For My Father
My father loved the work of Miro, Dubuffet, Giacometti, Matisse, Barry Flanagan, Tapies, Donald Judd and Patrick Heron. He loved Picasso’s “Three Dancers” and “Les Demoseilles d’Avignon”. He loved Manet’s “A Bar at the Folies-Bergere” in the Courtauld, and “The Execution of Maximilian” in the National Gallery. He loved the Assyrian reliefs in the British museum: the hunted lions and the panels from Nimrud and Khorsabad…
He loved Carpaccio’s paintings in the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni in Venice, particularly St Augustine sitting in his study. He loved the cycle of Saint Ursula, and the Bellinis and the Memlings in the Accademia. He thought that Memling was one of the really great painters.
He loved Paul Klee’s paintings and drawings but most of all their titles.
He loved listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.
He loved the lines of TS Eliot: “I grow old…I grow old…I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled” and the words of Yeats: “Bald heads forgetful of their sins.”
He read and re-read “Finnegan’s Wake”, “Ulysses”, “Dubliners”, “The Odyssey” and “The Iliad”, always excited about a new translation.
He loved Beckett’s essay on Proust; the one which says: “There is no escape from the hours and the days. Neither from tomorrow nor from yesterday, because yesterday has deformed us, or been deformed by us…”
He loved “Waiting for Godot” and “Krapp’s Last Tape”. He wrote to me that he was reading “Murphy” to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, and added: “such is the way of batty old men.”
He loved Erik Satie, Chopin and Gregorian chants, Apollinaire’s “ZONE” and Blaise Cendrar’s “Prose du Transiberien.” He loved Seurat’s “Bathers at Asnieres” and Raphael’s “The Miraculous Draught of Fishes” in the V&A. He loved the writings of Walter Benjamin and the poems of Charles Baudelaire.
He loved Mondrian and Van Gogh and the simplicity of Jacques Prevert’s poetry, and he loved his and Marcel Carne’s film “The Children of Paradise”. Walking along the Via Garibaldi in Venice, his eyes would sparkle and he’d say: “It’s Les Enfants du Paradis.”
He loved Stefan Zweig’s autobiography “The World of Yesteryear.” He often complained to me that he lived in a country, where Zweig was not a household name.
He loved Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet,” the essays of Ortega y Gasset, William Barret’s “A Time of Need” and Edmund Wilson’s “To Finland Station.”
He loved “The Battle of San Romano”, and the history books of Fernand Braudel, He loved Duras, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Goya, De Chirico… He thought that Turgenev “was one of the great letter writers.” He was obsessed by “Todesfuge” by Paul Celan.
He wrote to me: : “I would prefer Artaud’s outsiders to the apparently rational members of our world.”
He said that one could only look at two or three great paintings at a time.
When I went to look at art with him, he’d rush through the streets, towards the museum and I was often frightened that he was going to be run over, as he ran into the moving traffic, taxis and cars coming to an abrupt halt. But he was strangely protected; no one shouted or honked their horn at the rushing old man, in his elegant coat and large hat.
After we’d hail a taxi home, and he’d suddenly say: “Do you think we have time for just one more?” and ask the driver to drop us at the Courtauld, the National, or the British Museum… and we’d hurry in.
He loved talking to strangers and making them enthusiastic about the art too. After chatting to the taxi driver, he’d sit back and say: “Laura that was fantastic” or “Laura, that was fabulous.”
When I was living in Jordan, he sent me a quote from an interview with Jean Genet:
“Des que je parle je suis trahi par la situation. Je suis trahi par celui qui m’ecoute, tout simplement a cause de la communication. Je suis trahi par le choix de mes mots.”
“As soon as I speak, I am betrayed by the situation. I am betrayed by the person who listens to me, simply because of communication. I am betrayed by the choice of my words.”
And yet when he was dying in the hospital, my father expressed more to me in a few words, than most manage in a lifetime; nineteen words in seven days, each one more beautiful than the other.
Once he wrote to me in Rumania, when I was on my way back from a terrifying trip to Syria:
“Even if you cannot film most things, you can write them down. In my case I cannot remember everything that is in my head. Maybe you can. They would make a great book. Try and write down as much as possible……The main thing is that you enjoy what I call your journey into the unknown.”
Thank you Dad.
(Read at Mortlake Crematorium, London December 10th, 2015)