IEHINO THE SCENES CONT
confidence is unabashed and his zeal manifest in the quirky, cheeky renditions of Italy; the plaster pillars are decorated with stylised cracks, trailing vines and classical images of Roman ladies in states of undress going about their daily ablutions, whilst comic caricatures sing to each other — of life, love and Ragu — across the slapdash painted mural.
Caffe Qui is newly opened, but Jim has been beavering away for months during building work. ‘I was practically painting in the darkness using two Halogen spot lights — which were nicked by the electrician or the plumber every time I turned my back. Once I stood on one and set fire to my shoes — I had little ﬂames coming out of my toes!‘
Such suffering for art is but naught to a man who, as illustrator to the serialisation in The Scotsman, read all of Charles Palliser’s The Quincunx — a tome whose not inconsiderable volume struck terror in the hearts of the nation’s critics. ‘One day I’d like to illustrate a book and get my name in it,’ muses Jim. ‘Now that would be a nice wee ego trip‘, he adds with an endearing self-mocking grin.
Jim’s hero is Dali. ‘He was amazing — all that burning giraffe stuff. . .God, when I think ofsome ofthe stunts he got away with. He was an artist, he was a showman, he was . . . everything.‘
His own delight in the ridiculous is evident in the abundance of visual gags; a fake staircase lurks near the bar (‘I’m waiting for my first drunk to walk into the wall and knock himself out.’), arms grope through painted windows to snatch bottles of vino. a cat disappears into a hole and a portrait of Garibaldi is completed by a wooden frame deliberately tipped askew.
Insatiably good-humoured, Jim is a man ofeccentric visions. Diners beware, for in the middle of your lasagne, spaghetti, tagliatelli, ferrari, cappuccino, hey presto! he plans a few surprises. My lips are sealed.
Life as a commercial artist (‘a mercenary’, he jokes) is sweet for Jim, who originally trained as a window-dresser and spent ten years in petro-chemicals. ‘When I faced redundancy for the second time I borrowed £100 from the wife’s housekeeping and decided to go it alone. Come to think of it I still haven’t paid her back.‘
I leave Jim savouring his Dolce Vita and ascend into the city and pass kitsch theme bar after kitsch theme.
Worst of Times
Thursday 11 sees the British publication of a controversial American book on no less a theme than the future of the planet. Andrew Burnet met its author.
Cheery reading for the 19905 comes from Bill McKibben, a former member of the New Yorker’s staff, whose timely book The End Of Nature is both a succinct summary of the environmental mess, and a melancholy prognosis for our response.
In the first half, The Present, McKibben shows, gently, unrhetorically, but irrefutably, just how deep the trouble is; how the greenhouse effect and the ozone hole must inevitably cause increases in temperature; how the climate and hence everything else will, within the next few years, begin to change dramatically. At the core of this sorry story is his philosophical but tangible thesis that nature — not the planet, or even humankind, but the naturalness of our surroundings — is at its last gasp.
He enlarges upon this in the second half, The Near Future, explaining how we have begun — and may well continue — to replace nature with something human-made, so we can carry on consuming more than the natural world can offer. This process
reaches its apotheosis, he says, in genetic engineering, which leads to a world where trees are ‘genetically improved’ to grow straight, and chickens are bred without unnecessary features like feathers, wings or heads.
Bill McKibben is a big, open man with a ready sense of humour, who insists that he’s not really an environmentalist, ‘except by accident, in that I love to hike and fish, and I like to write about the outdoors.‘
His book is aimed squarely at the person in the street. ‘I think,’ he says, ‘that there’s an enormous number of people who, whatever else they do, love nature — even just the idea that there are wild and beautiful places. It’s people like that I most want to reach. Ifyou’re not for something like nature as well as against global warming or whatever, then you tend to accept that things like genetic engineering may be the answer.‘
McKibben’s book quotes extensively from a broad range of literature and interviews and does
much de-bunking of optimistic scientists who dote fondly on a brave new nature, controlled by humankind. ‘It seems to me,’ he says mildly, ‘that we have one model of a kind of Earth that works, and it would be best from every point of view to try to maintain it.’
In a book whose persistent theme is an uncertain future, the most tentative chapter is the last, in which McKibben considers a ‘path of more resistance’, which just might maintain what’s left of the world’s naturalness. But it involves internationally co-ordinated sacrifices, and it won’t be easy. ‘I will be the happiest person on Earth if I’m proved wrong,’ he says, with a wry smile. "Cause I’ve had to sit and think about this stuff for a long time, and it’s very depressing.’
On its American publication in October, the book raised a good deal of controversy. ‘That was what I’d anticipated,‘ McKibben says, ‘and sort of hoped for. It’s very easy to be a non-controversial green, because no-one will say “I’m in favour of dirty air” or whatever. But if— especially in America - you say “perhaps we should have less economic growth”, you get into some trouble, and it made some people nervous and angry.’
The polarity of opinion became clear when he appeared on a major radio talk show. Several people called to say how glad they were that someone had said what they’d been thinking; while one listener phoned in to inform the host that ‘Your guest today is an agent of Satan.’
Don’t take’it from me: there can be few more pressing recommendations than that.
The End Of Nature, Bill McKibben (Viking £12. 99).
In God's Country: Travels In the Bible Belt, USA Douglas Kennedy (Unwin Hyman £12.95). Quite why charismatic evangelical preachers seem so frequently impelled towards fiscal or sexual disaster is a mystery which has become of particular interest recently. Douglas Kennedy took a trip through that part of America in which the species has traditionally found its richest harvest ofsouls, with the intention of discovering what it is that so many people need, and claim to find, in rebirth in Christ.
His prose, however, fitful, flabby and bearing the marks of an unamiable self-regard, illuminates little of the circumstances he encounters. Like the endless minor highways, Kennedy tracks across Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, In God’s Country drifts from church to church; from one inconclusive encounter to another.
Despite this. something rather strange happens. Somehow a picture accumulates of a deep South in
which many elements of secular American life have their Christian counterparts. We meet a Christian heavy metal band (‘great finale . . . they shower the audience with bibles’); pastors who run their independent ministries like small (or not so small) businesses and plan mall-concept cathedral complexes; guys making it on the Christian Adult MOR scene in Nashville wonder about their career prospects; the garrulous manager ofan International House of Pancakes proselytises to his customers.
Hovering over it all, a garish, unforgettable Mater Dolorosa: the weeping. praising, cake-like image ofTammy Fay Bakker, who responded to the news of her husband’s prison sentence for financial irregularities by bursting into song on the courthouse steps. (Robin Davidson)
Poet In New York Federico Garcia Lorca. A bilingual edition translated by Greg Simon and Steven White. Ed. Christopher Maurer (Viking
£16.95). The name of Lorca is well known, as is his assassination by Franco’s men in 1936 during the Spanish revolution. But to those unfamiliar with his poetry, this handsomely produced book offers a revelation. The poems were written in 1929—30 while Lorca, on his first visit abroad, was a student at Columbia University. His letters home are full of pleasure and excitement at the bustle and racial mix of the city, although he was present at the Wall Street crash when the panic was at its height, and he witnessed a banker’s suicide from a hotel’s 16th floor. But the poems are very different, written in intense, colourful and violent language ofa surrealist kind, reminiscent ofthe paintings of his friend Dali. There is an extraordinary juxtaposition of images and ideas. And one senses the anguish and outrage behind many ofthem, a sort of fallout from the collision of ideal and reality -— his sexual frustration, unfulfilled parenthood (the ‘unengendered child’), and concern for the social injustice confronting black Americans. As a condemnation of urban civilisation and materialistic
68 The List 12— 25 January 1990