ON POETRY, WRITING AND RANDOM CULTURAL MATTERS

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Hoopla and the Haul


Every September the Free Verse Poetry Fair rolls into town, or the Connaught Hall and environs, to regale its devotees with a day of book browsing and poem listening. It is an essential date on the calendar for all poetry aficionados within reach of the capital. Publishers, mainly small press, but also some of the largest, come from far and wide to sell their wares, and showcase their poets in a series of talks and readings that run all day. It is a marathon of poetic indulgence, time to catch up with friends, make new friends and revel in the well-ordered word; a full on versification, indeed. 


My haul this year included the following books and pamphlets: from Seren’s three for two offer I selected Katrina Naomi’s The Way the Crocodile Taught me; from Eyewear, and at half price, no less, publisher Todd Swift’s Madness and Love in Maida Vale; from Happenstance, Paul Stephenson’s The Days After Paris; and from New Directions and famille Horovitz, Adam’s A Thousand Laurie Lees (The History Press), and Michael’s Midsummer Morning Jog Log. 


As I work my way through them, some short notes and praise – 


Katrina Naomi focuses on family, especially her relationship with her grandmother, mother and step-father. This is her second book and, as well as well-made sonnetish lyrics, she gives us the inventive Step-Father Graph poem, and a moving eulogy to her mother, Mantra, which is afforded its own final section in the book. She’s not one to shy away from violence and the Krays (Concrete Overcoat), or the sexy. I was taken by the crocodile with whom she swims ‘belly to belly’ in the title poem, and the almost Ballardian idea of pressing one’s body against an aeroplane wing in The Woman Who Married The Berlin Wall. Chapeau. 


Todd Swift celebrated his 50th birthday this year. That’s hard to believe for someone so full of energy for writing and publishing. In this, his livre d’anniversaire, there are appreciations from friends and colleagues, along with 21 new poems. As author of a whole collection on the subject of tattoos, my ears always prick up when I see another such poem. Todd’s mini-series of Poems On Unoriginal Themes includes one on tattoo laser removal (‘I took my skin back to/ Being a baby, more or less. Spotless,/ Milky not a cast of sin.’), and others on twins and ghosts. I hope there are more of these to come another time on, say, the moon, shards, rainbows, mermaids, walking down the rue whatever, and other contemporary clichéd subject matter (mea culpa). There is much both serious and playful to enjoy here, along with Todd’s careful use of rhyme. His ability to use meter or not, and cast poems as they need to be, whether tightly packed, as in Great Malvern, or lose and disjointed, as in On the Growing Darkness in My Mind, depending on the subject matter, is well displayed. Similarly his invention is wide, such as in Christ, Swimming, where Jesus is breast stokes against the cross, and The Shit Show, which says what is says on the tin. There are well handled poems of love in its many forms too. Felicitations. 


In the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks last November, Paul Stephenson focused his attention on the City of Light. His pamphlet gives a sense of the changes that took place on the streets and in the hearts of Parisians coming to terms with atrocity. There is a sense of rawness and immediacy. These are not poems of tranquil reflection and this makes the odd slip and clunk forgivable for all that. Bravo.

Hidden London - The Geffrye Museum

When you are tried of hipstering your way around Hoxton and Shoreditch, have eaten your gluten and lactose free brunch and downed a few soya flat whites, before you jump on the ginger line home, stop here for a breather.

The C 18th almshouses built by Sir Robert Geffryes, with money for which we won't ask its provenance, are a fine example of charitable giving for the deserving poor; a l-shape of dark brick with a central chapel, set in delightful grounds and hidden away in the mishmash of development that is the East End nearest the City. Parakeets were squawking in the plane trees when I visited.

Inside at this time of year, and free to enter, you will find the chronological arrangement of middle class parlours and salons tastefully dressed for Christmas. It is an interesting walk through time that leads you to the downstairs gallery and its photographs of contemporary teenage bedrooms, some of which are worryingly empty and some are truly at peak stuff. It's enough to make you want to take back all the presents before they have been opened.

Bah Humbug! Happy Christmas.

Elton John's photographs at Tate Modern

Once you look passed the gaudy frames that are more bling than a blingy bling thing, but then, that's his taste and he can be forgiven, this is a great shown of Modernist photography.

Man Ray, Dorethea Lang, Alfred Stiglitz, Walker Evans, Ansel Adams and more; key examples of their work, grouped thoughtfully by theme, along with a short film revealing the genuine love of a man for this art form, not at all a collector just pinning his money to the wall.

Swing by over the holidays when the Tate will be quiet. Wander and enjoy.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Cy Twombly at the Pompidou


In London at present the Tate is showing a major Robert Rauschenberg retrospective. In Paris, his friend and travelling companion, Cy Twombly, is the Pompidou's new show for the winter.

I struggle with expressionism. I imagine this is because it is hard for me to translate the expression of one person's feelings in an art work into my own feelings, as my main currency of expression is words, a much clearer medium for ideas in my training. So, hello Twombly, who uses plenty of those, even if at times they are vague, illegible and hard to figure; at least they are signposts of sorts.

If you have a good acquaintance with Greek myth, then you will certainly 'get' most of the middle to later works here. The only question then will be whether you like the images. And I have to say that I do, certainly the works from the second half of his career. For me, he definitely improved with age. I was smiling more and more as the show progressed.

Twombly is variously described as daring, confident and so on, and this is plain in his brush and pen strokes, which have fluidity and great control. You might find yourself saying 'a four year old could do that', and in some cases they can and do, such as the early crayon drawings. But look again, there is so much more to these scribbles, Twombly has met Picasso's challenge, to re-learn to draw like a child, full on and so successfully; take Achilles' shield or Ra's boat for example.

The Pompidou has assembled an excellent selection of his work, which is largely in series of paintings, that have travelled from the US, UK and elsewhere to be here. My favourites were the huge late Bacchanalia, and Blooming series. Go choose your own.

And now for the nit - I have a particular bug bear about the use of the word poetry in relation to art. With Twombly, who made many works in response to poetry, that is perhaps a forgivable slip, but a painting is not a poem, not even if it's genesis is occasioned by reading Homer, Keats, Spencer and so on.

So, I grit my teeth when I read a quote from Restany at the start of the free brochure: 'His handwriting is poetry...' No, it's not. It's handwriting. Equally I was annoyed to see the series of flower photographs described as 'succinct poems'. No, they aren't. They are photographs. Describing art as poetry, poetic, a poem, is so unspecific as to be meaningless; a bit like describing a poem as a picture.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Hidden London - The British Library

What is hiding in here is a great cup of coffee with lovely cake, and a quiet spot in the back of the upstairs cafe to look out onto a courtyard garden (too cold this time of year) and chat with a friend.

No need to be a member or reader; you can just walk in off the street and enjoy. And there is always a free exhibition in the foyer - at present on Victorian entertainments, magic tricks and the like. Good to know if you are waiting for a train and can't face Kings Cross or St. Pancras, just watch out as large suitcases cannot pass the front door.

Cambodia Diary Extracts



Dragonflies

Imperial, and buzzing like helicopters, swarms of them around a tree on a waste lot as I was stuck in traffic coming from the airport. And again at Wat Phnom, around stupas and across the curved roof tops. And again over the next twelve days at odd intervals by a pool, at a waterfall, at the beach, when I was least expecting them. It was the season.


 Refreshment

Under the aerial roots of a Banyan tree I am drinking French wine, ironically enough. It’s not great. A leaf falls into the pool, floats for a while before being swept over the edge by the residual motion of swimmers, to infinity.

Then there’s your Asian swallow

A Wat Phnom, birds in cages. I cannot figure the reason for having fifty or more moth eaten birds per cage at the temple. They have so little room that each time they flap their wings against the humid air they hit each other or the bars. Poor moulty birds. And the same with two cages of spotted doves in blue and grey collars. What is this about? And the mynah birds, two in filthy cages and who have been taught to say hello in English. I wish someone would explain this to me.

Civic pride

Everywhere plastic bags, tossed plastic water bottles, split bin bags, nappies and glass bottles on the beach, picnic places filled with take away and leave behind polystyrene containers of fast food, lumps of concrete, cement dust, coffee cups. You’ve finished your iced drink? Even my driver chucked the receptacle out of the car window, swiftly followed by several cigarette butts. Every watercourse is filled with rubbish, even at Angkor Wat. Every street is piled with refuse. There is a long way to go for civic pride to mean anything. It looks like every music festival I have ever been too, but worse; hardly anyone is clearing it up. Even the park by the royal palace is strewn with litter at the end of each evening. Funnily enough it is cleared at dawn. To my question as to why you treat your country like a garbage dump. A quizzical laugh. Only tourist do recycling. It salves our consciences, but makes no difference in a country where women do their washing by foot as if treading grapes.

Relaxation

is a daily massage either by a blind or partially sighted person at Seeing Hands, or in the spa a short walk down the street. In the daytime I am still enough for one of the hundreds of beautiful butterflies to land on my leg, twice, or on another day for one to choose by breast. I am doing nothing more than looking at strangler fig roots suffocating thousand year old stones. This counts as busyness. Between tour groups it is quiet enough to hear the forest birds singing, and the trees growing.

Photography and children

Watching Korean and Chinese visitors taking their holiday snaps is an entertainment in itself. They strike all kinds of ridiculous poses, which they find highly amusing; looking the same way as the statue, playing with perspective, finger on the top of a stupa, that kind of thing. Hilarious, and presumably designed to avoid having to look at the monuments. Perhaps I need to loosen my sense of what is cool and laugh more often.

Western tourists take pictures of children as if they are monkeys. Why do people act so differently when away from home? No sign of any children being abused by 70s pop stars and their ilk. Protection and phone numbers to report abuse seem to be the order of the day. Yet, one guest house needed to remind us not to bring sex workers to our rooms.

Odds and sods

Unlicensed sales of petrol by the roadside. Fine apparently and not bottles of lemonade. Containers of all kinds.

Dogs with long wheel bases, and of no apparent breed.

Birds in a tree at the beach, noisiest during a thunderstorm. Lightning forking the sand.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Satsuma

Around mid-January, as the fruit bowl looks a little empty, you turn again to the over-sized string bag of satsumas you bought for Christmas, when you were full of enthusiasm for the excitements of the season to come. There are still half a dozen left after others have played their roles in stockings and for snacking. They look great, so you refill the bowl.

Picking one, almost at random, you turn it in your hand. It's skin has sunk and loosened a little, now you come to look at it closely. It's pock-marked. No matter. It'll be great. 

You pierce it with your thumbnail and start peeling until you have a neat sphere of pith-free segments, and are ready for them to live up to their early promise: a great taste, great juice, and greatest of all, no pips.

You pop the first one onto your tongue and bite, but instead of sweetness, your mouth is filled with cotton rags, and for a moment you can't speak.

You spit it out, disgusted and look again. Some of the pieces are very dry, as if they have run out of any idea or pretence of being a satsuma. Some are distinctly brown with the early stages of rot.

You throw the whole thing in the bin and think about trying another, which you know, deep in your heart, is utterly pointless.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Oscar Wilde in Paris

On Thursday night I had the great pleasure to listen to a lecture given by Oscar Wilde's grandson, Merlin Holland, at the Irish Cultural Institute. He spoke on Wilde and subversion, with particular reference to Dorian Gray, that so offensive novel, today given to A level students to read as an example of fine prose writing.

Oscar's "mistake", he explained, was, unlike other visitors to the culture Paris represented, to take it home and publish it, putting himself at risk of ostracisation for being a purveyor of decadence.

As we all know, his critics bided their time until he broke the law and they could rid society of a rebel who 'called out' hypocrisy; he had pushed Victorian society to the limit of its tolerance, Holland concluded. A fascinating event.

Last evening, I visited the Oscar Wilde exhibition at the Petit Palais, which Merlin Holland curated and for which he wrote the (in French only) catalogue. It is small, rather too small in terms of physical space, which is why the weekend queues are so long, but it is very worthwhile. Book and get there as soon as you can.

Chronologically it presents Wilde's life and writings using related paintings, photographs and prints; everything from portraits of the actresses to whom he addressed sonnets, to the Pre-Raphelite paintings he wrote about as an art critic, to Beardsley's wonderful prints for Salome and so on. The manuscripts on show include those of Dorian Gray, various of the plays, and De Profundis; his script in the latter smaller and more careful, as paper was a rationed commodity during his incarceration. First editions are all there, dedicated to the influential and famous, along with many letters. I enjoyed reading them all, or as much of them as I could through their perspex protection. The highlight for me was exhibit A from his libel trial - the infamous Queensberry calling card.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Ben at the Musee Malliol


Mildly amusing for about an hour if you want to dodge a rainstorm, but the bon mots and mots drole about art tired me out pretty quickly. Yes, he has nice hand writing. Yes, he is witty, but honestly, unless you are a die-hard fan, I'd give this a miss. He's been doing pretty much the same thing for over fifty years now. Time to move on, I think.

Plus the rather childish, boy talks about sex red boudoir installation, had me yawning. Nothing shocking here. I should have known what I was in for when the first wall piece explains his fondness for women, Once, perhaps, radical. Now, to be frank, a bit dull.

Oh and the permanent collection...lovely portraits, pastels and sculpture, but I can do without a bronze with legs akimbo and totally biologically accurate (female, of course). I'm not a prude, but I know what I look like, thanks and I'm not sure it is art or radical.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Free Verse Fair and giving back

This Saturday the Free Verse Fair opens its doors to publishers and poets to spend a day showing their wares and selling as many books as possible. Poets and poetry lovers will attend for a day of readings and poetry wallowing. I can't wait to catch up with a myriad of friends and have a thoroughly good time.

I am not reading myself as only one of my publishers, Eyewear, will be there and they have, quite rightly, chosen from among the more recently published of their stable to do their allotted reading. As I have a new book out next year, I shall cross my fingers for 2017. Still, I will enjoy the readings and the book buying and have set aside a tidy sum to support all those small presses who do so much for poets and poetry in the UK.

My contribution will be a few hours of helping out. I have volunteered to greet people on the door and hand out welcome packs, and relieve stall holders wanting a break. This is a small gesture to say thanks to the poetry gods for all the good things that have happened to me over the years that I have been involved in this precious art form. I look forward to meeting you as you arrive.


Friday, 9 September 2016

La Rentree

Everyone is back. Not everyone went away. Things are starting to happen in Paris. Again. I am being bombarded by notices of what's on art openings, theatre, exhibitions, poetry readings. There is just too much to choose from. Help! Cultural overload for the months ahead. Wait, is that a thing now?

I love my life. Just not sure when I am going to be doing any writing any time soon. Oh wait! That's what the Eurostar is for. Bonne Rentree.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Poetry submissions - why bother?

In the summer, when Paris is quieter than usual (see earlier post), I try to concentrate on getting my poetry work out there, by which I mean sending it off to reputable magazines.

I do this so that the acknowledgements page in my next book looks good: it adds credence to my work if more than one publisher thinks its worth putting into print, a peer review thing, and I enjoy reading my contributor's copy of everyone else's work, seeing what others are doing and reading reviews for books I might otherwise miss.

But this is not easy. It's a time consuming business. Each magazine has its own rules and requirements for submission that one must abide by, or receive a summary rejection. You must to read and obey.

In the past magazines required paper submissions by post with SAEs for their reply. Some still do. It is astonishing given the paper wastage involved, let alone the cost in stamps and the complexities if you are not in the UK.

Even if they reply by email, I have largely given up sending to such magazines. It is a pity because some of them are the most prestigious in the country. Why do they persist with outmoded forms of communication? I can only imagine it is to stop the deluge of work that would otherwise come their way, but that's their loss, as many of my fellow poets simply can't be arsed, to use the vernacular, to send them our good stuff. It's just too much hassle.

Sticking to magazines that accept by direct email or Submittable, is simpler, but one still has to keep  to the correct number of poems, in the correct format, a bio of the correct length, write a pleasant cover note, etc. etc. But it is so much easier to hit send.

This year I have been struck by one trend that seems to have snuck over to the UK from the US and I'm not sure I like it that much. That is the use of submission windows, namely periods of time when a magazine is open to submissions, at the price of unread rejection if one has the temerity to try to get around the system or is too useless to comply.

I understand why magazines do this, of course. Again it's to avoid constant deluge and give the hard working, usually unpaid, editors, who after all are a poet's best friend, well earned breaks and stress relief.

However for the incompetent poet, I speak of myself here, it requires the kind of organisation that involves Excel spreadsheets. Yes, really. I have a file for these where I note all the ones I come across.

I just have to work out some kind of alarm system now to link to my calendar and send me a message to remind me when the submission window for magazine X is open, notification from collegiate poets on FB notwithstanding. Any brilliant ideas for an App, peeps? Sharp intake of breath. Onwards, if I want to be published.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Paris in August

What? You are not going on holiday?

I have been working in Paris for five years, but still the French habit of taking most, if not all, of August as holiday eludes me. Why would you want to vacation at the most expensive time of the year if you didn't have to? Parents with school age children, of course, are excepted as they have no choice. I am no longer in this group and neither are many French people, and yet, they still disappear from Paris to, mostly, the south of France, all at the same time.

Why? Do they like each other that much that they want to go away together? Isn't the point of a holiday to get away from it all, not take it all with you? I must be missing something in my strange 'so British' ways.

The Paris that is left behind by this exodus is a quiet place, tranquil, and actually quite pleasant, even if the boulangerie is closed and the pavements a hazard of lost tourists one can easily trip over. There is little competition for the terrace and the streets are calm. You can find somewhere pleasant to sit in the park, even a free bench, which is something of a joy compared to the rest of the year.

The only price to pay is being treated as a tour guide by random visitors who try out their two words of French before sighing with relief that they fortuitously picked a local who can speak English so well. Ha. I seldom bother to enlighten them, and sometimes, if I am feeling especially wicked, I am not that helpful. My Gallic shrug is coming along nicely, thanks.

I intend to enjoy this circus paradiso for a few more weeks yet. Salut!

Sunday, 7 August 2016

The war against graffiti

Graffiti as art, protest. The tag. The meaningless scrawl. Banners, flags, candles.

Since the Charlie Hebdo attack the Place de la Republique has seen it all, for reasons that sadly repeat themselves. Every now and then Paris has a fit of civil pride and decides to clean the whole lot way. La Liberte is a beautiful statue. She looks good when pristine. It won't last long, I know that, but today, her toilette was in full swing. I imagine things will get back to normal fairly soon. This photo was taken ten days ago. It seems an age.

Hidden Paris - a three church walk

Not exactly hidden,  more hiding in plain sight. Here's a suggested walk to three of Paris' outstanding churches.

Start a Saint Chapelle, the private chapel for the French royal family, located in the confusing complex of court buildings that is the Palais de Justice. Astonishingly beautiful stained glass awaits you in the King's chapel. The peasants worshipped in the lower chapel. Two tier church building at it's Gothic finest. I challenge you to find the carving of Eve being born from Adam's rib.

It will be crowded with tourists and is steep at 10 Euros for a look see. There is even known to be quite a queue on the street and you have to submit to X-raying your bags and walking through a metal detector, but that's a small price to pay for all this sumptuousness.

Next, make you way back to the river via Saint Severin. A huge church often overlooked, but don't miss it. The stained glass at the back of the church is well worth your while.

Finally cross the road to Saint Julien le Pauvre, one of Paris' oldest places of worship,complete with an icon screen. It's small and you might be lucky enough to avoid a tour group with no manners. Take a break in the adjacent park and then go book browsing at Shakespeare and Company.

Allow about two to three hours and enjoy things many people miss. Religious affiliation not required.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Hidden Paris - Musee Guimet

Have you been to Angkor Wat? No, me neither, but it's on my list of must sees. In lieu, many of the sculptures are to be found in Paris, who knew?

Well not me until I went to the Musee Guimet, which is the Asian art museum, packed with mainly devotional works from Japan to Tibet, which means lots and lots and lots of Buddhas. Fabulous.

I realise it's not exactly hidden as it is right next to Metro Iena, but it was new to me.

There are temporary exhibits as well. The current freebies included Japanese prints, featuring the predictably salacious with graphic translations, and a wonderful room size bamboo weaving by Shouchiku Tanabe.

A great way to spend the afternoon. Highly recommended, except the tea is ludicrously over priced. Pity that as I was in the mood for some Oolong.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Beat Generation at the Pompidou


If you've never seen the scroll, hithee. If you have, hithee again. It doesn't come out to play very often. If you don't know what I am talking about then this exhibition really isn't for you.

The trouble with trying to make an art exhibition from what was essentially a literary movement, yes, I know Kerouac painted and the Beats made some dodgy films, is that it doesn't really work. There is no substitute for the words on the page. Sitting and reading them. Quietly. Alone.

There are words on the page, not that the scroll is especially legible these days, which fits its iconic status. And there are manuscripts of Howl and Kaddish to be drooled over, but that is no substitute for personal reading.


There are just too many photographs, not all of them actually that good as photographs, even if taken by famous poets.

Nice try Pompidou. A good effort at doing something different, timed well so as to maximise American visitor numbers. But no, not enough explanation, cultural criticism, historical, political and social context for anyone coming to the Beats relatively unschooled.

Yes, it's good to see first editions of Burroughs and the film of a young Dylan, but otherwise, meh, really, a great, big meh.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Paul Klee at the Pompidou

I don't know that much about Klee. I have never really liked his work, or rather, that which I have seen, the blocky things, the cubist things, the Bauhaus things, so this retrospective of his entire oevre is welcome, even if it's taken me months to get around to it, and I almost left it too late.

I still don't much like Klee. It must be the colour palette; all those browns and dark things that make me depressed. However the landscapes sing and some of his titles are positively brilliant, all music -Harmony of the Northern Flora being my winner on this score. There are some scary puppets, which was a surprise, as were the early satirical drawings.

Worth a whizz round before 1 August if you get fed up of the adjacent Beat exhibition. But don't make a special trip unless you are a die hard devotee.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Georgia O'Keeffe at Tate Modern


Yep, it's the summer block buster and yes, it's well worth your attention, although the ticket prices are astronomical. Nineteen pounds for an adult, really? I heard it was packed on the weekends, so we went on a Thursday morning. It was busy, but not unpleasantly so.

A great survey of her work over seven decades from early charcoal abstractions, to New York views I had never seen before and was not exactly thrilled by, to the well known flowers, arroyos, mesas and bones.

If you are expecting enormous blooms all the way, you will be disappointed as there is just one room representing these But if you want to engage with O'Keeffe's vision of landscape, especially New England and, of course, the South West, then you will be thrilled. Carefully interspersed with Stieglistz' and Adams' photographs that add context.

Well curated, well explained and the catalogue is a must. It is surprising how small some of the canvases actually are. In my mind's eye they are vast like their subject matter. I guess that's her trick. and a clever one it is too. Masterful American modernism at its finest.


Saturday, 4 June 2016

White Riot

It's approaching summer in Paris. Of course, it's raining. It has, in fact, rained all week. Angry people have been kept indoors. When it stops raining and they're all been to see the flooded quais, as the Seine has burst its banks, they decide to do something else. In this case, demonstrate against, well, everything: the police, the state, the employment law changes, and anything else you care to think of. I inadvertently ran into the latest manifestation at the Canal St. Martin this afternoon.

The first thing I heard of it was the clump of the police down the street where I was window shopping in the rather chi-chi boutiques and ateliers of hand made goods. I'd just finished my yoga class, so I was feeling rather Zen. Surprised, I backed into the nearest doorway as the riot police passed me. They looked rather hot and fed up. It's quite hard running in all that gear. There was much panting. I asked their leader what was going on. He made a typically French sound that meant something like, "yet more bullshit".

I followed the squad up onto the canal street. They had taken position across the street, riot shields and batons in place, and tear gas at the ready. The reserves were on the bridge over the canal. Facing them were the black clad protestors: anarchists, communists, others. Mostly they were young men ski and gas masked, but there were young women in the crowd and older men. They were well prepared.

My attention was taken by a group kicking in a closed shop's window just yards from me. They easily broke the glass, kicked in more of it, entered the premises and started carrying out the contents. Not looting, just destroying. I saw a young woman smash a computer screen on the pavement, alongside her comrades busy breaking paving slabs into chunks of the right heft to hurl at the police. Rocks, cans, bottles, emergency flares, firecrackers and the like were raining down on the police as the protestors grew more and more defiant. They moved towards them for a face off, shouting slogans all the while.

Then the police opened fire with tear gas rounds. Half a dozen. More. Deafening. And the gas itself is stinging to the eyes and throat. I retreated to the street below the canal. The police advanced. The protesters legged it. Not all of them got away. Two were wrestled to the ground by the police and arrested. More tear gas was fired. The protesters regrouped and the whole thing started again.

I wasn't entirely sure what the tactics of either side were: the protesters wanted to march and have a fight, the police were determined to stop them. No announcements to disperse were made, but then, I didn't stick around long enough to find out how it all ended. After about twenty minutes of photographing the scene, I became concerned I might be caught up in it. I was, after all, dressed in my usual black (leather jacket, legging, t-shirt) and I was wearing my rather clumpy biker boots. An easy confusion might have been made.

Just a few streets away, Saturday afternoon continued as normal: Parisians went on shopping, eating and drinking, peacefully protesting against something in Place de la Republique - this week the vegans calling for the closure of abattoirs - while the Caribbean carnival made its way down Boulevard Beaumarchais. Such different sides of the city, it's hard to reconcile them.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Thailand 2016 Diary Extracts

Birdsong – The last natural things I saw before boarding my plane to Bangkok was the small flock of sparrows which have made terminal 2F at Charles De Gaulle their home. The first natural thing I saw when arriving was a car park black bird with a yellow eye, probably some kind of starling. Birdsong differs by continent; tunes and calls are always a surprise. It is more melodious here than Africa; fluid water warbling with trills. The doves are softer than our wood pigeons. This is my early listening before the chorus is drowned out by traffic and building noise, the children in the school next door, and police whistles. These are imitated by one bird, another screeches over my head as if it is having an orgasm. Bickering birdsong now, as if a hundred market traders are outshouting each other to extol their wares, and orgasma bird is frantic to join them.


Ladyboys – A friend warned me that the sex industry was hard to avoid in Thailand. I wasn’t trying to in Bangkok, but I honestly saw nothing. Admittedly, I did not prowl the Khao San road at night. I spotted one ladyboy in a shopping centre and very beautiful he was too, as was my masseur(se) in Phuket. If this sounds like the writing of a nineteenth century anthropologist, it makes me uncomfortable that I find this subject noteworthy. Not of course, that transgenderism is necessarily anything to do with the sex industry. The massage studio was very clear with its unequivocal sign – No Sex. It saddened me that this was necessary, but obviously, it was.


Traffic jams – On my last evening in Bangkok I was held up in traffic on the motorway from the airport forever, but was actually no more than ten minutes. The King’s motorcade of a more than a dozen vehicles sped past. What is it with me and foreign royalty? It seems that whenever I go away I run into them.


Signage:
Please take out your shoes (Wat In).

We do not like in this bar people involved with drugs.(Khao San road)

Be very careful swimming here. The current is very strong. You might be absorbed by the water drain. (Phuket)


Overhearing:

I don’t know what I am looking at (American tourist)