what beetroot does

My friend Mr Murphy comments satirically. ‘Didn’t Tolstoy give daily bowel movement updates in his blog?’

I take him to refer to the Russian member of the peerage, novelist and heritage personality. Tolstoy was indeed obsessed with his religion, beard and other personal minutiae, although I have never heard that he was given to scrutinising the contents of his privy. Maybe he had a peasant to do that for him. He was very close to his peasants, and they adored him. Often, in a benevolent mood, he would devise new systems of agrarian economy for them.

The pity was that he never devised systems of literary economy, as his writing was verbose and self-satisfied and his ability to imagine a character negligible. I was recently privileged to read some of his stuff in the original Russian, and believe me if it is smug in English it is even worse in Russian.

What has all this crap got to do with Vronsky, one cries to oneself, after a hundred and fifty pages about how the completely unnecessary character based on Tolstoy himself is loved by his peasants.

Anyway I responded vigorously to Mr Murphy. You can’t suggest that this blog is like that, I responded vigorously.

Having said that, last night the better half cooked delicious borscht. It was crammed with beetroot, as is all good borscht, and there were little lambs’ tongues, which are irrelevant to this story but memorable in their own right. People who rarely eat borscht are sometimes shocked the following morning when opening their account with Mr. T (as dear Henry James would put it all those years ago in his lovely house in Rye, his command of periphrasis as always greater than his feel for the quiddity of children’s speech), and often call their doctor as a result. As an old hand when it comes to borscht and other beetroot products (the better half also makes wonderful selodichka pod shuboi) I casually glanced down and was surprised to see no reddening at all about the porcelain.

As those with a patina of culture often remark, it was a case of the dog not barking in the night.

But where has it gone? That’s what I want to know.

One reflects, as so often, that the body is a wonderful thing.
*
The better half takes a phone call from a friend who is having a crise in Russian. I fill the time by inspecting the DVD collection. Here is a film called William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. On the packaging it says: ‘Parental Guidance. Language: None’. What a debased post-modern world we live in. Some apparatchik has struggled through Shakespeare’s magical play, gripping a notepad and a red pencil, and finally noted with grim satisfaction merely that Peaseblossom at no time says fuck and that Calista Flockhart keeps her shirt on.

Later I reflect further on post-modernity. I listen for the first time for forty years to Paul Simon, the man’s first album after breaking up Simon & Garfunkel. What words! The music is a bit these-are-all-the-things-that-I-can-do, but sometimes the words go straight to the heart. In the 70s I used to play Duncan while I ate my breakfast:

Couple in the next room
Bound to win a prize, they’ve been
Going at it all night long.
I’m trying to get some sleep but these
Motel walls are cheap. Lincoln
Duncan is my name and
Here’s my song.

I realise guiltily that if it were not for Duncan, the Belgian couple on 7th September would not have woken me up having sex.

Were they really having sex or not?

Who knows.

That’s why we call it à la blague.
*
I meet my friend Dr. P for tea at the Royal Academy and we talk about living in France, among many other things. Dr. P has a flat near St Tropez. Afterwards I planned to go and see the Degas show but you have to book, even if you’re a Friend. Degas is a towering genius but a ballet dancer is a ballet dancer is a ballet dancer. I realise that I can’t be arsed so I look instead at Maurice Cockerill’s drawings. They are some of the best things he’s done, and his best is very good indeed.

Expelled from the Academy I go up Cork Street and look in on the William Gear show at the Redfern Gallery. It is paintings from the 60s. In 1960 he was doing the fuzzy colours that everyone knows. Indeed it was the early work that had sold. But in about 1963 he started making shards of bright colour, with landscapes sort of behind them. I was much taken with them, especially standing surrounded by them in the central room at the gallery with the skylight. I was moved, which I didn’t expect, as I have always respected his work more than liked it.

Then I walk up Bond Street. What is it about Bond Street? When I was a student and rich people were American I realised that on Bond Street, uniquely among the streets of London, one could not rely on basic pavement etiquette from one’s fellow pedestrians. Now the shoppers of Bond Street are Russian or Chinese or Arabs but the principle is the same. They lurch around on improbable shoes. They attempt to locate the roadway, thrusting aside the inconvenient brims of amusing hats. A pudgy man emerges from a shop, beaming at us all and flicking his fingers at a taxi that has not yet appeared. Maybe he is famous.

One can draw crude political conclusions. The question is, why is it different on Sloane Street?

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