Sunday, 11 July 2010

Neruda in Heat and Those Spies that Came In or Out of the Cold

A mixed random bag of thoughts today dear reader, it’s hot and I don’t function well in heat and it tends to make concentration on one thing hard.

It could be climate that sometimes fosters a difference in the literary tradition of nations. I have been reading and listening to a lot of Neruda recently and perhaps his love poems in particular could only be a product of a man who understood heat. This is not to say that love and passion is not to be found in colder climes but that landscape and weather are so deeply embedded in the psyche they cannot help but permeate the poet. Then here to contradict myself I have picked Merwin’s translation of Neruda’s famous Poem 20 which mentions snow in line 14 which I believe must be a typo on the website for 'soul' ( spot the deliberate translation mistake). I suggest you read it and then listen to the poem read by Neruda himself here in order to get a feel for the heat in his poem. This is one reason why I have promised myself that I will start to learn Spanish before the little grey cells become stodgy, clustered and unable to absorb.

The Americans have just swapped ten Russian spies for four spies which seems like a bit of a good deal. Living near Cambridge I am always interested in spies. The University, in the thirties in particular, was the nursery for many a spy. The famous elite and secret debating society called The Apostles based around Trinity and Kings afforded Anthony Blunt (later Sir Anthony, art historian to her Majesty) and others, scope to recruit. Burgess, McClean, Philby, Cairncross, the list goes on, all trod the hallowed grass in Kings’ College and Trinity quadrangles. Here, in the elitist of all institutions they decided a communist regime offered more hope than high table suppers, punting and tutorials in seventeenth century studies accompanied by the smell of toasting crumpets and the merry banter of bedders cajoling Hooray Henrys out of their pits, where they would lay until mid afternoon recovering from jolly japes and parties.

I had forgotten how fantastic Prunella Scales was as the Queen until I came across this encounter between her and Sir Anthony whilst he was still in the closet ( spy wise that is) but on the cusp of being unmasked. It’s eight minutes plus if you look at Part 2 as well but well worth it. We tend to produce a far more educated and posh spy than the Americans. One of the Russian spies recently swapped was in real estate and was on Facebook for heaven’s sake, no self respecting Cambridge spy, one likes to think, would have even contemplated something like Facebook. Tea would be at the Ritz not at Burger King.

Of course we can also do grubby spies quite well, listening to Richard Burton’s little tirade in The Spy who Came in from the Cold about sums that gene of spy up. I like to think though that spies have some sense of irony, (a la Orson Wells in The Third Man).

I wonder if those returned Russian spies will miss apple pie, Wal-Mart, Oprah and free refills of coffee in diners. What occupies me most about it all is the fact that some of the couples had children conceived and brought up solely in America. They are currently being held by child welfare in the States. The younger ones will probably be returned to their parents but what about the teenagers? Will an American teenager who had no idea his parents are Russian spies want to be dropped down in the middle of a tower block apartment assigned to returning spies in some wind blown seedy suburb of Moscow? There is a whole novel, film, anything you care to think about in that. When everything you have believed to be true becomes a lie on such a mammoth scale how do you possibly cope with that. Your Mum and Dad may love you, you may love them but all the time they were leading another life or maybe playing so hard at leading another life that it became their real life and the spying some sort of half repressed fantasy. How do you square the circle or come to grips with that. I shall be interested to see if the older children choose to join their parents in exile or actually I suppose it is join their parents back home, although home is something unknown.

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