Thursday, December 28, 2006

A White Christmas

Two years ago, me and Michael went to find stuff in the rubbish outside the big supermarket not far Halleluja Villas. Michael was riding his swanky self-built mountain bike; when we got to the Sainsubry skip he took some pictures of me next to the rubbish with his digital camera.

As he was doing this I noticed somebody coming in our direction. He was black, and
had a bag. It was around midnight.
I was sure he's the security guy, as security guards in London are almost always black.

"So what do we have here?"
(me) nothing.
(michael) taking pictures for old times sake.

Two many cameras around as it is if you ask me. Well you'll excuse me but
I'm going to look for food here.

Oh (sigh of relief from both of us) that's the reason we're here too.
Ah (he doesn't believe us).

we start going through the plastic bags, the skip is absolutely filled with
stuff. i find some bananas and offer him.
You touch it, you take it, he says, that's how it goes. I have a feeling
you're not entirely honest with me. Who are you really? What are you doing
We're just looking for food, i say.
he's still suspicious.
I'm michael, says michael.
Well I'm Mr Christmas Lavan. No jokes, please, I've heard them all. Born in
Paris, parents from Jamaica, grew up and live in London.

The loot was pretty miserable - just some bread and a few fruits. Me and michael decided to head back home.

See you around, michael says to Christmas Lavan.
Probably not, says Christmas.

On the way back I tell Michael that I find Mr. Lavan's name is a bit ironic.
Because Lavan means white in Hebrew.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Obscure Visual Sign of the Week (41)

Make sure to discard of the plastic wrapping before putting the baby into the microwave.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Market Diaries: Organic Waste

On my weekly visits to the Market, I try to find as much of possible organic produce. There are two suppliers specialising in organic fruits and vegetables, and I always check their bins in the beginning and the end of my tour. I may be eating from the rubbish, but I don’t like eating trash. As a down-and-out foodie I am highly conscious of my diet, and I prefer not to eat pesticides.

But why? Take bananas for example. Since hearing first-hand stories about the amount of chemicals used in banana plantations, I stopped eating non-organic bananas. But lately I looked into it more seriously. It appears that non-organic bananas are among the safest to eat, much more than peaches for example. Very simply, the pesticides remain on the fruits’ skin. As one obnoxious anti-organic website put it: ‘You want to get the pesticides off the banana? Peel it’.

So why eat organic bananas? Because non-organic plantations use enormous amounts of pesticides, which seriously harm the workers; because huge banana plantations, operated by giant agro-businesses like Del Monte, are among the worse in third-world exploitation; because these massive plantations are dangerously unsustainable. All these factors should inform consumers’ decisions. Even when a fair-trade and organic banana is not much ‘healthier’ than a ‘normal’ one, it is healthier for the planet and for the fellow-humans who grow it. Put it another way, when you buy non-organic, you actively support the poisoning of plantation workers and the degradation of their habitat.

But here’s the point: I don’t buy bananas. I find them in the rubbish. And still, when I’m strolling between the skips, I imagine myself as a consumer. Even after four years of skipping, the radical implications of this strange find-and-lose economy are still too confusing for me to take in. It doesn’t make sense to be able to find all this food for free. – But what really doesn’t make sense is the system which produces this waste.

As I’ve said before, the global free-market economy is based on waste no less than it is based on short-term profit. On every visit to the market, I am made painfully aware that the waste I encounter – some of it I salvage and eat, part of my London survival strategy – is just the tip of the mountain of waste created by the modern global food market. Fuel for airplanes and trucks; human sweat and labour; discarded wrapping and packaging; wasted water and energy all are involved in the wasteful production and consumption of fruits and vegetable for export to London. This waste is inevitable, because it involves transportation over oceans and continents; because the end destination is the supermarket, where almost everything is wrapped and packaged; and because waste is fundamentally good for the system: as long as someone pays for it, it doesn’t matter if the produce gets eaten or thrown away.

Commercial Organic agriculture is part of this economy. People buy Organic (or ‘biological’ as they call it in France) because they want to eat healthy, and they dislike modern industrial agriculture with its pesticides and genetically-modified varieties. The demand for Organic is growing, and naturally market forces respond to it. And so, in my visits to the market, I find Organic fruits and vegetables from overseas: citrus from Italy, mangoes from Malaysia, herbs from Israel, and – on my visit last week - bananas from Ecuador. But Organic imports involve the same waste of petrol, the same pollution, the same environmental degradation as any other imports. Perhaps people, who buy these highly-priced fruits and vegetables in the supermarkets of London, are not aware of the unhealthy consequences of their healthy diet. But ultimately, this is part of living in the heart of Empire: the metropolitan consumes while the provinces produce; the metropolitan eats healthy, while the planet pays the price.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

P's flat got burgled this week. Her flatmate, N, woke up with a man standing over his bed. N thought he must be the plumber or something. The man nodded and said 'You alright mate?' then he picked N's video camera and walked out.

It took N a couple of seconds to realize what was going on and to jump after him but it was too late. 'He was so cool about it, didn't panic, just said hi and walked out.'

The cops were not surprised. 'Typical Hackney. He didn't give you his card by any chance?'

Asked about crime advice they said: 'Well it's not a nice place to live around here unfortunately is it? Don't leave the window open again. And don't join the local gangs. Yes, short term you get lots of fun, but mid-term your life expectancy drops. Bad move, gangs'.

The Forensic expert came a few hours later. A chatty Italian girl in normal clothes and a big suitcase, she looked like out of a TV detective series. She said burglars, if caught, go to jail only after three convictions. 'But that doesn't help much either. For people like you, maybe one night in prison would be enough to deter you for your whole life. But for them three months in prison is nothing. They just learn new techniques and go out more experienced. Prison doesn't solve anything. Crimes like this are about poverty and social exclusion.'

But she said things are not so bad as the newspapers say. 'Chances to get burgled in Hackney are about the same as in west London, once in seven years. And violent crime is still very low compared to the U.S. If you're not involved with drugs and crime, the chances to be randomly stabbed or shot at are close to zero.'

I'm always amazed how, unlike in Israel, there are no iron bars here on ground floor windows. It's really not that difficult to get into houses in London. This has its advantages, when you're squatting.

obscure visual sign of the week (40)

Slimming Solutions: Discover the Amazing You

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The date today has strange resonances. Like a funny phone number. Maybe something will happen today. I’m sitting by my desk, looking out of the window to the small yard, the brick wall, and up above, the moving discolouring in the framed rectangle of sky. Philip Glass is playing his Solo Piano album. Five pieces of metamorphosis. He makes me sad.

This morning by the kitchen table: green tea, oats porridge with skipped organic bananas (Ecuador) and the IKEA 2007 catalogue. It calls upon me to reclaim my own way of life. It suggests it’s time to focus on me. It says that home is the place of healing. I can’t resist flipping through it. The promise of clean, inexpensive and not-quite-bland life somehow always involves a dog; it seems that Dalmatians go best with IKEA kitchens. They love it. It must be the simple yet aesthetic colouring scheme.

And now in my room, my temporary room, as always. At least my books are here, to my left, a long shelf of them within reach: five volumes of a vexed Walter Benjamin; a Russian Made Simple book I’ve yet to try; Foucaults in different shapes and colours; the Sakakini Diaries; Kafka’s Letters to Felice, and Sebald, and Ida Fink.

In front of me, the melancholy of the yard: an angel hooked to the wall, leaning forward, one arm fluffy, the other amputated. The candle holder weighs her down. She is a gesture of consolation. She is light as a feather, yet anchored to the brick wall. She will never leave this place. And what about me?

It’s passed midday, and I have not managed to do much yet. The days are growing short and cold. Soon it will be the longest night of the year. I think this is my last winter in London.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Film Glamour

First there was the unrelenting drip in the kitchen, from the rusting dysfunctional water boiler.
Now the florescent light in the stairway outside the front door has gone erratic.
Add ice-cold water from the taps, and London darkness at three o'clock -

my life is becoming a cliched European art film.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Obscure Visual Sign of the Week (39)

Due to popular demand, we are returning with...

The Uncanny Double
Yesterday I collapsed during a drawing session. I was modelling for stone carvers, doing a sitting pose - not a very difficult one - and staring at the box at the corner of the room. It said:
Drawing Studio
don't take anything!
Text always attracts my attention although it makes it difficult to go into a meditative phase. I thought of possible variations on this theme, such as: don't take everything / don't take a thing / don't take nothing when suddenly the world became slow and dark and very hot. My head swang out of position. Your head should be a little to the right came the remote voice of one of the carvers. English is so difficult for me at these situations I need a rest I managed to say while I found myself sitting on the floor, my body leant forward, my knees supporting each other. The floor was sooted with drawing charcoal and pencil sharpening and the thought that it's too dirty to sit on naked passed vaguely through my mind but I couldn't do much about it. I asked for some water.
Don't worry, if you faint, we'll just put you back there and continue to work
Carvers are not known for their sensitivity.

Slowly I came back to my senses, and I resumed to pose. It's never happened to me before. I think the heaters were too close to me; I was sweating and not drinking enough. Or maybe it's doing physical work after four months of academic degeneration.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Saturday at the market

For the traveller returning from distant lands, Saturday is a good day to go back to the market. The frenziness of normal days is missing; half the dealers are shut down; there's less stuff to find (no organics usually), and the market finishes earlier. But there is still plenty. The relative calm allows you to take it easy, and be reminded, skip after skip, what it is all about. Food wasted, food saved; a dip into the bowles of the global food market; random thoughts, and lucky finds, on a slow cycle through concrete-paved South London.

The first time you went to the market was on Saturday. Stuart said it's hassle free day, but in fact you were caught by a guard, wearing florscent jacket and talking on his radio. He demanded you throw everything you found (these potatoes as well); but you had more in the other bag. When asked why, he murmured something about rats in the skips, and the danger of rabis. Since then it's been four years and you have not seen a rat in the market. Coming back home to the Funeral Parlor, you cooked lunch, and ate (with some suspicion) your best prize from that day: a tray of half frozen lobster-filled ravioli.