Monday, February 27, 2006

I came to London. It had become the centre of my world and I had worked hard to come to it. And I was lost. London was not the centre of my world. I had been misled; but there was nowhere else to go. It was a good place for getting lost in, a city no one ever knew, a city explored from the neutral heart outwards until, after years, it defined itself into a jumble of clearings separated by stretches of the unknown, through which the narrowest of paths had been cut. Here I became no more than an inhabitant of a big city, robbed of loyalties, time passing, taking me way from what I was, thrown more and more into myself, fighting to keep my balance and to keep alive the thought of the clear world beyond the brick and asphalt and the chaos of railway lines. All mythical lands faded, and in the big city I was confined to a smaller world than I had ever known. I became my flat, my desk, my name.


it's VS Naiapol, in his book on India, Area of Darkness, my comments reserved to some ambiguous later.
Going back to London tomorrow.

Not in my name - 15/2/2003

November. I had barely arrived to London, and was coming to terms with squatting, with my first London home. The placards announcing Not in My Name first appeared in windows of my neighbours, in the terrace houses of a Brixton dead-end street leading to Brockwell Park. In December they spread more and more.

I never liked that slogan. To me it smelt of an obsession with one s name, one s self-image, guilt feelings and good conscience. And with it, the calm, regretful acceptance of defeat in the count-down to hostilities in Iraq. You re never going to stop this war if all you care about is your name. And no-one seemed to believe they could actually stop it, not one of the million or two people who came to the park on Britain s biggest ever demonstration, on that very cold February day. Why the total disbelief in the power to change the course of thing is a question that deeply troubled me. I thought the answer might say something about politics, about Western middle-class democracy, about the state of the world, about this pinball-machine called history.

Coming back home, I wrote this.


"Don t run away straight after the show: the real thing begins later. we re taking over the U.S Embassy, it s round the corner. Instructions and map on the filer. Read and pass on ."

What it takes, it takes. To the cold London wind, show yer face: time is up. Walk in the mud, careful do not slip - the council will get upset. After all, they told you so. Clap yer hands, and count the flags. Count the speakers. Count how many angry hoarse men can you tolerate on one afternoon. The same dictum, the pause before the applause, which always comes: The biggest ever... the strongest... wonderful crowd. Yeah yeah, our voice is heard.
Get bored and walk away from the centre: read the Iraqi Communist Party newsletter, but mumble something as a negative reply when they shove the donation box in your face. Slowly retreat, until you find the pedal-powered sound system, where the mock tiger is
making soap bubble and guitars cry out loud. Let the soft reggae warm your frozen toes. Wonder if the singer really a retired Soviet General. When the confused, wool-wrapped old lady asks you:
Do you know where s the coach to Norwich?
make sure you give her the flier.
"Just follow the instructions"

Monday, February 13, 2006

not being funny

The Muhammad cartoon story has given everybody the opportunity to behave like a caricature of themselves. A chance for all the world's cliches and streotypes to go on a rampage. It's mainly very boring. You've got European infidels behaving like disrespectful pigs and Middle-Eastern scary Muslims shouting things in chorus and burning down embassies. It's like a bad Hollywood movie.
Anyway. I wouldn't have mentioned the whole thing unless I thought I had a point to make.

In 1997, a Israeli art student named Tatiana Sosskin drew a caricature of the Prophet as a pig and posted it around the city of Hebron al-Khalil with her husband. Both were right-wing settlers. This was immediatley condemned by more or less all the mainstream parties in Israel; Bibi Netanyahu, Prime-Minister at the time and a swine himself, called the mayor of Hebron to express his revulsion. Sosskin was arrested, and then setnenced to two years in prison on the charges of racism, vandalism, and religious offense. Nobody was talking about her freedom of speech. You can say lots of things about Israelis, but they're not stupid. They know well that you don't play with such offensive-explosive bullshit. As long as it's in their back-yard. When it's in Denmark, suddenly it's a different matter, and indeed israeli commentators on websites writing about the Danish cartoons were producing the standard jolly racist anti-muslim rants, nobody seems to recall the Sosskin story. I tried to google it and there's not much (see haaretz article here). Considering that the Danish cartoons of Muhammad are in the front pages for a week it is strange that the Sosskin story doesn't get mentioned.

The most interesting thing relating to this was to read blogs from Jordan and Syria. A really intersting post dealt with the Prophet's representations in Islamic figurative art; unfortunely it's gone now - the blogger probably felt it's the wrong timing for such matters - but you can find on google cache, here (scroll down, it's called 'the face of Muhammad').
Also, Syrian bloggers were unanimous in expressing their shame and shock at the burning of the the Danish embassy. For a round up of their comments, see Earth to Omar: Syrians Against Violence - Reactions from the Syrian blogosphere.

Obscure visual sign of the week (18)

What is so Great?

1. Chopping treas.
2. Delivering a written speech from a podium.
3. Waving a small white hankerchief near a trea stump.
4. Using The Aussie Dead Tree Guide to identify dead treas in the bush.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Library Mink: Seven Things

Seven things the Victoria State Library has which the British Library doesn't

1. Lockers you have to pay for.
2. Pigeons and seagulls in the plaza in front of the library.
3. A big hall full of ugly victorian paintings.
4. A beautiful glass-domed reading room (similar to the old reading room in the British Museum, only with much more light).
5. Large open-shelf humanities section.
6. A chess room (in which you can read the magazines ChessMoves, Australian Chess and others).
7. Cheap good food places just outside the library: Vietnamese, Indonesian, Jappanese, and even Ice-Cream.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Superficial Impressions

* Olive Oil can't get over the fact that Australia produces its (many kinds) of olive oil, and not bad ones at all. Of course, it makes sense.Australian wine is renowned, so why not olive oil? especially with the large Italian, Greek and Lebanese communities here. Still it seems strange. It's the wrong hemisphere god dammit.

* National Hobby nice to see how Australian families of all races and credes - Lebanese, Russians, Chinese - can come together and have a fun peaceful weekend together, in the middle of a forest, with the crazy australian birds all around them, all united by their shared, universal hobby: the consumption of grilled dead animals.
Can't say much myself, I ate kangeroo meat this weekend. It's good red meat, with gamey flavour. The cute animals spend their life bouncing all over the place, which makes them very muscly and healthy. They're wild, not factory farmed, and they're considered a pest here - there's too many of them. The result is a beautiful guilt-free steak, perfect after some marinating.

* Eye Contact in London, when someone looks straight at you they either (1) know you (2) are behving overly flirtatious (3) want to have a fight with you (4) simply crazy. Eye contact is impolite. Not here: people just stare at you in public transport. At first I didn't know what to make of it but I think it's just human interest.

* Terminology Hotel is a pub in Australia. Most pubs/hotels have a few rooms on the second floor where travellers can stay, unlike in South India, where hotel means restaurant, but not a guesthouse - this was a cause of some misunderstanding when I travelled there a few years ago.

* BYO most restaurants seem to have bring-your-own beer/wine policy. Strange considering that in the UK, the sale of alchohol is often the main source of profit for restaurants/cafes.

* Abbreviations it seems that Australians would abbreviate and cut short any word that is longer than two syllables. So kangaroo is roo, Salvation army is Salvoes, and so forth. S: 'It's just laziness'.

Obscure visual sign of the week (17)

fir trees give me the creeps
(Down with Evergreens!)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Melbourne Trams

East Brunswick.

On the first morning in F.'s house, I was dragged out of my jetlagged slumber by four loud rhythmic sounds, with an exact interval between them, sounding like a samba band's opening gambit. I kept waiting for the whistles and the smaller drums to join them, but they didn't. Instead more squeeky break sounds and metal wheels told me it's one of the trams, of which I had heard so much.

I like them a lot. I like the idea that a large section in the middle of the road is reserved for public transport, and that so many people can fit into one tram. So much better than busses or underground trains. And probably more eco-friendly. Only you have to be careful when you step out. 'So how many people get killed every year this way' I keep asking S.

P. used to be a tram driver many years ago. That must have been so difficult, I told him when he called today from the other side of the Tasman.

'Well they expect you to have accidents all the time' he said. 'There's not much you can do, just break. You can't swerve right or left. But I just had an accident with a truck and a car, never with a cyclist.'

Jerusalem never had trams. In 1913 the Ottoman municipality invited European companies to apply for a concession to build two lines. But the War changed everything. When the British took over in 1917, Governor Storrs wrote to the entrepeneurs who wanted to build it that 'the first rail section would have to be laid over the dead body of the Military Governor'. He was very pleased from this little joke, he used it in his lecture-tours in the U.S. as an opening anecdote. Storrs liked his Ford car and thought trams would make his Jerusalem ugly. So we never had them. They're building light railway now, but it's not the same.

There's lots of things you shouldn't do on a Melbourne tram: