Wednesday, July 26, 2006

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Yesterday I decided to take a day trip down to Brighton with the flatmates to finally visit the ocean and all its ameneties after one whole year of separation.

I needed a break from the city, the news, and most importantly productivity in general. So onward to Brighton, which was very bright and right on, hence the name. To be honest I don't know much about the town's history, but I do now know a great deal about Prince Regent's Royal Pavilion, an Indian/Mosque-style palace that seems ill-suited for its prime spot in the city center--a more appropriate place would be next door to Vegas' Venetian Hotel.

Gout is what brought the young 20-something to Brighton in the late 18th c; he came for the therapeutic properties of the fresh sea water. The guy actually had his plumming fixed so that he could have his choice--sea water, freshwater, or normal water (whatever that meant back then) pumped into his bathtub. Since this dude didn't become King George IV until he was 58, he had a lot of time on his hands, as the Pavilion's poker-faced, uber-gaudy oriental motif can attest.

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Where the royal perv checked out ladies' hair and contemplated his next move.

What my Queen's English-speaking audio guide narrator failed to mention was that Georgie had another hobby other than Liberace-inspired interior design. He liked women, and he liked to cut off locks of their hair to be put in envelopes with their names on them after "intimate relations". Supposedly there were over 7,000 of these envelopes found in the palace.

The tour on the whole was uninspiring, but amusing nonetheless. We digressed, took a visit to the seaside.

The beach was rocky. And when I say rocky I mean, like, the sadistic younger cousin of sand--stones and such. We threw our towels on the rocks and layed out. At first I thought maybe it wouldn't be so bad, at least I wouldn't find unwanted beach stones in my bikini later. I couldn't get stones in my eyes or in my hair.

So I embraced the rocky beach, my friend Bobby even gave me a hot stone massage, which I'm sure I read was real big with the celebrities these days. It was almost relaxing, but the stones were pretty hot. And Brighton was in Palm Springs death mode when it came to heat, so the stones didn't help matters. So we swam, and it was glorious.

We then went to the Brighton Pier, a Victorian-era stretch of carnival games and rides, touristy pubs and fish and chips booths. After the two ice creams, "American-style" doughnut, and half bottle of Pimms, I really wasn't in the mood for fish and chips, like everyone else. I was determined to find some fresh oysters and/or mussels instead. Big mistake.

As everyone waited for me nearly a mile away, I found a shellfish stall and grabbed myself a 5 pound (as in currency, not weight) seafood platter with all sorts of unidentifiable crustaceans. I cannot explain my actions at this point, I don't know what it was that made me do it, but--I shoved a slimy, slug-looking creature into my mouth like it was a potato chip. After that, I ate tons of cockels, which nobody outside of a pikey East London pub (so says a British friend) should do. Cockels are the poor man's clams--they're scrawny pickled clams with bits of undigested sand still in their system. Also on board the ship of seafood hell were a few imitation crabs legs the size of infant's arms, and some chalky, cooked mussels. There were also a few miniscule shrimp thrown into the mix which only tasted of salt.

I don't know what brought this on, other than a bizarre psychological complex which compels me to crave seafood whenever I am surrounded by aquariums or the ocean.

Later we tried to jump aboard some rollercoasters but, go figure, in the dead of summer they were all under construction. I settled for the haunted house ride, which didn't upset my stomach as much as it should have, but was still good fun. All in all a good day, as my lobster-red skin won't let me forget the ocean and its ameneties.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

My trip to Spain, and the review it provided among other great things...

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I vaguely recall how it happened, but a few weeks ago I found a program that gave me a free trip to Spain for six days. The only hitch was that I had (btw sincere sarcasm in the word 'had') to spend five days in a four-star hotel and converse with some of the most charming people on the planet who simply needed practice speaking English. What I got was a concentrated dose of Spanish culture as told by Spaniards (btw and an awesome tan). Although there was not a lot of sight-seeing, I was able to check out the walls of Avilla and the capital city of Madrid for a few days. Little did I know, when I booked accomodations for my last night in Spain, that my hotel would be right next door to the art museum holding the Guernica. The following review, to be published on my future political arts website, ensued...

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Picasso’s Guernica: Tradition and Avant-garde

When Picasso’s now-iconic mural of the bombing of Guernica was unveiled at the Paris International Exhibition in 1937, it was met with coldness and discontent.

It was the middle of the Spanish Civil War, and the Spanish Left were wondering how this monochromatic, cubist monstrosity — at more than 11 feet high and 26 feet wide — of screaming women, children and animals, was going to advance the Spanish Republican cause. Where were the heroes in this painting, the vanguard that would bring the nationalists and the fascists down and proclaim victory?

To some, Picasso was short-sighted and indulgent in his depiction of suffering and destruction. He had missed the point of the exhibition. Alongside Guernica, a series of Spanish artists’ works were displayed proudly showing the glory of the resistance. One such piece was Alexander Calder’s Almadén, a fountain of water mixed with mercury to symbolize the prosperity of the town after a failed attack by General Franco. For it was Almadén’s mercury mines that made it a prime target for the nationalists, and the mercury-enriched water cheerily flowed like the waving of a victory flag.

Even at the height of Picasso’s career, the Guernica was not well-received. What those who initially dismissed his work did not realize was that Picasso would soon strike a chord in the hearts of millions the world over. With Guernica, Picasso portrayed one of the most endearing depictions of human suffering in war times. It is perhaps for this reason that Nelson Rockefeller donated a large reproduction of the work to hang in the Security Council Room of the United Nations. And perhaps it is for this reason that Colin Powell had a large blue curtain installed to shield the mural in 2003 for a televised press conference.

Beyond the Spanish Civil War, the Guernica was a telltale sign of things to come for Europe during WWII. Before that fateful bombing on April 26, 1937, the world had not seen such blatant use of civilians as military targets. In a town of seven thousand, 1,654 people were killed and 71 percent of the buildings were destroyed; all by German forces under Franco’s command. The ancient Basque city became a cause celebre around the world; and Picasso’s latest work was one with the zeitgeist.

Prior to Guernica, Picasso was a man with very little to zero interest in creating political art. In September of 1936, he had been commissioned by the Spanish government to contribute to the Paris exhibition. He sat on the assignment for eight months, and in that time had only come up with comic strips mocking General Franco entitled, Dream and Lie of Franco.

But on April 26, 1937, inspiration hit like a bolt of lightening; it struck via a Paris newspaper, as Picasso had been living there for the last few years. Five days later, the first sketchings of Guernica began, and would not end, even after the mural was complete. In total, there are more than sixty drawings pre and post-Guernica, all of which were not discovered until 1984.

Upon viewing the Guernica-related sketches, it is almost possible to see the line of thought behind the master; for what began as a very basic set of drawings (the scribblings of a child come to mind) slowly transforms into a very lucid vision of terror. The sketchings become a true meditation of fury, pain and heartache as seen through the eyes of women, children and animals.

In a close-up of a woman holding a child, for example, Picasso has pointedly given the character bulging, almost fish-like eyes searching the heavens, and a cavernous mouth with a piercing tongue lashing out. It is basic characteristics such as these that communicate so effectively with the viewer to reveal deep, horrific emotions. The humanity felt through Picasso’s sketches is ever-present; and its impact magnified to larger-than-life proportions through Guernica.

The great mural and its related drawings have held a home in Madrid since their relocation from the New York MOMA in 1981. Until the 3rd of September 2006, the museum will be celebrating this 25th anniversary with an exhibit called “Picasso: Tradition and the Avant-garde”. Among a treasure trove of Picasso works lye two very noteworthy pieces in the long history of visionary Spanish political art. Édouard Manet’s 1869 oil painting of the execution of the Emperor Maximilien and Goya’s The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid (1814) are portrayed as precursors to the political work of Picasso, especially when viewed alongside his 1951 piece, Massacre in Korea.

But as the Guernica firmly rests in Madrid, its spirit and message continue to float around the globe and through the ages assuring that the human cost of war will not be forgotten.

Friday, July 07, 2006


So a few months back I wrote a post about being real fashionable in my bizarre little houndstooth scarf. All I knew was, all the funky London kids who frantically plunder the Portobello market stalls every weekend had em. I saw a lady who worked for the Guardian wearing one at one point. I had to have one.

And then a friend pointed it out--I was wearing a keffiyeh, a tradtional head scarf worn by Palestinians. Trendy westerners started wearing them five years ago in the Bay Area, according to her, but out here in London they're just a quirky, table cloth-lookin houndstooth scarf and super-trendy. Palestine smalistine. I mean, I don't mind people thinking that I support Palestine, I'd just rather not wear my politics and religion on my sleeve, especially without knowing it.

A few weeks back I even noticed a cute little keffiyeh-style sun dress in a trashy fashion magazine. They called it the "Arabic print Religion dress", and claim 'it's such a cool holiday buy..wear it over your bikini!'
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This isn't the first time I've noticed mideast-infulenced fashion. This past spring, I wrote this article for an online magazine project for the theme of "political prisoners":

Political Prisoner Chic

This season’s Paris Fashion Week commenced in what seemed like standard catwalk fare: John Paul Gaultier’s gaunt beauties dressed in frayed, gothic messes to match the live dogs they walked in with, Comme Des Garcons paired gender-bending dress and suit combos with Venice carnival masks, and some designers even presented models with complete head masks. Yes, complete head masks. If political prisoner chic were ever in fashion, this is what it would look like.

Top designers such as Viktor & Rolf, Undercover, and British fashion legend Vivienne Westwood saw models donning head masks — some of which eerily resembled those worn by torture victims in Abu Ghraib Prison.

At Viktor and Rolf, 50s-era secretary styles teamed with fencing face masks to compliment fishnet stockings, creating a sinister take on the classic feminine suit dress. The suitably named Undercover presented models that had apparently lost an epic battle of fabric vs. man. Not one inch of flesh was shown, as tall boots, gloves, and of course head masks all meshed together in one monotonous blend of neutral tones. The head coverings were especially troubling, however, as they appeared as nothing more than thin sacks tied up to created a point at the top. Models were reportedly stumbling and bumping into each other throughout the show, as they were blinded considerably.

At Vivienne Westwood, a few of the ensembles included knitted head wear which could only be described as a tilted sack stitched together by a colorblind African tribeswoman. While the shape of the head gear was straight out of Abu Ghraib, the colors and patterns made the whole concept of a head mask seem almost cheery.
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And while these ostensibly innocuous accessories were not directly linked to torture victims in Abu Ghraib, Westwood’s collection was dedicated to high profile American prisoner Leonard Peltier. Native American Leonard Peltier was given two consecutive life sentences after being charged with the killings of two FBI agents in a standoff at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975.

Peltier’s guilty status is highly contested throughout the world. Now approaching his 30th year of imprisonment, Peltier is considered a political prisoner by Amnesty International, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, and the European Parliament.

Just last month, a District Judge in New York overturned an appeal to release FBI documents regarding the incident at Pine Ridge as it was in the interest of “national security” to keep the records private.

Westwood, who has campaigned adamantly for Peltier’s release over the years, told Reuters, “Leonard Peltier is innocent,” while pointing to an illustration of a blue, winged penis with the words “Innocent” on it. The penis, according to Westwood, is a Greek symbol of good luck.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


In the gumtree classifieds (a Craigslist for Brits), I found it, my dream job: A writer and editor and receptionist to tourists at the Sherlock Holmes Museum. I would write articles for the cleverly titled, "Baker Street Times" (where the museum is located, as well as Holmes' supposed home). My name is all over this job. It must be mine.

This would involve, according to the ad, some creative writing skills, effective communication skills to greet international visitors, and an enthusiasm for the Victorian era.

Before I could email the museum, I did some research and thoroughly read up on Victorian slang, popular art such as fairy paintings done by absinthe and opium-heads, Victorians and the paranormal, Victorians and the fear of science and technology (i.e. Frankenstein),Dickens, etc. etc. I am now the Victorian expert.

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The Fairy's Funeral, John Anster Fitzgerald

They asked for example articles and I provided ample--one about a prostitute (they called them "dollywops")washed ashore the River Thames, one about a skeptical doctor who died during a seance, and one about a theif known for targeting art dealers' carriages.

Still waiting to hear back from them...

Oh yeah, and Kenneth Lay is still dead. Surprisingly not roaming the mean streets of Aspen trolling for young maidens whose blood he can suck with the assistance of enormous canine teeth.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


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The Millennium Dome in London. Future site of Elvis impersonators and all-you-can-eat lobster feasts?

The other morning, as I lay in bed with Radio4 in the background, my conscious had a massive civil war with my subconscious.

This is how I "wake up" in the morning, getting my daily dose of the best news radio program in the world. Problem is, sometimes I can't differentiate between my dreams and the top British stories. This morning I could have sworn I heard something about Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, the Millennium Dome, and casinos--super casions, to be exact.

Later in the day I found out, fully conscious, about the whole sordid Prescott story. It wasn't a dream after all.

Just some background: this is the third Prescott scandal in the last two months, and these Limeys just can't get enough! First, there was the affair with the secretary (pretty big fuss)then, about a month later, he was caught PLAYING CROQUET on his country estate when he was supposed to be in the office (massive fuss), and now this--the man was found to be "in bed" so to speak with the billionaire owner of the Millenium Dome who wants to turn it into London's first super-casino.

Prescott was found to have visited the Texas ranch of billionaire Dome owner Philip Anschutz a total of SEVEN times, on the British taxpayers' dime. I mean, to the British, this is a huge deal, it's like, as crazy as paying billions per year to keep an old lady prancing around in a royal palace with outrageous million-dollar tiaras! Outrageous!

The interview this morning between Radio4's John Humphreys and Prescott showed the ever-intrepid John Humphreys in top form. Excerpt from interview:

Humphreys: Why should the British taxpayer pick up the bill for you and indeed your officials going to stay with a very rich man to indulge your interest in cattle and cowboys?

Deputy PM Prescott: Well, I would say it's to whether the charity money should be used, that's a legitimate point made and I would, I never got into the details of it, I just assumed all those matters of payment for accommodation wherever you were [unintelligible] was cleared and arranged by the Department and that's what happened, and you're quite right to raise that question but in fact it wasn't one that was put to me.

Pow! Kazam! Take that bumbling jerkface.