Monday, 29 January 2007

Meeting Melbourne

So here we are; Melbourne, Victorian city abroad.

Actually, I must stop using the word Victorian in this way. Here it simply means someone hailing from the state of Victoria, while to me it counjers up images of chimney sweeps, toffs and children in factories.

Melbourne is very proud of its architecture, and rightly so. What they are most proud of though, are the Anglo-Saxon nineteenth century structures. Towers of neo-Gothic/Orientalist glitz. If this is what blows your bubble then they are indeed perfec examples, but these are viewable in any English major city (perhaps that is traditionally the source of pride? Cultural cringe etc?). But what has impressed me most id the whole-hearted embracing of modernism. Not the concrete brutalism of post-war London, but elegant, poetical design that encompasses the best of modernist intentions.

For instance, the local library in the area we are staying in is a fantastic, perfectly proportioned building of wood and glass that is two parts Bauhaus, one part traditional Japanese. All along this street are buildings that reflect Roman villas, Gaudiesque towers, futurist pamphlets, or nothing seen before, and all with a delightful twentieth century edge. For a supposedly conservative nation they have taken to new ideas of architecture in a way that makes dreary old England look like a curmudgeonly, bigoted backwater.

The city centre too espouses this ethic. No-where to be seen are the disgustingly anonymous blocks of central Manchester or the unthinking, pseudo-design of modern London buildings. Everywhere are bold, bright, imaginitive designs from Art Deco to the modern day. This is what Manchester could and should have looked like if it wasn't so short-sighted.

In a word; impressive.

More to follow...


Friday, 26 January 2007

Fear and Loathing in a Cable Car

The dreams came, or was it just the jetlag?

I saw a dismembered fish head, at least five kilograms and with no corresponding body in sight, still gaping and twitching on a stall. A chinese doorman told me that he lived in Heald Green. More bizzare was the sight of a man sat on a public toilet, door open and trousers down, gently weeping into a hankerchief. There is a sense of ethereal unease around.

Hong Kong itself is a kind of Corbussieran dream, with 7 million residents packed into high-rise living. On the ground in Hong Kong Island the car is king; shops are few and one is dwarfed by the giants of commerce standing eighty floors high. Above this stretches a maze of concrete passage ways, intersecting and crossing buildings, and it is in this Barbican-like web that the people dash from sunrise until midnight. Brash businessmen stride in their suits, declaring their wealth to the unfortunates who slave for crumbs in this low-tax, no-state, laissez-faire paradise. Yet, strangely, because the people are Asian this seems less offensive to me. Is this a kind of cutsiefied, patronising racism? Almost certainly, but I refuse to confront it fully.

As well as this bustling New Asia we saw remnants of the past at the "Big Buddha" of the Po Lin Monastery. Though even here things were not as they should be. We paid our $15 to enter the Walking with Buddha exhibition, a "multi-media presentation on the life of Siddhartha Gautama". After viewing a re-enactment of his transformation into The Buddha we were treated to a room of Buddhist aphorisms, all emphasising the abandonment of attachments to pysical things, and then we exited into... a souvenir shop! Jesus Christ. Or rather, Buddha.

Further strangeness ensued on the cable car journey back from the temple. The mist was so thick that we were unable to see the Big Buddha at all and our cable car was shrouded in grey. We were unable to see any other cars, and the only sign that we were not simply floating, unattached to the physical realm, was the occasional appearance of pylons, supporting the track, which groaned into view like ghostly beasts of the mountains. If this were not odd enough I slowly realised that the Englishman to my left was none other than Ralph Steadman. I recognised his voice patterns, his wife and his distinctive, shuffling walk (in that order) from a lecture I had attended earlier in the year. What was this guru of Gonzo doing in my cable car with this mountainous, Herzogian landscape behind him? Was it a sign? If so of what?

I have yet to find out, but I am still smiling.


Friday, 19 January 2007

Last Night I Dreamt...

"Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me", or so sang Morrissey, but not so for me. Last night I dreamt that I went to a small suburban house party in Manchester and the only guest was Sir Anthony Eden.

There is no real conundrum as to why; he was evidently a manifestation of Blighty, a moustachioed Albion incarnate. Strange though, that someone of my background should choose a patrician Tory Prime Minister as the avatar of England. Why would I identify with a version of Britain that has been long since extinguished by Mrs Thatcher, and never really existed outside the corridors of Eton and the misguided heads of patriotic dreamers anyway?

Perhaps enough of us dreamt of this vision for it to thread into the Jungian tapestry. Has it now taken its place alongside King Arthur, St George and decent train services in the file marked "Mythical England"? Perhaps this idealised Anglia is itself a kind of Eden. Semantics and Miltonic religiosity melding in my unconscious mind?

Enough of this now though. We leave tomorrow for Hong Kong. I wonder if the presence of Mythical England is stronger in a former colony, or whether the Chinese took charge of the metaphysical Hong Kong as well as the concrete in 1997. WIll I dream of Eden or Mao?

We shall see.

Adieu Mon Patrie,