Right now we are staying in a converted stone barn in central Portugal and I am watching a tiny lizard scampering along the top of the concrete edging which separates the outdoor terracotta tiles from the burnt grass. Preparing camarão for lunch earlier while listening to an old ’69 recording of Duane Allman / Boz Scaggs combined on a blues workout got me to thinking about a time when I was in a similar situation, staying in an almost identical stone barn in central France not long after the annual grape harvest had concluded, just as it has already in Portugal this year.
The time of year was near enough the same, with hot late-summer temperatures folding into cooling autumn days and encroaching star-filled nights. We – a new-found friend and myself – had travelled up from the Beaujolais district on a train with Tigre, who we had met while working in the vineyards, and were staying in his friends’ vacated property. Amongst the album collection were a stack of blues rock recordings, most notably those of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, which seemed never to leave the turntable and whose sound dominated the barn interior while melding into the surrounding green hills and endless heat-filled days.
The big difference is in the times, in every sense of the word.
Back in the late-seventies you could believe that the world was actually going to become a better place to inhabit, no matter in which part of the globe you lived. Sure, there was already the growing North-South economic divide, and both the post-colonial states and pre-empire USA had proved themselves willing to go to any lengths in order to secure their influence in foreign countries around the world. Both elected and non-elected elements in these states were continually plotting murders, coups and mayhem which they felt would sustain and develop their ascendancy. The Chilean coup by General Pinochet, supported and financed by representatives of the USA, and subsequent dismantling of democratic societies around the world by use of force, along with the rigging of financial institutions (as outlined by the discredited Milton Freidman Chicago school of economics), was the model successfully adopted and imposed on an indoctrinated and gullible public.
Prior to these simultaneously planned and meticulously orchestrated seizures of political and economic power, the mood music – the times they are a’changing mentality – actually had some resonance. Which is what scared the ‘planners’ in the first place. Which is why they introduced their dissonance. Which is how we have come to be in a world that appears to have taken several steps backwards along the road of progress rather than continued moving forwards.
Back then in late-summer France it would have been impossible to imagine a global corporatocracy being fronted first by a Hollywood B-list actor with incipient dementia, followed by a string of downright corrupted or toady characters, leading to the most insane public choice of all in a three-times bankrupted celebrity TV star real estate magnate of dubious moral standing by the name of Trump. Not even K Dick had come up with that one.
Just as there has been external change in hopes between these times, so has there been internal change taking place (that said, had world events continued on a trajectory which appeared to be leading to further freedoms and international cooperation, the internal would have better mirrored the external. Instead, there has been both convergence and divergence).
In the first place, an internal psyche first shaken and even unhinged by the monetarist and militarist takeover of two predominant social orders – the US and UK – rallied to the point of discovering and asserting perfect harmony within and without. This took years of concentrated study, only to be followed by dismal years of disappointment leading to busted ideals and broken dreams. Time both covered up the cracks and buried previous idealistic hopes – whilst also furnishing many opportunities for growing relationships built on trust and love. But what had seemed certain at the outset – that love and contentment would develop in equal measure to a far more equitable and peaceful world – at last appeared hopeless. Not naïve, just hopeless.
And now, looking out at the summery decline of another year to a backdrop of sixties and seventies freedom-loving and politically-inspired white blues music…?
Yesterday morning we were woken to a particular sound…and understood precisely what had happened… Phone calls received from a sister-in-law on my wife’s device are announced by a programmed ringtone; so when Motown blared out at seven-thirty a.m. as we snoozed in bed what had been half-expected became finalised.
“Dad’s died! Dad’s died!”
Naturally, this news has harbingered a whole slew of thoughts and emotions concerning the very bedrock of life itself. We all have our own views about what happens to the human being after death – my own are clearly laid out in a sequence of eight novels which I started writing that summer after my stay with the French hobo Tigre in the stone barn following the year’s vendange – but whatever we may believe seems hardly important against the very first and very real impact arising from the knowledge of the death of a parent, which is an event that can only happen twice in any lifetime. A human being that gave you life is now departed.
And so now here we are living temporarily in our stone barn situated in central Portugal amongst the olive groves of the village…
For me, at least, I’d say the big difference between the time spent in France that late-summer and the time spent here in Portugal is exactly that – : time. Whereas there seemed so much of it back then – in fact time felt limitless and so therefore did freedom and all possible outcomes – now, all these years on, with failed dreams and busted hopes, insults and amassed injuries, that self-same time seems somewhat curtailed, contracting and diminishing, ever-shortening as the final event horizon draws ever closer.