Sunday, September 01, 2013

From Athens to Frome, democracy in action!

This week I have mostly been negotiating with Aircraft Chest syndrome, that mysterious virus cultivated in the plane's air-conditioning which ensures however bronzed, fit, and relaxed you are when you set off, by the time friends at home are asking about your trip you'll cough pallidly and answer from a throat like sandpaper...  Lots of things have alleviated this annoyance, however.
One being a fantastic BBC4 programme about the origins of theatre: Ancient Greece, The Greatest Show On Earth is hosted by the delicious Dr Michael Scott, who interviews female experts looking like he's planning to lick them later and is passionate about Athenian dramatists and their impact on democracy. "To understand ourselves we have to understand the ancient Greeks" he says, "Athens invented democracy, and theatre was the oil that allowed it to function." It was here, in 6th century BC, that epic narrative stories were for the first time enacted, and stage drama was born. Dr Michael leaps endearingly through ruined sites finding carved dedications that show the key role in civic life of the amphitheatres. He explains, with (literal) animation, how the famous tragedies combined myth and politics in a way designed to promote debate, predict outcomes, and encourage reflection on the communal good.  They were also emotional toga-rippers.  All the big names ~ Sophocles, Oresteia, Aeschylus, and 'enfant terrible' Euripedes ~ would compete in a massive festival for Dionysus which was held in huge esteem by generals and rulers. Plays like The Persians and The Trojan Women had a public purpose: to engage Athenians in an understanding their own history, and to warn their leaders of the dangers of hubris by showing truly tragic consequences. We left Athens as it stood poised for decline after failing to heed the dramatists' warning... Can't wait for next week!

I've been positively chafing to see Steve Coogan's movie debut, and this week Alpha Papa arrived in local cinemas. On the big screen, Alan Partridge delivers everything you'd want from a top-class comedy: brilliantly nuanced characterisation, witty script, superb editing, excruciating humour, and cracking sound-track. Partridge is narcissistic, unreliable, and socially inept, but what keeps us rooting for him is that somewhere within he knows he's not the person he really wants to be, which is why (unlike David Brent, much as I enjoy The Office) he's up there with the best tragi-comic heros: insecure and often self-deluded, but somehow arousing our compassion...  perhaps, some might say, because we know we can be like that too. (Writers may be interested in this Ideas Tap interview with the scriptwriters.)

First Sunday of the month is now a regular date for Frome Super Market, already featured online by Texan photo-journo ("What do I love about England? My husband and a good Gin & Tonic") Selena in four postings about our town. It's a big thing. From the top Catherine Hill, down the cobbled street to the main road (closed to traffic for the occasion) and along the riverside to the old cattle market yard, hundreds of stalls offer just about everything you could put on or beside a stall: bottled, baked, woven, painted, kiln-fired, matured, stir-fried ~ all locally made or sourced by individual enterprises. The independent shops ~ which is most of them ~ are open too: POOT Emporium on the hill has reopened as a collective of contemporary and vintage designers, selling clothes, curios and collectables, now charmingly describing itself as a Department Store. And there's buskers, including classy duo Nicky & Griff, and pop-out caf├ęs, and mask-making for children and the casually carnival kind of atmosphere Frome does so well. Happy September, y'all.

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