Super selfie love story

Venice Evening

Sometimes 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. Spotify is a generic experience. Play, pause and repeat over and over again.

Collectively, we are going through the first phase of hyper acceleration. An unprecedented boom of global fertility has ensured everyone wants the same picture 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.

Everyday 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 a tiny prism of light, it’s a unique private moment, one shared with loved ones and liked 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 I enter a chaste world of silence and reflection.

Despite being ardently secular in my politics, I took comfort in this celestial refuge. Photography is banned in Venetian churches and the circus of life takes a deferential pause. With my rucksack weighing on my back, I sat 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.

I guess there is something about human nature that turns everything into a routine.

Forlorn rags of growing old

Sitting in a transparent glass case, about 120-foot-long, lies Jack Kerouac’s antidote to the forlorn rags of growing old at the British Library. Magnificent with all its creases, sellotaped edges and typos, Kerouac’s soul aspiring work of art commands a gasped silence. A stunning cathartic monument trapped inside an air-conditioned case that I once read On the Road (albeit the edited one – nobody told me at the time) in solemn isolation over a decade ago.

On reading the beat novel as a seventeen-year-old, I recall the fantasy, hedonistic sex and panoramic visions of America. Not something I could truly comprehend as a skeleton youth in northern Scotland, but I fondly recall writing down passages about purple grapes, whore houses, the fire cracking candles  and “looking at the ceiling and wondering what God had wrought when He made life so sad”.

This beautiful elegiac sigh once greeted me in a teenage love letter and formed the basis of a melodramatic Facebook status update many years later. Then as you get older and meet greater minds with even greater books, the Beat Generation feels rather clichéd and predictable. It isn’t either of those things but who doesn’t now yawn when they read about Route 66?

On pouring over the holy beat scroll at the British Library, I reminded myself that writing should be the rhythmic articulation of feeling. A sacred totem against mediocrity, sub-editing and the SEO inspired destruction of the English language, Kerouac’s words remain a soaring inspiration. Written in three weeks, single-spaced without paragraphs and corrected in pencil, his words are soaring, brave and utterly mesmerising. 

In a way you have to start writing before you turn thirty because in your late teens and early twenties you have absolutely no self-awareness. The sediments of your personality are tantalisingly incomplete and unbridled magic can still be spun. Age is a social construct – a conception of behaviour, attitudes and deeds but you do get tired eventually and experience is not always a good thing. It can act in barrier in a way and I suppose it’s an oxymoron to suggest you can rediscover your own naivety?

On this note, I will leave this post to some random American teenager, who unwittingly captured the spirit of On the Road on Facebook and funnily enough no one over the age of 30 could possibly get away this. More’s the pity because on walking around that transparent glass cage, I too want to turn this into something different, get out more often and be in more photographs.

On the Road: Jack Kerouac’s Manuscript Scroll will be on display at the British Library until Thursday 27th December 2012.

The Web is Not Great

Coming into work with your eyes stinging from the night before doesn’t require a night out to remember. The world is flooded with electronic light and it no longer requires anyone to go outdoors. After spending all day in front of a computer and returning home to converse in the same fashion, there appears to be more and more ways to communicate than things to say.

Cyberspace has become a black hole, where our thoughts and emotions are distributed on Facebook and Twitter, and sold on and repackaged to make a profit. God once commanded his flock to down tools on a Sunday but there is now an even more powerful designer in charge and like the celestial dictatorship of old he is entirely man-made.

With the internet going on strike over proposed anti-piracy laws, the Wikipedia protests only further exposed the excessive amount of time we spend online. Such a powerful new religion now requires a Sabbath. Luxury is a result of scarcity and what leather, travel and prawn cocktails were to the working classes in the early twentieth century, spending less time on the internet will be to the twenty first. As anyone with a compulsive refreshing habit will already realise there is something wrong with having permanently sore eyes.

Online activities are too passive to stimulate and often leaves the mind under-nourished but like junk food served in neon-aisles of 24-hour supermarkets it remains curiously addictive. In a world dominated by Twitter storms and hang outs, there is a never-ending spectre of what the computer industry calls ‘content’. But even the most erudite of web pages will leave you  feeling jaded after clicking the refresh button once too often.

With the Apple Ayatollahs of this world religiously defining their personalities through their digitally branded toys, a dangerous cult is emerging and abstinence is a potential cure. It may involve abandoning your phone and being disconnected for a few hours. Ignoring friends might not seem the most sociable way to re-engage your mind but anything that doesn’t involve being online is time worth cherishing.

Some cellular weary businessmen in the US are checking into ‘black hole’ resorts such as the Black Mountain Ranch on holiday. Granting them a chance to unplug and rediscover their love of literature and human conversation, the resort proudly boasts of having no Wi-Fi or television facilities. A Sabbath luxury of a different kind, these black hole resorts relieve the eyes of tedium by denying access to the greatest communications system of all time.

All man-made religions need challenging and especially one as powerful as the internet.  So when jumping down a black hole feels like a worthy alternative you know it’s time to put down the Kindle and reads as many books as you can.

Quarter of a Century

Glasgow is a city with a brooding gothic soul. A city I once wrote about regularly, even if it was just the banality of routine. With its violence menace, religious iconography and twee bourgeois sensibility, Glasgow captured my imagination at a particular period in time. Back when I described the insignificant truth of this solitary journey to the cinema on a cold weekday evening. A melancholy love letter so to speak. I had just turned twenty-five. 

Tuesday, 10th January 2006

Moth to a Flame

I go the cinema when I’m bored and lonely. It all begins with an over familiar route through the West End and after several twists and turns I will magically stride through Garnethill down towards the largest cinema building on Planet Earth.

The beginning of the journey is arguably the most comfortable upon the eye, it is invariably dark and rectangle shades of affluent light can be seen frozen behind coloured glass. I walk across the Byres Road up towards Great Gibson Street, where mercenary cranes hang over an underdeveloped patch of soil; it is a docile but rapidly changing stretch of road.

The sharp gradient tightens the muscles on both of my legs and I have reached the peak of the road, where in sudden twist of fate I feel compelled to go down the hill towards Gibson Street. I used to live around here, the car park is still a muddy disgrace, littered with crass aluminium shells and alien sized craters. The park dominates the area, it is a spooky place and lit only by a curved silver moon; its iron gates lie open but I dare not enter.

I stride past fancy Lebanese and Scottish restaurants, it is an ordinary night but they both appear full of people. I cross over the gentle river, there are no grebes or mallards to be seen and only now do I start to accelerate towards my destination. I twist past two Protestant churches and a cold young fox lying dead in the leaves. The road ahead is empty and without a soul, it appears darker now, the motorway is within walking distance.

I head towards Charing Cross, it is very quiet and all the cars have gone. It is not the right time but I prefer to take to the skies than walk alongside them. I adjust my legs and walk over an arched granite causeway; it elevates me above the carnage of the roads and provides access to the mysterious ways of Garnethill.

I am in the city now, there something sinister about this place, something threatening, although my mind is playing tricks on me. It is dark right now and no one is here. The street is awash with neat green lawns and vacancy signs, there are places to stay on my left, while to my right there are scattered bins and graffiti strewn fire exits.

I walk ominously closer and there is a Catholic Church approaching, which is separated by yew, rowan and a piercing iron fence. This secretive place of worship performs mass in Latin and the priest is kept hidden behind a secret silver veil. The church is small but intimidating and I don’t think it likes me at all. I walk on alone and without a God, the winter air is biting my cheeks, my hands are beginning to get cold now.

I walk towards the famous art school and admire its subtle and decorative style, there are no students in the nearby eighties lounge. I am almost there now and feel like a distant stranger, people are on the move down below me, there is a collection of buckfast and vodka sitting alongside a corrugated steel gate. The streets are colliding into one, there are cars passing by me, it is now sparkling with light and the silence has gone.