Friday, 30 September 2011

A little Cruditie

I felt bad taking the train to Dusseldorf until I discovered that Tom had taken a boat all the way from Cologne to Rees, and he'd ganged up with a bunch of Englishmen who he travelled with for the rest of his journey. No such luxury for me. In fact he only spent 15 minutes in "Dysseldorp", but I was having no such lacuna. The sweaty walk from Dusseldorf's railway station went through the 80 or 90 per cent of the city I'd never see again: I was focused on the old town, on the Rhine, and some pretty tasty sounding art galleries. Strange how quickly one can reacclimatise when Beuys and Kiefer are in the picture. I was a middle aged grunge hero by the time I made the tourist office in the old town, a dripping mess. So when the lovely tourist officer, hearing of my desire to stay in the old town, said: "Most of the guys who do that just want to drink all night and have a bed to crash, the places are not so nice," I was thankful she recognised my inner poet. I looked like a guy who might have been all night in a Cologne heavy metal hangout who then got freaked out by mass-taking German gun clubs. But somewhere in my ruddy look she saw Heine. Forty minutes later I was in a suburban boutique hotel, ten minutes walk from the old town, surrounded by shoe salesmen - and women. The TV was flatscreen and plasma and not bolted high from the ceiling; there was no smell of kebab. And the breakfast bar had Apple desktops for web access.


Cologne and the Gunpowder Plot

One final detail. On his last day in Cologne Tom saw, somewhere in the city, a portrait of the Jesuit Priest, Henry Garnett, who had been executed in London in 1606 in controversial circumstances. After his hanging it was claimed that a piece of straw was found nearby that "looked" like Garnett. It became a Jesuit icon. Well, in Cologne just two years later, Tom saw a printed image of the piece of straw. An early example of viral global conspiracy theory. "Though I thinke the truth of it is such, that it may be well ranked amongst the merry tales of Poggius the Florentine...."

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

A moment from Stifel, Cologne - the human juke box

Sitting in the pub window watching the world go by, about eleven on Saturday night. A man dressed with a silver foil wrapped box on his head on which a number of rectangles with words are arranged stops. He is "Gerd Box" the human juke box, and will sing any song from his selection. They are all heavy metal classics. There are no instruments involved; and he can't sing.

What follows ends up with most of the bar singing acapella a song whose chorus is "loving you is like loving the dead". I have money of this being a Bauhaus song, but who knows? The gun club may even have approved.

At Cologne Cathedral

The situation of Colen is very delectable...

Their Cathedrall Church which is dedicated to St. Peter is a goodly building, but it is a great pittie that it is so imperfect. For it but halfe ended. Doubtlesse it would be a very glorious & beautifull worke if had been thoroughly finished....

Tommy Boy....

A few hours sleep after Underground and I am preparing for the walk to Dusseldorf, but first I want one last vision of Cologne's cathedral because Tommy has dedicated twenty something pages to its description, pretty much tomb by tomb. Who knows if this was real time reportage or copied from some guide in German?

So I am in the square that houses one side of the cathedral, a hotel, and the modern art museum. It's already about eleven, which means a late arrival in Dusseldorf. Today there are a new set of faces in the crowds that flock these spaces, faces I don't recognise from my many weeks of walking across Germany; and when I walk around the corner to the main station and its own theatrical courtyard of arrival and departure there are more and more of this strange type arriving by train.

They - as I am, high on the staircase gods watching the Lowry figures flock and separate below - are greeted by a new piece of art in the station square, perhaps twenty five metres high and wide: il papa, advertising "Germany's leading catholic radio station." In the image used the Pope's gesture is a waive, his arm is raised at least - oh god I am being charitable - that could just possibly be misunderstood, given yer man's history, nationality, and....well I am a charitable soul.

The faces are not the only unusual thing; the men, and predominantly this is a man thing, are dressed in olive green blazers adorned with medals. Many carry banners, in cloth, often with designs from the most brutal of christian art sources, St. Sebastian is big, all those arrows and homo-erotic poses... These are walrus men for the most part, with Colonel Blimp moustaches and deep double jowelled necks. Big, overweight, and certain...

But what are they? They are joined by a few women, dressed in Elsa Lanchester Bride of Frankenstein mode, the kind of style that might make the catwalk if The Wicker Man became a big seasonal influence on the people who've taken over from Alexander McQueen. (Yes the jacket and jeans doing very nicely thank you). They keep coming from the station, a relentless march of history straight out of The Lady Vanishes. Yes the Brides have a Margaret Lockwood air; yes it would be no surprise to see Caldicot and Charteris discussing the cricket somewhere....following live on the BBC website, these days.

They are joined in the cathedral's surrealist hinterlands this morning by those extraordinarily annoying silver mimes: angels, roman soldiers, more angels, and they take the majority of the attention for the genuine passer-by tourist child from China or Chigwell.

But not mine.

One green jacket particularly inspires me; a younger sort with a giant head that is buzz cut shaved and his only other facial adornment are a pair of black bull's balls that he has pierced into his nostrils. Think Hellboy meets the winner of the US Masters golf tournament. He's carrying a large St Sebastian banner and I am just thinking that he wouldn't exactly have been out of place on the dance floor to the death metal at Underground. Except that this guy means it. I get in close to these guys and take a lot of photographs. Not quite Robert Kapa in Spain, but there is a pretty strange vibe here, is it the country versus the town thing? Is it like the English football fans in Baden-Baden? No, this is celebration. I keep photographing. Beer bellies in Green, beards, those hats with a flower, more brides. Eventually I have to ask.

They are a pistol and rifle association, celebrating their 150th anniversary. Happy memories guys. From all over the state, and not really Cologne at all. There's going to be a mass in the cathedral....and there, outside the station, the Pope looks on. I mean they don't whack anyone who is taking pictures, but there aren't many smiles. I don't like this so much.

I find I've taken a couple of hundred pictures so I go off to wifi and publish a few and then realise I am exhausted. I'm not going to make Dusseldorf by foot today so I take the train...

Later there is salsa.

Written in Dusseldorf

After the poetry night, coming soon after Beuys, Tartort, and salsa...

North By Northwest, again, on German TV

Early enough, as a kid, the Rushmore
Scenes, the crop duster, the drunk driving
That today seems risible when the laws
Of gravity don't exist and ceiling
Dancing, like Astaire's, happens in videos
For never pirated no-hit teen bands.
Then it was the sex, and blonde spy igloos
Of icy iridescence in whose hands
All men melt under an indifferent
Gaze. But now it's the middle initial
The existential "O" of Cary Grant
That makes necessary the serial
Pleasures found in repeated viewing
Of the perfect tale of man's renewing

A monument to monumentalists'
Thinking that's gone now we are all a brand
Made over by banana republics'
Deracinations we "read" not understand.
Roger O ran from a faint imprint
Of cold warrior and became himself
Inside tunnel and Eva Marie Saint.
To run from the accumulated wealth
Of borderless nations' big idea
Is less easy, even with CGI.
Didn't Inception just increase the fear
Mad men can't answer the question why
And the happy ever after that's rife
Is just Cary's imitation of life.