Summer seems over and autumn truly here with a bleak sun that occasionally pokes a few warming rays through our traditional cloud-cover. Perfect tennis-weather. Talking of meteorological features, I’ve just marked the September 26th full moon in my diary. This is the extra-ordinary outsize ‘harvest’ moon, unique to this time of year, that looks like a giant UFO rolling across the skyline. I remember seeing it (knowingly) for the first time while driving through northern Italy in my misspent youth. Suddenly a huge pink globe powered upwards and seemed to block the end of the road. Nobody in the car could quite figure out what the phenomenon was but it inevitably generated a stream of animated comments. Mamma Mia!! hai VISTO??? che cos’e quella cosa gigantesca? mi fa paura! potrebbe essere un marziano? Etcetera. Very spooky indeed. But we drove on, no Martians appeared and we made it back to our pastasciutta in Padova.
A decade or so later, I was walking along a track in rural France and experienced an equally bizarre celestial moment. Suddenly the sun was setting in fiery splendour on one side of me and a massive rose-coloured harvest moon rising on the other. It was quite magical. There is something about the moon-sun configuration at this time of year that creates this visual trick – any scientifically-minded person could explain it. But when you don’t quite understand what’s going on, it becomes all the more bewitching.
London’s intense cultural scene has luckily kept me afloat over the last few weeks while most of my friends were away in sunnier climes. India now, the big Indian fest that has showered London with subcontinental glitz (mentioned in a previous blog), has really gone far beyond superficial folklore and come up with some rare moments of pure pleasure. A highlight was a fabulous evening last week when the British Asian musician Nitin Sawney performed live with the London Symphony Orchestra in Trafalgar Square. This was to accompany the 1929 silent classic, Throw of the Dice, by the German director Franz Osten that was projected onto a giant screen beside the orchestra shell. With Nelson’s Column silhouetted against the cloud-scudding sky, a thousand or more people seated quietly below, black and white scenes of the Mahabharata flickering on the screen and London buses creaking along in the background, it was a unique and rivetting 90-minute experience. It was also a perfect example of how ‘high’ culture can be successfully democratised – and how people lap it up. Give us more Ken!
A follow-up was the big Regent Street bonanza last Sunday which I only managed to catch at the beginning, just as it was warming up. As the whole of this colonial-era street closed to traffic, there was masses of space for dancers, musicians, craftspeople and food-stalls. Hunger-arousing curry and samosa smells wafted over a pseudo-beach while Orissan dancers on stilts, glittering women from Manipur and an incongruous brass + bagpipe band vied with sitars and kids’ play areas. It all looked promising – though it was only too easy to be lured into the background shops; Habitat and Liberty’s no doubt did a roaring trade.
While I chatted with one of the artists selling handicrafts, we realised that I had already bought from him some 5 years ago when he was exhibiting his beautiful Mithila paintings at Delhi’s Crafts Museum (incidentally a brilliant place for buying quality craftwork at fixed prices). Beside him, an elegant woman was selling some unusual silk and wool shawls. These turned out to be produced by an association of artisans in the Kachchh region, a region of Gujarat that suffered a terrible earthquake in 2001. The beauty of these weavings proves the incredible resilience and creativity of India’s rural communities.
My encounters with these people in the heart of London underlined yet again what was exceptional about this event. London was actually being ‘fed’ Indian culture that had been programmed and selected with discernment. These were not obvious handicrafts at all, as the dancers from offbeat areas were not what you’d expect for a mass event. So, my congratulations to the organisers. And roll on the great festival of lights, Diwali, which will be celebrated on October 27 – 28 where else but Trafalgar Square. Who said carbon footprint?