Saturday, 9 June 2007

Betwixt Lifestyle

Tom made his big lifestyle choice at 32; these days decisions – forced or not – about lifestyle, travel and place, can happen at any time. Travel after finishing high school, parents changing country to find work, bringing their small children to grow up “betwixt” at any time. Later there are the social-cultural decisions: to leave corporate employment, to flee a war. Retirement to somewhere warmer; a new start.

In Lyon I am around people who are mobile; nomads in their way: led to a busy city – the city of “Interpol” and “Euronews” – that is, like those organisations, neither a NATO nor CNN of a city: small enough to be human without atomising, like London or Paris, into villages. Though Lyon has its share of moods and atmospheres. They might live in twenty places in their lives; travel to hundreds of countries: that isn’t the point. The point is finding a balance.

That Tom (who wasn’t quite “in” enough, perhaps not “creative” enough, at Court in London) chose mobility as his passport is, in retrospect, perhaps not such a surprise. He is an entrepreneur of “newness”, one of those “guru” figures that emerge at any “paradigm shift” – as we used to say in the 1990s. In fact when he returned from his trip the response was lukewarm: not that his famous and aristocratic friends and acquaintances had “done” what he had, far from it. It was precisely that they hadn’t; were not well-travelled – though Inigo Jones would later see much of Europe.

Because being well-travelled, having the foreign graffiti-stamp-full passport, isn’t a virtue, it’s a boast and threat. Like many “lifestyle” choices, it says a lot about vanity, or self confidence. And being easy around people, “getting by abroad” isn’t, in itself, a skill that – whatever one feels about salesmen and women – leads to the good, let alone the creatively good.

Because travel says a lot about who we are: and the more we do it, the more complex our “travelling” personalities become, the harder it is to be in one place only. Are we travelling to be somewhere else? To forget bad experience? To create a new sense of self? Do the passport stamps (if they exist these days) signify greater maturity and understanding of humanity? Very often I think, perhaps not.

As I sit at the station of La Tour du Pin, fretting that there are four Lyon pieces to write and post, I wonder did what Tom saw – radical, new things; mountainous Alps almost beyond description at that time, “offical” courtesans at Venice, orchestras and giant beer factories – make him happy; less discontented? Or did the “wiki-ing” of his knowledge – adding to the Classics, his education, stories from London, anecdotes from the famous – bring a frustration, a sense of smallness and head-shaking that he could not turn this knowledge into something? Is that why he wrote, later? Is Claude Magris correct when he says in “Danube”: “perhaps writing is just filling in the blank spaces in existence?”

And the blog a gentle voice in search of companionship, nothing more: a lifestyle choice, waiting to happen? I’m not sure: when I can finish the pieces about Lyon I hope to have a far clearer sense of the local digital community, and how it balances betwixt the visceral and the cerebral. How it can be a force for the good, even if it is part also of our rapid atomisation.

Hmm. So that is Sunday’s Task.

Where you going? Barcelona?

Singular game! Where the goal changes places;
The winning-post is nowhere, yet all around;
Where Man tires not of the mad hope he races
Thinking, some day, that respite will be found

The Voyage, Charles Baudelaire

“Baudelaire was a secret agent – an agent of the secret discontent of his class with its own rule…”

Walter Benjmain’s notes to his first essay on Baudelaire.

“If I was in – say – Peru I wouldn’t miss out on Machu Pichu. Yes, I’d be trying to make connections with the people, of course. But it is a balance.” Because she has travelled all over the world, often alone, she knows the shifting rhythms that the “journey” brings: “the achievement you feel if somebody really understands you, for instance in China, when it takes hours: that’s amazing.”

Her parents came to France from Morocco thirty years ago, separated now; she went to college in Dublin, has been to Mongolia and Bolivia and most places in between. This summer is Laos, Morocco, “Hungaria”.

In a Lyon apartment, or a café, a “political” meeting, the people change but the type of travel being discussed is always the same: backpacker, alternative, resourceful. It has few limitations of horizon, is of a budget, uses technology for routes, a bed, a hitch, a cheaper ticket. But is about the experience more than the “pleasure”.

There is the Swiss-French (with a bit of Irish) puppet maker, the French-African “Elvis” with his “deals”, the Chinese-Canadian, the Irishman, the Vietnamese chef…the sons of daughters of the first back-packer generations whose family backgrounds are as much about global movement to find work, gain citizenship, or simply change “lives” as about fun. These are people with a recognition that Lyon is a very cool “nodal” point for their travels. A balance of size, scope, culture and budget.

“Globalization isn’t the problem,” Connie says, “I’ve worked in big business [for Yahoo in Hong Kong]. The problem is when it loses, or never finds, its social responsibility.”

“People have done what you did,” the French-Moroccan woman says. “A lot of people.”

“I know, that’s part of the issue for me, what’s left? I want to leave a snapshot of a time, and that means making connections as well as visiting museums. It’s not always easy. Because I want to give back as well.”

“Yes,” says Connie, “I agree. You have to make choices. When we were last in Paris it was for music, three concerts in three nights. We saw one big thing: Jean Nouvel’s library, inside. It was fantastic. But you can’t see everything.”

The chef and computer musician who wants to talk about his rock and roll “Manhattan”, Connie on “Hong Kong,” John about Ireland…”Elvis” who has those familiar, competitive, stories about Asia. He is a type:
“Where? Hampi?”
“Yes, even Hampi?”
“Really? Sure Goa, and Kerala, Mumbai. But Hampi?”
“What did you see at Malibaripurim?...
…How did you get to Nepal, did you drive, or fly….
…Kashmir? Easy. I have friends there, they get me in and I have a house and a boat up on the lake. You have to know people…
…Burma? I get great stones there, nice pieces.”

Elvis is the other side of alternative travel: if the French-Moroccan seeks out the solitary and remote, he is about the new silk roads that lead to raves, to endless beach-summers, and nice profits for somebody. Elvis is the wheeler-dealer who always has a new angle. He can’t be impressed, it’s not in the job-description: he’s the man who “knows” travel.

It is a travel about cheap food, drink, drugs, pleasure; taking something home that says: exotic travel. Except that Elvis’s Asia destinations are the new Spain, commonplace, part of growing up. If part of good travel is connection then isn’t Modern Northern Europe more of a challenge than remote packed beaches in India or Lombok?

“Look, I know these boys, they just want fun, you’re too serious.” Elvis says. Connie and John first met at “Burning Man” in Nevada; there are no easy right and wrongs in all this.

Tom Coryat is always fêted is the first “Grand Tourist”, but he was also a kind of “alternative” traveller. Balancing high and low, sights and people; going to places that were remote from normal life, a little dangerous, Thomas is the archetype of the “old” alternative.

In the end Tommy “walked” to India, of course: I wonder what the seventeenth century “Elvis” would have sold him in Jaipur? A bootleg CD of Shakespeare Songs, remixed by Ben Jonson, perhaps?

Friday, 8 June 2007

Lyon: Tom and Me

Some of Tom's Lyon

"I went on Friday morning being the third day of June about sixe of the clocke from Tarare in my bootes, by reason of a certaine accident, to a place about six miles therehence, where I took post horse, and came to Lyons about one of the clocke in the afternoone."

“It rained most extremely without any ceasing, that I was drooping wet to my very skinne when I came to my Inne. I passed three gates before I entered the city. The second was a very faire gate, at one side thereof there is a very stately picture of a Lyon. When I came to the third gate I could not be suffered to passé into the city, before the porter having first examined me wherehence I came, and the occasion of my businesse, there gave me a little ticket under his hand as a kind of warrant for mine entertainment in mine Inne. For without that ticket I should not have beene admitted to lodge within the walles of the City.”

"…this city of Lyon, which is situate under very high rocks and hils on one side, and hath a very ample and spacious plaine on the other side. It is fortified with a strong wall, and hath seven gates, many faire streets, and goodly buildings, both publique and private. Very populous, and is esteemed the principall emporium or mart town of all France next to Paris. It is the seat of an Archbishop, who is the Primate and Metropolitan of France…Most of the buildings are of an exceeding height, sixe or seven stories high together with the vault under the ground."

“Many of the Kings Mules which are laden with merchandise come to Lyons, where they lay down their burdens, who have little things made of Osier like Baskets hanging under their mouths, wherein there is put hay for them to eate as they travel: over their forehead and eyes they have three peeces of plate, made eyther of brasse or latten, wherein the Kings arms are made: also they have pretty peeces of pretty coloured cloth, commonly redde hanging down from the middle of their forehead downe to their noses, fringed with long faire fringe, and many tassels bobbing about it."

French Bread

The Drinking Spectrum

Thursday, 7 June 2007

The First Documentary

In the seventh district of Lyon, close to Mon Plasir, is the Lumière Museum. Here we celebrate a technology that really changed the way we see the world. The Museum is a marvellous building, a castle-villa, filled with cameras and projectors, 360 degree panoramic photographs; and upstairs a research library. The real inspiration, however, is seeing how the Lumière brothers utterly reworked how we see cities - thanks to the "cinematograph".

Their work is about "real life"; they sit in symbiotic relationship to George Méliès fantasy: palying Stendhal to Méliès' Jules Verne. "Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon" (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory) is the first ever 46 seconds of "documentary".

Connie and John don't watch television: they download what they want, and watch on their computer. The last two "documentaries" they've seen are "The Corporation", and the PBS programme, "The New Heroes: Social Entrepreneurship".

The Lumière brothers led on to the "realism" of film makers such as Robert Bresson, Jean Renoir, Maurice Pialat and - in a way - Bernard Tavernier, a fellow Lyonaise.

The museum is on the site of the Lumière's factories. Next door in what was once the warehouse is the Lumière Institute cinema: it is showing a season of Woody Allen films.

I guess he changed the way we see quirky relationships and self-centred angst-ridden issues of self-identity, so he gets his slot.

On the Gilles Peterson show he reminds listeners to send in their "Video Diaries" of the concert he played last week. Everyone is a Lumière now. I wondered what Tom would have caught on his digital camera?

Of course the Lumière Brothers are on You Tube.

Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (The Lumière Brothers, 1895)

The First Documentary

"World" Music

Tom did it in Milan; I do it now. I squirm in hangover. But this is the modern world, and sitting on the terrace I'm listening to Gilles Peterson streamed mellowly from Radio One. I haven't listened to Radio One for thirty years! Music is now just an instantaneous feed: everyone knows "everything". Here in Lyon I am tuned into the BBC, it could be radio stations from anywhere in the world. Suddenly my I-Pod has the same alternative, vaguely lo-fi, artists, as Connie and John, my hosts. The artists fame is sudden and passed on by word of online mouth: they play where they are popular. Gilles Peterson is playing Amsterdam on "Sunday", has just returned from Shanghai; in between Clissold Park in North London. There are few secrets now, even obscure vinyl is now digitized and made available (legally) on websites. Shanghai or Lyon, audiences will "know".

When Tom came home he brought descriptions of music, and orchestras, he heard in Venice; the text is still important to historians of classical music. Now I wonder how we are archiving musical "taste" in its myriad forms. Instead of a stream - a new song, a CD - contemporary music is now a shifting ocean we all sail in, or on. Oceans. No wonder the record industry is worried.

Questions Of Travel

Elizabeth Bishop

There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.

For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren't waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.
--Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr'dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries

between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds' cages.
And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians' speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory

and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

"Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one's room?

Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?"




Wet, again

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Escape from Court

Last night a long discussion in Croix Rousse about why we travel, and what that means, with a cast from Ireland, England, Canada via Hong Kong, France and Morocco…the pathways and digressions of the conversation later. Now, waking up in the house of a man from Dublin and a woman Regina, Canada, I’m struck with renewed thought that Tom left England to escape “Englishness” – is it true? Was he, as a man betwixt classes, and working (at Court) in an environment as competitive as a McKinsey corporate away-day, just feeling squeezed; believed that travel would arm him with stories and visions that provided cultural currency? Perhaps he was daunted by the sheer volume and industry of his friends, of Ben Jonson or Shakespeare, the sophistications of Inigo Jones. Or King James, himself - that most unusual phenomenon among crowned heads - an active and practicing writer.

All his life he wrote, imagine the Queen doing the same: there were occasional variations in subject matter, such as probably the first anti-smoking leaflet in history, the "Counterblast to Tobacco", but mostly James wrote about what he knew best: the business of being a King, in books such as “Basilikon” and “The Trew Law of Free Monarchies” of 1598…

In 1610 James called the House of Commons, “This rotten seed of Eygpt…[where] these seven years past…our fame and actions have been daily tossed like tennis balls amongst them, and all that spite and malice might do to disgrace and inflame us hath been used…”

Corruption, Peerages being bought (a James invention, there was even a price list – I’ll try and find it: £1000 for a Dukedom…that kind of thing), sexual licence, “Ruff” culture, the precursor of “Bling”. Did anyone enjoy being at court? Apparently not, Sir Walter Raleigh’s famous phrase: “it shone like rotten wood”, is sometimes dismissed as evidence of the disappointed in preferment. After all, the King wasn’t a smoker. But the party for James' Brother in Law, Christian IV of Denmark in 1606, and John Harrington’s vivid account of its drunkenness, sex and debauchery, is described in the "Dictionary of National Biography" as “the stock quotation for the intemperance of the court of James I…Gambling and feasting and lavish weddings became the commonplace…”

Sometimes 400 years ago seems so… “contemporary.” Was Tom, going to see a brand new world and criticising Popery and “Ethinicke” religions from beyond “Christendom”, actually seeking the solace of the “pure”?

The illusory "unique" experience of being in far away places, lonely, but resilient? Many can do this now, "getting away from it all". This is why New Europe is the challenge: what do we not know about it? Apart from almost everything?

You Tell Me

1751: Voltaire in the Le Siecle de Louis XIV described Europe as “a kind of great republic divided into several states, some monarchical, the others mixed…but all corresponding with one another. They all have the same religious foundation, even if divided into several confessions. They all have the same principle of public law and politics, unknown in other parts of the world…”

1771: “There are no longer Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards, or even English, but only Europeans.” Rousseau.

1796: Edmund Burke: “No European can be a complete exile in any part of Europe.” Letters on a Regicide Peace.

In a Moulins thunderstorm on Monday I sit and read news stories and blog entries from “Google Alerts”. I have a group set on topics such as Paris, France, Lyon, “Shame” and “William Shakespeare.” Under Lyon, my next destination I come across a review of CocoRosie, who played a concert in Lyon on Saturday night. The review was by “Lady C” on the MOG music site. I signed up, posted…a day later I am having dinner with Connie (aka Lady C) a Chinese Canadian, and John, her Irish (alternative instrument-making) boyfriend, in their Croix Rousse apartment in Lyon. The day bed is waiting for me, and puppet-making friends on the way over.

“I went on Friday morning being the third day of June about sixe of the clocke from Tarare in my bootes, by reason of a certaine accident, to a place about six miles therehence, where I took post horse, and came to Lyons about one of the clocke in the afternoone.

It rained most extremely without any ceasing, that I was drooping wet to my very skinne when I came to my Inne. I passed three gates before I entered the city. The second was a very faire gate, at one side thereof there is a very stately picture of a Lyon. When I came to the third gate I could not be suffered to passe into the city, before the porter having first examined me wherehence I came, and the occasion of my businesse, there gave me a little ticket under his hand as a kind of warrant for mine entertainment in mine Inne. For without that ticket I should not have beene admitted to lodge within the walles of the City.

It rained in a similar way coming into Lyon, but thanks to technology – and human kindness – I have my “warrant for entertainment.”


"Rob Boudewijn, who heads European studies for the Netherlands' respected Clingendael institute, a research center, said that 20 years ago a politician who criticized immigration "was a kook, an outcast, a fascist," he said. "Today, he's mainstream, and if he's not anti-immigrant, he's a kook the other way."

The shape of things to come? From the McClatchy Washington Bureau.

Terrible Kids: the other side of the Loire

Sophie is 22, her grandmother – who she has never met, she left her French husband and moved to Australia in the 1950s – is English. “How did you manage in these places,” she says, “they are dead, terrible.”

Briare, Nevers and Moulins have had their family-centred moments for me, but the reality is “depression, economic decline, kids leaving to find work in the cities,” she says. In Moulins for a Mother’s Day reunion, she is keen to get away; a snap strike par grave, greve has flattened the rail system. The two hours to Lyon becomes an eight hour odyssey of coaches, towns smaller than Moulins, and Lyon reached (in electrical storm, of course, “Ha, welcome to France, snow on the Alps, lightning everywhere.”

But these towns, what is it about them? “A boy I knew at high school, he lives there now. I saw him this weekend, he has a baby on the way. Says he is pleased, he wanted it. But he and his wife can’t afford a house, will live on with his parents. Kids, I don’t understand why people have kids. Everyone tells me at 30 I will change my mind, but at least 30 you have experienced things, seen different ways. In these towns it is the only option.”

Sophie chose Lyon rather than Paris for her adult education because it is a lively city without the snobberies of Paris; she admits she has few friends in her school, “because they all want to be lawyers and buy Mercedes cars and ‘settle down’ as fast as they can. They buy the car, the house, the wife, the clothes. Then they realize that actually they have nothing. They are too young – and old at the same time.”

Travel (and jazz) is Sophie’s thing: tomorrow wind-surfing in the South, next week Morocco for a month. She spent a year at Cambridge, and has seen Las Vegas, LA, Africa – much of Europe. “Travel is just an addiction, I can’t feel settled,” she says.

Her father is a busy successful rural doctor in the south, her mother “has all the clothes she wants, holidays – she just went on a group hiking trip to Martinique – but she isn’t happy. I don’t want to marry for money, for the life, I just want to be.”

Worried by the election of Nicolas Sarkozy, though not convinced by Royale either, she says her generation thinks politics is just another branch of business. She includes journalism in this. “I’d thought that’s what I wanted to be, but now I see my idea – that it is about telling the truth – is just wrong. They want the power too. And they’ll say whatever it takes to get that power.”

She was born in a community of 200. As a teenager: “We did nothing. There was nothing to do but drink, meet boys, smoke some weed. I had to get away. When I go back to the house my parents live in now I feel displaced, uncomfortable. I think my father is very clever, very simple, but for him work is just everything. It is hard for my mother, what can she do?”

Perhaps this is a new Renaissance, technology empowering us, huge changes in the way we choose to live for her generation - in the future. "Yes, I think so too, but not so creative, it's not about great art but about the body, how you look, it is a Renaissance but turned in on ourselves as works of art."

Sophie plays jazz piano; her I-Pod is full of Django Rheinhart, Miles Davis, Chet Baker – “the old stuff is so great.” The last book was about “mothers, in Africa”, and she says she’d like to travel more in Africa soon. “Lyon is great, beautiful, but I have to leave even it, often.”

Wind surfing in the morning then.

Monday, 4 June 2007

In the knowedge not the know

Difficult to juggle, this “betwixt” thing: living somewhere between Tom Coryat, history, art, Google and now, is hard. What the “memory stick” brings is a frame; but the towns of the Loire are their own boxed-frame. Family-centred; day-time centred: here in Moulins night-time is not the right time.

Easy then to drift back to Tommy, noticing everything, living and traveling each day in a world without Thomas Cook outlets. He is a man of the country who could hold his verbal own with any at court, though it didn’t make him rich. He is a man of great – famous – friends, who gives it up to pass though sometimes dangerous lands, for who really knows why. Here in the flatlands before the Alpine mountains what was he thinking? Was it just the excitement of the what the hell next?

“The French guides otherwise called the Postilians, have one most diabolicall custome in their traveling upon the wayes. Diabolical it may well be called: for whensoever their horses doe a little anger them, they wil say in their fury Allons diable, that is, Go thou divell. Also if they happen to be angry with a strange upon the way upon any occasion, they will say to him le diable t’emporte, that is, devil take thee. This is know by mine own experience.”

Does Thomas have nightmares about the gallowes he sees? Does the great conversationalist and “word-engine” miss debate; was Isaac Causabon enough for him, in Paris. Is being the “first”, being the inventor of travel for pleasures sake, even then tinged with the melancholy of absent-connection?

In the 1930s the Polish poet, Julius Slowaki, wrote in “Journey to the East”:

“If Europe is a nymph….Paris is the head, London the starched collar…”

trsn Norman Davies.

Is that what Tom was escaping, Englishness (however that might be defined in 1608 – answers please) itself?

…”I never saw so many roguish Egyptians together in one place in all my life as in Nevers, where there was a multitude of men, women and children of them, that disguise their faces, a our counterfet western Egyptians in England. For both their haire and their faces looked so black, as if they were raked out of hel, and sent into the world by great Beelzebub, to terrifie and astonish mortall men: their men are very Ruffians & Swashbucklers, having exceeding long black haire curled, and swords or other weapons by their sides. Their women also suffer their haire to hang loosely about their shoulders, whereof some I saw dancing in the streets, and singing lascivious vaine songs; whereby they draw many flocks of foolish citizens about them.”

History is here in the municipal churches and ancient quarters where the taxes were collected, but twenty-first century history is being made somewhere else, whatever the GPS says. Of course Tom isn’t suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder, or average-church complex (nor “Casaubon Complex”). But I can’t help but feel he, like me, is looking forward to Lyon. I’ve been invited to dinner by some music bloggers. What could be better?

“In Nevers I saw many woodden shoes to be solde, which are worn onely of the peasants of the countrey. I saw them worn in many other places also: they are usually sold for two Sowses, which is two pence farthing. Thus much of Nevers…”

I suppose I am learning that “living in the knowledge, but not in the know” is possible from home, be it Fontainebleu, the British Library, or the cyber cafés of Amiens. What is harder; harder even than feeling for a glimpse of Tom’s soul, is to grasp how his invention, this tourism thing, can be enhanced in a way that brings us back closer together by these new technologies. Thus far the “knowledge” isn’t compensating for not being in the “know.”

“In Tarare I observed one thing that I much admired, a woman that had no hands but stumpes instead thereof (whether she had this deformity naturally or accidentally I know not) did spinne flaxe with a distaffe as nimbly and readily, and drew out her thread as artificially with her stumps, as any woman that ever I saw spinning with her hands.”

Not much of that around these days.

Today in 1784, Elizabeth Thible became the first woman to fly aboard a Montgolfier hot-air balloon, over Lyon, France. I'm there tomorrow.