Thursday, 31 July 2008

Whales, Plays, Jokari and Vincent Ferrini

Second Letter from America

So today I played ultimate tourist and got up at 4am to write for a couple of hours before walking the couple of miles into the town harbour to go on an early morning Whale Watching Tour. I chose mid-week as apparently the week-end tours are very busy. So a motley crew of about twenty of us turned up at the harbour to get aboard one of the four whale watching boats that ply their trade in Gloucester. We had the compulsory safety talk, where the inflatable life-boats were and life jackets etc. Six of the twenty people on the trip hailed from one enormous family, by enormous I don’t mean extended I mean ENORMOUS. ( This is no fat bashing comment as I am certainly less than sylph like myself).There were three generations of this family present and they provided living proof that obesity is a genetic issue, or that poor eating habits are passed on from one generation to another. All of them must have been well over twenty-five stone, including the teenagers. They tipped out of one of those big RV’s they have here that are like camper vans on steroids. There was a tiny Japanese couple who seemed to be more fascinated by this family than the whales and I noticed they kept taking surreptitious pictures of them when they thought they weren’t looking.

The crew member giving the talk had a strange look on his face when he talked about six people fitting into each small dinghy. He could probably see the rest of us mentally calculating how many of us could fit into the remaining life rafts if each of the ‘super-size me’ family occupied one life rafts each, or chose to gather on one side of the boat. The family were from Pittsburgh, if I read their T-Shirts correctly. They stayed in the little cabin on board that had a tiny cafĂ© during the whole trip and consumed several hot dogs and cup cakes. When we did get to see actual whales they took photographs through the windows of the cabin and never ventured on deck. This may have been wiser for the stability of the boat as it was situated in the centre of the boat.

The whale watch itself was really interesting but it did feel like we were the paparazzi pursuing Posh and Becks for that one great picture. All four of the different whale watch tours set out at much the same time, all with people toting enough photographic equipment to pay off the trade deficit of a small African Country. They all seemed to have enormous telephoto lenses. One man on our boat had a special crutch thing just to support the weight of his, it was so long. I took my small digital and felt almost ashamed to get it out in such macro company. After a couple of photos I realised that it was much more enjoyable just to put it away and just really look at everything and simply enjoy the moment.
The snaps I did take were distinctly uninspiring.
• Whale at great distance looking like big grey turd on the surface of the water doing nothing much.
• Picture of sea as a breeching hump back whale has just jumped spectacularly out of shot.
• Picture of my wet foot as two whales do a deep dive and their massive flukes are raised in the air.
• Close up shot of railing
• Back of heads of lovely chatty lesbian couple from New York

Once I decided to give up the photography I did feel I could enjoy the whole experience and was saddened in a way that nearly all of the others on board just had their cameras and video recorders glued to their eyeballs and experienced it all filtered through a view finder. Have to say, in case you have any doubts hump-back whales in the flesh (or should I say blubber) are enormous and do elicit a feeling of watching something important and almost primeval. They seem to be unbothered by the boats following them and the whale watch boats do have very strict rules imposed on them about never crossing the path of a whale (apparently they don’t easily divert their course for any vessel, hence the fact that a number of them do get hit and killed by large ships or run straight into nets). However it has been discovered that they navigate by sight and have good vision (personally I presumed they were sort of myopic and Mr Magoos of the ocean). They swim from the feeding grounds here down to the Caribbean in the autumn to breed and are consistently accurate in their navigation and they do it on their own as the big hump backs are essentially lone creatures. I think its fascinating to think this huge creature, requiring 150 tons of fish each day to just survive, manages to get itself to the West Indies by remembering the contours of the ocean bed and reads them like a map after only one experience of that journey as a very young calf. Marine biologist on board explained that no-one is actually sure how they do that journey so precisely. There we are busily installing in–car Sat Nav to get us a few miles or consulting AA route finder on line and yet animals, birds and fish can travel hundreds of miles without a map, some by just a sense of where something feels it should be. Perhaps we have lost the ability to be in touch with our ‘inner navigator’.

I feel a new age therapy coming on, have never seen so many adverts and plaques on walls for various kinds of therapies until I went into the snobby part of town here, apparently many such therapists wash up here to treat the affluent summer folk. In just one stretch of street I could visit a shaman using Native American Indian practices, a crystal therapist, a light healer, a hypnotherapist and past life regressor, and enough aroma-therapists to cause the New York stock exchange dealers to cause an international run on the lavender and rose petal crop. I’m sure if I advertised as being able to put people in touch with their inner navigator there would be a few customers up for it. Start off small, get them to find the library or an unknown address nearby by walking and becoming attuned to their environment then in no time at all they could be navigating their way through life in general. There may be a self help book in this or even a small cult, ‘The Church of the Inner Sat Nav’. I do, of course, concede that whales don’t have to deal with one way systems, no right turns and detours due to road works and life is full of dead ends, junctions and even Sat Navs can turn you into a field of swedes now and then.

The IH play was like watching a train crash happening in front of you and wondering whether anyone could be rescued from it, including the audience. He does have quite a decent track record as a dramatist but this play needs a serious amount of work to try and extract the decent play the may be lurking within the existing one. (NB This play did indeed transfer to the New York stage in Feb 2007 to less than rave reviews by the critics, nice to be intune with the New York Times Theatre critic now and then)I won the seat raffle and won a free ticket to the play again followed by a discussion with the artists involved on Sunday. Hurrah I thought ironically but actually will go back and see it again just to give it a fair chance and then put my ha’pth in at the discussion afterwards maybe.

The play was about the painter Bonnard and his love life. He had a long time model and lover and then had an affair with a younger model who eventually killed herself in the bath after she hears that Bonnard had married his long time lover when he had promised to marry her. It has as a theme, Bonnard’s paintings of his wife in the bath posed as his younger mistress must have be found. This is of course fertile with dramatic content and has a rich psychological landscape so not a bad idea for a play to use this incident. Good premise, all down hill from there though. It is set in France, all the characters are French and we were treated to a sort of ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made of’ prologue which invites the audience to suspend belief and go backwards and forwards in time (the long term relationship between two modern day French art students is inter-cut between the scenes with Bonnard and his women)and to go to France. Fine can do that without being told to and then all the poor actors are obviously directed to use phoney French accents throughout the whole play. I had an ‘Allo Allo’ reaction and kept expecting Officer Crabtree to enter speaking twisted franglais. The actors were actually quite good especially the man who played Bonnard so I felt for him when he had to say ‘ Zis art is how I make sumzing become eeee….ter….nalle, mon amie, Lauterec.’ to another actor (who played several other roles during the course of the play) who, at this point was wearing a false beard and had shoes on his knees. I presumed it was meant to be ironic as in a bad pastiche of that old film with Mel Ferrar in, who waddled through it on his knees with a monocle stuck in his eye. So I may go back on Sunday and share these thoughts but then again I should perhaps keep quiet and let the locals adulate Mr H. He seemed to have several elderly ladies in various amounts of gold jewellery, strewing themselves before him on Thursday night, so I think he may be a definite local artistic hero along with Vincent Ferrini. Ferrini a ninety something poet (Black Mountain friend of the poet Charles Olsen) is a prime example of a poet who worked long and hard to ensure poetry addressed the socio and economic issues he felt America was steeped. He was always innovative as can be seen here in his rendition of his poem Forge Plant. I have just read some of his work and probably need to work a bit harder to grasp it, it is very American viseral gut poetry I feel, that is not a criticism merely an observation on my first reactions to it. Am I getting crabby in my old age, perhaps that Crab and Country Night has had a personal effect on me? Should stick to the local clams, maybe they will keep my mouth shut.


I met a local dog-handler this morning on my daily constitutional. Do people have those anymore? My father always swore by a morning constitutional when he was on holiday. A stroll along the sea front to get the daily paper to clear the sinuses and get the ozone in your lungs to last the year round was a must for many men on holiday in the fifties. Plus a game of Jokari with the reluctant off-spring, what ever happened to Jokari, bashing the hell out of a very hard rubber ball attached by elastic to a wooden block with a paddle shaped wooden bat. The ball could whip back so hard it could take your front teeth out or had to be surgically removed from your throat if you didn’t keep your mouth shut and never, never turn your back on it. Sorry am wall talking again, I digress.

The dog-handler was with two spaniels who are trained to round up and scare geese off the local golf course. He also gets them to retrieve lost golf balls and sells them back to the club. They are also, what he termed, marine rescue dogs. Don’t ask me how they do that but they seemed to be strong swimmers as he was tossing a Frisbee off the harbour wall for them to dive in after. It was twelve feet down to the water and they hit the sea with a hell of a thump but seemed to bob up eventually looking a bit stunned then paddled out after the Frisbee and returned it to the man via a boat launch ramp a few yards further up. No doubt any mariners who look like neon yellow Frisbees will be in with a chance of being rescued by them.

Ok back to my dark troll cave now. Only came up for sunlight and air, written 10,000 words since I arrived in States so think I can say that these missives are not displacement activities, just my way of talking to the wall.
Will let you know the latest on Joe, the bar-tender, trouble with his ex-wife and Crystal, the peroxide waitress who has to bring her three-year old into the bar some nights because she can’t afford the child-care because her husband won’t pay child support and he was earning thousands on a Miami game fishing boat until he got skewered by a sword fish and had to have a hundred and fifteen stitches in his left side (lack of full stops there used to try and emulate her rather breathless machine gun way of talking) Such a lot to learn huddled in my little booth and keeping quiet. Even got to read Thomas the Tank Engine to her little boy who told me ‘you don’t talk it right, you talk all funny!’ Has this boy not heard Ringo Star give his thespian rendition of Thomas?

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