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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

White Rabbit

We'll have some fun when the clock strikes one

Elsa, about 74:
The passage of time reaches a high speed as you get older. (...)You learn that life is not long enough to plant a tree. It will grow, but you will never see it become a great tree. You feel like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland–No time, no time.
(...)And at this point I realize what Charles must have felt from his childhood on. No time, no time.

Charles, about 61:
When I was in my early twenties, I was at our farm on the Yorkshire Moors in England. My Mother, my brother Tom, and my cousin Molly and I were looking at a sow with a litter of young pigs: I noticed that each of us was looking at the scene differently. My mother was thinking "What a nasty smell!" My brother Tom was thinking how much the piglets would market for when they were fattened up. My cousin Molly was thinking "How sweet! A mother and her babies."

And I was watching my family tick.

In the picture above, Charles and Elsa as seen in a 1944 domestic vignette. Elsa's dress makes her look slightly Peter Pan-ish. The inlaid wood clock from their Art & Antiques collection she's winding is 350 years old. Elsa looks -as the press release note puts it- quite industrious: for some reason, I can easily picture her building up a set of EEK!EA shelves, Allen key in hand (my guess is that she'd be more efficient at that than Charles would).

And Charles? Well, Charles is watching the clock tick.

In the background you can guess a piano, topped over by a pre-Columbian jar, and a branch in bloom by the window.

The place is the Laughtons much loved house at the Pacific Palisades in which they lived through the 1940s, that of the luxuriant garden on the cliff overlooking the Pacific, eulogized by Bertolt Brecht:
(...) Leider ist der schöne Garten, hoch über der Küste gelegen
Auf brüchiges Gestein gebaut. Erdrutsche
Nehmen ohne Warnung Teile plötzlich in die Tiefe. Anscheinend
Bleibt nicht viel mehr Zeit, ihn zu vollenden.

Edit: Andy most kindly posted me the English language version Bert Brecht's full poem (Thanks! ;D). Anyone of you out there have the full German Version?


High above the Pacific coast, below it
The waves' gentle thunder and the rumble of oil tankers
Lies the actor's garden.

Giant eucalyptus trees shade the white house
Dust relics of the former mission.
Nothing else recalls it, save perhaps the Indian
Granite snake's head that lies by the fountain
As if patiently waiting for
A number of civilizations to collapse.

And there was a Mexican sculpture of porous tufa
Set on a block of wood, portraying a child with malicious eyes
Which stood by the brick wall of the toolshed.

Lovely grey seat of Chinese design, facing
The toolshed. As you sit on it talking
You glance over your shoulder at the lemon hedge
With no effort.

The different parts repose or are suspended
In a secret equilibrium, yet never
Withdraw from the entranced gaze, nor does the masterly
Of the ever-present gardener allow complete uniformity
To any of the units: thus among the fuchsias
There may be a cactus. The seasons too
Continually order the view: first in one place then in another
The clumps flower and fade. A lifetime
Was too little to think all this up in. But
As the garden grew with the plan
So does the plan with the garden.

The powerful oak trees on the lordly lawn
Are plainly creatures of the imagination. Each year
The lord of the garden takes a sharp saw and
Shapes the branches anew.

Untended beyond the hedge, however, the grass runs riot
Around the vast tangle of wild roses. Zinnias and bright
Hang over the slope. Ferns and scented broom
Shoot up around the chopped firewood.

In the corner under the fir trees
Against the wall you come on the fuchsias. Like immigrants
The lovely bushes stand unmindful of their origin
Amazing themselves with many a daring red
Their fuller blooms surrounding the small indigenous
Strong and delicate undergrowth of dwarf calycanthus.

There was also garden within the garden
Under a Scotch fir, hence in the shade
Ten feet wide and twelve feet long

Which was as big as a park
With some moss and cyclamens
And two camelia bushes.

Nor did the lord of the garden take in only
His own plants and trees but also
The plants and trees of his neighbors; when told this
Smiling he admitted: I steal from all sides.
(But the bad things he hid
With his own plants and trees.)

Scattered around
Stood small bushes, one-night thoughts
Wherever one went, if one looked
One found living projects hidden.

Leading up to the house is a cloister-like alley of hibiscus
Planted so close that the walker
Has to bend them back, thus releasing
The full scent of their blooms.

In the cloister-like alley by the house, close to the lamp
Is planted the Arizona cactus, height of a man, which each
Blooms for a single night, this year
To the thunder of guns from warships exercising
With white flowers as big as your fist and as delicate
As a Chinese actor.

Alas, the lovely garden, placed high above the coast
Is built on crumbling rock. Landslides
Drag parts of it into the depths without warning. Seemingly
There is not much time left in which to complete it.


Matthew Coniam said...

A lovely, thoughtful post, and such a fascinating picture. You can stare at it for ages, spinning off thoughts and associations. It would have good to have known Charles and Elsa.

Gloria said...

I originally intended little more than posting the picture and original press release quote, but you're right, it's a very suggestive image: one thing led to teh other, he.

Andy just sent me the full English version of BB's poem, which has been added to the post.

carocha.meikles said...

The poem is super, can you imagine life in a house worth those lines? Nothing much, just the contemplation of life, ticking by?

Gloria said...

Well, surely one can dream about it!

Laughton, when one checks his work, was quite a whirlwind of activity, but he obviously was wise enough to stop, every then and now, and smell the flowers... and drink a good wine... and look at a beautiful picture... and read a good book... and take care for the garden... ;)

Olivier Eyquem said...

Obviously getting ready for THE BIG CLOCK…

Matthew Coniam said...

I've left you a Friendly Blogger Award at Movietone. (Don't worry -Just ignore it if you're not into such things!)