We found when we were traveling in Greece that you can’t really get out of the car and look for a bush if you need to answer the call of nature: everything is sharp and prickly, even the grass. And every little bush’s like a matakouri bush, they’re all prickly, prickly, prickly and only goats can handle 'em. You see them drawing their horizontal lines along those bare hillsides, and you hear the tinkling of their bells.
I was delighted to get your communication.
Communication is a good word isn’t it? In this case, because it seemed very real. And all sorts of things came up, different angles. I used to do something like this with my friend Jan who went to Bangkok to teach for three years, and we used to send a tape once a fortnight to each other. So as to cope with the idea of sitting down and talking for 60 minutes, we had a sort of pattern; there would be personal, political and literary and on the reverse side of the tape there would be the continuation of a story that she was reading to me. This went on very faithfully for a long time.
There was considerable delay of course from receiving and sending to Bangkok even by air mail and so sometimes, the questions we asked, we’d have to wait a long time for an answer! But it was very delightful to go up the postbox and find that little package and no doubt she felt the same.
She was living in a big block of buildings, she had a room with a balcony and that was it. It was next door to the huge establishment where she taught English to high school level children, although she hadn’t a word of Thai. I don’t know how well it worked Tessa, I think you could certainly get the small change of an exchange, shopping and making general inquiries about peoples well-being and health. That’s good - and to be familiar with the grammar and to be up to speed. Euh, not being up to speed to me is the real problem. I’d find that I never conquered that. When I was learning French, despite the fact that I did my masters in French, and I could read French as well as I could English. In fact I did the same course, I did English 3 and French 3 and in each one we started at the beginning. In English with Anglo Saxon and we worked out way up. And in French we started with fragments of Gallo Roman and worked our way up, taking the phonetic approach for these languages. And that’s the pattern that I really enjoy.
I like foreign times and foreign places and the further away they are, the better! Especially when it comes to the matter of the practice of philology and phonology and working out the past by comparative linguistics, that was my line. Now that’s a bit of an expression in brackets - I wanted to go on to say that I did enjoy the Mark Twain piece you sent. I had the same problem myself. Taking offense really of the fact that although I could stand the genders, I just couldn’t forgive them for retaining those case endings. I didn’t mind the doing of abstract words into ‘German’ German, through root words, so that the meaning of an abstract idea was more seriously, fundamentally, understandable I guess. With German, I thought it was an interesting choice that they deliberately made. Whereas of course, English just right from the beginning came straight from Latin through Norman French and so on and on and on didn’t hesitate to borrow any word at any time. Still doing it aren’t they! And it must be a pretty shapeless language to learn and the spelling is abominable.
Oh, how refreshing it is learning Maori! All those vowels that are exactly the same as their phonetic values and the consonants too - except for a couple of funny ones that we don’t have in our language. The one that’s spelt ‘wh’ (pronounced not as an ‘f’) but as a mystery thing, which the Spanish have too, the thing’s very hard to say. It’s a bilabial fricative. Ah, a delightful language, (indistinct)xxxx indistinct) xxxxx, and all those things.
Now, I was thinking what a good idea it would be to go and live in Germany. I mean it’s not an idea is it? It’s an important decision. Susan’s friend Isabelle who she was in training college with (and their mothers were tramping companions way back), married a Frenchman and decided her children would grow up speaking nothing but French. She went to live in France and the children did grow up bilingually, and she is at present doing some lecturing part-time in the University of Nyon where she lives with a different man, teaching English. Now that would be a string to your bow wouldn’t it, if you lived in Germany. It always seems to be an alternative anywhere in the world! Everyone wants to get a hold of this universal language.
I’m getting on quite well with my Maori I’ve talked to you about it before. Delightful habits of not having a verb ‘to have’ and a verb ‘to be’ and having some very strange ways of doing things. Always,(unlike German), putting the verb at the beginning. And, well, the subject can go somewhere or other but it’s all pretty sensible. They don’t have genders of course, and they don’t ever change the word - that’s almost true - they indicate the plural just by changing the article. You say, ‘Te Whare’ for house and ‘Nga Whare’ for houses. But one strange thing they have which I don’t know if it has any connection with the reason why way back in the Indo-Germanic faraway times, when that group of languages was developing, (not the Maori of course), is whether genders meant something. Because Maori has a change of letter in the possessive pronoun and adjective to indicate status! How’dyou like that? Not gender - status! I wonder if those far of Germanic genders have something to do with status. It would be nice if it were. You could have all sorts of speculations around that subject couldn’t you.
Anyhow, I’m getting on with it. I do my lessons with my (reading) machine, of course it’s not possible to read anything continuously across because it only is a portion of a sentence, so you don’t know where a sentence is going! That’s hard. Though it helps to have the verb at the beginning.
Now, let’s leave that and talk about literary things. Ah, that was a delightful story of Frank Sargesons’s, what a PERFECT story. It’s so wonderful to have an ending like that. I remember trying to write stories once and I usually had some cute little bit like ‘the Lord being ashamed of himself’ you know some really nice thing, and I would think, I’ve got the end first and I’d get a story and it would lead up the end. It didn’t work of course, you can’t be artificial about this literary business, it’s serious business. You don’t want to be boring, you don’t want to be facile, you don’t want to be another bit of the same.
You obviously know all about this, and have been working on it with that story of yours, with which I had some difficulty. Because I had to listen to it more than once. I didn’t realise on the first listening, my hearing is like the other faculties in old age, in that its reaction time gets a lot slower and it’s hard for me to keep up with what’s being said at an ordinary speed. And when it hasn’t got an action thread, as it were, running through to help it along. It wasn’t until I ‘read’ it again, that I found that there was a help in the chapters, well, will we call them chapters? The numbering from 1 to 5? And then when I found where I was as we went along, that made a huge difference. If I’d had the text in front of me of course, I wouldn’t have had this problem. Er, for one thing, you have a longer bite at it. And so you’re really reading several lines at a time and getting an idea of what’s going to happen before it happens. The whole thing goes whirling along in your mind, and you’re not limited to one word at a time. (With audio) You don’t know what the next word will be and very often when I try to supply it, it’s the wrong word (laughs) and I go haring off in the wrong direction.
Anyhow, you had the most wonderful images of places and the journey, as you went west. Oh, I delighted in it, I wanted to stop and (this was another thing) stop and read some of those phrases again! Because they, they really got to me. So, I did enjoy it, at the same time with feeling of frustration, oh, what a pity I couldn’t read it. The audio is a wonderful thing to have if you haven’t got eyes. It has its failings though, but it also has its virtues. Some of the English texts, generally speaking, are read by people who are trained actors or trained speakers of some sort. Particularly the actors they get to read these stories - they put into it so much more. The ones that are read by the foundation, the volunteers, the regulars from New Zealand don’t have that quality. And it does make a difference when you’re getting something only through the ears.
Now I don’t dare stop talking because I’ve already had dreadful trouble with this machine. I’ve forgotten how to work it and every time I try to pause, I lost it, and then I found I wanted to go back to the beginning, and then play and when I got to the point where I left off I would start again. But somehow it didn’t work that way, I got all tangled up. So, I don’t share your delight in the new technical improvements. I hate them with a dreadful hate. It’s really a fact of life that people are getting left behind, left behind all the time. The time will come when you too will be left behind, as things go faster and faster and you get older and older. These silly technicians keep doing more and more, and more and more unreal and unnecessary things. Just from their selfish, perverted desire to fulfill themselves. Very bad idea that. Which is s’posed to be the thing that we’re all s’posed to be doing. ‘To fulfill’ ourselves. Nonsense! There’s nothing to fulfill! Until you’ve got something there. You can’t fulfill a thing that has no background and skeleton to fill up, no container as it were, no vehicle, no real mass to add to and change. This is some sort of a rave that I haven’t managed to express. Never mind! I dare not stop! If I do I’ll have to start again from the beginning.
Now, what was I going to say? Oh yes, this terrible Don Brash! Who, as you know, for years and years and years, twenty years I think, used to be the governor of the Reserve Bank. Now, he was sort of chosen by the desperate National Party to come and be their leader. They absolutely ran out of anyone who is anyone. And so he came in, and he became their leader immediately, although he’d never been in politics before. He had stood, but he hadn’t been elected. But actually he came this time as part of the tail, you know those things, the voting system we have, where the number of party votes indicate the number of members that a party will have. It hands them right down, all sorts of weird combinations and alliances, coalitions are taking place. It’s really quite a chess game.
Anyhow, he gave a speech, knocking the Maori and the occasion of it was this big dispute about the ownership of the foreshore and seacoast which struck such a nerve with everyone. The Bill was introduced by the Labor Party to take all the foreshore to Crown Ownership, and of course the Maori were absolutely furious. The Treaty of Waitangi gave them their customary rights to the seas shore and they reckon they also have property rights and recently they have been preventing ordinary people from going to quite a number of beaches which they are using and living at. There are lots of these places as you can well imagine. Most off them are up in the Far North where people really do live and fish and live on the land and they always have. And the idea of that becoming public land to them has set their temperatures soaring, and so on.
Anyhow, Don Brash has delivered a speech which also gained him much favor with many, many, many New Zealanders and National’s ratings shot right up! And, he said that far too much was being given to the Maori, they were being favoured by the Labor Party and ordinary Pakeha were being pushed aside, they let the Maori have the good jobs and they weren’t fit to perform them and so on. And it was a very logical, well-turned speech, and I was quite impressed by it just purely from the sentence structure and the logic of it. Ah, however, when he started to be interviewed on the radio, (of course, I listen to the radio all the time) he fell down. He wanted to do away with all the doles, the supports, of the unemployed. And when he was asked what he should do about it, because you can’t let people starve. He said, oh, no, we’ll create work. The unemployed will have to report at some place like the local county office and the work will be given to them they will be paid at which ever rate for the work. And that was his only idea of how to cope with the problem. More and more as he is attacked one finds that apart from when he’s reading a prepared speech, he’s sinking rapidly, thank God! (Laughs)
The National Party in fact have sent him touring around the world because he’s really not doing much good to them now that every time he opens his mouth with an interviewer he exposes the fact that he really hasn’t thought his economics through to the point of having any novelty in it at all. It’s all very exciting, I’m really a political animal, it’s like sport. Of course that’s another thing that keeps us glued, not to the television (I don’t watch it, for a long time I couldn’t because I couldn’t bear the ads and now I can’t because I can’t see it!). I tried to have a look at one or two of the games, the Athens Games, but it was pretty blurry. It did interest me in a way, it’s funny the way everyone put down the Greeks and said oh, they’ll never be ready, and they were totally ready. Before I had my last, ah, downhill stretch with my eyes, my latest one I mean, they were rather wonderful, especially the rowing ones. Where you seemed to be on the edge of some artificial structure and in the background but not right up, there seemed to be a valley behind.
There were those bare hills with spots of what I knew would be just thorn bushes. We found when we were traveling in Greece that you can’t really get out of the car and look for a bush, if you need to answer the call of nature, everything is sharp and prickly, even the grass. And every little bush’s like a matakouri bush, they’re all prickly, prickly, prickly and only goats can handle them. You see them drawing their horizontal lines along those bare hillsides, and you hear the tinkling of their bells.
Really, Greece has been totally destroyed by vegetarians. I’m rather anti-vegetarian. I reckon the human being is an omnivore. You’ve got carnivores and omnivores and herbivores. Herbivores are the ones that wreck the landscape, they’ve reduced it to desert so many places. I’m not saying that people are in that category of course, it’s just one of my defenses for the fact that I do eat dead animals. Well, better dead than alive.
Now, Tessa, I don’t know where I am and I don’t know what I’ve already said, and it doesn’t really matter does it. I’m just communicating. I was wanting to say something about my favorite books. And one of the ones that I share with you, was this same Italo Calvino. What a lovely man! I’ve read some of his short stories and my favorite is a three part thing called ‘The Ancestors’ have you read it? It has the same quality as my other favorite writer, namely Salman Rushdie. There’s a sort of strangeness about it, they don’t worry about ordinary happenings, they just go happily along.
Now, I do wonder whether this is recording at all, because I didn’t dare stop and start again because I got myself into trouble when I did that. Anyhow, Tessa, I think I’ll just stop, eh?