Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Comet Point.

As I passed a graveyard that sat between two forks of the road, I wanted to stop. I wanted to sit down and rest and look at the graves with their little engravings of Jesus and Mary, the candles that burned quietly and all the flowers that decorated the place. They make a big deal out of death in Mexico. It was a severely wonderful place, that graveyard.

Nevertheless, time was marching on and I had to reach Punta Cometa before the sun sank into the sea. Punta Cometa – what a lovely name.

I get quite taken by names. I especially love the names of places I’ve never been to. I think that maybe this is because once I visit a place it rarely lives up to what I imagined it could be. Punta Cometa, a beach on the south coast of Mexico, does not fall into that category. I had few positive expectations, so it easily exceeded all of them. I don’t think I should ever like to return, however.

It is an outcrop of land, covered in cacti and finished off with rocks. The very tail end of the rocks forms the shape of a hand with index finger outstretched as if pointing south. If a crow flew out from that rocky finger and travelled straight, as crows apparently do, then it would not see land until it reached the Antarctic.

It had taken me about an hour to find the place and I’d almost gone the wrong way several times.

When I finally got there, I could see the whole ocean. I could see all the way south, as well as east and west. The sun was nearing the horizon so I found myself a westward facing mound of sand to sit on.

Now I must mention my hatred of sentimentality. Anything that may be deemed to be beautiful and romantic I try and ruin, in the same way that I always start swearing when I’m at a dinner party.

I sat there for a time, waiting for the sun to disappear - I wondered why I’d bothered. The only other people in the vicinity were a couple who were somewhere down the other end of the beach from me. They were obviously ‘in love’ and the fact that they were sharing a romantic moment with the sunset made me want to die. Although I was trying to enjoy the wonder of sunset (an act which does require some degree of the poetic spirit) I felt smug in my pragmatism as I forsaw a day when that couple’s love would fall apart and render this moment meaningless for them.

Well, I sat there on my own watching crabs burrowing their holes in the sand. The wind was blowing oceanic waves towards me and the air was fresh in my nostrils. The colour of the sky was amazing. I was impatient for the sun to get on with it so I could go for a drink. I felt so irritated by the whole beautiful thing that I would have left pre-sundown if I hadn’t have worked up such a sweat getting there.

I decided I would wait it out. I would wait for the bloody sunset then get off back to the bar for a beer. It was the waiting that did it. It cracked my little heart open. I was waiting for the sun and it wasn’t rushing on my account.

The Sun does not rush and the Earth does not rush. No matter if I railed against it or not, the sun was sinking, unhurried, and a few hours later it would be setting somewhere else. The sun is always setting somewhere. In the same way, it is always rising. Sunsets are remarkable because they do not last forever. The sun is constantly creating scenes of unsurpassed splendour and this is the case whether a person trying to deny its beauty is watching it, or not. I sat there on my sandy mound and I felt apologetic towards myself.

As the orange sphere turned into a semi circle and the semi circle got smaller and lower, I felt a melancholy feeling in my chest until finally the last slither of sunlight disappeared like a match being extinguished by the sea water.

A grainy dusk descended and it was time to leave the beach, back up the hill that lay overhead, back past the candles that burned for the dead then a few more beers before going to bed. 



Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Airport Anonymity.

"WELCOME TO THE AIRPORT, NOT ONLY WILL WE HELP YOU DEFY GRAVITY AND EVERYTHING YOUR ANCESTORS THOUGHT POSSIBLE, BUT YOU CAN BUY A NEW PAIR OF SUNGLASSES AND SECURE YOURSELF A PLACE IN HEAVEN AT THE SAME TIME”

Years ago, the month of March, alone. I remember sitting in the airport somewhere in the middle east. I was waiting for a connecting flight, watching the lights on the runway move in and out of my vision as aeroplanes heaved their way into the sky and off to their various destinations. The darkness of the night stretched out beyond, blowing past the fluorescent windsocks and off into a place I could not imagine.

At that moment, the world that had been comfortably holding me in its palm since birth stretched out its fingers and flicked me off into an abyss. I was staring at a deep loneliness that was to become more familiar to me than my own feet. 

Since then, airports have always had a weird effect on me. I find them to be lonely places. I suppose this is because I hardly ever run into anyone I know at an airport, and I usually travel on my own.  At airports, everyone is going somewhere but no one is on the same trip that you’re on. I don’t see how that is different to life in general, but it’s more pronounced at an airport. They are fascinating and slightly enchanting places. They’re like portals; where time, as we know it, doesn’t really exist. You can board a flight at say, 3pm, fly for 9 hours and arrive somewhere at the same 3pm you set off at. 

(Ironically, time is more important than anything in airports, because if you miss your flight due to philosophizing about the nature of time, then you won’t get to where you need to go. In light of that, I am always astounded by the lack of clocks in airports. There are an array of screens telling you when you need to be at what place to get to where you need to go, but there are not that many clocks to give any indication as to how long it is until that crucial moment arrives. This is why I always wear a watch)

I think there is a part of us humans that simply cannot comprehend the notion of flight. We’ve not had time to factor it into our evolution. Yes, we might have reasoned it out with ourselves and reached an intellectual understanding, but at the core of it, I think we have trouble getting our heads around the whole business. I’m not saying that is a good or a bad thing, and I try not to let the issue plague me. However, if what I say is on any level correct then it would more than account for the d├ęcor and musac that spreads its hospital like hubbub around all the paraphernalia of plane travel....  

....The airport doth protest too much that “EVERYTHING IS OK!!!”, me thinks. Vivaldi and white walls, major keyed announcement chimes, big yellow arrows and those flat escalator things that make you feel like you’re walking really quickly when in fact you’re walking really slowly. There is nothing to indicate that what you’re about to do (i.e defy gravity) in any way runs contrary to what your distant AND close ancestors knew to be possible and safe.  I have, on occasion, spotted signs in airport lounges that say things along the lines of “sit back and relax. Let us take care of you”. You can purchase a new lipstick or drink a nice bottle of wine, you could enjoy a croissant or look at pictures of shoes in a magazine, but whatever you do, do NOT think about your own mortality. Do not look at the abyss that is represented by the notion of death. Do not think about that. Everything is OK - the 20% off signs in the window of tie rack say it is so. Sit back and relax.

Having said all of that, I’m not at all frightened of flying. It goes against all of my intrinsic survival instincts, but I know that I’m probably more likely to choke on an olive stone at home on my own than I am to die in a plane crash. I don’t even think that I’m massively worried about dying in general (although I would like to outlive my parents to avoid the heartache they would feel if I didn’t). 


I did once have a panic attack on a plane, but I think this was more due to the fact that I’d been upgraded to business class than it was the fear of imminent death. I felt hugely out of my comfort zone sat amongst all those moneyed men in suits and it made me feel all agitated.

I like flying and I like airports. I like the fact that no one knows me at an airport. I like it because the daily frames of reference by which I understand my reality are all turned upside down and inside out, and there is no one to question where I’m going or why.

When I’m at an airport, I am just passing through a portal. Everywhere leads to anywhere, nothing is normal, time moves back and forth and nobody is waiting for you on the other end. This is what I would say if I ever wanted to become and airhostess and got asked, “Why did you decide to apply for this job?” in the interview.  I don’t think I’d get the job.

Once I’d spent enough time in airports to realize that perusing eye shadows and chocolate can get tiresome, I started going to the prayer rooms. I like watching people pray. You have to do it subtly or people get upset. I wonder if you can get chucked out of an airport prayer room for staring at the praying people? If this were to happen to me, I would tell the security officer that voyeurism is my religion and that to deny me of that would be an infringement of my human rights and may also bring about the apocalypse. 



Thursday, 5 May 2011

Serendipia de el Ciudad.

“Well, fancy that” thought I, as I happened upon Diego for the second time. Since then I’ve googled “Mexico City. Population.” To find out that around 9 million people inhabit the place. It is truly immense in size. I’m not one for mumbo jumbo but this was rather serendipitous.   

I was sat there eating a taco at a street stall. I was wondering if the extra hot chilli sauce might play havoc with my insides when I spotted him. He was sitting at the table next to me. I almost chocked on my guacamole.

Two weeks previous to this near death taco eating event, I’d played a gig in a posh place somewhere in the east side of the city, I don’t know where, the taxi driver confused and overcharged me and the place had a long and complicated name.

There had been this man in the audience, sketching. I sidled up to him after the gig, and peered over his shoulder. His drawing was really good. Turned out he spoke English, and he liked my music as much as I liked his drawing so we chatted. He didn’t stay for long. I thought “what a nice fella”. That fella was Diego, and I didn’t expect to ever see him again.

The day after that gig, I left the city for the coast, spent a bit of time in the surf, returned to the city, played some more gigs, left the city again, watched the sun set behind a volcano and all of that kind of stuff. Then I returned to the city for the final time.

And there he was, two weeks later - the opposite side of the city, but the same Diego. As I feasted on the delicious taco, our eyes met over the coriander. I lost control of myself and nearly fell victim to avocado induced asphyxiation.  Chance is a funny thing. I think I’m going to ask him to draw my next album cover or something… something more has to come out of my bumping into the same person twice out possible 9 million people.




Clothing.



My wardrobe is bursting. Granted, it’s not a very big piece of furniture, it’s a children’s wardrobe from Ikea. This has led to my clothing spilling out into my bedroom. I hang my favourite garments from hook on the walls, and use them as interior decoration as well as adorning my body with them. My general feeling toward clothing is love but also hate.

Clothes, for a woman in this modern, western world, are not merely for keeping one’s organs at the ideal temperature for sustaining life (which incidentally, is about 34 degrees Celsius), or simply for protecting one’s skin from the elements. Clothes give an indication as to the character of the person wearing them. You can usually tell a person’s life choices by the clothes that they are wearing. You can easily make a judgement on a person’s values by the way they do their hair, and how well ironed their garments are (n.b. I do not own an iron).

If I were suddenly released from the feeling of social pressure that I have created for myself over the course of my adulthood, then I’d certainly own nothing but the following…

A small but practical collection of underwear and socks
1 pair of sturdy boots
1 pair of practical sandals
1 pair of multipurpose, non descript black pumps (if I were feeling exuberant)
1 pair of loose fitting jeans
1 pair of standard shorts
1 dress for special occasions
2 shirts
2 vests
1 full set of thermals
1 cagoule
1 pair of waterproof trousers
1 boiler suit

I sometimes wonder if things would have been easier if I’d have been born a man. Nevertheless, I have, in this lifetime, assumed the form of a woman and I choose to dress accordingly. 

I’ve got medium sized heeled shoes in most colours of the rainbow (high heels are just a step to far – no pun intended - I’ve got one pair and they give me the feeling that I’m some kind of con artist whenever I wear them). I’ve got cardigans in most hues and an array of dresses. They are all different lengths; different shapes and not all dresses match up with all cardigans. Sometimes I wear denim and sometimes I’m seen in a chequered number. I’ve got acrylic jumpers and I’ve got woollen things, and many lacy tops. I’ve got tulip skirts and a-line ones. It is really important not to match one’s garments incorrectly, as doing so will make one look like an explosion in a textile factory and you could also risk looking like your thighs are fatter than they are, or such like. This is something you do not want to do.

Like I said, I think I would much prefer to have a life with a small, practical smattering of garments… I would choose loose, comfortable jeans, but they wouldn’t be so loose that I trip over the hems, like do when I’m sporting my 70’s style bell bottoms.

My 70’s style bell bottomed jeans always trip me up. Furthermore, when it rains (which is does a lot in Manchester) they drag through puddles and soak muddy water up to the knees. In turn, the water then drips onto my shoes. Hence, the general outcome of wearing my 70’s style bell bottomed jeans in Manchester is a constant threat of trench foot.  I’m pretty sure they also create some ambiguity as to the size of my calves, which I’m not sure is a good thing or a bad thing. I’ve not worn them for a while… it’s too stressful.

Sometimes I feel like I am a trendy son of a gun, and sometimes I feel all mumsy. Sometimes I feel glamorous and sometimes I feel round and clumsy. Sometimes I feel like I’m a youthful, flowery sweet thing and sometimes I feel like a mature, wise woman of the world. I have a pair of fake spectacles for the days when I feel bookish. (N.b. feeling booking had nothing to do with the reading of books. In fact, I often read books whilst wearing a shift dress and boots, and that is not a bookish look.)

Some days I wake up and I don’t want to wear any of my clothing. Nothing feels quite right. Some days, I suppose, I just don’t know who I am, or who I want to be. Those are the days when I wish I could be invisible. Walking around in the nude is not legal, socially acceptable or warm enough, so that is not a solution to the problem.

I adore camping more than anything. I like kayaking and I like hill walking and I like climbing, although I admit that these pursuits are more ideas of hobbies than things I actually do frequently. I like camping and hill walking and kayaking and climbing because you just can not be expected to wear high heels when engaging in any of them. The length of your pencil skirt is not an issue that needs consideration when you’re clinging onto a rock face, trying to scale a mountain.

Cats have no idea how fortunate they are to have no choice in their own style. For a tortoise shell furry cat, you're a tortoise shell furry cat , and that’s an end to it.

I envisage a day when I will snap, burn all of my shoes and throw my clothes into a skip. From the outside, this might look like the actions of someone who has lost the plot. On that day, I will be freed from this daily torrent of ‘character representation decision-making’, and I will live on a canal boat, wearing thermal leggings, surrounded by lucky ducks who don’t have to worry about the colour of their feathers clashing with the colour of their beaks. 



Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Campanas.

Mexico - the second time round nearly ruined me. It was the memory of the first time that was the thing. I couldn’t even remember how long ago it was since I’d visited, but the stamps inside my passport soon cleared up any ambiguity. Three years. I felt much older, less wide-eyed and more well practiced in the art of tolerating my own company.

The feeling of aloneness seems to have little do with how many people are around you. Mexico city is one of the most populated places on the planet. The first night I slept in a cheap hotel. The soft furnishings were brown, there were cigarette burns in the bed sheets and my window looked straight at a large and noisy extractor fan. These things didn't bother me. Hotel rooms are for sleeping in, not wallowing in. However, the lack of toilet seat was literally a pain in the arse.

Jet lag prodded me into consciousness at an unreasonable hour, so I decided to pack my things and head out to find another cheap, but hopefully, better hotel. That day’s dawn saw me walking down a busy street in Mexico city’s historical centre as the shoe shine merchants set up their stalls and men with trolleys shifted goods around the city before the day began. I stopped at every cross roads to check in with my map.

I'd arrived on the Tuesday and I was due to give a master class at a university on the friday, so I spent a few days pottering around in Mexico City. The cathedral bells echoed around and brushed my ears with delight every fifteen minutes. After numerous goading tolls, I decided to go and investigate the source of the sound. The Cathedral on the Zocalo is a wonderful thing. Even the depths of my atheism did not fail to wince in amazement at the scale of that building. It's not that I hadn't seen the Cathedral before. I'd stood outside it in the dazzling midday heat three years previously, in the company of a person I hardly knew, at the time. I hadn't been inside it before. I'd experienced the exterior but this time was more about what lay behind and around it. 


After the deciphering of many things Hispanic, I realised that it was possible to go up onto the roof of the Cathedral and see the bells up close. I bought a ticket and waited around, hoping that I hadn’t got the wrong end of the stick. I clocked another non-Spanish speaking person who seemed to be in the same predicament as I. He was a tall, blond man from Australia who, to my surprise, answered to the name of ‘Bret’. I explained my findings to him and we climbed the bell tower together.

The bells on the Cathedral roof were mighty. They were bigger than my body. The thingies inside them which makes them ring (what do you call them? Dongy things?Swingy chimes? Bongy wotsits? Suggestions welcome) were bigger than my cranium.

After that, my mind was a little flimsy and open to suggestion. I went for a beer with Bret and watched the sun setting from a roof terrace above the Zocalo. The colour the sun cast on the opposing buildings was a rich yellow. I felt that nothing could have made that moment better*

I was a little tipsy but I felt quite sober. My hotel was only ten minutes away so I wandered back, setting off in entirely wrong direction which meant I was walking for a good two hours. I passed by a number of men in sombreros, sleeping with their guitars propped up against them. I came across a Mariachi playing a Paraguayan harp. I can't imagine every foreigner he happened upon even knew the difference between a Banjo and a Ukulele so he seemed impressed by assertion that "me gusta el arpa de Paraguay". I had another beer or two, sat on out some square in the cool evening air.  I think I ate some chicken wrapped in a tortilla, which broke my vegetarianism of 17 years**.

After a good amount of confused map reading, I found my hotel again, filled up my water bottle, climbed into my little bed and let the Cathedral bells chime me to sweetly to sleep.*** 


 *I since learned that it could have been slightly improved upon if I'd have have ordered a Michalada ‘Bohemia Obscura’ beer. Naivety was saving that liquid delight for another moment.

** Excluding the rabbit incident of 2009. See previous blog.

*** the standard tune that chimes the bells of Mexico City Cathedral is conspicuously major in key, but the resonance of the bells is so pronounced that is actually sounds quite minor. This gives the strangest effect, and it vexed me every time I heard it because I just couldn’t work it out. After a few days of the delightful but interminable ringing, I escaped to the coast where nothing but the sound of pacific waves breaking ran through the sonic landscape.