I am just back from an action-packed couple of days in London: coffee with Maxine
at the British Library (which passed far too quickly), then over to Marylebone High Street (15 mins at a very fast walking pace) for the launch of Gregory Norminton's book SERIOUS THINGS
at Daunt Books which the Daily Telegraph says is the most beautiful bookshops in London.
According to the bookmark that was enclosed in my copy of Gregory's book it is an 'original Edwardian bookshop with long oak galleries and graceful skylights'. I particularly liked the balcony, and I wandered up the stairs and for a while looked down on the tops of heads and the golden circles of champagne-filled glasses.
After a good time talking to old friends from Sceptre and meeting some of Gregory's old friends from his university days at Oxford, we went on to the Pizza Express where Gregory and his girl-friend Emma had booked a room. I don't know how long this lasted but I had some very interesting conversations with the people near me which continued long into the night at the Groucho Club, eventually getting back to my hotel in the early hours of the morning. However I drank far too much and only remember some of the evening quite vaguely, but it was very good, and I really appreciated the intelligent company.
The hotel room was quiet and comfortable (the Presidential again, off Russell Square) and I had an excellent day reading about the religion and folklore of the Navajo. I am finding this particularly fascinating because for previous books I have done quite a bit of work on the Inuit (Arctic) and the Tehuelches (South American) and the Navajo, in North America, fit somewhere between.
One feature they all have in common is the shaman. In people that are predominantly hunters there is more emphasis on the individual and the shamen generally have a calling to their vocation; whereas in people that depend on agriculture the healers tend to inherit their role and are trained in their craft, spending many years learning chants. In the Navajo the system is complicated because although they were once hunters they have derived some of their culture from the neighbouring Pueblos who are farmers. So the Navajo have medicine men (and women) who learn chants (or 'Ways') from other experts that cure, but the cause of the illness is discovered from 'arm tremblers' who acquire their insights supernaturally.
The medicine of the Navajo depends on the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. Excellent. I feel a new obsession coming on.