Archives for category: architecture

Bradford on Avon.  September.  I’m looking over her gently terraced garden, sitting at the desk of an old friend in her honey coloured Georgian house.  The sun peeking out from an angry, black cloud.  Gold finches at the bird table, brambles growing into the Kent Cobb Nut tree, blackberries ripe and ready to harvest.  Beyond this garden there are 18th century terraces built of crumbling bath stone.  There is a freshly planted parterre, the tiny box hedges won’t be ready for another two years.  Box grows so slowly.  All over the English countryside gardeners tend their neatly trimmed topiary, privet sculpted into elegant forms.  The muscles in my back and neck are still tender from the last few months of anxious reckoning.

From my home in the USA… things are grim.  That’s that.  AMERICA.  Every day the news gets worse.   Trump’s white supremacist vision for the USA.  Unpicking every half-hearted Obama achievement.  Making the point of his white presidency to undo a black man’s legacy.  Indisputable evidence…  I escaped at the right time.  I can’t understand people who stick around.  What more do they need to see or hear before they leave that god forsaken Trump hole?

The most powerful country in the world has handed over all its affairs—the prosperity of its entire economy; the security of its 300 million citizens; the purity of its water, the viability of its air, the safety of its food; the future of its vast system of education; the soundness of its national highways, airways, and railways; the apocalyptic potential of its nuclear arsenal—to a carnival barker who introduced the phrase grab ’em by the pussy into the national lexicon. It is as if the white tribe united in demonstration to say, “If a black man can be president, then any white man—no matter how fallen—can be president.”

Thankfully I’m home.  Home in England.  I left my friends in Chamonix after we enjoyed a few days vacation in Northern Italy and yet another adventure on the Tuscan coast.  I drove to Paris, left Dude with my friend Mary and the following day Little Dog and I caught the P&O ferry to Dover where I met my sister Roya.  A few miles later I was sitting on the sunny lawn of my friend’s lavish Queen Anne mansion reconfigured in 1911 by Edward Lutyens.

It was the first time I’d met my sister, we’d spent a few years skyping since she introduced herself online.  Now, here she was in all her lesbian glory with her delightful girlfriend drinking champagne on the velvet lawns of the English countryside.  I’m sure she felt anxious.  I’m sure she felt confused.  We have ten brothers and sisters.

I’ve avoided England.  Voting from afar, now I return.  I must admit…  I’m in love with you, the English, in love with you all.  I understand you, you are gentle, even the hardest amongst you.  You’ll never be as inflexible and humorless as the Americans.  On the ferry home I listened to two middle-aged couples describing their lives on the roads of Europe.  Motor homes.  I envied them.  On the road.  Free.  Unencumbered.

For the first time, however, the British have been divided.  Not along lines of class or political affiliation but whether one is a brexiteer or not.  Tentatively enquiring when one meets a friend if they voted for or against brexit.  They might be that kind of person.  Yet, as I waited at the traffic lights in Camden Town I saw a river of diversity.  So unique, colorful… so English.  Evidence just there on that grimy North London street: thousands of years of cultural amalgamation.

Our leaders seem so terribly out of step with the people they lead.

The English are very sweet.  A ready smile, a polite greeting, they have a charming disposition.  Drivers thank you for courteous driving, we stick to the correct lanes on the motorway.  The British are engaging and inquisitive.  After so many years walking streets in the USA, I gave up saying good morning or smiling at strangers.  Here is a nation of men and women who without hesitation are eager to trust, eager to forgive and desperately want to smile whenever they chance upon a stranger.

Perhaps it’s me?  Perhaps I am so happy to be back they recognise my unbridled happiness? I don’t think so. It’s them, the British, naturally optimistic, even though they are unaware of their optimism. They can’t see it.  They would disagree if I told them to their face.

I was excited to see my home town, but I was too tired to drive to Whitstable the night I arrived.  I planned to go after my sister and her girlfriend left but instead I crept into a huge bed with the Little Dog and slept soundly.  In the morning I found the wonderful Barham Community Store, read the newspaper then headed up the M2 to the north Kent coast.

I parked the car on Harbour Street and had coffee at Dave’s Deli, he was adorable.  His sister works there.  We talked about Richard Green.  He has been very sick.  Everyone I met seemed delighted to see me and hugged me or shook my hand vigorously.  People I’d known all my life.  Half a century or more.

Yet, for all the time passed since I first cycled up Harbour Street at 7 years old on my red tricycle… not much has changed.  There’s more money but there’s more money swamping the south-east, all the way to Margate.  I explored the town and lingered outside all three of my houses.  They were just as I left them.  The house on Island Wall has a very smart garden and the house next door has nice new Victorian sash windows.  Number 3 Seaway Cottages on Wavecrest (owned by Peter Cushing before me) is a little forlorn.  The owner hasn’t been there all summer and the garden has overgrown terribly.  Number 2 Seaway Cottages has been renovated several times since I left, they have built a 20 foot kitchen onto the back of the house.   Thankfully they kept the expensive door handles and light switches.

I didn’t miss the houses on Whitstable beach, not one little bit.  They were mine, I sold them for a huge profit and I moved on.  People ask if I miss the money they would be worth now and I remind them they are only worth money when you sell them. I miss them not at all, they gave me the oppertunity to move on in style.  I have never wished to be there again, no nostalgia… no regret.  Not like Malibu… I hanker after Malibu.

Of course, it hasn’t all been plain sailing.  Some uppity British people are very eager to remind you of your place in society, reminding me of my own ancient history… but I’m an American now so those archaic rules don’t apply to me.

More of that when I return to my desk tomorrow.

 

 

 

The heat is overwhelming.  A blanket of scorching air thrown over the city.  The dogs wilt, I pretend it’s just like Malibu but… it’s not.  Southern Spain.  I’m driving to Nice this week, then on to Paris and Chamonix to pick up my stuff.   I managed to leave things all over the place.  Ditching supurflous stuff along the way.  Lightening the load.  Occasionally I look at Dude and wonder if I should ditch him… poor crippled Dude.  His back legs giving in, he wants to catch up but he just can’t.   I can’t.  I can’t leave him behind.

At 5am, I took my coffee cup and the Little Dog.  We sat quietly looking out at the wide open plain, great fields of sunflowers, traffic snaking here and there.  Sitting outside the Cordoba Gate.  What dramas happened here?  Who was allowed in and who was kept out?  The two large fortified towers flanking a Roman arch were built around the 1st century A.D., with Renaissance and Neoclassical renovations.  It was designed to protect and reflect the great wealth Carmona enjoyed for hundreds of years.

A man arrives with his chestnut gelding.  As the horse drinks from the stone trough he drenches the beast with a plastic bucket.  How welcome that trough must have been to those who arrived (for hundreds of years) on horseback over this arid plain.  Waiting for the great doors to swing open, waiting outside the Cordoba gate, waiting to be let in or not.

img_9130

I am going to stay the weekend in Italy with Rachel.  Near Pisa.  She has a donkey and two beloved cats.   At night Carmona is over run with scavenging cats.  Hundreds of them, like rats in New York.  They are too confident to be scared by me or the Little Dog even though he makes an occasional and pathetic attempt at charging them.  Their backs arch, they hiss and show their claws.  He stops a couple of feet away and makes his strange whimper.

Last night my friend Jose and I explored the ancient part of the city.  At 10.30 it was still very hot.  Then suddenly the wind comes from Cadiz, from the ocean… 60 miles away.  You can taste the salt.  We turn a corner and the welcome breeze fills our shirts and closes our eyes.

We were chronicling abandoned houses, with or with out se vende signs written on them.   Taking note of the location of each.  “Everything is for sale in Spain.”  The realtor says.  There are palaces and broken shacks, old towers and ancient islamic, crenelated walls formerly part of the old city fortification that crash into very ordinary houses and quite by accident these medieval battlements, parapets and mouldings are consumed and preserved.

img_9118

Everything in Spain is for sale.  They see me coming: the friend of the rich celebrity.  The price of everything jumps $40k.  They show me the same houses they showed other friends two years ago.  Unlocking ancient doors, we wander through huge homes once occupied by many families.  There are slim balconies, stone steps leading to terraces looking down on secret courtyards.  There is pigeon shit and kittens mewing in every room in every house we saw.  Abandoned lives: a simple chair, a faience pot, a richly embroidered matador’s jacket hanging on the wall.  Left behind, like my luggage in Paris and Chamonix.

img_9145

Jose asks me why I want to live in Carmona.  They asked me about Tivoli and Malibu before.  Why does anyone want to live anywhere?  I don’t know.  I could live anywhere and nowhere.  I am transient.  I am free of possession or need for possessions.  I go where I am safe.  It is safe here.  I lived in so much fear in the USA.  Fear of being caught without my papers.  Fear of the state.  I was not rich or powerful enough not to live in fear.

We wake at 4.30am.  We siesta after lunch.  The streets fill, the shops and bars open after 9pm. During the day Dude will not leave my friend, he hides under their garden furniture.  I keep the dogs out of the heat as much as I can. The Little Dog is gradually (slowly) recovering from his facial paralysis. He’s still very droopy but he’s coping.  He’s doing the best he can.  I’m doing the best I can.  I am covered with sweat and dust.  My nose is crusty, my eyes exhausted.  I am recovering my optimism.

Since leaving the USA I am not plagued with ideas of death, with dark thoughts, with hopelessness.  I am not hurting myself by investing in old traumas. Not here. I don’t want to die.  Not where there has been so much life for hundreds of thousands of years.  I am a smear soon to be forgotten.  My unpopular views on social media but dust.  It’s incumbent on me to stay alive.  To rejoice.  America makes a man vulnerable.  It destroys ones trust in humanity. I came to loathe so many people in the USA but I hated gay white men more than any other.  They are vile and crude.  They espouse ideas of love and acceptance but practiced hate and exclusivity.

Today we are having lunch in Seville with Spanish gays.  I am excited.  The gay men I meet here are so generous.  They touch my shoulder, they embrace me warmly.  At first I shrank from their kindness.  I learned not to trust white gay men.  But, I’ve warmed to them here.  They understand.  They understand what horrors I endured in the USA.

 

One thousand 800 miles.  Driving.  I began this adventure a little ways outside of Turin in a drowsy hamlet called Cinaglio, an ancient place clinging to the side of a steep hill. During this haphazard journey I planned to revisit old friends.  Old friends and familiar locations.

I’ve already written how I left the USA, visiting my sister in Canada. I’ve written about arriving in Paris and staying with Mary in Sevres, I touched upon my time in Chamonix and driving under Mont Blanc but I haven’t published any of that. I’m sure it answers questions some want answering.  I’ll publish when I feel comfortable.

Cinaglio, I stayed in a magnificent 17th Century farm-house set in the glorious Piedmont countryside.  The house belongs to my friend Maria.  We are all about the same age.  We have lines on our faces and odd blemishes.  I met Maria 20 years ago with her cousin Xavier.  I was on the jury of the Turin film festival.  They invited the jurors to her house and even though we spent only a few hours there, both Maria and her house stayed vibrant in my memory.  She latterly visited my home in Whitstable and ate crab.

We arrived… nothing had changed.  Not in 20 years.  It was just as I had remembered it.  The unused, dusty chapel, the tumbledown brick barn.  The views over vineyards and sweeping lawns.  It was formerly Maria’s mother’s house and really hasn’t been touched for 50 or so years.  There is no internet or little else to prove the 21st Century was 17 years in.  The Little Dog and Dude immediately set to exploring the gardens, digging under fallen trees and hunting lizards.  Maria left the house for us and stayed else where, she filled the fridge with local delicacies.  Ham and apricots, hazelnut cake and coffee.  The night we arrived Maria and her fiance very kindly treated us to dinner. We ate in the waiting room of an abandoned railway station.  There were endless courses, pasta, raw meat with truffles and braised donkey.  I looked at them enviously drinking red wine and wanted to join in… but didn’t.  Yet, I’ve never been more curious.

Did I mention I stopped going to AA meetings?  Several months ago?  The problem with AA?  AA claims all your successes and blames you for all your failings.  ‘I stopped going to meetings,’ is the number one excuse people give who start drinking after long-term sobriety.  But why did they stop going to meetings?  After 20 years I can tell you.  I was bored.  Bored with the same stories, the same faces, the 12 steps, the bumptious newcomers and… the ghastly old timers trapped between their arrogance and their low self-esteem.  Of course not all of them were like that.  But mostly they were.  And what’s more?  I hated who I was becoming.  I loathed the fights and the resentment only AA afforded me.

Leaving a cult after so many years is bloody hard.  A good cult will own your life then blame you for turning your back on it.

I stayed with Maria in Cinaglio for 4 wonderful nights.  The second night she threw a lavish dinner at the house for 12 of her friends.  They drank desert wine.  It smelled delicious.  We ate chicken and pork.

The following day we had lunch in Turin.  Turin is a magical city and scores high on the list of places I would consider for my next home.  I’m sure if the Romans who planned the city of Turin returned at any time they would still recognize it. The snowy alps in the distance, the River Po and the Beverly type hills overlooking Turin’s orderly grid would have perfectly oriented a time traveling Roman.  The apartments I saw for sale on-line are lavish and well priced.  The streets are crammed with interesting people and after lunch we were entertained with a boisterous ‘decriminalize cannabis’ march headed by a charismatic drum major who filled the street with a vibrant drum display that cracked through us like thunder.

I discovered Zara Home.  My dirty little secret.  I love this store.

The little dog is less wobbly but not as confident.  He thinks twice before jumping into the car or onto the bed.  His face is still squiffy.  He can’t close his eye, he has solutions… ingeniously wedging his face between two pillows forcing the droopy lid to cover his exposed eye.  The week before last he was a young dog and today he is an old dog.  It comes on quite suddenly… old age.  I suppose I thought he would be the same until the end.  Just himself.  But he’s not himself.  That’s a painful thing to see.  We seem just one step ahead of death.

My US phone ceased functioning after my first few days in France.  Rather than call AT&T I decided not to have a phone… or rather I would wait for text messages and emails whenever I could log onto the internet.  It forced me to look at the landscape, I listened to music.  Massive Attack reminded me of Gulshan and Bournemouth Film School and the beach.  It reminded me that I hadn’t smoked weed for nearly 21 years.

The road from Turin to Monaco was empty and the tolls were expensive.  The Italian Riviera looked very interesting and certainly worth a closer inspection.

In Monaco I struggled onto a train with my luggage and two dogs.  The train to Nice was easy.   I found a delightful hotel in the old quarter where I spent the next four nights.  From Nice it was convenient to catch up with old friends and revisit the Cannes film festival.  The last train from Cannes to Nice leaves at 10.41pm so I had no option but to leave the festivities and do dog duties.  In Nice I had lunch with Tim Fountain and saw Cassian Elwes,  meeting his new girlfriend.  I hung out with a bunch or errant Brits and Irishmen.  We found a comfortable lounge and drank grapefruit cocktails and I met actor Laurie Calvert who is very sexy indeed.

The final day was a little frustrating as the credit card company decided to block my credit card.  I had failed to tell them I was going to France.  It took 8 hours to unblock.  I finally picked up my rental car a day later than expected and started my drive to Carmona.

A few miles outside of Cannes I stopped at a service station and standing outside were M and S, a pair of German engineering students hitch hiking from Munich to Barcelona for charity.  They had to perform certain stunts along the way for which they were compensated.

I’m sure we all remember the moment Aschenbach lays eyes on Tadsio in the film Death in Venice and is immediately consumed by the young man’s beauty.  Well, I have to tell you when I first saw M and they asked for a lift and I said yes… I rather hoped they might have found a better ride whilst I was in the service station buying provisions.  I knew having him sitting beside me for 4 hours was going to be excruciating.  What’s more… one of their stunts was to drive without pants in the car.  So, I had a semi naked German god sitting next to me pantless in the car.  He was very well aware of his exquisite beauty and how he was affecting his driver… me.

Then, at his behest, we started telling each other our stories.  I told mine.  Then he started his.  His father had recently committed suicide… his father was my age.  A theme was emerging.  My sister and I had discussed our enigmatic dead father.  The boy’s story… and I was on my way to see a friend whose father had recently died.   I was overwhelmed not only with his beauty but his wit, sincerity and strength.

I left the boys in Barcelona.  They had to swim and dance and take picture.  There was a moment when he was totally naked in front of me, shamelessly changing out of his swim costume.  Looking at me, his piercing green eyes.  He was gifting me a lifetime of memories.   A beautiful 24-year-old with golden hair and heart… a thousand tears he needs to cry.

That night I found a small hotel in Valencia.  I lay thinking about the boy and how fathers can deliberately and cruelly leave their loving sons.  “Nobody expected it,” he said.  I was exhausted.  I slept soundly with the dogs and woke refreshed, I ate a hearty breakfast, chiros and thick dark chocolate.  Spain lay before me.  Soon the industrial North gave way to red earth and olive trees, vineyards and moorish architecture.  I sped toward Madrid, Cordoba and Seville.

The Ex of In House in Rhinebeck is an experimental guest house developed directly from the ongoing Explorations of “IN” project at Steven Holl Architects.

 

Jim Hodges, Gladstone Gallery NYC 2016.  I Dreamed a World and Called it Love

IMG_0436.JPG