It is no secret that Edmund de Waal's visit to the dovegreyreader tent had been the subject of much excitement for many weeks, and no surprise to have a packed tent, and there you also see that very Happy Camper perched on the arm of the sofa...it was a squash in the tent...Edmund said there's a space here...quick as a hare there she was.
I had chatted with Edmund very briefly beforehand about The Hare With Amber Eyes and asked if he would mind if we pitched right into the emotional heart of the book and then worked in either direction, talking about the netsuke, the collecting, the Ephrussi family and the impact of the book, which he very courageously agreed to do. And so after a brief introduction from me about this book as 'experience', and the impact that reading one particular passage had had on me very late one night, Edmund then read the extract for us.
It was the moment when the Nazis have arrived to clear the house and the desk is sent crashing through the glass roof ... and there was a silence as Edmund finished reading. In fact I could barely speak and there was little doubt that we were all instantly choked and very emotionally engaged as the most wonderful and far-ranging discussion followed.
Sometimes I'd like time to stand still in order to bottle moments like this, to keep them forever and make sure everyone can share them because it was pin-drop-electric. I think we would all agree with RevCheryl...
Edmund de Waal's gentle and unassuming manner and the depth and intelligence of his answers were a delight. He spoke of the shape of things, words for him have shape, texture and weight and so does a story. It was very moving to hear how the one he uncovered as he worked on The Hare with Amber Eyes was almost totally new to him. It made us all reflect on how refugees lose not just their homes but their stories and identities, perhaps because they are too painful to remember. Now this story has been restored and with it lots of new relatives for Edmund and his family. Clearly I was not alone in hoping that while continuing his work as a potter Edmund de Waal will write more. This will only happen, he told us, when he finds a story that has the right shape again, but at least he didn’t rule it out.
Edmund also talked about the design of the book and his resistance to, and the subsequent absence of a swathe of glossy photos halfway through, and someone commented that these seemed unnecessary. With such tactile descriptions of the netsuke every piece takes shape in the imagination of the reader and we heard about an edition that Edmund is working on that will contain some Sebald-like pictures that will have associations with the text. It was but a hop to talk about and extol the writing of W.G.Sebald, a real favourite of Edmund's and many of us in the tent... he recommends Austerlitz as a must-read.
We had some moments of levity too, as we moved onto to talk about his 'day job' and I asked Edmund whether he preferred to be called a 'ceramic artist' or a 'potter' . As he replied with a very definite 'potter', it seemed like the perfect moment to get an assessment of a piece of my early work. There was much hilarity as Edmund praised the shape and form and my delicate use of colour in this piece ( made aged seven) which, with its kidney connotations, clearly foreshadows my sensible career move into nursing, a serious loss to the world of ceramics. On the basis of Edmund's assessment I have taken the precaution of moving it from its place on the mantlepiece above the woodburner to a vitrine.
We could happily have listened for hours as Edmund talked about his work as a potter, the discovery of what he really wanted to make versus what he thought he should make, the repetition, the hundreds of casseroles in his early days and his pots and installations now, and how that repetition is mirrored in so many crafts...I was thinking of the millions of stitches in a quilt or tapestry. We also talked about the impact of reading and literature on his work and the thought processes that surround it, and touched on his revisionist approach to the work of Bernard Leach. Leach a potter greatly revered for creating a bridge between east and west but Edmund has explored the Japanese tradition in even greater depth thus exposing the myth of the 'appropriate', a premise not without its controversy and he was able to share that with us.
And then of course we had that memorable knitsuke moment of our own, Edmund was genuinely delighted with his little quilted homage to A Change in the Weather, and another hare with amber eyes to add to his collection.
And those of us who were there will never forget a very special Port Eliot event. I hope we've been able to share the essence of our Hare with Amber Eyes moments with you all, and my thanks again to Edmund de Waal for visiting the dovegreyreader tent and to everyone who came along and joined us.