Monday, June 05, 2006

The New World

It might have taken me a while to get used to the impressionistic storytelling style, but once I settled, I was also deeply moved. As with Terrence Malick's earlier film The Thin Red Line, quizzical inner voices decorate the dreamily disconnected action, itself a backdrop to a hauntingly revealed natural world. (Set to Wagner's prelude to Das Rheingold and tweeting birdies.) It's essentially a re-telling of the Pocahontas myth, though as far as I could tell the name itself only appears on the end titles.

"There's something that I know when I'm with you that I forget when I am away" Colin Farrell (as Smith) murmurs to her, perhaps the most touchingly poetic line in the whole film.

Amazingly, Q'Orianka Kilcher, the actress that plays Pocahontas, was just 15 when this movie was made - she was spotted a year earlier playing her guitar in Santa Monica. She is half Quechua-Huachipaeri and she has the striking flat features common to Peruvian indígenas. Pocahontas was only 13 when she 'saved' Smith and is said to have called him "Father" when they met again in London in 1617. Smith himself observed at this awkward re-encounter that "without any words, she turned about, obscured her face, as not seeming well contented".

Smith's ships Discovery, Godspeed and Susan Constant sailed in 1607 to Virginia with 105 people from Blackwall Stairs, quite close to my apartment. I remember being told the fanciful tale once that Pocahontas' ghost still haunts the abandoned galleries of Tobacco Dock, but I can't find a connection to Wapping and she is known to have died at Gravesend. Her earrings were exhibited at the Museum in Docklands at West India Quay.

Surfer also told me last night that there's a village in Cornwall called Indian Queens in reference to the fact that she and Rolfe supposedly made landfall at Sennen Cove before making their way overland to London, but her Wikipedia entry insists that they disembarked at Plymouth.

Thanks to a recommendation by the Professor I have started to collect the Latin American baroque recordings by Ex Cathedra and Jeffrey Skidmore. (Appearing on June 16 at the Stour festival.) The first CD is entitled New World Symphonies and features a rich mix of plainchant and polyphonic choral pieces from sixteenth and early seventeenth century America. My personal favourite is the opener, Hanaq pachap Kusikuynin (1631), an anonymous piece. Also sung in Quechua is Qhapaq eterno Dios (1598), and there's a beguiling lullaby in Nahuatl by Gaspar Fernandes (1570-1629) called Xicochi Conetzintle. (Street kids in Mexico are sometimes called Escuintles, so that word that must also be of Mexica/Aztec origin.) Moon, Sun and all Things should arrive later this week.


scott said...

Right, "escuintle" is more or less equivalent to the Guatemalan "patojo"'s also a sacred Mexican/Aztec dog.

Nice comments on the music...once in Rio Dulce we heard the most incredible Mayan music, performed on horns (those huge Mayan trumpets) and percussion. The young Kiche guy told me it was traditional ceremonial music and not available to the public, but research on my part can't find anything out about it. In fact it seems that ethnomusicologists can only approximate it, as no written music has was wild stuff, not on the same planet as Western diatonic music and not in any recognizable meter.

El Blogador said...

Ah yes, and "Chiriz" !

That trumpet music sounds interesting. I've only reall ever heard drums and flutes before. In which part of Izabal do they play it? What was the ceremony about?