A sunny afternoon is ending. The outdoor cafe is in shadow beneath a blue sky with a few clouds, small, wispy and creamy-white. The people are leaving. At one table five young and confident-looking women each with a baby and an expensive-looking buggy, and expensive-looking clothes. Nice to see people for whom life is going well, materially. One day it will be universal - or will it? Can the earth sustain such wealth for everyone - the eighteenth-century dream, already true for perhaps a billion. That could have been the population of the world then... Yes, I like wealth and health and quality and I still see them as the norm - though the attacks and the world poverty and all the other world problems.* could be the evidence that the dream of 'everyone wealthy' will not be realised. I must think more about this - I feel that it is the primary question. Yes!
Reluctantly I drink up my camomile tea, enjoy the aftertaste of a glazed nut pastry, look about at this scene of wealth and supposed happiness and perhaps hidden sadness, and enjoy this moment of to me serenity and the old-fashioned modernism to which I was brought up. I look at the weathercock and the at few clouds, and at the two old men still talking, as the waiter clears the last tables and the air begins to cool.
Good-bye to this scene and this moment - by far the best for me today, and perhaps for several. The world is so good, when one notices it, though often one doesn't. I'm off.
On the way back I noticed a man with what looked like an immense kite that was airborne close to the ground near to the ring pine trees and the brigadiers' seat**. When I got close the man told me that it is a para glider, not a kite, and yes it can lift him off ground. He said that there are already five thousand people in the world who paraglide. It must be the cheapest and simplest way to fly. As we talked two policemen approached - they wanted to make sure that he was not going to take off for apparently it is illegal to do so, even in this simple way. Oh dear. Perhaps here are two elements of the future - advanced but simple technologies which enable ordinary people to do what only professionals can do now - and 'behavioural laws' that do not so much prevent crime as stifle individual or unprofessional initiatives, most valuable to the transformation of this unsatisfactory culture into something better, even good? Civil law is I suppose its precedent - but perhaps that precedent, like so many others, 'has to go'?
I think so... I seem to be in a conservative mode today - siding with the wealthy, and the believers in technology, and against organisations that restrict and repress these tendencies. The future must surely come to terms with such things - and perhaps it is a hidden virtue of Tony Blair's way that it welcomes personal initiatives that, in the phase of crude mechanisation, were indeed repressive of the excluded majority?... This too calls for further thought.
Earlier today I heard that research into the topics of conversation of a largish sample of people showed that whereas the conversation of men is mostly restricted to four topics (I think they were work, sport, women, and jokes) about half of women's conversation is about a wide variety of serious public issues and the other half is about what you might call domestic issues. As in so many such comparisons these days, men come out far worse. This also has to change, I think, if the future or the culture is to become bearable, even good. Will it happen? Could it? Not while we think as we do - but thought is a variable, not a condition of life. Normally it doesn't change much but when it does, usually between generations, it's as unstoppable as it's unpredictable!
Re-reading some of Genjilast night and today, and other examples of Japanese literature***, I am overcome by its calm, by its frankness, its admission of good, evil and all gradations between those imagined extremes, and by the slowness, and the care, with which it is thought and written. I feel inspired to do the same but is it possible in what is perhaps the more barbaric tradition of Western writing? For just now I caught sight of Goethe's Wilhelm Meisterand I had to admit that even his writing is crude in comparison - or so it seems to me (not having read much of it, or very carefully... yet). But The Sorrows of Young Werther,and perhaps Elective Affinities,may be as subtle as is Genji? - but then I'm reading all these things in translation!
On the way to the outdoor cafe I was feeling low, as I had been all day. Not low in spirit but low in energy, only just able to continue walking (my body seemed to want to return and to sleep, but I'd already slept an hour after lunch). But this changed suddenly though very gently as I walked up a steep bank and noticed that a delicate variety of dandelion, and a smaller white flower, were growing all over the bank in the brief second summer that began two or three days ago. I felt as alive and as new as those flowers.
But was it those spring-like flowers that changed my mood?... Or was it the sight and the taste of more wealthy conditions than I now enjoy?... Or was it just the act of writing, on my handheld, there in the midst of things?... I think it was the act of writing!
** commemorating a public speaker (named I think Pat Dooley) and some of those who fought with the International Brigade in Spain in the nineteen-thirties.
*** Anthology of Japanese Literature to the mid-nineteenth century,introduced and compiled by Donald Keene, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1968, revised edition, and also Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji,translated and with an introduction by Edward G Seidenstickler, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1981 (said to be the first novel, about 1000 AD, and certainly one of the longest, 1090 pages).