My life has not changed at all. As in the last ten years, it is blessed by the stars and eschewed by the men. Be not afraid if time passes and there is no word from me, be not anxious by the tram-station nor blue when you're playing, because I have taken my destiny in my own hands. I have thought in light-years and I have suffered in seconds.
It had finally come, the day of the great ...match! (Flaubert).
So, let's pick up the story where we left it. Me and Dan were wandering around the street like leaves in the wind. 6:00 pm: In the sheer terror of finding ourselves in the same situation of not being able to find a pub again, we entered a place at something like six in the evening, with the match that started at quarter to nine. The implication was, of course, that we started swigging considerably early.
So we're having a couple of beers and everything, and by 7:00 pm the place is already jammed. We look at each other in satisfaction, complimenting each other on how clever we had been, and how wise it had been of us to have come here early, and sat ourselves right in front of the TV. At around eight, when the place is so packed we barely have room to breathe, with an ocean of Romanisti rubbing elbows with us, I suddenly realise the critical problem: me and Dan are only speaking English. Around us it's like we've suddenly time-warped into the Colosseum and are now watching tigers eating up slaves, everybody's slobbering out in the Roman dialect like orcs around a camp-fire, and we two there, speaking in the Queen's English - we look like fucking Manchester United supporters!!
I realise we are not being eyed with great friendliness, especially considering we've tadpoled the two best seats, and they are also the most exposed ones. Oh God. Sweat starts breaking out of my forehead. Dan is oblivious to the problem still and since the beer is getting to his head he's starting to laugh and raucously recount some story about what happened to us in England last week. 'Look, Dan,' I begin, spying around, and he booms out to the guy at the other side of the bar to get him another beer. I am going to tell him to quieten down when these two youngish lads with Roma scarfs around their necks come and take place right next to us. Immediately I turn towards the TV and explode in 'E ROMA ALEEEEE ROMA ALEEEEE ROMA ALE ROMA ALE ROMA ALE!!!!!!' The two kids seem initially confused. Then a sort of ripple of relief goes around, and they say - in Italian - 'oh, so you're supporting Roma, are you?' (I respond in Roman dialect): 'But of course! What do we look like, Englishmen?' Dan, on whom the situation seemed to have dawned, suddenly became like that German soldier in Saving Private Ryan and he started yelling: 'Me no anglese! Me Americano! Fuck Manchester!'
They then proceeded to shake hands and share drinks and peace was had all round. To this day Dan doesn't know that I saved both our lives with a Roman chant. Then again, considering what came later, I kind of wish I hadn't.
So the match begins. Excitement is palpable. This almost feels political. Everybody knows that we have won the first leg, and that there's a very decent chance we may pass - and get for the first time in years to an historic Champions League semi-final!! It is around this stage, as the ball is kicked off and everything, that I turn towards Dan, put a hand on his shoulder, and knowingly tell him: 'Dan. Let's play a game. As the match goes on, let's buy each other a shot for every goal that is scored, and let's see how drunk we get.' And Dan looked at me laughing, and he agreed.
The match ended with Manchester United steamrolling us 7-1. Seven. Fucking. One. We barely had time to metabolise the first shot and another goal came along. No-one there was even laughing, because they understood this wasn't a defeat but a tragedy, an authentic, Attic tragedy, one of those things which happen once every mammoth walks the earth: the game settled the record for the highest scoring quarter-final in the history of the Champions League. Seven - One. For those who are not familiar with football, this is not one of those retarded sports like tennis where the logic behind the score-system is so inscrutable you'd think it's been devised by Tibetan monks as the code to protect the treasures of a forsaken city (seriously: fifteen - thirty - FORTY?? What the fuck? Isn't it meant to be forty-five? And just what the fuck is 'Advance - Love'?? I remember when I was seven or so I asked what the score was in a tennis match and I was told 'thirty to nil' and I was like, what the flying fuck? What is this, Agassi plus Federer against a blindfolded quadruple amputee on a broken wheelchair?). No, in football the score actually makes sense. So if a game ends seven to one, it's about as inconceivable and humiliating as being outrun in the 100 metres sprint by a bunch of paralytic turtles.
And in all of this, I was drinking. By the end of the first half the score was four-nil and I had already had so much alcohol that I was starting to see the world around me leaving streaks of colour when I turned my head. To the four shots one had to add all the several beers; honestly, I wasn't expecting there to be so many goals in the entire game, let alone just the first half. The second half begins amid general despair - I don't know why I didn't leave the place during the interval, really - and immediately Manchester score another one. Jesus Christ. The barman is already pouring the Whisky without even waiting for instructions, and I think it's a good measure of what an utterly pitiful wreck I must have looked that as he sends it over he says, 'This one's for free. I can't bear to see you like that.' I have since then attempted a highly miserable and dejected appearance at other pubs in the hopes of getting some free drinks, but, irritatingly, it never worked. I guess I never managed to reproduce quite that seal-puppy expression which I had in Rome.
The match ends and we walk out into a night as welcoming as Scylla and Charibdis. I am basically weeping pure alcohol: 'Dan,' I tell him, with the tone of Absolom's father holding the body of his dead son, 'O Dan, my comrade in the agony [I was talking in iambic pentameter by then], behold the night that welcomes our despair! Let's go and drown our sorrows - anywhere!' So we walk - trip over ourselves for half a mile is more like it - until we find something like lights gleaming before us, and we walk into what we perceive to be another pub.
The place is comparatively quiet. I walk up to the bar and formulate a request for a shot. The blonde barmaid turns around, and I am struck with a vision of enchanting beauty and mineral indifference. We were in the same pub of the Aphrodite girl where we'd had absinthe the night before! 'Not this again,' I think to myself as I lean towards her and ask: 'Can I have some absinthe, please?'
'Not this again,' she exhales, rolling her eyes. She turns around without further words and grabs a shotglass. I feel perhaps I've said something wrong, so I try to make it up. I ask tentatively: 'By the way, where are you from?'
'America,' she says, with the tone of someone about to reach into a bucket of fish and slap you in the face with a trout. Jesus, what do you do for a living, girl, the stormtrooper? Then she turns around and there they are: green like distilled evil and smooth like your mother's breast. Two double shots of absinthe. And, like a surgeon's equipment, two tablespoons and sugarbags next to them. Me and Dan take them, we dip the sugar into the absinthe, then set fire to it, mix it into the shot-glasses once it's molten, and with the eyes of two paratroopers about to jump into a battle-zone, we down them. Bat-in-the-fucking-teeth.
The thing about drinking to drown your sorrows is that you sort of imagine it can't get any worse than the situation you already are in, so you can swallow anything and it's never gonna hurt. That's a pitiful lie when it comes to absinthe. Most alcohol gets you drunk by messing with your brain. Absinthe goes straight for the soul. Something inside you just starts screaming and you feel like you should be hearing it, but you're not, and somehow the more you enjoy the drinking the more an awareness nags at the back of your brain that something, somewhere, is dying.
I'm not sure how far I went down with that stuff, but I think it was somewhere after the third or fourth shot of it that, in the middle of the usual couple of words exchanged between us and Mortisia, I put my arm around Dan's shoulder and bellowed 'BECAUSE YOU KNOW, WE'RE THE TWO GREATEST POETS OF THE 21ST CENTURY!!!' Not that so far we had been giving proof of extreme intellectual capacity, but if there was any need for us to decisively validate our status as the two most perfect idiots of the continent, then this sentence hit the coffin-nail on the head and drove it in till it came out the other way and you needed to replace it with another one. This is the kind of sentence which they place in the dictionary for the sample-section under the voice 'idiotic.' But even as we must have looked like idiots of the first category, take a guess: what's her reaction?
She melts like an ice-cube on a Cuban virgin's thigh. Suddenly she wants to know everything about us: where we're from, where do we study, what do we do. And, naturally: what do we write. I no longer recall if it was she who asked me to do it or me volunteering, but at some stage I had to read out a poem to her (sorry if this is getting confusing - this is around the part where I step out of the thresholds of my memory and into the wild, dark nothingness). I couldn't do it. I sounded like I were ingesting potatoes. Or raw car-tyre. I slurred my words so bad even Dan couldn't understand me. Hell, even I couldn't understand myself. Furthermore my memory of that poem was acting like a streetlight, going on and off whenever it pleased. So she asked me to write the poem down. The hardest thing in nature. Samson would have got on his knees and wept at that. My hand was shaking so hard it looked like I was masturbating the pen. Eventually I managed to put down something, but by the swivelling runes I'd left on the paper it looked like I had been writing while leaning on one of those thumping machines they use in the street to break down the concrete. I gave it back to her, avoiding her gaze.
While the memory of making a perfect idiot out of myself in front of that girl remains as distinct as a Nordic sky, all the other memories are somewhat more shady (trust my psyche to remember the one thing I really wish I could forget). At some late time we separated and I went to the bus-stop - I was terrified then because it was late and I thought I'd miss it and have to sleep inbetween two garbage skips with a flight next morning for Amsterdam, but in a moment which had me on the brink of religious conversion, the bus arrived!
The trip, I completely blacked it out from memory. So I did with getting home at my grandma's, where no doubt I must have looked too fucking great to believe. My memories resume the next morning, with a pain like a nail being driven at the back of my head, and my grandma nudging me and passing me the phone for my parents to discuss the tragedy. Me, I was still drunk. Despite the gallopping hangover, the inebriation still hadn't faded.
Getting up was a torture. But we did manage to catch the plane, and went to Amsterdam, and that's for another blog entry. I wrote a sonnet on that occasion too, to bemoan the sad destiny of my team, but that sonnet is now in the possession of my American friend and for my part, it's been lost. Yeah, that just completes the tragedy, I know.
We all learn how to cope with bullshit. Some of us negate it, some of us offer reasoned responses to it, others ridicule it. But the simple fact of life is that over our time on earth we are all shovelled with such overwhelming quantities of cretin statements that eventually we learn how to numb ourselves to their effects and repress our normal instincts to get incensed, if only in the (often utopian) endeavour of having something like a normal social life. In our specific case, the latest item of bullshit I heard was the assertion that sports, and especially football, are a futile thing to follow. I shall not reveal who the individual explaining this to me was, but I feel the need to return to the issue now, and confront it, lest it plant its roots in my spirit and grows like a nefarious vine.
So allow me to counter-argue.
Firstly, it is completely evident that football performs the social function of democratising gender. I mean, look at it. It's right under your eyes. Around once a month the average team will get involved in a really big match, a derby or a cup game or what have you. At that time, depending on the results, people watching it will undergo dramatic and totally irrational mood swings, being either cheery like Bambi or morose and depressed like they'd left a twenty-can box of cider in the freezer for too long and it had all exploded. In other words, football is the male equivalent of menstruation. The patience (or lack thereof) that women display with their men as they watch them fly into a rage or suddenly become sweet like sugared plums without anything like a discernible reason is reflective of the same process that men (attempt to) undergo when women are in the corresponding situation. (Though at least we may say that football does not physically hurt, except in some extreme cases, as that which I am about to recount).
(The above paragraph is me being sexist, and rather nervously so since I once almost got lynched for saying similar things in public, so I hope the title's clarified by now).
Secondly, football is an important stage for drama in the flat waters of everyday life. To say that it is futile is to ignore the transcendental experiences that following it can entail. In order to prove this, I'm going to have to take it quite retrospectively and go back to April of 2007. This is where the chronicle of a tragedy begins. Overture:
April of 2007. AS Roma, the she-wolf from which my Roman lips have always sucked their football milk, has for the first time in twenty years managed to access the quarter-finals of the Champions League, the most important club-football tournament in the world, after an epic victory against the ferocious lions of Lyon (“lions of Lyon”… God, my puns are going down like a skydiver with a broken parachute). I am in Rome at the time with an American friend of mine (God knows where he is now, presumably in Philadelphia organising Molotov shock-troops, or otherwise just laying on his bed feeling the rotation of his neurons and speaking something like prophecies), showing him around the beauties of the eternal city, until obviously we get lost. (This happens to me just about every time I walk more than 500 meters and take two different turns in a place which isn't the immediate surroundings of my house, so no surprises there). The first leg of the game is that night so we start roaming for places to see it. Every pub is full and after getting booted out of, like, five or six of them, we sign an alliance with a group of 'coatti,' young men of extraordinary ignorance whose best intellectual ambience would probably be among badgers and marmots, and we follow them around in search of an open place. (They weren't the best company in the world, but to be frank by that stage my despair had reached such proportions that if a score of transvestite prostitutes had passed by and told me they had Sky Sports at their place, I would probably have followed them too).
So they take us to a place called 'The Cathedral' (pronounced Roman style: Kàtteh-ddrahl). Never seen a place more boorish in my life. The owner was probably Fred Flintstone by the looks of his last shave and he had a voice like a deeper version of a seal asking for some fish. The place is dark and smoky: it looks like Nosferatu's castle. We buy some beers, because obviously in there no-one gave a flying fuck about the alcohol-ban that had been enforced in view of the English supporters coming down, and we sit at some tables.
Somewhere along the first half: GOAL! Everybody stands up from their tables and there is some kind of a brawl going on as we roll around in Dionysian ecstasy. A minute later our opponents, Manchester United, score in return, and it’s like someone had spaded a shovelful of solid sleet onto our bollocks. Then in the second half: GOAL! A fucking brawl again and we're all rolling on the floor in a gigantic pile-up.
So the first leg ends 2-1 for us. Time to relax.
A few days pass as softly as clouds trailing on the plateaus of the stratosphere, and I keep leading my friend along the boulevards of beauty that are Rome's streets. We went into Villa Borghese and sat in the woods with a litre of wine each (purchased at something like 1.50 euros for the carton), and we decide to start competing with it in a power-hour, which was just about the most stupid thing I have done in that whole trip, as my stomach powerfully re-asserted when it started bouncing around like a pinball. Drunk as we were getting, in the sunset that filtered through the tree-branches, that was also the occasion in which I threw down this sonnet:
Oi vei, old friend, that I should write about The majesty of that familiar globe That slowly sinks, as if a fleeing trout, Beneath the hills (whose shoulders wear the robe Of dawn and night, and blah-de-blah), that I Should write about all this while sitting here, Us two, half-lost in trees without a why, And sipping wine that cost us less than beer, Oi vei!, I say - it seems a bit too sober! I'd rather say 'oi vei' for sake of fuck: Oi vei, oi vei, oi vei, oi ten times over! Oi vei oi vei, like chickens going cluck! My poetry might not be great, as such; It's all that leads to it that's worth - so much.
The day after that, we end up at a pub and there turns out to be a barmaid with the two following characteristics: 1.) She was something like the daughter of Aphrodite and Helen of Troy if they had been lesbians and they'd had the chance to adopt a child, and, um, the child had somehow magically inherited their features. 2.) She was about as rude as a murena interrupted while in the process of tooth-scratching its testicles. Me and my friend attempted to start a conversation with her and we were shunned so spectacularly that the word 'smited' ceases to appropriately describe our sentiments. Considering that we both had girlfriends back then it was more than a little insulting to be treated like two drunkard flippers when we were clearly only two drunkards. Perhaps in order to levigate the insult, we start drinking something. It is absinthe. And what absinthe. Smooth double-shots with fire and sugar and everything. Heavy like hell.
(A little parenthesis must be opened here to inform the reader of a simple fact: absinthe is not just an alcoholic drink to me, it is my nemesis. It is all three furies wrapped into one. From the moment I first tried it to this day, every single time I've had more than two shots of it these have been followed by a cataclysm of such proportions that I seriously pondered relinquishing alcohol altogether and retiring to clerical life. If I were to make a list of the six worst things that have happened to me in my life, I'm sure that three or four of them would somehow involve absinthe. At the top of these is without the shadow of a doubt what has come to be known in the circle of my closest friends as 'the story of my first girlfriend'. It occurred on the night I first tried absinthe, but at least until I gather significant more spirits (figuratively speaking, naturellement) you can forget about reading it here, because there's some black pits into which I'd rather not gaze).
We drink of it moderately of course, and we get home after that. The next day is the day of the big match. What happened is written, in different words, in the books of Paradise Lost concerning the fall of man, and the most impatient of you may read it there. For the rest, this is going to deserve a whole blog entry of its own.
Aye, it's me. I have been chained down to my MA dissertation so long, I can hardly remember anything else. I have been working by night and sleeping by day - there's a certain beauty in being up and exhausted when the rest of the world is just emerging into light. Producing this dissertation has been an effort akin to stopping the Red Army in its march towards the West. I've just been run over by 16,000 words.
But it is finished. Man, what a relief. Yeah, of course I've got to revise it and write an introduction for it and shit, but that stuff's a breeze. I finished it on sunday and I've spent the two nights since then eroding away the smooth sides of my brain. Strongbow's good though not for my liver, and I spent this day under the ruins of a gothic church in a park, looking at the vaults of heaven through the vaults of god's broken house.
I'll no doubt write something more intelligent later on in the next few days. At the moment I'm still a little shocked because I was standing outside my block yesterday night with my Indian flatmate, just having a happy joint and what have you, when this pretty nifty fitbird walked by. I barely even glanced in her direction, but she turned her head towards me and smiled - a big, beaming, cheerful smile. "Hullo," I thought to myself, "I must look like more than the derelict ship I in reality am." So I smiled back and she left. When she was gone, I turned my smug face to my flatmate: obviously my implied statement was, "Did you see that?" That was when I noticed that he wasn't really looking at my face, rather his eyes were frowning in the general direction of my belt and he said: "Dude, your fly's open." Oh, fuck... I mumbled something to myself and pulled it up, and ever since yesterday night the sight of that girl looking at me and seeing this guy with a fly as open as the gates of a public marketplace, and thereby suppressing a burst of laughter into a smile which the guy interprets as one of those I-wouldn't-mind-the-idea-of-sleeping-with-you-sometime kind of smiles, such an image has been hovering before my eyes.
And I wasn't even drinking. Unreasoned punishment.
Friends’ birthdays. As well as a chance to get tanked like a submarine and pay honour to the people without whose support you couldn’t walk home on the nights when the party’s on you (dear fellows), they are characterized by the peculiar ritual of birthday presents.
Being the phenomenal boor that I am, in most cases I can’t remember that a friend’s birthday is coming up until I hear someone knocking at my room’s window and I lift my head from the plate of cheesed spaghetti I was wolfing down to find a group of smartly-dressed people who tell me, ‘Dude, you ready to go at Mark’s?’ In those occasions I am normally sitting down like an unshaved hippo with a week-old t-shirt bearing traces of tomato-juice and probably God knows what else while eating with one hand and scratching my balls with the other, so that the sudden fulgor elicited by the words ‘Mark’s birthday’ becomes something akin to a starter’s pistol for a hundred-metre sprinter. In those cases it takes me anything between ten and fifty minutes to become the model of all things handsome, depending usually on whether there’s a fitbird gracing the company in wait or not, but this one time – unbelievably – I remembered the occurrence several days beforehand.
This was, again, due to the people without whose support you couldn’t walk etc., because I found myself one day sitting in the grass, drinking cider in that religious happening that is British sunshine, when our discourse turned onto our friend’s upcoming birthday and what to get to him. In an outburst of sparkling wit, the three of us conceived the original intention of getting him gold, frankincense and myrrh. Within ten seconds we were already in a row as to who was supposed to get him the gold, and within another two minutes they had both dropped out and I was left to my own devices.
What to do, I pondered, putting up the glass against the sun and seeing the pristine cider beaming like precious metal in the evening sunrays. I couldn’t really afford the gold, even at the subatomic levels, and as to what the fuck myrrh even was I didn’t have the slightest idea where to begin, so I determined to get him frankincense. Smug and satisfied, I lay back on the green, swigged from the glass, and felt the gentle lull of alcoholic particles as they slowly took away another bit of my precious, precious brain.
When I woke up the next day, I found that I had about as much reason to be smug and satisfied as a cetacean would in the seas of Japan. Simply said, you’ve got no idea of just what kind of a grandiose quest you’ve got to go through in order to find some bloody frankincense in this civilised world of ours. I don’t know what kind of geese-necked idiot might have decided to give that to Jesus Christ, I suppose when you’re starving and freezing your balls off in a cave you just can’t think of anything you would like to have better than frankincense, but at least now I understand why it was considered something like a valuable gift: if it’s so exasperatingly difficult to find, then one has to at least admire the man who went to all the trouble of getting it.
As for myself, at the fifth health-food shop that I walked out of followed by the echoes of some fat bint splitting her lungs laughing like a hyena, I was starting to feel rather discouraged. Despair welled in me like the ink of two-hundred octopi suddenly ejaculating (if that’s what they do when they spill ink). I even went as far as to ask an old librarian – you never know what these guys may have. He said no, he didn’t have any frankincense, but he did have two wonderful books on Medieval Lyric Poetry and its evolution over the Renaissance period which I was sure to find interesting, of which both I was inclined to shove down his white-bearded gullet, just to make sure he was not oblivious to my appreciation. Finally, someone in the street I can’t even remember, presumably a dog or a hydrant for all I know, suggested I look at a certain large healthcare shop situated close by.
I walk into the health shop. It’s one of those places which look like a spaceship, where you step inside and feel like everything is clean except your corporeal being, and if you step on one of the tiles you’re going to kill some marvellous ectoplasm of cleanliness heretofore living there sustained by the magical air of the spices around you. In the white light, I walk towards the attendant (rigorously dressed like she’s about to perform surgery on your mother). ‘Do you have any frankincense?’ I ask. For the first time, I do not get stared at as if I were a polar bear on a waterslide. ‘No, but we do have some frankincense oil,’ she replies.
Now, hold on a second. I don’t have the slightest idea in hell of what frankincense could possibly be used for, but frankincense oil? What on earth can you do with that? You can’t put it on food because it’s not edible, presumably it’s more difficult to burn than anything in solid form, it doesn’t work as a sun-shield cream and anyway it’s not like you’d be dying if you’re not next to it on the two days a year that the sun appears, it’s sold in tiny bottles which wouldn’t hold a ten-year old’s sperm-test so it can’t be used in anything more than molecular bundles, and in addition to all of that, it costs six bloody pounds for a flask smaller than Prometheus’ dick after he got a blowjob from the eagle?? Excuse me, but have I got ‘retard’ stamped on my passport? What the fuck do they trade this stuff in, lingots? Should I just have gone for the gold in the first place? Do I take it that this shit is not only borderline impossible to find, but also expensive like hell?
Perceiving my lack of enthusiasm (which was not with such verbosity expressed, alas, due to exhaustion), the attendant grabbed me with aquiline eyes. (Not in the sense that she grabbed me with the eyes themselves, I mean that she grabbed my arm while looking at me with aquiline eyes).
‘You know, we do have some myrrh.’
And she pulls out a little bag of some sort of small brownish stuff. For a moment I am confused; I’ll pass on the frankincense, but surely this is not something they’ve given to Jesus Christ? I mean, there’s at least an aesthetic value to the frankincense, but this stuff looks like kitten-shit dried out in the sun for a month and then placed inside a bag, so exactly how was it even perceived as a gift? Smart shrinks, them kings, getting Jesus the presents before he’s old enough to realise what it is he’s getting. Talk about the mother of all disappointing Christmas presents, if nothing else he must have felt well paved by the time he got to crucifixion.
‘It smells great,’ I said, which was true, though at the sight of the kitten-shit thing my head was swarming with hypotheses on the derivation of the French word merde. ‘What do you do with it?’
Moment of panic. Her pupils dilate as her bullshit rotors are starting to spin.
‘You keep it in your room… for the smell…’
‘What, so you don’t do anything with it? It just sits in your room?’
‘…and you burn it. You burn it like it was incense.’
Ok, the joke is growing old – but now you’re telling me that not only Jesus got the WORST presents in the history of Christmas, but two of them were the same fucking thing, too? Why exactly would having two different kinds of incense make him feel all smug and satisfied? Or were they for the bull and the donkey respectively, you know, just to make sure they didn’t have a bovine brawl in the cave on the very first night that Jesus was there? At all events it was more – and more accessible price-wise – than the frankincense oil, so I got it.
And I can’t believe just how fucking well it went down. All right! Praise the wisdom of the magi!
Ok, so this post is a continuation of the one of a few days ago, where I built this up like I was a four-armed bricklayer in the middle of London’s industrial boom in the 19th Century. For those of you who haven’t read that wonderful piece of futility or who are suffering from Alzheimer, I staked the outlandish claim that Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is not only his most underrated movie, but also one of his best, most original, most deeply moving and with a really kick-ass artistic statement. Don’t believe me? Well – on to the demonstration on how JP is a film about art, and about the relationship of art to life! *rolling drums.*
*more rolling drums.*
*yet more rolling drums.*
*more rolling drums while you hear someone’s voice in the background screaming “Where the fuck is he??”*
*more rolling drums. The cello-player now joins in to the music.*
*someone from the audience joins in with a harmonica, and now you basically have a Blues trio while the audience is cheerily clapping in tune, except for the most elitist among them who start leaving the place in irritation*
*finally someone throws him out onto the stage, he has bleary eyes and a soul that has touched the deep pits of hell with its forehead and was still halfway back when it was woken up, now he slurs his speech, slightly hungover as he seems to be whenever he's not drunk, and finally begins*
All right. The theme of ‘life’ is of course predominant in the movie, with some speeches even taken straight out of Crichton and with all the dialogue on the miracle of life, how life cannot be controlled, etc. This seems initially a discussion of science – how attempting to dominate (intellectually more so than materially) ‘life’ through scientific paradigms is ethically improper as well as materially incontrollable. (In the book it was indeed a scientific discussion, though the main points were somewhat different). The thematic discussions of life are actualized in the two main characters, Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler, who represent the Everyman and Everywoman of the movie and are closely connected to the natural and the genuine, from Alan’s discordance with (and hostility towards) all sorts of machines or electronic equipments to Ellie’s heartfelt desire to have a baby.
Since JP is as elementary and elemental as anything by Spielberg, these characters are ‘genderised’ heavily in their clothing. Consider for a second the dinner scene, which reunites pretty much all of the central characters in the film, kids exempted, and look at the colours they’re wearing: Alan Grant in ocean-blue, pink shirt for Ellie Sattler (ok, so it’s ‘skin-colour,’ which is technically a light kind of orange, but it’s about as close to pink as you can get an adult to wear without making her look like she’s begging for drugs in an Amsterdam district). The colour of their clothes foregrounds their gender, in accordance with their role of Everyman plus Everywoman. The other characters instead are dressed as follows: immaculate cloud-white from socks to shirt to hair and beard for John Hammond, the aspiring ‘creator,’ man who thinks he is God, etc. Equally uncompromising and pervasive black for Ian Malcolm (again including his hair, this guy Spielberg really doesn’t compromise when it comes to colour), standing merely for a power of destruction, omen or agent for that which does not produce, does not create, does not contribute but only and inexorably breaks order and structure (see his familial situation, repeatedly married and with kids, ‘always on the lookout for the next Mrs. Malcolm’ and in fact trying to break Alan and Ellie’s relation by getting hold of the blonde, which I guess I can’t blame him for since Laura Dern in 1993 was as hot as a friggin’ baked potato, hm-hmmm). Finally Gennaro, merely the businessman, neutral figure of no interest to the director or to the other characters, dressed from jacket to tie and (again) even to hair in boring grey.
That dinner is also important because it stands as one of the first steps in the parable of disillusionment undergone by John Hammond. Already at that table he is surprised to find that no-one other than the lawyer actually agrees with or is moved by his project. He is particularly disappointed that Alan and Ellie aren’t into it – for the park was built, after all, for them.
It is around this stage that Hammond’s character starts sharing some thematic streaks with the arts rather than the sciences, for one thing in his association with the role of the creator (more commonly the artist than the scientist), and similarly in his ‘humanitarian’ élan, which typically represents the aspirations of a budding young artist: he wants to change or at least affect ‘life’ or the lives of those around him for the better, where life is here represented by Alan and Ellie, these two complementary and self-sufficient characters, younger than him and a little alienated by his suggestions. Increasingly as the film progresses Hammond finds more and more obstacles in the way of his project, until he realizes that his original idea (‘creation is an act of sheer will’) was no more than a self-congratulatory delusion.
The resulting speech, one of the most moving in Spielberg’s entire oeuvre and well delivered by Richard Attenborough, is not about scientific truth, but about illusion, representation, and the relationship between representation and real life. It is also Spielberg’s most poignantly autobiographical (probably unintentionally so), if we consider that JP, more so even than Cameron’s Terminator 2, marks the inauguration of CGI, the next step in special effects and in giving cinematography a semblance of the real. I think it worth re-proposing it in full:
You know, the first attraction I ever built when I came down from Scotland was a flea-circus: Pettycoat Lane. Really quite wonderful. We had a trapeze, and a carosel, and a see-saw. They all moved, motorised of course, but people would say they could see the fleas: ‘oh I can see the fleas, mommy, can’t you see the fleas.’ Clown-fleas, and high-wire fleas, and fleas on parade. But with this place, I wanted to show them something that wasn’t an illusion; something that was real; something that they could see, and touch… I mean, not devoid of merit.
The thing is, though, that life doesn’t need Hammond’s (or Spielberg’s) fanciful illusions to go on. It does so regardless, in all its silent majesty: the final image of the film, before the helicopter flies off into the sunset, is a shot of five herons flying over the sea. Tying in of course with its previous, multiple references to dinosaurs evolving into birds, it seems that in its conclusion the film chooses the real birds over the illusive dinosaurs, in an image which signifies life’s cycle of constant rebirth and renewal. They fly slowly, indifferent to all the disturbance and noise (the sound and fury, shall we say) caused by the dinosaurs’ drama. The same meaning is asserted within the helicopter as Alan and Ellie are reunited and symbolically taking care of kids, while Malcolm simply stares into the distance, physically incapacitated, and Hammond looks into his fossilized mosquito – his original dream – in disillusionment. He could not give (it) life. Beautiful as it may be, the mosquito, or the film, or the text which narrates it and speaks to us through the ages, is nonetheless fossilized beyond repair.
Spielberg’s steadfast optimism about life’s capacity to renew itself and adapt, and about its wonder and beauty, comes with a marked pessimism about his own trade, and about its (in)capacity to influence and change the world around him. It is an act of pity in its most graceful form that Spielberg, in the moment when everybody is climbing onto the helicopter, should have dedicated those last few seconds on the island to John Hammond. Hammond detaches himself from the group, he steps away from them and towards the camera, towards his own island. He looks at it; the wind shakes his hair and he needs a stick to walk; he sees the summation of his hopes and his fears, and the battlefield only reveals his own ruin. Then Alan Grant takes him by the arm and silently leads him back in.
Hail to thee, John Hammond, and thank you. If for nothing else, for having tried.
So here I sit, with all the vitality of a whale on anti-depressants and furthermore dead on a coast of God knows where, having eaten nothing but cake all day and subsequently spent the evening on a sugar-high playing Guitar Hero like there was no tomorrow before flopping on my chair, feeling as drained as if I had been through two consecutives threesomes except with none of the satisfaction and probably some of the same diseases (by the way is it true that you can get gonorrhoea off someone by playing on his same joystick? Pun not intended, no seriously I swear to God that was not intended).
Now, my blog-posts normally tend to fall under one of the following three categories:
#1. Something you couldn’t possibly care about. #2. Something you couldn’t possibly care about, but told in a serious tone (this is when I get confessional, which is probably when I get the most readings, a fact as encouraging as the sight of a jogging track built on a trail for rhinoceros). #3. The artsy posts.
Number three is probably the only kind which never gets any reading whatsoever, and that’s exactly what you’re going to get now, as soon as I can stop my brain from wandering like a broken kite and actually get it on track to where it’s supposed to go. I’m almost tempted to just say ‘nah’ and let this turn into a post of the category #1, because I don’t know if I really can be bothered. But the thing is, you see, that the events for #1 merge with those for #3, so speaking about one builds me a bridge onto the other.
Allow me to explain. What time I haven’t spent working on my dissertation these days I’ve dedicated instead to sitting outside a university block with this Indian housemate of mine, getting stoned like there was no heaven and yacking about what it would be like to have been born a blade of grass or a bird. Well yesterday we had the bright idea of watching Schindler’s List after smoking what was basically half of a Norwegian forest plus occasional pit-stops for recharging.
Oh. God. I’m never. Doing. That. Again. It made me more morose and depressed than a Corsican funeral and seemed to go on for even longer.
But – and this is where the artsy bit supposedly comes in – Schindler’s List was released in 1993, which is an interesting year for Spielberg because it witnessed the simultaneous release of what are probably his two most overrated and underrated films. His most overrated one is, de facto, Schindler’s List. It’s not his worst film by any shot, but it is the one which received the most undeserved laurels in relation to its substance, after all I haven’t seen anyone getting up and slapping the label ‘masterpiece’ on The Lost World or Indiana Jones and the CGI Monkeys or whatever that was.
His most underrated film, instead, is the one I wanted to write about, and it is Jurassic Park. Yup. You got it. Mind you it’s received its fair share of praise, but mostly as an ‘action-packed thriller’ ‘rollercoaster ride’ etc. etc. blockbuster kind of thing. I on the other hand believe it’s one of his most original, profound, memorable and – dare I say it – moving films he’s ever done. Yeah. You’re reading this right. I think that JP is an incredible piece of art, in the most ‘highbrow’ sense of the word. No, I’m not just pulling your leg. No, I’m not still high either, for the sake of – aw, look, I’m almost 600 words in and I still haven’t said anything of artsy, and since I believe in short posts, I’m going to have to defer the explanation of this to the next one. Which makes this post completely pointless. Category #1 achieved with success!!!!!!
But I promise. In a few days, those of you who give a damn or whom I managed to make at least mildly curious will get the explanation on why Jurassic Park is actually an incredibly deep, incredibly moving film about the relationship between art and life.
I promise I’m not pulling your leg. Stay tuned, and you’ll get it all in a couple of days.
Right, so I said I was going to write something artsy and now I will. First though, a recommendation: if you ever go on a train and it’s really full, I mean like deportation-to-Australia full, like you’ve got to stand up all the time full, if you get to that point and are at the edge of one of the coaches and you see there’s a really nice-looking cosy free space in a corner, then before you go and take position in it, CHECK that it’s not the door to the motherfucking toilet, because otherwise you’ll spend the entire trip invested with a succession of ‘winds from the Southeast’ every single time someone opens it. It happened to me on my return from Cambridge, I spent the trip of my lifetime with a procession of women of all ages passing in front of me (including some really cute girls, who’d have thought it of them in particular, but they made it worse than having a dead camel on the coach), reaching the edge of gagging every fifteen minutes, until in the final part I thought it was all over when this short fat Pakistani man dropped us with one of those bombs which could evacuate bears from their forests in Nebraska.
Now as for the artsy bit, I thought that Mory’s post in his own blog (http://i-m-not.blogspot.com/, go pay him a visit) deserved a full response on here, rather than a mere comment on his page. So: for starters, let me second his recommendation to download and play this game called Something-in-French-I-can’t-be-bothered-to-write-the-accents-down-for:
It will take you less to download and play through it (like, three times) than it’ll take me to write this blog-post or indeed than it would take a spliff to burn if it’s rolled by Stephen Hawkings, so stop moaning and just do it.
I’ve already lost my thread of thought so let me just begin by saying something stupid. I have never read a book in my life and I enjoy wearing my mother’s clothes. (That for the record was a sentence that some bint once wrote on my university open student forums through my account when I forgot it open on her computer one night. Obviously I hit the roof when I read it and since that happened at an instant when I was drunk like the spread guts of a lizard, I ended up replying, and both post and reply ended up being seen by my professors which rebuked me “kindly” and gave me the reputation of the floss-head of 2003. Fuck.)
As for the game, it’s a pretty clever little piece, actually. Some of the parts are a little weak (the discussion with the two blob-things about how games should only be about fun and not art etc. is pretty kitsch, and the closing sentence was superfluous if you ask me), but other parts have some pleasing wit to them and the overall realisation displays real charm. The structure has some limits but it’s hard to fault it for them when it’s only meant to last five minutes.
What’s really interesting though is the capacity it has to question and destabilise its own narrative. Play it a second time and you’ll see what I mean. It begins by establishing the authority of its narrative by means of an order of events which appears inevitable and inalterable, and later undermines that same authority by changing that order of events (and therefore the order of signification). It’s an interesting hermeneutic play because it suggests that meaning is not a stable feature of the text, but is invested onto it by ourselves; i.e. it is us who arrange the text’s signifiers into a schema which produces signification, rather than signification being a characteristic inherent to the text.
In a sense it’s like reading a story, then reading it again and finding that there’s no meaning at all, but that you can invest your own meaning onto it as much as you want – and it’s not an imposition or a profanation, but the natural thing that we do with every text. Wuzza.
Kind of goes to show why games are interesting – you could argue that they’re an inherently hermeneutic medium (or form of narrative). But that’s enough yacking on my side, just give me some closure now, and I’ll stick it into this blog-post’s heart like a wooden cross!
PS: Don't know what the title of the game refers to. I don't recall meeting any Georges over the course of the game. Maybe it's a quotation, which would explain why the French? Whatever. God knows.