Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Heart of Darkness

In typical style I didn't pay attention to time and found myself a little vulnerable and stranded in a quiet border town in eastern Thailand one night a couple of weeks ago. Stuck with me was an Italian man called Renda on a visa run from Cambodia who was usefully fluent in Thai. So we booked rooms in a seedy motel and went out for dinner in one of the street cafes.

I couldn't help but notice that Renda, a huge, bald, handsome man in his fifties who's lived in Asia for twenty years and more, looked remarkably like Brando's rendition of Kurtz. He talked about his plans to go live in the interior of the Cambodian jungle with his two little sons, no longer able to stomach the money driven modern tourist culture ruining his playground. His sons' mother, a methamphetamine-addicted filipina, 'a bad woman,' he said, died from an infection after childbirth. Renda shed me some crocodile tears as he lamented his sons’ futures, producing their passports as if for my inspection. He related how he'd had to steal the beautiful little boys away from their mother's family, and the care of the authorities, as they think he's a paedophile, and how he’s unable to re-enter Europe for similar reasons. As the night deepened he talked about growing up on the streets of the old world, escaping death three times (showing me the bullet wounds) in the rundown estates and red light districts of Italy and the Netherlands, before becoming a kick-boxing champion and abandoning the constraints of Europe for the freedoms of the East. He held forth about humanity's origins and our possible futures, with a traveller and trickster's encyclopedic knowledge of the world; an anthropologist and a world historian living by a set of theories based on his experiences rather than books. He managed to remind me of both characters from that ace scene in True Romance where Dennis Hopper provokes Christopher Walken into shooting him; a compulsive combination of stories, crazy theories and charming old world manners that almost, but not quite, concealed the sense of controlled violence underlying his immense physical form. His laugh was rare but deep and attractive when it came, his eyes sparkled as he talked. They missed nothing. He asked me almost nothing about my life, though interested in my theories about things, but he'd noticed the tiniest of scars from a childhood accident on my shin in the gloom under the table. He bought me dinner and he absolutely terrified me.

There's a fine line between madness and mere self delusion when it comes to all these middle aged European men losing themselves in South East Asia I find. How much of what Renda told me was truth was very open to question as we played our little game of confidence over fried rice and Singha beer. Some people equate power and freedom with money and possessions, others with admirable modern notions like democracy and equality and individual rights. The origins of these inter-twining and often hypocritical values lie in all our ongoing shared colonial histories. Like Kurtz, Renda has rejected these values, along with the modern world that's spawned them, for his own where he can play by his own social and sexual rules, timeless ones where power's wielded over and within other people - the bodies, words and minds of oppressor and oppressed - grey areas between nature and culture that defy easy description and moral prescription.

On some level it didn't really surprise me when my third beer tasted funny. It was after midnight and I'd begun to wonder what his move, when it came, was going to be. Now I'm not particularly well-travelled, and let’s face it am often naive, as I find it more interesting to keep an open mind, but I can safely say that in Manchester I received an adequate education in the land of the rinse. I drank no more, and then with the equally timeless proviso 'Don't Go White' playing round my brain as his eyes bore into mine, I managed to keep chatting as reality warped around me and what felt a bit like a fat line of kenny hit my limbs. But I hadn't drank much of the beer and after a little while, when I felt sure I could walk again, I politely beat a retreat.

The next day I could still see his darkness in the landscape from the window of the bus to Bangkok, despite the brightness of the early morning sunshine - it was there in the shadows under the trees, the decapitated frame of a car... the guy on the seat in front turned round and had a piece of liquorice instead of an eye. I'd reached the limits of my anthropology I mused, participant observation in a fairly standard Asian female experience of sexual exploitation a little beyond me. I've already related the story to friends, tagging it up with facile labels of 'weirdo' and 'perv' and 'lucky escape' that deny any implication for the sake of ease and neatness. But before I arrived back in supposed civilization, the falsely light and carefree front that constitutes mass crass tourism in Thailand, and stopped thinking about it, it occurred to me that once or twice there it could have gone either way. For a second that morning I wondered how much of the darkness that was still unsettling me might be my own.

"That voice was a deathless song"
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Friday, December 29, 2006

Spotted in Waterstones whilst Christmas shopping....

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Time keeping its own time

I finished "One Hundred Years of Solitude" on Lonely Beach this afternoon. It's a very funny book. And, like love affairs, the isolated South American town of Macondo exists outside of time. The book's matriarch, Ursula Buendia, lives so long and sees so much that she becomes convinced that life moves in great cycles; dejectedly watching her family's vices, trials and tribulations repeated and re-played across the generations. But it's not just in evading modernity's penchant for timekeeping that Macondo is peculiar; Garcia Marquez's final alchemical masterstroke reveals how past, present and the future have existed all at once, side by side, simultaneously, throughout its history. Putting the book down I knew this to be true, as once I looked into a man's face and could already feel the beginning and the end of our love affair, years before it started.

I got drunk with some Parisian guy after it got dark, before realising I was a little stranded in the countryside. South East Asian time still revolves around the habits of the sun and the moon far more than in the 'liberated' west, and there were no more buses back up to the north of the island. But it all worked out. This kind of thing happens nearly daily as I slip and slide across countries with the same laissez-faire attitude I applied to my former life, always a little last-minute, never entirely sure where I'm going, or when, how or even why half the time. Things tend to be fine if you have faith and don't sweat it I find, and even if they don't, something far more interesting inevitably follows. Things and people come along in their own time, although this approach occasionally malfunctions. When I finally discovered the perfect house-warming gift for some friends at the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok the other day; it only made me cry since it's far too late, they've already moved out and on.

In Bangkok I saw 'Driving Lessons' at the Siam Lido, a most welcome dose of eccentric Englishness. Christian and literary worlds collide around an unusual friendship, with a cute Sufjan Stevens and Salsa Celtica soundtrack. Before the movie they showed Nike-sponsored short doc 'Total Bangkok' about lads playing football under a Bangkok underpass, on a pitch they've rigged up and fund themselves. It's pretty good, the team even thrashes the Thai under 20 squad, though they're at an advantage on their home turf.
Filmmaker Pen-ek Ratanaruang realises by the end that he's making a film about what makes people happy, helps them forget themselves. "'Don't worry be happy' sang Bobby McFerrin. 'Just do it' says Nike" he muses, before concluding they're really saying the same thing. It's a very Thai sentiment to boot. Also very Thai was standing to attention before the films to sing the national anthem and pay respect to the King. Everyone loves the King in Thailand. The world's longest serving monarch, he's a real figurehead, his image as ubiquitous as the Buddha. And he regularly steps in to look after the interests of the people.

Well you rarely see the sun going down where I've been living in Tonsai in the South, so I've been soaking up the sunsets during a timeout trip over to Koh Chang, in the East. I thought about my nature-loving Swedish friend Niklaus as I watched it doing its thing earlier, remembering how we sped down the river Kinabatanguan into the dusk in North Borneo, eyes peeled for wildlife along the last ribbon of jungle. Sandwiched between palm plantations, long ago logged, the rainforest's demise is imminent said the local lads. Like Macondo, we're out of time. But then again, as the sun sets, the seasons have changed again and the King is reborn. And tomorrow I'll run into Niklaus on the beach at White Sands, though I don't know it yet, and we'll arrange to go diving together in a few months time.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

"Love affairs are outside time. The beginning is in the end. The end is in the beginning. The beginning goes on after the end."

It began and ended on one of his ridiculous benders.
It began and ended in his fucking car.

I have learned that I am a better woman than I first thought. There have been times in my life when I have been incapabale of accepting the realities of certain situations, but this time I have no will to fight.

"I can see your eyes and your hair in the trees" he once told me. Well, as the night draws in, my colours have blown from the landscape. Like the leaves I drift into winter.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Fuck, the "women in the music industry" debate rears it's stupid head into the debate once again. I'm overjoyed that The Gossip frontwoman, Beth Ditto, is topping the Enemy Cool List. But, fuck me, define me by my uterus and go and give yourself a blow job.

Women have inspired rock and roll since year dot and I can't believe it's even an issue that women make records. Celebrate the difference in the music that is made, notice the nuance and sing along if you dare (boys).

I recently gave a lecture to a class of Music Management, 18 year old students. Half of them were girls and they are better equppied to deal with the vague job roles of the music industry. They can selflessly leave their egos at the door when dealing with the 60% ass holes that you find yourself dealing with in that line of work. They can play off up to five different, difficult bastards who think that the world revolves around their feckless artists. Dealing with each of their individual, thankless tasks with equal care and attention.

Men are easy to work with, it's when you get TOO many girls on board that you have problems.

I'm so pissed off and bored that I googled myself and was pleasantly reminded that I've written some good reviews in my life:

Queens of the Stone Age ages ago

also Gomez

Sometimes I think that's probably the smartest I've ever been. I've been asked to write an article about Chris Anderson and beside from fucking up a live web interview with him, I have no proir knowledge. But as I have no other employment, and at the moment no other purpose in life, I shall take on the task.