In our occasional feature we invite guests to select the six cultural links that might sustain them if, by some mischance, they were forced to spend eternity in a succession of airport departure lounges with only an iPad or similar device for company. Today’s voyager is Barendina Smedley, a friend of the Dabbler, erstwhile blogger on art, politics and culture at Fugitive Ink (currently ‘resting’), based in Soho and (soon) Norfolk.
As someone who doesn’t much like artificial lighting, air conditioning, synthetic surfaces, background noise or bad public architecture, if I really were stranded in an airport for all of eternity, there’s very little chance I’d last long enough for even a second or third iPad click. Still, here goes:
1. Virtual Norfolk
Almost the worst thing about airports — aside, that is, from pretty much everything else about them — is the extent to which they fail to function as specific, rather than generic, places. So my first click — probably quite a frantic one — would express desperation to reconnect with somewhere that doesn’t try to hide its basic geology, ecology, archaeology, history or other localised weirdnesses behind a shiny carapace of credit card advertisements. In contrast, the Norfolk Heritage Explorer (and before you protest ‘but it’s very flat, isn’t it?’, I am sure equivalent sites exist for lesser counties too), not least in its account of one of my favourite places, opens a virtual window onto that more satisfying world, letting in much of what most airports lack.
2. Virtual Evensong
Now, no skipping this click, even if you’re one of my very many secularist-atheist-bigot pals. Whatever beliefs one harbours about their origins, the Psalms are surely one of the most encyclopaedic accounts of the human condition out there. Conveniently, the Church of England’s early evening liturgy provides a handy selection for every day, followed up with relevant passages of Scripture. Whether one’s in the mood for smiting, whinging, being thankful or simply exploring the full power of language to communicate experience, all human life is here — plus for some of us, at least, a glimpse of something beyond that, too.
3. Music for airports
The 6 Clicks format entails a degree of tactical thinking. Is there really a website out there that could occupy me for the rest of eternity? Yes — and not just because I’m a slow reader, either. The Bach Cantatas website is both exactly what it says it is — a website devoted to J. S. Bach’s 209 extant cantatas — yet also so much more than one might expect a website to be. One really could spend a lifetime here, trying to teach oneself half a dozen languages based on comparative translations of cantata texts, exploring the contrasting approaches of pretty much every conductor of Bach’s cantatas who has ever made a recording, remembering how to read a score, even eavesdropping on the incredibly well-informed, well-behaved yet clearly totally vicious factional scrapping between advocates of different interpretive strategies or performers. And then, if one were allowed a bit of rule-bending within the whole 6 Clicks project, one could wander off and listen to it all on YouTube …
4. Music for exits
Being by nature, though, the sort of law-abiding freak who rather despises Wikileaks and who enjoys being polite to policemen, I’d better avoid cheating. If the stale and pestiferous exhalations of the air-conditioning units, the hum of the too-white lighting and the slapdash fenestration finally finish me off, this is what I want to hear at the end — Harnoncourt’s recording of BWV 83, and in particular, the sweetly uneven voice of that unnamed chorister who sings the first aria, Erfrete Zeit im neuen Bunde, combining fragility with hope to almost supernatural effect.
5. Shadows on (virtual) cave walls
Increasingly, despite a lifelong love of pictures, I find many art galleries slightly hard work. Not least, many of them are too much like airports — generic, deracinated, fixated on flows of consumers and revenue. Wouldn’t most art, at least the pre 1950s stuff, work better if it were restored to the liturgical, political or domestic spaces for which it was originally created? Actually, while we’re on the subject, I also slightly disapprove of reducing the whole glorious materiality of artworks to their digital online equivalents, which also seems to strip most of the life out of them. Still, think of the happy and constructive hours one could spend dreaming up happier homes for everything here. (Admittedly, in a few cases the words ‘skip’ and ‘bonfire’ might figure prominently!)
6. ‘Follow the old road, and as you walk …’
Never a great one for films — many of my objections to airports also apply to cinemas — I’d make an exception for A Canterbury Tale, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger’s 1944 masterpiece, which seems to say more about a sense of place, psycho-sexual complexity and the possibility of mutual respect across difference every single time I watch it. Unfortunately, only ‘extracts’, such as the one below, seem to be available online. No matter — I can recite quite a lot of it anyway. And anyway, how better to make sense of this endless airport exile, imposed on me by The Dabbler, than as a sort of pilgrimage, ‘to receive a blessing, or to do penance’? One can only hope that, as with A Canterbury Tale, there’s also a happy ending.