Saturday, January 31, 2015

Condesa

An afternoon in Condesa - a fine neighbourhood favoured by artists and intellectuals. It's full of art-nouveau and -deco buildings, the ground floors of which host boho restaurants and bijou shops to tempt passers-by. We strolled along its tree-lined streets and through the Parque de Mexico, the latter full of countless dogs-on-leads. Parked nearby were two colourful vehicles which looked like ice-cream vans, but in fact offered mobile dog grooming. They even had showers.
But talking of ice-cream, we made for a just-opened parlour called Nomada. All their ice-creams are made on site, served on pottery and with complements like nutella, glazed banana or crumbled biscuits. The young Mexican woman who served us blew her Condesa cool by saying "Oh you're English? I just came back from two years in Weybridge".

Friday, January 30, 2015

RIP Maurizio Arcieri

Who? Maurizio Arcieri was an Italian musician and producer who, after fronting the 60s group New Dada (they once supported the Beatles) and then pursuing a solo career, formed the excellent Chrisma (who then became Krisma) with his wife Christina Moser. I have two great albums: Cathode Mama (1980) and Clandestine Anticipation (1982). Ahead-of-their-time experimental synth pop. He died yesterday aged 72.

New York Story

Tonight Liz and I watched Cutie and the Boxer, a charming, quirky documentary about the 40-year marriage of Japanese painter called Ushio Shinohara and his long-suffering artist wife Noriko.
The music is by our friend Yasuaki Shimizu - that was reason enough to watch it - but it also won Best Director Award at Sundance in 2013.
Shinohara was part of the Dadaist art scene in Sixties Tokyo - all action paintings and happenings - but moved to New York in 1969 to seek fame and fortune. Unlike Yayoi Kusama (see 16 Jan post), he didn't find it, but stayed. 
Later he met a 19 year-old visiting Japanese art student, Noriko, who became his assistant and wife. The film is about their struggles to earn a living, their love for each other, their ageing (he's now 82, she 60) and how their roles have shifted. It's now Noriko's art - based on an alter ego cartoon character called Cutie - that is being recognised . 
A lovely, funny/sad, life-affirming film.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Blast

Terrible gas tanker explosion on a motorway in the city's north-east suburbs this morning. Difficult to imagine how the gas truck, which somehow lost control, could cause such carnage: 22 dead and many more injured. Eyewitnesses said it was like an earthquake or an atomic explosion. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Addressing the Press

This evening we held a press conference for the UK in Mexico Year. Instead of going for a grand, institutional event in Centro Historico, we perversely chose an unassuming, 'alternative' place in Condesa with a large tree growing out of its smallish main room. I think it threw a lot of people. But it kind of worked. We were expecting about 30 press, but got 70, plus another 50 others. The proof of the pudding will be what appear in the media over the next few days. The Year really feels like it's underway now. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Los Beatles

Mexico's love for The Beatles knows no bounds. In taxis, cafes, bars and shops you can usually hear a Fab Four song. There are four radio programmes each week playing 12 hours of nothing but Beatles-related music. Abbey Rock Shop in Condesa sells only Beatles stuff: vinyl, CDs, books, videos, mugs, posters, puppets and every conceivable trinket you could possibly think of (and some you could't). There are countless cover bands, one of which, the strangely named Garden Fete, are this year performing all The Beatles' albums in consecutive order once a month, finishing with a show concert where they'll play every single song they ever recorded in one marathon session.
The Beatles never played in Mexico. They were going to, in 1965 after the Shea Stadium tour, but the mayor decided otherwise. Paul McCartney has played in Mexico several times - the last occasion at the Aztec Stadium and Zocalo Square in 2012. Ringo Starr's been (and is coming back this March) - and he met his wife Barbara Bach in Mexico. George Harrison's wife Olivia was actually born in Mexico City. So there you go.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Edgar Froese RIP

Heard today that Edgar Froese, founder (and only consistent member) of Tangerine Dream, has died, aged 70. Pulmonary embolism. 
TD, helmed by Froese for the last 47 years, were a huge influence on my musical education. Like many, I picked up on them once they'd signed with Virgin in 1974 and the three albums which followed - Phaedra, Rubycon and Ricochet -were classics. I then got into the earlier, more experimental / less electronic albums, and stuck with them 'til about the mid 80s when, after Baumann and then Franke left, they became increasingly bland.
I met Froese a few times, the first occasion being in Berlin in January 1980 - an interview for my fanzine, Neumusik. In those days it was so easy. His address and phone number were on the back of an album sleeve so I just rang him up a day ahead, and made my way to his studio on Schwabische Strasse where he politely replied to my dumb questions. 
We met two or three times more in London, the last time being in the mid-90s, by which time the group was just him, his son Jerome and Linda Spa, but the group was a shadow of its former self.
There are a staggering 100+ albums under the TD name, of which as many as 10 could be considered vital, plus another 20 solo albums, though only the first half a dozen of these were really any good, the rest being mostly re-recordings.
Still, the last 30 years aside, Froese was an undeniable influence on many electronic musicians. This afternoon, I played my two favourites of his, Epsilon in Malaysian Pale and Stuntman, in his honour.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Hachiko

We try to keep Friday night as family movie night. It's hard with everything else going on, but tonight we managed it. We watched Hachio: A Dog's Tale, a 2009 US remake of the Japanese 1987 film, Hachiko Monogatari, which in turn is based on the true story set in 1920s Japan. 
Hachiko was a dog who went with his owner, Professor Ueno, to Shibuya Station every morning and waited there till he came back from work. One day, the professor died suddenly at work but the dog loyally waited for him at the station each day for nearly ten years, until he too died (in 1935). Everyone knows about Hachiko in Japan. There's a statue outside the station which commemorates 'man's best friend'; it's the most popular place for meeting people in Shibuya. I often used to meet friends there.
Anyway, we watched the Hollywood remake, re-set in Anytown USA, with Richard Gere as the latter day professor. The humans were awful, including Gere who was embarrassingly bad, but the dog - or rather dogs (puppy, middle-age, elderly) - were good. Question: has an animal ever been nominated for an Oscar?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

History Repeating Itself

Casa Estudio Luis Barragan
Simon Starling, Turner Prize Winner in 2005, is in town. He's been working on two Mexican projects for the last few years.
One of them is at Casa Estudio Luis Barragan, the former house/studio of revered Mexican architect, Luis Barragan, who lived there from 1948 until his death in 1988. It's a beautiful Modernist building with rough, colourful walls in a quiet neighbourhood, just south of Polanco, and has been a museum for the last 20 years. 
Starling at CELB
The room where Barragan worked is now a gallery, given over to small exhibitions by architects and artists. Starling's exhibition is called Bowls, plates - the former being some contemporary renderings of a silver bowl owned by Barragan, the latter being daguerrotype photographs of other objects. Pleasing in their own right but fascinating if you know the story behind them (which would take too long to go into here). Suffice it to say, there is an eerie ghostly quality about both.
The other project is a film, at a gallery called El Eco. Again, it's about mixing up the past with the present. Back in 1953, Henry Moore visited Mexico City and ended up, almost by accident, doing some large murals in El Eco. Later, the owner, Mathias Goeritz, photographed a 15 year-old dancer, Pilar Pellicer, in front of Moore's skeletal illustrations... and that was that. The mural disappeared, Goeritz died and the dancer went on too become an actress. Anyway, Starling  became interested in the interior and the ghostly photographs and wrote to the now 76 year-old Pellicar. He proposed making a short film of her, revisiting her past. The murals are no longer there, but for ten minutes the camera follows her around as she poses, stretches her now old dancing legs and re-enacts a memory of some 60 years ago. It was rather poignant. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Unfit

Very very occasionally I have to collect A at the bus drop-off point after school. I'm lucky, it's not far from the office but, needless to say, I left it late and had to sprint five blocks. Arrived, gasping and wheezing. I am so unfit.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

El Pendulo

We discovered a great bookshop-cum-cafe today called El Pendulo. It's in the middle of Polanco but somehow we missed it until now. Thousands of books including children's (a good amount in English), great selection of DVDs, a rack of bespoke vinyl, armchairs, decent coffee & cakes, even a full-blown menu if you want it. It's the sort of place where you just want to hang out, browse, meet a friend, take your time over a latte and muffin, catch up on emails… which I will certainly be doing. And there are five others dotted around the city. Bliss.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Hollow Victory?

China still has a grip on us. Liz and the girls continue to have Chinese lessons, we keep in touch with friends there and we like to keep abreast of news. Tonight Liz and I watched The Story of Qiu Ju, an early Zhang Yimou film (1992, between Raise the Red Lantern and To Live). 
It's an unassuming drama, set in a poor village in Shaanxi province, about a fight for justice after a farmer is beaten up by the village chief. Gong Li (Zhang's then muse and partner) plays Qiu Ju who takes on the police and court bureaucrats and there's an interesting ending. The village chief helps save her and her baby's lives during childbirth, but at the party which follows he is finally convicted of wrongdoing and taken away by police. The moral being: be careful what you wish for?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Dotty

The Kusama Yayoi exhibition at Museo Tamayo ends this weekend. It has been a sensation: the most visited exhibition in the Museum's 30+ year history. The queues stretch hundreds of metres; people camp overnight; it is beyond 'trending' on Twitter; it has become the background for selfies.
It's funny how some - a very few - exhibitions progress from being simply successful, satisfying the usual crowd... to mega-hits, through clever marketing  word of mouth and, these days, social media buzz.
But I don't really get this one. Kusama does dots. Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of dots. Some other things too. But mainly dots. It has prompted a similarly dotty response.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

TOTP

Court jesters
Got home from work today and thought: 'It's Thursday, good, Top of the Pops...'. Once I got over the fact that TOTP effectively finished in 2006, that I hadn't watched it since the 90s and that I'm currently living in Mexico, the moment of madness passed.
However, it made me think how strangly essential a part of the week it was. You'd get home from school, or even work, and on it would go. The chart rundown, the miming, the gems mixed with garbage (or even Garbage), in the 70s the slick moves of Pans People contrasting with the shuffling around of a flared, limp-haired audience, in the 80s the trying-to-be enthusiastic presenters contrasting with the piss-taking of Peel & Kid Jensen as the Rhythm Pals…
I once appeared on TOTP, in 1990. Not as a performer (ha - now that would have been interesting), but because I knew someone on the staff and was intrigued enough to see how it was produced. It was quite a good episode actually: 808 State's Cubik, EMF's Unbelievable, Julee Cruise's Falling, Chris Isaak's Wicked Game, and probably some embarrassments. 
Speaking of which, at one point the exuberant floor manager forced me onto the stage with Anthea Turner who was wearing what appeared to be a court jester's outfit, and I had to jig around as if I really meant it, as if pop was all that mattered. There were times when that wasn't far off the truth, though this moment wasn't one of them.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Farewell 19th Century

As we begin a new year, we are fast approaching a time when there will be no-one left alive who was (verifiably) born in the 1800s, whose lives effectively take in three centuries.  I believe there are only five left, all of them female: Misao Okawa (Japanese), Gertrude Weaver (USA), Jerallean Talley (USA), Susannah Musshat Jomes (USA) and Emma Moran-Martinuzzi (Italy), all born in either 1898 or 1899.
Just think, to be born before airplanes, domestic fridges, the Olympics, WWI, radio, telephones, television, computers. William McKinley was the US President, Emperor Meiji was at the height of his powers in Japan and Queen Victoria was still on the throne in Britain. Wilde, Mahler and Dvorak, Toulouse-Laurtec and Zola, were all still alive. Streets were full of horses and electricity was still a way off from being domesticated.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Graham Greene, John Peel and Tim Butcher

Following one foreign foray by Graham Greene (see this post a week ago), I'm now reading about another - though not by his hand. Greene's first trip outside of Europe was to Sierra Leone and Liberia, of all places, in 1935, three years before his Mexican trip. Ostensibly it was to write a travel book (Journey Without Maps), but on the quiet he was reporting back to a charity - and the government - on the continued practise of slavery. He brought with him his cousin, Barbara Greene, and together they ventured deep into the heart of both countries by rail, foot, road and boat.
But I'm not reading his book, I'm reading a contemporary account by the journalist Tim Butcher who retraced Greene's footsteps in 2009. This was actually a more dangerous task now than in Greene's time, thanks to the chaos that persists there even after war of 1990-2002 ended.
I visited Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, in 1989, just before the country plunged into anarchy. It was for work, bringing with me an exhibition about pop music, plus John Peel, his wife Sheila and a BBC World Service producer. It was a fascinating trip: partly because Freetown was so very different from anywhere I'd been before, but also simply to hang out with someone who'd been a long-time hero. The exhibition proved popular, but it was really context for working with some local musicians and donating a portastudio so they could record their own music. Butcher's book is very good and exactly traces the Greenes' adventure. Must read his first book, Blood River, which follows in the footsteps of another intrepid explorer, Henry Morton Stanley, in the Congo.

Friday, January 9, 2015

NT at 50 (Slightly Delayed)

Tonight, a year after the event, Liz and I watched a DVD of the National Theatre's 50th anniversary celebrations: the recording of the 50 Years on Stage all-star show which took place in the Olivier in November 2013 plus the Arena documentary which coincided.
The NT seems to go from strength to strength. After starting off life in its temporary home at the Old Vic in the 60s, it finally moved into the Denys Lasdun building in the mid-70s with Peter Hall at the helm. I read his Diaries of the time and they were turbulent years: full of delays, industrial disputes, funding cuts and trying to win over a public which took a while to warm to both the institution and (especially) the building. Even the Queen seemed not to be amused when attended the opening play, Il Campiello, a rare dud. 
But Richard Eyre, Trevor Nunn and Nick Hytner all continued to steer it in the right direction  and now it can seem to do no wrong. A mixture of crowd-pleasers and experimentation, keeping ticket prices low (every play is a sell-out) and reaching audiences beyond the building - including Mexico - with NT Live all adds up to a success story. Rufus Norris takes over in April. It'll be interesting to see where he takes it. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

An Evening of Poetry

Andrew Motion, Owen Sheers & co
So, after a long and welcome break, it's back to work - and, lest I forget, the start of UK in Mexico 2015. Tonight we had our first event: a poetry evening with Sir Andrew Motion and Owen Sheers. I'd met Motion once before, in Tokyo over ten years ago, when he was Poet Laureate, but Sheers was new to me. He's Welsh, brought up in Abergavenny but now lives over the hills near Talgarth. He also writes novels and plays. Expecting nothing, I said that my father was from that part of the world and I spent a few holidays in the hamlet of Llanthony where my uncle and aunt Jim & Gaynor Elliott still live. 'Oh really', he said. 'I know them'. Turns out he wrote a play in their holiday cottage a little further up the valley. Small world.
Anyway, it was a pleasant evening of both of them reading selected poems and a conversation afterwards with a surprisingly large audience. I say 'surprisingly' because poetry, at least in the UK, does not have the mass-appeal that prose (let alone other art-forms) enjoys. But poetry figures quite prominently in Mexican culture, a point backed up by the fact that the poet Octavio Paz is, so far, the only Mexican to win the Noel Prize for Literature.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

From Hot to Cold

Back to a cold capital. Strange that the temperature gap should be so wide between Huatulco (32C) and Mexico City (7C), a distance of only 250 miles.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Stranded

Cock-up on the flight front. A month ago when we booked our flights, we were disappointed to learn that all the flights from Puerto Escondido back to DF were full, meaning we had to book one from Huatulco, 100 miles further down the coast. So, after an hour-and-a-half taxi ride this afternoon, we checked in at the new airport only to discover that the flight we'd booked... wasn't. We had a reservation receipt, but payment hadn't gone through. Oh. Could we buy four tickets now? Nope, completely full. Any other flights tonight? No. Nothing till tomorrow evening.
So, tails between our legs, we ventured into Huatulco, found a basic hotel in the port area and went in search of something to eat. Strange place. Felt very new - lots of civic pesos spent on public squares, promenades and arcades with the hope that private investment and people would follow. But it was empty - of people and soul. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Twilight Zone

After releasing baby turtles into the sea, we had our last evening out on the tiles in P.E. Extraordinary full moon with clouds, a nightscape straight out of Close Encounters. If the mother ship landed then it must have been quietly and a few blocks away. 


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Surf's Up

Not us
Never too late to learn how to surf... Or is it?  We had lessons this morning, and whilst A&N took to it like the 'dudettes' they are fast becoming, yours truly just couldn't get the hang of it. I could get into the crouch position, but just couldn't stand up. Too big/heavy/old. Great to see the girls master it though. Puerto Escondido is a surfing Mecca, famous for its Mexican Pipeline which is at its peak in August and September when it hosts international competitions. I don't think we're quite up to that standard yet.
Liz, sensibly, opted for a cookery lesson making tacos dorados and empaƱadas, which we ate later and were delicious.

The surfing theme continued over drinks and desserts in our local restaurant while watching a documentary about... German fresh water surfers. Extraordinary footage of Deutschesadrenalinjunkies launching themselves into weirs and fast-flowing rivers. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Truth is Stranger than Fiction

I've been reading two books: Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory and Catriona Rainsford's The Urban Circus: Travels with Mexico's Malabaristas. The former is fiction, the latter fact. You'd think that would make them very different, but not really. They both have a central character, each of which is more or less constantly on the move, living hand to mouth and surviving off the kindness of strangers; one being hunted, the other seeking something. And they're both set in Mexico over a specific period of time - the former in the 1930s, the latter very recent. 
Greene's book is set during a strange time when, post-Revolution, the Mexican authorities turned against the Church. Being the good Catholic, he felt a conviction to report on it and got some funding from Longman's to spend a couple of months in Mexico in 1938, ending up writing both a work of non-fiction, The Lawless Roads (which I haven't read) and the novel in question. The latter is a cloying, claustrophobic affair and you can detect Greene's distaste for the country on every other page. It's often cited as his masterpiece but, although of course wonderfully written, I found it slight and depressing.

Five years ago, a young writer Catriona Rainsford won £200 in the Daily Telegraph's weekly travel writing competition about a thrifty trip in Bangladesh. She followed that with her first book, The Urban Circus. The Malabaristas are jugglers, fire-eaters and acrobats who perform in Mexico's plazas, crossroads and anywhere they can make a few pesos. A chance encounter led Catriona to spend two years on the road with a small band of them. It really is like a novel, truth being stranger than fiction. I found it enlightening, positive and mature beyond her years. Looking forward to her next. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Spanish Lessons

Part of the deal in coming here has been to combine lolling around on the beach with Spanish classes. The latter didn't much appeal to A&N but actually an hour and a half splits up the day nicely and they seemed to enjoy it. The school is tiny and basic, overlooking Zicatella Beach, which we walked the length of to get us back to the hotel. On the way, 20 or so paragliders descended from a pure blue sky, each making a perfect landing on the white sand. 

We had dinner at a nice restaurant cringingly called One Love where we attempted to play cards while awaiting our food. I say attempted because one pack had 60 cards but curiously no 4s and the other had symbols which none of us could work out, so we ended up playing Jenga instead. At one point Liz got into hysterics and all but wet herself (which I'm sure she won't thank me for mentioning).