It was the cynical novelist Evelyn Waugh who once said “don’t give your opinions about Art and the Purpose of Life. They are of little interest and, anyway, you can’t express them”. He said that with regard to novel writing but to be honest in books as in life, I beg to differ. There is nothing I enjoy more than reading about and discussing just these topics.
I had just finished Juliet Naked, Nick Hornby’s latest darkly comic novel about failed relationships, pop music and sex [or the lack of it] and wondered if James’s mother Cindy had something in English I could read. A few minute later she handed me an battered copy of Graham Greene’s classic The Heart of the Matter, a book I hadn’t read but according to the sleeve notes was one of his best.
Greene and Waugh had been contemporaries at Oxford back in the 1920’s. Both became novelists and converted to Catholicism but while Waugh got drunk, had homosexual affairs and did no work, Greene [by Waugh’s account] “looked down on us (and perhaps all undergraduates) as childish and ostentatious. He certainly shared in none of our revelry”.
Graham Green was a highly intelligent but depressive man who seemed to revel in his feelings of sinfulness and guilt. He was highly sexed and though married for most of his life, carried on affairs with a variety of women and visited prostitutes from his late teens and into his seventies. His books often have at their heart, themes that explore suffering and unhappiness. The Heart of the Matter is no exception. As I write his blog entry, I haven’t finished it but I can tell that there won’t be a happy ending, for anybody!
I felt the need to make some sort of contribution to the day, so made English pancakes for everybody at breakfast time and served them up the traditional way with local honey and lemons. I told the story of finding pancake syrup in Azerbaijan that contained “2% maple syrup!” Actually, several days later I made pancakes for James in Baku and he tried it out. It wasn’t the best he had ever tasted but he did think it was at least O.K.
The villa is a few paces from the sea and throughout the day James, his dad Dave and I would slip into the the warm and tranquil waters to cool down. Dave had bought a kids snorkel the day before and we took turns dipping under the water to view sea-urchins and the occasional fish that passed by in the clear waters of the the rocky coast strewn with lava left over from some ancient, cataclysmic volcanic explosion.
I have long had an interest in American politics and as the day progressed our relaxed conversations meandered between the state of the American economy, the surprising potential Presidential candidates thrown into the public gaze thanks to televised debates and the astonishing Presidency of George W. Bush. Bush will no doubt go down in history as the man who oversaw the status of the United States drop to an all time low in the eyes of the world.
As the sun sank in a fiery blaze below below the Western horizon, we moved to the upstairs balcony and drank ouzo as we continued to discuss genetics, the existence of God and Catholic guilt. Graham Greene would have enjoyed the conversation as much as Waugh would have detested it, I am sure.
As the hours slipped by, we became more mellow and with the cicadas sounding in our ears, we one-by-one went off to bed.
All in all, a fine time was had by all…