Archive for the ‘musings’ Category
I just came home to this note from Enfant Terrible No. 1. It indicates that his Catholic education stuck to some degree, however little time he has for formal religion. It’s also a sign that his Music Education stuck to some degree because it refers to the borrowing without express permission of the paternal CDs (ranging from Curtis Mayfield to Siouxsie & The Banshees) in order to flesh out a newly broadened music collection. For nearly a decade we had wall-to-wall rap and then suddenly the dam has burst and The Enlightenment has flowed.
The beginnings of this are documented below in Passing the Baton.
I want to pick up the thread this day last week on Father’s Day, as good a one as ever occurred.
I get up relatively early (for a Sunday) to take said Enfant Terrible to his weekend job, teaching little kids rugby at a local school (the school where The Kinks went back in the golden era). Before leaving he handed me this home-made card:
Inside are written the wondrous words: “continue to musically educate us”. In the meantime from The Cure to The Doors, from Diana Ross to The Boss, they’re working their way through the goldmine.
Once back to the house I go for a run in St Pancras & Islington Cemetery (do your jogging or you’ll end up in here), listening to Inheritance Tracks from Radio 4. Here are mine from 3 years ago, but I think de facto at this point the one I’ve bequeathed may be Sympathy for the Devil. I was listening to the lyrics the other day while watching Crossfire Hurricane with Enfant Terrible No. 2 and they really are brilliantly epic for a young man of Jagger’s then age.
When I get back from my run I clean the bird shit off the car and pick up all the litter on Maurice’s allotment beside my house (Maurice is rarely able to get here any more due to old age taking its toll and Luis, the Portuguese fella who looks after the massive plot for Maurice, just doesn’t get the idea of litter/rubbish – it’s a cultural thing, either OK for possible recycling or weirdly invisible.) So a couple of physical activities for the greater good, always feels good. The original Forgive-Me-Father was a great advocate of service as the path to happiness.
In the afternoon we went down to our annual local festival, the East Finchley Community Festival in Cherry Tree Woods. I did a short stint on the stall of The Phoenix Cinema, where I am a trustee. Little kids were drawing discs to use in a Zoetrope type device, watching their work back as animation. The rest of the time I was mainly by the main music stage where the highlight for me was a bunch of geezers of my vintage playing tracks from my music collection, as raided above, like Song from Under the Floorboards and something by Talking Heads which now escapes my silver-fox vintage memory.
While I was sitting there the solution to a mystery came in over the airwaves. I’d bought a vinyl copy of Born to Run at Alan’s the day before. On the cover was a name that looked more like a signature than a name written to assert ownership of the record.
I whacked this photo online and drew it to the attention of my best man, a Springsteen veteran and connoisseur – he took 9 minutes to work out whose signature it was (he had a book signed by the same person) – it was Eric Meola, the photographer of the famously stark no-nonsense black&white Born to Run cover. So not a bad acquisition for £7. I told Alan the story on my way home from the festival on this beautiful summer evening and he shared the piquant addendum that the copy had come from the collection of singer Paul Young (of Q-Tips, Band Aid and solo fame).
In the evening the ETs gave me my Father’s Day present, a subscription to Spotify on which was prepared a playlist called ‘The Enlightenment’ consisting of loads of songs I’d shared with them over the years which they now really appreciated. It was clearly the product of many hours work, including the use of Shazaam to identify unnamed tracks I had put on early birthday compilation cassettes for them.
We went up to Highgate for dinner together, unbooked and last minute as I prefer. It was chilled, great larks. On our return we set up a collaborative playlist called ‘3-way Music Education’…
Watching/photos of diving. Flowers. Roof top views (Mediterranean). Chicas with black hair. Sea breeze. Church bells. Tortilla. Long lunches (Mediterranean). Generosity by children. Records. Record shops. Tranquility. Fountains and water in gardens. Watching movies with the Enfants Terribles. Saracens. D’s laugh. Sparrows. Playing Top 3s en famille. Handstands under water. Community.
Blues guitar. Cafe con leche. The Sagrada Familia (especially the coloured interior light). Sitar at sunset. Crema Catalana. Back in Black (memories of driving to school with JRT). Dappled sunlight in Spanish squares. Flamenco singing in real-life. Parrots (especially escapees in London). Sharing Peking crispy duck. Curvy architecture.
Palm trees. Browsing flea markets. Rum’n’Raisin ice cream (especially in South of France, seriously alcohol-soaked). Waves. Working away quietly with someone sleeping in the room. Chalky old-school mineral (Vichy) water. Collecting things. Collections. Traditional shops. Fresh sheets. Beautifully designed playing cards. Harbours. Breasts. Siestas. Playing backgammon in the shade after lunch. Strolling the city at sundown. Teaching your children stuff. Deep sleep.
Today is Record Shop Day. I’ve been frequenting mine (Alan’s in East Finchley) plenty recently so I’m just making an internal nod to indy record shops and I’ve just played a classic record Spiral Scratch by (the) Buzzcocks (albeit not on vinyl, I’m in the wrong room) – the track I played is Boredom because I’ve been thinking about it a lot yesterday and today.
I’m living in this movie
But it doesn’t move me
I’m the man that’s waiting for the phone to ring
Hear it ring-a-ding-a-fucking-ding
You know me, I’m acting dumb
You know the scene, very humdrum
Boredom, boredom, boredom
I was just out jogging, listening to a podcast with Irish writer John Banville talking about Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe. Banville, under his low-brow pen-name Benjamin Black (which I don’t much like – as fake as they come, a bit like Julian Barnes’ Dan Kavanagh), recently wrote a Marlowe book at the request of Chandler’s estate, The Black-Eyed Blonde. Marlowe stories usually start with the gumshoe sitting bored in his down-at-heel office waiting for something to happen, usually a dame walking through the door to give him a knight-errant mission.
Then late last night I was listening to a radio programme from BBC Radio 4 called The Buchan Tradition about John Buchan, marking the centenary year of The 39 Steps. Richard Hannay is bored in London at the start of that ripping yarn when lo and behold a spy dies on his living room carpet and the adventure begins.
That’s also often the case with Sherlock Holmes – he’s bored out of his brain, coked off his face, ennui has well and truly set in when a character shows up at 221b with a juicy mystery to solve.
One of my favourites, a resident of The Shelf of Honour, The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, opens with the protagonist bored in the “dead and fermenting city”, London in the dog-days of late summer. When the opportunity crops up to sail around the Baltic and North Sea coasts, in spitting distance of imperial Germany, with an English eccentric in an Aran jumper, it’s the perfect cure not just to boredom, but also to the complacency and materialism of modern life. One of my favourite scenes is when Carruthers, the narrator, can’t fit his trunk through the opening into the Dulcibella, the boat he is due to go off for a trip in and he has to dump most of his stuff (which he never really needed).
Recently I watched again one of my all-time favourite movies, Apocalypse Now, with Enfant Terrible No. 1 (a convert to The Godfather movies). Damn it’s good. Great. Nearly perfect. It opens with Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) bored to near-death in a hotel room in Saigon. Waiting for a mission.
Saigon…shit. I’m only in Saigon.
Every time, I think I’m gonna wake up back in the jungle.
I’m here a week now. Waiting for a mission. Getting softer. Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker. And every minute Charlie squats in the bush…he gets stronger. Each time I looked around…the walls moved in a little tighter.
There’s boredom as debilitating ennui as in Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal. But there’s also boredom as a motivator, a prompt into adventure. The question is whether in real life the blonde walks through the door or the spy expires on your carpet? Does the ring-a-ding-a-fucking-ding really come?
I’m standing on the terrace of the Château Grimaldi in Vieil Antibes (aka le Musee Picasso). Below is an expanse of azure sea punctuated with dozens of white sails travelling in various incomprehensible lines as they race from whoknowswhere to somewhereelse. I couldn’t be happier being back in Antibes/Juan Les Pins. I’m here for the MIP TV market/Digital Emmys, my usual reason for being in this neck of the woods, but as a veteran of such things, I know to stay in Juan rather than Cannes.
Juan-les-Pins has two particular resonances for me – my European grandparents and jazz. The former, a Germano-Polish alliance, used to come here in the 50s and 60s as it was à la mode, the In place. They both enjoyed gambling so I expect the casino was a significant attraction. The latter I suspect was not unrelated to this modishness as it was the golden age of modal jazz and other such modern experimentation. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen stuff about Miles and Coltrane playing here. This hotel (I’m now on the balcony of my room at Le Grand Pavois as my phone ran out of juice at the end of the first paragraph) has a Sidney Bechet room. Somewhere near the patch of sea I can see through the pines is a commemoration of the international jazz festival they used to hold in town.
A quick bit of Googling shows that Trane played at the festival in 1965 and a live LP was recorded, and Miles played here in July 1969. That probably makes the Trane performance within 6 months of the release of ‘A Love Supreme’.
A bit more Googling reveals that Coltrane, Tyner, Garrison & Jones (the recorders/creators of ‘A Love Supreme’) were the band who played in Juan on 26/27 July 1965 and they played A Love Supreme, Impressions and Naima, which makes it I believe the one and only live performance of ‘A Love Supreme’, one of my favourite records, the opening track of which I’ve left a request to have played at my funeral (on the way in).
Back in the land very much of the living, today has been a pretty blessed one. The taxi driver who picked me up in Nice had a PhD in history of art from the Sorbonne and taught there. Cue interesting conversation about Fragonard, Boucher, etc. The hotel room they put me in is a corner room and because of its odd shape is big enough to play football in and has this huge sweeping balcony hugging the curved corner of the building where I’m now sitting in the golden rays of the evening sun in just a clean white towel (refreshing after the London winter).
So I dumped my coat and baggage, changed into shorts and my Save Ferris T-shirt and headed over the hill to Old Antibes. Steak frites for lunch with a glass of rosé. Crêpe citrone and café crême. Reading The Bone Clocks (David Mitchell), my book club choice. Then into the back streets by the marché provençale to the Musée Picasso, like an annual pilgrimage. It’s one of my favourite places.
I delighted in revisiting the fabulously Mediterranean ‘Joie de Vivre” (1946) which Picasso painted in the building after the war and about which I’ve written at length. This time the work that really stood out for me was ‘Nu Assis sur font vert’ (1946) which is a good example of Picasso capturing the human body in geometric, sculptural forms.
From there I passed a happy hour reading, snoozing, listening on the small harbour beach beside the marina. A walk over to Jaume Plensa’s Nomade sculpture (2010) on the harbour wall. Pleasant memories of one of my best days at Channel 4, rounding the corner of a wood to see for the first time ‘Dream’, which Plensa made as part of the ‘Big Art Project’ series. I met him that day.
On the late afternoon walk home I had one of the best ice-creams I’ve ever had (rum & raisin and coffee if you want to know).
The feeling that came to me walking over that hill on the way out at noon was that for all the crap going on in the world (and there’s no end of it) we need to stay in touch with the joys of living and appreciate them each and every day. That’s the only way to live. Otherwise it’s a road to madness.
Passed a poster on the street of the president of Uruguay – he looks like a friendly granddad. Seemingly he lives in a modest house in the country, drives a VW Beetle and has a dog with three legs. After a harsh Mandela-like imprisonment for years, he came to power and leads what I understand is a benign, liberal regime. Certainly the city has a good vibe, a bit slower than Buenos Aires, sunny disposition.
Another thing I saw on the street was ‘mate’. People young and old were walking along with a small, rounded glass in one hand holding a silver spoony thing with perforations and in the other a thermos of hot water. Nothing like a nice hot cuppa sitting in a car park with a blanket on your lap. This is the world of trendy students and enamoured young couples and they’re all sucking at their infusion of dried leaves of yerba mate.
Talking of leaves, we took ours of Uruguay before noon, back on the boat. Luckily there’s still some proper old-school bureaucracy in Argentina/Uruguay so I’ve managed to amass a decent set of stamps in my new passport. The immigration officer I just encountered had a slightly daunting look with Amy Winehouse type tattoos on her upper chest and knuckles – turned out to be as charming as can be.
As we pulled out of Montevideo we got to see the ‘monte’ in question, a green hill overlooking the city, now surrounded by favelas. I didn’t see much poverty on my visit but that’s tourist life for you – I often heard references in MV and BA to areas being safe or not. A bunch of Mexicans were playing a raucous game of cards on the boat back, adding a bit of analogue to the digital life of cameras and phones around them.
Took my leave of Damian back at the Hotel Plaza. Saw a sepia image of it with the Graf Zeppelin flying above this morning. I’ll catch up with Damian again in London when he comes over for Power to the Pixel and Mipcom in a couple of weeks. Also said by to Vale, who may be over in London in a while. Great trip, fine travel companions.
For my last half-day in South America for now I headed over to Palermo Hollywood, the chi-chi quarter of cafes and design/clothes shops. Had a late lunch which turned out to be the best meal I ate in Argentina – coated chicken in orange and tequila sauce. Combined with some cool jazz, a bit of birdsong and a great people-watching crossroads at Borges and El Salvador everything aligned for a beautiful meal. Wandered the tree-lined streets after taking a few pics and looking for a couple of gifts for the Mrs and the Enfants Terribles.
Headed back to the Plaza for a quiet evening and a not too late night. Very comfy beds by the way if you’re into sleeping equipment.
South America Day 9 – BA-LHR: Adios Amigos
So here I sit at Puerto 9 awaiting the plane home. Nothing much to report – pack, breakfast, taxi, airport. It’s a grey day in Buenos Aires so ideal for leaving.
What do I take away with me?
This is a (surprisingly) friendly country. Everyone I met here and in Uruguay was invariably warm and polite. They do this one cheek kiss all the time which beats a handshake. All friendly except a single grumpy taxi driver who can kiss my Irish arse ;-)
There’s a terrific enthusiasm for learning and competing, developing and pushing the boundaries in digital media and beyond. Whatever the economic pressures, it seems a well organised country which should have everything it needs to thrive, not least a terrific younger generation.
Bottom line, a fabulous trip sweetened by lovely people.
And then the sun came out…
And then I got three empty seats in a row on the plane…
Argentina is separated from Uruguay by the River Plate, which from the shore looks like a sea. On the Argentina side it is muddy brown. On the Uruguay side, a bit bluer. It takes around two hours to cross by boat. Valeria, Damian and I boarded from the modern passenger terminal in Buenos Aires, built only two years ago, complete with a wall of falling water.
I spent much of the journey doing my Spanish lessons on Duolinguo. Lo siento, no hablo Espagnol. Funnily enough, I got to use that phrase on Uruguayan television later in the day.
The journey is a flat expanse of calm river, punctuated with the odd vessel but otherwise without features. Eventually the Uruguayan mainland looms into view, and then Montevideo, a largely low-rise city. On disembarking we passed pretty much the whole of the country’s navy in port, grey hulks labelled 1 to 24 under huge yellow cranes.
We were picked up by a colleague of Damian’s from TV station Estudio 9. She drove us along the coastal road, the Ramblas, a crescent promenade bordering the river-sea. We went first to Channel 10 where Damian did an interview on a daytime show. He was preceeded by Chico Novarro, a famous Argentine romantic singer of boleros, and his leather-trousered son, a well-known actor. The two presenters and crew were really welcoming and friendly, especially the older host who couldn’t have been warmer.
Everyone in the crew, cameramen, sound, the works, were on their phones the whole time they were shooting. I watched a voice-over artist at the side of the set do the sponsor presentation live, delivering each bit perfectly and on time then returning to his magazine the second the mike went off.
The set was a comfortable house with living room, kitchen and (fake) garden beyond the French doors. Damian chatted in the kitchen with the younger host (with whom he made the multiplatform show Conectados a couple of years ago) and efficiently got across his activities with Mediamorfosis.
We left the beautiful shade-dappled side street where Channel 10’s studio is located for a hotel in the city centre, not far away, it’s a bijou city. After dumping our stuff, the three of us walked ten blocks to the old city centred on Independence Square (this is Uruguay independence from Argentina). It is defined by the old theatre Solis, a strange masonic tower and a stone arch – very atmospheric and typically hispanic.
We had a late lunch outdoors (a lovely fresh white sea fish steamed with carrots and onions). Then I dragged them in to a beautiful late 19C book shop with high shelves, a book-lined balcony, a stained glass window half-way up the stairs and a café up above. If I lived in Montevideo, this would be my HQ.
Also at my request we popped into the Torres Garcia museum next door in a tall old townhouse, five or six narrow floors high. Joaquin Torres Garcia is Uruguay’s most famous Modernist artist. The early work on display (like Adam & Eve) shows the influence of Cezanne, Picasso and Gauguin. He lived in Paris, Barcelona and New York. Other roots seem to be Klee (searching for a symbolic universal picture language) and native South American Indian art (flat hieroglyphic planes). He was clearly both a restless experimenter and a relentless theorist. Note to self: pick up a book about him on my return.
We then headed off to El Observador newspaper in a quiet, more industrial quarter, beautifully designed offices in black and white, stylish. I had a look around the newsroom, then got roped into an interview despite my Duolinguo Spanish. That’s when I got to say “Lo siento, no hablo Espagnol” on air. We talked about the future of TV and media with a similarly stylish young journalist with blue glasses (Dame Edna Everage-style but dialed down and cool).
Off for a siesta listening to Kind of Blue (= perfect siesta length, finishing on flamenco vibe) then over to Estudio 9 where Damian and I were doing a two-hander evangelising transmedia. The venue was a black-curtained studio, subtly lit in the beautifully lit and decorated former dance hall. We had fun doing it, it seemed to go down very well.
From the studio we headed out for a suitably late a l’Espagnol supper in a former market with various folk from the British Council Uruguay office. In the corner of the open-to-the-air market (a bit like Spitalfields market) was an enclosed space with windows housing a tango school. Tonight was tango night so I got a chance to watch some regular couples at work. I liked their ambition. When I eventually got back to my 8th floor room I realised what I was looking down on was the corrugated iron roof of the mercado. So I fell asleep in Montevideo listening to the sounds of tango from below.
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.
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.