23 March 2024

On Saturday Chuck Smith came over to film interviews for his new documentary film on Tuli Kupferberg of The Fugs. Confusingly there is another film being made on The Fugs, with Thurston Moore narrating, which inevitably will overlap with Chuck’s film even though Tuli’s story also encompasses his peace activism, his poetry, the Birth Press and the various magazines he published and edited. I’ll be very pleased to see both, but can understand the frustration the filmmakers must feel. Chuck had Antonio Pagano with him as his cameraman, who had done the video improvisations with Youth at the Horse Hospital. Antonio is super-professional and soon had his lighting rig and camera up and running. The interview went well, though he will only use a minute or two at most. Camila was staying with me, so he also interviewed her as she had interviewed Ed Sanders about ten years ago and could discuss Ed’s memories of the Fugs and Tuli. Here’s a nice picture Antonio took of me and Chuck.

The next day Camila and I went to Cambridge to see the William Blake’s Universe show at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge. Blake being the subject of Camila’s PhD and much of her writing, including the influence of Blake on post-war Popular Music. She was particularly moved by Catherine Blake’s, probably posthumous, drawing of the young Blake, and by the Frontispiece to Jerusalem etching that he rejected, scraped back and changed for the final version. She hit the merch table hard with its posters, fridge magnets, mugs and catalogues. Here’s the t-shirt with Blake’s illustration ‘I want! I want!’ ladder to the moon from 1793, 72 years before Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon.

It was a lovely day and Cambridge could not have been more archetypal with its blossoms, bicycles, tourists, and medieval buildings. The museum contains many treasures but rather than dilute the Blake experience we only visited the Egyptian rooms where there’s a rather nice little Sekhmet, though she’s lost her ankh and her lotus-flower papyrus-sceptre.

On the 20th March it was fifth anniversary of the death of Rosemary Bailey. I was privileged to have lived with her for 41 years, the majority of my adult life, and most of hers. I cooked her favourite meal for Theo, our son, and his girlfriend Minako: a filet de boeuf au Roquefort, something done only on special occasions with Rosemary. It was the first meal she had after giving birth to Theo. 

Regarding food, I have to record a delightful meal made by my old friend Simon Caulkin a few days later. Present were Ginette, Theo and Minako, Valerie and myself. Simon had spent two days making a superb cassoulet, a traditional dish from the Languedoc. There are three warring factions regarding the correct recipe for cassoulet which involves haricot beans and various types of meat. It was supposedly invented in Castelnaudry where the meat used is pork, pork knuckle, pork rind and ham, whereas in Toulouse they add confit de canard or confit d’oie and a Toulouse sausage. In Carcassonne they add large chunks of mutton and even any gamebirds they have shot. Then there is how many times to break the crust, Simon used the traditional twice, but some people believe it has to be broken seven times. Simon’s had a thick crunchy crust and it was probably the best cassoulet I’ve ever tasted. Paula Wolfert devotes five pages of discussion about it in her classic The Cooking of South West France

On the 25th Marsha Rowe and I went to see the Women in Revolt show at Tate Britain. I’d heard mixed views of it but waited until Marsha came to town before going as she was the co-founder of Spare Rib, the early seventies feminist magazine, and co-founder of Virago Books which grew out of Spare Rib Books. The subject – the women’s movement in Britain – is really too big for a single exhibition. Presented at an art gallery one naturally expected to see some art, but there was hardly any. That would have made a separate show in itself. And rather than cover just the early days there were rooms dealing with the AIDS crisis, the struggle of Black woman and of course, an enormous amount of documentation about LGBTQ+ actions and events. It was all too much and sometimes became little more than a series of overcrowded vitrines and wall panels. It would take many hours to read the labels and examine the hundreds and hundreds of items that have been so carefully displayed. As it was mostly documentation it should possibly have been presented elsewhere but we have no equivalent of the Smithsonian, so Tate had to do the job. Spare Rib appears in many of the display cases as it was central to the movement. Marsha was pleased to see that someone had kept a Spare Rib dish towel and I photographed her with it. 

Two days later I was in Paris, staying at Simon and Ginette’s place in the 13th. I saw friends and Camila joined me from Arras where she had been at a conference. I borrowed Catherine’s keys and shopped at her local market next to the Square d’Anvers in SOPI while she was teaching at the Sorbonne. I love this market. Just one of the meat stalls is four times as well stocked as Harrods or Selfridges and puts Waitrose’s stock to shame: here you can buy rabbit, hare and game, pig’s trotters and calf’s feet, foie gras, half a sucking pig, and the ingredients for even the most complicated French recipe. Prices are considerably cheaper than nearby rue de Martyrs. I bought the makings for quails wrapped in prosciutto with red grapes. The butcher carefully burned off the few bits of feather fuzz they had on them with a blow torch. I cooked at Catherine’s place for the three of us and drank too much wine. I forgot to take photographs but here’s one of Catherine I made earlier (I made the stuffed squid in the picture).

Camila and I went out to the Fondation Louis Vuitton to see the Rothko show. I had been before in December with Catherine but was very pleased to see it again as it’s huge and there were some rooms I hadn’t given proper attention to. This is one of my favourite pictures by him.

I was only back in London for three days before flying off to Lisbon on April 3rd to do an ‘on-stage’ conversation with Camila for the English Department of the university. Even quick trips like this are wonderfully stimulating. After I checked into my hotel we had a late lunch: one of the most traditional of all Portuguese foods, a Prego sandwich: flattened steak with ham in a bun, often made with a garlic and wine marinade and absolutely delicious.

Though spring is just arriving in London, in Lisbon it was already 23 degrees, and we were able to catch a few rays in the Parque Eduardo VII before dinner. I was struck by the earthquake warning notice posted by all the elevators. I had known, of course, about the famous 1755 earthquake that destroyed 85 percent of Lisbon and killed up to 20,000 people but hadn’t realised that earthquakes are recurring fact of life with nine major quakes since the 12th century, the last big one being in 1969. Worryingly, most of the older buildings in the city are still non-earthquake-proof. 

After lunch with Prof Bernardo Palmeirim at the university we sat in on his class on sixties America. It was a time trip back to Sixties America in the days of LBJ. He had kindly invited me to make interventions, but I restricted this to chanting, along with him, ‘Hey, Hey, LBJ. How many kids did you kill today?’ which, of course, has a direct resonance to the murder of thousands of innocent women and children in Gaze today by the Israelis using American weapons and jets. I also added that the reason the Nixon Law-and-Order campaign worked so well against student anti-Vietnam war demonstrators was because so many of the sons of middle-class voters were exempt through higher education or phoney medical reports (like Trump). Proportionally the highest number of solders were from Puerto Rico where they could be drafted but didn’t have the vote. Most Americans knew nothing about them. 

We had a good turnout for my conversation – the room was full and, more importantly, no-one left. I ran through the Albert Hall poetry reading, Allen Ginsberg, Indica Books and Gallery, John and Yoko meeting there, Zapple and spoken word recordings, and how writing each biography is a very different experience. There was quite a lively Q&A session afterwards. The academic staff were all nice people, very friendly. As I never went to university – only art school – the university environment is a constant surprise to me though I have done talks – or ‘conversations’ at quite a few by now, dozens in fact. But no matter which country I’m in, the sense of academic rivalry and the hierarchic divisions between staff is always the same. Margarida Gato was particularly interesting to talk with as she had translated some of the Beats, including Ginsberg, into Portuguese. Here’s the line-up: Angelica Varandas, M+C, Margarida Gato, Bernardo Palmeirim. 

That evening Camila, who is Brazilian, cooked a traditional Moqueca Baiana, a white fish stew made from coconut milk, a red pepper, tomatoes, onion and garlic, limes, palm oil, paprika and coriander. The best fish stew I’ve ever had with a real depth of flavours. My guests will be eating it soon. I’m getting to know Camila’s flatmates and friends in Lisbon, who are so friendly and kind. And tolerant – I am twice as old as them, after all. Here they are L to R: Marina, M, Camila [front], Lilia and Joao:

The last day of what was only a two-night trip for me, Camila and I went out to Cascais, on the Costa de Lisboa. It’s a small touristy seaside town, about 40 minutes from Lisbon by train, but very beautiful and, once you get away from the touristy areas, a place where you can get superb food. Here we are at A Nova Estrela on rua do Poco Novo in Cascais, and here’s my food: a perfectly cooked octopus with garlic potatoes, not chewy or tough just wonderfully tasty. Then back to London arriving at 11pm – a long day but worth it. 

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