Over a two page spread on how to spend money you haven’t got,
I discover that fashionable nails are short and square. Forget fashion, I just want my hands to look tidy. I giggled over vegan nail polish (who eats it ?) while noting “hand peel rejuvenation” as a swiz at £59 when the best of it can be done with a lemon, some granulated sugar and glycerine at nearer 59p. Is this what Wal calls “reassuringly expensive”?
Come spring, I admit I want to be rescued. No I don’t mean a knight on a charger. I mean touched by a magic wand that will make me over into bien dans la peau (one of the best French phrases ever).
Some small thing that will work a miracle. Spring (sorry Will) is ”the winter of my discontent”, pulls me down like a wolf to a lamb every year and I was almost comforted to discover my Italian friend, a 25 year old neophyte, working like a fiend in a city she isn’t quite at home in yet, feels the same about the first quarter – ie get through it and think about something else.
Will the budding Japanese aster make it through another day of cold wind ? Will the house opposite fly away, borne by the polythene sheets flapping over
the incomplete loft ? You can have BBC3 if I can have BBC4. The situation in Westminster depresses me into the ground, thank God for Anne Applebaum writing about Putin and Gavin Francis’s new book on convalescence. What can I do about 38,000 tons of discarded clothing a year in the Atacama Desert, about children bombed, brutalised and starved into discard like broken birds ? Are the dead and the dying an ugly version of birth control – the only way we might get mankind back to reasonable numbers on the face of the beleaguered earth ? Doesn’t make me feel any better.
Ironically what lifted me through this year’s spring sag wasn’t new but old. I had begun before I fell (that, as my father would say, didn’t do me any good) to look at the books I have kept and couldn’t remember – except that I must have been moved or impressed once, because I kept them. And I don’t keep everything by a long chalk.
I read the beginning of something and it went into the Oxfam box. I began another, ditto. Tastes change. But on the third time around the shelves, I found some short stories by the Australian Tim Winton which never fail. And then Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby (look him up).
Kept at large in WWII’s beleaguered rural Italy by the sheer generosity of those he met, the land he describes has as much of a personality as the people. And he meets Wanda, a personable Slovene, with whom he falls lastingly in love. (I have interviewed her and I wanted to curtsey.) The world of silence and stones and sharing not very much seemed oddly consoling after the last two years.
And then on Saturday night I sighed and wondered whether I could watch The Untouchables again … So I began scrolling through and I found Burn.
I haven’t seen it for nearly fifty years. I wondered how that would be ? The director Gillo Pontecorvo is more famous for an earlier film The Battle for Algiers, the story of the making of which is almost another movie …
When I saw Burn I was married to my first husband, a complex uncomfortable man (absolutely not “bien” in his “peau”), bright, opinionated and a film maker. The film starred Marlon Brando – he thought it some of his best work, before he was bloated with calories, confusion and self hatred.
I watched it and it worked for me. I saw different things, I made different criticisms but overall, it was a pleasure. And I remember the first time, coming out into a street in the light in Soho, smiling and shaken, in possession of one of the first political and philosophical lessons of my life : nobody gives you freedom, you have to take it.
Ah ! That last line is worth remembering and quoting .