Archive for September, 2014|Monthly archive page
Started the day by putting in an application for tickets for the Rugby World Cup in England & Wales next year. Have seen occasional signs of Argentine rugby during my stay – a pitch here, a newspaper report there.
Made a bright and early tourist start across the sleepy Sunday morning city in the direction of the gallery of 20th Century Latin-American art, Malba. The BA at the end stands for Buenos Aires (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires).
It was a 45 minute walk, back to the area where TV Publica lives. As I went past the law courts, motorcyclists of all shapes and sizes were gathering. About an hour later I saw them parading down Avenue Presidente Figueroa Alcorta making as much noise as possible, even the little Vespa at the back.
I checked out the embassy quarter as the gallery didn’t open til noon, too enthusiastic for my own good, need to get myself on Latino time. The embassy area could easily have been in Paris, tranquil streets with 19th Century European style residencies. Some lovely trees, some interesting architecture (including a modernist building with metal oval door and oval windows), no-one around in the light drizzle.
Once I got into Malba I made a bee-line for the permanent collection of 20th Century art, the collecting of Argentine businessman Eduardo Constantini, offered to the city as a permanent and public home for his significant collection. The city’s artist community backed him to the hilt, persuading the municipal authorities to grant him land on which to construct a purpose-built home for the artworks.
My visit centred on the stand-out exhibit, Frida Kahlo’s Autorretrato con Chango y Loro (Self-portrait with Monkey and Parrot) (1942) of which more here. Worth the price of admission and the 6,900 mile trip alone. Other highlights included Antonio Berni’s Manifestacion (1934), a great example of politically committed painting from Argentina and The Dressmaker (1935) by Amelia Pelaez of Cuba, really original drawing.
I walked back to Plaza San Martin a different way, enjoying the Sunday afternoon calm. The streets were mainly populated by young people and young couples.
After a bit of writing and feet resting in the comfortable, old-school hotel room, I taxied across to Palermo Soho, a bar and shop district on the other side of town, for the day’s meal. Highlight of that: tortilla. I wonder whether this Soho is named after New York’s SoHo, London’s or neither? A coffee and read to round off, then back to base ready for an early start on the journey to Uruguay. It’s not every day you get to visit a country beginning with U. Right up there with the day we walked across the bridge from Zimbabwe to Zambia, a double Z bonanza.
Headed out of Rosario early and flew back to Buenos Aires where Damian, Valeria and I went to visit TV Publica aka Channel 7, the main publicly owned channel, designed to counter-balance the power of the privately owned networks which have for a long time wielded immense influence, amplified by cross-media ownership. It is housed in studios built for the 1978 World Cup, state of the art at the time, massive by normal standards (in the way BT’s set-up out at the London 2012 IBC on the Olympic Park is) – the only station in BA in purpose-built facilities. Victor Taricco kindly showed us around the Newsroom, Studios, Control Rooms and other facilities (including a complete set-building workshop). There’s a groovy air of the 70s about the place e.g. the studio auditorium chairs have a white leather 70s thing going on.
Victor showed me how the channel archives all its output onto YouTube; went through their social media activity; and played me some of the content that works best online, notably a very funny old-school satirist who seems to have adopted the web aesthetic very happily. I particularly liked a show where he plays a vegetarian who gets increasingly irritated and violent due to excess of salad.
Had a brief siesta listening to Miles before heading out to Puerto Madero down by the old docks. Indulged in a long, slow Saturday lunch with steak in red wine sauce with added red wine in a large glass beside (and no excess of salad), watching sailing boats slide by in front of me, just the masts visible above the concrete dockside. Drifted in a Malbec cloud over to the Costanera Sur ecological reserve where I hung out with the varied bird life of the city, from ones with little quiffs to ones with pointy beaks, and a few green parrots to boot. There really is great variety and a constant accompaniment of birdsong as you wander around the city. I found myself a fine spot overlooking the River Plate, a constant rhythm of waves lapping at the shore below.
Enjoyed watching a turntable bridge in action as I left the port area – second bit of heavy duty engineering I watched this particular day. Had marvelled over a German air-bridge at the airport – crudely tough yet precise. On the subject of engineering and crudeness, I made my first ever Skype call home this evening. Enfant Terrible No. 2 was at the other end (along with his mum but that didn’t seem to cramp his style) and his main question was whether the Argentine women were hot. He’s 14. I told him that, thanks to a rich mix of genes including Italian, in general they are, which seemed to please him. He met a Mexican girl this summer at a drama course in the East End and seems to have taken quite a shine to Latinas, the little monkey.
More on Latinas and little monkeys here
Picture of the Month: Autorretrato con Chango y Loro (Self-portrait with Monkey and Parrot) – Frida Kahlo (1942)
I’ve never written a Picture of the Month in situ before but it’s a rainy Spring afternoon in Buenos Aires and I feel so inspired by this painting in the Malba gallery that I feel compelled to get a bit of energy out of the system. I’m dedicating this one to Una who would love this painting.
What’s unusual is that in many ways it’s a very simple painting, not much to work with – the artist, a monkey, a parrot and a background of wheat. Usually I pick images with more complexity to focus on in Picture of the Month.
I’m about 20 inches away from it now, phone in hand to jot this on.
The eyes (woman, monkey, bird) make an equilateral triangle which is the heart of the composition. Frida’s look slightly left like she doesn’t give a monkey’s about the viewer. Her lips are tight. Her cheeks red. There’s a bit of anger or disdain or probably defiance there.
The parrot looks straight out with both of its side-mounted eyes looking directly at the viewer – the only one of the three doing so. I saw a green parrot like this yesterday up in the trees at the bird sanctuary across town by the port, the Costanera Sur ecological reserve at Puerto Madero. Incongruously some distant relatives, also bright green, hang out occasionally in the allotments beside my house.
The monkey is looking out of the frame to the artist’s left – only one black eye visible like a Jack of spades.
Frida’s hairband is green and yellow like the parrot. Her hair is black like the monkey. She is integrated with them. Are they two aspects of her? Talking and thinking or feeling? Her parents? Her children? Two people she knows? Two aspects of Mexico? No clues really – maybe they are just two animals or familiars.
The parrot sits on her shoulder. Not much sense of its weight. The yellow and maroon dress she is wearing is flat and unruffled, making the parrot not quite of this world.
The monkey is embracing her, an arm behind her back and one on her shoulder. They look close whoever he/she is. It’s got a little quiff. Its face is at once baby-like and old, more the latter.
His (why do I keep thinking it’s a male?) fur links to her amazing gull-shaped monobrow through the shared colour and her unflinchingly portrayed moustache. She has black eye-liner echoing those eyebrows. The lip hair reflects them. So some strong X-shaped geometry is the focus of her face.
The background of wheat reminds me of Van Gogh. The yellow is related to his sunflowers. The tendrils at the top suggest growth and something of the jungle. The shapes also remind me of Rousseau’s vegetation.
…on reflection, I don’t think it’s wheat. I think it’s some kind of exotic jungle plant. So we’re in a Latin-American jungle world albeit of a light and limited kind, no sense of enclosure by trees.
After 20 minutes standing here what do I take away about this beautiful picture? It’s more for Frida than for us – or at least she’s giving us only so much. The rest is hers.
Here’s the last Picture of the Month – as you can see the series title has a touch of irony about it.
It’s been a good while since I’ve been on a plane with propellors. This one was quite magical. It flew low (i.e. in clear sight of the ground) out over the River Plate / Rio de la Plata, a rich muddy brown colour, as extensive as a sea, Uruguay visible only as a thin strip in the distance on the other side; along the muddy water (which of course is silvery or argentine in the sunlight) into the enormous delta region; and on over water-level land bisected by the meanders of the river (Rio Parana) and divided by myriad channels, very little sign of habitation or human presence.
We landed in Rosario, Argentina’s second city, 50 minutes north-west of Buenos Aires. It’s largely a human scale, two-storey urban sprawl, all in square city blocks, with very varied architecture (very little sign of any planning control or heritage building restoration). Some very elegant buildings among the hideous blocks. My companions Damian, Valeria and Robert and I landed in one of the class ones – the El Cairo cafe, once the cultural and literary hub of Rosario thanks to the writer Roberto Fontanarrosa, El Negro, a son of the city who hung out every afternoon with his compadres to talk culture, politics, football and all the stuff of life. Damian once optioned some of his short stories but found them impossible to realise in practice due to their fantastical nature – Mars is not an easy location.
A couple of doors down is the El Cairo cinema, a beautiful 40s art deco picture palace decorated with palm trees and orientalist details, redolent of Casablanca, Rick’s, the Blue Parrot, all those usual suspects. It has a huge screen and a rich crimson womb-like vibe. The boss of the cinema, the charming Arielo Vicente, took us down to the old railway station by the river. In the British-built, red brick railway terminal, which was specially opened for us, is now a fabulous children’s project, a space for children and their parents to come at no cost to hang out together and do arts activities from making clothes to welding scrap-metal sculptures, from manufacturing paper to reflecting on memories.
Adding to yesterday’s list of things that have cemented themselves in my head about this place and its people:
- Argentines think a lot about what’s public
- The advent of democracy in the mid-80s is a major watershed in their consciousness
- They are very good at crafting attractive environments
- They seem remarkably friendly and warm to each other too (I watched an emblematic scene in the airport today of a man and woman returning the mobile phone of an old fella who hadn’t realised he’d lost it – lots of goodwill and smiles).
There were lovely details in the old railway building – a glass wall at the tracks end creating a compelling view along the still extant tracks, the old ticket windows, some well worn wooden stairs up to the first floor (where there’s an animation workshop with a refreshingly analogue, hands-on focus).
We had a drink at the riverside (Rio Parana) before returning to the Cairo where I followed Damian giving a talk to an audience largely of students and young Rosarians about what’s exciting about ‘transmedia’. The queue for the event was out the door and down the block. Really enjoyed chatting to the young folk afterwards and joining them in their selfies.
As the red neon El Cairo sign illuminated (a distant relative of the Phoenix sign in East Finchley) Arielo took us back to the river, beside some massive, beautifully painted grain silos (now a modern art museum) to a fantastic modern restaurant where I ate paku, a river fish that really tastes of river, a fascinating muddy aspect to the taste which I enjoyed more than the natives (not to be confused with pako, the cheapest, nastiest derivative of cocaine, which was the subject of my attempt at Spanish wordplay, feeble but given how little Spanish I know not altogether unworthy. I started learning Spanish today in the footsteps of 20.2M other Duolinguo users. I’ll try it out on my Argentine amigos on Monday.) Washed it down with a beer, the right drink at the right time, although no native cerveza to be had.
Though no beer was really needed, we all felt buzzed by the positive response to the El Cairo event and the youthful energy in the air.
Wow, where did that come from? One minute I’m walking along with three charming lunch companions, the next minute the rain and hail is so intense I can’t even see across the street to the Audio-Visual District HQ in an old market building, open to the air. As previously reported, it’s Spring here and seemingly that means extreme shifts of weather. This time yesterday I was sunbathing on a stone seat – now I’ve ducked into a cosy but lively café, the Decata, with thunder and lightening punctuating the background music in here.
Lunch was very enjoyable in a German-owned place which gave me the chance to switch from my Spantaliano to Deutschpagnol. My three companions were a young TV presenter-producer who fronts a show in Venuezuela, a fella from Colombia who loves punk (Pistols Tshirt yesterday, Clash today) and a translator-scriptwriter. They filled me in on the harsh realities of the closed economy here (pretty much the opposite of London and what makes it tick – advantage of being an island, where trading is second nature) and I felt their frustration at how it hemmed in their creativity, natural entrepreneurialism and energy.
This morning I went back to Mediamorfosis to listen to a session on multiplatform history by Alvaro Liuzzi. His project on the Malvinas conflict 30 years on was particularly interesting. Veterans joined in the Twitter narration by publishing extracts from their long-forgotten war diaries. A journalist found an undeveloped Kodak disposible on the islands and used the project to help track down the soldiers who showed up in the developed photos.
Next up was Robert Pratten of Conducttr, an East Ham man who talked through the very interesting and well integrated Twitter game he developed for Canal Plus in Spain for Game of Thrones. He had some keen observations on patterns around transmedia which were great food for thought. He, like me, places great emphasis on the centrality of the audience.
Damian Kirzner who organised Mediamorfosis is the long lost twin of my friend Jim Dwyer in Dublin. I’m going to make a point of engineering an opportunity for them to meet face to face. Damian pressed his two teenage sons into service as well as his good lady wife making the whole thing a delightful family affair, lovingly crafted. The two boys couldn’t have been more solicitous in taking care of dad’s Brit mate.
The storm has somewhat bollocksed my planned flaneur activities for the afternoon so I’ll sit here Hemingway-like on the trusty Air (in my head a portable Halda) and rethink…
The solution was meat.
Two and a half days in Argentina and no red meat. I had to do something about it. I headed across town with Robert and a taxi load of super-friendly Argentine women from Mediamorfosis to the Teatro Picadero where, beside a newly and beautifully restored theatre, warmly lit throughout, was steak. Not the stake of stakeholders and other arts jargon from subsidised theatre. Steak as in the two truckloads of cows I spotted on Day 1 coming in from the airport. We had dinner hosted by Marina Marchesotti, boss of the Picadero, along with people from the British Council, the Picadero and Direct TV from LA. Red wine flowed. A pile of meat duly arrived. The evening flowed happily.
A couple of things that have cemented themselves in my head today:
- Argentines do a single kiss – consistently (no European double, even men do it much of the time on other men)
- Argentines commonly have Italian names
- Apart from the grumpy taxi driver on Day 2, everyone here is genuinely friendly and warmly welcoming.
The sun has put his hat on. The tree-filled Plaza San Martin looked the business as I taxied across town past the main station and through much more impressive neighbourhoods, greenery, space and Euro-elegance.
I spent the morning at Mediamorfosis, a progressive transmedia conference lovingly arranged by my friend Damian Kirzner, a producer and passionate advocate of multiplatform story-telling. We first met at the International Emmys in Cannes a couple of years ago, both nominees. We tried to hatch an ambitious Anglo-Argentine multiplatform environmental project focused on the South Atlantic but it floundered on the rocks of British realpolitik. Shame because the sea-life there is seriously under threat.
At Damian’s invitation I did a turn trying to get across what’s exciting about transmedia and where the opportunities lie. It seemed to go down well so hopefully it may inspire a Latin or two to come up with a multiplatform creation which works this side of the water.
Took a long hike across the city with a Columbian student along tree-lined streets of two-storey European-style buildings through the extensive area known as Palermo. Reminded me of similar streets in Toronto, Tel Aviv and Paris. We talked drums, jazz, politics – thoroughly enjoyable wander. One highlight was a beautiful bookshop of high wooden shelves with a tranquil cafe secreted at the back – where I would definitely hang out if I lived here. The only book in English I saw was by Jamie Oliver.
Which brings me to Shakespeare. I’m still in the garden near his bust as mentioned on Day 1. I’ve had a fine siesta in the sun. Read some more ludicrous stuff about Nazis in Lisbon. And am about to head off on the hour walk back to have cocktails in the media district.
I’ve never set foot in South America. The nearest I’ve been is Tijuana in 1980, the day John Lennon died. So on landing after 13 hours of flying it felt very far from home, that well-off-my-manor feeling I get in South London.
On the way in to Buenos Aires in the taxi I spoke to the driver in a mix of my little Italian, my even less Spanish, and a bit of extrapolation from French – it just about worked. We passed two trucks full of live cows.
Most of the journey in was heavy traffic on big boulevards. I could see the European thing everyone talks about but mainly in areas punctuated with boxy modern architecture. It was only on Day 2 I saw the real charming McCoy.
I’m writing this on Day 2 in El Rosedal, a beautiful sun-dappled formal garden with a bust of Shakespeare a few yards away (a gift from the British community in 1964 to mark Shakey’s 400th birthday, which seems to have survived the little unpleasantness around the Malvinas unscathed). There are fountains gushing, a couple of pretty girls drawing, pink gravel paths and fresh verdant grass – what more could one want?
On arrival at the Plaza Hotel, pulling up into a classic arcade worthy of the classic name, I had the thousand yard stare of overnight travel and was therefore relieved to find the room ready at 10:30 in the morning. I did some typical modern free overtime for work before heading out for a bite to eat with my full tourist kit – small shoulder bag, camera, trashy novel and a free map of the city.
Put a toe in the water of the ciudad, enough to find a homely Italian cafe where I sat reading a book about Nazis over a plate of papas (I’m not sure if that is a quaint nickname for potatoes or their official designation – or is it the pope? [who is of course Argentine]). After a much craved for coffee I went to visit the British Council offices opposite the hotel on Plaza San Martin. Beautifully decked out in wood and curves I got to meet all the staff from Receptionist to Director and hear about the work of the greatest diplomatic institution in Britain alongside the BBC World Service.
A bit more flaneur-type wandering with camera (I rarely use it these says due to phone handiness), then coffee and cake at the Florida Garden, an old school cafe where I sat at the mirrored bar under the solicitous eye of a smartly liveried waiter. The weather was London drizzle – while London enjoyed the tail-end of its Indian summer. Today is officially the first day of Autumn in GB. Here in BA it’s Spring.
I hit the luxurious sack early to reduce the stare by 998 yards. It worked.
If you ever wanted to know the value of Scottish-English union it’s perfectly captured in John Martyn – born in England, educated in Glasgow, genius fruit of the union of an English mother and Scottish father – and if you voted today in the Scottish Independence referendum I hope his words guided your hand:
Can’t you see it in my eyes? I’m saying
Don’t you go
So many reasons you should stay here, baby
Don’t you go, don’t you go
So here I am sitting in a land colonised by Scots (at the Beech Hill in Derry) following the outcome of today’s vote. I’m genuinely and deeply concerned about how things turn out. As I watch this non-television let me set out 4 of those ‘reasons you should stay here’, 4 reasons why it would be a shame (in its true sense) for this family of nations to be torn apart…
1. The history of the world is one of the ebb and flow of the scale of our nations, seeking the optimum size to organise ourselves at. Roman Empire too big. San Marino too small. Scotland is too small too. It is not a substantial enough market to thrive. You only have to look south from here to the Republic of Ireland and, for example, to my industry, television/media to see that 4-5M people does not enable you to compete effectively or have a stable base from which to work outwards. 63M constitutes a really good market from which to radiate.
2. Diversity strengthens, tribalism diminishes. Genetics makes this very clear.
3. If Scotland leaves the UK, by definition it becomes a competitor and although a neighbour, effectively only on the same basis as Ireland, Norway or France. Any business with a UK remit will no longer have any duty or strong rationale to buy from Scottish suppliers.
4. There’s so much conflict and shit in the world, we need to find family and friendship, unity and co-operation wherever we can.
Here’s hoping unity and being greater than the sum of our parts wins the day.
Update 06:08 19th September 2014
The voting results have reached their conclusion. We remain together, for which I’m grateful. My hopes are these:
That the incredible energy released by this exemplary exercise in peaceful democracy with its turnout of a standard-setting 86% is channelled into [Alex Salmond is just making making his speech of defeat as I write – he just used the words “at this stage” with reference to Scotland’s decision, typifying once again his weasel nature, given his promise to respect the result] is channelled into making the future of Scotland an even greater success.
That Scotland with all that energy becomes a powerhouse alongside my own native London in driving this union forward.
That the massive issues facing our united kingdom of inequality and poor representation, the need for social justice and sustainable living get tackled by all our populations. As a lifelong non-Tory, non-Labour voter I’ve never had a vote that truly counted.
That we do not take one another for granted as nations and revel in our strength together.
Another year, another day reclaiming my birth date.
I kicked off the day with a jog round St Pancras & Islington cemetery (at this juncture I’m the world expert on that place) listening to David Crosby on BBC Radio 4’s Master Tapes, great stories from late 60s LAlaLand. I bought a copy of If I Could Only Remember My Name when I got back to the house, struck once again by the odd pricing of music these days – £7 for the MP3 album, £5 for the CD with free MP3s. I hope the Great Digital Rip-Off on books and music gets addressed before too long – you corporate feckers, you’ve got no manufacturing or distribution costs these days, do the right thing.
First food of the day – a blackberry off the bush on our fence.
First work of the day – looking at rough cut of Episode 2 of the short form series I’ve commissioned about Bez, Happy Monday and aspiring politician. This episode was shot in Portmeirion, famed for The Prisoner and suppression of freedom. They probably would have had fracking there if it had been invented. Needless to say this episode is called: I am not a Number.
Next a meeting at Temple tube with Steve Moore, former Channel 4 colleague and always good for a great chat. And this one was a humdinger! Better than a novel…
We went on to visit the Temple to discuss an interesting project of his for 2015. I got a private tour of the Temple Church, a location made popular in recent years thanks to Dan Brown, conducted by the very expert Robin Griffith-Jones, Master of the church, who explained the essence of the Magna Carta to me. I hadn’t grasped he was the Master/some kind of vicar and took him at first as a trendy lawyer with a taste for round-collared shirts.
In the tradition of Video Arts (where are my royalties?) and other such learning there are a convenient three points to grasp:
- no taxation without representation
- equality in the face of the law / fair trials
- constitutional restraint / the monarch is not above the law
Pretty civilised – especially in contrast to the 9/11 fuckers and their ‘values’.
The barons negotiated with King John (was not a bad man, he had his funny ways) in the safety of the church (Joe Public was keen to lynch KJ), a tough week of negotiations guided by William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, evidently the hero of the day. They then all went up West and signed the mother (of all bills of rights).
Then into Channel 4 HQ for a meeting about Don’t Stop the Music (“Give us yer focking instruments!” – Bob Geldof) (“petition donations here dontstopthemusic.co.uk” – Stephen Fry) – no, we mean it, give that old unused instrument of yours here and now.
Followed by a meeting with cake kindly provided by the gals at Antidote Media, a new indie (cake monetary value technically below declarable levels but sentimentally worthy of an entry on declaration of gifts).
In the evening went en famille to The Bald Headed Stag. That was a tip of the hat to my grandmother Rita who used it as the orientation point for all her car journeys regardless of where she was going. Nice drop of green gazpacho, a pint of Normandy cider, then back to ours for a family viewing of Educating the East End.
No nutters in the sky. A flawless day.