Category Archives: Walking

Invisible Vauxhall

I loved this tour by author Gabriel Gbadamosi, who was unprepared for his own popularity and expected 3 or 4 arrivals instead of the 15 or so. We trooped around the little park in a group more diverse racially, culturally, and in terms of age than I was expecting. I loved that. He is a storyteller, and I don’t want to steal his stories or recast them in my own voice, they are too good. I am looking forward to encountering many of them again in his book, which sits beside me now, though I have not yet had time to read it. Another day, another post.

vauxhall__full_cover_final2

A taste though. We stood on a little hill in the new Vauxhall Gardens — a fraction of the site of the old Vauxhall Gardens, famous and infamous pleasure gardens of the 18th and early 19th centuries. I brought all kinds of knowledge of those along with me, having encountered them in my mother’s historical romances, in Dickens’ brilliant descriptions of their magic by night and their tawdriness by day — the days only revealed in a last ditch effort to maintain the gardens as profitable. I knew that Hogarth had painted the scenes and held a golden ticket. I thought back to the fairly fabulous Museum of London display that attempts to immerse you in this past with its fairy lights and sound recordings and murals of graceful ladies in their beautiful dresses. I believed them completely gone, covered up by the relentless creep of development. In fact, they were.

This piece of ground had been here and I had found it on an earlier attempt to discover Vauxhall for myself, but it was labeled as something else and not very appealing as a park space. I missed the presence of the farm all together, never connecting it to those pictures of my friend’s children amidst the animals, when I glanced in and passed it by. Redevelopment has now motivated the council to commemorate its past grandeur, but not the people who once lived there. Gbadamosi grew up in a row of houses once standing on that grassy knoll, one of them bought through toil and struggle by his father, occupied and loved by a host of Irish Nigerian children. Torn down as a plan of slum clearance by the council. He passed around a photograph showing his sister, a beautiful old car, a  neighbourhood that stood where we stood that to my American eyes was quite beautiful. There is nothing left to commemorate it, you would never know it had ever been there. I think so much about buildings, ruins, the ease with which our histories are erased when the buildings that have held us are gone. Words are all that are left. Pictures. Memories. Loss. On a lighter note, where will they put his blue plaque?

And so I felt at home on this tour, the memories of a poor childhood but a happy one, a culturally mixed and intermingled one, and the anger over a home lost and the understanding of how much more that meant than just the loss of four walls. I’ve been reading Marshall Berman lately too, and wonder if everyone who loses their home carries around with them that anger, that pervading sense of loss. I suppose we, the dispossessed, often have little ability to express these things in ways that can be widely heard, nor is it something you can casually drop in conversation.  It has shaped my life so much, and while it does not make me happy to find it in others, it makes me feel that I am part of a community. These are my people, because they can understand the way that this event (events in the plural I suppose now, in a way) rumbles on through my thinking, so fundamental to who I have become. There are more and more of us, victims of the slow violence of modern displacement for profit through clearances, foreclosures, evictions.

Of course, I love this community of shared experience most when it also joins a fascination with history and some good politics. We heard about the mixing of the high and the low in the gardens, references to it in literature. In contrast, there was the industry along the bank of the Thames, the potteries and factories and Blake looking out his window upon Dark Satanic Mills. Vauxhall is also of course the new(ish) home of MI6 in the obvious and not so obvious places (for some lighthearted spy geography, much of it in South London, see this post from the Londonist), the site of new embassies — and of course that is where the Americans are coming to rest. The secret services undoubtedly make them feel safe, unlike the rest of us. Where we stood was also the location for the launching of the missile at MI6 by the IRA in September of 2000.

Two things that struck me most: the homeless folks and addicts that lived in the arches under the railway, who were allowed to use the Gbadmosi’s outside (!) toilet, often given food. His Irish Catholic mother said they were angels, tests of our charity, you should always help them. His Nigerian father said they were like the dead, and so you should always help them.

I pondered that, it has not left me. The mercifully brief presence of a young heckler already drunk on our morning walk showed that some other aspects of the past had not left us. I was almost glad to see it, it means those surviving on the edges, can by can or hit by hit, still have a place among us. That there may still exist some desire to deal with root causes rather than simply forcing our people suffering such problems into the outskirts and the shadows. Of course, imagining that our council has any desire to deal with root causes is a little idealistically indulgent.

The other thing is that as children who had not lived through WWII, to Gbadamosi and his siblings the word bomb site meant only an open space to play in. I am a bit fascinated by bomb sites, how they were incorporated into everyday life for so long, how they were gradually filled in — and you can see the filling. How they opened up opportunities to build social housing across the entire city — a promise of social quality that has since been renounced. The horror of Gravity’s Rainbow, pictures of flame and death and ruin, a mystique of wartime bravery and camaraderie. A common reaction I suppose, and I digress.

After leaving the park we walked down to see the old Doulton factory, pausing to look at the tiles and mosaics under the bridge on Salamanca Street. On the way we stopped at a highly secure building I’d always wondered about, and is apparently the headquarters of the firm specialising in transporting the world’s masterpieces of art. So cool. The old factory itself is stunning, I remember wandering past it for the first time and wondering how such a beautiful thing of craftsmanship was built. It too was bombed, but this piece of the facade thankfully preserved.

VauxhallVauxhall

There was so much more but I shall send you to Gbadamosi’s website to read essays and get his book, the multiwalks website and phone app to experience a much expanded tour for yourself — more on that when I get a chance to explore a little more.

Save

Southwark Cathedral Contradictions

I can’t quite grasp the relationship between the glorious monsters on the outside and the glorious light and space and soaring of the inside

And I still cannot quite comprehend how stone can take this character of massive weightlessness, how anything so heavy and solid can delicately soar and continually unfold into mystery

This narrow Norman arch has stood here here supporting the roof for 800 years. Of course, it was once a wood roof, probably very similar to that of Westminster Hall  with its capitals of strange creatures and frightening angels…perhaps resolving some of the contradictions, but raising others. I want to know their stories, but fear them to be long gone. And while I love stumbling across the green man, I do not buy much of the crap written about him. So it is all wonder and mystery, this combination of such immense human skill, love, and imagination

Southwark Cathedral stands at the lowest point of the Thames, the old ford and today’s Tower Bridge, for long the only entrance to the City of London. You can see the remains of the Roman road alongside the cathedral, along with a statue of an ancient hunter god. There has been a church here since at least 606 AD…

[And the priests and staff inside are incredibly friendly and informative without being overwhelmingly so. And the incredible Burough Market is immediately next door.]

Save

Legally Underground

I love being underground, I love dark, close places. And dark massive airy places of course. And while London is undergirded by miles of tunnels, bunkers, culverts, sewers, abandoned underground stations and etc, can you legally get into any of them?

No. But Graham and I did our best.

We started in the Cafe in the Crypt, St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields. A copy of American Colonial architecture, which is really just a variation on a copy of traditional English architecture…and they sell decent coffee and quite delicious currant buns in a warm, dry, well-lit brick vault that a self-respecting ghost would never be caught…in.

They have an art exhibit on now, Cartooning and Conflict, international takes on the situation in Palestine/Israel. Some of them were good, some of them ridiculously simplistic. Of course.

So coffeed and fed, we started on the quest for the (now underground) Tyburn river. On foot. And wandered past St. James Palace just as a marching band was scheduled to appear (!), line up in front of the palace, play, salute, and head out again. It made no sense at all, but the tourists did like it.

I just love the incredible feeling of being fortuitously in exactly the right place at the right time…even if it’s only to see a marching band. We passed Truefitt & Hill, London’s oldest barber shop established in 1805. They say that:

Men deserve the best in everything they do. If you are looking for the finest in men’s grooming, we are confident you will find Truefitt & Hill’s unmatched product quality and prestigious tradition extremely compelling.

And looking in their window I believe them, almost makes me wish I were one

And so we wandered on. And in another blinding moment of fortuitosity, I mentioned we were looking for Davies Street and Graham realized we were on Davies Street, and so a moment of awed silence for such mad luck…

On Davies Street you can find Gray’s Antique Market, full of beautiful and very old things. But you actually want to turn the corner, head down the back for Gray’s Mews, because you head down into the basement there and you will find a section of the (famous) Tyburn River. Actually, I don’t think the river is famous, but the spot where they used to hang people certainly was. The river runs in culverts below London, until it arrives here, where it is neatly channeled and full of gold fish.

We couldn’t quite work out the mechanics of it, both of us thinking that the Tyburn river should be larger, dirtier, primeval. Possibly behind thick glass, certainly not staid and well-lit and mechanically aerated. But it was quite extraordinary all the same. And Gray’s Mews? Beautiful. You can see at the bottom the fabulous vintage clothing and jewelry store…quality gorgeousness, Chanel and proper furs and etc etc, long cigarette holders, old compacts that I could have conceivably afforded…it is the kind of place that is most dangerous, in that it has beautiful old things at the top of my price range (but still within it. Hence the danger.). Many other stores were shut up, sadly, like the shop below with the pair of dragon-bearing elephants that I truly desired:

It was a day of desire really, walking back down Bond Street we passed this store full of silver, and all of it beautiful

We were filled with a sense of satisfaction, of vague melancholy, of…thirst. So we stopped at the Iron Duke for a pint, a most satisfactory pub with a very interesting wall covering and scrumpy jack on tap:

From there we wound our way back down to a pub previously-spotted and tagged for a return. But once more on St. James we decided to wander into the cigar store, James J. Fox & Robert Lewis. And discovered that not only can you smoke a cigar inside (lit for you by use of a small, insanely impressive blow torch), but there is also a museum. In the basement! Underground once again, and happy because look at this:


And I discovered that, like Winston Churchill,

I am a [wo]man of simple tastes, easily satisfied with the best.

The Queen Mother had her account here as well…I like to think of her kicking back and smoking a fine cigar or two. This place is packed with phenomenal things, an old register you can flip through, Oscar Wilde’s account, fur covered cigar cases, Cigars that are two, maybe three feet long, a tin of “Potter’s Asthma Smoking Tobacco”, this letter to the company from Churchill once again:

Dear Sirs,

Confirming our telephone conversation, Sir Winston Churchill would be much obliged if you would send a box of 25 cigars of good quality, but not quite as good as the Romeo and Juliet, and of medium size, to his grandson for his birthday on October 10…

Highly recommended. Though we couldn’t afford cigars at the time. But we will be back, the humidor at the end of the room was extremely impressive. And I have never seen anything like this:

But I tore myself away.

So we found our way to the Red Lion, a small pub and the second oldest license in the West End. The oldest license? No one could say. That’s a quest for another day. But a good mix of people, Graham believes that many were masons, I accept their cover story of a funeral. The lad with the red trousers? Well, there’s no excuse for that sort of thing of course. And there were china plates lining the piece of wall between the wood paneling and the ceiling, I loved that. We had laid down the one pint per pub rule, this being an exploratory excursion, so we headed out. We passed the Golden Lion. Sadly closed. And then we found a second Red Lion. A slightly larger pub, with beveled and engraved mirrors

And as buns weren’t quite enough to support this kind of effort and quantity of drink we went in search of food. I hadn’t prepared an underground location for this, so we ended up with pizza. Probably the most delicious pizza I have ever eaten but we all know that’s because I was drunk. Drunk on the magic of London at night

From Soho we headed to embankment and a martini at the Buddha Bar. That was planned, the Buddha Bar is in the old tram tunnel you see, though of course you’d never know. We weren’t dressed for that kind of poshness of course, so most of the waitresses were rather dismissive and politely rude. Our waiter was awesome though, redeemed the whole place for me beyond any doubt.

And then still not quite ready to go home, we made a last stop, sort of underground once again, in the Coal Hole, “famous for coal-heavers and cartoonists”. Great little pub too, according to the menu (always a supreme source of local history), it was one of the last informal clubs of the Victorian era. Gillray and Rowlandson used to haunt this place! And I dearly hope they still do…Gilbert and Sullivan used to show up from time to time as well, but I’m not so fussed about them.

What a day, what a city, what a cousin. Joy.

Save

Thoughts on the Chicago Skyline

Downtown Chicago is all planes and angles, contrasts in brick and stone, glass and steel. It is full of amazing reflections in glass.

You see it at one level from the street, and another entirely from the El train, and from both it is visually spectacular. Your fingers itch for your camera, every step brings a shift in the lines, and changes the seen and the unseen.

I had half a day on Monday after a morning meeting, so I thought I’d do the Architectural Boat Tour, 90 minutes along the river and almost all the pictures a lustful heart could ask for…as the river goes round the loop and not through it.

But I confess my extreme love for these great buildings piled one on top of the other sits miserably with my love of social and environmental justice. They are contradictions impossible to overcome. I wonder if perhaps I love them (and hate them) for their colossal and unbelievable arrogance, because it is combined with such extraordinary technical and engineering skill. I love the fact that we have figured out how to build such things, hurling metal and glass up to the sky. I suppose we never stopped to ask whether we should. And the wealth required to build such buildings…where does it come from? Chicago is as much a city of immense poverty as it is a city of beauty. And that is where you find the answer. My question is whether we could build such things without exploitation, and in a way that sits happily on the earth.

On the tour, the guide was full of information on architectural styles and the men who created them, the requirements of building something like the Sears tower, the Trump tower, and towers x, y, and z. Everything was entirely divorced from the city or the people who live in it with the exception of a single architect, Bertrand Goldberg. He designed Marina City, which I love.

I have always loved round buildings. But the guide explained that he also tried to design buildings to create community, to encourage contact between neighbors, to provide immediate access to life’s amenities. Another of his buildings is River City

These buildings are all mixed use, with stores, child care, and access to a marina beneath. The balconies  are close together to bring neighbors together. They have beautiful public spaces. He believed density was a good thing, for community, for creativity, for life.

And so I looked him up. And I’m not sure what I think of him, I certainly disagree with much of what he says, but he makes me think. He wrote this of Marina City:

More importantly, in the Marina City forms. I made it possible for people to participate in community formation. Both in the use of space and in the form of space I discovered that behavior can be influenced by the shape of space. The faceless anonymity of the corporate box which we had used for the buildings for our government, our health, our education, our business and our living, I discovered could be replaced more effectively by a new development of architectural structure and forms that supported its use by people. We could have both architecture and humanism just as we had begun to do 200 years before in the social revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries.

I love this recognition of the influence of space on the individual and community, and the revolutionary idea that architecture should be for the people and how they will live within it. That it affects how our society lives and grows. He’s not the only one of course, but one of the few. Yet it is a typical liberalism, looking backward to some better time, and only as worthy as it can be without questioning a terribly unjust world. He wrote another speech that offers an interesting reflection on the thoughts above called Rich is Right…exposing all of the contradictions involved in his thinking.

America is rich, America is right. Architects have always worked for the rich. We are now also working for the right.

Ah, if only that were true. Are the rich ever right? I don’t really think so. Our homeless population and slum housing certainly proves otherwise. But it is true that architects have always worked for the rich. I do like such frank admissions. But that leads to the conclusion that the 90% of Americans who are not rich just have to hope that those 10% of quixotic and self-absorbed rich people at some point get it right, no? That seems to require a lot of faith that history has never ever justified.

He goes on, extraordinarily enough, to quote Albert Speer, architect of Hitler. I read Speer’s autobiography some years ago and found it fascinating. He did not just build buildings, he created drama and spectacle, he cemented the image of ultimate power in the minds of the observer. Whenever you see Hitler speaking on a stage with the colossal architecture, the huge backdrops of red banners and striking black swastikas, the eagles, the torches… Speer designed all of that.

Albert Speer- Hitler’s state architect said: “We must learn to master technology and its potential by political means.” In contrast, modern architects of the 19th century all saw architecture as a reform mechanism for politics: that is, for helping solve social problems rooted in urban life and community needs, and for devising improved ways for people to work and learn and grow together.

It seems to me that my Chicago  boat tour proved Speer’s point, that architecture reflects the landscape of political power, and it has been mastered by the Trumps of the world. It is a skyline of corporations, not of government, ideals, or community spaces. Bertrand was alone there in thinking about these things, his buildings stand out because of it.

The tour takes you down the river again almost to the mouth of Lake Michigan. On your left is an urban renewal area. The words urban renewal hurt my soul, always. They usually mean the wholesale clearance of earlier communities, older buildings, of people of color and immigrants and all those who did not master power, who lived lives of poverty and hard work. My people. Urban renewal has been translated into a coastline full of high rise condos. On your right is another urban renewal area. It is also full of high rise condos. You can see down the coastline, more and more and more high rise condos. I didn’t particularly care to hear about the architects.

And they are busy building luxury residences for people who don’t exist. Home sales in Chicago’s metropolitan area are down 27.5% from April 2008, and unemployment is up to 10.1% according to the Illinois Association of Realtors. And they have somehow decided that these condos count as affordable housing and are asking for help:

David Hanna, president of the Chicago Association of REALTORS®. “The city of Chicago condominium sales numbers continue to reflect a critical need for governmental agencies to review the growing disparity in the ability to finance a condominium purchase in the city. This affordable housing will become unaffordable and unattainable to many qualified first-time homebuyers in the city of Chicago unless existing federal guidelines, which do not take into account nuances of the local market, are modified.”

If they did build affordable condos, I’m sure they wouldn’t be having quite so much trouble…I like to imagine what our cities would look like if they were built for all of the city’s people. Because, I do agree with this final quote from Bertrand Goldberg:

Are cities in our blood?

Are cities the natural forms of shelter which men build for themselves? Like the spider his web, or the oyster his shell? The answer to this is uncertain, but I believe it to be – yea.

I love the city.

Save

The moors

I walked out of Glenfall and down the road, past the Howwood Inn and up past the football pitch, down along the road that leads to…god damn, I’ve forgotten the little village, it’s where Michael lives, I remember walking down that road several times in company of Michael and Knoxie and Spider, too and from copious amounts of drinks, particularly one sunny Monday when I attended a barbecue with several chefs from the Johnstone area who tend to have Mondays off and I got a sunburn. First and last Scottish sunburn I must say, a unique event in the annals of history. One of the chefs lay comatose on the grass after a long wedding weekend, a wreck the like of which I have never seen after days of drinking and no sleep and a memorable but highly ill advised battle amongst the men with their wooden skean dhus which had left him with the most hideous bruises imaginable.

But today I made the first right up the hill and towards the moors, the sky was grey and it was raining, light rain, the sort of rain where the air is half water half mist and the wind blew hard against my face. Last I was up here was late spring and the day was clearer, Ben Lomond rose up in the distance covered in snow. Ben Lomond today lay shrouded in mist, unseen, looming on the edges of my imagination, the world reduced to the steep climb between the trees of Skipton wood, the gurgling of the burn to my right. I love the woods, and yet…and yet coming to the edge of the trees, seeing the green expanse of the moor rising open before me fills me with a fierce joyful sort of wildness. The wind screams up here, mist driven into your face, hair whipping around your head. Sheep watch you warily and if you come too close they bounce away (there is something about sheep running that always makes me laugh and I’ve tried to pinpoint why I find it so delightful but haven’t quite been able to put my finger on it). I wandered fiercely joyful along the curve of the moor, the bog of the old damn to my left, heather and moss and long grass beneath my feet, a sort of gothic elf today not having packed at all for moors so I had my trousers rolled up to my knees, long black socks, smart black trainers, black sweater…and I tried to take pictures but the moors in the rain defy capture.

It got exciting when I came to the first burn, having passed the hill where an early pict settlement supposedly once lay though nothing now remains…that too loomed large in my imagination as it could not be seen really through the weather. But the burn ran high, after a minute peering up and down in a vain search for likely rocks, I grinned and stepped into it, and continued to squelch happily on my way. The moors don’t go on far enough for me, they are over far too soon, and I had to make the left through the gate to pass the little farm. This time I was squelching through mud heavily enriched by cows, luckily I came to another burn and freed myself of the enrichment. And then back onto the lonely little country roads and winding down the hill and the sun came out to sparkle on the wet grass and summer flowers and pick out the shaggy coats of the cows as they stood watching me incuriously curious. This one was my favourite, all alone in his field and I spose unhappy in his loneliness, he stared at me and then followed me for 20 minutes or so, ambling slowly alongside the fence

I almost danced down the hill, past the trout fishery, down and down and back to Howwood. The world was gloriously beautiful as you can see


And the small things full of wonder.

Once the sun was out the pictures came alive of course, the light against dark clouds extraordinary and beautiful. Still, the sun did not come out for long, and played hide and seek with the rain which never quite let up. It had almost disappeared again for the last look back to where I had come from:

And now I am sitting in an airport, on my way to London and 4 days of great things…

Save

stunning

Today I wandered lonely as a cloud…no wait, that was yesterday, I didn’t work yesterday and luxuriated in blue skies and sunshine, it was fucking beautiful. I went for a run in the Maryhill Woods. Now when I say run, I mean something closer to a short run slowing to a short jog punctuated by long intervals of walking. I remember running back in the day before I ruined my shins, remember running in the dusk and the earth sped beneath my feet and it was effortless and I was motion and nothing more, the wind blew right through me. That was long ago though, now I’m finding running to be a bit more of a sado-masochistic activity, the best thing about it is returning home exhausted and virtuous and sleeping soundly through the night, I am missing my bike ride to work.

But yesterday, ahh, I stripped down to my tank top yesterday and found a new trail up along the hill looking out over Semple Loch and the second loch just to the south and the sun beat down and the wind smelled of spring and the birds were singing and I saw lambs gambolling about and they were so beautiful and I thought holy shit, I live in Scotland. I still can’t quite believe it. Every now and then walking down a Glaswegian street I shake myself and smile just at the thought of it. Especially when someone’s playing the bagpipes, I love the buskers here. You have the bagpipes of course, but there is an amazing reggae player, an old guy who plays old electric guitar surfer music, a 3 man band playing rock’n’roll, and a duo on guitar and accordeon. Last time I passed them they played the theme music to Amelie and gave me 5 minutes of magic on my way to work.

Ahh work, I knew there was a reason to go for that masters…I was not cut out for retail. I like people well enough, but to be all smiley and bubbly and friendly and repeat the same phrase a hundred times to a hundred different faces, well, it makes me want to spit. I am learning an immense amount about breasts however, principally that I am quite happy with mine. Oh, and that in spite of that they will actually get bigger. I do have to get pregnant first, that’s a bit of a downer, but apparently they don’t really look back after the first one. I am also now able to sing along to all of the pop hits, my repertoire of chatter on girly subjects has grown by leaps and bounds, and I am making friends, so on the whole as a life experience this is has been right up there. Still, I am more afraid of being questioned about nursing bras then I ever was to sneak into the Morrison hotel in the dead of night…a small character flaw when your fears involve underwear and not your physical safety. A wonder these genes ever made it as far as they did.

Whose sparkling personality?

So I’m trying to figure out if I’ll be earning enough to move out and rent a small room somewhere…it’ll be tight but probably worth it. In the meantime I’ve been amusing myself, I’ve embarked on one mad adventure and I’d tell you all about it but am hoping that everything I write on the subject will be one day copyrighted and sold in newsagents everywhere so you’ll just have to wait for it to be published. I’ve started work on the novel as well, I knew moving was a fucking brilliant idea.

And I’m having so many adventures that some can be shared…yesterday I went into town and walked around with Bob, started at the Gallery of Modern Art which is kind of a cool place and I discovered there’s a library and a cafe in the basement, who knew? I’m going to have to go back and see about getting a card. On the second floor there’s a crazy art piece about the weapons invented by schoolchildren, I quite like it. So after a coffee and some discussion of the common good games, we went off on our walk and Bob’s brilliant to walk with, he knows everything about everything. We passed my new place of work, walked past the old sherrif’s courts and I learned that the building in front used to be an old sweatshop with artist studios on top and Bob had a studio up there and they used to sit out smoking weed while staring down at the sherrif’s bldg, and when the sweatshop workers went on strike in mid winter, they’d come warm up with a quick coffee or tea in the studio before heading back out to the picket line. Passed the Trongate which has a brilliant history: http://www.tron.co.uk/about.asp?page=History, and the Panopticon theatre where Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy made his stage debut http://www.monklands.co.uk/panopticon/index.htm… I love Laurel and Hardy, and I love Glasgow, this town is full of treasures and no one even knows that they’re there. Hope the fucking council doesn’t decide argyll street needs another mall and that it has to knock more cool old buildings down.

Then we headed down to the print shop, I love print shops, met Tom who prints all kinds of radical literature for groups for free, prints the variant paper, and whose door is covered with stickers I assume he printed as well, anti-war, anarchist, punk rock groups, anti poll tax…very cool. Walked past the old anarchist centre which is now a trendy shop selling very expensive industrial looking jewelry. Walked on down to an art centre right next to the 13th note…will have to go back to that pub, plastered with indie rock posters and have bands playing live in the basement, but the art spot was cool as well and I got to go into my first darkroom which was brilliant, made me want to go buy a proper film camera and play with chemicals, I think I’m going to take a class. Heard stories about art under Maggie Thatcher and the beauty of a tube of vermillion paint…fucking beautiful man. I don’t think Bob paints anymore, but I really want to see his canvases which apparently are all huge and piled up in his basement…I’m dead curious to see what kind of things he was painting. After leaving there we met up with someone named Jo who makes documentaries, and the first question out of her mouth was, “well, how was your equinox?” Who knew it was the equinox? Fuck me, can’t believe I let another equinox slide past without proper celebration, which I’d hope involves alcohol, my celebration certainly would at any rate. Found another great pub, cafe, vegie fare place, could end up one of my favourite places here I think…big, relaxed, good music, lighting that’s brilliant cause it has this dome sort of thing…and definitely lefty, bet its one of those places you’re always running into people you know if you’re involved in anything here. Called Mono anyways. So it was a brilliant day, it even snowed! And the wind was calm so the snow just floated down to kiss your face just the way I like it to do, it was beautiful even if it melted as it hit the ground…the hills were all covered in snow and shining white…too bad I started coming down with something yesterday and spent most of today in bed. Reading the Kite Runner, it’s a bit shattering.

Oh, and I think you can tell I haven’t been able to curse freely since last Monday morning…

Friday in Edinburgh

The old man burst out of the door of the old tenement building, wearing cropped silver hair and nylon navy track suit. A track suit with shorts no less. He stood a moment at the top of the steps, chest out, proud surveyor of a city waiting to be conquered and impervious to shafts of curiosity or laughter. A deep breath and he was carefully, quickly down the stairs, an old roller suitcase bouncing in offended protest behind him. It appeared empty, a brilliant battered red against the day’s muted grey. As the old man shuffled in a determined jog down the main street sidewalk the battered case trundled behind him yielding reluctantly to the afternoon’s adventure. I stood a moment and thought, but of course I followed.


The unlikely pair moved slowly down the street, taking the most direct route in and among and around the masses of Friday’s pedestrians. From time to time the old man’s thin legs would slow to a walk, the suitcase slowed its wheels, confronted with an impenetrable wall of prams or hooded teenagers travelling in packs. A breath only. The old man would slow to a walk but looked neither to the right or the left; he looked always straight ahead and picked up his shuffle as soon as he was able. The suitcase rolled confidently behind him, its wheels trapped in the rut of the road most taken. My own feet were delighting in the absurd and the new and the unknown. Smiles blossomed along our path like flowers, and heads turned to watch him like blades of grass before the wind.


Why would an old man go jogging pulling a roller suitcase behind him? Training for the great roller suitcase derby, senior division. Training for his next holiday with its short layovers and mad rushes from train to train, train to bus, bus to plane. Specialized training for the muscles in his arm and lower back. Perhaps the suitcase wasn’t actually empty, perhaps it held dirty track suits, microfilm, a kilo of cocaine, the maltese falcon, the novel he’d been writing for the past 40 years, the last piece of his wife needing disposal, a hot meal in Tupperware for his granddaughter, his vintage porn collection rescued from diligent housecleaning, smuggled Russian cigarettes, a genuine Renoir, a bottle of chocolate milk to be shaken, black-market watches for sale, pink lingerie, crisps, an entire flea circus, a lock of his lost love’s hair, brilliant poetry on crumpled up paper, the answer to life’s greatest question which he had just resolved through physics and that he now needed to urgently deliver, the winners of tomorrow’s horse racing, his wig collection, cabbages…


And so I followed him, slowly, for my walk was faster than his shuffle. Rain fell. It fell lightly all across the great fucking beautiful city, a web of silver spun silk to shroud ugliness and hide tears and awaken a deep throbbing loveliness of colour in the world. It cleaned the sky. People hurried through their afternoon, hurried through their lives and I exulted in rampant loneliness and adventure, following an old man pulling a battered suitcase. The ordinary become extraordinary. I love how that happens every day.

Escocia Querida

I love it, and why? I’m sticking the funny stuff in first this blog because it’s hell of long and philosophical:

Wholey apart from fabulous whiskey flavoured condums, as though you hadn’t just drunk far too much, I have never read anything with more delight than the “WARNING: Do not drive whilst using this product.” It is quite fun to imagine operating a condum and a vehicle at the same time, full of interesting possibilities, even more interesting for the men. Sadly, the machine was empty…I shall be on Rose street again though, it was a really nice pub too so I shall definitely be back. Bet you all know what you’re getting as birthday presents and christmas gifts now…unless I find another stock of Nightrider and A-Team beer coasters at Pivo Pivo, you never know.

So, I am enjoying myself here but I am missing frijoles y tortillas y chile. I knew I would. And I am missing spanglish and gerry’s jokes and my friends quite terribly.

It’s incredible to think that you have the power to send your life shooting off into whatever direction you choose, and incredible to wonder who I would be if I had moved to Gallup, New Mexico or the Yucatan or Mongolia. I wouldn’t be a different person right away of course, but after 6 months, a year, who would I become? And who shall I become now? I want to know, and when I want to know something i can’t know it rather makes me feel like throwing a metaphysical tantrum. That would be a good novel actually, the parrallel lives of A Gibbons all branching out from one single point like the delta of a river and each of them throwing tantrums over not being able to unravel the secrets of life at various points in the book. I might write it, so consider it copyrighted though I have a sneaking feeling it’s already been done. I can’t decide if I believe in fate or not, soulmates or not, God or not, death as the next adventure or death as the absolute end, if you should work to live or live to work to change the world, if there’s any hope at all for us, if the rightwing tide will ever turn, if enlightenment is possible and if so do you really have to go without sex to find it, if the revolution is ever fucking coming and if it does will it actually result in equality, if one day everyone will just suddenly stop believing in money cause it’s make believe anyways…I could just sit and wonder all day, wish you could get paid to wonder…the point I wanted to get to was that my being here in Glasgow is based almost entirely on my brother’s chance meeting with scottish girlfriend laura several years ago on a study abroad program in France…and looking farther back I suppose meeting my ex, getting hired by Carecen in L.A., getting my university scholarship cut which means I didn’t go to Russia. Can you believe I was studying Russian and planned to go to Russia? Fucking hell, but Swarthmore College screwing me over more than 10 years ago now has possibly had the greatest impact of all. And then there was this beautiful and tiny blue butterfly flapping its wings on the asian steppes at 11:34 am on February 2nd, 1982…

Still, I am here! Still swinging between intense happiness and loneliness and a bit of panic. I had forgotten how much I hate not knowing what I am doing, I wish my ego would take a bit of a rest because I know that no one really knows what they’re doing, still, I hate not knowing what I’m doing. I have to go to the job center tomorrow and it’s freaking me out a bit. Which is a bit justified because I have heard terrible things…but more of the annoying bureaucratic sort rather than of the random beatings for being unemployed and occassional public humiliation kind or vampires in the plumbing so I know I really have nothing to worry about, which is why I am annoyed with myself.

Anyways, haven’t been able to write for a while, you can tell because all kinds of silliness is just pouring out…haven’t been with my beautiful silly L.A. friends, that’s probably the problem, I need to find silly Glasgow friends who like to discuss life and politics and videogames at length over pints – maybe I should do a personal add? That would give me some interesting stories…But I had a great weekend with my cousin and his girlfriend in Edinburgh and and walked miles and miles and took some brilliant photos. We went up the coast a bit on Saturday to Gullane point which looked like this in the afternoon:

And became even more beautiful as the sun set

And looking at beauty such as that you don’t worry about life or death or sex or revolution at all, you just feel intensely alive and content in standing seeing breathing living…so forget everything I just wrote, I really do have the answers.

Sunday we walked round Edinburgh, down Leith walk which is also absolutely stunning

Edinburgh is honestly one of the most photogenic cities I have ever been in, you could just wander about taking the most incredible shots day after day after day. I love Glasgow as much, but it requires more work to discover its beauty…like L.A. I think, funny how I prefer L.A. to San Francisco and Glasgow to Edinburgh. Or do I? That’s a discussion for another day though. We walked all the way up to the museum of modern art and one of the coolest art pieces I have ever seen and fell in love with at first sight:

And now I’m back in Howwood, the weather has turned cold, grey and rainy again, perhaps also inspiring such a ridiculously long blog. I might go down to the local pub by myself now, that would certainly be adventurous of me. But dare I court the dissaproval of the aunt and uncle? Perhaps not since I’ll be staying with them another couple of weeks at least and its a dubious sort of adventure, with a possibility of intense discomfort…I might save it for later.

Save

LA Adventures

They’re winding down…a month to go exactly, and I have never loved LA as much as now when I am about to leave it…it is an amazing city. I only have 4 weekends left before I leave, and they are full to overflowing with plans already…This is more of a journal entry for me to look over when I’m nostalgic in Sctland, so apologies…yesterday spent the day with meo and her unborn, haven’t seen her in ages! We went out to brunch and then walked about Silverlake a bit, went to Secret Headquarters, the new comic book store and it’s great, I got Love and Rockets which was madness because i am supposed to be getting rid of all of my material possessions, but i swear i am going to read it on the plane. I also realized that a few blogs ago I stated that men only look good in boxers…the Tomatoes episode, a classic LA moment…and I have to now partially reverse this sweeping statement and say that to ME, men only look good in boxers. Apperently, to other men, men look much better in small colourful briefs or thongs…this thought gives me a shudder, but as proof I offer the following view into Rough Trade:

We wandered on in, it’s quite tame in the front room, you can see the hard core bondage stuff peeking flirtily from the back, and there’s an upstairs as well, but meo wasn’t feeling like stairs so we scarpered. We also found a great T-shirt shop, and I bought one featuring “chelvis,” or che crossed with elvis, it’s ridiculous…

We then headed over to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, i cannot believe in all my years here I had never gone the 20 minutes down sunset to see it. It’s quite beautiful

though they would allow no photos inside the bastards. I even went to look for a picture to scan of the inside because it is quite glorious but actually found jack all on the internet and I realized my big art books are almost all sold…hooray for that! It was beautiful, if a bit cold, and sadly I discovered that Mr. Wright did not understand plumbing or allowing for rain so apparently most of his 28 roofs leaked…anyways, it’s highly recommended in spite of a slightly annoying tour guide. The views over LA were incredible as well, and since it’s been so windy the sky was incredibly clear, and you realize what a difference the absence of smog can make in your life…

Saw Pan’s Labyrinth, everyone must see it, and on the big screen if at all possible, it is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. With the possible exception of you Chris, if you’re reading this, given it is a bit of a fairytale. Still, it’s an anti fairy tale really, and the previews are crap as it is only partly goth fantasy and the other half you might not be able to resist – the Spanish civil war and the splendid facsist step-father. It’s all about disobediance and doing what is right, has incredible characters with actors to match, and I loved it. I believe i will even buy the dvd as I think it requires a couple more viewings. I have also have discovered I have a bit of a crush on Dave White who writes reviews for movie.com; here’s what he says: “What’s the Deal? Do not, I repeat, do not take kids to this movie unless you’re somehow convinced of their innate worldliness, knowledge of the Spanish Civil War and its dour aftermath and ability to withstand nightmare-inducing horror. Because more than anything, this is a frightening, brutal adult fairy tale that really takes its cues from old-school fairy tales in which something evil never fails to befall hapless innocents. It’s violent, creepy and unlike anything you’ve seen in a while. It’s also insanely imaginative and beautiful. An awesome movie, but not for little kids. At all…And Another Thing: I want to send writer/director Guillermo Del Toro a thank-you note for not being afraid to go down the darkest, most heartbreaking path toward his movie’s ending. Anyone have his address? I might send some chocolates, too.” Alright, so this isn’t the funniest review, a good one was blood diamond, which I was also contemplating: “What’s the Deal? It was high time Hollywood stopped trying to make people care about genocide in Africa with stuff like Hotel Rwanda and simply embraced its natural impulse to exploit. Now it’s just a really exciting and gory backdrop for a chase movie about a hot smuggler chasing diamonds who then falls for sexy American journalist Connelly.

Who Hates Jennifer Connelly? My guess is that it’s director Edward Zwick. I have no proof of this, mind you, other than the little problem of her performance being world-class awful. It’s the kind of sore thumb that makes you think careful editing and a grudge was involved.

When to Check Out: The last scene, when the guy from 7th Heaven is talking and the diamond industry gets to tell you that they do not condone the sort of “conflict diamonds” the whole movie is about. Then there’s uplifting dumbness with Hounsou. If you just get up and go, you’ll save yourself from a big inappropriate laugh in a crowded theater.”

he’s brilliant, I shall be reading all of his reviews from now on.

Today, chinatown with Ruel, haven’t seen him in ages either. We had dim sum at the Empress Pavilion, and it is the best in town…this morning’s feast was worth every second of the hour wait to get a table. Here’s a view of the restaurant, it is huge and packed to overflowing so that the poor servers with their carts full of hot steaming deliciousness can hardly move around…you really have no idea what you’re getting because English is in short supply, but you can see it…we passed on the tentacled thingie that looked somewhat alive, and the shark fin was a surprise but not bad at all if a little chewy.

Go here too if you’re ever in town. 15 pounds heavier than before, we stumbled out the door to get coffee and dessert (managed that somehow without unbuttoning my trousers), and amble around chinatown, saw groups of men standing around playing a complicated game involving concentric circles and white game pieces, a woman playing the something something, I’m really betraying my ignorance today, but the stringed instrument she was playing was heartbreakingly beautiful, a nine year old Mongolian contortionist who did amazing things that made my stomach turn a bit, as you can see:

a woman who could balance absolutely anything…she had 3 raw eggs balanced on a stick on her nose and made it look remarkably easy…I might try it myself later, though I’d be happy with just balancing an egg on an egg in the palm of my hand. Apparently almost no one else can do this 3 egg balancing act, and I quite believe it.

I shall miss this place just a bit I think.

Save