The Evacuees

This 1975 television play by Jack Rosenthal was a wonderful example of what BBC television did so well back in the 1970s.  His story of brothers who were evacuated from inner city Manchester to the coast during the Second World War was sweet and poignant.  The drama came from the misunderstandings of the childless host family who did not see why the two Jewish boys shouldn’t do what they did in a Christian home.

Jack Rosenthal’s dramas always used comedy to make serious points and there were many wonderful moments in this play, especially when three boys had only two pairs of roller skates between them and decided they had to share to run away.  Yet the serious moments are here too.  The anxiety of the mother, played by Rosenthal’s wife Maureen Lipman, when letting her children go is clear.

The elderly couple believes they are doing the right thing but the punishments increase and when these include withholding letters from the mother to her boys it seems unbelievably cruel.  The boys struggle with the desire to return home and the need not to worry their mother unnecessarily.  When the truth emerges it is in the most uncomfortable situation but handled brilliantly by the writer.

I saw this programme in 1975 when the BBC first broadcasted it and I have never forgotten it.  That is why is it in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

 

Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree

This novel by Tariq Ali is the first of his ‘Islam Quintet’.  I have read several of his non-fiction works and his journalism; I have even heard him speak at a literary festival. This is the first time I have read any of his fiction.  I was attracted to it by the subject matter of this first novel.

The story starts in Cordoba where a bonfire of books took place after the reconquest of Spain by the forces of Isabella and Ferdinand.  From this we encounter characters of both sides of the religious divide but especially the Banu Hadyl family who are forced, like all Muslims to make a decision about their faith: convert, go into exile or die.

BlogPomegranate TreeThe ending is inevitable, especially to those who know the history, but the sense of loss from a time when different religions co-existed is huge.  Instead, we see war and politics carried out as a form of religious devotion or maybe religion is used as the cover for the usual manipulations of states and monarchs.

In general, Tariq Ali’s non-fiction is more cohesive than his fiction but his passion for his subjects is still clear as if his determination to steer us away from a Eurocentric view of the world.  In these times of religious intolerance, it is good to be reminded that there was, and is, a better way of living with each other.  It is also important to realise that Islam is wider and more complex than it is often portrayed in our media.

‘Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree’ is worth reading.  It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?

 

 

Museum of the Three Cultures

In the Calahorra tower at the end of the famous bridge in Cordoba houses a ‘museum’ or audio-visual display telling the history of the city and its place as a centre of learning where three religions existed in harmony and respected each other.  The ‘Museum of Three Cultures’ is a fascinating place.  Most of the exhibits are reproductions or models but the story of the city’s past is well laid out.

It was here that I saw the reproduction of a painting by Dionisio Baixeras of Abd-ar-Rahman III receiving at his court in Cordoba, the Monk Nicholas, ambassador of the Christian Emperor, Constantine.  The coming together of religions, not to convert but to understand each other, was important then and is important now.

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Averroes

Cordoba impressed me because it celebrated its multi- religious heritage.  Around the corner from the statue of Jewish scholar Maimonides, was this statue to Muslim scholar Averroes.

Averroes was a Muslim lawyer rather than a Jewish physician but, otherwise, the two men were similar.  Averroes was an authority on Aristotle and wrote a significant work called ‘The Incoherence of the Incoherence’.  He, too, was exiled from Cordoba when the Berber dynasty took power and his books were burned.  He died in Marrakesh in Morocco.

It is heartening that the city of Cordoba pays tribute to significant figures from different religious backgrounds.

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Maimonides

I was struck, when in Cordoba, Spain, by the way three religions lived peacefully together several centuries ago; Jewish, Muslim and Christian believers managed to co-exist without compromising their own beliefs.

The statue to Maimonides in the old Jewish quarter of the city is the perfect reminder that we can learn from the past.  He was born in Cordoba in 1125 and found fame as a philosopher and author of the Mishneh Torah.  He was also interested in the sciences and in Greek philosophy and Islamic teachings.  He lived in Spain at a time when the enlightened rule of the Moors might be considered a golden age but left when a Berber dynasty conquered the city in 1148.  The status of Christians and Jews was threatened and Maimonides, being Jewish, went into exile with his family, moving around Andalucia before travelling to Morocco and Egypt.

 

 

Snake

This poem by D.H. Lawrence was one I learned at school, using the words to speak aloud that I had no clue about their meaning.  In such ways did I pass through education, realising much too late how important these things were.

Snake

A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.

In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before me.

He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
Silently.

Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second-comer, waiting.

He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.

The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.

And voices in me said, if you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.

But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth ?

Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him?
Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him?
Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.

And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!
And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid,
But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.

He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice a dream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.

And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.

I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.

I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste,
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.

And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

And I thought of the albatross,
And I wished he would come back, my snake.

For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.

And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate:
A pettiness.

D H Lawrence

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Jesus of Montreal

This 1989 film from Canada is a charming exploration of the creative process.  It follows a group of actors who put on a passion play in Montreal.  The church authorities take against the main actor, playing Jesus, and, as he and his group deal with the hostility, his life starts to mirror that of Jesus himself.

It is a French- Canadian film from director Denys Arcand with Lothaire Bluteau in the main role of Daniel. At the start of the film Daniel is encouraged to modernise the passion play to bring a new sense of purpose to a tired format.  It is the hope of the priest that there will be renewed interest in the play as a result.  This mission inspires Daniel who throws himself into research only to come up with an interpretation that offends the catholic church.  As the play continues, the church resorts to stronger tactics to stop it.

The film works well when it mirrors the gospel story.  Daniel collects his troupe of actors from among the less desirable of society, he is accepted and then rejected by the authorities, he has an outburst when he thinks others have desecrated his craft.  The ending is the most problematic because of the obvious links with the bible but it is a satisfactory way of drawing the film to an end.

‘Jesus of Montreal’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?