Imagining the Bag of Tat

Christmas is upon us. I know this because even the normally sane are unable to resist the festive calls this year’s herald angel, Justin Bieber. Abandoning dignity, Marina Hyde fessed up to her horde of Christmas songs, a trove so catholic that Bieber finds admittance. In Toronto, The Globe & Mail tells me, that Bieber has fulfilled a life’s ambition with a rink side photo op with the Maple Leafs. (This appears to be routine – the Vancouver Canucks get Bublé, although here in Montreal the Canadiens have descended into a festive dispute over a newly installed anglophone coach, leaving the McGarrigle-Wainwrights, who could probably form their own hockey team, to perform their Christmas concert in more conventional venues). Other intimations include the clearer focus on reapings which a slower new cycle affords, this year’s harvest including Cesaria Evora, Christopher Hitchens, and Kim-Jong Il, and the transformation of my Facebook feed into a series of frontline dispatches from conflicts taking place in the aisles of distant supermarkets.

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All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace: a review

Just watched Adam Curtis’s documentary, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, which, elegant graphics and poetic title aside, seems to be selling the audience short. (The title really is poetry and is from Richard Brautigan’s fifth collection.)Continue reading “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace: a review”

Gary Shteyngart Has Exploded: How to Become a Famous Author!

Gary Shteyngart’s dystopian Super Sad True Love Story has been my best new read of the year so far. So much so that the piece I read at Tuesday’s Highland Lit Salon would only have been an exercise in grand larceny if it was better by a factor of a hundred. SSTLS is just out in paperback and, as Edmund White says in the trailer for the hardback, Shteyngart is “our greatest satirist”.Continue reading “Gary Shteyngart Has Exploded: How to Become a Famous Author!”

“Red Chardonnay”

RedRoo - the confused source of a bad joke

A good day’s work done, marking and preparing lessons. After lunch, I found time for a walk, but it’s my day off so after dinner a glass of wine is in order. To the piano bar at the Glenmoriston, taking in the islands and the birch trees with another short walk.

It’s quiet when I arrive, the only other customers are two Polish girls dressed up for … for what? This is Inverness. For the hell of it, I guess.

An older couple arrive and book a table for dinner. They talk about children; it sounds like they’re on a date. Pre-dinner drinks are considered. He is actually stroking his chin as he contemplates the wine list. A decision is made and he asks the barman, who is French, “Do you serve red chardonnay?”

The world, such as it is, comprising two over-dressed Polish girls, a French barman, and the older man’s companion, stops. Everyone becomes conscious that the Wallpaper* music continues to play the cover of a New Order song but there is no escaping that everyone wishes it was playing just a little louder. I think of birch trees, not so much those on the islands as those at Yekatrinburg.

The barman prevents the deluge and reboots the world, but even he is unable to suggest if it should continue on red or white lines.

“We do not serve red chardonnay”. Just a statement, no apology. Perfect.

Red chardonnay does actually exist; the creation of a marketing man, it must exist only in his mind, not his hand – marketing people only drink white. Link to hilarious interrogation of the concept.

New York, You’re Perfect, No Please Don’t Change a Thing – Review of Super Sad Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

For the past decade we have been living in a post-apocalyptic moment. We have read about it in Cormac McCarthy’s satisfyingly nightmarish The Road, danced to songs about the planes that crash into buildings, “always two by two”, and smiled at those knowingly sing of our demise. The post-apocalypse, you see, is only ever an aesthetic, and, by definition, never a reality: an aesthetic used to escape worries about the collapse of Western power (because love it or despise it, it is mightily familiar), its apparent last triumph being the offering up, in 2006, of Saddam Hussein’s disembodied head on the silver platter of the tabloid media (for this, despite the prosecution activities in the more intimate surroundings of Abu-Grahib, is what Western power had become). There are other worries too: the collapse of the banking system, the widening gulf between rich and poor, and the disturbing realization our welfare, our jobs, our pensions, our very futures are dreams existing only in an oxygen tent erected in a mathematical dream and inflated by Chinese credit. One mercy is to be found in our ability emote at will about whatever depravity, degradation, or decadence appalls or delights our anxious and attention-deficient minds, determined, as they are, to accomplish something, anything before youth and social order give way which was, like, last week.

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Parisian Elegance, or How To Sell With Rats

Rats, caught in 1920s, and displayed in Chatelet in April 2010.

On a recent trip to Paris, my phone was stolen, depriving me not only of my photographs but also my pruneaux en armangac at Louis-Phillipe. They were exchanged for a trip to the Commissariat de la Police in the cinquiéme. As consolation my old phone yielded up this delightful proof of the enduring French art of window dressing, here alerting the passerby to the services of the local rat-catcher.Continue reading “Parisian Elegance, or How To Sell With Rats”

“Foreclosure” Published!

Today’s joy has been brought by the people at The Literateur and their publication of my short story, “Foreclosure”. It’s pretension quotient comes from the Fellini-esque inspiration (surely, more Bruce LaBruce). The reality quotient comes from being written on the day Bear Stearns collapsed and the bankruptcy of the age.

The Rememberance of Things Fast (July to December 2009)

14th July 2009: On this day, of all days, I burn my boats and storm the Bastille. When there’s nothing left to burn you have to set yourself on fire so, sans appartement, sans emploi, I am moving to Paris.

14th August 2009: I am dispossessed. My worldly goods are variously at my mother’s, with friends, and with strangers, courtesy of Oxfam. I think of Marcus Aurelius, Erasmus and Vladimir Nabokov. I have two suitcases and a wedding in Ireland to attend.

18th August 2009: I am in Paris. Just. I have slept for two hours and have dragged myself and two suitcases to Dublin airport. On the plane I try to die. I succeed. It is 35 degrees and I am sweating champagne. I am in a youth hostel. I am not in Paris. I am in hell.

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