Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Yesterday Pete told us about 'save-the-frogs' operation at the villas, aka Hoak. R decided to clean his paint brushes in the frog pond. When Pete found out half the frogs were already dead. He took the rest out of the pond and cleaned them - it's the oil in the paint that kills them, they suffocate, that's how they died, the poor souls, he said, nearly crying. He cleaned them very carefully with his toothbrush to get the oil off their skin.
"Did you still use the toothbrush afterwards?" I asked.
Very carefully, said E.
Then he had to take the water out of the pond and scrub the paint sediments off the bottom. Another two frogs died overnight but two survived. He had to bury the dead ones in a special frog cemetery at the garden.
But now there's a new generation of tadpoles.

"Did you say anything?"
I told him he was an idiot, Pete said with a serious face, but then laughed: I don't think it will happen again.

* * *

We were drinking the red-wine-bladder pinched from Kali's Degree show. Pete said he could write a novel if he was living in no. 19. I told him I thought so too before I moved to this flat, but it's like a prison cell, I'm not enjoying it and I can't work there. It's a hovel, a dive, said S. We were talking about recent Clifton troubles, (for another post) there's a lot of aggression, homophobic shit, threats of violence. "And yesterday" said S. "somebody graffitied all around the front doors a long inscription about how he was righteous and in the image of Jehovah and how all the artists in Clifton Mansions are EVIL".

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Market Diaries: Oxheart Saturday

In the modern fruit and vegetable market, the importance of visual pleasure far exceedes that of taste and smell. The notion of the perfect (and the uniform) tomato, apple, and pepper is first and foremost visual. Many of the fruits and veg that I find in the Wholesale Market are slightly bruised, or have strange and unusual form; their figure is damaged or abnormal, which makes them useless as a commodity in a market that is based on visual presentation.

Oxheart tomatoes, of which I skipped a whole bag on Saturday, are different. They are uniquely unpleasing aesthatically, in way that is truly exotic, and hence can actually enhance their value as a quaint, boutique vegetable, "old-fashioned favourite" for connoisseurs. It's the Lyle Lovett appeal: you're so ugly it's attractive.

The oxheart tomatoes I skipped were not thrown away because they were too ugly, they were just ripe. Good to eat but too late to sell, like most of the produce that ends up in the skips of the market. I didn't find much else: lettuce, parsley, lemons, leeks, apples and pairs. Saturday is a slow day, but it's the only day I can go during the exams period.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Obscure Visual Sign of the Week (29)

No Access to Sentimential Persons

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Been reading Iraqi Screen (via salam pax) a new blog by an Iraqi journalist. She's a good writer and it is very depressing. My first reaction, other than utter despair, is thinking with disbelief that Blair is still Prime Minister here. The man was pivotal in making the life of 26 million Iraqis a living hell. I know geting rid of him won't solve much - as Pandora found out, that particular box doesn't come with closing instructions - but admitting UK responsibility for the disaster and holding him accountable are first necessary steps.

Why do these words ring hollow? Why is it something that everybody here know, but won't do anything about? Not enough UK casulties? Not enough suicide bombings and beheading vidoes? Or too many? What are people waiting for? Or maybe it's just not important as, say - the housing prices.

Perhaps human solidarity is not a good enough basis for political action, but how about self-interest. If anyone imagines that the mayhem in Iraq can be kept at a safe distance then they are wrong, wrong, wrong. The levees that are supposed to keep the West safe and dry from the flooding currents of hatred and dispair have been crumbling in the past fifteen years. Borders will not keep anyone safe, as long as globalisation continues to erode them. I'll stop here before I get more into doom and gloom. For more Iraqi blogs see Iraq blog count.

Property Law I

"The idea of property in land oscillates ambivalently between the behavioural, the conceptual and the obligational, between copmeting models of proprty as a fact, property as a right, and property as a responsibility."
Critically discuss.

I was slightly later than usual in leaving home this morning: quarter to nine is too early anyway. But the Big Ben, coming to view as usual immeidately after Vauxhall and the MI6, reassured me things are under control, in all senses. It was happy brisky drizzle, all the way to Waterloo Bridge; the Strand smelled of Pain-au-Chocolate and coffee. A stack of Asahi beer boxes on the road in Drury Lane tempted me (just put one on your rack and go). The dryest beer in the world: but not when your late to invigilating Law exams.
Proprty Law: third year that I'm invigilating on this one, and still, to my disappointment, not a single question on squatting.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Market Diaries

Friday was Costa-riccan mango day - all the bins were full of them; but also Dutch chickory, French wild mushrooms (morels and chantarells, it's late May... god knows how they keep them fresh) and Chillean grapes. But I want to write about the Israeli mint I found right at the beginning of my round.

It was in a blue plasic bag, inside a cardboard box with the familiar Carmel logo, lying in a big pile next to the skips. A sucker for fresh herbs, I had a look: the mint was not super fresh, some leaves were dark, some even black. Maybe other times I wouldn't bother, but this was mint from home, real Middle Eastern na'na, not the European genteel and boring version common here. So there was no question about it. I picked the best looking bunch and carefully put it in my panniers.

Skipping veggies from Israel: a complicated issue. There is a lot of Israeli produce in the Global Market of New Covent Garden. Mainly herbs (mint, sage, thyme, basil), but also capsicums, cherry tomatores and other things. It makes skipping rediculously personal. On a very basic level, it's familiar tastes and smells, reassuring even in the concrete wasteland of South London. And sometimes it's the good?-old patriotic pride: Israeli avocadoes, the best, I would present them to my housemates. But then, I'd think, if they are the best, why did I find them in the rubbish? and I would get angry and offended, my middle-eastern pride talking: why do you import vegetables from my country to throw them in the bin?

Soon i'd get bored of this nationalist role-playing, and think of this produce, this 'Israeli' produce that almost certainly was picked, wrapped and packaged by immigrant workers. Agricultural work in Israel is done mostly by Thai workers these days; 10-15 years ago labour shifted from Palestinians to Asians. Globalisation and the Oslo process playing in tandem meant that today, even the kibbutzim hire immigrant-labourers to do the hard work. I guess somewhere in my mind I still have Zionist images of socialist pioneers ploughing the land and toiling the soil, making the desert bloom; this is part of me being sentimential when I see the name Arava on the boxes at the Market. But I know the toiling is done by Thai workers, living in shacks, their passports held in the gangmaster's (sorry: personnel officer) safe. Hard-working, they say, they rarely complain, read: easily exploited. You know, the Global market is vicious, and cheap labour is the only way to survive... they still manage to send savings to their families, don't they? But exploitation is not the topic of this post, maybe another day.

Only one time I found Palestinian boxes in the market. It was strawberries, around November last year. I knew they came from Gaza. It was not too long after the Israeli pull-out; the Gazan farmers were led to believe the border-crossing would be open for exports. But then, how not surprising, 'security-alerts' kept it closed most of the time, and the strawberries rotted in Gaza. These boxes were among the few who made it out: I was relieved to find it was only the boxes, that the produce itself wasn't thrown away. Knowing how difficult it is for a 'Palestinian' strawberry to make it anywhere, the thought it would be just thrown to the bin was too hard.

Only rarely do I find Jaffa citrus fruits in the Market. When I find the Jaffa label on oranges and clementines, I cherrish them, because I know I am skipping history. They started everything: the introduction of citrus plantations in late 19th century Palestine signalled the integration of the country into the Global Economy. From a subsistence agriculture - where people ate the barley they grew, and trade was limited mainly to olive oil and its by-products - agriculture became a means of money making. Oranges were the first and most successful 'cash crops': planted in the coastal planes of Palestine, they gave grove-owners profits of 10 to 20 perecnt on invested capital. A real hit. The rest is history, and orange-flavoured chocolate biscuits. I sometimes wonder what Palestinians refugees from Jaffa feel when they see their city name on Israeli oranges. Another an act of appropriation, this time for a marketting ploy.

But today, citrus is not so profitable. Most groves have been sold to property developrs, because you know, money doesn't grow on trees anymore. It's in real-estate and branding. The Jaffa oranges have been outsourced, like everything nowdays. The successful Jaffa 'brand' is franchised by the Israeli Agricultural Association to other international producers; e.g. South Africa.

In histories of the conflict , the story of the Jaffa orange groves and the incorporation of Palestine in the Global economy is a distant background, the muted wallpaper of the theatre set of Modern Palestine/Israel, where the real drama is political: British troops, Zionist leaders, the Palestinian Mufti, clashes and massacres, wars and dispossession. For me, however, Jaffa and what it stands for is a main theme, perhaps the real story. I won't make a case for it, not now.

More and more I am inclined to think of the global agricultural market as an unfortunate episode in human history. Its envrionemential and social implications, and its reliance on limited resources of cheap energy, make it an especially dubious enterprise. The wheel cannot and will not be turned back easily, not without pain and hardship; as the people of Gaza find out these days, growing your barley is not an option anymore. They are dependant on a global economy from which they are locked out, by political, artificial barriers: a situation that is perhaps not so difficult to solve. On a longer term, and on a global level, I'm not sure what solutions would look like. At the meantime, I offer these market diaries as a form of archiving and documenting; I am looking forward to growing my own mint on a window seal in Jerusalem.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Obscure Visual Sign of the Week (27)

The Wrath of God: Possible Implications

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Archaelogy of Roman Imperialism

I started my invigilation month. I'm supervising exams in college. It's Roman History today.

Is it more appropriate to talk of Emperor Worship or Imperial Cult in provincial society?

Do you think walking barefoot undermines my authority as a representative of the System?
I got totally soaked cycling here. It hasn't rained like this for months. I thought my shoes were kindof waterproof.. they're not. The rest of me was dry.

But it's the computer lab, and there's only one student taking the exam, and he can't even see my feet.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Obscure Visual Sign of the Week (26)

Designated Child Sacrifice Area

* * *

"And they came to the place of the yellow and black sign; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son."

Thursday, May 04, 2006

7 Pictures from Madrid

1. On the BA magazine I read john Simpson on Madrid's antiquated, old-style airport. It was a surprise to land at the most futuristic surroundings I've been to. Zoomorphic architecture at its best, the lighting is like giant ants eyes, the roof like an armadillo back. From afar, the car parks are marked in colours of the rainbow, A B C D E F, like six huge oil containers, which they are, of course. They want to make it Europe's gateway to the Americas.

What a waste. Don't they know? It's running out. In ten, twenty or fifty years, it will stand desolate, a huge, wave-shaped, silver and yellow temple. And people would say that airplanes used to run from here, and that the ticket to London cost like a train journey. But this future, how distant it seems: for now it's just bright and shiny, and the announcement screen blinks: memory empty.

2. Sitting on the roof above Bellen's flat, the city is red-tiled, diving into the dark. The evening wind is chilling, and we know we'll only last a bottle of beer (one litre, fourth floor, five people). We talk about gypsee music, copyright and theft, popular music and music for the people. Everybody seemed involved in Diagonal. But isn't it a bit tiring, all the time politics? NO they shout, and laugh, everything is political, life is political!

3. The Garden of Follies is accessible by foot. From the red-brick, old working class neighbourhood cross the first highway on a bridge, walk under the second. No food allowed, to keep the Sunday picnicers at bay. Brides and grooms, however, are welcome. Between the witch's candy house, the maze (off-bounds) and the fake roman temple, it's sun, and pine trees, and sun again. And ice-cream? Next week, they promise in the kiosk outside.

4. When the party finally started, they soon put Mano Negra, and everybody were shouting the words: I could sense some kind of pride and pleasure, like one of ours or something. At half past-three, everybody had had enough mohitos to dance flamenco, just for one song: yes, clapping their hands, and twisting their hips, the pierced short-haired girls and the geeky boys. They were taking the piss, and being Spanish. Jose shook his head. 'Is it too much for you?' I ask 'I just don't understand this music. I don't get it'. He's been playing Belle and Sebastian this week.
It's Seco's last summer, they say demolition is on the way.

5. Tales of foreign cities can be recounted in names of Metro stations. Last time it was Sol, Opera, and Ventas; this time it was Lavapies, Pacifico, and Torre Arrias. Five years ago it was Museums, this time social centres, squats, and libraries. Things have changed. It took you a long time, said G, but I think you changed a lot, no? We reminisced, of course, and talked about Michael. I told them how on the night we all met, on the way from Clifton Mansions to the corner of Arlingford road, a car pulled out in front of us, and G showed him the finger: Ijo te puta! She didn't remember. My Spanish is all from her: joder, konio, tia.

6. What is it that about this place that makes me feel relieved, and almost at home? The weather, the flowers, the olive trees (but others are London for me: horse chestnuts, poplars, plane, about a month ahead in bloom); the high ceilings, the loud talk; the local produce in the market, the people in the street chatting. The politics, something about it, free from gestures of resignation and defeat that London breeds. Perhaps I have used all that London can give me; perhaps it is time to leave.

7. Madrid has changed much in six years.It is now covered with scaffoldings, and fences guard work on the roads, on every corner: renovation, construction, refurbishment, everywhere. My friends call it speculation: gentrification, and prices rising, a bubble of property prices swallowing whole neighbourhoods alive. The sound of someone practicing the piano, coming from facade, all that is left from a demolished building. But also: immigrants; not just south Americans, but also Romanian prostitutes, Polish builders, and Chinese, who have taken over all the grocery shops.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Throughout March and most of April, having no fridge was not a problem. It was cold enough for food to keep. But now it spoils very quickly.

This morning I found a fridge near the bins just off Coldharbour Lane. I put my head through the door (wholesale afro-carribean foods) and asked the lady about it.

- It works, but nobody wants it.

- Can I take it?

- Yes, take it.

It's easy to find a fridge on the street in London. From my experience (about 9 fridges ), one of two works. It's a pain carrying it home only to find out it's the one of the two that doesn't. I've done it a few times. Better ask then.

I gave it a few hours to sit (you shouldn't plug it to the electricity straight away), and went to hear Eric Hobsbawm talking about the Age of Violence.