Friday, October 31, 2014

an affectation

It's always autumn. You settle in to a bunch of washing up at the kitchen sink, and then the warm water on your hands and wrists makes you have to pee.

It's always autumn. Emma was struggling to get a bouquet right, a late October bouquet. She frowned at the arrangement. I thought it was almost there. But Emma lurched towards it. It's too fizzy, she said.

It's always autumn and at the pub the ales are drawn thickly. Thirty or so feet were idle under a long wooden table, crossed at the ankles. Conversation was self-deprecating and complaining, the jolly banter distilled from years of miserable weather. I had a fish pie, my first of the season, all that glorious mash to put some love back on my handles. The lights were at the right lowness. There were flowers on the table and the girls were all very pretty. In this neighbourhood you'll probably see a fox, I had told Hans. Maybe up to four. He laughed at my speculative quantifying. After I left, he texted me: there is the running fox.

Books and pubs are steamy windows.

A couple of nights later, J. and I sat in bed — there's no place left to sit, everything is in cardboard boxes, the sofa is on its side, and life becomes a path laid in six years' worth of dust. And we were watching music videos by The Pretenders. They are so English. Surely that's a caff, not a diner, in the "Brass in Pocket" video. Probably they recorded the album here. That's definitely British, we said. Look at the way the streets curve and sigh. Was Chrissie such an Anglophile? I'd never considered. I suppose it could be that was the pretending she was doing.

When I went back to the States, of course, I got stick for sounding affected. Of course I've been affected by seven years. Is saying tom-ah-to a form of politeness or a performance? But think of all of those years as a boy and teenager in California. Surely that was a performance, too. Is something more authentic just because its context is closer to birth? Isn't change a form of authenticity? Here, politeness is a guise, a weapon, a source of pride. In architecture, the term polite regards a form of decorative affectation not endemic to the particular site. Politeness has its problems. I'm so sorry, sang Morrissey, every turn of phrase so English, so passive aggressive. The Smiths, a common name.

From under the musty bed we pull the Time Out poster that I asked for at the corner shop seven or so years ago. It's Tilda Swinton holding a Derek Jarman mask. For a long time, I decided I didn't like Tilda, that she was overrated. It was a surprising opinion. I decided I found her anaemic and, worse yet, mannered. But then I properly watched Wittgenstein, and then I Am Love. And it dawned that her manner is everything. She's a fox.

Bob Dylan's harmonica may be the dressing, an elaboration. But it sounds like an oncoming train, it's propulsive and moving things forward. It's a construct and the engine. He took the name Dylan and made it into an adjective.

Here he is on the verge of shambolic at the "Royal Albert Hall" (really, the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, a part of a whole other myth; it's a long story and I'm working on it). But this to me sounds like late October.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"high tide and the heron dived"

to heron

There you are. You had us worried there for a minute. Seriously, a little too mellow, neph. When you come visit your uncles in London, you'll have to pick up the pace. I want to show you the Tower of London. But you'll probably just want to pick gross things off the floor. See, I've been waiting for you all my life. I've always wanted to be an uncle. For selfish reasons, mostly. I love giving recommendations. Get ready for the recommendations. I'm always talking about music and jackets. In pubs. Ah, just wait until you discover all the glorious things you can do (chip-tossing, pea-hurling, dog-bothering) in pubs. You were almost named Felix after the artist Gonzalez-Torres. We'll have to tell you about him anyway. Is there a My First Book of Post-Minimalism? Hey, sis, what about My First Book of Queer Theory? In the end, you were given a lovely and handsome name, which you share with a leggy species of bird. The heron is sometimes nicknamed 'shitepoke'. I promise I'll resist until you're at least 7 or 8. When you're older still, we'll take a walk on the Norford Broads, where herons are called harnsers. I will show you the wonders of the bleak English landscape. You're growing up amongst some mighty trees, so you might be jaded. You're also a very lucky little chappie. Be good to your mom. She's an incredible creature. But you know that already. You didn't want to leave. We are forty years apart which by today's definition is probably considered several generations. You'll be growing up in a very different world. I hope you will appreciate the good changes, and stand tough against the bad. Pay attention to history. Look out for the mistakes and misreadings, for the red herrings. But it's up to you to figure out your own position. There's only so many recommendations you can stand. But do give this a spin:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

back in london, on the 52 and after

On the 52, behind me a bunch of black girls are screaming. They're not talking about boys or other such nonsense; they're talking about secret tunnels. We're driving through what some would call Albertopolis. One screams with authority about secret tunnels. Their lungs are really projecting. And at Knightsbridge alight two slight girls with pale skin and dark hair, one bleached orange. They both carry Chanel shopping bags. The one with orange hair has three of them. They're both sending texts, presumably not to each other. They are silent but speaking as much as the screamers. A bus comes towards us with the destination: LEGOLAND VIA SLOUGH. We drive past a children's shop called Please Mum. The name feels pathetic or maybe even perverted. I descend into the Underground. On the tube I'm opposite a cute balding guy with a beard and tattoos. His tight t-shirt reads NYC. Everyone loves New York; here in London, most seem to love it better than London. It is written above his breast. New York pulled me apart. At least that's what I wrote. Who knows how I felt. Bryony reprimanded: You just weren't there long enough. I fall vaguely asleep and then vaguely wake to see through my window a block of flats glowing golden against a severe cobalt sky. The whole scene is rather like a gas flame. I won't be looking out this window for more than another nine nights. And the stove in the new apartment is not gas. The city's council blocks with lit windows in October night skies always remind me of the cover of that first album by The Streets. London's indifference is comforting. It brushes past me, mutters sorry. It surreptitiously moves through me. It stands stoically like a bland park on a bland day, being boring. Do you remember that scene in About a Boy when he sinks a duck with a bread loaf? What a funny version of sad, or sad version of funny. I'm sunk by a bread loaf in London. I'm fucked by a sorry. All of the passengers on this Northern Line carriage hold their tension in their mouths. I do, of course. I catch the reflection in windows. Just last week my colleague shrieked at me: HEY, DUCKMOUTH. So I'm a duck too. What a pond. And into this blandness, teenagers scream all the time. Who can blame them. The bus engine's too quiet. My closest mental map of London has to be a Bruegel. Or the rough sheafs of a bread loaf casually torn apart. Oh London, my stratum of sighs.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

to all of my friends in new york

Sarah looks at the sidewalk and listens. On Metropolitan she came up with another idea: you know gloves left behind on the street in certain positions, do those who use sign language see them as words? She also notes the sound of my shoes and tells me I shuffle. It seems self-involved to analyse why I can't muster the strength to stride properly up and down on the street.

In desert boots I'm passive aggressively walking.

In Brooklyn, they're getting ready for Halloween. Cardboard cutouts of black cats in windows at the tops of stairs, and scarecrows and things on stoops. Pumpkins. I'd forgotten about Halloween.

On subways and in subway stations, I see: a male dancer stretching his leg halfway up the stairwell. And a guy on the train rapping. And a muscle man glistens. His abs show because he's in a half top. The city style is so many zippers. It's earrings and studded and afro's. It's incredible to see all the hardness. I never get used to this city.

It brings me to very dark places. I fall into its shadows. It's described as a destination. Why am I so unsettled here?

From my friends' apartment walls I see Joe Brainard, Peter Hujar, Arthur Russell, Frank O'Hara, Ray Johnson. Then the angels are with us.

New York, you're the place I remember, but you seem so much older to me.

We were in town for Matt and Carl's anniversary. I made a toast which I think had its moments. But it was hard to know what to say. When I had a hippie wedding and was about to walk a grassy aisle to do ceremonious tree planting, Matt and Carl came and sat with me smoking, even though I'd supposedly quit. Are you supposed to smoke before weddings? But that wasn't really a wedding. Matt and Carl's: definitely not a wedding. And whatever the occasion those two are not the type to stand on ceremony. I was just nervous and needed their company. We sat silently. You know that moment in a relationship when things are new and you say to your friends, I'm not sure what this is. I think some of that uncertainty should remain. With queers, it's easier because so far we have less defined rules. It's good to continue to get to know each other, too; not take each other for granted. That's kind of what I wanted to say.

In London, I woke frantically again, with a sore throat, in the middle of the day after a red eye flight. I keep waking up panicked. The anniversary party still haunts me. It was a fabulous party. I didn't quite "nail it" with that toast. I wanted to do them justice. Now I hold on like it was about me. And then there was that whole business of me falling apart in a flood of tears later. That is another story. Believe me, I wrote it down; it's three pages. Why can't I stop this sinking feeling? I feel like Sylvia Plath.

There were many familiar faces. People I hadn't seen in ten years and so on. Everyone seems so successful. Despite my plan, I drank quickly. To face 170 fashionable people. I know I was wrecked the next day. Why was I the one tired? I didn't do any decorating. I could barely do the speaking. Words got in the way. Again, Matt and Carl comforted me. Just by being routine and giving me lots of leftovers. In New York, I ate so many bagels.

Down the street, Saltie's is tiny and plays no wave music and the staff looks like a no wave band. I love when everything is site specific. And it's maybe the very best food in the world. I want more of it.

But we're back now. Jamie and I separated at Green Park station. It's crazy how we returned and it's autumn. And on the immediate surface, boys are much cuter here. The leaves are blowing. It would be so nice if I wasn't moving. My life is about to be boxes. But I can't keep my head separated.

Still, I'm glad I spoke at the party. It is always partly the effort. I spoke in faraway metaphors. Anyway, Matt's speech had left us all shattered.

To all of my friends in New York, thank you and a kind of I'm sorry.

All of the repression of England built up and there I felt everything.

Leonard Cohen was in me the whole time I was there. New York is cold but I like where I'm living. It filled my veins hotly. I was a raw nerve. In passing, Jamie joked about my thick skin. Which is funny because it seems increasingly thin. It's as if you can see the embarrassing tangle of my guts. I'm sorry, I really should tidy.

I tried to put the song on once more. L. Cohen's 'Famous Blue Raincoat'. I had to take it off this time. I've got to start taking things off the shelves. I've got to start putting things in boxes.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

see the red about to fall

Why is it that everyone else always seems appropriately dressed, no matter how mercurial the weather may be? I check the reports too but I'm constantly wearing rainproofs in the sun and woollens in the wet.

October creates new opportunities for thinking about clothes. You become aware of the way that fabrics feel, of the nap and pile and surface of things.

I wore all black and blue. But then Ginny sent me a photo of Mary wearing all red. All different shades of red, crimson, rust and dusty pink, what a vision, smeared lipstick and apples and Virginia Woolf's first memory.

On an unsure Friday night, we walked home after two and a half pints at The Fox through quick black streets.

Once back in the stove-warmed flat, we danced to Bob Dylan as the vegetables cooked. I can't remember which song. It must have been 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall'. And at the end of wakefulness, we listened to 'See the Sky About to Rain' by Neil Young. Earlier, Jamie played Tina Turner's cover of 'I Can't Stand the Rain'. In the morning, we listened to Ann Peebles' original.

On Thursday, eight of us went to Wigmore Hall to listen to Beethoven string quartets. But we sat in front of a heavy breather. From what I could tell he certainly seemed to be enjoying the music. It was unnervingly distracting.

Beethoven what a punk. Malevich what a punk. The Malevich show at Tate Modern, along with the Duchamp show at Centre Pompidou, one of the best mainstream exhibitions I've seen in ages.

Inside Kasimir Malevich's red square is a delicious possibility.

At John Lewis Food Hall, the Christmas things are already up, not even the middle of October. It's like a deliberate attempt to put an end to specialness. Surely Christmas candy at this time of year merely tastes sickly.

I made a bad joke to the sweet clerk about whether I should wish her a merry Christmas.

Autumn. Is it just me or is it much more satisfying to watch things die rather than bloom?

And yet there are all sorts of cycles. This week, my sister Jenny is due.

The pink tip of Emma's nose from her sweet, woozy cold. The flush on Bryony's freckled cheek as she contemplates another year.

Is red the colour for colder months? In summer, I listen to the blues.

Barges and bonfires and wood burning stoves. And big beaten up wooden tables on which friends sit spilling drinks in pubs on long streets in old cities on a small island. I always wanted to come to England and now I live here. Autumn and you think about such things. And I remember when I didn't live here, when I was a west coast idler, looking again and again at a picture in a music magazine of a bunch of kids sat at a long table in a traditional pub. And the photo was taken so that you could see them falling on each other, floppy hair and floppy sweaters, but also you could see under the table, a tangle of trainers and jeans. Those casually crossed legs in the dirty scent of hops and stale smoke meant to me the possibility of unwinding in a different way, something colder and thus with more possibility for warming.

Jamie said, look there are two Jesuses at our table. I said that one wins, because of his empathetic eyes and the way the curls in his long hair flipped coyly, Jesus-like.

From a noisy pub called The Fox on an unsure Friday night, we walked home after two and a half pints through quick black streets under handsome trees timidly undressing.

What better reason to go home than bread, butter, some greens, some whisky. And music, music, the way strummed strings vibrate through a colder air, you sound both more comforting and more forlorn.

Monday, October 6, 2014

at the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont

It was still hot in Paris. By now, in October, the heat felt urgent, weird, a bit too much, too late. A pair of young men ascended the stairs at an eastern gate of Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, topless, shirts tied around their waists or slung over arms or shoulders. Or were they worn, but open and unbuttoned. I can't remember, but I do know their torsos were proudly displayed and I'm sure one of them at least was especially ripped, as seems to be the epidemic with young male Parisians, and those of all the other cities these days. (Earlier, we'd seen one in a drenched white t-shirt, cooling down against a tree in the Jardin des Tuileries, and another pumping himself aggressively on a gigantic brass ring along the wall of the Seine.)

I would be keeping my top on, as I had been eating nothing but butter for the last three days.

Regretfully shirted, we descended into the Buttes-Chaumont — this park of manmade nature with its impressive waterfalls and ravines and grottos, a jolly of folly, perhaps my favourite park in the world, and it's called Buttes. On a shady ledge, four Chinese golden girls practised a kind of uptempo tai chi, soundtracked by an atmospheric boom box, pulling shapes seductively. This wasn't just a relax and a fart. They were alive, saucy, competitive.

At the actual folly in the midst of all this folly, perched on the park's peak, overlooking the city's architectural expanse, surprisingly eclectic from this height, a bunch of school kids clung to fake rocks and practiced landscape drawing. We peered down from the Temple de la Sybille, an artificial site above an artificial lake, trying to glean the different artistic styles. We stood immediately above a bad boy in a vest — furry brown arms exposed, precariously positioned like a mountain goat on a daring diagonal — who drew steadfastly in Sharpie. Across the pavement, a milder looking lad sat stoically on a sensible rock with an earnest expression of concentration. He drew trees and rooftops but judging from his wayward glances seemed to really want to be drawing the bad boy. A pungent steam of teenage repression rose from this hilltop like a sentimental volcano above a city which suddenly seemed so kitsch.

The craggy landscape of this park is partly defined by its former function as quarry, mined for the construction of the city's grand limestone buildings. The strange cycle of ruination and development is intoxicating. In the glaring heat, this felt like the centre of the postmodern world. We passed a pair of older caretakers in mismatched, pastel-hued caps, who knelt near the foot of the tall waterfall, painting the rocks rock-colour. We did not take their photograph.

From a high bridge, bouncing unsettlingly, we spied a teenage boy who wore his kippah at the back of his head at a jaunty angle, a subtle rebellion. He reclined languorously with a girl whose gestures seemed to vibrate ecstatically in the space between their smooth skin. Ah, youth. I've never seen a Jewish boy wear his cap like that.

The night before, in the hotel room, we'd watched this and that on the teevee. Nothing good, nothing special. But all in hi-def. I continually marvel that anyone would prefer this crispness. It seems to eradicate atmosphere. With such clearly defined outlines, the aesthetic is too immediate, too close. It looks cheap, like a behind-the-scenes short. It looks exposed, the wizard without his curtain and fog. Old films lose their lustre. They were never meant to look like this. And even new ones are still not specifically shot with this sharpness in mind. In the hotel, I watched Justin Timberlake in some sort of smuggling thriller, and he turned round and round at a carnival, which was obviously meant to be spooky and heady, maybe psychedelic or even evil. He tried to acted displacement and consternation with his banal face. The masked extras tried to move trippily. But, nothing. In this focus, the scene fell flat. Nothing was conveyed but a feeble attempt; there was no atmosphere.

Real life still has atmosphere. In this postmodern park, I felt amused and fatigued and turned around and turned on. This is from haze and smog and the glare of a too-bright sun, but it is in the processing, too. With the thoughts that were racing in my mind, ideas about urban planning; other, unrelated worries; last night's wine sloshing; the evening's plans beckoning; the city's secrets whispered but never revealed, my perception became its own effect. This park, this Paris, me in it, formed a kind of woozy phenomenology. We squinted at the borders of the park, tried to gauge our north from south, west from east. Atmosphere is an experience. And here, its cracks — two workers bent over painting rocks — only set a more complex scene. Paris, weird Paris, you are the opposite of teevee, you are spleen.