Sunday, April 09, 2006

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Last christmas' Tussauds version of the manger scene featuring Samuel L Jackson, Blair, Bush, Kylie Minogue and the of course the Beckhams.

Just the other week, my travel writing instructor decided to surprise everyone by taking us to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. It was an early Saturday morning, and I had not prepared myself for the journey that lay ahead.

First of all, I never made an attempt to go the "museum" on my own, on the grounds that I had visited the Hollywood Wax Museum as a small child and was genuinely freaked out by the experience. Second, that fateful Saturday morning I was in a surreal, barely-functional state known as the hangover. And my assumptions that these otherworldy wax monsters would be quaintly tucked away behind a glass partition was blown as I suddenly found myself surrounded by these things. My gut instinct was to equate them with human taxodermy.

Let me just say that Tussauds is an amazing institution in many respects. Madame Tussaud began making her statues in the late 18th c. A housekeeper of a physician who used wax statues for medical studies, Tussaud took waxworking to a whole new level by re-creating scenes from the French Revolution by using actual decaptitated hands and heads as her models. Today, you can see these same figures restored in all their morbid glory.

The first room you enter gives a clear indication as to just what the frequenters of the museum want: they want to pose with "celebrities", and they want to capture it on film. Basically, you enter a room designed to look like a Hollywood gala. You've got Madonna sitting on a bench with "VIP" written in the background, you've got Travolta, Cruise, Pitt and Angelina, you've got your Lopez prominently displaying her backside, and you've got all the mundane British celebrities your bubblegum-chewing brain can take before going into d-list celebrity overload, like Graham Norton or some cheesy celebrity chef.

The room with prominent historical figures is eerily quizzical, to say the least. Hitler is beside Churchill, Bush and Blair stand side by side, with Sadam to Bush's right and Jamie Oliver to Blair's left. Sadam was barely recognizable. I thought he could pass for Fidel Castro's brother. He was clad in a plain khaki jumpsuit with a very large semi-automatic weapon strapped to his leg.

I highly encourage anyone in or visiting the London metropolitan area to pay your respects to Tussaud. These statues are so bizarre; so creepily similar to their real-life counterparts. And you are allowed to touch them. When I stroked the balding head of London mayor Ken Livingstone, I swear it was real human hair.

The Las Vegas Tussauds just this week unveiled its Tupac Shakur statue, fittingly, in an odd, somewhat "ironic" (to use the term in its improper form, here I am referring to the term as defined by Alanis Morrisette), kind of way as Shakur was in fact gunned down in sin city.

"Museums" like this, as kitschy and pointless as they may appear, reflect so much about a society and culture if heroes and icons are anything to go by.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


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A view of London from the top of Parliament Hill in the Hampstead Heath.

A lot of people find jogging--and joggers--boring, but I've always been fortunate enough to jog in some of the most amazing places in the world and, in a sense, have felt more connected to them by doing so.

As Guy Browning, one of my favorite Guardian columnists wrote:
"Jogging, like heavy metal, becomes interesting only when done at an intensity that threatens to burst something vital to the body."

I was reflecting on that just this morning, as I nearly choked on the crisp, chilly air like an emphysema patient with a clogged voice box. Now I have suffered a lack of cardiovascualr activities in recent times, but in this case I was making a fighting effort to tackle a very steep hill. Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath to be exact, where you can view all of London--including the Gherkin and the London Eye.

I haven't properly jogged since I lived in Santa Cruz, where, in just under five minutes, I could reach a beach with a Coney Island-style boardwalk to the right of me, and a yacht harbor complete with light house to the left. Just before that, I was living near Capitol Hill; in 10 minutes of jogging I could reach the Washington Monument, running along the Reflecting Pool and culminating in a visit to ole Honest Abe.

But I reckon that most people, even those living in the most gentrified mess of tract-home hell that is suburbia, can find a sense of pride and connectedness with their surroundings by simply putting their feet to the pavement and roaming free. The mundane can become active and alive; the foreign and unfamiliar becomes your playground.