O Tiggywinkle, where art thou?

Young hedgeholg
Young hedgehog, found wandering

A young hedgehog rescued by the SSPCA. Their vet had stopped by Linthill, where we were staying, to rescue a wounded buzzard that didn’t, unfortunately, survive.

To cheer us all up, she introduced us to Tiggywinkle Jr., who’d been found wandering around a garden in daylight. “You shouldn’t ever see a hedgehog” she told us. “They’re nocturnal, and if you see one wandering around during the day, there’s something wrong.”

High on Oxygène: Jean-Michel Jarre en Monaco

Jean-Michel Jarre plays for the Princess and Princess of Monaco

After a few days of scandal and gossip that spread, like an epidemic, from the boutiques of Monaco to the pages of Mail Online, Charlene said “I do” and the celebrations kicked off.

Rumours of extraordinary extravagance: €1500+ per-head dinners; tens of thousands of flowers and rivers of champagne are probably true – arriving at the concert last night with a spare bottle of water in my bag, I was pleasantly surprised to find an open bar overlooking the port, serving a variety of drinks including champagne – absolument gratuit. So, the crowd was in very good spirits – literally.

Monaco — by Jean-Michel Jarre

Few performers could pull off this kind of concert with the same Gallic panache and vigour as Jarre; despite giving the concert “in the presence of” the royal couple, he was the star.  Familiar pieces from Oxygène and Equinoxe dominated the set and moved a crowd that was somewhat ungenerous with its applause; within a half-hour, the fireworks were more spectacular than most grandes finalés, the velvet-blue sky filled with multi-coloured lights and smoke, music and explosions co-ordinated to heart-soaring effect, for two hours.

Jarre and his vintage (1970s) electronica are now older than many of the crowd (although the principality’s population is certainly old enough to revel in nostalgia), but have, like the composer,  aged gracefully enough to command centre stage in the world’s most glamourous square mile.

Red and white for the Prince and Princess – Jarre in Monaco


Unlawful Killing: Gangsters in Tiaras and Shrinks in Armchairs

Publicity photo for Unlawful Killing; the crashed Mercedes

 

In short – “They murdered ‘er and then they covered it up.” You can bet that this phrase featured either in Private Eye’s ‘Great Bores of Today’ or ‘A Taxi Driver Writes’ and, if the latter, was followed by “I ‘ad that Mohamed Al Fayed in the back of my cab once”.

Clearly, Al Fayed had that Keith Allen in his pocket once, because “Unlawful Killing” all but kicks off with Al Fayed’s complaints of racist treatment at the hands of The British Establishment. Its campaign of victimisation – apropos of Al Fayed’s being a “wog, or even a nigger” – started officially last millennium with the denial of his British passport, reached its climax with a conspiracy (headed by Prince Philip) to murder his son, future daughter-in-law and unborn grandchild, and continues with the suppression of evidence surrounding their deaths.

As per the film’s title, the inquest jury returned a verdict of “unlawful killing, by persons following the vehicle”, but no-one was ever arrested or charged with the manslaughter of the Princess, her lover or driver. Journalists covering the inquest, claims Allen, were briefed to mislead the public by editors and proprietors, desperate for peerages, who are therefore in the pocket of The British Establishment, a point proved by reconstructions of inane conversations between hacks noted by Allen’s own “mole” at the scene. Consequently, Joe Public is still under the impression that the deaths were accidental, and vox-pops of passers-by saying “accidental” show this to be true, too. Unlawful Killing, asserts Allen bullishly, is both ‘the inquest of the inquest’ and the ‘antidote to the King’s Speech’, a film he somewhat bizarrely suggests is the ‘Establishment’s’ portrait of the royal family.

What undermines the documentary’s credibility, even more than its having been bankrolled by Al Fayed, is the cast of questionable opinions enlisted to support it. Why, for example, is journalist Lauren Booth any more entitled to give an uninformed opinion on the subject than anyone else?  Captions identify her as the sister of Cherie Blair – a bizarrely amateurish touch which could only have been more so had they read ‘look who we’ve got here!’.

Oliver James, psychologist-at-large and Sunday-supplement columnist, is called upon to give an opinion of Prince Philip’s mental state. This amounts to a full-scale character assassination, comprising photographic evidence of Nazi sympathies and a run-through of oft-published and ill-educated racist remarks. Allen repeats titillating rumours of the prince’s adultery with, among others, Princesses Margaret and Alexandra. No real evidence in support of James’s diagnosis of psychopathy is produced, which is disappointing because if it had been, “Unlawful Killing” would have had something really interesting to say.

Pompous Piers Morgan, filmed in a London bar, says nothing of interest: “I’ve seen enough James Bond movies to know that they get up to some pretty dark stuff” is his reaction to MI5’s claim that doesn’t have, or use, a license to kill. Movie veteran Tony Curtis is wheeled into frame to give evidence of Dodi’s credentials as a film-maker, and Simone Simons, energy-healer, recounts a threatening phone call Diana purportedly received from Tory grandee Sir Nicholas Soames, whom, the princess said, sounded “as though he had a cock in his mouth” — undoubtedly Unlawful Killing’s finest moment.

The mystery of Diana’s death is indeed a compelling subject, both for investigation and for wine-bar banter which, because so little actual evidence is presented, is the general tone of Allen’s narrative and that of his witnesses. His choices, both of language and of cast, give the impression that Unlawful Killing’s main point of view is through the bottom of a glass, and its audience is left no less in the dark than if they hadn’t watched it at all.

 

We Have a Chest: Cheryl Cole hits Cannes

 

Cheryl Cole and her (now) internationally famous décolletage

It’s true that you’ve never got your camera to hand when you really want one, and I kicked myself earlier in the week as I happened upon DeNiro, Jude Law and Linn Ullmann exiting the back of the Majestic Hotel, where the Festival Jury had been meeting. Ten minutes later, walking along the Croisette, I heard shouts of “Claudia, Claudia!” and hey – there was La Cardinale,  who waved back at her fans in delight.

However, all is not lost, dear reader. Instead, we bring you Cheryl Cole, instantaneous star of the red carpet at the premier of Habimus Papam (We Have a Pope). Bucking both tradition and her snugly-fitting dress, the chanteuse elected not to wear black for her audience with Il Papa, instead working on the principle that, when surrounded by foreigners who may not be quite sure who you are or what you do, flash something that they can’t possibly miss and they’ll be sure to hurry off and find out. In truth, that’s exactly what I did — having mistaken her for a white-clad Latina who was perhaps a relation of Morena Baccarin — and that she was at Cannes. Malheureusement pas.

If, for some strange reason, you’re not an X Factor or footie fan, and aren’t sure quite who Cheryl Cole is, she’s a British (soon to be international!) Pop Superstar.

So, for the shot of Cheryl, an  opportunity for another caption competition, perhaps. I’ll go first:  “If you’ve gorrit, flaunt it!” or maybe  ‘The Mammae and the Papa”.

Palais du Festival, 2011
The Palais: Faye Dunaway and her elegantly folded legs survey the red carpet. And Cheryl.

Welcome to India

Mudras above the immigration desks bestow blessings upon arriving travellers, Delhi Airport

“What’s that smell?” I asked my neighbour as the airgate connected to our plane, and local air seeped into the cabin. We’d struck up conversation during the closing credits of True Grit, and chatted sporadically throughout the eight-hour flight from London (If you didn’t get a chance to see the movie, do – it’s terrific).

“It’s the smell of burning; it’s virtually everywhere in Delhi.”  She anticipated my next question: “Everything – they burn everything here. Rubbish, tyres, plastic, whatever”.

Eight years had passed since I was last in India, and although I’d taken for granted that weird smells and bonfires were ubiquitous, I’d been backpacking, busing and slumming it back then, so didn’t expect the BA cabin to reek of torched garbage as soon as the doors opened. India 101, Lesson One – expect the unexpected.

Cannes Film Festival competition poster, Delhi duty free
Cannes Competition, Delhi duty free

I hadn’t expected to be greeted by a competition for the Cannes Film Festival as I passed duty free, or by a Costa Coffee outlet as I exited customs; it’d be a while before I’d come across a chai-wallah, which is perhaps what I was expecting, wholly unrealistically.

India’s businesses struggle to market the subcontinent’s exotic culture as unique, authentic, compelling; yet simultaneously modern, business-orientated, and importantly, a comfortable fit for foreign investment.

Weird superstitions, millions of gods and religious holidays every five minutes support a travel market worth tens of billions of dollars annually, but are less of a draw for multinational corporations and their businesses.

Amit Gulati, head of the Indian industrial design firm that came up with “Expressive India” – the “basic positioning” for the airport’s Terminal 3 – provides insight into such a situation in a Q&A: Delhi Airport’s ‘Hands’ Sculpture, the Wall Street Journal’s India blog. In response to questions over whether the mudras hold religious significance, he proves somewhat difficult to pin down.

While acknowledging that its difficult to find anything whatsoever in India that has no religious connection or significance, he suggests they refer less to Buddhism or Hinduism than to yoga which, despite “religous undertones”, is now “perceived to be secular”;  the hand gestures mean, essentially, what you want them to mean.

This technique, used by businessmen throughout India, is familiar to anyone who’s ever bought anything dodgy, suspect, faux or potentially faulty, and is known as “same same, only different”.

Further reading:

Mudras at Delhi International Airport (PDF download, 423k)  courtesy Incubus Design.

Notes from a Lay Bye: Road travel in India

The hardest of hard shoulders - the road between Rishikesh and Delhi

Yup – that’s how they spell it. “Lay Bye”.  Local interpretations of the Indian Highway Code are a source of much-needed mirth at moments of stress. When you’re on any one of the subcontinent’s zillion roads, this means pretty much all the time.

Unfortunately, my auto-rickshaw was careering too fast along the wrong side of the road for me to snap the “Elephants have Right of Way” sign on the bridge outside Rishikesh , and it wasn’t until I was almost upon it that I registered the utterly random single word THANKS (displayed in English and in Hindi) in eight-inch reflective lettering en route to Delhi International Airport. A prompt, perhaps, for passing travellers to meditate on the virtue of gratitude.

Indeed, Indian roads provide a unique opportunity for the most powerful meditations; the certainty of death and uncertainty of the time of death being the most obvious.  If you travel far enough – say a few hundred miles – you’re certain to see a fatality – either in medeas res or in the form of a cadaver abandoned by a roadside or maybe in the midst of fast-moving traffic, with trucks, cars, rickshaws, pedestrians and elephants hurtling and hrrrumphing past.  If there’s anything left of your heart after a few weeks of being driven around India, you can be sure to find it in your mouth. So, whenever possible, take the train.

Fountains, frozen, the Louvre Paris

I.M Pei's fountain, Musée du Louvre, Paris, frozen at 1/200s

And not a drop to drink…

This edit was inspired by an extremely severe bout of winter flu during which I lay parched and feverish with my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth, yet strangely nauseated by the taste of water. Hydrophobic, like a rabid dog.

Although no dog has ever explained to a human exactly how our world appears to its own race, it is believed that their ability to capture motion is considerably better than ours, with excellent night vision though poorer colour sensitivity. This means that TV and film, for example, are perceived as a series of rapidly-moving stills, and the effervescent, monochromatic columns of water shown in this image are visible to them without digital technology and post processing.

You can approximate this effect for yourself by wearing coloured glasses on a moonlit night, waiting five minutes for your vision to adjust, and blinking furiously while focusing intently on a fast-moving body of water. Things will happen. Passers-by may shy away, thinking you are mad. You may meet someone interesting; a policeman, perhaps.  A hobo, lover, or stray dog.

Give it a go, some lonely night.

Pei's triangular reflecting pool replicates both the image and form form of the Pyramide and its facets

Love is…in the air

OMG - it's full of starlings: a heart-shaped murmuration above the Nice Opera

Moments before swooping to their roosts as the sun set on 2010, the last starling murmuration of 2010 formed a heart that beat twice before dispersing into the evening air.

A number of theories attempt to explain the birds’ behaviour: the ‘safety in numbers’ principle (self explanatory); or that none of them wants to be first to roost; and lastly perhaps that each wishes to roost next to a bigger and more successful companion who may lead them to their source of food the next day.

The French name for starling, “etourneau“, derives from the Latin “sturnus“.  Although it carries intimations of eternity, the word has an entirely different etymology. However, entirely credible that Rome, with its millions of starlings twittering furiously, fluttering and swarming across the skies, dropping tons of toxic shit onto its priceless ruins, may have earned the nickname ‘eternal city’ through such a misunderstanding— “La cité des etournaux” has a certain ring of truth to it.

Alors, love and magic on New Year’s Eve — may 2011 bring you both.

SS

Santas’ Secrets: caption competition

At first glance, two jolly old Santas climbing a wall above Sorrento’s night market.  Closer reading of the image poses some interesting questions: why are they wearing those tiny (and empty?) manbags – rather than the usual over-the-shoulder sacks?  Why are they working as a pair? Are they scassinatori – burglars? Is there no end to Italian corruption?

And what could they be saying to each other?

So…the first totallygone Christmas caption competition.  Enter a comment (by January 31), and the winning entry gets a framed 8×10 from the archive or flickr collection.

Update 1/2/2011: After careful consideration, much deliberation and soul-searching, the prize goes to Nick Alexander. It was, as expected, a very close race, with all entries demonstrating the kind of wit and literacy common to my friends. However, for context and dialogue, he gets the print, and runners-up get a file, in whatever size or format, of their choice.