Saturday, September 15, 2007

Stop the World, I Want to Get Off

Stop the World, I Want to Get Off 1

Poster Boy for Post-lexia

A guy who thinks Shakespeare is "the geezer who directed that Romeo & Juliet movie with Leo DiCaprio in it" wins Big Brother. Imbecility is a vote-winner. Brian is the perfect poster boy for our media-corrupted, post-lexic society.

Stop the World, I Want to Get Off 2

McCann Mania

The McCanns guilt, like the Portuguese police's competence, is still to be established. It should be transparently obvious, as its the axiomatic principle that our (and the Portuguese) legal system is based upon, that they're innocent until proven guilty, but the burden of proof, in the popular mindset at least, seems to have switched to the McCanns to prove their innocence.

The media-led lynch mob mentality metastasises exponentially. Trial by media, innuendo and, with the advent of the blogosphere, global gossip, is now commonplace. The media pendulum inevitably swings from hype to backlash. Rumour, conjecture, speculation and misinformation served up as truth, devoured by a voracious public's seemingly insatiable appetite for schadenfreude.

The Portuguese police don't seem to have much of a case, and appear to think that using their lackeys in the Portuguese press to spread vicious innuendos about the McCanns is a dignified way to discharge their duties. This is a tragic situation with far too many people rushing to judgement. The McCanns were, certainly, guilty of a terrible error of judgement in leaving their kids alone in that apartment, but some of the conspiracy theories, rumours and conjecture that are emanating from the press, both British and Portuguese, are patently absurd, not to mention libelous. The media, collectively, seem to be convulsing in pernicious paroxysms of hallucinatory hysteria.

I'll warrant the Keystone Cops could have conducted a more thorough investigation than the PJ and the misinformation being leaked to the press by "sources close to the investigation" is scandalous. If they devoted as much time to looking for Madeleine (or her body), securing crime scenes and handling such evidence as does exist more responsibly (than they seem to spend leaking salacious "information" to the Portuguese media) then they might have cracked the case long before now.

Once upon a time there was a maxim, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." In today's "idiocracy", every yob with a keyboard thinks they have a right to lob verbal boulders at whoever they please.

Stop the World, I Want to Get Off 3

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Concerned investors queue round the block to withdraw their funds from "impecunious" Northern Rock. Material Girl Madonna needs to get hip to the postmodern zeitgeist: "We're living in a media-led miasma."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

An "It" Girl's Guide to the Idiocracy

Big Brother's blatant favouritism towards vile, name-dropping narcissist/wannabe WAG, Charley Uchea is producing a plethora of conspiracy theories, but there is an inexorable logic behind Endemol's decision to turn their decreasingly-popular "reality" tv show, BB, into the grotesque soap opera now known as The Charley Show.

The spin-off series is, allegedly, a “done deal.” Tentatively titled, “The “It” Girl’s Guide to International Diplomacy” it’ll see our newest reality tv “star” use her streetwise Sarf-London conflict-resolution strategies to solve a few of the world’s most sensitive political impasses.

First stop is Moscow, where Miss Uchea plans to put Putin in his place, once she finally gets the message that The Litvinenko Affair didn’t involve Chelsea’s new Russian striker getting a BJ under a table in Stringfellow’s VIP lounge. Well, they did send us Polonium-210, so sending them the equally toxic Charley could certainly be viewed as a proportionate response under international law.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Has the novel been murdered by the mob?


For the last month, a deep, almost mournful, silence has hovered over New York publishing circles. After eight years and 86 episodes, The Sopranos is finished. No longer will it be acceptable to veer mid-conversation from Don DeLillo into David Chase's fictional New Jersey, where Cadillac-driving mobsters hack at each other with Homeric style. No more will we speculate on where Carmela Soprano buys her teal pantsuits.

From coast to coast, from white-wine sipping yuppies to real life mobsters, The Sopranos has had Americans talking - even those of us not familiar with the difficulty of illegal interstate trucking or how to bury a body in packed snow. While the New York Times called upon Michael Chabon, Elmore Leonard and Michael Connelly to resurrect the serial novel in its Sunday Magazine, critics were calling Chase the Dickens of our time. The final episode roped in some 11.9 million viewers. One major question, though, remains. Has Tony Soprano whacked the American novel?

More here

Thursday, July 05, 2007


David Lynch's wonderful Inland Empire is due to be released on DVD on 20th August. The 2-disc special edition is rumoured to contain up to 90 minutes of deleted scenes. I've been wanting to write a review of IE for months, but it was a forbidding prospect. It would be unforgiveable to reduce such a complex work of art to mere words, the temptation would be to expand upon it, but translating the movie into the verbal realm, even if the tribute were of biblical proportions, would still seem unforgiveably reductive. A saxophone solo from an intinerant musician, or perhaps an elongated groan from a performance artist, would constitute an equally effective tribute. Extemporisation is the only option. As Jim Emerson said on
"Inland Empire" opens and contracts in your imagination while you watch it -- and you're still watching it well after it's left the screen. It's a long but thoroughly absorbing three hours (perhaps necessary for a movie that continually readjusts perceptions of time), but I feel like it's not over yet. It's still playing in my head, like a downloaded compressed file that's expanding and installing itself in my brain.
Nevertheless, here are a few disparate, loosely-connected, poorly-constructed thoughts on why I love it so much:

Inland Empire is an experience. It's Lynch's most experimental movie since Eraserhead and, in my opinion, his greatest work to date.

I love aspects of every David Lynch movie, with the exception of the turgid sci-fi epic Dune, but rarely have these great moments, scenes and ideas combined to constitute a coherent whole (though, I guess, coherence isn't really the point with Lynch). I love the way he uses sound and his affinity for music, I love his "painterly" compositional style and I love the way he eschews conventional narrative and linear plot development in favour of a more impressionistic "dream-logic." I also like the way in which the identities of his characters fragment and, often, fuse with eachother and the way in which time seems to fold in on itself during his movies, leaving the audience adrift, without a map and with very few clues, lost in Lynch's rich and strange multiverse.

Nevertheless, I was often frustrated by the more whimsical, sentimental, faux-naive aspects of Lynch's work (evident in Twin Peaks, Wild at Heart and the majority of Mulholland Dr.) I always thought Lynch had the potential to create a true surrealist masterpiece, but felt that his tendency to leaven his uncompromising vision, and the intensity of his insight into the human condition, with self-consciously "wacky" humour and cloying sentiment undermined his credentials as, potentially, the most gifted and challenging artist working within the medium of film. Much as I adored and admired Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Wild at Heart, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr., there were always clumsy interludes, heavy-handed humour that fell flat, irrelevant and inconsequential plot strands that went nowhere, kitsch indulgences, scenes where Lynch seemed to be parodying himself and sentimental, pseudo-moralistic subtext. Though undeniably brilliant, Mulholland Dr. was, structurally, a mess: understandably so as it began as a pilot for a tv series that was never made (it was rejected by the US tv network ABC) and Lynch grafted the last third of the movie on to his tv pilot at a later date, after securing funding from the French studio Canal Plus.

~Despite his pedigree and reputation, Lynch is far too much of a maverick to secure significant funding and, perhaps most importantly, final cut, from within the conservative, risk-averse Hollywood system: I suspect financial imperatives, flexibility and creative control were critical factors in his decision to switch to DV on IE. ~

However, I thought MD really kicked into gear from Naomi Watts' pivotal, and brilliant, "audition" scene onwards. What started out as a predictable, if cryptically told, tale of a naive neophyte being chewed up and spat out by the Hollywood system (a metaphor for Lynch himself, no doubt), metamorphosed into a much more impressionistic odyssey into the dark heart of Hollywood. It was this last third of MD and my, hitherto, favourite Lynch movie, Lost Highway (a virtually uncategorisable, but genuinely scary movie ~ "horror noir"?) that made me think that Lynch was capable of being a truly unique and subversive influence in contemporary cinema.

Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. seem like basic arithmetic compared to the quantum physics of Inland Empire.

Inland Empire (Lynch insists on referring to it as "INLAND EMPIRE", but I think that's just another ironic affectation: Lynch works his magic incrementally, by stealth ~ unlike his character (Agent Gordon Cole) in Twin Peaks, he doesn't need to shout) is the movie I've been waiting for Lynch to make for the last 20 years. It's surreal, scary, impressionistic, intuitive, labyrinthine, erotic, entrancing, exhilirating, enigmatic, frustrating, confusing, disturbing, makes no sense, yet it seems to resonate coherently several layers beneath the sophisticated, and perhaps obfuscatory, Apollonian constructs of language and culture, deep within the Dionysian subconscious.

Inland Empire is completely unlike anything else I've ever seen (or, I should say, experienced: it is truly synaesthetic art, not merely a visual stimulant). If the last third of Mulholland Dr. was an exercise in disorientation, following an ostensibly conventional introduction, then Inland Empire starts by depositing us in an unfamiliar location, stripped of any reassuringly recognisable landmarks, forgoes any preliminary pretence of orientation and propels us, blindfold, into a series of ever-more alien landscapes. I won't even attempt to summarise the plot, but, in general terms, Inland Empire is a movie about the process of making (or rather re-making) a "cursed" movie based on a Polish gypsy folk tale. The remake ("On High in Blue Tomorrows"), the original, the supernatural folk tale, the participants' "real" identities and the identities of the characters they play and the identities (and roles) of the participants in the original movie (and even the "meta-movie", "Inland Empire") fuse to confusing and bemusing effect.

Time, like narrative, doesn't unfold in a conventional linear fashion in Inland Empire, characters and identities conflate confusingly. Like a William Burroughs novel, Inland Empire is a chaotic kaleidoscope of cut-ups, fold-ins, wild extemporisations, impressionistic elaborations and surreal non-sequitors.

At least a quarter of the movie is in Polish and, on the most recent occasion that I saw it (I've seen it 3 times now), the cinema, accidentally, showed a print without the English subtitles. I felt genuinely sorry for those who were sitting through the movie for the first time, labouring under the understandable misapprehension that Lynch had simply decided to make sections of the 3-hour-long movie even more incomprehensible by decreeing that the characters should converse in, defiantly un-subtitled, Polish (if I remember rightly, he pulled a similar stunt in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, by including a long scene, at the "Bang Bang Bar", in which the dialogue was rendered almost completely inaudible by loud music, and he only included, much-needed, subtitles in a later print, or perhaps only on the subsequent DVD release, so, it was, at least, plausible that the unwary might have thought that Lynch had omitted the subtitles in IE by design).

Anyway, suffice to say, Inland Empire is a truly unique experience. The way in which Lynch merges and melts scenes into subsequent scenes is amazing. Early on in the movie, he, quite derivatively, uses a trick that the Monty Python first used back in the 70s ~ the one where a character is watching a show on tv, the camera glides "into" the tv and the tv show itself becomes the dominant narrative for a while before fusing with the "meta"-narrative to produce a new synthetic narrative, but that's just the starting point: there are scenes that literally seem to bleed into the next and others that seamlessly segue into the subsequent scene primarily through judicious mixing and editing of sound and music rather than image (sometimes accompanying dissonant visual juxtapositions) or sometimes the visual transition is smooth, but the soundtrack provides a jarring, ironic counterpoint.

The grainy, murky "texture" of DV seems to be conducive to Lynch's surealist flourishes. In IE, the medium is an accessory to Lynch's misdirection: it conceals more than it reveals ~ the shadows seem more ominous and amorphous. Ill-defined shapes seem to shift in a more supernatural way and a ghostly residue of the previous scene often seems to linger, and eventually, dissipate after the transition to the next scene. In Inland Empire, DV is used to both ugly and beautiful effect, but, it seems to me, that's wholly consistent with Lynch's dualistic modus operandi.

I don't want to prioritise any particular scene or try to rationalise a defiantly irrational plot, but the ending of Inland Empire is wonderful. It's light, playful and uplifting and it contrasts beautifully (some might say inexplicably) with the dark, foreboding tone of the rest of the movie. Without giving too much away for those who haven't seen it, it's a cool musical routine to a Nina Simone song ("Sinnerman") and Lynch even drops characters/ideas from Mulholland Dr. & Twin Peaks into the mix.

That final scene in IE is probably the loosest, funkiest thing he's ever done and it ends the movie on an audaciously upbeat note. It's a bit like The Exorcist ending with a song and dance routine, though, needless to say, there are moments throughout the movie where Lynch leavens the intensity of his vision with characteristically idiosyncratic humour and surreal musical interludes, but the context is always so unremittingly sinister that those "lighter" moments are eviscerated of their conventional significance, like the ironic laughter track attached to a bleak, ominous "sitcom" (featuring humans dressed as rabbits) that the movie keeps "sampling"/segueing into.

The ending betrays a genuine lightness of touch/beguiling sweetness though. While it could certainly be interpreted as an ironic comment on cinematic happy endings, it feels authentic and, almost, recontextualises the rest of the movie, though there are so many different layers to this movie that it would be unwise to attribute any greater level of "authenticity" to any individual scene than any other. Nevertheless, it's a cathartic moment and you end up leaving the cinema with a feeling of exhilarating release from a nightmarish journey.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Swingin' Sounds for Hipsters vol.5

My latest iMix is now available.

This one's subtitled "Hip Bop, Voodoo Grooves and Galactic Jazz."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

My IHIQS Members' Spotlight Interview

From time to time, I've been asked why my blog reveals little or nothing about the "real" me. Why is the name vaguely Spanish-sounding and why do I take refuge behind the pseudonym of a dead Romanian playwright? Well, my modus operandi is misdirection: post-modern prestidigitation rather than pop revelation.

Nevertheless, my friend Laura recently asked me to do an interview for a society she helps to run, the IHIQS , and, with uncharacteristic candour, I agreed to reveal a little of "myself." I figured I might as well reproduce it here. It's out there anyway so it might as well be in here:

Where are you from – originally and at present?

Originally, I’m from a small town in southwest Scotland called Dumfries. Like many small Scottish towns, Dumfries is a net exporter of mediocre students to institutions of further education in central Scotland. Once seduced by the bright lights and hedonistic delights of the big city, the finest young provincial minds rarely return. Consequently, I’ve been mining an ever-diminishing seam of faux-sophistication in Edinburgh for over a quarter of a century.

What is your current occupation? What is your fantasy occupation?

DJ/music promoter/club proprietor/entrepreneur. I’ve always done exactly what I’ve wanted to do, so there is no disparity between my real and my fantasy occupation. I wouldn’t swap my job for anyone else’s. Having said that, when the Jacuzzi Attendant at the Playboy Mansion finally retires, “Hef” could probably persuade me to “flip a career 180.”

How do you like to spend your free time?

I have very little time, and none of it is free. Time is an idling assassin, but I like to spend as much of my dwindling allocation as possible with my 3-year-old daughter. Every moment with her is a precious pearl smuggled away from an unsuspecting oyster.

Share an unexpected but life-changing event in your past.

My mother died suddenly and unexpectedly when I was a few weeks old. I have no recollection of her. I’ve often wondered how different my life, and that of my father, would have been had she lived. Perhaps I’ve over-estimated the effect of her absence. It’s possible that we’d have turned out just as bad had she stuck around.

What subjects interest you in particular?

Booze, broads, blackjack, big band music, bacchanalia, burlesque, bossa nova. That’s just the “b”s. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to know about the “c”s.

Name one thing about you that would surprise people.

Surprise is an anomalous brushstroke on a canvas of familiarity. It’s hard to gauge how surprised others could possibly be about someone they know nothing about. Few inmates of this virtual penitentiary will know anything of me, though a couple of old-timers might experience a flicker of recognition as the long-incarcerated, increasingly-emaciated ghost that passes for my virtual persona manifests itself pathetically in the dead of night.

The capacity to be surprised varies wildly: some might regard the news that I used to be an enforcer for the Genovese crime family as a mundane revelation, while others would be shocked that I once dated a mud wrestler. Needless to say, only one of those confessions is true, the other merely a figment of my over-productive imagination.

In a solipsistic, artificial world such as this it’s presumptuous to assume that other virtual entities are sufficiently interested in, engaged by, or enamoured with any other as to be startled by an unexpectedly anomalous characteristic displayed by it. The heightened virtual realm is subject to the inexorable arithmetic of escalation: the things that pass for surprising developments or shocking revelations in the real world merely constitute a regular day in cyberspace, such are the exaggerated virtual personae we present in lieu of our authentic selves in this milieu.

I’m assuming, therefore, that this ostensibly innocuous question is really a subversive attempt to disclose the dissonance between the artificial and “authentic” personae we present as ourselves in, respectively, our virtual and real lives. It’s a sugar-coated invitation and the temptation for members to divest their virtual veils under the glare of the spotlight is almost irresistible: striptease is invariably motivated by a combination of vanity and insecurity and, of course, these traits are almost as alien to this society as beach volleyball is to Siberia. Needless to say, I’m just another egocentric exhibitionist, but, unlike some, I won’t go all the way. Burlesque, rather than pole dancing, is my revelatory medium of choice.

Cutting to the synthetic chase: My “authentic” self bears little or no resemblance to the fictional construct. I’m told that I’m “surprisingly” laid-back in real life so, I guess, the answer to the question is that I’m surprisingly dull. I know it would be sexier to be consistently surprising, but I just don’t have the energy to keep it up.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

My daughter is my only achievement capable of aspiring to greatness. The remainder of my output is merely the ill-conceived, retarded product of a shotgun marriage between limited talent and laziness.

If you could travel back in time, to what era and location would you go, and why?

The Sands Casino, Las Vegas in the early 60s: On stage, Sinatra accompanied by The Count Basie Orchestra. Sweet parcels of sound couriered directly to your table courtesy of The Chairman of the Board/Present Day: The Presidential Suite at The Bellagio. The Holy Trinity: Marvin Gaye’s music, a showgirl and room service/ March 28 1968: Bobby Darin at the Copacabana Club, New York. Backed by the Joseph Merle Orchestra, Darin delivers Mack The Knife with the all precision, confidence and authority of a Mafia hitman conveying a bullet straight into his victim’s cerebellum/The Cote d’Azur, July 1966: Ellington, Ella, Espresso, El Ninos & Elle/Swingin’ Sixties, Sergio Mendes, Caipirinhas on Copacabana Beach, a gorgeous girl from Ipanema, bossa nova on the boomin’ system. Jobim’s mellifluous melodies, “tender like two-day lobster-red Rio sunburn”/Midnight in Manhattan, mid-90s, martinis, dancing and romancing at The Rainbow Room/Club Hi-Ho, somewhere off the Reefs of Gizmar, sometime in the future, in the last light of a dying sun: Extra-terrestrial Earth Wind & Ice doppelgangers jammin' Siberian-style; snare drum sounding crisp and dry as winter in Tunguska, tighter than security at a Presidential motorcade. Tomorrow’s Girls ~ “a virus wearing pumps and pearls” ~ polymorphous perversity on the permafrost/Beat-era San Francisco, some subterranean jazz joint, Jack Kerouac talkin’ all that jazz. Slim Gaillard’s drivin’ that Groove Juice Special /A smoky club in Montemarte, discussing Derrida, impressing the chicks with a working knowledge of French Symbolism, drinking Absinthe and smoking jazz cigarettes while some impromptu bebop combo on a cartographic tip valiantly attempts to map the mysterious contours of John Coltane’s A Love Supreme . A slinky piece of homework in Givenchy shades is giving me the Hepburn stare and I’m floating on air….

In other words…. Anywhere, anytime: “ When in Rome…”

Truthfully, I don’t much care if it’s the Rome of the Empire, The Renaissance or La Dolce Vita. Just give me a hot chick, a bottle of booze & some good music and I’m in clover.

What do you consider to be your best trait?

I’m generous to a fault. I always buy the first round of drinks.

What trait do you deplore in other people?

I always buy the first round of drinks.

What skill do you lack that you’d love to have?

I used to lack the skill to love. Then my daughter arrived. Now I need a dimmer switch to turn down the intensity.

Which superhero would you be and why?

My “rugged” looks ensure that I’d be much more likely to be cast in the role of a villain than a hero. I’d style myself as a subversive super-villain. From behind a deceptively evil façade, deep within my super-villain’s remote tropical island lair, I’d devote a significant proportion of my time to doing good, just to confound the expectations of others.

If you could choose to have either the ability to be invisible or the ability to read minds, which would you choose and why?

The ability to read minds sounds like a camp, kitschy, retro-futuristic concept from a bad science fiction novel: simultaneously far-fetched and quaintly reductive. The concept “mind-reading” implies that the participants would have to be drearily literal-minded for such a talent to yield a comprehensive insight. One could suggest, with equal absurdity, that the ability to audit minds might be sufficient to exhaustively elucidate and illuminate the mental processes of the business-minded.

I cling to the sentimental delusion that my mental multiverse is more like a synaesthetic symphony than a book, and that my words, expressed or not, are merely the polyrhythmic clatter of the percussion section.

So, I guess, I’ll continue to be El Hombre Invisible .

How did you find IHIQS?

The only possible excuses for Googling such an unwieldy acronym are design and dyslexia. Neither excuse is capable of boosting my “street cred” into warp drive, but dyslexic serendipity sounds like a moderately convincing plea in mitigation.

What forums do you find most interesting? Most maddening?

I find the question maddening, because my superficial knowledge of Latin (and consequent pedantic tendencies) compels me to observe that “forums” should really be “fora.” The truly maddening thing is that, shortly after pointing this out, I’ll be unable to resist the temptation to chastise myself for making an issue out of something so trivial. [Note from Laura: Ewan, if I'm going to be spanked by someone, I can think of no better person than you. Thank you. May I have another?]

It’s probably a good thing that I don’t immerse myself in the fora deeply enough to be able to tell the difference between the maddening and the interesting ones. I’d guess that all IHIQS fora contain at least a kernel of interest, buried deep beneath maddeningly obfuscatory layers of chatter and irrelevance.

Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.

I’d rather regret something I have done than something I haven’t done.

The Voodoo Rooms ~ Sam Gambino

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

We've been away, but now we're back....

I've been otherwise engaged for a while. It seems we're still getting some traffic. OK, it's not exactly the New Jersey Turnpike, but we're marginally more popular than a cathouse in Christian Town, so I thought we might as well open for business again.

A lot has happened in the last few weeks:

I've seen David Lynch's Inland Empire three times and I still can't distill that demented, delirious synaesthetic experience into words. As Paul Morley said on Newsnight Review, "it was 3 hours long and at least 3 hours too short." Yeah, the jump from film to digital video involved an aesthetic trade- off, but I don't really give a shit how Dave delivers his art ~ just as long as he keeps on sending it my way I'll be in clover. He could drive his next magnus opus right over to my house on the back of a pick-up truck for all I care. This guy could dump a consignment of fertiliser on my lawn to greater artistic effect than half the hacks currently holed up in the City of Angels could produce even if they pooled their respective "talents" and annexed all the film stock and resources in Hollywood.

My friend, Will, from California, has just finished a novel and, knowing him, it will be wonderful. As yet, I haven't found the time to read it, but I'll post an extract here as soon as I locate an elusive spare hour.

Another good friend, Nathan, from New York, appeared, unexpectedly (well, to me at least) on Horizon the other night. I was taken aback to turn on and tune in to his familiar countenance in an unfamiliar context.

I noticed in the reports of the tragic Virginia Tech shootings that the shooter's English teacher was Nikki Giovanni. When I saw the shooter's dismal, delusional "Psycopathic Idol" audition on the news networks I was reminded of Nikki's poem "Ego Tripping."

I was born in the Congo
I walked to the fertile crescent and built
The Sphinx
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star
that only glows every one hundred years falls
into the center giving divine perfect light
I am bad

I sat on the throne
drinking nectar with Allah
I got hot and sent an ice age to Europe
to cool my thirst
My oldest daughter is Nefertiti
the tears from my birth pains
created the Nile
I am a beautiful woman

I gazed on the forest and burned
out the sahara desert
with a packet of goat's meat
and a change of clothes
I crossed it in two hours
I am a gazelle so swift
so swift you can't catch me

For a birthday present when he was three
I gave my son Hannibal an elephant
He gave me rome for mother's day
My strength flows ever on

My son Noah built New/ark and
I stood proudly at the helm
as we sailed on a soft summer day
I turned myself into myself and was
men intone my loving name
All praises All praises
I am the one who would save

I sowed diamonds in my back yard
My bowels deliver uranium
the filings from my fingernails are
semi-precious jewels
On a trip north
I caught a cold and blew
My nose giving oil to the arab world
I am so hip even my errors are correct
I sailed west to reach east and had to round off
the earth as I went
The hair from my head thinned and gold was laid
across three continents

I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal
I cannot be comprehended except by my permission

I mean...I...can fly
like a bird in the sky...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

John-Ivan Palmer ~ Intellectual Seekers in the Notorious Tenderloin, San Francisco


Late one night in the Tenderloin, 1968, my girlfriend (if you could call her that) was talking to one of her topless-bottomless dancing friends at an unlicensed bottle club deceptively called Coffee Ron. I ignored the riffraff staring at me for reading a book. Suddenly three men pulled a gun on the manager, and beat up the bartender who tried to intervene. Panic, screaming. My two lady escorts rushed behind me for protection. I held the Encyclopedia of Stage Hypnotism (1947) over my chest in an equally absurd attempt to protect myself from bullets.

It was horrible what happened next. The manager, a naive ex-prize fighter named Gene Echols, was beaten almost to death. [1] In the hospital for weeks. Of course no one called the police, and when they asked questions afterward, no one talked. This was a typical night in the Tenderloin shortly after the Summer of Love.

Around the time I was living in that black hole, a San Francisco journalist wrote, "The Tenderloin seems overwhelming and eternal and no one can really say for sure what is happening within its sprawling reaches." [2] As close as most people got was reading about it in the paper - salacious stories of sordid sex, thug wars, and murder. Having lived there, I can tell you it was indeed a horrific place. But the cost of living was cheap.

Some people, however, liked the thrill. There's nothing like a little danger to enhance your whoring. If you were brave enough to enter those sprawling reaches of several dozen square blocks, the open depravity was something to behold. In an atmosphere where violence was taken for granted, people acted out their paraphilias on bar stools at noon, and boiled methamphetamine hydrochloride over snifter candles in front of nude dancers at midnight. Or maybe it was the reverse. It didn't matter. Police acted mostly as undertakers, picking up the bodies, both dead and alive, or, like Echols, in some state of suspension in between. In spite of all this, it was still a lure to a certain kind of tourist. A businessman attending a dental supply convention at the nearby Hilton could venture a few blocks over to the Why Not at 393 Eddy Street for a 60-second sex act with someone who looked exactly like a woman. Adrenalin on the house.

Few would have seen this nihilistic gulch as an intellectual environment, but I discovered otherwise, and it might say something about all environments that appear hostile to higher inquiry, from a juche prison to a Basiji checkpoint. Among the predators and the prey, carefully hiding among the junkies and the slashers, was a thin scattering of stoned entomologists, hopped up Latinists, whorehouse biblical scholars, and obsessed littérateurs. Unlike the happy hedonists of the Haight, these were haunted ascetics who traded physical comfort and safety for the ever more lavish luxury of time itself.

More here

World Press Photo Winners for 2006


World Press Photo of the Year 2006, Spencer Platt, USA, Getty Images,
Young Lebanese drive through devastated neighborhood of South Beirut, 15 August

1st prize Daily Life Stories, David Guttenfelder, USA, The Associated Press,
The lonely man, Tokyo

More here

Friday, February 09, 2007

Jack Pendarvis ~ If Sammy Davis Jr. had written Moby-Dick

From The Believer

Call me Ishmael, Charlie. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth, as happens so often in this crazy business… and believe me, I say that with no undue grandiosity or pomposity, but with the true humility that comes from the wonderful, wonderful thing that I receive back from you lovely people, sincerely, the thing I call a vibe of love.

But dig, sometimes a cat grows grim about the mouth. The applause and the warmth, that’s a beautiful dream, it’s rocket ships and moonbeams, and I’m not putting it down. I’m not one of those cats who can’t wait to get offstage. This is where I live, kids. I thrive in that environment of give-and-take that we call performing for you generous people who have sacrificed from your daily routine to partake of our humble pageantry. But in this world that we call human, it happens that a cat of a certain frame of mind grows grim about the mouth. You’ve done it. Dig, your old lady’s done it. Baby, watch out when that special lady grows grim about the mouth. That’s a schlep to Tiffany’s and chateaubriand for two. Believe me, I know whereof I speak. And don’t skip the shrimp cocktail either, daddy.

So it’s a universal thing is what I’m saying. It happens to everybody, even those of us lucky enough to do this thing that we do, up here with the lights and the mishegaas and all the wild, wild foolery that you so kindly indulge us to present for your pleasure.

So when that time that my dear friend Peter Lawford calls “simply beastly,” when that real blue moment comes for yours truly, I account it high time to take to the sea as soon as I can. I know some of the fellas can relate. But sometimes when you go so far from home, you’re looking for something that’s right here all along, you dig? In the old breadbasket, where it counts. You get out to sea and you think, Uh-oh. This cat with the nutty tattooed face is giving me the eye like I’m the fabulous Britt Ekland. That, baby, that’s what I like to call time to turn the boat around.

More here

Friday, January 26, 2007


Michael Carmichael at believes that "it is all too clear that the Bush presidency is swiftly moving toward a tragic denouement of Shakespearean proportions."
Two of America's savants have uttered pronouncements about the final days of the presidency of George Walker Bush. In his magisterial statement succinctly titled, "Bush's Thousand Days," Arthur Schlesinger, Jr pointed out that we have just crossed a significant date, for now less than one thousand days remain of the beleaguered Bush presidency. Schlesinger raises grave issues facing the deeply unpopular president. In his analysis of "The Passion of George W Bush," Sidney Blumenthal dubbed this darkening period the "endgame." Taken together, these two essays present a disturbing image of a presidency in the throes of decline and desperation. These two essays urge us to consider the likelihood of a political collapse that could lead to disastrous consequences for America and Britain.
More here

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Idiocracy UK ~ Celebrity Big Brother

Mind-rot masquerading as entertainment has been endemic within our recalcitrantly idiotic popular "culture" for some time. UK tv's witless procession of neanderthal nonentities, fame junkies and wearisome wannabes, paraded for our postmodern delectation and delight, has been varnished with so many layers of irony and self-justifying claptrap that we're asked to celebrate "reality" tv both for its alleged authenticity and, simultaneously, for its ironic inauthenticity. The ironic joke behind Celebrity Big Brother is that the so-called "real" celebrities are humiliated and subordinated to a new generation of "fake" celebrities manufactured by reality tv. Of course, the pre-scripted punchline of last year's CBB was that it was won by the only non-celebrity contestant, Chantelle.

Presumably we were supposed to enjoy the spectacle of reality tv's vile progeny the Goodies (even their surname sounds like it was engineered in Big Brother's Ironic Laboratory) accusing authentic Bollywood star Shilpa of being a "fake." The "authentic" culture clash between the imbecilic bastions of British idiocy the Goodies (and their like/simple-minded coven of cronies) and the Big Brother household's comparatively gracious Indian and American guests was a cynical set-up, and the inevitable pay-off was always going to involve inarticulate Jade, Jackiey or Danielle (so vacant and unpleasant that she might as well be a Goody) claiming that the fluent foreigners couldn't speak "proper" English. Dignified Shilpa's discomfort upon being asked to join in with the retarded Brit Pack's sordid sex chat was clearly factored in to the script by Endemol executives as a mere appetiser to the inevitable "spin the bottle/show us your g-string" antics that would surely follow. The Crass corrupting the Class was their intention, but Shilpa was just too self-assured to succumb and, thankfully, the indications are that the British public are on her side.

Endemol, and Channel 4, hoped this would play out like a bad 70s sitcom. Big Brother's first task involved forcing the celebrity housemates to play the roles of domestic servants to the awful Goodies and this was clearly a plotline designed to maximise the sitcomedic potential of cultural dissonance/class divides. As it happens, due to quirk of good/bad fortune, Shilpa was spared the indignity of waiting on the Goodies, but BB's intent was there. Ch4/Endemol's disengenuous claims that the mongrel sitcom, that they so assiduously and artificially produced, "Are You Being Racially Abused?", is an authentic reflection of wider British society is both a cynical attempt to boost ratings and an egregious evasion of responsibility.

Memo to Channel 4, Endemol et al: this is the crass "culture" that you helped to create. This celebration of idiocy, shallowness, greed and incomprehension ~ this culture of despair ~ that's your glorious legacy that is, so don't blame us. This is the "culture" that you, and your sycophants in the mass media, bribed, brain-washed and blackmailed us to buy into. Those of us with the temerity to condemn mind-rot tv like CBB were dismissed as "pseudo-intellectual" or "out of touch." Don't start whining when the "stars" of your artificial and idiotic entertainment vehicles are perceived to be authentic ambassadors of Britain. Big Brother is certainly a microcosm of a macro-malaise, but society isn't to blame: Endemol and Channel 4 are.

Perhaps we should just put India's incomprehension at the imbecilic, inhospitable antics of the moronic Brits down to their inability to appreciate irony? If the Indians possessed a scintilla of sophistication they would surely have deconstructed all this puerility as postmodern japery? Cultural differences, you see. We promote idiocy, promiscuity, drunkeness, rudeness and anti-social behaviour with an ironic insincerity that simultaneously celebrates and condemns it. Now we've been treated to the spectacle of the mass media devouring the surgically-altered poster girl of Idiocracy tv as "salt-of-the-earth" Jade Goody is suddenly rebranded "bigoted Baddie." Dr. Frankenstein is in denial, absolving himself of all responsibility for the monster that he created.

Screw the smug cartel who promote our vacuous celebrity culture: panderers, pimps and profiteers the lot of them. Vultures picking on the carcass of our, formerly vibrant, popular culture. May they choke on the bones.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Wichita Vortex Sutra ~ The Last Antiwar Poem

From The Believer

Fifty years ago this month, City Lights Books debuted Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems — a collection of ranting, ecstatic verses that challenged the conservatism of Eisenhower-era America. Within a year of its publication, “Howl” had become the focus of an obscenity trial that ultimately redefined the limits of free expression in America. Considered by many to be a triumphant literary precursor to sixties counterculture and youth rebellion, Howl went on to sell over more than a million copies and influence a generation of poets.

This month, City Lights is commemorating Howl’s fiftieth anniversary with the publication of Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression, a Bill Morgan–edited anthology that collects correspondence, commentaries, and photographs documenting the publication and defense of Howl. Another anthology commemorating “Howl,” Jason Shinder’s The Poem That Changed America, debuted earlier this year, and fiftieth-anniversary celebration galas are slated (or have already happened) in places like San Francisco, Montreal, and London.

Amid the festivities, however, it’s easy to forget how dated “Howl” can sound in 2006. Fifty years removed from the social constraints that made it seem scandalous in 1956, Ginsberg’s poem has become a victim of its own success — a quaint reminder that profane, stream-of-consciousness verse is no longer shocking or significant. Written as a Whitmanesque ode to id in an era of repression, “Howl” now brings to mind reality-TV programming — a drug-addled, homoerotic variation of “Jackass,” wherein Ginsberg gleefully recounts how he and his Ivy League buddies slummed it with the impoverished and the insane, “burned cigarette holes in their arms,” “walked all night with their shoes full of blood,” “jumped in the filthy Passaic,” “threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers,” and “threw up groaning into the bloody toilet.”

No doubt “Howl” will continue to be recognized as an essential twentieth-century poem, but if we aspire this year to recognize the anniversary of a Ginsberg poem that still seems relevant and challenging, we should fast-forward ten years to 1966, when the iconic Beat poet penned “Wichita Vortex Sutra” — an antiwar lament that carries an observational honesty not present in the MTV din of “Howl.”

More here

Friday, January 12, 2007



Mike Judge could have gone the easy route. His last movie, Office Space, became a smash hit on DVD because the frat boy douchebags he mercilessly mocked became its biggest fans. But rather than make another feel-good comedy, he's made the extremely bizarre Idiocracy, which you might call a feel-bad comedy about the silent killer of American civilization, namely our collective stupidity. A feel-bad comedy that has grossed just over $400,000 to date, barely enough to cover the cost of spray-tanning the stars of Laguna Beach. Given that the release was limited to six cities—and that there was literally no promotion—the poor showing makes perfect sense. The tragedy is that Idiocracy is easily the most potent political film of the year, and the most stirring defense of traditional values since Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France.

More here

Chasing Dash Snow

From New York Magazine

The artist Dash Snow rammed a screwdriver into his buzzer the other day. He has no phone. He doesn’t use e-mail. So now, if you want to speak to him, you have to go by his apartment on Bowery and yell up. Lorax-like, he won’t come to the window to let you see that he sees you: He has a periscope he puts up so he can check you out first.

Partly, it comes from his graffiti days, this elusiveness, the recent adolescence the 25-year-old Snow spent tagging the city and dodging the police. “He’s pretty paranoid about lots of things in general, and some of it was dished out to him, but others he’s created himself,” says Snow’s friend, the 27-year-old artist Dan Colen, who—like so many of their friends—has made significant artistic contributions to the ever-expanding mythology of Dash Snow. Colen and Snow went to London together this fall for the Saatchi show in which they both had work. (Saatchi had bought one of Colen’s sculptures for $500,000.) Saatchi got them a fancy hotel room on Piccadilly. They had to flee it in the middle of the night with their suitcases before it was discovered that they’d created one of their Hamster’s Nests, which they’ve done quite a few times before. To make a Hamster’s Nest, Snow and Colen shred up 30 to 50 phone books, yank around all the blankets and drapes, turn on the taps, take off their clothes, and do drugs—mushrooms, coke, ecstasy—until they feel like hamsters.

If you want to find Snow, you have to find Colen, or Snow’s other best friend, the 29-year-old photographer Ryan McGinley, who four years ago became the youngest person ever to have a solo show at the Whitney. That show, “The Kids Are Alright,” depicted a downtown neverland where people are thrilled and naked, leaping in front of graffiti on the street, sacked out in heaps of flannel shirts—everything very debauched and drug-addled and decadent, like Nan Goldin hit with a happy wand. Part of what made McGinley so famous (like Goldin before him) was that he offered not just an artist’s vision of a free and rebellious alternative life but also the promise that he was actually living it, through photos that looked spontaneous, stolen, of an intimate cast of characters, a family of friends, and in McGinley’s case, of Snow in particular. In some ways, Snow has been his muse.

“I guess I get obsessed with people, and I really became fascinated by Dash,” says McGinley, who shares a Chinatown loft a few blocks away from Snow’s apartment with Dan Colen, whom McGinley has known since they were teenage skateboarders in New Jersey. The apartment used to be a brothel; for a long time, Chinese men would come to the door and be disappointed when McGinley or Colen answered it. McGinley shows me his photos of Snow over the years, dozens and dozens of them. Snow with cornrows, with a shaved head, with a black eye. There is one photo called Dash Bombing that was in the Whitney show: a shadowy shot of Snow out on a ledge, tagging a building in the night sky, Manhattan spread out below him. It’s an image of anarchic freedom, one that seems anachronistic and almost magical in this city of hermetically sealed glass-cocoon condo towers. It’s as if Snow were an animal—prevalent in the seventies, now thought to be extinct—that was spotted high over the city.

“I actually don’t like graffiti,” McGinley says. “I was just interested in the person that would write their name thousands and thousands and thousands of times. These kids that would go up on a rooftop, 40 stories up, and go out on a ledge to write their name—it’s just, like, the insanity of it all!” McGinley smiles his clean smile. “It’s funny to me that Dash has become like a rock star, but he’s so paranoid. That comes from graffiti culture—like, you want everybody to know who you are and you’re going to write your name all over the city, but you can’t let anyone know who you really are. It’s, like, this idea of being notorious.”

And because notoriety is crucial to something much larger than graffiti culture, Dash Snow is becoming a kind of sensation. Young people poured out onto Joey Ramone Place waiting to get into his last show at Rivington Arms gallery. He had a piece in the Whitney Biennial—a picture of a dog licking his lips in a pile of trash and several other Polaroids. You may not be able to find him, but you can hear his name, that zooming syllable—Dash!—punctuating conversations in Chelsea galleries and Lower East Side coke parties and Miami art fairs and the offices of underground newspapers in Copenhagen and Berlin, like a kind of supercool international Morse code. Because the art world loves infamy. Downtown New York City loves infamy—needs it, in fact, to exist.

Ariel Levy

More here

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Swingin' Sounds for Hipsters vol.4

I've just put together my 4th iTunes imix, Swingin' Sounds for Hipsters Vol.4.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Graeme Jamieson ~ Here in Naples

Six Degrees

Here, in Naples…

I sit and sip a-something or other which is hot, very hot, and small; Cornet-like. My table, it is tinned, faded. It once was navy, rounded. But its lip, it is silvered now, and the understain spreads like a hard core sore. I wouldn't complain though, sitting as I am within the soothing hum of the city which sits crouched, cramped even, beneath the geo-psychic stalker that is Vesuvius.

Outside of the States, where better to come and observe the American Dream – the ‘worker’s sleep’ of which Berlusconi has his classes believe – than to the tumbledown streets of the Camorra?

Where better, indeed.

Across the street, there’s graffiti that reads “See Naples & Die”. Like many things in this supposedly contrary place, the phenomenology has an underside.

They say that Naples is the most beautiful city in the world and, when you have seen it, you may die happy. But there is also a small town nearby called ‘Mori’, the Italian word for ‘die’, where thousands once perished with cholera and typhoid.

Here, as the air fades to sepia, and the clock hands itself over to late, I hear the whizz of life and the clunk of the underworld; the suspicious Fifth Estate. There's banter about that bites, while all-around is filled with sore-eyed sights, and the magical, mysterious mime of a warm wind chiming “Who Cares?”

Not me. This street-cafe spills with segreti dei panettieri, as I ponder the Bourbon Monarchy and what path to beat to my trouser-fit tomorrow with Antonio Ambrosi. Yeah, I'll be here for four days tops, to splash some paint on a page, in a way that’ll look Latin and enraged.

Five Degrees

It does not do to upset the locals. Let me give you a for instance: early this morning, I went to collect my suit from the dry cleaner in Quartieri Spagnoli. The lady who runs the dry cleaner is the sister of the landlady at my hotel. She looks identical, and I mean, they could be the same woman. Thing is, we established quite the different relationship from the off.

When I travel, it’s always with an alias. You might assume that I do so to save me from any ‘dairy’, but, I get that wherever I go. So, whenever I adopt an assumed, it’s to upscale my room, or to clear a ‘Carla Rosa’ passed a line of grooms. Insofar as this kind of ‘Falconer trick’ can get one into a jam, I tend to use mine only when I’m faraway from home, on the lam, or in a clink zone. My name this week then, is ‘Giancarlo Gambino’.

Whatever, I’m just back from collecting my ‘tin flute’, and the woman there, Cosi’s sister, she was great. After only 16 hours, my Italian is still somewhat spotty, but when I made a joke about the small horse in her backyard and the open fish tank full of catfish, she seemed tickled.

Ten minutes later, I get back to the hotel, and I run the same line past the other sister, but she gives me the stern face, and the flick of the wrist.

Crushed, I take my pressed suit upstairs before returning for a late breakfast.

My guess is that this is a family place, as the brute of a waiter looks just like the chef, while I think they wear the same kind of ‘divot’ – because this morning, outside my window, they were both doing the 1st of May thing, on their knees in the dewy back green, and they were balder then – so it goes down like this.

In any case, I've polished-off my buffalo, which was delicious, when the waiter brings back a cheque. Without thinking, I've scribbled “Jamieson”. The guy 180's it, and goes white with fright. He says only “Gambino?” and I realise I’ve made a mistake.

“Dialo indietro,” I splutter, before proceeding to put a line through it, and signing my alias sincerely. Realising that he’s pretty shook up, I ask him if he speaks English: “Yes, some.”

“I saw a frog this morning, just along the road. You know, a frog. Tell me, where might that have come from?”

“Ah, ‘Aviation Blonde’?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“There is, how you say, il bordello. A brothel. You want?”

“Thank you, but no! Tell you what though, might I have another one of these?”

“Si, uno Caffe Coretto.”

At any rate, I’m back at that place I was in yesterday, the cafe, but I have to go see Signore Ambrosi now: my appointment’s at four, and no doubt there'll be more small talk on the floor.

Four Degrees

There was a young lady at reception, with a well-dressed chap busying himself beside her...


“Hello, my name is Gambino.”

“You have an appointment?”

He took over...

“Ah, Signore Gambino, welcome and good afternoon. I am Salvatore. You must sit, yes? There is something you would like to drink, perhaps? An aperitivi?”

“That’d be great, thank you. Do you have any iced tea?”

“Of course. We also have today the 'Baba' Cake, from Nunzo – the best bakers in Napoli!”

“Sounds terrific.”

“You have arrived all the way from England, no?”

“Actually, no. I have come from Edinburgo, La Scozia.”

He started using his hands, statedly.

“Signore Gambino, I will be with you in ten minutes. We will discuss your requirements, and I introduce you with my father, Antonio. He will measure, cut, sew, fit.”

“I understand.”

“My father, he has no English. You speak Italian, yes?”

“I know enough to talk myself into a fight. Maybe not enough to talk myself out of one, though!”

“Very good. Veronica-”

The sign in front of me read: “Napoli è un' officina dove si coltiva da sempre l' attitudine a trasformare le materie più semplici in somma raffinatezza”

Loosely, this means that Naples is a workshop, where the attitude is the starting point to cultivate and transform the simpler matters into refinement.

I had come here for two reasons. Firstly, to produce a self-portrait for a gallery who offered me double time for a self-expression of my ‘clock’. Stuck for inspiration, and long on separation, this seemed like the place to take stock. I’ve always felt an affinity with this part of Italy. I think it’s something to do with Pompeii, like a feeling for New Orleans, and the sensation of losing a place.

In a little over two days, I have found here a feeling of invisibility. There is a worker’s ethic, and a player’s aesthetic. It’s very male, if that makes any sense, but even now, years after any mass-orphaning war of note, there is a tangible absence of paternity. If it had a voice, it would be a children’s singing one, bastardised by centuries of infiltration, of internal conflict, and the dark arts of exploitation. I feel very aware of it, especially through, as I marked this morning, its pollution of petty crooks and prevalence of pickpockets.

Secondly, I came to Naples to have a garment made-to-measure. Some of the finest names in haberdashery jostle for position, and even just a jacket can set you back £25,000. I believe that some designers don’t even sell their wares here, electing only to have a window. It’s all about awareness.

If you’re looking for a suit, head to Marigliano, Marino, Merolla, Monetti. Should you want something a little extra-special in the shoulder, try Attolini, Panico, Rubinacci, Solito. If you need a custom-shirt made, choose between De L' Ero and Matuozzo. Perchance a necktie? Marinella, baby! If you fancy taking a closer look at the Duke of Windsor’s original cloth, get pally with the nephew of the owner at Kiton, where they’ll give you a tour of the factory, take you for lunch in the staff canteen, and you’ll eat some of the freshest foodstuff in the city, including vegetables grown onsite.

Me, I’m more into getting a pair of strides made – I’ll come back another time to sample the home-made marmalade – as I have enough suits, and quite frankly, I’m of-an-age now where I consider a well-designed handmade trouser an absolute necessity. Which means, for the true Neapolitan look, where the leg fits closely, there is nowhere better than Ambrosi. They make them for the best names in Italy. At least, that’s what they told me.

“Mr Gambino, I have your requirements here.”

“Shoot, Salvatore.”

“You want a spring weight, 450 grams, with a fish tail?”

“Quite so, like a herringbone.”

“This weight, with this cloth, will be delicate, very beautiful. Molto buon osservare!”

I said nothing.

“We look at colours after, yes? OK, I think my father is ready for you.”

Three Degrees

What goes on between a tailor and his client is confidential.

What I must say is that the experience was wonderfully peculiar. Sgr. Ambrosi is a noble and affable gentleman, one who circumnavigated my senses with an equitable chortle. I can tell you that he possesses both the hands of a cherub, and the skin of a Caravaggio. The whole experience was pore-opening, as it should be when spending private time with a master of their craft. I left feeling enriched, becalmed, and strangely secure in the knowledge that, in reality, I knew nothing about nothing.

There was something of the 'Mustachio Pete' about his way, but he wasn't so old-school as to not have his indices on the pulse.

To the strains of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, I was given a sweet tip, with regards to where to get an honest 'hat cut'.

When we were done, he also pressed an envelope into my hand, which I presumed held some kind of receipt to be presented when collecting my purchase.

During his free-dimensional dance, I’d mentioned that I fancied sampling a Neapolitan Negroni while I was visiting. With his seemingly customary urbanity, he told me to ask Veronica to make an appointment at Gianni Cirillo’s, the barber, who might have a better idea of where I should spend an evening.

Good as gold, Veronica called il barberia while I wrote a cheque. My appointment was set.

“Signore Gambino, would you like a taxi?”

“Oh, it’s okay,” I said.

Wednesday was sunny, and I had 15 minutes with my wits to find Via Crispi, "I'll make my own way."

The route from Nicotera to Crispi is something else. The symbolical sons and daughters of the South are seemingly all cutting up touches, as the street-signs shout: Gennaro Serra, Carolina, Sant’Orsola, Filangeri, Colonna. While these monikers may take one to another thyme and plaice, the reality was that my walking pace was quickened and corroded by the bustle of the hustle of hucksters and the all-consuming fumes of Fiat trucks.

Flustered, I reached for the envelope Sgr. Ambrosi had handed me, and from there on in, I was thrown.

“Dear Giancarlo,

My name is Michele. You do not know me, but I am the son of a very powerful man here in Naples. My father was a friend to your grandfather, Gilberto, and he was the Godfather of your father’s brother, Alessandro. I studied with them both, and we trained to be mechanics together.

Don Gaetano would like to meet you before returning to your homeland. On Friday, at 20:00, you will come to Trieste E Trento. It is a dark green door, on the South East corner. You will see two buttons on a panel to the right of this door. Push the one marked ‘Otsukare’.

Until tomorrow,

Michele Gaetano”

Strangely, the first thing that struck me was the quality of English.

Elsewhere, in fact, everywhere else, translated text came in a kind of convoluted ‘Inglish’. This was different. At any rate, my tongue found it’s way to my right incisor, and I started biting down on it, indeterminately.

Had I just been fitted-out or fitted-up?

Technically, my grandfather’s name was Gilbert, and my uncle is called Alex. But I am not really Giancarlo. There must have been some mistake.


I’m sure it does say something about my father being an “auto mechanic” on my birth certificate, but I’ve never thought any more of it. But a mechanic, according to the gang-slang anyway, is a hired killer. Or a card sharp. What if I’ve being living some ignorant lie? What did “powerful man” mean?

For a moment, I was fit to be tied. If it was too much to think about, I felt right away that I couldn’t just not turn up, even if I was getting ahead of myself, and this was a case of mistaken identity. Though the more my mind ebbed and flowed, swam back and forth, I lost my sense of self, and wondered why, for as long as I could remember, I'd chosen ‘Gambino’ as an assumed name.

By the time I arrived at Gianni Cirillo’s, I wasn’t even there. Cirillo was an immaculate guy, who was dressed in a grey waistcoat. He has a strong head of hair, and purls with a lisp. I didn’t take much in, but the moment he threw a cape over me, and tucked it under my chin, the conversation drifted to music. Cirillo composes his own, playing it deafeningly loud through an old gramophone. In all honesty, I had a hundred questions in my head, but none that I felt I could ask him.

Eventually, as he angled a mirror to impress me with his handiwork, I began to think of Naples’ secret twin; the passageways and chambers beneath, all allegedly connected by an underlayer of identical avenues, aqueducts and piazzas. What if I was in danger? I thought about that all the way back to my hotel, until I made it safely into my room, locked the door, and realised I hadn’t asked Sgr. Cirillo where I should go for that cocktail. I’d forgotten about the booze: things really were getting serious.

Two Degrees

Thursday was a day for redoubled reflection: I'd spent a restless, self-obsessed chessboard night vexing my neocortex over the Aristotelian principles of time, place and action. Riddled with disharmony, I was at least united in distraction, which is as good a denouement as any to go delving for my confection.

Resigned to a drunkard's fate, I spent the whole afternoon – and much of the early evening – in an O. Henry-state, managing to create a self-portrait that looked good enough for the Tate. Before it got too late, I took a cue from a guide of mine, and went looking for the answers in two ready bottles of wine.

‘La Cantinetta’, downstairs at the ‘Hotel San Francesco’, has an air of da capo aria in it. A former wine cellar in what was once an ancient monastery, it offered me a winged-prayer as I parked my derriere on a Philippe Stark chair, and got as drunk as a rogue monk caught on the verge of some unchastely affair.

One Degree

Signora Cosi wouldn't stop banging on my door. I have to say, I'm glad she didn't because I wouldn't have made the standing eight. Mercifully, she wasn’t having me miss breakfast for a second day.

In the afternoon I collected my pantaloni from Via Nicotera, but there was no sign of the old man. Veronica was very friendly though, and suddenly I felt better about deciding against an earlier flight plan.

At a deferential eight minutes to eight, I found myself standing in the doorway eyeing ‘Otsukare’. I was no longer angry, even though a security camera was staring at me. It was already too late: I was joining the party.

It isn't the done-thing to go about giving out information on private people.

Nevertheless, I'm happy to address the facts as they appear to stand.

Don Gaetano is a freeze-frowned, buttoned-down stand-up figure in shipping, who, back in 1962, gave my uncle his start. Apparently, in those days, my uncle would service the propeller shafts for half-a-dozen small vessels, and he and his younger brother would go on to move cargo along the Amalfi coast, from their base in Positano, on behalf of Gaetano. This was all-new to me, but they broke it gently.

I was told that Gilberto, my grandfather, and his Scottish sweetheart, Mary, first met Gaetano 63 years ago, before they were even married. The story goes that he was just starting-up his own firm, while my grandfather was an industrial engineer for a local munitions company. They both lived in a village where everybody knew everybody, 130 kilometres north from here.

In the early 1970s, around the time my grandparents emigrated to Canada, both my uncle and my father seemingly moved to Scotland. This was the first time, he said, that my bloodline had been back since.

Until today, I had grown up knowing that my grandparents lived near Niagara Falls, and that my grandfather worked for Garrett, a metal detector manufacturer: but I’d always presumed they’d moved there from Scotland. After coming back "home" when I was about eight years old, my darling grandmother passed away when I was 12, and my grandfather died four years ago.

Michele, the younger Gaetano, is a likeable guy. He said he'd actually been to my house once when I was younger. I don’t remember him though, but that’s probably understandable, given that he visited 24 years ago. He’s stayed in touch with my uncle, and maintains an interest in ‘Pavarotti’s’ and ‘Sorrento’, a pair of restaurants in Aberdeen run by an associate, Antonio La Torre. I suppose that’s ‘Etalian’ for Tony Tower. So it seems neither man has anything to do with the Camorra.

I had a fine two hours, and left with a number of gifts to take home. The pointed news though, is that Don Gaetano offered me a price to paint him. That, and the strangely subduing fact I am half-Italian. But I won’t be getting in too much of a lather. Not least until I've spoken with you, father.

Graeme Jamieson