Note from afar 4: funny old town, London


Ten days in London so far. Feels like longer.

Often, it hardly feels like being in another country. It’s not really foreign, just a bit different on the surface. It is more like my idea of Rome than I expected, in the sense of there being ridiculous amounts of old ornate buildings all over the place. The kind of stuff which in NZ would be like a big amazing building, kind of an attraction, here is just one of a dozen in the neighbourhood. There are very few skyscrapers. Most of the city is 6 storeys tall, but not much above that.

London turned on the grey and wet in midsummer. Very much like a Wellington winter, without the wind. The grey adds to the impersonality; a place that can definitely grind you down. There seems to be a taboo against looking at people or interacting; not just on the tube but in general, millions of people tuning each other out.

Weather aside, London is kind of amazing. It is huge and busy. There is so much going on here that it is impossible to keep track of. Crazy amounts of free culture, museums, art galleries; and if you have the money, theatre, and music, and other stuff. It would be easy to spend time here, especially once integrated into the culture, connected to the flows of happenings. Just walk around a corner in the city centre and something kind of epic is going on.

A true world centre of culture. I am conscious of coming from the periphery of empire, where access to the fruits of culture is limited, and precious. In a way it seems wasted on the people here; it is like they have seen everything and none of it means anything to them. Hard to justify, given I have actually interacted with so few actual English people, but yeah, the sense is there, attitudes overheard.

In ten days I have now run into two kiwis that I did not know were in the UK; I had heard this happened but didn’t quite believe it. The first one took a week.

Just saw possibly the weirdest gig of my life. Two hours of Godspeed You Black Emperor, then a silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc, with a live score, then a chunk of Swans, then Alan Moore doing spoken word with accompaniment from a guy from Sunn O))), then a bit of Grinderman, then Portishead. Then ran a mile or so to get the last tube, well, the last tube that was halfway useful to me, and made it by about ten seconds, and caromed home.

Specifics, in brief: St Pauls was filled with more memorials to fallen soldiers than religious iconography. Camden is indeed kinda cool. Soho seems fun. I have wandered around Jack the Ripper murder sites, kind of incidentally rather than by design, passing by a lamppost where intestines were once hung. There are obelisks and crazy churches as promised by Moore. Council flats do look a bit shit. The tube is amazing and awful simultaneously.

The place is much more than can be typed in one post by a tired moose.

I will move on soon. It has been fun but already I feel myself growing stagnant. This is not quite travel, more a lull, or a pause, before heading back into the breach and dealing with survival in an alien environment. It would be easy to spend a lot of time being distracted here without really achieving anything.



note from afar 3

Hmm. The rest of the time in Morocco deserves more than a line, but oh well. The highlight was probably Essaouira, and the gnawa festival, particularly Salif Keita from Mali, which was one of the best gigs I have ever seen ever, the kind of gig where after an hour and a half you almost want it to stop but don’t  because you are so knackered from dancing so hard.

As it turns out escaping Morocco was not so easy. The plan had been fly to Barcelona for a couple of days, then take the charter bus to Nowhere. But there was a 23 hour flight delay in Casablanca.  And then on arrival, my luggage was missing. Spent the night in the airport, and most of the next day, waiting for the bag. Eventually I found it 24 hours after arriving, and about an hour before the bus left, having reached the point of resignation that I was going to miss the bus – and I do mean found it, alone, wandering the bowels of the airport, looking at random piles of luggage, since the system had no idea where it was and thought it was still in Casablanca. An expensive taxi ride later, made the bus.

An hour later I was being fed beer on a bus with awesome people.

And then I spent a week in the desert at Nowhere, the European Kiwiburn-type festival. Met a bunch of very awesome people, got completely covered in dust, and partied a whole lot. Burn fests are generally pretty indescribable – part of why I made the doco, in a way – this was quite different from Kiwiburn, but still really awesome.

I camped with the Italian-led Garden of Joy, which was the most ridiculously amazing camp I have seen, and had restaurant quality food daily. And a sprinkler system on the dancefloor, which in the desert is more amazing than you can imagine.

Tonnes of crazy stuff happened, but it felt normal at the time. May try and update about that at some point in detail.

From Nowhere I found a ride with a random dude to the UK. A 3 day road trip, sleeping in my hammock on the side of the road, through Spain and France, to the UK, while listening to lots of gothic heavy metal, as it turns out he is the only other person I have ever met who is into it. We fit in a sprinkling of touristy stuff, too. The Palace of Versailles is actually pretty incredible, and has forced me to upgrade my notions of decadence.

And then a ferry and endless motorways and the tube and then a welcome from an old friend, Aidan, and OMG A SHOWER AND A WASHING MACHINE and ale in the local pub which apparently is where Charles Dickens danced on the tables as a boy, and was rated the best pub in London for 2004-2008.

I will be in the UK for maybe a few weeks, and hopefully figure out what next from there. (No longer planning on returning to Morocco for another 3 months…)

Okay, that is kind of an update. How the hell are all of you? Any major changes? I have not read any blogs or social media since the start of June. Drop me an email or a comment. 🙂