Archive for the ‘Living in London’ Category

Lou Reed is a curmudgeon

Friday, July 4th, 2008

Lou Reed you old curmudgeon. So it was, a week ago, that I found myself in a great theatre in Mayfair, the Mayfair Curzon to be exact. The event was a screening of the new Julian Schnabel film “Berlin” which is essentially a documentary of Lou Reed performing his Berlin album in its entirety in St. Ann’s warehouse, New York City, in 2006. This album, Berlin, has taken on mythical proportions since its release over 30 years ago. A complete commercial failure, it was a tough act to follow Reed’s monumental work “Transformer” and sadly Berlin crumbled under the pressure.

Such was the negative reception of this concept album that it had never been performed, held in perpetual limbo, forgotten perhaps, discarded to be forever relegated to the sales bins of the unloved. The idea behind the album was the story of a variety of characters that all interact over the course of the album. Appearing, leaving, re-emerging later on. This was not an album with a few choice cuts, the idea was to listen to it in its entirety, at least if one desired to fully grasp the concept.

The film Berlin was well made, with hand held footage mingling with static conventional shots. An elaborately decorated stage, projections created by Schnabel’s daughter were shown over top of the musicians while they played. Basically the visuals were supposed to represent the words, with both important for the overall show.

Now the work was good, well put together, but it was slightly too long, with some songs seeming to drag on and on, musicians getting their glories on stage perhaps? But after containing these notes and nouns for over 30 years, a few extra minutes to savour them wouldn’t hurt the audience now would it?

At the close of the film, lights came up and some charmless British rock journalist took to the stage to act as questioner of the great one. Calling upon his interrogatee, Lou Reed arose, from the audience where he had apparently been sitting the entire show. Watching him rise, I expected him to keep getting up, but alas, Lou Reed is small, such is the way with icons, they’re much smaller, and lifelike in person. And so to the stage he took, not in some exaggerated Warhol inspired getup, but a simple white top, jeans and trainers, Nike’s to be exact. We want the underground, but we’re getting the suburbs. Slightly stooped and rambling, I expect that the effects of alcohol consumption could be blamed.

Over the course of some 45 minutes Lou Reed discussed Berlin “I had never been to the city when I wrote it, the city was just a metaphor for the album, divided…”; discussed mp3’s “…those who don’t care about sonic quality can have their mp3’s…. studies have shown that people only really download 1 track anyways…”; and all the details worth noting (note: he would only discuss Berlin, anything unrelated was not allowed) that are Lou Reed. The moderator then read off questions that audience members had written down on cue cards (so to remove the possibility of spontaneous disaster). Fan questions for the most part, they were what you wanted to ask but didn’t want to ask for fear of seeming slightly uncouth. The highlight of the question period came when Lou Reed had an audience member ejected. The constant heckling from a seat in the back became too much and Lou Reed proclaimed “Jesus Fucking Christ, can’t you just shut up? Can someone throw him out of here?”. Which did proceed to occur. The offender was a middle-aged man with a Mohawk; he wanted attention more than anything.

At precisely 45 minutes, the question period was finished, and everyone clapped. Little time for an encore, Lou quickly exited the stage, not through the audience this time, his cover was blown. Off to practice no doubt, as he had a few nights of performing Berlin to Londonites still to go. An enjoyable experience all in all, it’s always nice to see the icon’s of the world in the flesh to help remind us that while their work may be monumental, the creator themselves is only human, for big or for small…

Lou Reed Berlin

Ye Old Art Salon

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

Culture beckons us on. So it was that we were called to the Royal Academy of Arts to view the Summer exhibition. Not just any exhibition however, but an old school “Salon” style display of a vast array of artwork, all placed side by side, up and down the ancient walls (floor included) of the Royal Academy of Arts building.

The upper floor has been installed in the manner of an old time salon, akin to 19th century Paris. Room after room after room, art is revealed. Not only to be admired however, all this work is for sale, purchasable for those with deep enough pockets. The ethos of this exhibition is that anyone can submit work, which is then judged by a jury and choices for inclusions are made. This makes for a democratic showcase (though one believes that nepotism must still hover over choices, this is the art world after all). Artists such as Damien Hirst, Quentin Blake and RB Kitaj lay next to relative unknown artists. Each piece is labelled simply with a number, which mandates the viewer locate the work within the guidebook that is given with paid admission. A wonderful idea, the work must stand on its’ own merits, not on the noble legs of its revered creator(s).

Hunt and peck, see a work, admire it, see who has created it, and see how much it costs. It staggers the mind that some of the most awful work is the most expensive, while some of the more unique, charming pieces are quite affordable. In my wanderings I found work ranging from $105,000 to a mere $150 and the gamete runs right between. There were things I would have gladly handed money over for, had I had some to spare, though the $105,000 piece, entitled “Skull” which was enormous in both price and dimensions, seemed to defy logic, unable to justify its price. Made of coal and acrylic rather than blood, sweat and tears, the lack of bodily fluids as art material meant that the price seemed over inflated.

Each room is curated and themed by one individual, with sculpture, conventional oil paintings, prints, architecture and “the extreme” all being represented. The most comical, un-intentionally, is the extreme room. Curated by Tracy Emin, the goal seems to be to shock the viewer. However, shocking doesn’t get any more conventional then a sculpture composed of 25 dildos formed into the shape of a head, or a video loop of a naked woman’s torso gyrating with a barbed hula hoop. So un-shocking is this room that as I stood trying to grasp the room as a whole, two elderly women stood behind me discussing the penis sculpture with as much outrage as they would discuss a vase full of dandelions.

The show is well put together though, and really gives the viewer a window into the current state of “modern” art. Sadly it seems that modernity has been stuck in place for quite some time. Work was good but as to be expected. Perhaps the lack of innovation will push the wheels of change in motion and set the art world on course for a new movement. There are enough penis sculptures out there to last an eternity, a little taste with the extreme for a change?

Ye Old Art Salon

Tastey London

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

They’ve rolled out the purple carpet, purple being the color reserved for royalty. Every year in London, to the delight of foodies everywhere, Regent’s Park hosts “Taste of London”. A dazzling affair full of scrumptious food and drink from the top restaurants/ suppliers of London. A real razzle dazzle carnival, full of stumbling guests satisfied well past the point of excess.

Good fortune raining down, I was given an admission ticket, a $21 value that would have otherwise been a tad steep in my frugal mind. The price of admission itself declares who this event is for (hint, those NOT looking for a free lunch). Some 10 staff members were waiting in the forested galley way, to make sure that we were all headed in the right direction; this was going to be something.

I was sceptical entering as one had to purchase “crowns” to buy anything in this arena of gastro-power. Running at $10 for 20 crowns, and most things costing 8-10, it was going to be an expensive affair. The goal however was to cruise through and garner initial impressions before surrendering my hard earned cash. Fearing that I would be either hungry or poor, neither was true!

Free samples were omnipresent. Wine, chocolate, ice cream, beer, decedent dessert pieces and gourmet tea. My hands were full all day long, from Popcorn tea (truly did taste of popcorn from the toasted rice that was part of its anatomy) to ginger encased in dark, rich 73% pure chocolate. So much wine was being tasted in fact that I began to do the swirl and spit, which was fine for my head, but not so fine for logistics. Astonishingly very few of the wine merchants had any spittoons, quite shocking for an event of this calibre. I resorted to swigging the wine then running looking for garbage pails. I can only imagine what was running through the heads of those looking on as I bent over a pail with great gushes of red stuff spilling forth from my lips. Alas, most people were too rosy to probably even notice.

We had made a few laps of the stalls, just to make sure that nothing had been missed, when the call came. At precisely 4pm, 1600 hours international time came the call over the PA system, “We will ask that all guests make their way towards the exits now, the afternoon session is now finished”. It seems that $21 only gained entry into one of the 2 daily sessions, and at the appointed time everyone was kicked out! Being such a well mannered country, everyone picked up their things (themselves in certain cases), and did in fact make their way to the exits and then out. Well done my sons and daughters.

Taste of London 2008 was indeed a good experience, at least for a partial free loader like me. Though I must admit that had I paid $21 I perhaps would have been less enchanted, at any rate the wine and chocolate was good, the cheese not bad either!

London Taste2London Taste1

Words from the Battlefront

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

There quite simply is too much to read. Over here in the capitol there is a plethora of high quality news papers to expand the mind and capture the eye. The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Daily Mail. These are the top shelf examples, more glossy raggish examples abound for a little lighter fair. Such is the competition that the news, both local and international, lifestyle articles, extensive travel sections and worker insider sections are not enough to entice readers. Instead extras are given to push the buyer into a specific direction. Now when I say extras, I don’t just mean television guides and a monthly magazine, nigh nigh my friends we’re talking about movies, books, maps, calendars, biographies of poets (and a poster of the periodic tables that adorns one of our walls)!.

How to cope when faced with the choice of a paper that includes a free copy of La Dolce Vita or another that includes a book about “how to photograph everything!”? Surely cost must be prohibitive, it did cost a few millions to film La Dolce Vita after all, surely a few dollars are being passed along the line in the form of newspaper cost for the buyer. But no my sceptics, the average price of good quality paper is about $1.40 (in pounds of course) which amounts to the price of a week espresso. Choice, a single glorious shot of caffeine or days and days of cultured words and captivating stories. Price being so utterly reasonable that my dear and I have been known to acquire some 3 to 4 papers a day on any given Saturday. Throw in a Sunday and we’ve got some serious reading to do, and this is the crux of the problem.

Stack upon stack of newsprint, we enter the garden room and the smell of printed paper saturates the nose, open eyes or not, there is no way to escape the call of duty. Minute by minute the stories get older, yet so specific are the sections within these grand pages, that save for the front page and sports, the articles are relevant for a good 4 weeks (6 to 8 during our slow reading weeks). Within our grand garden room lay stacks and stacks of papers all calling out, begging to have their pages caressed. A lot of pressure to come home to, even with the lights off in pitch darkness the distinct aroma whines.

Where in London have I been? My trail of discarded sections from various papers lays the trail. 3 sections a day seems to be the quota I’ve set for myself, a humble manageable quota, as long as I don’t take my eyes off of the page. All over the trains of the London tube lay words I’ve read and cast aside. You would think with all this reading that I would be significantly more cultured that I began, but readers I can’t seem to remember a dam thing! Not true, but it’s such a blur that I’ve got a pastiche going on in my brain that probably bears little resemblance to the origins of the information.

At any rate we trudge on, trying to keep the piles at bay. So much to do so little time, innocent little words they seem, until they gang up on you, and beat you into submission! Send in some reinforcements, because there’s a war going on.

News by hand News Surrounds

Dearest Colchester

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

June 15th, 2008

Dearest Colchester,

It’s seems that you have fallen on hard times. Wise elder statesman of the Essex countryside, it seems that you’ve taken to ignoring your past and pushing on towards the future. It is your choice to try and keep up with the London-ites, you know what consumers demand, but haven’t you seen pictures of 60 year old men before and after their plastic surgery makeovers? Frankenstein could find kinship in this grossly misshapen brethren. You don’t need a makeover, you just need to shine up what you already have. There is more interest in the crags and wrinkles then in the mall spectacles that you try to distract us with.

Colchester, birthed from a Roman more then 2000 years ago, deep within your aging lines lay these Roman birthmarks. You cannot deny your place as the oldest named resident in the land of UK giants. You are the original, you should celebrate rather than try to obscure your true heritage behind some Gap window or Starbucks coffee outlet.

I come to admire your wealth of wisdom, marvel at the structures that adorn you, yet there is little if any help to point me in the right direction. You are unique, a rare find, yet you flare no becons to call forth the mass to revel at your feet.

We walk through corners, look at all sides, but while we want to submerge ourselves in your offerings, on Sunday’s you close them all. We are cut off from your treasures, left only to mingle amongst the same materials that can be found on any high street. Why do you not boast, is it this modesty that keeps your fans at bay? Celebrity is tough to cope with, yet sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps obscurity at bay.

Colchester we come to be entertained, to dine at your table and have our senses saturated with your offerings. Yet all the tables are empty, locked away or predictable. You stand unique amongst a land offering plenty, but we are left begging for a mere morsel of delight. Peer in your treasure chest and you will  find it is brimming with priceless artifacts, these are what we want, these are what make us coming running into your clutches. We have golden coins to shower you in, yet your modest downtrodden ways make us curious what we would get in return.

Colchester, you are in your twilight years, yet forgetfulness seems to have crept upon, as it does as we age. We beseat you, put on your Sunday best, delight us with your tales, and roll out the red carpet, before it is too late and all is forgotten.

In quiet confidence,

The Traveller

aka The Tourist

Colchester CastleColchester Castle

Quarkaphobia, living in denial

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

We all have our favourite things in life. Now when it comes to foods it gets a whole lot more specific. It seems that the experts say that humans, generally, are predominantly sweet or salty types. More than that though there are specific foods that we all enjoy, crave, cannot do without. Cannot do without until they are unavailable that is. Products that are abundance in one place, whether through geography or cost deterrence simply do not exist in other places.

It seems that in my short UK residency I have come to adore, crave, and am now positively addicted to Quark. A soft cheese, “Virtually fat-free”, or so says the packaging, I eat this product with a ferocity that seems to be making up for lost years when their product didn’t exist in my world. Similar in design to cream cheese, I have been known to eat it on toast with tomato, basil, and fresh pepper, yum, or perhaps with some jam added for sugary flavouring (you should taste my Quark Chocolate Protein cake!). In desperate times I have even eaten it straight up, with a spoon, right out of the package. In fact, a “straight-edge Quarker” is how I began my descent into the grips of this Quark madness.

Now all is well in good in London, Quark is in abundance, and cheap, a mere 58p gets a solid container of the succulent goo. I’m buying it by the dozens, walking through the aisles of Sainsbury’s, I’m that guy with 8 Quarks stacked on top of each other, narrowly missing the ceiling beams. Nothing provides greater distress to me then my side of the fridge (more on this later) echoing hollow sounds of inquark-titude.

Shortly my UK experiment will come to a close, which is fine, every chapter has to have an end. But what oh what shall I do without my beloved Quark? I suppose I could always substitute some cream cheese, but my taste-buds will be screaming in tandem with my waists expanding girth. Dearest readers they say that Quark does exist in Canada, alas not in the abundance that it does in the UK. My life without Quark, woe is me, hey (quietly now) I need a quick fix, know anyone with the right stuff?

Quark (or qvark) is a type of fresh cheese of Central European origin. Dictionaries usually translate it as curd cheese. It is soft, white and un-aged, similar to Fromage frais. It is not the same thing as cream cheese or cottage cheese. It is distinctly different from ricotta because ricotta (Italian: recooked) is made from scalded whey.

Quark Cake

The Great walk, an epic journey

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

On my days off from work, it has been decided that we must explore the vast metropolis that is London. An immense landscape, with such diversity, it boggles the mind that all of its’ corners fall under the same jurisdiction.

At any rate, day off so to the tube we took. Rumbling through the underground, a few line changes (as well as the rescue of a man who had got his arm, avec full coffee cup, jammed in a train door and couldn’t get it out, I had to pry open the doors) and we were exiting at Hampstead. Now Hampstead is a something to behold, the home turf of the rich and likely famous. Mercedes, BMW’s, Rolls Royce’s, and the ubiquitous Range Rover fill every possible parking space. Neighbourhoods full of multi-multi-million dollar homes, such an established and secure neighbourhood (the lack of any visible litter, dog dirt included) that windows are left un-curtained for all to see within. Over burdened bookcases line the walls of most of these spectacular homes.

Cafes fill the village-like streets of this calm corner, we of coarse stopped for refreshment, Americano and a cookie for my dearest.

Off through the side streets we tread, through to Hampstead Heath. Beautiful scenery, sunbathers lounging, dogs with their wagging tails, grandparents with their grandchildren, and nannies, nannies, nannies everywhere (it is a well heeled community after all).

The remarkable thing about rich neighbourhoods is that they exist cheek to cheek with poor areas. A magical invisible line divides the two and allows them to co-exist with out intermingling, least the poor should have any aspirations of upward mobility; this is the UK after all, with it’s entrenched class system. So amongst the common man (myself a member) we walked. Our goal being High Gate, the reputable grave yard, full of reputable historic figures.

High gate must surely get its name from it’s vicinity, high up towards the clouds. And so we tread, up, and up, and up, choosing to take the scenic “quiet route” as a sign declared. This route wraps itself around a body of water, people in bathing suits walking all around in all their glory. The agony of each progressive step upwards reduced only by the glorious habitat. Magnificent homes surrounded by high walls serving to keep out those without the proper pedigree. Finally we summated the top of the hill and were in the quaint village of High Gate. Pee break, followed by a jaunt to a charity shop, where I succumbed to temptation and purchased a Paul Smith jacket, my second on this short UK stay. But village hours still remain and by 5, everything was closed, so much for sight seeing. So on we tread, over vast expanses of sidewalk, at one point I noticed a sign for the M1 and knew we were in trouble!

I can’t begin to describe to sheer distance that we traveled by foot, pilgrims of the North end. Finally we boarded a bus that dropped us off in Muswell Hill, the walk was over.

They say that the best way to experience a place is to walk, and walking we do (on this notorious day we must have walked 10kms). However, perhaps it’s better to have some sort of itinery planned so as not to find oneself on a death march, my legs, my legs, my LEGS!

Muswell Hill