I had quite a Ruskie weekend. On Saturday we trawled through as much of Russian Ark
as we could bear before the sheer weirdness of it got the better of us (a muttering, dead narrator who is speaking Russian for the first time, and may or may not be senile, is your oh-so-accessible starting point, laydeezungennlemen), and then last night it was 'Russian Masterpieces' at the Royal Albert Hall, consisting of a bit of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev before the main event: Shostakovich's incredible Fifth Symphony.
We decided – slightly whimsically, it's true – that Russians seem to devote more of their cultural output, their everyday thoughts, and their national identities to trying to work out what that identity is, than any other people on earth. They are profoundly self-reflexive. Russian Ark
consisted of a series of dreamlike dialogues with random visitors to the Hermitage Museum about what Russia is, and was, and ought to be. The Ark of the title carried vignettes from Russian history in its bows, rather than elephants and hippos (though the odd hippo here and there might have livened up proceedings I'd venture). The music, meanwhile, just felt so
Russian. Romantic, and ambitious, and bombastic at times, but still imbued with truly heavy-eyed sadness – a deep sense of melancholy you can only get from waking up at 11am to find it's pretty much dark outside and everything around you is made of concrete.
I say all this now because I awoke this morning to find Balham in the late Spring looking and feeling like downtown Moscow in the middle of January. It's April 24 for chrissakes! Give us some sunshine! Or at least some light! Or at least some warmth! Given how horrid it is outside (and yes, I am now taking the massive intellectual leap to the idea that weather is the sole determinant of national character, wanna make something of it?), I was wondering, culturally speaking, where are OUR tragedies? Shouldn't our cultural output be more melancholic than it is? I want your nominations for the best British tragedies, examples of the most perfectly articulated gloom. Here are a few off the top of my head:There is a Light That Never Goes Out
– The SmithsLook Back in Anger
– John OsborneLast Resort
– some Polish director, confusingly, whose name escapes meSittin' Here
– Dizzee Rascal
Then some Jacobean tragedies I guess – The Dutchess of Malfi
was pretty bleak, that’s the only one I’ve seen.