March 23rd, 2010

Old Things

My grandfather collected antiques. His taste ran to the florid: Louis Quinze stuff- rococo- lots of inlay, lots of ormolu. When he died what was left of his collection, which had been thinned down through successive moves- went to auction- and most of it turned out to be not Louis Quinze at all but 19th century reproduction. I wonder if he knew- or would have cared?

It was sold because none of his descendants shared his taste- though I wish I'd held out for those two late 19th century German plates of his- with their paintings of Graeco-Roman rude girls.  My parents bought some nice pieces on their own account- and their taste was for the unfussy and English. That's my taste too- broadly speaking. I like honest farmhouse furniture, manor-house furniture.  Politics comes into it.  I'm a William Morris socialist- and that 18th century French lumber- with it's shouty ornamentation- is all about grinding the faces of the poor.  That's why I hate Faberge too. Faberge is the reason- in little- why the Russians had to have a revolution.

I'm fussy about the dead people I choose to associate with.

But of course I've never had the money to buy proper antiques.  Our stuff is a mix and match of Ikea and hand-me-downs and things from junk shops.   

But supposing I did have the money? I love the Antiques Road show and its spin-offs. I envy those guys. Because  what could be more agreeable than to roll around from antique shop to auction- with a big greasy roll of banknotes in the pocket of one's ratty, tweed jacket- spending one's life among old things?  I emphasize the word  "old". Oldness is what's it's really all about. If I'd been my grandfather I'd have been furious to find that my Louis Quinze was actually Napoleon III. Dealing in antiques is dealing in history. It's time travel.  If I had my life over again- and know what I now know- I'd do one of two things: I'd train as an archaeologist- or get a job with an auction house.

Happy Birthday, Sensei

A poem about the West's relationship with Japan. I'm posting it today in honour of Kurosawa's 100th birthday.



It started off so well, now didn’t it?

With Whistler and the guys swooning for all

Those wood-block prints and fans and silk kimonos.

Then it went wrong. Imperial armies swept

Down the Pacific rim, behaving badly,

But not perhaps as badly as our racist

News bulletins and movies made us think.

And then we stomped them. Two resounding stomps.

Kerboom, kerboom. A girl is folding cranes,

Dying of poison. Mothra and Godzilla

And all their bloated, tragic and mutated

Dinosaur kin rampage. Then re-invention-

The Empire of the Sun becomes the Empire

Of flair and whiz and now our generation

Is swooning for their video-games, their manga,

Their Pokemon. So, did you see that film

That Kurosawa made with Yankee dollars,

With Spielberg as producer, Martin Scorsese,

Playing van Gogh? It wasn’t widely shown.

He called it Dreams. And that was what is was-

The old boy’s dreams on film. The cherry trees

Are ghosts that dance in stiff preposterous costume

Flirting their fans. A company of soldiers,

All grey because they’re dead, march from a tunnel,

ke-dang, ke-dang, ke-dang, come to a halt,

In perfect order and confront their captain

(Who’s going home, having survived the war)

With a request for orders. Finally

We’re in the land of water-wheels. There is

An old man making a wheel. He talks about

The simple life and then jumps up because

A funeral’s coming. Funerals, he explains,

Are happy things. And this is an old girlfriend

Who’s coming down the road. Here are the children

Scattering petals, then the oompah band

And then the dancers leaping in formation

Around the coffin. So the old man joins them,.

Taking the lead, jig-jigging as he walks,

Shaking a bunch of wildflowers and a rattle.