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.
For our 41st letter we are going to have to meet under the rose… adopt stealth as our watchword… and become au fait with smoke and mirrors as we wrap a cloak of secrecy around us..shhhh…Family secrets: everyone knows one or more about their own family and one or more about other families, if only through the media. What one generation may hang its head in shame over the next, more likely than not, just shrugs and says, so what!
The convict stain in Australian society became a badge of honour in the space of a generation or two. Distance in time lends enchantment to a roguish ancestor or two in the family tree. People who seek information about their forbears are more likely to advertise relationship to a pirate than an accountant. Note also, that privacy for individuals becomes an increasingly rare commodity in inverse proportion to the growing obfuscation surrounding the activities of transnational corporations and governments.
The contradictory signals make reading the signs of the times about as reliable as the practice of palmistry. I am reliably informed the Buddha once said “Three things cannot long stay hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth”. Much as I admire the ancient sage, smog covers the sun and coal-fired power station emissions deal with the moon for a lot of people a lot of the time. And the truth? The Roman procurator of Judea sometime around the end of the third decade of the first century asked what that was and the question has reverberated down the millennia since.
When someone begins a sentence with the phrase, the fact is, chances are- it isn’t. Now, as usual, I don’t go to politicians or economists for answers, but poets. Denise Levertov wrote a poem entitled The Secret back in the 60s that is as thought-provoking now as then, Two girls discover/the secret of life /in a sudden line of/poetry./I who don’t know the/secret wrote/the line. Of course, the girls don’t reveal the line to Levertov’s informant and the poet knows that, now a week later, the line has been forgotten…I love them/for finding what/I can’t find,/and for loving me/for the line I wrote,/and for forgetting it/so that/a thousand times, till death/finds them, they may/discover it again in other/lines/ …or/assuming there is/such a secret, yes,/for that/most of all.
That is the sort of secret I can relate to. Unlike the secret that excludes everyone but the chosen few. Such as the rosy cross of the Rosicrucians. Roman banquet halls had roses painted on them so that matters discussed there under the influence of wine (sub vino) would also remain sub rosa or secret. The Victorians loved floriography- the language of flowers and would exchange nosegays, charmingly known as tussie-mussies, and parade around with these small bouquets trying to decipher what, if any, meaning lay hidden in the arrangements held by friends they might encounter in their perambulations.
So, if anyone presents you with an arrangement featuring aconite, aloe and lobelia, my advice would be for you to run a mile because, if my reading of the wreath is accurate, they represent misanthropy, grief and malevolence. What’s in a name? as Shakespeare asked so memorably in Romeo and Juliet. I wonder what was in the minds of my paternal great-grandparents when they christened their daughter Rose.
When I produced the first draft of this letter five years ago, I was listening to The Grateful Dead’s version of the Dylan classic, Visions of Johanna, sung by Jerry Garcia before a crowd at the Delta Centre in Salt Lake City, Utah in February 1995: and thought it a fitting close to the 2015 release of 30 Trips Around the Sun: The Definitive Live Story. The crowd sing along, they know the words, they know the secret the same way the two girls knew the secret in the Denise Levertov poem which was written around the same time Dylan was writing this.
The song’s on repeat as I drink doubles of Scotch and Cola out of a Rolling Stones’ tall glass and get torn up all over again over the fate of my father’s mother. I first knew her as a photograph of an elegant Edwardian lady in an oval frame hanging in the reception room of my childhood home in Cushendall, Northern Ireland. My enquiries were deflected, brushed off with the bare bones info that this was my father’s mother but not the one who raised him.
My nephew later did a little delving into family history and rattled some skeletons in the closet. My grandmother had taken a trip to Germany on a ship captained by her husband in 1914 and had been interned because war had broken out. She was returned to Ireland without her husband and, driven out of her mind with worry, was confined to an insane asylum where she died before the end of the war. Mental illness was a shameful thing for that generation so the only thing I heard was, she was delicate, highly strung, and other euphemisms of the kind.
My nephew, a journalist, gained access to her medical records through FOI legislation and I was hurt to read about her pain, set down in clinical prose by the treating physician. In a recent post my nephew writes: she is still remembered by her kin. Rose has a simple marker in the Bay cemetery, Glenariffe, and flowers are still being placed on her grave. : [insert song]
Our next visit to Quotidia takes us to the charnel house that was Yugoslavia as it split apart in 1991 and a brilliant poem by Goran Simic called The Calendar. While not as pleasant as other letters, I think we do need to re-visit difficult times and places in order that we do not stumble into the same desolation in future- a futile hope perhaps but a hope nevertheless…
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.