Notes

The revolution that takes place in your head, nobody will ever see that.

Tag Archives: Europe

Super selfie love story

0

Venice EveningSometimes I feel unworthy of living in Venice. I don’t pay enough attention to details, especially now the numbers are slowing down. Walking back to the hotel with my headphones on, I feel guilty for not listening to bursts of opera or cutlery exchanging hands in restaurants. Spotify is a generic experience. Play, pause and repeat your songs over and over again.

Collectively we are going through the first phase of hyper acceleration, an unprecedented boom of global fertility all wanting the same photograph of the Grand Canal. Likewise I’m just a temporary EU migrant passing through the loveliest city in the world. It was an opportunity I couldn’t let pass.

Gondola Couple VeniceEveryday I see newly married couples snuggle in beautifully crafted gondolas and it’s very much a case of play, pause and repeat. Same posed smile, loving tilt of the head and furrowed brow, I’ve witnessed a thousand honeymoons upload their story underneath a bridge. Seen through the prism of light, it’s a unique private moment, one shared with loved ones and marvelled over by long distance friends.

Only I see the same love story every single day.

Away from the watery parade, I remove my headphones, the plastic grooves gnashing onto my collar bone and enter an inverted baroque church. Squashed inside the Venetian back streets, I step in a chaste world of silence and reflection.

Despite being militantly secular in my global politics, I took comfort in this beautiful refuge. Photography is banned in Venetian churches and the circus of life takes a deferential pause. With my rucksack weighing on my back, I stood in silence amongst elaborately carved tombs and dead wooden benches.

It’s one of the few places in Venice where you can share a private moment, a world without flashing cameras and streamed playlists. Outside the craziness goes on oblivious, and I have to get back to my hotel; shower, get changed and go online again. My smartphone might vibrate with loving messages.

There must be something about human nature that turns everything into a routine.

No filter

0

Sitting in a Venetian office watching an elderly Italian couple attend their pot plants, I type into my laptop. Same tabs, same websites and streamed songs as before. No one understands why I am here. Sleep has become a luxury and I am staying in a bog ugly hotel until early November.

On boycotting the only affordable stable in Venice, I am witnessing my body metamorphosis into something leaner. Many evenings I have gone to bed hungry and longing for breakfast.

Although I must acknowledge that my diet in London was snack driven and quite frankly atrocious. Idly wandering down to Shoreditch High Street to buy a cheap Bánh Mì baguette for dinner, only to change your mind and have Jewish bagel instead is a big city luxury.

Come nightfall I go running along the quayside and this only accentuates my physical condition. Streaming past the tourist starlings at St Marks Square, I skip over ornate bridges and race passenger boats and cruise liners. It feels easier and necessary to run longer and harder over here.

Venice Night CanalVenice is like a spooky romantic ghost story after midnight, where you develop a heightened sensitivity to the elegant stroking of a Gondola’s oar. For sheer aesthetic beauty, I am simply not a gifted enough writer to handsomely describe what I see.

I have been forced to be more social than I am otherwise inclined. Ambivalent friendships have been sparked up with passing strangers and drinking Spritz cocktails is far cheaper than beer.

Venice meanwhile is virtually crime free and rats appear after dark once the selfies have gone to bed. The plague of a medieval Disneyland that nobody has paid to see.

Between the kingdom of the living and the dead

0

I don’t how know I get myself into these situations. A mid-summer calamity formed the genesis of my Italian journey. It pains me to think about it even now. How could I have fucked up so badly. It’s an innate part of my personality that incidents of virtually no significance throw me to the stars or plunge me into speechless depressions.

I wish I felt more nervous, it would be more fitting, or perhaps my sense of ease is a reflection of the times. English as an international language, internet on tap and a globalised workforce thriving in the city of London.

On travelling to Venice at sunset, I arrive at dusk with a milky sky sinking behind the Adriatic. Looking at the old maps in my guidebook, it’s remarkable how little the city has changed. How is electricity even possible? For now at least it’s dry and warm. Daily flooding is a hazard I could do without.

Lugging two suitcases and a rucksack on an aquatic waterway with a freshly cropped head, I sat next to Midwestern tourists talking about Becks and Peroni. Their broad Yankee accents were charming and gullible in the kindest possible way. Tourist chatter is something I’ll have to get used to and fast. Accents unlock untapped prejudices reinforced by literature and modern television.

Already my proposed accommodation has been adversely affected because an old Venetian landlady refused my tenancy as ‘English are always drunk.’ I was amused to hear this story. Xenophobia is funny when it’s a white British guy at the receiving end. And let’s face it, protesting that I’m Scottish is highly unlikely to assuage her concerns about my sobriety.

Almost immediately I felt the language barrier in Venice for English is a professional tongue not a social one. Most people here speak it competently out of necessity. Stumbling into deli stores and restaurants, I immediately realised I have to urgently learn some Italian phrases and numbers. It’s tiresome nodding, smiling and handing over excessively large notes.

In my experience, buying petty junk food alone is ruinously expensive in Venice and I don’t want to eat pizza every night because funghi is easy to pronounce. Meanwhile I have to forgive myself for being an island monoglot, I have been hired for English language skills after all.

For now at least, that’s my forte.

Nobody Expects the Spanish Revolution

2

As Madrid is more of a national capital than an international one like London or Paris, the British press have perhaps not given Spain’s “los indignados” the attention they deserve. Over 60, 000 Spanish youths held spontaneous protests in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia in May 2011, rebelling against the socialist government’s austerity measures. A decade of unemployment and emigration beckons for tens of thousands of Spanish graduates.

Youth unemployment among 16 to 29-year-olds is estimated to be around 45 per cent. Upturned in the Puerta de Sol are stolen crates, graffiti slogans and multiple plastic tents full of sticky protesters eating tinned food in brutally hot temperatures. Indignant in their defiance, the “los indignados” are demanding new jobs, public investment and changes to the government’s austerity plans but their wishes have fallen on deaf ears. Spain like so many other debt-ridden European nations has elected a centre-right government into power.

Madrid’s tent city should perhaps serve as a reminder that political dissent has not always been tolerated in Europe. For this red scar of rebellion may be gathering momentum in 2011 but situated in a former hospital is a heart stopping reminder of Spain’s fascist past. Forming an integral part of the holy trinity of Madrid’s historic art museums, the Museo Reina Sofía is renowned throughout the world for hosting Picasso’s Guernica.

Awe inspiring and superbly displayed, this icon of twentieth-century European art is one of the few universal masterpieces that commands a religious silence from all visitors. Displayed on the second floor, the art crowds flock to Guernica all year round and cross-legged school children listen attentively to the horrific origins of the painting. Picasso painted it as a response to the Luftwaffe bombing of Guernica for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exhibition in 1937.

As a universal symbol against the fight against fascism, Guernica is a brutal reminder that under General Franco Spain was a military dictatorship until the late 1970s. On forming a one party state, the Falange, political censorship was vigorously enforced under Franco. Trade unions were banned. Catalan, Basque and Galician languages were severely censured and political opponents were mercilessly executed. The majority of Britons will be unable to comprehend the level of repression suffered in Spain during this period. Most people in the UK understandably take the liberal fruits of universal suffrage and freedom of speech for granted.

Britain is one of the oldest and most stable democracies in the modern world, and has enjoyed peaceful growth from 1945 until the present day. Guernica is a potent reminder that Britain has enjoyed its most comfortable, safe and prosperous period in its living history. The global recession of 2008 has triggered violent rioting in Greece and led to tens of thousands of protesters kicking spokes in the hub of Madrid’s wheel.

Britain’s anti-cut march in London attracted over 200, 000 people but it feels strangely weak and deeply uninspiring compared to the demonstrations in Madrid. The protest was quickly forgotten after a day’s headlines. And it will be most likely remembered for the self-aggrandising violence of a hundred upper-middle class anarchists. Spain feels different.

Although history will judge how effective the Spanish revolution will be in what is going to be a very difficult decade for Europe. A generational time bomb is slowly ticking because of this economic crisis. Unemployment and living costs continue to rise across the continent. But if history is to offer any guide, and hard as this is to admit, sometimes you have to travel across your own borders to realise how lucky Britain really is.

FC Barcelona: A 21st Century Portrait

5

After watching Barcelona’s passing carousel against Arsenal last week, I sighed an enormous sigh of relief when they qualified for the Champions League quarter finals. For the idea of Barcelona not being crowned the best team of Europe doesn’t even bear thinking about. There is simply no team in the world that can play football in such a mesmerising fashion and their poetic style only serves to illustrate their regal superiority. Barcelona’s movement and anticipation of the ball is absolutely breathtaking and even their last gasp defending is beautifully poised.

While I have admired their brilliance for years, it was only after watching Barca in a deserted Spanish restaurant that I fully grasped their iconic power. When Messi scored his improvised opener against Arsenal it bore all the hallmarks of an era-defining side. Not so much the clinical passing or ingenious finishing but their goal celebration afterwards. Barcelona’s insatiable desire to win and hatred of losing is truly fanatical and they make my own team Manchester United appear workmanlike and ordinary.

As while family loyalties will always ensure I want United to win every game. Barca’s religious brilliance is so compelling it would be a miscarriage of justice if they don’t win the Champions League. However, football is a cruel game and the horrifying spectre of a compact tactical team like Real Madrid or Chelsea grinding out enough victories at the expense of Barcelona is a fate that has befallen many a great side.

Eric Cantona loved the famous Holland side of 1974 so much he wanted them to defeat his native France. Alas the magnificent Dutch side were unable to pass their way to World Cup glory thanks to a ruthless German team. And while the pioneers of total football are still fondly remembered as one of the greatest sides of all time, the lack of silverware is something that must haunt the Dutch.

Holland’s attacking flair of the 1970s inspired millions of fans across the globe and likewise the sublime brilliance of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi are going to be remembered for decades to come. Barcelona’s majestic flair offers no guarantee of success and the La Liga leaders could easily end the season with nothing. It would be a sporting tragedy but regardless of their trophy haul Barcelona are simply wonderful. The best team in the world whether they win it or not.

Nationalism is a Created Product

0

After attending the Pioneering Painters exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, I began to question why I never learned about the Glasgow Boys at school. Radical, bold and fervently European in their outlook, the Glasgow Boys represent a new progressive Scotland. However, the art collective remained off my cultural radar until I attended Glasgow University and stumbled upon their works at the nearby Kelvingrove Museum. On re-examining their most radical and exciting works at the Royal Academy of Arts, I drew an immediate contrast with Burns Night.

Reflecting back on my primary school days in Aberdeenshire, I vividly remember my P6 teacher’s poetry recital classes with ‘A Man’s a Man for all That’ being the proverbial jewel in the crown. With my Anglo-Irish vowels, I always dreaded Burns week and felt extremely self-conscious that I couldn’t recite verses in guttural Doric like my Aberdonian peers.

While I eventually grew to admire some of Burns vernacular gifts, I have remained curiously ambivalent about Burns Night. It always felt somewhat contrived to me. Almost like a post-modern image of Scottishness that bears no relevance to day-to-day life.

Burns Night is arguably the biggest literary event in the world with an estimated nine million people participating last year. A typical Burns night has poetry recitals, bagpipes and three courses of traditional Scottish fair, which usually involves cock-a-leekie soup, haggis, neeps and tatties and a complimentary dram.

With the greatest respect this dour cuisine is certainly not the most alluring of European dishes. If there is a Scottish restaurant in Rome or Barcelona then I certainly haven’t seen one. All the while the Haggis represents a comic sentimental image of Scotland and I find it deeply regrettable that a foul peasant condom is our national dish, when the nation’s glens, forests and lochs are home to some of the finest game and fish in Northern Europe.

Whereas other countries define themselves around wars, revolutions and kings, Scotland remains a stateless nation and embraces cultural nationalism to exert her identity. Burns Night remains consistent with the twee sentimental image of Scotland constructed by Sir Walter Scott in the nineteenth century.

After nearly two hundred years of progress, Scotland is still renowned for its kilts, whisky and majestic Highland landscapes. Anyone walking past a triumphant Visit Scotland billboard will be in no doubt of the country’s national identity. What is fascinating is that the Glasgow Boys emerged towards the end of the 1870s and radically vowed to challenge the sentimental Victorian obsession with the Highlands.

By challenging this twee conservative vision of Scotland, I found inspiration from the Glasgow Boys exhibition that there is an alternative to Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. The Glasgow Boys were bold, radical and experimental painters, whose stunning collection of works represent a genuinely progressive movement. A collection of artists that dared to look towards the Mediterranean and Japan for inspiration instead of turning inwards towards the Highlands.

What I find surprising is that the Glasgow Boys remain a quirky afterthought in Scottish culture. If I hadn’t stumbled upon their paintings in the Kelvingrove Museum, then I could easily have remained ignorant of their existence.

A truly confident country should look outwards for inspiration and I see no reason why the Glasgow Boys shouldn’t be universally affiliated with Scotland like Dali, Gaudi and Picasso are with Spain. It is regrettable that this radical confederation of painters have been unable to impose a greater cultural influence in their own country.

Robert Burns remains Scotland’s most iconic and influential poet but anyone tucking into their Haggis tonight should be under no illusions that nationalism is anything other than a created product.

%d bloggers like this: