Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.
Before I built a wall, I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out,/And to whom I was like to give offence./Something there is that does not love a wall, that wants it down. Truly spoken, Robert Frost. Another poet, W. H. Auden wrote about Hadrian’s Wall in Roman Wall Blues, where he captures the loneliness and misery of sentinels the world over throughout history as they stand vigil on their particular wall and peer into the mist for signs of the enemy, The rain comes pattering out of the sky,/I’m a Wall soldier, I don’t know why. There is something about walls that engender complacency- in Edwin Muir’s poem, The Castle, the besieged look unconcernedly from the turret walls surrounding the fortress at the foe half a mile distant confident in the knowledge of their ample provisions, brave defenders, stout fortifications and allies drawing near.
But… There was a little private gate,/A little wicked wicket gate./The wizened warder let them through. And why? Our only enemy was gold,/And we had no arms to fight it with. So-called Chinese walls in financial, commercial and legal institutions are supposed to guarantee probity in matters where conflicts of interest may occur but this does not stop regular breaches of the walls and laws in all of these sectors. The actual Great Wall of China is stupendous to look at but failed miserably in its purpose of keeping out determined invaders, who simply rode around it or had its gates opened by traitors.
The Berlin Wall failed and one may surmise (indeed, hope) that similar walls still in place around the world, will ultimately fail, too. Something there is that does not love a wall. Are you listening, Donald Trump, as you plot a return to the White House? Walls made of unobtainium remain the ideal of oppressors throughout time and place. Such a wall would be impervious to any agency, method or technology. Impenetrable, resisting any level of energy or density of matter, this wall would serve the wildest fantasies of even the most certifiable of megalomaniacs. But it’s out of reach in our material world. The only place such walls can be forged are in the furnaces of the dogmatic mind. Is there anything in this universe more adamantine than the certitude of the religious bigot or political ideologue?
The wailing wall has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries and the practice of leaving prayers on scraps of paper stuffed into cracks is one that fulfils a deep human need to connect in a tangible way with sacred places. In the city of Leiden, the Netherlands, there is a modern version of the wailing wall, it seems to me. Two artists, Ben Walenkamp and Jan-Willem Bruins, with the assistance of various civic and philanthropic bodies arranged that on various walls throughout the city you will be able read 101 poems by a range of poets, starting in 1992 with a poem in Russian by Marina Tsvetaeva, concluding in 2005 with the Federico Garcia Lorca poem, De Profundis,
Those hundred lovers/are asleep forever/beneath the dry earth./Andalusia has/long, red-coloured roads./Córdoba, green olive trees/for placing a hundred crosses/to remember them./Those hundred lovers/are asleep forever. Assassinated, himself, in shadowy circumstances in 1936, his friend Pablo Neruda, explained that the poet had a premonition of his impending death, relating to him that, waking just before dawn Lorca walked to the ruins of a feudal estate on the outskirts of a village in Castile, Suddenly Federico felt oppressed as if by something about to come out of the dawn, something about to happen. He sat down on the broken-off capital of a pillar lying toppled there. A tiny lamb came out to browse in the weeds among the ruins, appearing like an angel of mist, out of nowhere, to turn solitude into something human, dropping like a gentle petal on the solitude of the place. The poet no longer felt alone. Suddenly a herd of swine also came into the area. There were four or five dark animals, half-wild pigs with a savage hunger and hoofs like rocks. Then Federico witnessed a blood-curdling scene: the swine fell on the lamb and, to the great horror of the poet, tore it to pieces and devoured it.
So, was this sublime poet, musician and playwright, taken to some pock-marked wall and slaughtered; his body later disposed of in a manner shrouded, to this day, in mystery? Yet another young life cut short. I used to yearn, like the Roman wall soldier in Auden’s poem for the days, When I’m a veteran with only one eye/I shall do nothing but look at the sky. Having passed the 70-year mark, I think, I’ve reached that point. And I recall the words of Moe Bandy’s fine country song, ‘Til I’m Too Old To Die Young, I will climb the highest hill/And watch the rising sun/And pray that I won’t feel the chill/’Til I’m too old to die young. But why, I wonder, is that too much to ask for far too many? [insert song]
Most of the listeners to this letter, I suspect, live in that transnational state called Affluenza, where the products of consumerism burst the confines of closets, rooms and garages and where landfill sites are rapidly becoming gorged with discarded stuff while our waterways and oceans are clogged by plastic, pollution and the putrescent bodies of bloated fish. In Affluenza it’s not much of a boast to say you’re a millionaire: here in Sydney, because of the inflated property market, the median house is worth well over one million dollars. In this century, you want to be a billionaire to set yourself apart from the common masses. As of March 2021, there are only 2755 members of this exclusive club in the world- most from the US, China and India. So, winning multiple millions on lotto won’t come close to letting you through that door. I’m certain, though, that most Quotidians, like you and me, dear listener, would be quite content with a million or two to keep the wolf from our door.
Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.
Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)
Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58
For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used
Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studio. Approximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.