When not teaching, Bel is obsessively working on the movie about Qi Qi’s life drawing session. Late into the night. Again before breakfast. As though there’s no tomorrow – though we are still six days from the deadline she has set herself for its completion: her flight to Holland.
It means there’s even less chance to talk.
Afternoon. The Delightful Peony. By now – mid-March – it no longer matters that the café’s heater doesn’t work: the temperature is ambient. Shrubs in the roadside-landscaping are beginning to blossom.
Another email from Cyril. His education of me continues. Or does he consider this to be “courtship”?
Dear Cyril, re Berko: that’s interesting because life-drawers similarly talk about ‘challenge’ – yet are coy about, or actually deny, looking for beauty. And what, anyway, is ‘beautiful’? “The curve of the neck, the turn of an ankle”, comments artist Helen Wheatley in Bel’s docu-movie ‘Under the gaze’ (watch it – it’s brilliant). Berko seems to emphasise the torso. He shows very few faces. And uses lighting and textures to create a mood. Yes – he is definitely another romantic. Not realistic.
So – what do I think? Yuk. Give me realism and grotesquery any day. Sorry to disappoint. S
I deliver another cup of tea to Bel’s desk.
She pulls out her ear-phones. Her breathing today seems calm and easy. ‘The sound-track’s great, though I say so myself. Got any biscuits?’
Enthusiasm! For once, a smiley face! ‘Of course it’s great. You’re brilliant. I’ll bring the Oreos.’
Bel stretches in her seat. ‘It’s mostly Maria Callas singing an aria – Qi Qi’s choice. But I’ve just realised we’ll need subtitles for these vox-pops I’ve edited in. I can’t ask Lily Hong, her English is too poor. Who can we get to do it for free?’
‘Fei Mo Di’s the obvious person. He’s the only person I’ve met who’s totally bilingual. I could offer in exchange another one-to-one shoot with me for free. I’ll go message him.’
But when I return from texting in the kitchen (better reception at the kitchen window), Bel is pacing, scowling at her iPad. ‘This is really scary, Suki.’
‘What?’ I sigh, holding out the biscuit tin. She ignores it. How can her mood have changed so suddenly?
‘Global demand for food is outstripping supply because of climate change. In some parts of China villagers are abandoning the countryside because the land is too depleted to raise flocks or grow food. It’s even starting in Japan. Huge areas of Africa and China are turning into dust bowls on a scale that dwarfs the 1930s one in America. This American scientist Lester Brown says it’s all coming to a head – and he’s never been wrong in any of his predictions.’
‘Don’t you want an Oreo?’ Then – ping! A text from Fei Mo Di.
Yes, am up for this skills exchange, curious re Bel movie, wd like to support. Yes can do subtls tomoz, lets meet, also how about shoot 24 March my place like before?
‘Hey, Fei Mo Di‘s agreed!’
But Bel is still agitated. ‘Look – there’s already millions and millions of people in poor countries who can only afford to eat five days a week – even actual water is running out because of over-pumping. In northern and western China, and somewhere in Africa, people are running out of land to grow food.’ She looks up, her eyes desperate. ‘It’s all going to collapse. I watched the Twin Towers live on TV as they collapsed. All this. Here in Shanghai. It could all come tumbling down in a minute.’
Bel, you so frighten me.
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