The last few weeks have been made of notes, not words. I've just joined a band, Trio Gitan. Our starting point is gypsy jazz (think Stephane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt), but our interests are wider than that and the result is a lot of gypsy-influenced music-making which is very exciting for us and, hopefully, the people who listen to us. We've spent several days playing together intensively, working hard and playing hard. We're lucky in that the place we rehearse is out-of-town and right by the River Swale so, when we've had enough, we can pile out onto the river bank and admire the view. It's so good it's as if we've got iron underpants on and the chairs we have arranged on the riverbank have magnets in their seats. Getting up is an effort - but the playing has been so much fun that it's not been as hard as it might have been. I've not enjoyed myself as much creatively for ages. We haven't recorded any tracks yet to put on the net -although we will, soon- but we have got several gigs lined up, including one on Tuesday August 10th at the Hartlepool Tall Ships Race. (Details are on the Trio Gitan blog, along with a write up of our last gig).
I've been reading too, recently. I've forced myself, just as a way to unwind. I reread Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. I finished it the other day. This account of the Second World War and the bombing of Dresden as seen by the time-travelling captured American Billy Pilgrim is one of the best tragicomic reads I've ever read. If one wants to choose an excerpt to quote, one is spoilt for choice:
The Americans halted. They stood there quietly in the cold. The sheds they were among were outwardly like thousands of other sheds they had passed. There was this difference, though: the sheds had tin chimneys, and out of the chimneys whirled constellations of sparks.
A guard knocked on a door.
The door was flung open from inside. Light leaped out through the door, escaped from prison at 186,000 miles per second. Out marched fifty middle-aged Englishmen. They were singing "Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here" from the Pirates of Penzance.
These lusty, ruddy vocalists were among the first English-speaking prisoners to be taken in the Second World War. Now they were singing to nearly the last. They had not seen a woman or a child for four years or more. They hadn't seen any birds, either. Not even sparrows would come into the camp.
The Englishmen were officers. Each of them had attempted to escape from another prison at least once. Now they were here, dead-center in a sea of dying Russians.
The Englishmen were clean and enthusiastic and decent and strong. They sang boomingly well. They had been singing together every night for years.
The Englishmen had also been lifting weights and chinning themselves for years. Their bellies were like washboards. The muscles of their calves and upper arms were like cannonballs. They were all masters of checkers and chess and bridge and cribbage and dominoes and anagrams and charades and Ping-Pong and billiards, as well.
They were among the wealthiest people in Europe, in terms of food. A clerical error early in the war, when food was still getting through to prisoners, had caused the Red Cross to ship them five hundred parcels every month instead of fifty. The Englishmen had hoarded these so cunningly that now, as the war was ending, they had three tons of sugar, one ton of coffee, eleven hundred pounds of chocolate, seven hundred pounds of tobacco, seventeen hundred pounds of tea, two tons of flour, one ton of canned beef, twelve hundred pounds of canned butter, sixteen hundred pounds of canned cheese, eight hundred pounds of powdered milk., and two tons of orange marmalade.
They kept all this in a room without windows. They had ratproofed it by lining it with flattened tin cans.
They were adored by the Germans, who thought they were exactly what the Englishmen ought to be. They made war look stylish and reasonable, and fun.
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
Regular readers will know I'm a bit of a Vonnegut fan: I posted about another of his books, Cat's Cradle, a while ago. As for Slaughterhouse-Five, I passed the book on to my daughter, Amy, who had been dying to read it since her brother had read it and passed it on to his other sister, who had passed it on to me. I was left wondering what to read next.
Then, lo and behold, I walked into a charity shop today and the first book I saw was The Andy Warhol Diaries, edited by Pat Hackett. I've been wanting to read it for years, but had never come across it since I first briefly glimpsed it. I've got Che Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries waiting to be read, too. That's plenty to keep me busy enjoying myself. The two books have three things in common: they're both diaries, both by men who were shot (although Warhol survived) and both have very humane, moving introductions by people to whom they were very important. More later, probably, what with all the reading and playing I've got to do; and then there's watering the pumpkins and the tomatoes and goodness knows what else to do as well...