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Strange fits of passion I have known… August 17, 2012

Posted by janehaynes in : Atomies of love, dogs, Thinking skywards , add a comment

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Strange Fits Of Passion I Have Known

For Lucy

I have never walked down a path gloved like this one and I want to cling on while I imagine retracing steps tomorrow, as naïve as to imagine that I will ever see the same white throat swallow chase with the twilight, or the same wave make towards the shore. The pathway will be there and the light will fall, but different as it steals between lichen loved oaks, the scratched beeches, notched alders and hovers beside and beyond guardian banks of purple-speckle foxgloves that stalk me in their hundreds. Poisoned digitalis bells that sound the heart and have impelled a fascination since I was a child and knew them by more sinister names, dead man’s bells and witch’s gloves, which I was told when sucked would change the beat of your heart for better or for worse, or stop it forever, are seeded here.

Tomorrow, I will uncover an undergrowth stumbled on by last night’s storm. Brambles will advance in legions alongside the pathway. I have walked down other paths and sometimes I have seen hollyhocks and at other times, wild iris; often a grouping of gloves, so different from the sweetness of a cowslip bell but I have never seen – and they are no longer there for the seeing – such a sheet of poisoned heart bells. The idea of a poisonous nature fascinates; the golden chains of the laburnum, the yew and that modest berry, the deadly nightshade, seduce me. Ah, I have forgotten hemlock. My heart aches as though of the hemlock I had drunk and was about to sleep forever.

Scrambling for balance, I inhale loamed bark with tears and trample sudden orchids that are gemmed like butterfly into dunged earth and cannot escape the knowing that nature is careless. Involuntary images of the heart - of digitalis poisons and inhalations of loss – are companions as I emerge from the undergrowth into a clearing with nothing other than the memory of Lucy - breathless and with her life forces extinguished - as she changed into a carcass beside me.

She lived unknown, and few could know

When Lucy ceased to be;

But she is in her grave, and oh,

The difference to me!

Lucy, my Hungarian Vizsla and a divine part of myself for almost eleven years is dead. For precision’s sake, and death’s measure is precise, her life was extinguished by a kindly administered injection of Phenobarbitone at 5PM or thereabouts, I did not look at my watch but held her tight in my arms on Friday 27th July 2012.

Each day of Lucy’s life reminded me of the privilege of living close to an instinctual and gentle animal nature about which the human animal knows, or perhaps I mean cares, less and less. Milan Kundera says: “Dogs are our link to paradise. They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring - it was peace.” I go further and say that it is only in our, no not in ‘our’ but in my own experience of loving Lucy that I have experienced the joy of an extended and passionate relationship that has not been harrowed by a fretted ambivalence of human nature. Paradise lost is to acknowledge a paradise of desire where love was unconditional and without ambivalence, without envy but desire survives rarely between humans without some obstacle, without some green ey’d monster.

Lucy lived life through her heart and fittingly it was her heart that stole the life force from her. No! Lucy lived life through her heart and her nose, a saucy, beautiful beast, who loved the scent of a small dead thing; who loved to throw herself into a skunked heap of fox dung and then to rub-in against our shins. She was born a hunter and retriever who had to imagine Regent’s Park into heath and highland. On her penultimate day of life in late July she ran the park like Zephyrus and dined on the bone scattered air of an Olympian picnic or two.

To begin with our vet was convinced it was a case of poisoning, what other explanation might answer for a collapse of morning energy into evening inertia, which reminds me that when people ask me how I am, I reply, ‘Well, I think. I hope.’ How do we ever know what agenda our bodies are plotting to hostage us, today or tomorrow?

Lucy was not poisoned and she only had to suffer for a small while until another emergency vet,  still baffled, thought to image her heart, which was found drowning inside of an abominable and irreversible tumour. ‘Rogue cells’ he explained, ‘which are very rare in the heart, can grow from the size of a pea to a pineapple in a week.’

Memories are seeding into my mind. Despite our energetic human ways, our seductive flurries of activity and our lives’ cul de sacs, it is our memory, our attachment to certain memory threads that define us, not for the other but for our selves.

Lucy is dead. With her death my supernal memories have become more static, a memorial series of glorious photographs. Across the table my grandson is also challenged by thoughts of composition as he struggles to navigate his own plot. I see an exceptional head of doused curls, which trigger an energy that trawls through years of exquisite boy-growing self. My involuntary third eye selects and remembers through twenty years of shock headed life. When I think back to Dan’s beginnings I think of a small boy taking his first steps and falling over with an indignant expression of surprise. I remember him hungry, a little gannet who knew the name of more than twenty sea birds before he was twenty months old. I remember him in a small red felt duffle coat looking in awe at a large red letterbox at the end of the road. I remember how quickly he discovered that it is the girls and not the boys who always have the leading role in fairy tales.

When I remember Lucy I think about her innocent heart and her attachments. I remember the first thing that I did on coming home was to call, ‘Lucy, Lucy’, and I waited for her wet greeting.

Thus Nature spake – The work was done –

How soon my Lucy’s race was run!

She died, and left to me

This heath, this calm and quiet scene;

The memory of what has been,

And never more will be.

Willliam Wordsworth, Lucy Poems

LUCY AND BLUE EYE'D BELL JUNE 2012

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John Haynes Picture of the Week: PINK May 20, 2012

Posted by janehaynes in : Atomies of love, Becoming..., Thinking skywards , 2comments

Palais des Papes, Avignon, 3 AM 

For my grand daughter Portia: ‘Ward Seven’ May 12, 2012

Posted by janehaynes in : Atomies of love, Becoming..., Thinking skywards, Uncategorized, Writing a book , add a comment

I haven’t blogged for months, perhaps a year, I have had writers’s block and haven’t been able to write my book either, but now it seems to be thawing, along with the weather in St. Petersburg where I shall be on Monday. It’s been a hard day’s work trying to get a ‘business’ visa released from out of the Russian Embassy but at deadlines last night they issued it and I shall be spending next week working at the Eastern European Institute of Psychoanalytic Studies. While I am there I am going to try, if time allows, and time is always out of mind, a brief journal for Portia. I am not however taking my laptop, as I have a skilled way of losing it when I am travelling so the blog can wait for my return.

Portia decided she didn’t want to go to University and she is working night and day, day and night for a film company in Charlotte Street, where she has discovered what the meaning of the verb, ‘to work’ really is. She is often – unlike her brother who rises at noon and only begins seriously to focus at dusk –  up with the blackbird chorus and only home long after the sun has set. Last week she told me that when occasionally she has nothing to do at work she has been reading my blog, I didn’t know that she knew I had one,  and that with the exception of Proust which was not her  cup of tea, and I understand why, she has felt drawn in and engaged by my writing to all sorts of new thoughts…

I cannot imagine anybody giving me a better gift, and it has certainly helped the iceberg to thaw.

In the interim between leaving and returning I am posting for Portia an earlier experience of my work in St. Petersburg and like Portia the Russians all know how to work, when I was privileged to visit the most notorious and ‘luxurious’ psychiatric hospital in Russia, the Bekhterev Brain Institute.

Portia, I hope, on my return to be able to provide you with a more light hearted read… especially as the women of St. Petersburg would not be seen dead in a snow boot but promenade St. Isaacs Square in Christian Louboutin seven inch stilettos. Well, those of them that have money, the rest are vulnerable, if not to being run over by buses, to being dragged along beside them when their impatient drivers barely stop. And then there are the dancing, oops I mean the chained bears. I have to close my eyes but I can still hear the clunk of chain,  and the risky business of hitching random lifts to Nevsky Prospekt and the Institute in the scruffiest Skoda and Lada cars, which you just hail down,  but with warm hearted drivers, for  a handful of roubles.  And, I thought I might even try to find the time to look for a winter leather coat…

WARD SEVEN

I am returning to St.Petersburg to give a series of lectures at the Eastern European Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies. My host is Mikhail Reshetnikov, an ex-military general and physician who persuaded Yeltsin to return psychoanalytic psychotherapy to an official status in the national medical curriculum after its demise by the Communists in 1927. Reshetnikov now presides over a stylish eighteenth century building on Bolshoy Prospect that Yeltsin gifted to him, which hosts a refurbished training institute replete with the largest psychodynamic library in Russia, a Dream Museum, and an annual intake of over 100 postgraduate students. Psychoanalysis was forcibly liquidated in the 1920’s and officially no forms of psychotherapy existed in Russia until 1975: neurosis was classified as a typical feature of the decadent West. By December 2000 there was one medical psychotherapist per one million people.

During this visit I intend to venture out from the ‘good city’ and find out whether it is true that even in the big cities like St. Petersburg and Moscow, medical psychotherapy falls far behind the collective national predilection to consult witches and mages and whether the Russian youth have become vulnerable to cults. Genuine healers come assorted and state accredited, along with all sorts of quacks and criminal charlatans, who use varied miasmatic techniques to brainwash their audiences into spending thousands of hard earned roubles for the promise of a quick fix. The Russian mentality – borne out of eternal struggle for survival – has become nationally addicted to the consoling idea of ‘a quick fix’. It seems that a new age occultism is fast becoming the religion for many Russian people. There are about 25,000 psychiatrists and psychotherapists in Russia versus 300,000 legally certified magicians and healers! There are more than one hundred state licensed schools for magicians throughout Russia.

In addition to an expanding occult industry the country is spawning more and more pseudo religious sects that are becoming increasingly irresistible to a floundering population, which is not yet skilled in the architecture of psychological individuation. Between the Russian Revolution, with its suppression of individuality, and Glasnost the average Russian had scant opportunity to develop a sense of personal agency or autonomy: the Russian personality is still adolescent in its explorations of subjectivity and the sources of self. Jesus of Siberia is not a national joke but a 42 year old prophet called Vissarion – a former policeman from Minusinsk – who claims to have 80,000 devoted followers, many of whom have followed him to an ecological settlement on an icy Siberian mountainside.

There are at least 500 different sects in Russia with well over one million followers of which the majority are young people. What disturbs – in particular – is that some of these so called new religions are commercial organisations with a ruthless focus on power rather than religion and a totalitarian mission of transforming the Russian psyche according to their own rules of political conformity.

Traditionally, Russia has been a country in which cults, correctly referred to as new religious movements, have flourished. Amongst the intelligentsia, pre-revolutionary society spawned Masonic rites, table raising séances, court orgies, theosophy and the phenomenon of Rasputin, another Siberian peasant. Rasputin, like Freud, was fascinated by hysteria and the powers of hypnosis. Freud applied himself to a theory of sexuality whilst Rasputin became an expert in sexual hypnosis. That was at the core of his impact on high society women, including the Tsarina, who were culturally susceptible to the mysterious arts of hysteria. Rasputin, like that other Siberian trickster, Vissarion, thought of himself as Christ and made others believe it as well. Both had innate origins in a cult which beckoned the Russian sexual revolution, the khlysty, a romantic sect that combined assiduous piety with sexual promiscuity. In their youth the future leaders of the Soviet intelligentsia, such as Gorky, Vladimir Mayakovsky and Lunacharsky were as influenced by Dionysian energies and Nietzsche’s vision of Superman as they were subsequently to be by Marx. In rural Russia magic and religion have always co-existed. Siberia, along with its mystical birches, has incubated generations of Shamans. Under Soviet rule it was rumoured that the KGB, scouring Russia for psychics to assist in their extra sensory perception researches, searched the forests and mountains of Siberia for mystics and children who displayed precocious psychic sensitivities. They forcibly recruited them into research projects for ‘Higher Nervous Activity’ at flagship research institutions like the Pavlov Institute in Moscow.

In a country that no longer knows what – or who – to believe in, whose people are floundering in an ideological void, there is an innate predisposition towards any authority that holds out the combined promise of prosperity and emotional containment.

Of particular relevance to my specific interests in Russian mental health is Scientology’s vast propaganda machine, which is fuelled by their generic hatred of clinical psychiatry. Of particular concern to Russian politicians should be the fact that their leafleted attacks and pamphlets carry truth in their squall. Russian psychiatric services are now at an all time low due to negligible budgets and the fact that state national insurance does not have any cover for mental health. Outside the major cities most of the acute psychiatric hospitals have reluctantly degenerated into primitive vehicles of restraint My medical colleagues tell me that in the provinces psychiatric hospitals are often deleted from the state budgets altogether. Many hospitals cannot afford modern pharmaceuticals and the older technologies like insulin, and the primitive equipment that is still being used for ECT are more likely to kill patients than cure them.

Officially banned, L. Ron Hubbard’s Church of Scientology is still alive and kicking in Peter’s great but confused city: it is alleged that its steely long arms have embraced senior Russian officials in both capital cities. Vladimir Agishev, director of SPB’s largest mental hospital has described how Scientologists disseminate huge quantities of leaflets attacking psychiatry as evil and the patients as prisoners. This is nothing new in terms of scientology’s politics but the consequences of its propaganda will be different in Russia where the current state of mental hospitals makes Chekhov’s shocking account of psychiatric care in Ward Six almost seem homely by comparison.

Arriving at my hotel the manager comes to greet me: This is my third visit this year and my eighth to his hotel. Good and bad news awaits me. The good news is that my room has been upgraded and the bad is that in the last week about forty guests have been mugged with varying levels of physical brutality. The muggings have not taken place down a cul de sac but outside the hotel whose boundaries are marked by private security and a legion of minders, who seem to turn a blind eye to everything except their bosses’ BMWs. The manager confides that it is the gypsies and that he is beginning to despair about the fate of his beautiful city, that several tour operators are threatening not to send future guests. The Astoria is one of the most beautiful hotels that I am acquainted with. Built in 1911 it was where Hitler planned to sign and celebrate his Russian victory. It is also where the revolutionary poet Eisenen slit his wrists and scrawled his dying name in blood on a banqueting wall.

Tomorrow I have plans to visit the Bekhterev Brain Institute that was established under Vladimir Bekhterev – another army general – in 1907. It was the august Bekhterev who first identified Rasputin as an expert in sexual hypnosis but his promising diagnostic perspicacity came to an untimely death after he was invited to give Stalin a consultation in 1927 and diagnosed paranoia. Surviving for only one day after this event, the Kremlin physicians diagnosed food poisoning! The Bechterev Institute is still privileged to be the country’s flagship of neurobiology and psychiatric research. After the emotional warmth, intellectual energy and aesthetic refinements of Professor Reshetnikov’s Institute, I am taken by surprise to arrive at a building, which has become so environmentally hostile that it has driven many patients to suicide and where only its most indefatigable psychiatrists have escaped, burn out.

My host Rada, Medical Director of the Outpatient Department of New Technologies, and President of the Russian Federation of Medical Psychotherapy: a man in his mid forties, with a prophetic beard that rivals his founder’s, and burning eyes, is one such triumph. Rada’s eyes, and professional devotion to finding ‘new clinical technologies’ – Russian’s are still addicted to technology – seem to me to be one of the few beacons of light and hope in a therapeutic space that has become as desolate as Sodom and Gomorrah. I find it hard to conceal my incredulity as he explains that included amongst the inpatient community there are affluent people who pay large sums of money to be here.

We pause outside a locked ward where a stern notice dictates to all inmates precisely the rations that they are allowed to bring along: all forms of salt, homemade preserves and pickles are, to my mind, illogically forbidden. As we enter I have a sensation of déjà vu: The windows are disfigured on the side with iron bars. The floor is discoloured and full of splinters. The place smells of sour cabbage, unsnuffed wicks, bed bugs and ammonia, and this picture of smells at first gives you the impression of having entered a menagerie. The words are Chekov’s but I feel as though I have walked backwards through a looking glass.

Originally the ward must have been designed to facilitate sedation through its naive deception that patients were accommodated in a country dacha, or turn of the century Swiss sanatorium. Ravaged by time and the absence of any budget for restoration, it has shrivelled into a crumbling set that has become the stage for an unintentional theatre of cruelty. Mere shades of their former three-dimensionality,

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personalities now wander aimlessly between nothing and less than nothing and I feel that I have entered an abode of the living dead. Most of these shadow-selves lie on their overcrowded bunks in heavily sedated and catatonic rows.

The ward psychiatrist makes a brief appearance from his internally locked office and explains, not without pride, that a policy change has been instituted whereby they no longer have any wards, just informal dormitories, but these are dormitories from hell. I still haven’t seen a nurse anywhere and I experience a sadness that extends beyond words. Whilst he is talking to me I am aware that a woman is booting his door in suspended agony, imploring entrance to discuss the fate of her suicidal adolescent. Unlike my host this ward psychiatrist, who sports a deaf ear, speaks immaculate English but his eyes are like cold fish; their only commonality exists in the animation of their cigarettes. Russian men, and they don’t even need to be psychiatrists, never seem to tire of making jokes about their addiction to smoking and its associations with oral deprivation at the Soviet Breast.

As I am led to another dormitory the psychiatrist explains that ‘These people are acute suicides and require a 24 hour watch’. Nobody there to watch them, still not a single nurse to be seen, nobody therapeutic anywhere; and besides these patients are definitely too sedated to move. The only redeeming feature is that the electro- convulsive therapy treatment room looks reassuringly non operational. One principal clinical difference between this flagship institute and the provinces must be that it still has a budget for twenty-four hour sedations.

It is no wonder that the ward psychiatrist has eyes as dead as fish, no wonder that in a society that pays its medical professors less than 200 dollars a month, he is in a crisis of existential despair. No wonder that no experiences of human suffering will ever surprise anyone who works, or tries to work here, again. No wonder at all that the Scientologists are onto a winning wicket with their anti-psychiatry pamphlets. Not at all surprising to any of my companions that I breathe a huge sigh of relief when that dreadful parody of a chalet door is unlocked again and I am reunited with Rada’s quizzical eyes and his offer of a constitutional lemon tea heavily laced with cognac. I am inspired that Russia still has philanthropically motivated doctors like Rada who, despite their profitable and thriving psycho-sexual private practices in the city’s’ centre, also continue to toil and trouble in this wasteland for a reformed vision of state mental health-care provision. As we prepare to depart Eliot’s words float into consciousness: ‘On Margate sands I can connect nothing with nothing’. This really is a world without connection.

On our way out of this baneful yet nationally prestigious institute – to which I have had privileged access – whose principal detail of aesthetic décor seems to be provided by a tracery of mice droppings, we stop at cluttered kiosk, such as you might find beside any metro station. This is the pharmacy and because medicines cost money it is attended to. It looks more like a wizard’s booth and prescriptions are clearly optional! When I ask whether the pharmacist has any Prozac for me Rada and Mikhail Reshetnikov laugh, light up, and shake their heads but they are the misinformed. Prozac she has indeed; just like vodka, cigarettes and software you can buy it cheap, even though it is a powerful mind altering drug which, when improperly imbibed, can transform depression into florid mania in a matter of hours.

The citizens of St. Petersburg make no secret of their distinction between the ‘good city’ and the ‘bad city’; tomorrow I am going to the Northern district of the ‘bad city’ to an old cinema to watch so called ‘folk healers’ perform. Remember, this is the country which, in the late ‘80s, an influential psychiatrist called Kashpirovsky transported himself into a populist hypnotist who managed to hold the nation in hypnotic thrall through the television screen.

I wake up to an autumn day that would make Wordsworth proud to be a Russian: the roads are silvered in a film of ice and my ears begin to freeze as soon as I enter St. Isaac’ Square to catch sight of a school crocodile wearing its homogeneity like an uniform. I realise that a sight of national physiognomy has become an anachronism in London where any large group of children come as assorted as Smarties. Almost all of my Russian friends found it hard to accept that my grandchildren are mixed race. Amongst the most liberal you often find that the African students – who were imported into Soviet universities – are still blamed for causing the Russian HIV epidemic, which will soon implode and explode the country’s inertia and denial into crisis. When I am in Russia my worst thought is that I will need to be hospitalised and require a blood transfusion.

Today, my translator and confidant, Lara is taking me across the city to visit a former Soviet cinema called Prometheus where we will witness the nationally esteemed folk healer Marina and her adept in crime hypnotise their audience into fiscal submission. More than a hundred, closer to two, old and not so old citizens are gathered in this derelict and unheated dump to be hypnotised into health. Soon the unbelievable will happen before my eyes as this patch-worked community offer up their hard won roubles in return for worthless talismans. I already have no doubt that this couple are neither mages nor folk healers but criminal charlatans who know how to work the collective mentality of a crowd of people whose lives have been scarred by famine, loss, sickness and multi-layered political betrayal. Most will have lost a son, or grandson – here or there – to one war, or another. But I am surprised by the absence of any attempt at presentation: they appear dressed by courtesy of a Russian equivalent of Primark. At the very least I had expected charisma with lashings of Russian soul and more smouldering eyes.

A rusty blaze of sound announces entry: there are no lighting effects, nothing to see except two drab individuals climbing onto the stage and receiving adulation and bouquets of flowers from arthritic men and women who struggle to be the first to offer their cellophaned tributes. Now I see a man and woman whose aura whiffs only of indifference and contempt. Without any attempt at folk habiliment – but lost in moth-eaten fur – the self-professed healer, Lady Marina begins to read her poetry. One ditty follows another until my embarrassed interpreter whispers ‘Frankly this is terrible poetry, let us leave’. I remind her that she didn’t bring me for the poetry but to witness a social phenomenon that happens all over Russia every day amongst a needy and neglected layer of the population which is still too confused to make a distinction between religion, cults, and collective hysteria. Marina’s companion, dressed in a polyester track suit, announces that he is the grandson of the great holy man Gramma Njura: not only can he cure his captive audience but he can also assist all the absent members of their families with his talismans. “Just like the great God Prometheus I can change your destiny.” This is something that no one in this audience, or maybe most of Russia, any longer believes that their politicians,

doctors, military forces, scientists, or national security can do. Njura’s words carry seduction because their promise is of effortless gratification – the nationally longed for quick fix: rewards will be instant; or almost instant and no one needs to do anything at all because Njura possesses the spiritual key to a bio-energy to make all things possible. Energy, one should know, is the second most popular national word after technology. His rhetoric is dissolute: ‘If you haven’t heard from your grandson since he entered the army and left for Chechnya you need only sprinkle a few drops of holy water on his pillow and he will return by the end of the month.’ Sometimes they do! Most commonly as numbers.

The lights go out with a fearful hissing and we are plunged into a darkness that smells like more sour cabbage as the corrosive sounds of attempted sea rhythms now herald the climax of performance. Our polyester trickster Njura behests us to gather a citizen in our arms; to rub away grief and renew bio-energy. Rub! Rub harder and harder! The dark auditorium is alive with the electrical energy of strangers rubbing up a tornado of hysteria, delusion and denial. The light returns and I am amazed to see that the audience has been transformed: a group of cold and hungry strangers are looking towards their seducers with expectant eyes of the newborn. Can it really be so easy to hoodwink and seduce? Are these brave and resilient people who have born so much suffering, so much hunger, really going to bite the bait of illusion before my eyes? Surely such easy believers would prefer a church; but then I realise that prayer demands effort, uncertainty and patience to wait for that eternal reward and that there are no overnight guarantees on offer. In this ghastly cinema the illusion is not on the screen but in front of my eyes. Two greedy queues are forming on the stage and former hobblers appear quick on the hoof. One group are waiting to be blessed with poetry and holy water and the other group, already baptised in collective deceit, are frantically buying the talismans from the holy descendent of Gramma Njura.

The poet Osip Mandelshtam said that it was only in Russia that politicians thought that poets were worth killing. Come to think of it, during almost a century of the political suppression of agency and self, it was left to the poets to burn that counter- revolutionary candle of conscience and subjectivity. Anna Akhmatova, in her poem Requiem, which was banned until after her death, wrote: ‘Beyond the circle of the moon, I cry/Into the blizzards of the permafrost: Goodbye. Goodbye./ In those years only the dead smiled,/Glad to be at rest:’.

Can it only be in Russia – amongst the best educated people of the world – where physical existence literally depends on the acquisition of primitive survival skills, they can delude themselves that doggerel and water contain magic and bio-energetic energies that will bring back their lost boys from Never Never Land? Roubles are falling everywhere, just like the first snowflakes of the season that await me, as emotionally drained, but not financially ruined, we fall out of this corrupt atmosphere that now resounds to an Onegin chorus! During our long, ice blown walk to Lara’s home to eat blini and newly pickled mushrooms we calculate that in the course of one hour Marina and Gramma Njura probably filled their coffers to the equivalent of 1,500 US dollars, not bad for an hourly wage.

It is early evening by the time we return to the Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies and the building has warmed up; the austerity of its marble entry hall is complimented by crystal lighting. Startling nude studies recline the stairs and beckon

towards the main teaching area as if to alert all those brave enough to enter that their task is to unmask psyche. The corridors are alive with the buzz of postgraduate students who have come on from their daytime employment. Fashionable looking individuals cluster out onto the pavement: despite the rigour of the freezing elements they all appear bright eyed and enthusiastic as they shed layers of outerwear and prepare to commit themselves to a seriously long evening of post- Freudian theory and applied psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Many of them are already employed as senior clinicians in mental health services, some are professors and others grown-children of the new affluent classes. Teaching is conducted in formal classrooms with blackboard and chalk.

It is only now – after the recorded events of the day – that I begin to realise how extraordinary the presence and philosophy of this thriving training institute EEPS is and how much its founder and rector, Mikhail Reshetnikov, has contributed to national psychological understanding in the last ten years. He is also a frequent traveller between Petersburg and the Kremlin where he is Consultant to the First Chamber of Russian Parliament. In November he was awarded the official title of Personality of the Year – along with the Nobel Prize winner and academician Jores Alpherov – for his services to the development of Russian psychoanalytic psychotherapy. As always in Russian politics you are either a national threat or absorbed into its mainstream: middle ground remains a neglected concept.

Later on, my lecture delivered, we warm up with vodka, obscured in a tsunami of exhaled cigar, beneath the inscrutable gaze of a lithograph of Freud’s Monday Club, while Mikhail Reshetnikov explains more to me. “I was never a conventional military man and my friends were surprised that I served for twenty-five years, but my primary contribution was to the psychology of trauma and terror. Then, I was invited by the Mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoliy Sobchack, who was a very popular political leader, to work with him as the Chief of his Analytical Department which led on to my own idea to set up an independent institute. I was only interested if it was for the development of psychoanalytic studies. The idea just seemed to emerge out of a dream; it was 1991 and a period of intellectual intoxication: great ideas were in the air. However, when I said that I wanted to establish an institute of psychoanalysis, I was told that it was impossible. To begin with I had to compromise and it was established as the Institute of Medical and Psychological Problems and only later we changed its title to The Eastern European Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies. Fifteen years ago psychoanalysis was unknown to Russian medical psychotherapists and psychiatrists but now it would be impossible to have a psychotherapy conference without its presence as an academic discipline.”

Over dinner other colleagues explain to me that it is no longer the authorities that pose a threat to the expansion of psychoanalytic psychotherapy in Russia but the collective mentality, which has become addicted to the idea of ‘a quick fix’. Russians are weary of waiting and this contributes to a national predilection for magic and the seductive uniformity of cults where everyone knows what they must do next to maintain the promise of equilibrium. My colleagues express gratitude that I have strayed beyond the civilised confines of the Institute to see the nether belly of their city. They explain that they sometimes find it difficult to reconcile themselves to classical European techniques of psychoanalytic psychotherapy that were not sculpted out of a psychology of famine, and the other unique political pressures and crises of identity that a vast proportion of the Russian population – those who are

neither the poorest nor richest citizens – are heir to. Growing more confident, these accomplished Russian professionals are also becoming determined to combine their desires for international clinical fertilisation with a distinctly Russian passport that will also address itself to the cultural specificities of the superstitious Russian psyche. It is inspiring for me to observe – each time I return -more and more graduate psychotherapists have set up shop in svelte clinical consultation centres.

Psychotherapy – under Reshetnikov’s influence – has already become a profitable and desirable profession with accredited qualifications that reflect European standards. Its skilled practitioners are still busy competing with national predilictions for occult alternatives that state registered quacksalvers continue to peddle but in St. Petersburg it is turning into the preferred treatment for alienated and impoverished professionals and the ‘New Russians’ alike.

I do not want to leave this extraordinary environment and go home. The only compensation is that I will stop smelling like the Russian equivalent of Galloise and will have to give up the appealing habit of cleaning my teeth in vodka.

Allow not nature more than nature needs, Man’s life is cheap as beast’s. March 30, 2011

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Not being a TV viewer I only ever catch the finale of interesting programmes, strange how it’s never the beginning. The other night my husband was trying to find something to distract me from moaning on about my virus when we alighted on the end of Panorama's programme, 'The Big Squeeze' on how living standards have fallen in the past two years and most affected have been those in the building trades.

I found myself taken into the life-worn and immaculate workshop of a carpenter, in a Liverpool industrial area, who had custom built and fitted wooden doors and windows for new buildings. An exacting and precise craft. Rather that is what he used to do, and although he looked like a pensioner but perhaps he was prematurely worn to the bones with stress, that was what he still wanted and still needed and still could do. I have not been able to put his hang-dog dejection, nor his workshop with its metallic precision of polished and blood warm tools and surgical implements out of sight. If I was Seamus Heaney I might want to write a poem, or if I was David Storey, a novel,  for this man, so skilled and outlawed from trade, seemed to me to  embody all the dying poetry of  artisanal  England.

A pause to reflect on the word artisan, which is how the French still refer to their local rural builders, and which embodies the word 'art' which is not reduced to utility.  Manual skill is art, it can be living poetry and this man with his weak eyes stained by permanent tear, where perhaps once a star had spun as he swung his hammer, and who with his complexion now stained raw by blood pressure was still in every cell the artist in his workshop where every tool had its own hand-worn placement of apprenticeship to the wood.

Yes, His act worships itself.

What disturbed  most was that this man, I choose not to use his first name in a wanton intimacy, like other men interviewed in the programme, did not require thousands of pounds to stop his house being re-possessed, his workshop lost, only some hundreds. Why do 'we' need a government and the bureaucracy of  urgent and unpopular tax reforms for those of us who have enough, or even too much, or much too much.  'Oh reason not the need ' Lear  declares, to inspire 'society' to give up just one habitual luxury to prevent our 'neighbours', some might say the working classes from losing their homes and being cast out onto that unchanging heath of homelessness. Homes which the programme told us, within a matter of a year - or in some instances - still more tantalising, months would have become owned but which were now in the steely hands of repossession.

I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

If the 'Big Society' means forming circles of virtue and reciprocity, giving receiving and returning, then I'm all for it but how to start? No, I don't need anybody to tell me, I can if I choose, get on the phone to Citizens Advice in Liverpool and ask for some advice...

Post Script, April Fool's Day:

It is not possible to make any contact because the CAB bureaus are so  overwhelmed that they don't accept emails or phone calls. In Liverpool, rather like our local Waitrose deli, I have discovered that you have to collect a number from a slot in the  wall which tells you where you are in the queue. When there are no more numbers available it means that you must come back the next day and queue again, presumably earlier. Since becoming concerned about 'repossession' I have just read Pessoa's definition of Romantic and I think Blake and Will Shakespeare, at least in some of his moods, might have gone with it:

The fundamental error of Romanticism is to confuse what we need with what we desire. We all need certain basic things for life's preservation and continuance; we all desire a more perfect life, complete happiness and the fulfilment of our dreams.....


It's human to want what we need and  it's human to desire what we don't need but find desirable. Sickness occurs when we desire what we need and what's desirable with equal intensity, suffering our lack of perfection as if we were suffering our lack of bread. The Romantic malady is to want the moon as if it could be obtained.

What’s in your salad? December 21, 2010

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Copyright 2010 Cornelia Hartman

We didn’t make it to Paris so we are going to be eating salad instead. I adore this image which a client – who comes for professional development gave me permission to display – and has just sent to me as a metaphor for the conversations we have continued to have together for rather a long time. I also love Shakespeare's metaphor about emotions being like a salad but I am not referring to Cleopatra's 'salad days', I'm sure there was something more subtle about emotional combinations somewhere in A and C. I'll have to keep on thinking and finding.  If I'm really stuck I can check out with Greg Hicks who has currently opened in the RSC season, which has transferred to the The Round House, in advance of going to New York, where he will be playing in 'Lear'. His is a great and thoughtful Lear, it may not have the age of  the other current Lear but it does have great complexity and trickery. All traces of the mannerist Greg have been pared away, and who speaks better Shakespeare?  He is also the Soothsayer in Antony, and I had quite forgot, until I saw an excellent review in the papers today, that he has just opened in 'The Winter's Tale' as Leontes. What a fistful, if not a salad bowl of emotions to juggle there. Surely, Leontes' flayed and phantom immersions into those green eyed monsters of jealousy must have prodded at Proust in his immortal autopsy of what is possibly the most primal, when additionally linked not only with bodies but with territories, animal emotion.

The queues outside of St. Pancras Station looked as though they were for the 'last train'. Undiluted chaos. At first I thought the people were queuing to see an exhibit at the British Library, at least two blocks away from the station, until I noticed that they were all carrying suitcases.

I know this won't be popular but at the moment I'm finding Dorothea, who hasn't yet departed for Rome, irritating and my sympathies are with Celia's intuitive intelligence. I have also been castigated by 'Prof' for finding Norpois boring, and not understanding what Proust was doing. But, even though I knew that he was mimicking a salon style of parrot gratuity, and even though I think I knew that to some degree there was a conscious mimesis of Proust's own syntax, taking place, I failed to 'laugh out aloud'. Still, on the next reading I promise that I shall try to read more acutely.

I am also struck, watching my grandchildren's turbulent and exquisitely painful experiences of 'first love' along with the liberties of adolescence, by what a terrifying business this encyclopedia of love is. What tremors, what annihilations, what sobbings of self do any other experience, except the challenge of death, throw into the insomnium of night. Or, is it all no more than 'romance': " My lords if you would hear a high tale of  love and death...'?

My daughter tells me that I am naive; that it is because she understood all these scarred, or do I mean sacred, woundings of adolescent love, self-harming, body piercing and possession that she originally determined as a therapist, also to work with adolescence. Yes, love speaks with a warlike language, and all along the way, it twists, if not strangulates from desire to death, with passion. The God of Love is a blind archer, a magician of  projections, who only ever shoots fatal arrows, and his rites de passage seems to agony between one besieging and another.

Now that I cannot people watch in Paris, I don't have any excuse not to meet the challenge of the contorted thoughts, digressions and arrogance of Denis de Rougement's,'Love in the Western World', whenever Dorothea exasperates me, and once I've found that Shakespearian metaphor of emotion...I've checked with the Concordance and it doesn't exist. Must be another bard. I do like this:

'Indeed, sir, she was the sweet marjoram of the salad, or rather, the herb of grace.' Clown

Dan and Rose June 2010


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Proust, Middlemarch and Mash December 19, 2010

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I’ve now spent two days reclining rather than declining on my bed, watching the snow fall and reading or re-reading ‘Middlemarch’. And worrying.
I worry about the birds, and the fact that I’ve recently learnt that they require fresh water to keep their plumage warm in this big freeze. I worry about my ferruginous dog Lucy and that at nine she is growing old and is troubled by low frequency sounds that are undetectable to me, which means that now she not only has a fly phobia but a DVD watching phobia. Rather, she starts to tremble whenever we turn our plasma on. I worry that I don’t have enough time to write this blog. I worry that the book that I am trying to co-author is not yet a book although I know it could be one. One of the things that I have discovered in researching for this book, which is an autopsy on doctors, or on one exceptionally distinguished one: ‘First Do No Harm: inside of the doctor’s head’ is that doctors are just as frightened of illness as me, and that most of them try to avoid, at almost any price, going to their doctor and all requests for testing, scanning, blood-letting and scoping. I worried, until I started writing this blog that I would never write another word.
I have reluctantly got up for meals and felt obliged – now that my rigorous work time table has stopped until January – to stay on after eating and sort the kitchen out, which is no easy task as my husband, John consults a variety of cookery books before he agrees to mash the potatoes. Not because he doesn’t know how to mash them, but because he still wants to uncover the very best combination. This combining also requires that he use every cooking utensil that we possess. At the moment he seems to move between Nigella’s practical and democratic ‘Kitchen’, where all the dishes work and ‘The Complete Robuchon’. How complete do you have to be to mash potatoes, and how many pots are necessary, and how many Michelin stars do you have to win, I sigh as it takes me much, much longer to clean up the dishes than to eat my delicious meal and mash.
In fact we are soon off to Paris to avoid Christmas…

We were finally to have sampled the mythic Yannick’s table as hitherto our visits have always coincided with his absence, or the legendary restaurant being closed for tile restoration. I could just as easily sit and look at the fabulous tiled floor, or imagine Proust flirting with the waiters, ah, but that was just around the corner, as eat any meal, that is except breakfast when I still watch the waiters, but we have now cancelled our legendary booking because our grand children do not approve of lunch. In fact they are not out of bed, and would be most indignant at breakfasting before noon, even at ‘Angelina’s’ and there is no way we could justify the mythical price of even one a la carte Yannick asparagus in the evening. My comment is not fair to Dan, for if there is one thing likely to make him rise before noon, it is Paris. And, worrying about the result of his Trinity entrance and discussing which restaurant he wants

Grandad, the 80's

‘Grand Dad’ to book for dinner. While I’m happy to stay hotel-home, eat club sandwiches with Portia, and people watch. But she’ll no doubt want to go clubbing with her mum. In fact we’ve all agreed to go clubbing together.

In a way I rather wish I hadn’t started re-reading ‘Middlemarch’ before we are due to go because whenever I am properly committed to reading a novel, which isn’t that often, other than when I’m re-reading Proust’s ‘Recherche’, I become anti-social. I’m finding with ‘Middlemarch’, and I cannot remember when I last read it, that although I do not have any memory of the plot at all, my brain still seems to know what is going to come next, not in advance but only page-by-page. I have no idea what will happen to Causabon, but I rather think he will have to die, and with any luck he wont return from Rome. I don’t know who bores me most: Causabon or those relentless foreign policies of Monsieur Norpois. Only last week I should never have dreamt that Proust’s ‘Recherche’ would drop off my linguist-deaf tongue – or rather my pen in such a languid manner – as I should never dare pronounce it, but since my Proustian partner managed to inveigle me, except he doesn’t inveigle – and would I think detest the word – anybody into doing anything. But, it was through his magic that I ended up, far less reluctantly than I could, to begin with, have imagined, doing a gig on Proust at the Royal Society of Literature, and being privileged to hear Christopher Prendergast and Ian Patterson jousting over whether Proust and Art were, or were not life savers and could, or could not, redeem the Time. And, just for your benefit Christopher, oh heavens I can’t even initial your surname because they both start with ‘P’, so just for your benefit Prof, I don’t believe in Redemption either, well not through Proust, nor Love, not through anything except perhaps Individuation and the Self.

Is enthusiasm the opposite of depression… August 15, 2010

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I haven’t felt like sharing my thoughts or logging in for months, but today there is something I want to share.

I have been struggling, wading or fumbling into the pages of Love in the Western World by Denis de Rougement. His thoughts are dense and intense and it's easy to give up the effort to think these sentences through. But twice now he's thrilled me and most recently it was with his elucidation, via Plato, of the original meaning of the word, 'enthusiasm'. It seems that to be enthusiastic is to be possessed by the Gods, I love that thought and get it because at the same time it fires another unthought thought in my head, and my sensory memory confirms it. When I am enthused about something I'm inhabiting my environment, I'm being fed by the universe and the mortal world is enough. I sparkle and my enthusiasm might even be contagious. The other thought is that when one stops being enthusiastic, one is, if not sad, depressed and I have been trying to figure out for a long time what might be the opposite of depression, which I often elucidate to my clients as losing desire for the world, and that explains to me why enthusiasm is so irrepressible and when something is irrepressible, whether it's my dogs enthusiasm for her walk, or my irrational devotion to my dog's feelings, it means that repression is absent. And, repression, whether it is anger, or denial, or love, yes we so often repress our love in the fear that it will not be returned is a broad walk to depression.

My enthusiastic dog, Lucy the Viszla in Regents Park, 2009. Copyright John Haynes

Finishing Proust and the experience of things November 1, 2009

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Proust doesn’t often do tenderness: he is as ruthless with his readers as he is with the unmasking of his characters. He does sentimentality, but then some of us know that sentimentality masks sadism and Proust is a creative if deadly sadist, which is also what makes him such a corrosive witted satirist. The nearest he comes to tenderness is through his observations of Nature but even then he’s carrying out an autopsy as his eye dissects any object only to expose a time lost iridescence. ‘Real life, life finally uncovered and clarified, the only life in consequence lived to the full, is literature. Life in this sense dwells within all ordinary people as much as in the artist. But they do not see it because they are not trying to shed light on it.’ Proust.

Finishing Finding Time Again on Friday was traumatic and I’ve only just recovered from vertiginous sensations of inspiration and despair at my own mortality. I think that the first time around I read the masked ball sequence I couldn’t have been ready to embody – and that is what Proust asks his reader to do, to embody and not observe or applaude art – the physical impact on my own descending mortality of Time’s fickle glass, his sickle hour. How can one read Proust’s dissection of mortality without Shakespeare’s monument to time chiming into consciousness?

Proust makes it clear that there can be no escape from the masked ball of time and organic decay and it’s my guess that he would see our present day obsessions with Botox, liposuction and cosmetic lasers as futile cul de sacs of vanity. Although, that’s not to say he might not have recourse to them himself. As he describes, the longer anyone remains looking ‘Good for their age’, the worse is that final descent into their failure of helplessness, sans eyes, sans teeth, sans everything. Yes, everything, except perhaps time, wears out.

Oh, Heavens, I could write for hours on my experiences of reading Proust but I wanted to write about other things, like falling in love, even in its non refulgent state, with the young maple sapling my landscape gardening friend, Special Branch bought me last Wednesday. Its full name is Acer Palmatum Westonbirt Red. When Special Branch left Westonbirt Aboretum he told me that the sapling was still in an open-leaved crimson glory. He had a shock when he opened his van for by the time they had made the short journey to London its maple sensibility had been compromised and its leaved tendrils were contracted into what might be described as an arthritic screetch of bruised agony. 

Its demise provided me with an example of what Proust is always writing about: ‘because at that moment when I perceived it, my imagination, which was my only organ for the enjoyment of beauty, could not be applied to it, by virtue of the inevitable law, which means that one can only imagine what object is absent’. Now, I could not perceive, but only imagine, what my sapling had looked like before it went into shock and I shall have to wait for another year to pass before it finds its time again.

I don’t think there’s going to be much time today to write about finding the experience of things, but I have almost caught up with my Proust reading partner who has embarked on William James, The Variety of Religious Experience without waiting for me to finish Proust, (and it’s possible that he only finished first because my handbag was stolen and I didn’t have any reading glasses for a week and my brain anyhow felt like punctured seaweed).There are two thoughts that have come to me from James’ first lecture. First of all I should declare that even though I am an experienced psychotherapist I am also still a neurotic, but in Proust and James’ company that’s no bad thing to be. And, there is a caveat: I am a conscious neurotic and it’s in unconsciousness that the cliff falls of much of our un-deciphered neuroticism and depressive sufferings reside.

I adored James’ image of religion as a perversion of the respiratory function. The Bible is full of the language of respiratory oppression: ‘Hide not thine ear at my breathing; my groaning is not hid from thee, my heart panteth, my strength faileth me; my bones are hot with the roaring all night long; as the heart panteth after the water brooks, so my soul panteth after thee, O my God.’  And, as James goes on to say, the foundation in many non-Christian countries of all religious discipline consists in the regulation of inspiration and expiration. It might also be true to say that these two involuntary and mainly unconscious acts are, when brought into mindfulness, also at the foundations of psychological health.

We can never escape our breathing, after all it’s the first and last thing that any of us ever do, our greatest commonality, and yet too many people expend their lives forgetting that they breathe. Not only is its perversion the loadstone of James’ metaphor, its health is also the foundation of any meditation. In the search to understand beyond the mechanics of consciousness more and more neurobiologists and psychologists are being drawn towards the study of meditative practices and the conscious orientation of our bodily dimensions. Children need to be taught how to orientate themselves in space, to use their body compasses of cognition. 

Perhaps, we need to return to Leonardo. Of all of Leonardo’s known discoveries, his discovery of the cause of heart disease through a build up of cholesterol could have saved millions of lives. This would have happened if his discoveries were ever taken seriously at the time and published by his peers. Leonardo had worked out that a substance carried though the blood and produced by what we eat imbeds itself in the arteries and blocks natural blood flow.

Like Proust we need to remember to look forward and backwards. 

leonardo-da-vinci-anatomy.6

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Self-Portrait-In-A-Hat-With-Flowers,-1883Not feeling like blogging  – perhaps too much heady food is still being metabolised … Le Grand Macabre by Ligeti , whose life experiences are painfully tragic to read about and seemingly without much respite but  from out of his cauldron of  sensation emerged so much creativity, wit, love and subversion... and then in the same week even anticipating watching Tristan and Isolde  on Friday induced a physical vertigo.

Ligeti  has drawn me, or rather my Proustian partner who inducted me, has inadvertently drawn me to the surreal dramatist Michel Ghelderode.  I have been trying to memorize his name by imagining that I am riding a geldered stallion, along with Keats' Bright Star, and hope that I have got the spelling right  and then galloping off  to Amazon Prime for the catalogue of James Ensor who was as fascinated by Carnival and Masks and Love and Death and Anxiety as I am, except Ensor painted them and I try to get behind them....many of his works remind me, and are I think, indebted to Goya's black paintings. (Retrospectively, I also feel that Paula Rego must feel indebted to his visceral imaginings and teasing.) I wish I knew where those black Goya paintings are hidden as so few of them are displayed in Madrid, unless they are stored away in unnamed archives.

Even before these artists, discovered  by courtesy of my  Ligeti-trail, came  as a gift into my vision I was intending to blog about Carnival and the Death of  Tragedy, and Rio de Janeiro, and my Capoeira thrusting Berimbar drumming friend Greg Hicks whose life embodies Carnival and who next year will be playing King Lear at the RSC, and then another unexpected pleasure, to revel in the fact that Rio and not Chicago won the Olympic bid, which is what made me think of Greg because he has a flat in Rio at the foot of  the statue of Christ the Redeemer ...  but for now I still need to absorb and metabolize rather than write.  And then last night - at my grandson, Dan's direction - I watched the documentary Gonzo and discovered the death driven genius, the carnival energies, the insight and death-sight. of  Hunter S. Thompson, the beauty of Johnny Depp, and  today I am still more undone and I don't,  after watching the inspiring and fittingly minimalist staging while listening to the frantic and god-like desires, demons and visions and woundings, or should I write wounds,  of  Tristan and Isolde - with my Wagnerian loving/ Proust reading partner - where nothing remains black or white, but returns to shadow, have much to spare.  

34104898James Ensor: Pierrot and skeletons.

The mobility, the anxiety and the waivering of his nature explain at once the feverish searches,the steps forwards, the steps backwards, the brusque advances and the sudden retreats, in a word all the unevenness of his art. Emile Verhaearen, 1908

The intrigueThe Intrigue.

And Self Portrait at top of the page.

The lineaments of gratified desire. September 10, 2009

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What is it men in women do require?


The lineaments of Gratified Desire
.

What is it women do in men require
?

The lineaments of Gratified Desire.

William Blake

Until I started writing this blog I thought I had memorized this quotation years ago and that Blake was right, although he was a gnomic who never quite meant what you think. But, I’ve just found out, after many years to my shame that firstly I didn’t know what lineaments were - I thought they were linty and comforting bandages - worst still that I had substituted a ‘most’ for the ‘do’: What is that men and women most require…which has dented my blogging because I was going to argue that what ‘we’ most of all require are healthy levels of self esteem, and the courage to be ourselves. I’ll come back to that after my desire diversion.

 Despite these reported lapses, I have worked out a paradox of desire, or perhaps that’s not true, I’ve worked it out in conjunction with an absent friend who’s still watching seals on that distant seashore and pondering the meanings of the universe, which is that the essence of desire’s compulsive energy to connect is met, no not met but fulfilled in the obstacle to its connection. Gratified desire is doomed – sooner or later to become dead desire, or domestic desire. It is the obstacle rather than the object that fertilises desire.

In the romances of archetypal lovers like Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet, Hero and Leander, Venus and Adonis and Achilles and Patroclus, desire is challenged by separation, suspended and then immortalised by death. I find Venus and Adonis the most tragic scenario because of its lack of symmetry between the lovers and because Adonis is adolescent he feels himself to be invincible to danger and as immortal as Venus. It’s still true that it’s the most original, beautiful, brave and intelligent adolescents who wont listen to their elders. (Which brings my grand children Dan and Portia instantly to mind.)

This paradox of desire is true of Amaldova’s  latest and perhaps greatest - although I have heard as many say his least successful - erotic testament, 'Los Abrazos Rotos', or 'Broken Embraces', where the collision of obessional desire(S) are suspended and then ruptured by violent acts of  sex, death and blindness. Here, there is no light; except with Almodovar there always is more light, but I don’t want to write a review of Broken Embraces although I am still thinking of little else, except that Penelope Cruz’s symphonic Spanish beauty stops me thinking at all. (Her Hollywood performances don't work so well outside of her mother tongue, which enhances her sense of timing and wit.)

A link between Coriolanus and Almodovar’s film is that they both reveal the suffering of men whose parents have refused to recognise them, let alone love them for who they are. Isn’t that what we all desire most of all, to feel that we have been unconditionally loved.  Or is that just another unrealisable myth that keeps us in a state of longing. There is so much unconscious narcissism in love.

In my ‘Mother’ blog I talked about the elusive elixir of self-esteem, which I would identify as the lubricant of becoming oneself, and which is almost impossible to manufacture artificially. Some few do manage it but if you miss out on feeling unconditionally loved in childhood then it’s a lifetime’s work and hard going all along the way.

I’m drawn to the observations of ethologists, who were inspired by the ideas of Conrad Lorenz when he uncovered the concept of an ‘innate releasing pattern’ to explain our instinctive behaviours which are often only accomplished at specific life stages and afterwards become notoriously hard to recapitulate.

It’s one of the great wonders of life that self- esteem is so vital to human wellbeing and yet it is so often absent even where you would expect to find it. Success is rarely related to self esteem, but often grows out of its absence and an inflated desire to get the zeitgeist to prick up its ears in compensation for the absence of a more private gleam of admiration in the parental eye.  

In 'Broken Embraces' what I understood to be personal clues from Almodovar’s life are barely concealed within his maze of imagery;  an underplayed moment of personal pathos and revelation was costumed in the geeky  and sexually ruined son of the tycoon Ernesto Martel, whose life is fuelled by revenge for  humiliation at the hands of his father for being unworthy of his loving embrace. That’s why unconditional love matters: it is the antidote to stunted emotions. And then, I thought of Almodovar’s compatriot Lorca and his torment at disappointing his father and then, how astonishing it must feel to grow up knowing that you are unconditionally loved, and then how terrible it is to know that so often, but not always, because nothing is for always, that broken embraces are so easy to contaminate one dysfunctional generation with another.

And that is why learning how to live and love matters more than anything.