Wednesday, June 09, 2010

balkan ghosts


somehow, as summer comes on in earnest, i get a strange longing for the balkans. perhaps because my first trip there was a summer thing. or maybe because of finding husband there oh so many summers ago. but whatever it is, i get a kind of balkan yearning this time of year. so when i can't just pick up and head south, i turn to my bookshelves. this time, to rebecca west's epic black lamb and grey falcon, about the journey she took through yugoslavia in the inter-war period.

tho' there is much to take issue with as far as the orientalism of the book is concerned, largely dame west is open to the experiences she has. she's not that fond of the parts of yugoslavia that were part of the austro-hungarian empire and has more of a soft spot for those parts that were under ottoman domination and this i can relate to, since i feel exactly the same. i've read the book before, a couple of times, but i find that this time around, i'm reading it with new eyes - more european ones. i think i understand a lot more of the subtleties of the references to the growing influence of hitler in germany and what that meant in europe at that time.
but one of the things i'm most struck by on this reading is simply how well-read and intellectual she was. and it makes me once again long to have lived in that era. in 1913, she started a long love affair with h.g. wells and even had a child with with him. by the time of the balkan journey in 1938, she was a well-established novelist in her own right and had settled down and married banker henry maxwell andrews, who accompanied her on the journey. ahh, but she lived such an intellectual existence. i long to live that way (maybe minus the tumultuous affairs, tho' on the other hand, maybe not) - a life of high level discussions and thinking and writing about the events of the day. i tell you, 1913 was my ideal year.
but mostly, the book transports me. many of the political issues she describes are still relevant today and the discussions still thought-provoking. i love seeing the marginalia from my previous readings and adding more from this time around. and i long to live that way and travel that way--on trains winding slowly through the balkan countryside and most of all, to have time to think like that. to really think about things and how they're connected and what they mean and how they impact the world. how have we gotten so far from living intellectual lives?

i need the rhythm of a train journey and the erudition of a literary salon. i wonder if i can find that without being in the balkans. it seems somehow impossibly far away.

8 comments:

Lisa at Lil Fish Studios said...

Oh that first photo makes me swoony. Gorgeous capture.

sarahowens said...

This is a beautiful and brilliant post. I really admire your ability to articulate exactly what you're thinking...and to read my mind. :)

Thank you for writing this, it makes me feel less alone. :)

Bee said...

Earlier today I was reading an article about an American artist called Alice Neel (1900-1984). She is quoted as saying, "I wanted everything and I did my best to have everything." This thoughtful post of yours made me think of those words again . . . but the getting of everything (especially lots of love affairs, unfortunately) is accompanied by a a lot of loss/destruction, too.

I've been craving a literary salon, too. I got a book in Paris that described some of the great literary salons of the past . . . all of them presided over by women! Maybe I should start by reading some of West's work; I know her only as a name/footnote.

Your golden, bleached-out looking pictures really recall the past.

jill said...

what a wonderful post and such wonderful photos to go along with it. you have a true talent with words as well as with the eye.

Jelica said...

plenty of slow train rides in the balkans still, but i think we are as short of literary salons as ever :) i love visiting the balkans in the summer, they are definitely at their best then!

Joanna Jenkins said...

"...or maybe because of finding husband there oh so many summers ago...." You can't beat that :-)

Isn't it wonderful when a book transports you-- Those are the best kind.

Cheers,
jj

Char said...

i think i can miss something i've never had - i would love to participate in a true salon. and yes, some would argue that book clubs try to fill some of that void, but they perhaps are very wrong. ... ... the dots represent words i wish i could form but can't quite get there.

i would love to have a grand passionate affair...and long as i don't end up like anna or madame bovary.

M said...

Oh my dear friend - yes. yes.

michelle in madison