July 19th 2013
I shall have a birthday on the 21st but, as usual, will not be celebrating because it is too embarrassing to be old. Though it is a privilege not that many people have on the planet. In reality, I am grateful for another year spent well. The other day I was counting how many friends have hit the deck this year of the Snake and I counted 8.. Eight from my small circle. So I am happy another birthday comes around. It is not a big 0, so will let it slip.
Have received the score for Mahler's 1st Symphony - The Titan, which we must rehearse for the MSO concert at the end of August. It is truly titanic - 16 pages!!! Thank heaven it's not too difficult for my part. Also a NZ composer, Gareth Farr has written a work commissioned by MSO and as Gareth is a percussionist, there will be some very exciting drumming. All the violins get to play are easy accompaniment. Which is good. I adore drums of all sorts. Drums, bagpipes, all the brass and woodwind instruments. They are the stars of an orchestra.
I've sent A CHINESE ODYSSEY:THE MING ADMIRAL off to my editor who has the enviable lifestyle of living in France. So jealous. I adore that country, the sublimity of the countryside, the food, the wine, the rivers. I used to live there in a village in Poitou Charent, Department 79 and actually ran an art gallery! Imagine an art gallery amidst fields of corn and wheat, and what else. No wonder I went broke. But I did leave a couple of work in France- frescoes which I painted in the corniches of two farmhouses, one in Poitou Charent and one near Toulouse. So a part of me will be there a long time.
Anyway, I shall post here a continuation of my short story, THE CONNECTION. Hope you enjoy it. If you do, please direct your friends to this blog.
‘I need you to make time for us,’ I tell my daughter.
‘I think it’s time I tell you all a story.’ My daughter translates this to granddaughter who pulls a face, her eyes roll upwards, her mouth slackens, her shoulders slump. ‘I don’t need to be here, right?’ she says.
‘Yes, you especially, need to be here,’ I insisted.
‘Ohh Mum, it’s not fair. What has any of this to do with me?”
My granddaughter’s whining weakens my resolve and I begin to weep. Tears for my recently departed husband, tears for my loneliness in this new country and tears of utter frustration at my granddaughter’s continuing rejection.
My son-in-law, Gerald, walks in and sees us looking like three cats with their tails cut off but only one is moaning her loss.
‘What’s this, a family weepathon?’ He says, cheerful as he tries to escape to his study with a quick ‘Excuse me’.
‘No! Please stay.’
I must have spoken too sharply because he quietly takes a seat next to my daughter, patting her hand as he did so.This is my family; Gerald, the big man with his receding hairline and open good-natured face, my daughter, sharp, power-dressed and lastly my grand daughter, beautiful, self-absorbed and so expecting of life.
‘Translate well,’ I tell my daughter. And I begin my story.
The Great Wall was built by Qin Qi Huang, the first Emperor of China. He built it to keep his enemies out and his subjects in. The Wall stretched across the entire northern frontier, from the east to the west. People marvel at its formidable grandeur but I tell you now, as magnificent as this rocky structure was, for our family the building of the wall is the story of a remarkable woman’s enduring love and her fearlessness in the face of overwhelming adversity. This woman was your great, great, great grandmother, Chingmei.
Chingmei was born on a winter’s night in Lungshan, a village surrounded by wooded hills high on the eastern banks of the Yellow River.
“Aiya! A girl!” wailed her father. “And at night! She is born to be lazy!”
But Chingmei more than made up for the sons her father craved. She eagerly worked alongside the other villagers, growing and harvesting sorghum - from this they made wine to sell downriver in the city of Lu.At the age of ten, she was betrothed to Honglun, a childhood friend.
The Emperor needed repairs made on the Great Wall in the West. His troops were sent to cut down the trees from the surrounding hills around Lungshan. Chingmei and Honglun grew up to the sound of axes hacking and trees falling. As their age increased, the forests decreased until by the time of their marriage, the hills were bare, denuded and silent - birds no longer woke the villagers with their morning chorus. They had disappeared as did all the forest animals.
The plundered the land turned to dust.
The following year the emperor’s army returned and marched away every male between the ages of thirteen to fifty to work on the Wall. Lungshan resounded with the weeping of women and children. From that day on only the sounds of dogs barking and roosters crowing disturbed the melancholy stillness that had settled over the village.
Three months later, Chingmei bore a son whom she named Xinfook - New Luck. He was the first boy to be born in Lungshan since the men were taken and all rejoiced. Each evening Chingmei would look towards the setting sun, longing for her husband and her aging father. She prayed to the Moon Goddess for their safe return. The seasons passed, her prayers remained unanswered.
By the end of the third spring no one had returned from the Wall.
Chingmei could wait no longer. She would go and find her husband and father and bring them home. Leaving Xinfook with her mother, she slung a pack over her shoulder made up of bedding, some dried food and a few wheaten cakes – and set off on her quest. There were many hills and valleys she would need to cross and she prayed her new cloth shoes with their strong straw soles would see out the journey.
Travellers she passed told her stories of the wall, of fatigue and starvation and men dying by the thousands. They said the structure was as high as fifty men and the ramparts so wide six horsemen could ride side by side between them. It curved along the hills like a sleeping dragon, its bastions like a dragon’s spine. Stones were hewn out of the surrounding mountains to build it.
In summer the scorching sun burnt the skin so badly the men peeled it away like parchment. The winter snow froze them as they worked from weak sunrise to frozen darkness with little rest. Food was scarce and it was whispered that men ate the bodies of their dead comrades.Mysterious lights flickered along the ramparts on dark moonless nights when no man dared to be awake. It was said the western wind carried the death wails of the labourers.
Chingmei shuddered when she heard the stories but refused to believe her husband and father would be among the dead. Had not the Moon Goddess sent her in search of them? Would she do this if they were dead?
To be continued...