syndicate’s contract writer, a shady French Lawyer, Jasper Albin.

Salvo’s phone has been commandeered temporarily by British Intelligence, so he cannot call Hannah to tell her he will be away for the weekend, or his wife to apologise for leaving her party early, and also their faltering marriage.

It is during the flight to a mysterious island in the North Sea on this heightened tide of emotions that he is briefed with what he needs to know by the laconic and foul-mouthed Maxie, whom he (and everyone else on the mission), refers to as Skipper.

Salvo learns that the top secret conference has been arranged by an accomplished servant of the Crown, the silvery haired and persuasive Philip, and that in his vital role as their interpreter, Brian Sinclair, he is not to divulge that he speaks the lesser known Shi and Kinyarwanda.

The Congo – Lake Kivu

This information seems incidental at first, but as the story progresses the significance of Maxie’s explicit instructions become fundamental to the plot:

“Suppose we put it out that you speak English, French and Swahili and call it a day? That’s more than enough for anybody. And we keep your little ones to ourselves. How would that grab you? Different kind of challenge for you. New.”

Salvo is less than impressed that ‘above the waterline’ he only speaks English, French and Swahili, and ‘below the waterline’ the languages that he is most proud of such as Shi, Bembe and Kinyarwanda must be kept under wraps, unless he is specifically asked to use them. He nonetheless undertakes his ‘above the waterline’ rendering of Philip, the Mwangaza and Maxie with alacrity.

The Mwangaza is a beloved spiritual leader of the Congo’s ‘middle path’, accompanied by his henchman Felix Tabizi, (aka Tabby), a feared former warrior, and his acolyte the Dolphin.

The three delegates consist of a gnarled general of the Mai Mai and ‘former Mobotu thug’ Franco, and his natural enemy, the aid’s ridden warlord Dieudonné of the despised and persecuted Banyamulenge tribe, and thorn in the British side is the arrogant and slick Haj, son of Luc, a long-time friend of the Mwangaza based in Goma, who has sent Haj as his proxy.

In Salvo’s words: “Haj, the egregious Sorbonne-educated, uncrowned merchant prince of Bukavu: but with such disdain, such foppery, and such determined distance from his fellows, that I was tempted to wonder whether he was having second thoughts about standing in for his father.”

Bukavu – dawn on Lake Kivu

Le Carré’s genius is that I was sucked in with Salvo in his wanting to do a good job of interpreting and for their mission to be a success. In the recesses of the conference, rather than socialise and solicit with the delegates, Salvo has been instructed to go into the basement where Spider has put together a comprehensive listening station that links in to all the rooms in the house and the outdoor bugs scattered at key points throughout the grounds.

The conference organiser and boss, Philip is banking on loose tongues to wag while their unpredictable guests are out of earshot of their hosts…

The illicit listening is where Salvo hears himself being called ‘a pretty zebra’ by a recalcitrant Haj, who is doing his best to talk Franco and Dieudonné out of getting involved with the syndicate. They are speaking (and the inference is deliberately) in Kinyarwanda, not knowing their interpreter is eavesdropping on one of his ‘below the line’ languages.

 

As the syndicate’s chief ‘sound thief’, Salvo translates their conversations and reports back to the well-spoken Sam via the radio, who frequently starts her sentences with, “Brian dear…”

It is apparent to Salvo (and therefore to the reader), that Skipper wholeheartedly believes their secret conference will make them the saviours of the Eastern Congo. In his less than salubrious language Maxie explains:

“Congo’s been bleeding to death for five centuries,” he went on distractedly. “F***** by the Arab slavers, fellow Africans, the United Nations, the CIA, the Christians, the Belgians, the French, the Brits, the Rwandans, the diamond companies, the gold companies, the mineral companies, half the world’s carpetbaggers, their own government in Kinshasa, and any minute now they’re going to be f***** by the oil companies.“

As the conference unfolds, it becomes obvious that the well-meaning secret syndicate will support the three leaders to publicly support each other and the Mwangaza in a pre-arranged coup, although it’s portrayed more as a temporary disturbance by Maxie to downplay any violence, prior to the elections in Kinshasa.

Maxie takes great pains to explain that the wealth of the mines and minerals will be distributed to the well deserving people, after the syndicate and its partners take their cut.

The Congo gets its popular, altruistic leader, a newly formed peace united under the Mwangaza, and the delegates and the syndicate get rich. It’s a win-win according to Skipper.

 

Haj is the subversive element of their plan, and through Salvo’s clandestine listening in of Tabby torturing Haj with the assistance of Anton and Benny, (something his employers did not want him to know about), Salvo himself, now disillusioned and wary of the coming war that Maxie and the syndicate plan to unleash, and that Haj has protested about, secretly becomes the unlikely linchpin of the entire operation.

From one of the Mission Song’s most shocking scenes the book’s moving title then becomes clear.

Le Carré’s escalation and tension crescendos magnificently, so much so that you feel like you are a rookie spy, in the thick of it with Salvo, torn between his loyalty to Queen and country, his missionary’s conscience and his homeland, as well as his love for Hannah who he knows also adores the Eastern Congo and the Mwangaza. Their beleaguered nation, once again at the mercy of ruthless state-sponsored greed…

The twist at the end is heartbreaking and breathtaking. It’s so utterly brilliant I had a swell of emotion! I was screaming in my mind at Salvo not to be so naïve. He is a zebra surrounded by lions.

This is realistic spy fiction which makes it all the more impactful in my humble opinion. I was left with very unpatriotic thoughts and disquiet, I felt quite sullied actually. I don’t read le Carré for a light-hearted romp, because that’s not his style – it’s gritty, hard hitting, lyrical (you wouldn’t believe the man’s vocabulary), cynical and visceral.

“John Le Carré turns espionage into existentialism. His canvas is betrayal — of the realm and of the heart. His greatness comes from the personal nature of that exploration.” ~ David Farr

Endings are a tricky thing to master: to achieve a balance whereby the reader is both surprised and satisfied with an outcome that is unforeseen and yet can be the only logical conclusion to the story. Yet again The Mission Song left me breathless.

My thanks to John le Carré for inspiring me to once again get stuck in to writing my psychological thriller that has been rattling around my head for far too long.

I found this a fascinating and entertaining debate between author Anthony Horowitz and screenwriter David Farr – Ian Fleming vs John le Carré:

If you want an intelligent summer read full of authentic details in the world of espionage, covert national malfeasance, interpreting, dialogue to die for and edge-of-your-seat, emotional storytelling, The Mission Song won’t let you down!

For a deeper insight into the man and his writing this is a great interview (on le Carré’s part at least) filmed with BBC Radio 3:

For fans you may wish to know that the author will be speaking at the Royal Festival Hall in London on 7th September discussing his career and new novel, A Legacy of Spies, reprising his best loved character: George Smiley. It has been billed by The Guardian as the literary event of the year.

The kids will only just be back at school, but I must be there!!

#TravelTuesday – A Bird’s Eye view of the Stunning Amalfi Coast (Guest Blog by PJ van Zetten)

Through my networking endeavours I recently met a new colleague and friend, PJ van Zetten. I found PJ to be a warm, humorous, experienced and well-travelled business woman, and I wouldn’t hesitate to put my future travel plans in her expert hands!

PJ van Zetten is a bit of a League of Nations – born in Germany, of British parents, educated in the UK, France and Germany and married a Dutchman. PJ considers herself a second generation travel agent, as her mother opened a branch of a well-known agency on the Isle of Wight. PJ worked there during the holidays for no wages, as to pay her would have been ‘nepotism’, according to her mother.
PJ went into business travel and loved the decisiveness of people who had to be in a certain place at a certain time.  She became involved with leisure travel when her clients wanted to fit in a holiday, with their family or loved ones, in between the business elements.
PJ found she loved this even more as it opened up a whole new area of creativity. And then came redundancy. Via a couple of short term jobs, she landed in a book shop, to learn the business with the aim of starting her own bookshop café.
PJ found she was talking to customers about travel and giving them hints and tips and the benefit of her 30+ years in the business.  Shortly thereafter, someone asked her if she had ever heard of Travel Counsellors.  She drove up to Bolton for an interview and came away with an offer. It was the best 400 mile drive of her life.  As PJ goes into her eleventh year; having built a business from scratch, with an upward curve to the graph, year on year, she cannot imagine doing anything else with her life.
The best feeling in the world is phoning a client, who has just returned from holiday, to hear the words ‘That was the best holiday ever’, followed by ‘Let’s talk about the next one’.
PJ’s clients stay with her for years, because they know she tailors their holiday to their needs, wants and desires – PJ is not an order taker, she is a dream maker!

As my clients set off, in less than a month, for their 10 day holiday in Sorrento, I feel a huge sense of satisfaction and achievement.

Last year I decided to go to Italy for my early autumn holiday. I had not decided which region to visit, when a networking client gave me a referral for his 2017 holiday… To Italy!

The family wanted to go to an area I knew only by reputation and other people’s holidays.

Why not, says I to myself, go there? ‘Two birds, one stone!’

So off I went, flew to Naples, hired a car and drove to Sorrento.

Sorrento

Named after the ancient Greek word for ‘Siren’, Sorrento would surely have provided a beguiling coastal allure to Ulysses on his Odyssey! The town was colonised by the ancient Greeks and their town plan still survives: East to West for the sunlight, and North to South for the prevailing winds.

Note to the wise – if your nerves are not in first class working order, I would not suggest you drive the Amalfi Coast. Narrow, windy roads, stunning drops, assertive Italian drivers and large oncoming coaches can test the strongest of nerves.

Sorrento is a great place both to enjoy for itself and to use as a base to explore the area.

Let the local buses take the strain! The SITA local bus service will take you from Sorrento to Positano and Amalfi, both visually pretty and attractive towns. For anyone with mobility issues, Sorrento is a bit flatter – the upper town and the marina.

These coastal towns get pretty crowded in high summer, so going, as I did in September, worked really well. Enough people to make it interesting but nowhere was too full, and I could always get a table at my favourite people-watching restaurant, right in the central square of Sorrento, Fauno Bar.

Across the main square, Piazza Tasso, is the little Dotto train that trundles around Sorrento.

Ravello

Also well worth a visit is Ravello, inland and high up, served by a one track road, controlled by traffic lights. When the lights turned green, I went …. only to meet a truck coming down…gulp!

Fortunately he knew the driveway to squeeze into so I could pass. As I drove past he yelled, “Signora bella e folle!” at the top of his voice. When I asked at a shop in Ravello what this meant, the owner laughed and said, “Oh you met Giovanni. He says that to all the women drivers…it means beautiful, crazy lady.” There is a bus from Amalfi up to Ravello, if you prefer not to be ‘crazy’.

The views from Ravello are stunning and it has an interesting history, dating back to the Romans. It is now a UNESCO world heritage site. It has had many famous visitors including Humphrey Bogart, who was filming Beat the Devil. He and John Huston, the director, and others drank and played cards there so often, they named the room after him.

If you want a week away from everything, maybe with that special man, the Hotel Rufolo is the ideal romantic getaway, superb views, a pool overlooking the bay and scrumptious food – the menu is posted at the gate if you fancy a lunch there. It is not cheap, about €100 for two but worth it for the views and the ambience.

Pompeii and Herculaneum

I spent one heavenly week exploring the area – delightful locals, delicious food, stunning views round every bend, the amazing Herculaneum for my historical and cultural fix (if wanting to visit Pompeii as well, always do this before Herculaneum – doing it the other way can lead to disappointment).

If you are not taking a private tour of the ancient sites, the next best way is to take the Circumvesuviana Train, the Sorrento-Napoli line. Not the most elegant of trains – think London Underground in the 70’s – it is cheap, convenient and it stops at Pompeii and Herculaneum – you can get off, do Pompeii, and get back on again for Herculaneum. Also you can visit Naples, the opposite end of the line from Sorrento.

Another word to the wise – pickpockets are rampant on the trains, especially out of Naples. Only take exactly what you need and keep it close!

I found Herculaneum one of the most moving places I have ever been. I took the audio guide and walking round, listening to the commentary, I could get a real sense of what it must have been like for the inhabitants, literally having nowhere to go and waiting for the end of the world. A humbling experience that made me very grateful for all my blessings.

Capri

On the day before my departure, I planned my trip to the magical island of Capri, as the cherry on my Amalfi cake. It is certainly beautiful and the scenery is breath taking. It is billed as one of the most romantic places in Europe … You can decide.

Many locations in Sorrento offer a day tour to Capri. Well worth booking of one these, as a boat trip around Capri is also included. They take you to the Blue Grotto, where swimming is banned. If you hire your own boat, the choice is yours.

As a lone female traveller, I never felt uncomfortable or threatened. The locals are friendly and have a good sense of fun. They are delighted to talk to you, and of course sell you something if they can, and learning a few words of Italian will go a very long way towards aiding communication.

A bird’s eye view (by drone) of the stunning Amalfi Coast:

I took dozens of photographs and could recommend, with personal digital backup, a great place to stay which ticked all of their boxes. I suggested things they could do, told them of some nice restaurants I had tried and where were the best places to take a day trip, when they wanted more than to lounge round the pool, soaking up the sun.

They loved this and I left their home, with a booking tucked into my iPad.

If you would like to know your Amalfi from your Zabaglioni, I would love to talk with you. PJ’s website.

A half hour complimentary chat, by phone, Skype or at a local coffee shop could save you hours of time, effort and possibly money.

Photo Gallery:

Genuine Music Legend Leonard Bernstein Asks: Why Beethoven?

“I can’t live one day without hearing music, playing it, studying it, or thinking about it.” ~ Leonard Bernstein

In the summer of 1948 the pianist, composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein took a road trip with his younger brother, Burton Bernstein (who appears to have been their speedy chauffeur) and a literary British friend.

Their conversations are far from humdrum, as you would expect from such luminaries. I wanted to share a section of their dialogue that I found fascinating, intellectual and insightful, as documented by Bernstein in an early chapter of his book, The Joy of Music under the heading: Bull Session in the Rockies.

At the time of the conversation they are somewhere in the mountainous region of the Picasso Pass of New Mexico, and Leonard Bernstein refers to his brother as Y.B. (maybe some affectionate nickname) and his literary friend is called Lyric Poet ( L.P.).

Bernstein has these gracious words about his friend: L.P. is a poet’s poet from Britain and one of those incredible people who are constantly so involved in politics, love, music and working ideals, that, despite their established success, they often find themselves embarrassed in the presence of a laundry bill. When L.P. speaks, he is oracular; when he is silent, he is even more so.

I totally admire Lyric Poet, whoever he is/was, for attempting musical discourse with such a mind as Bernstein’s. He must have felt exasperated at times!

I have interspersed the text with Beethoven recordings by Bernstein where he has made a recording pertaining to their conversation to enrich the overall experience.

The following is what transpired between them…

Why Beethoven?

LP: My dear Y.B., I suspect you have forgotten the fact that our tyre burst yesterday was caused by just such driving as you are now guilty of.

YB: Don’t end your sentence with a preposition. (But Y.B. is impressed enough to reduce speed considerably-though gradually enough to preclude the suspicion that he has yielded a point. Few can impress hard-boiled Y.B.; but even he is not immune to the oracle. Some minutes pass in relieved silence; and, with the tension gone, L.P. may now revert to the basic matter of all trip-talk: the scenery.)

LP: These hills are pure Beethoven. (There is an uneventful lapse of five minutes, during which L.P. meditates blissfully on his happy metaphor; Y.B. smarts under the speed restriction, and I brood on the literary mind which is habitually forced to attach music to the hills, the sea, or will-o’-the-wisps.)

LP: Pure Beethoven.

LB: (Ceasing to brood): I had every intention of letting your remark pass for innocent, but since you insist on it, I have a barbed question to put. With so many thousands of hills in the world- at least a hundred per famous composer- why does every hill remind every writer of Ludwig van Beethoven?

LP: Fancy that- and I thought I was flattering you by making a musical metaphor. Besides, I happen to find it true. These mountains have a quality of majesty and craggy exaltation that suggest Beethoven to me.

LB: Which symphony?

LP: Very funny indeed. You mean to say that you see no relation between this landscape and Beethoven’s music?

LB: Certainly- and Bach’s, and Stravinsky’s, and Sibelius’, and Wagner’s- and Raff’s. So why Beethoven?

LP: As the caterpillar said to Alice, “Why not?”

LB: I’m being serious L.P., and you’re not. Ever since I can recall, the first association that springs to anyone’s mind when serious music is mentioned is “Beethoven.” When I must give a concert to open a season an all-Beethoven program is usally requested. When you walk into a concert hall bearing the names of the greats inscribed around it on a freize, there he sits, front and center, the first, the largest, the most immediately visible, and usually gold-plated. When a festival of orchestral music is contemplated the bets are ten to one it will turn out to be a Beethoven festival. What is the latest chic among young neo-classic compcosers? Neo-Beethoven! What is the meat-and-potatoes of every piano recital? A Beethoven sonata. Or of every quartet program? Opus one hundred et cetera. What did we play in our symphony concerts when we wanted to honor the fallen in war? The Eroica. What did we play on V Day? The Fifth. What is every United Nations concert? The Ninth. What is every Ph.D. oral exam in music schools? Play all the themes you can from the nine symphonies of Beethoven! Beethoven! Ludwig v-

LP: What’s the matter, don’t you like him?

LB: Like him? I’m all for him! In fact, I’m rather a nut on the subject, which is probably why I caught up your remark so violently. I adore Beethoven. But I want to understand this unwritten proscription of everyone else from the top row. I’m not complaining. I’d just like to know why not Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schumann-

YB: Andybody want a piece of gum?

LP: Well, I suppose it’s because Beethoven – or rather there must be a certain tra- That is, if one thinks through the whole-

LB: That’s just what I mean: there’s no answer.

LP: Well, dammit, man, it’s because he’s the best, that’s all! Let’s just say it out unashamed: Beethoven is the greatest composer who ever lived!

LB: (Who agrees, but has a Talmudic background): Dunkt dir das? May I challenge you to a blow by blow substantiation of this brave statement?

LP: With pleasure. How?

LB: Let’s take the elements of music one by one- melody, harmony, rhythm, counterpoint, orchestration- and see how our friend measures up on each count. Do you think it an unfair method?

LP: Not at all. Let’s see, melody…Melody! Lord, what melody! The slow movement of the Seventh! Singing its heart out-

LB: Its monotone heart, you mean. The main argument of this “tune,” if you will recall, is glued helplessly to E-natural.

LP: Well, but that is intentional- meant to produce a certain static, somber, marchlike-

LB: Granted. But then it is not particularly distinguished for melody.

LP: I was fated to pick a poor example. How about the first movement?

LB: Just try whistling it. (L.P. makes a valiant attempt. Stops. Pause.)

LB: (Brightly): Shall we move on to harmony?

LP: No, dammit, I’ll see this through yet! The…the…I’ve got it! The slow movement of the A-minor quartet! The holiness of it, the thankfulness of the convalescent, the purity of incredibly sustained slow motion, the-

LB: The melody?

LP: Oh, the melody, the melody! What is melody anyway? Does it have to be a beer hall tune to deserve that name? Any succession of notes- Y.B., you’re speeding again!- is a melody, isn’t it?

LB: Technically, yes. But we are speaking of the relative merits of one melody versus another. And in the case of Beethoven-

LP: (Somewhat desperately): There’s always that glorious tune in the finale of the Ninth: Dee-da-da-

LB: Now even you must admit that one beer hall par excellence, don’t you think?

LP: (with a sigh): Cedunt Helvetii. We move on to harmony. Of course you must understand that I’m not a musician, so don’t pull out the technical stops on me.

LB: Not at all Lyric One. I need only make reference to three or four most common chords in Western music. I am sure you are familiar with them.

LP: You mean (sings) “Now the day is o-ver, Night is drawing nigh; Shadows of the eeee-v’ning-“

LB: Exactly. Now what can you find in Beethoven that is harmonically much more adventurous than what you have just sung?

LP: You’re not serious L.B. You couldn’t mean that! Why, Beethoven the radical, the arch revolutionary, Napoleon, all that-

LB: And yet the pages of the Fifth Symphony stream on with the old three chords chasing each other about until you wonder what more he can possibly wring from them. Tonic, dominant, tonic, subdominant, dominant-

LP: But what a punch they pack!

LB: That’s another matter. We were speaking of harmonic interest, weren’t we?

LP: I admit I wouldn’t advance harmony as Beethoven’s strong point. But we were coming to rhythm. Now there you certainly can’t deny the vigour, the intensity, the pulsation, the drive-

LB: You back down too easily on his harmony. The man had a fascinating way with a chord, to say the least: the weird spacings, the violently sudden modulations, the unexpected turn of harmonic events, the unheard-of dissonances-

LP: Whose side are you on anyway? I thought you had said the harmony was dull?

LB: Never dull- only limited, and therefore less interesting than harmony which followed his period. And as to rhythm- certainly he was a rhythmic composer; so is Stavinsky. So were Bizet and Berlioz. I repeat- why Beethoven?

LP: I’m afraid you’re begging the question. Nobody has proposed that Beethoven leads all the rest solely because of his rhythm, or his melody, or his harmony. It’s the combination-

LB: The combination of undistinguished elements? That hardly adds up to the gold-plated bust we worship in the conservatory concert hall! And the counterpoint-

YB: Gum, anyone?

LB: -is generally of the schoolboy variety. He spent his whole life trying to write a really good fugue. And the orchestration is at times downright bad, especially in the later period when he was deaf. Unimportant trumpet parts sticking out of the orchestra like sore thumbs, horns bumbling along endlessly repeated notes, drowned-out woodwinds, murderously cruel writing for the human voice. And there you have it.

LP: (In despair): Y.B., I wish I didn’t have to constantly keep reminding you about driving sanely!

YB: You have just split an infinitive. (But he slows down)

LP: (Almost in a rage- a lyrical one, of course): Somehow or other I feel I ought to make a speech. My idol has been desecrated before my eyes. And by one whose tools are notes, while mine are words- words! There he lies, a bedraggled, deaf, syphilitic, besmirched by the vain tongue of pseudocriticism; no attention paid to his obvious genius, his miraculous outpourings, his pure revelation, his vision of glory, brotherhood, divinity! There he lies, a mediocre melodist, a homely harmonist, an iterant riveter of a rhythmist, an ordinary orchestrator, a commonplace contrapuntist! This from a musician, one who professes to lift back the hide from the anatomical secrets of these mighty works- one whose life is a devotion to the musical mystery! It is impossible, utterly, utterly impossible!

(There is a pause, partly self-indulgent, partly a silence befitting the climax of a heart-given tribute).

LB: You are right L.P. It is truly impossible. But it is only through this kind of analysis that we can arrive at the truth. You see, I have agreed with you from the beginning, but I have been thinking aloud with you. I am no different from the others who worship that name, those sonatas and quartets, that gold bust. But I suddenly sensed the blindness of that worship when you brought it to bear on those hills. And in challenging you, I was challenging myself to produce Exhibit A- the evidence. And now, if you’re recovered, I am sure you can name the musical element we have omitted in our blow-by-blow survey.

LP: (Sober now, but with a slight hangover): Melody, harm- of course, Form. How stupid of me to let you omit it from the list. Form- the very essence of Beethoven, the life of those magnificent opening allegros, those perfect scherzos, those cumulative-

LB: Careful. You’re igniting again. No, that’s not quite what I mean by form. Let me put it this way. Many, many composers have been able to write heavenly tunes and respectable fugues. Some composers can orchestrate the C-major scale so that it sounds like a masterpiece, or fool with notes so that a harmonic novelty is achieved. But this is all mere dust- nothing compared to the magic ingredient sought by them all: the inexplicable ability to know what the next note has to be. Beethoven had this gift in a degree that leaves them all panting in the rear guard. When he really did it- as in the Funeral March of the Eroica– he produced an entity that always seems to me to have been previously written in Heaven, and then merely dictated to him. Not that the dictation was easily achieved. We know with what agonies he paid for listening to divine orders. But the reward is great. There is a special space carved out in the cosmos into which this movement just fits, predetermined and perfect.

LP: Now you’re igniting.

LB: (Deaf to everything but his own voice): Form is only an empty word, a shell, without this gift of inevitability; a composer can write a string of perfectly molded sonata-allegro movements, with every rule obeyed, and still suffer from bad form. Beethoven broke all the rules , and turned out pieces of breath-taking rightness.  Rightness- that’s the word! When you get the feeling that whatever note succeeds that last is is the only possible note that can rightly happen at that instant, in that context, then chances are you’re listening to Beethoven. Melodies, fugues, rhythms- leave them to the Chaikovskys and the Hindemiths and Ravels. Our boy has the real goods, the stuff from Heaven, the power to make you feel at the finish:  Something is right in the world. There is something that checks throughout, that follows its own law consistently: something we can trust, that will never let us down.

LP: (Quietly): But that is almost a definition of God.

LB: I meant it to be.

***

I feel that this lively discussion formed the basis of several of Lenny’s famous recordings about the genius of Beethoven in which he espouses the idea of the perfection of each subsequent note in Beethoven’s music.

Rather paradoxically Bernstein slates as well as salivates, over Beethoven. Some of us aren’t happy! Thomas Goss take’s up Lyric Poet’s mantel in defending Mr B!

Whatever your thoughts on Beethoven, mine have been regularly expressed erring on the side of praise, neigh, worship for his craft! Beethoven is a composer of the people and for all time. His music speaks to everything that truly matters in life. Even when it seems trivial it is anything but. And when it is powerful it is transcendent…

It’s why Beethoven has the starring (historical) role in my fiction novel, The Virtuoso, which was described as: “A modern day Beethoven story,” in the summary from one publisher’s review.

I do hope you enjoyed the debate! I’d love to hear your views. I’ll let Beethoven have the last word!

When You See a Sensational Sky: Images and Poetry From Cloud Nine… 🌥⛅️🌤

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add colour to my sunset sky.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore, (Stray Birds)

This is going to be a quintessentially English kind of post. Why? Because I’m talking about the weather, and for once, I’m not moaning about it! We Brits are not used to this kind of heat!

As I was sunbathing during Sunday’s glorious, baking hot afternoon, I watched the sun’s rays fan out spectacularly around a solitary cumulus nimbus cloud above me, and felt compelled to capture this astral scene in real time.

I took nine photographs as this huge cloud (my cloud 9), shrouded the blazing sun and then slowly broke up under the onslaught of a sweltering June heat wave. I was grateful to that cloud, without it I would have burnt to a crisp!

If I were an artist I probably would have painted it, but words came instead. My observations have been sublimated into a stream of consciousness, free-verse poem.

In that respect you could say clouds are the ushers of zen as well as the providers of shade…

“Clouds on clouds, in volumes driven, 

Curtain round the vault of heaven.” ~ Thomas Love Peacock

Contemplating Cumulus Clouds

My eyes crinkle at the contrast of silver-lining

Against foreboding, grey cotton sitting above me,

Enveloping every ounce of moisture in the air;

A luminous outline from the sun’s insistent rays,

This incandescent string of pure, bright light.

Illuminating my retina from behind the shadows,

As if nature is saying, there is good within the gloom;

I want to reach up and touch its rounded edges,

Grasp it’s elusive, fleecy form, behold for eternity,

But it is changing with every passing moment.

Life giving rays are only temporarily hidden,

Earth’s star, determined to dissolve suspended droplets

Scorching beams will once again permeate the ground,

Bathing all living things in its glowing reach,

Imperceptible breeze, to break up stifling humidity.

As I watch candy-like white wisps breaking away,

The puffy edges are swirling in constant motion,

Moving to form anther cloud, or simply evaporate,

Demonstrating the eternal flow of the universe…

How all primordial ingredients are reused, recycled.

Cumulo – these Latin piles of shaded air,

Resplendent swells of watery weather,

Floating purposefully or aimlessly, gathering or fleeing

Deliberate, or speeding; depending on the wind,

Patchwork ceiling for humans, lift for soaring birds.

We may frown and fret at an abundance of nimbus,

Bemoaning their frequent outbursts of precipitation!

Today cumulus shades me from the searing heat,

Another day they will bestow liquid on parched earth

Is God decorating the sky, with an ever-changing palette?

Meteorological material; from mysterious misty layers,

To floating pale tufts, or brooding, bulging monsters,

Swollen and violent with rain, blocking out the sun;

Ephemeral fluid shapes: never forever, and never the same…

Scarce or plentiful; permeating and patrolling the skies.

Cloud 9!

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” ~ John Lubbock (The Use Of Life)

#GE2017 #hungparliament – Democracy or Dog’s Dinner?

“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.” ~ Mark Twain

After the shock narrow Brexit vote almost a year ago and the recent election of Donald Trump as U.S. President it was hard to imagine that politics could get any weirder…

However, when I woke up to the news this morning that the UK General Election had resulted in a ‘hung parliament’ I wasn’t in the least bit surprised. I had a feeling in my gut that it would go badly for the Conservatives. After all, how many mistakes will an electorate tolerate?

Before Theresa may so brazenly backtracked on her promise not to hold a snap election her party held 13 more parliamentary seats than it does today. I think this result proves that arrogance and complacency are not the qualities that people value or desire in members of parliament.

“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

This was a text book lesson in how to throw away your core supporters and a majority in the Commons, in what should have been  (according the government and the polls), a straightforward election meant to strengthen the PM’s hand in upcoming Brexit negotiations.

Before and during the campaign Theresa May has been chipping away at the nation’s goodwill with bad decision after bad decision. Their proposed ‘hard Brexit’ and some of their policies and her reversal on banning the ivory trade incensed me.

Does she think she can continually say one thing yet do another? Such hypocrisy is prevalent in politics, I’m not naïve enough to think she’s the first politician to be guilty of that, but power always manages to corrupt on some level except for an extraordinary few leaders.

I find myself agreeing with Tim Fallon that our prime minister put her party above her country. How can we possibly believe her claims to lead with certainty when she has achieved the very opposite?

The Conservative election campaign ignited rage among the elderly, frustration in the Remain camp, and did not engage or provide any form of positive policies to the population. The cuts to our police were thrown back into the limelight after the horrendous terror attacks in Manchester and London, and I think many people felt angry. I know I did. I voted through gritted teeth.

In comparison, the far left Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, (previously unpopular within his own party) and the definite political underdog, managed to run an effective election campaign and gain the support of young voters. Probably many who didn’t vote in the EU Referendum have made their voices heard this time, as it appears that there was a 72% turnout in the 18 – 24 age group, an increase of 30% from 2015. This is all very encouraging, as we need fresh blood and fresh ideas in politics.

The Tories didn’t appear to be bothered about the youth vote and alienated the elderly voters with their disastrous proposals for social care. Cuts to school budgets have also rankled with parents.

The fact that Theresa May did not participate in the election debate also damaged her credibility. Trust comes from openness, and May has been mostly tight lipped, sending Amber Rudd in her stead, thereby further demonstrating her lack of charisma and leadership skills.

The seismic shift in losing the ultra safe Conservative seats of Canterbury and Kensington to Labour shows just how badly the government have misjudged the public mood. You cannot gamble with power, especially when you are portrayed and perceived as the ‘nasty party’.

It’s clear that the majority of the population do not wish to see a ‘hard Brexit’, meaning a complete withdrawal from the single market, and now May’s original negotiating position is going to be very difficult. There is unprecedented uncertainty facing the nation since Article 50 was triggered, and that has only been exacerbated.

Politics without principle as cited in Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Seven Social Sins’ is profoundly prophetic in this messy election result.  It’s worth sharing all seven:

Why is it we can’t seem to find the happy medium in a more centrist party that has sound economic policies, but just as importantly, moral backbone and a social conscience?

As some commentators have said, it feels like the ‘revenge of the Remainers’ today.

“An honest man in politics shines more there than he would elsewhere.” ~ Mark Twain

This quote is perhaps true of Jeremy Corbyn today. I may not agree with some of his views, but he did come across as a decent bloke.

It felt like all Theresa May wanted to do was ram a hard Brexit and ill thought out social care policies down our throats. Despite losing 13 parliamentary seats she is still in power by the skin of her teeth and only with the help of the far right DUP in Northern Ireland.

Whatever the PM’s intentions with the election campaign, the abysmal execution has been the deciding factor in the hung parliament result.

Have political campaigns lost their drama?

Who could have predicted that Labour would win an additional 32 seats?  It turns out the exit poll wasn’t that far off the mark…

I fail to see how Theresa May can still be our prime minister at the end of the next general election. And the way things are going that may be sooner rather than later…

The FT post election analysis:

So I return to my original question, do we have a true democracy or a something resembling a dog’s dinner? It certainly feels like the latter after Brexit and the shambles of a poor election campaign on the part of the majority party. But maybe the system needs a dog’s dinner now and then to shake things up and sort out the wheat from the chaff. Maybe it has to be both to be effective. A true democracy can survive a dog’s dinner and learn the lessons of each successive vote.

If it takes humiliation for a leader to become more humble and in-tune with the public sentiment rather than coming across as uncaring, implacable, blinkered and hypocritical then so be it.  Contempt for the electorate when you take them for granted is rewarded in kind with contempt at the ballot boxes.

I rather feel Ruth Davidson, the Conservative MSP who has galvanised the younger voters north of the border may have just single handedly saved the union from a second, more fervent and fierce Indy ref.  In this topsy-turvy election the SNP lost a third of its seats, including that of former SNP leader Alex Salmond.

Having suffered such a humiliating defeat the PM’s speech outside number 10 made no reference to the resounding views of British voters, brushing over the whole debacle as if it had never happened!

It seems I’m not the only one who thinks this was outrageous hubris. Author Robert Harris tweeted: No hint of apology or regret in PM’s statement. No humility. Full North Korean mode. She won’t last long

One thing is for sure, we have many challenges ahead of us and as we have born witness to today, things can change very rapidly in politics!

Regardless of the balance of power we all have a responsibility to look after ourselves and others as best we can, because as collective individuals we make up society. As one of the most inspirational human beings and spiritual leader’s the world has ever known, Mahatma Gandhi stated: “Our greatest ability as humans is not to change the world; but to change ourselves.”

“The government is merely a servant―merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them.” ~ Mark Twain.

5 Powerful Life Principles at the Heart of Everything

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

The power of personal creation is probably the most profound ability that human beings possess outside of our capacity for love.

At our core we are creative beings. We only have to look at the world around us and back through our history at how we have developed storytelling, music, art and culture, industry, inventions, architecture and transport to know that our unbounded curiosity, inventiveness and ideas have shaped our evolution thus far.

But beyond these collective creations that are part of our everyday life each person on the planet has the potential to create the life of their dreams. This capacity to manifest what we want (or don’t want) is more highly developed in some than others, and maybe in particular areas, not necessarily the entirety of their lives.

We may look at someone who appears to be successful on the outside, but we don’t know what other circumstances are lurking in their life. It’s a waste of time comparing ourselves to others, because we are each on our own journey (albeit crossing paths now and then).

I’ve had some challenging creations and circumstances to deal with lately, and so have been on a mission to create more of what I want and less of what I don’t want. In my quest to improve my power of personal creation I came across several different teachers that have helped me to understand where I am, and more importantly, where I’m going!

“The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and if they can’t find them, make them.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

I wanted to share some of my insights with you in this post, in the hope that they might benefit you as they have me in my time of need.

5 Powerful Life Principles

  1. The energy of attraction, which is our expression of divinity. It has been labelled as the ‘law of attraction’ and it gives us power.
  2. The law of opposites, which gives us opportunity.
  3. The gift of wisdom, which gives us discernment.
  4. The joy of wonder, which gives us imagination.
  5. The presence of cycles, which gives us eternity.

These life principles are the mechanisms of manifestation, regulating the process of personal creation, by which we can express ourselves in thought, word and deed. These principles are a continuous source of power, continuously on, whether we are conscious of them or not.

The power of personal creation

The energy of attraction has been espoused for millennia, in various instructions and descriptions. You’ll no doubt recognise some of these:

“As you sow, so shall you reap.”

“As a man thinketh in his heart so is he.”

“Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive, because your words become your behaviours. Keep your behaviours positive, because your behaviours become your habits. Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny.” ~ Gandhi

“Your imagination is your preview of life’s coming attractions.” ~ Albert Einstein

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, either way you are right.” ~ Henry Ford

“All that we are is a result of what we have thought.” ~ Buddha

“Everyone creates realities based on their own personal beliefs. These beliefs are so powerful that they can create (expansive or entrapping) realities over and over.” ~ Kuan Yin

What you focus on, what you use the energies of life to create, you can create.

The energy of attraction:

I’ve decided to change my script and I’m working on my vision. As we grow it’s to be expected that we will fall back into old thought patterns. I was fortunate that at my lowest ebb I was in the right place at the right time to hear exactly what I needed to hear. It felt like the speaker was talking directly to me…

There were plenty of of aha! moments. I realised I hadn’t been a good gardener. I had allowed the weeds of my mind to take a strangle hold of the flowers. Because certain aspects of my life hadn’t yet worked out how I wanted them to, my sponsoring thoughts were coming from a place of lack and I had perpetuated those thoughts.

He made it clear that problems arise when we don’t have a clear vision and control over our thoughts and daily habits.  Your mind becomes more powerful where you direct its energy.

He told us to work on our recovery time from setback or defeat. That’s where I had come a cropper. What we say emotionally is deeply imprinted on our mind and comes about.

Had he been a fly on my wall?!

He asked: why don’t we do what we know to do? He told us what we needed reminding of: that we all have blocks, fears and doubts which have been created through past experiences, which influence our current decisions.

He told all of us in the room to let our negative emotions go, to shake them off. He said: “You’ll never ever, ever outperform your set autopilot.”

That’s why we have to get our sub-conscious mind working for us instead of against us. The subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between reality and an intensely imagined experience.

“The unconscious self is the real genius. Your breathing goes wrong the moment your conscious self meddles with it.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

Our thoughts and programmes will try and talk us out of our greatness. He did a hilarious sketch about getting all the committee members of our brains on board.

Captain Frontal Lobe is the cheerleader and motivator. He is up for anything. Colonel Amygdala is the cautious one, where emotions are processed, analysing all aspects of what captain frontal lobe is proposing.

General Limbic brain is the most ancient of the committee members, storing every negative or embarrassing scene from our childhood memories. Under no circumstances is he going to give his approval for us to potentially fail again. Sargent Motor Cortex is responsible for helping captain frontal lobe put his ambitious plans into action. Oh boy, it’s a maelstrom of desire, resistance and fear.

If we listen to the limbic brain we start to believe his assertions that we’re not good enough, or that we don’t deserve this. The little voice is suddenly loud and clear: Better to be safe than sorry.

Skillset Vs. Mindset

Although both are fundamental to any achievement, skillset is much less important that mindset. Success is 80% mindset and 20% skillset.

I have vivid memories of learning to swim when I was eight years old. My father used to try to eliminate my fear of water by throwing me in to pool, but that didn’t work.  It made me scream and run and frustrated him. When I was left to my own devices I would aim to move through the water just by tiny increments.

I would then move a little further away from the side each time and swim back to the wall. My skill level hadn’t significantly improved after each attempt, but what did grow was my self-belief. I just decided that I was going to make it to the side. It wasn’t graceful; my arms and legs were thrashing about and I was spluttering, but as my mindset became more positive so my skills grew in tandem.

I went very quickly from being terrified of water to a confident and competent swimmer. Action cures fear. Doing the thing we fear innoculates us against that fear.

The Law of Opposites

Once I understood this principle I was able to see my circumstances objectively, I could see how I had hoodwinked myself.

Another spiritual teacher explained it this way: In the absence of that which you are not; that which you are is not.

I had to really think about that. Essentially the law of opposites is a contextual field that exists in order for us to create.

The moment we invoke the law of attraction and focus on something we wish to be, do, or have, the law of opposites comes into play. In our two dimensional physical reality everything is polarised. We cannot experience love without hate, happiness without sadness, hope without despair, hot without cold, positive without negative, peace without war.

“He who has never hoped can never despair.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

If you take away the opposite of something it cannot exist experientially. So the moment we decide we are going to achieve a certain goal or dream, we immediately experience that which is not our goal/dream. The exact opposite turns up.

We might assume that the law of attraction does not work for us, only for others, because we have attracted the very antithesis of what we wanted. This is where I had got stuck. It’s easy in this stage to feel discouraged or to assume that we can’t do it. We buy into the illusion that we are not supposed to have it, or tell ourselves it’s not meant to be.

He used the acronym SATAN: Saying Anything As Negative.

However, the very appearance of these experiential opposites proves that we are indeed successfully using the law of attraction. The two cannot exist without each other.

This made me feel a whole lot better!

Whatever we set our minds and hearts to in life there will be challenges. That is a given. The universe will require us to go deeper, to learn that failure isn’t really failure, to believe without doubt and to ‘judge not by appearances’.

Our circumstances can change for the better if we don’t get bogged down in them when they are less than easy or uncomfortable for us.

On the path to greatness we are going to face obstacles and enemies. But if we can move from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm we will prevail.

Sergio Garcia was widely considered the best golfer in the world never to have won a major. But in April in Augusta he won the daddy of major’s, The Masters. This was after 19 years of professional competition. It was his moment. He was patient and persistent.

“A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time. When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, The one I feed the most.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

Don’t let discouragement stop you in your tracks or make you change your intention. Give yourself permission to continue to call forth that which you wish to create.

The Gift of Wisdom

This gift is utilised when the Law of Opposites presents its effect in your daily life. When you have magnetised and contextualised your creations you get to discern and decide how to manifest the life you want. Using your inner wisdom is how you remain positive in the face of what appears to be overwhelming challenges, those moments when you are faced with a reality that is anything other than what you had imagined.

Neale Donald Walsh describes a person who succumbs to this principle as ‘a magician who has forgotten his own tricks’.

Move with clarity through the contextual field and invoke the law of attraction again and again inside the contextual field that you have created. All wisdom lies within you. You know internally higher truth. Discernment allows you to see things as they really are.

“Not many people are willing to give failure a second opportunity.” ~ Joseph Sugarman

Wisdom helps us to see and accept failure as a blessing in disguise and bounce back.

Each problem that we encounter as a result of the law of opposites carries a hidden opportunity so powerful that it literally dwarfs the problem. The challenge is to be able to recognise the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit and turn it into an opportunity. The challenges are really gifts. This requires a shift in perception. There certainly have been times I wished that God wasn’t so generous!!

With wisdom we can celebrate all of life’s lessons.

I love the way Wayne Dyer explains inner wisdom in his trademark humorous style as he talks of being inside a house during a power cut and all the lights go off. He has lost his keys, but because there is a light on outside in the street he decides to look for his keys there rather than fumble around in the dark. A friend comes along and asks what he is doing. He explains that he has lost his keys and they look for them together under the street light.

Eventually the friend asks him where he last had his keys, to which Wayne replies that he had them inside his house. It’s a ludicrous scenario, yet that is what we do regularly in our thinking. We look externally for answers, when the source is inside us.

The Joy of Wonder  

All things are filled with wonder; it’s our natural state of being. Abundance isn’t what we have. It’s not about ‘stuff’, but about what we are BEING. Life is an extraordinary journey to express our real selves, our inner beings.  Heartfelt gratitude puts us in touch with the part of ourselves that has no limits. When we are grateful, we have enough and we ARE enough.

Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire; you will what you imagine; and at last you create what you will. ~ George Bernard Shaw (Back to Methuselah)

I’m constantly learning from my children, who exhibit the most enthusiastic wonderment at times. Wonder is the antidote to cynicism. Stepping out in nature is a great way to awaken wonderment. Witnessing the miracle of our planet, all the living creatures that live here with us, and indeed, the human body, the most amazing piece of equipment we will ever own. Whatever we appreciate appreciates.

The Presence of Cycles

There is no straight line in the universe. The movement of energy and mass creates the experience of infinity.  Energy cannot be destroyed, it merely changes form. There is no start and no finish, therefore patience is one of the most important elements in applying the Law of Attraction.

As much as I love the summer, I wouldn’t appreciate it as much without having experienced winter. Cosmic forces and the seasons of nature are always in flow, bringing different blessings and challenges as they come and go. We must work with the cycle we’re in.

The purpose of these energies and principles is to allow life to preserve itself, for all those lives you touch and for you. The law of energy empowers us to empower others. I heard a saying that I never really understood before, but it makes more sense now: if you help enough other people get what they want, you will get what you want.

It means working through the lives of others. It’s having a service oriented attitude. Do unto others as you would have it done unto you is a spiritual teaching at the core of the Law of Attraction.

How many lives can you touch? Expanding the use of universal energy is known as the multiplier effect. If you want to be wealthy you will achieve one level, but if you make 100 people wealthy you will have multiplied the energy exponentially.

“There is the eternal war between those who are in the world for what they can get out of it and those who are in the world to make it a better place for everybody to live in.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

What flows through you sticks to you. What you give to another you give to yourself, as at the level of spirit we are all ONE. It’s moving away from a me first attitude to giving of ourselves.

Be the source of THAT which you wish to experience in your own life. Be the source of THAT in the life of another.

It is a lifelong process to attain mastery over oneself, but if we learn to harness the principles of life, the universe will be our business partner.

I’ll leave you with an illuminating talk by Bob Proctor:

Let’s smash through that terror barrier!

“What is life but a series of inspired follies?” ~ George Bernard Shaw (Pygmalion)

What’s in a Painting? Taking a Closer Look at Paolo Veronese’s Masterpiece: Feast in the House of Levi (c. 1573)

“I paint and compose figures.” ~ Paolo Veronese

At first glance this Italian Renaissance painting appears to be depicting your average 16th century lavish Venetian banquet; but when you focus on the central figures beneath the middle arch it becomes apparent that it’s actually a scene of Jesus and his twelve disciples at The Last Supper.

Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese c. 1573

The Last Supper was in fact the painting’s original title, as commissioned by the refectory of the Convent of San Giovanni e Paolo, to replace Titian’s Last Supper which had been destroyed by fire in 1571. The monks did not take umbrage at the painting’s contemporary aristocratic setting and adornments.

Exterior of San Giovanni e Paolo in Venice

The Inquisition however, took a more pejorative view! During the political and religious landscape of the Counter-Reformation all religious art works had to strictly convey the spiritual message and theological doctrine that was dictated by the Roman Catholic Church.

A brush with the Inquisition!

Despite its magnificence as a work of art, the Last Supper got Veronese hauled up before a tribunal of religious inquisitors who were less than impressed with the painter’s secular additions.

Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese c. 1573

Some of the questioning went along these lines:

TI: Why have you depicted buffoons, drunkards, Germans, dwarves, and other like fooleries?

PV: We painters take the same licence as do poets and madmen…for ornament, as one does.

TI: Who do you think had been present at the Last Supper?

PV: I believe that there was only Christ and His Apostles; but when I have some space left over in a picture I adorn it with figures of my own invention…

TI: Has anyone given you orders to paint Germans, buffoons and similar figures in this picture?

PV: No, but I was commissioned to adorn it as I thought proper; now it is very large and can contain many figures.

TI: Should the ornaments in the picture not be suitable to the subject…or have you put them there only to suit your fancy, without any discretion or reason?

PV: I paint my pictures with all the considerations which are natural to my intelligence, and according as my intelligence understands them.

TI: Do you not know that in countries that were besieged by heresy- particularly in Germany- many such pictures full of foolishness had been painted in order to ridicule the Catholic Church?

PV: I agree that it is wrong, but I repeat what I have said, that it is my duty to follow the examples given me by my masters.

TI: What have your masters painted?

PV: In Rome, in the Pope’s Chapel, Michelangelo has represented Our Lord, His Mother, St. John, St. Peter, and the celestial court; and he has represented all these personages nude, including the Virgin Mary, and in various attitudes not inspired by the most profound religious feeling. (I bet he thought he’d stumped them with this reply).

TI: Be advised that clothing was not necessary at the Last Judgement, but no foolishness was present there either.

PV: I do not pretend to (defend) it, but I had not thought that I was doing wrong; I had never taken so many things into consideration.

A page from the transcript of the Inquisition.

It must have been a trifle intimidating being questioned thus about his motives and his art. Not wanting to fall foul of the Inquisition and the Catholic Church, Veronese agreed on a solution to correct the picture according to the requests of the tribunal at his own cost.

Veronese may have felt more defiant than he let on, and rather than alter the picture as directed, he simply changed the title of the painting to The Feast in the House of Levi, and the Inquisition was satisfied.

Veronese’s renamed painting remained inside the Convent of San Giovanni e Paolo until 1797, when it was removed on the orders of Napoleon Bonaparte and taken to Paris. When it was returned to Venice a decade later it sat once more in the church of San Giovanni e Paolo until it was relocated to its current home at Venice’s Gallerie dell’Accademia.

Interior of San Giovanni e Paolo, Venice

When compared with other Last Supper paintings by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Jacopo Tintoretto the questioning of Veronese by The Inquisition appears concordant with what they were trying to achieve.

The Last Supper Fresco by Leonardo da Vinci c. 1495 – 1498

The Last Supper by Jacopo Tintoretto

Paolo Veronese was clearly not burdened with the same concerns, as he wanted to put his own artistic spin onto the traditional biblical scene.

From Wikipedia:

The revised title refers to an episode in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 5, in which Jesus is invited to a banquet:

And Levi made himself a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of tax collectors and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

The Feast in the House of Levi

The oil on canvas painting was completed in 1573, measuring 18 ft 2 in x 42 ft (555 x 1280 cm) and its home is in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice.

Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese c. 1573

What I love about this painting is the vibrancy and range of colours, and its realistic rendering as a supper that may have taken place in the grandeur of Veronese’s Venice. The diversity of people in their cultural and social depictions highlights Venice as an important and eclectic centre of trade, culture and wealth in the late 16th century.

Veronese had painted what he knew best – people. Whereas his older contemporary, Titian, was more concerned with exploring the psychology of his subjects, Veronese painted people in their outward public appearance, in realistic activities and attire for the era. It would have placed the Last Supper in a setting viewers could relate to; in many ways making it more human and accessible to its audience.

Detail of Christ, Saint Peter, Saint John and Judas

You have the divine figure of Christ in the centre, engaged in teaching and sharing with his disciples, and around them (almost as if the holy party aren’t really there), a whole raft of ordinary people: Venetians, merchants, moors, German guards, various guests, jesters and animals, feasting without a care in the world.

Detail of the Germans

It probably seemed entirely feasible to him that Jesus would tolerate a cat gnawing and playing with a bone at his feet beneath the table, with a dog curiously looking on, or a parrot sitting on the arm of a dwarf.

The sumptuous green clothes of the wealthy man on the left portrays an open, communicative stance, whilst the corpulent Venetian guest on the right of the central archway comes across as more inebriated; his belly full of food and wine, his stripy robe somewhat dishevelled and saggy, his skin pallid and sweaty, as if he suffering the after effects of a little too much indulgence…

The smooth marble pillars of the three archways are formidable and luminous, anchoring the scene in a majestic backdrop, where from behind the figures ghostly silhouettes of buildings glow in the moonlight of an immortal Venetian evening.

His use of colour and attention to detail of the ordinary folk gives us an evocative snapshot into the more decadent side of life in Renaissance Venice.

The Lord Jesus Christ is depicted in a translucent salmon tunic with a dark blue cape with his loving light surrounding his head; in deep conversation with Saint John, as Saint Peter listens whilst helping himself to a leg of lamb. Even though they are the chosen ones they are still shown in their human aspects.

The traitor Judas, the figure in dark red in the shadows, to the right of Saint John on the opposite side of the table is looking away from his Lord, likely ashamed of the betrayal he has agreed to commit, knowing it will lead to Christ’s crucifixion. He seems afraid that Jesus will see through him to the vile act in his heart, even as Jesus already knows what will happen.

Paolo Veronese (1528 – 19 April 1588)

Born Paolo Caliari in Verona, Italy, the son of a stonemason; his birthplace immortalised his artistic name, Veronese.

Paolo Veronese – Self Portrait

He joined the workshop of his uncle Antonio Badile before studying under Giovanni Francesco Caroto (1480-1546) and subsequently working on the decoration of Venetian villas.

Veronese created numerous pastoral frescoes in well-known villas such as the Villa Barbaro by famed Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio in Maser. He gifted aesthetic beauty to the walls and ceilings of the houses and churches of ‘La Serenissima’.

As a fun-loving Venetian patron of Veronese you would have been confronted with the imaginary landscapes, lively festivals and various illusory effects that served as a backdrop to your entertainment and possibly your portrait.

Another of his grand banquet scenes was the Marriage Feast at Cana (except it’s Venice); an explosion of colour and an extraordinary depiction of humanity ensconced in celebration.

Forerunner to the Baroque era

Veronese’s ceiling paintings of Esther Brought Before Ahasuerus and The Triumph of Mordecai in the Church of San Sebastiano as well as The Rape of Europa in the Doge’s Palace are particularly ahead of their time, providing a model for the Baroque style that was soon to sweep the continent.  Perhaps he had anticipated the coming epoch.

Veronese’s legacy was partly as an influence for Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, one of the most important Baroque fresco painters.

The Complete works of Paolo Veronese:

Last Work

Veronese’s final painting was his homage to the Serenissima, The Triumph of Venice. It was completed just three years before his death and had taken him five years of toil. It shows the people of the republic willingly surrendering to Venetian power, and among the envoys paying their respects is no less a figure than the French King Henri III.

The Apotheosis of Venice by Paolo Veronese

I wish I could have seen his exhibition when it was on at The National Gallery in London, although I think the Feast in the House of Levi was too large to transport:

If pomp and splendour was your pleasure, I doubt anyone else could have outshone or outdone Paolo Veronese!

There are three Venetians that are never separated in my mind — Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto. ~ John Ruskin Art Culture : A Hand-Book of Art Technicalities and Criticisms (1877)