Oranges by Marcia O'Connor.

Having said all that I did before, I must also add that sometimes knowing the context of a piece of work takes a great deal away from it. Sometimes it is far more revealing when the artist challenges their viewers and readers to explain what they find in a work, what it reminds them of, in which context they would place the work, based purely on what they can see. We all have such differing experiences through life – two people standing together and looking in the same direction will see two different courses of events – and these different experiences, these different attitudes towards life brought about by what we have seen, learned, believe in create many contradictory views. One of the reasons philosophers have been so successful down the centuries is not that they could discuss seemingly inane questions for hours on end, but that what they discussed had no set answer and could always be looked at from another point of view. Their discussion, as we know today, led to so many other avenues of thought, that the original art of philosophy had to be split again and again, until it finally arrived at the – probably not final – version of all the arts and sciences we know today.

One person is going to read a poem set late at night in a snow-covered wood somewhere in the Hamptons as a revelation of nature, while another might see it as a pause between illicit assignations, another the conspiracy of a few to commit something better described out of hearing of others, away from polite society. By changing a few words, a poet can create a new image, a new background from the most basic of works, and even from essentially the same work. They might not be able to make a living from it, few writers make enough to live on let alone care for a family, but the satisfaction would be there. And it is also true, once you have accepted that the income will rarely pay for what you give out to follow your desires, that the passion of writing, of creating art, has nothing to do with financial reward. You could almost claim that my letter writing, the words I pen for so many people around the world, are a creative art too – which, in a way they are, as each is an individual work in and of itself – and then appreciate that this art of mine, the art of communication, will never cover the costs, in a material sense, that I am forced to bear.

There are many advantages to having more than one point of view on offer, but only if the person being confronted by these various ideas, suggestions and so on, is prepared to listen and assess. There are many advantages to having several political parties, with differing views on how to achieve something, so long as the individuals who make up those parties are honest both with themselves and with their constituents and, also, prepared to listen. No one can form a strong and well-intentioned opinion on anything unless they have heard all the adverse opinions, all the ideas which suggest a thing will not work, or offer a different solution. A single political party will always head in the same direction, follow exactly the same ideas, and never be capable of looking to left and to right for alternatives. A tyrannical dictator would be just as effective as a country run by a single political party. Added to which, of course, that party would always be in power, and probably create laws whereby elections would be rare, and candidates severely limited. How many countries do we know that are already like that? How many major countries where an opposing political party has only recently – in the last two or three decades – become possible, but is not only still handled with mistrust because it is so new, but seen as a danger and its constituent members murdered on the streets before they can be elected? How many times, and once recently comes to mind immediately, have we seen that someone coming into politics, apparently having the best interests of a more social society, has wrapped themselves in lies to attain international recognition and support, and then turned, destroying thousands of lives in the process.

The checks and balances can only be carried out when there are opposing sides, but these sides must appreciate that their opposition should be to something which is wrong, which is against the best interests of the country, and not linked to a specific dogmatic party stance. They should also appreciate that, when something is in the best interests of the entire country, or as good as it gets, then working together across party lines is far more effective than refusing a move simply because it comes from the other side of the chamber. Too often we see personal interests prevailing over the common good, a fine example being the well-considered Senator who votes against medical support for cancer patients through the Affordable Care Act, whilst receiving cancer care and therapy at the expense of the public purse. Or the members of the British parliament who send in their demand for expenses, whilst voting to remove a large portion of disability benefit for those in most need.

We see which way things go, though, and how personal prejudices can be levied to bring those who are unsuitable to the fore, and dismiss those who are qualified and open to beneficial change. Alabama was almost such a case, I see it in other countries as well. We can, however, be grateful that the opponents, regardless of which side they may have been representing, are not removed from the running by a shot in the back of the head. Our Western political system has not dropped so far into the abyss, yet.

Context is also a matter of breeding, and by breeding I mean everything in us from every single experience we live through from the moment of birth onward. I have been taught many things which I now see I should have disagreed with, given the opportunity and knowledge. I have experienced many things in my travels, in my reading, in my communication with people around the world, which have changed my outlook and, despite my advancing years, this process is not yet at an end. I am still finding things, almost in daily life, which go against what I have always believed or, perhaps better, the things which I have taken for granted as being true and correct because of the manner in which I have been brought up, the manner in which I was educated. A week or so ago I signed up for the Harvard Shakespeare course on The Merchant of Venice, with its main focal point being the Bond signed between Shylock and Antonio. One of the reasons I’ve done this, even though it can be of no real material benefit to me, is because of information, new to me, about the manner in which the various religions treated one another in past centuries. Now, I’m going back nearly two thousand years here, when one religion was brand new and came out of another, and then moving forward half a century to when another religion came from them both – effectively – and began working its teachings around the world.

The book, covering the beginnings and growth of the Silk Road between Venice, or the West, and China, brought me to the view that the major religions, initially, were not working against one another, that they did work together in many instances, and had very beneficial results for all involved. The bulk was, of course, centred around trade rather than any religious teachings or experience, but there was a close bond, changing according to need and the times, between the three world religions. Admittedly, there were also plenty of people within these groups who were against such unions, and many who also believed that the opposing religions should be wiped off the face of the earth, much the same as today, but there was also unity, and it was this unity which brought religion, or the philosophical and theological thought behind the various religions, to the fore, and not the battles and destruction.

Having been enlightened, in a manner of speaking, I decided to take a new look at the relationships outlined within Shakespeare’s work, especially since he had never known any Jews, never been to Venice, and was creating a real world scenario completely from his imagination. And I must say, it has been fascinating, re-reading Shakespeare with new eyes, and seeing the manner in which we interpret what he wrote then according to our beliefs today, without knowing how the world was back then. It is fascinating to see that a group of people – the Jews – hated and despised by so many, expelled from so many countries, vilified and murdered simply for their beliefs, were counted as being vital to a country’s welfare and financial prosperity. The Venetians, unlike the English, could not just expel the Jewish bankers – this being one of the few trades they were permitted to follow – without running the risk of destroying their own welfare, and so had to tolerate them, even if this meant restricting their movements and ensuring that they lived, safely removed from Christians, within the closed, water-surrounded, churchless square chosen for them: Ghetto Nuovo.

And now I look upon the whole in a much more modern sense, not one surrounding religious beliefs, but concerned with the welfare of a land or area. I consider the fate of those farmers in, for example, California, who will be unable to gather in their fruit harvest without the cheap labour they have had up until now. I was considering this because, a few years ago, I saw exactly the same thing happen here in Germany, not in such a bad way, but similar. The government decided, despite warnings from all about them, that the use of Polish and Rumanian labour to gather asparagus was to be stopped. The labourers would come over from their home countries, the employers given a special license, spend six months working, and then return home for the other six months of the year. Unlike in several other European countries, such as England, they were migratory workers and had no intention of settling. The money they earned here was enough to support them, and their families, for the entire year.

The government turned down the licenses, and directed that German labour, in order to reduce the unemployment levels, must be employed first and foremost. And it was a complete and utter failure. The employers and farmers would have had to pay considerably more as the German workforce demanded union rates – no problem with that, as it is their right – which the foreign workers had not interested. The medical expenses were considerably higher – all workers are medically insured in Germany, including seasonal workers – and the people designated had to be trained. Within a few weeks it appeared that the system would collapse, as German workers reported sick so that they would not have to do the work. I overheard potential workers myself, discussing their work, and clearly stating that the harvest gathering was beneath them, was an insult to their pride. They would rather return to the ranks of the long-term unemployed and live off welfare. Which, I should add, they did.

This was about twenty years ago, and the experiment, as they like to call it now, has never been repeated. The Polish and Rumanian workers arrive in the spring, work through the summer, and return home in the autumn to their families. Workers and employers are happy, the harvest is gathered, the population has its asparagus. But oranges in Florida? Can the region survive without a workforce prepared to put up with the downside of work? Time, as you say, will tell.