Saturday, April 05, 2008


The day I left was the opening day of British Airway's shiny new Terminal 5 at Heathrow and by now everybody knows what a fiasco that was. I can confirm it since I was there. Flights delayed and tempers frayed because of problems with baggage (lost) and personnel (not there). Why? Because the combined brains of architects, builders, advertisers, promoters, administrators and financiers behind this mega project failed to work out simple logistics. They were too busy creating yet another gigantic luxury shopping-mall, parking-lot, energy-wasting facility for lifting us up into already overcrowded, polluted skies and landing us in far-flung places where we will litter the earth ever more with our relentless consumerism. Do I sound grumpy? About air travel, yes. About airports, yes. About mass tourism, yes. About globalised uniformity, yes. All roads lead to the same place now, call it whatever name you like. The language will be different, the faces will be different, the smells and sounds and tastes will be different but there is a sameness. You know what I mean, you've seen it, wherever you are. The whole planet has been colonised. There may be small hidden pockets of resistance but they're only a few more airports away.

Up and down a ladder in Rome, stacking and sorting my sister's books on her new shelves, hanging pictures, emptying boxes, I'm an efficient and compulsive nest-builder and once I get into my stride, I don't really like being interrupted. But the interruptions were good ones - my sister, my dear relatives and their children, the view of Rome from their rooftop (I shot some videos, will edit and post), a meal together in Trastevere where the food was good but the neighbourhood indelibly changed. It was where Reg and I lived for about a year after Paraguay in a top floor apartment of tiny rooms with a view. At the time, it was a cheap area, narrow streets full of small artisan workshops, simple cafes and a few restaurants. Now, although the streets are still narrow and the buildings still ancient, the apartments inside are among the most expensive in Rome, pricy restaurant tables line the pavements cheek-by-jowl, the artisan shops have disappeared, the piazzas are packed with tourists and ubiquitous clusters of druggies slouch in doorways. Groups of policemen, carabinieri, stand around, unsmiling.

When I left Reg and Rome all those years ago, I couldn't take all my stuff with me so my sister kept some of my things in storage. This time, my niece and her husband brought up on the roof, in the sun, stacks of paintings and drawings of mine which I'd completely forgotten about, work I'd done as an art student in Paris and New York and Mexico. It gave me a jolt, reminded me of who I was. I put the drawings in a portfolio and brought them back home. I've been looking at them, wondering why I've meandered so much, butterflied so much, when signposts are so clearly laid out. Here are some of them.


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