Thursday, 20 June 2013

Charlie Chaplin, Venice, Roger Ebert and Jung - you decide whether it was synchronicity or coincidence

I buggered my sciatic nerve last week while vigorously ripping ivy off a brick wall in our garden. By the time I’d gone on the wash the car and clean the shower-room, I was in agony, and have remained so pretty much ever since. Despite the regular ingestion of painkillers, the pain when I’m not lying on my right side in bed or on the sofa or immersed in a really hot bath has been impressive: until today, I couldn’t stand up for more than two minutes or walk more than 200 yards or sit at my desk for more than ten seconds without starting to make a panicky hooting noise like a tortured gibbon (at least, the sort of panicky hooting noise I imagine a tortured gibbon would make).

Yes, I know – boo hoo!

Anyhow, that’s meant watching a lot of sport (well done the England ODI cricket team for reaching the world championship final and congratulations to Andy Murray for winning the pre-Wimbledon grass court tournament at Queen’s – thank God the tedium of the clay court season has passed) – and I’ve been reading a lot of books, which, thanks to the miracle of Kindle, I can download within seconds.

When I’m not feeling absolutely tip-top, I can’t read literature or history or philosophy or poetry: all that will satisfy me is crime or film books. I have no idea why. I experienced one of the best days of my life at the age of 20. I spent it in bed with a spectacular hangover on a blazing hot day in an enormous, dingy, cold room in an ancient flat in Florence, drinking cartons of milk and munching my way through packets of Italian biscuits, reading Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. The two college friends I’d met by chance in Venice and had then accompanied to Florence had gone out for the day. It was bliss.

I’d already been in Venice for more than a week when I met them in St Mark’s Square. The Venice Film Festival was on, and a huge screen had been set up at the other end of the piazza from the cathedral. We went off and guzzled spaghetti and wine and bread at a cheap place they'd discovered near the Rialto. Afterwards, we strolled back to St Mark’s, where a largish crowd had gathered. We arrived just as a remarkably clear version Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights started up on the big screen. For some odd reason (maybe the wine or because I’d barely spoken to anyone since I’d left England and was just beginning to feel lonely or because it's rare to find free entertainment in Venice) I roared with laughter throughout.

As the film drew to a close and we all applauded, a spotlight was trained on a first-floor balcony on the long Procuratie Vecchie side of the square, the windows opened and, supported on either side, out stepped an old, white-haired gent, looking somewhat bewildered. It took us all a few seconds to realise that it was none other than Charlie Chaplin himself. Cue thunderous applause and wild cheering from a – by now – huge crowd.

Anyway, desperate for something to read a couple of days ago (I‘d gorged myself on true crime and wasn't sure I could face another brutal slaying), I struggled up here to my desk, logged on to Amazon and, making stifled gibbon noises, looked for a film book. The first that caught my eye was the recently deceased American film critic Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies. I clicked on the image to read an extract, and the first thing I saw was this:

The best time I saw City Lights was outdoors in Piazza San Marco in Venice, and after it was over Chaplin came out on a balcony and waved.
Taking that as a sign, I bought it.

After I’d downloaded the book - knowing that, while the pain of sitting at my desk was bad, the agony resulting from standing up would be ten times worse - I checked the most recent comments on last week’s posts. The first one I read  accused me of habitually substituting the somewhat mystical Jungian concept of synchronicity (roughly, the conjunction of two unrelated external events in a seemingly meaningful way – although the “meaning” is hard to define) and plain old-fashioned meaningless coincidence.

Spooky, or what? (I’m guessing the answer will be “what”.)

The book is terrific, by the way.


  1. Hope you are recovering in comfort, Scott - we'd miss your swivel-eyed blog! SHBV

  2. Aw shucks - you made me blush!

    Thank you anyway - and I'm now tickedy-boo.