opening day-eve, I'm near the Champs-Elysées, at the Chesterfield Café
where all they have left is Bud on tap!! That could be the start of a
beautiful nightmare, but thankfully, two hundred Scots in full tartan
regalia outside on the Rue La Boëtie, singing the glory of the Highlands
so as to exorcize Brazilian equatorial heat in anticipation of tomorrow's
Cup opener, take it up to the surreal stage, helping me to forget the
decidedly non-World Cup standard beer status!!
babes in Argentina, Forza Italia, or Brazil t-shirts place people and
Scots andBrazilians and American tourists, to the juke-boxing strains
of Don McLean's "Miss American Pie"!! Last time I was here, in another
lifetime, Lee Rocker was groovin' the joint, and today, huge bouncers
check all bags for that dread Islamist bomb! Corn flake-fed American youths
mouth Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth", as I wonder: "Why am
Probably to marvel at the sight of more Scotsmen in kilts with
Japanese shirts and blue dayglo hair comparing skirt lengths, ogling Danish
Valkiries in viking horned-helmets escorting Brazilians in blue-white-red
afro wigs, to the Yardbirds telling us it's all "For Your Love"!!
type sits next to me, pretending to be my pal, as the bouncers try to
get him out. When the Moody Blues entone "Nights in White satin", I know
i'ts time for me to be on MY way!! More babes than the eye can encompass
battle for my attention with fat and dumpy 'merican heiffers talking loud
and saying nothing, as more scotsmen ease me out of my seat. Off I go!!
Up the street, change
of pace, pace quickens.
How many Scotsmen are there in Paris? Obviously
they're all in town, thickly kilting it up and down the Champs-Elysées,
and I wonder: who's left up in the Highlands, harvesting the blue heather
and minding the distilleries?? Brazilians in more weirdly colored wigs
woop it up with the Scots and the Morrocans, fraternizing to no end, as
I sit at another café where three 'merican bimbos take exception at my
Hoy de Monterrey cuban cigar (it's actually lit, and I am in fact smoking
it!!!). If some killer hooligans are here, they're nowhere in sight.
Café George V is packed, and soon enough the american girls are gone,
replaced by, you guessed it, yet more Brazilians whooping it up some more
with another Scottish crew!!! My $15 pint of Carlsberg arrives, shaken
and stirred by the jostling crowds, including a group of Iranians with
girls dressed in a way they couldn't back in Teheran! AC Milan fans are
telling the Brazilians, in song, why they won't win, as Saudis in green
and white robes dance, sing and smile, so happy to be here. Now, it's
drizzling on my cigar, as Scots and Brazilian traipse about, waiting for
tomorrow's opening match and its revelation. The next day, to while away
a few hours before the 5:30 kick off, I return to the Champs Elysées.
are the god-awful giant puppets of the opening night celebration parade,
replaced by the usual parade, namely traffic and tour buses.
changed nor diminished are the Scottish multitudes: drunken, kilts akimbo,
wearing conic cardboard hats, they crawl, they drink, they sing, and then
they drink some more. Hundreds of them everywhere! Even in my highly residential
neighborhood, they can't be escaped!!! The story on the news is that very
few of them have tickets to any of the matches. Or hotel rooms for that
matter! They sleep (if they sleep at all!) in cars, in train stations,
on the street, and they carouse, sing and drink morning, noon and night!!
The fraternization between fans is amazing: after all, football fans,
once drunk, are supposed to go for the jugular, hating each other lustily!!
"Bovver", the Brits call it! But so far, so good! T-shirts and emblazoned
hats are exchanged, and singing bouts are as rambunctious as it gets.
Will it last once the balls get rolling? Or after Brits, Dutch and Germans
run into one another after several gallons of local brew?? And for several
days afterwards, the images on TV were of fans from all countries fraternizing
endlessly, the Brazilians and the Africans partying like experts, dancing,
singing and drinking with one and all. Love ruled!!
All this good cheer
and fine camaraderie lulled everyone into thinking this would be a peaceful
football party, with hooligans and their attendant violence left beyond
french borders. Rude awakening five days later when the English, team
and fans both, enter the scene in Marseilles. A few hundred Brits, without
ticket to the match but with plenty fighting spirit, descended upon the
southern city and proceeded to riot, pillage and destroy everything in
sight. The problem for the Brits is their reputation: for the past twenty-five
or so years, English hooligans have held high the undisputed title of
Toughest Football Warriors in Europe. And just like the aging Old-West
gunslinger who had to take up the challenges of any local upstart who
wanted to show he could draw faster, the Brits have to deal with provocation
and one-upmanship from local baddies wherever they go. And with memories
of Empire in their beer-addled brains, they've held their pennants high,
and have taken on every contender coming their way.
The match that day
pitted England and Tunisia, the opener for both, but the action started
the day before, when local arab toughs came down from the north-side to
have a look at the english monsters. The Brits had been harmless enough
up to that point: drinking heavily, and I mean HEAVILY, they'd confined
themselves to a few pubs, cafés and the beach, singing songs (No Surrender
to the IRA, Rule Britannia, Land of Hope and Glory, God Save the Queen,...)
and harmlessly swaggering about. But, for unknown reasons, taunts or provocations,
someone was pushed, a punch was thrown, and the battle 'kicked off'.
Stand", "Let's do it for England", they shouted. Overturned cars, windows
smashed, police charging with dogs and sticks, local arabs throwing bottles
at the Brits above the police ranks separating them, the usual! And the
locals ended up proving themselves as nasty as the two hundreds English
hard-core yobs at the heart of it. And gaining the tactical upper hand.
The Brit style is to charge in massed ranks up and down the boulevard.
But once their lines had been broken up by the riot police, they spilled
into the darkened side-street and alleyways, and into arab territory,
where gangs of local punks awaited them with knives and baseball bats.
Cracked skulls, broken ribs, throats slashed, blood and more blood, revenge
exacted this way and that, locals cheering their bretren hunting any Brit
they could find, countless arrests.... Nasty indeed!! Reuters reported
one of the most bizarre event, when a gang of Brits surrounded an organ-grinder
and forced a bottle of wine down his monkey's throat!!!
By the time the
match started, calm had returned. Not for long, though. The city of Marseilles
had set up a large screen on the Prado beach where people could watch
the match. When Alan Shearer scored the first goal at the 42nd minute,
it sparked a hail of beer and wine bottles to be thrown by the Brits onto
the grandstand where many Tunisian were seated . Protecting themselves
any way they could, the Tunisians had to jump from the bleachers, as the
Brits attacked the temporary structure. Up to that point, the two groups
of fans had watched the game peacefully, together, as no attempt had been
made to segregate them. Within minutes, riot police in full combat gear,
helmets, body armour and bullet-proof vests charged behind a volley of
tear gas, proceeding to beat everybody in sight, yet concentrating on
the English. The 'bulldog spirit' prevailed, as they were to be the last
ones to be driven off the beach.
days later, in the northern industrial city of Lens, the Germans arrived,
intent on showing the Brits, and the world, who's toughest. The Teutons
surprised everybody with an exquisite level of preparation: clean and
well-dressed, using cellular phones to coordinate their actions, it showed
German organization at its best! After some healthy fighting with a phalanx
of riot police, a group found itself behind police lines, near several
parked police buses. These were garded by a single Gendarme, sans helmet,
and the mob took out its frustrations on him. They kicked him in the face,
beat him relentlessly with bats and metal bars, some hitting his head
with a stone.... He ended up suffering irreversible brain damage, and
laid in a coma for weeks!!!
A german hooligan named Spike (?!) was quoted
in the press as saying he had no problem with the fact this policeman
was taught a lesson: "Why did he block our way? Why did he not run away?
He was serving the system and must accept the consequences!"
A good try
by the Germans, but it would appear the English retained their title!!
at the "Café de La République" in Avignon, under a melting sun, I watch
multicolored crowds move about in Provençal heat and theatre excitement.
The "Avignon Theatre Festival" is in full-swing, offering five hundred
plays in three weeks, with many street happenings and mini dramas acted
out ever so quickly at the café's terraces and on street corners.
And by the time you realize the couple fighting loudly in public are comedians
promoting one of the day's play, PTOOOF, they're gone, replaced by others.
The Merry-go-round on the plaza, historic and hysteric, spins endlessly,
laden with screaming children, oblivious to both heat and street comedians,
lost in their own childish thespian reverie.
Scantily-clad lovelies, sheerly
see-through and micro-mini-skirted amble about in the afternoon light,
acting out their own reality in the midst of all this theatrical make
This morning at 10:30, I saw Ionesco's "The Bald Opera Singer",
a masterpiece of absurdist theatre, and, no doubt, it had to put my head
in a receptive mood for the wonders yet to come. Next on the program,
is "Shakti", a one-woman dance performance, erotic and oneiric, blending
Japanese sense of place with Indian Kama Sutra dances, transposing the
result into the heat, not of Rajastan or Mysore, but of Provence and cricket
After a mere half hour in Shakti's Nirvana, I land back on the street
with just enough time to crawl across town to a different kind of heat,
the heat of Andalucia, the coldly eldritch heat of "Duende", for a flamenco
tribute to Federico Garcia Lorca in this, the poet's centenary. In 1930,
Garcia Lorca lectured in Cuba on the subject of Duende, and this play
was based on that lecture. In a packed theatre, bathed in red light, the
poet, in suit and hat, is on stage with a young dancer, a guitarist, a
keyboardist and a singer. Quickly I find myself immersed in gypsy Andalucia,
under Serge Barbuscia's powerful evocation of Duende. Ah, but what is
Duende and how does one find it ? And where?
Duende is the transcendant
connection the artist make with the inspiration rising within him. Duende
is the understanding the gypsy singer has of the ancestral suffering of
Andalucia. Duende is that otherwordly state of comprehension, of profound
awareness, of atavistic realization of all things and mysteries. Duende
is what burns the soul and blood under a poultice of broken glass. Duende
is the demonic earth spirit who, like Prometheus, will show you the essence
of all things, essences you are not allowed to see, a vision you may pay
for with your soul and sanity. Duende is the soul of the blues singer
who has made that blood-pact with the Arch Fiend at the crossroads. Duende
is the primordial groove, sublime and inherent in its inconceivable splendour.
Duende is the heightened state of being all arts strive to achieve, more
often unsuccesfully than not, so elusive is it. The hurt, the loneliness,
the obsessional passion, the destruction of self, the dark sun of melancholy,
the deathly obsession of the 'cante Jondo', there is the abode of Duende.
Duende refuses to show itself if there is consolation. Duende wants to
see your wounds. It has this magic virtue to baptise its holder in the
darkest waters. Oh! superb triumph of dreams at the edge of the abyss,
dreams of the bullfight where a god is adored and sacrificed. The 'toro'
has his orbit, and so has the 'torero', and between the two is the extreme
peril and the terrible game. Duende is neither muse nor angel. The muse
may guide the 'muletta', the angel the 'banderillas', but only duende,
when death lurks, will point the sword to the Truth and the Art, and sublimate
Man and 'toro'. It is the perpetual baptism of things newly created, it
is Medusa's veil in search of new victims, it is Goya and Velasquez at
their regal darkest, it is 'Caracol' singing to Santiago y Santa Ana,
'El Agujeta' spewing forth from his mouth the harshest metals ever forged
by gypsy smiths to the sound of ancient 'martinetes', it is 'La Niña de
los Peines' searing her throat with burning 'Cazalla' in a Cadiz tavern,
ever so long ago, to show the unbelivers that she, too, could craddle
Duende. And here in Provencal Avignon, Barbuscia and his cohorts found
it and laid it in front of our bewildered eyes and aching soul, for us
to rejoice and sing and moan, blinded by its darkness, silenced by its
silence, verified by its starlight, deafened by the preternatural clangor
that accompanies it always. Entranced and possessed, Barbuscia became
a conduit for the spirit of Duende, bringing it to this dark and red and
mesmerized theatre, caressing it, making love to it, becoming Duende for
an hour. I gasped and trembled, I saw the light of Eleusyan Mysteries,
I had trangressed the forbidden, and had glimpsed upon the Ancient Gods.
I left the theatre as if from Lethe, oblivious to heat and sun, in the
streets of Avignon in body only, mind and soul scouring the spaceways,
understanding at last!!
days later, the trip's first stage concludes in front of a super cold
pint of "Blanche de Bruges" with a lemon slice, at the unscenic but well-placed
"Cintra Café" in Avignon.
Well-placed, because a mere stone throw from
the railway station where the train to Montpellier awaits me, within Avignon's
fortifications (you never know when the Moors are going to attack!), and
well within the leafletting purview of more gorgeous sun-dress clad actresses
pushing their evening shows. I may be leaving, but the festival goes on
for another week.
I didn't stay in Avignon proper, but in the ancient
village of Tresques, in my sister's house, built in 1638, the year of
Louis XIV's birth; and in the town of Bagnols sur Ceze, already known
to Strabon as Balneola, when BC was turning into AD.
Old places full of
olden spirits, crackling under the sun and the crepitating songs of cicadae
endlessly calling their mates to burning amours in the parched "garrigues",
while humans seek refreshment in glasses of Pastis under the soothing
shades of centenarian plane trees.
baleful spirit here, the kind you might associate with a Rhine Valley
Schloß of the Lorelei, or an Hybernian keep high in the Highlands, guardian
of Pictish runes and portals opening onto C'thulu, but olden spirits full
of charm and glee.
For how could it be otherwise, in this land of smiles
and Côtes du Rhone, Chateauneuf du Pape, rosemary, thyme, garlic and
onion pies, bouillabaisse and olive paste?!
And let us not forget the
pleasures of sun-tanning, my main occupation when not in Avignon's theatre
darkness. Doonesbury's Zeke would be proud of me: perfectly brown and
succulent am I, with no tan lines (eh, eh, eh!!), sure to impress South
Beach hedonists and the jury at the George Hamilton Sun Tan Open!!
Nearly two years ago,
in Pompei, Dr. Zoë and I marvelled at the crass and crude presence of
a retinue of Joey Perullo tour boobs, swaggering their provincial ignorance
all about these marvels of antiquity. This time around I had a foretaste
of things to come on the hydrofoil ferry jetting me over to verdurous
Capri's soaring cliffs and pinnacled crags, a short journey taken in the
company of a herd of women from Bloomfield, NJ, (figures!!!...) whining
and exclaiming in their best nasal twang!! Fat, dumpy and flat-assed,
they snapped away with flashes in full sunlight so as to immortalize their
sorry presence upon the Mediterranean and its waters of indigo. Here in
Capri, it's tourist galore!! In philistine and tacky presence, they preen
and parade in the town's small serpentine streets, traipsing in and out
of jewelry stores, and Trussardi, Hermes, and Armani boutiques!! What
the fuck??!!?? They come to Capri to SHOP!!??!! The mind reels! I quickly
head out, anywhere, anyhow, but away from THEM!!
Walking east, up and
down narrow lanes between curtains of flowers and blooms, as variegated
as they're fragrant, in battle with prickly cacti and languid palms for
growing space in the dazzlement of noon, I find myself... quite alone,
all of a sudden. Deb and Lenny, Klaus und Inge, Marcel et Martine, all
easing their t-shirted blubber in climate-controlled shopping, seemed
to have jettisoned all thoughts of trekking the acclivitous hillside up
the Via Tiberio to the Villa Jovis, high on the island's easternmost point.
"Good", I think, " Roman ancient glory all to myself. The amorous plaint
of lyres, a goatherd, and the fugitive vision of satyrs chasing dryads....
And the dozen-or-so people awaiting me there make no difference.
They're young and pleasant-looking, and the women have abandonned nearly
all cumbrous habiliments in an attempt to find comfort in the stifling
English writer Robert Graves, in his "autobiographical" journal
of Emperor Claudius, tells the tale of Tiberius who, wanting to punish
the world after his own death by unleashing upon it the destruction
havoc he couldn't bestow upon it whilst he lived, made the insane Caligula
his heir. This was to be the direst form of punishment he could think
of ("Rome deserves you, Caligula"). Watching the unseemly tourist hordes
wash upon Capri, in relentless waves of crass, I find myself entertaining
thoughts of mass-destruction, thinking there is something to be said
for extermination. All as an aesthetic construct, you understand, since
am not likely to become master of the world, with power of life and death,
any time soon. So your sorry asses are safe for the time being.
day, blocked in traffic on the Amalfi coast road, the same thoughts entered
Buses after buses, including a huge Benz "Bustouristik" out
of Bomlitz, Deutschland, or some such hole that should have been bombed
in WW2, all stopped on this narrowest of roadway so as to permit their
clientele to shop for trinkets and feed themselves at some roadside
And everybody else be damned!!!
Thankfully, a repose for my pained eyes
in this traffic hell presented itself in the form of a good-looking
couple in a shiny, sporty, red Alfa-Romeo roadster convertible, equally
stuck but seemingly unperturbed, as they unknowingly reenacted for
scenes of a long-gone Italian Dolce Vita, enraptured in each other's
gaze, high above the splendour of Positano!
I hear some of you exclaiming loudly in puzzlement and dismay.
liberals: "But these people have rights, too, you know. They may be ugly, fat, loud,
ignorant and tacky to no end, ludicrous and an eyesore, they DO have a
human soul breathing and yearning within. So you should be tolerant of
your brethren's faults, and in the same way you shouldn't judge a book
by its cover, do not judge the person by its exterior, however repellant
it may be, blah, blah, blah..."
The realists: "Who the fuck do you think
you are, asshole??! You're just another one of these tourists, with your
camera and your Ray Bans!!! If you hate tourists so much, stay at home!!!"
the liberals, I say this: the book analogy may work for some books in
some cases. But do I really need to know the throbbing prose hiding
within the lurid cover of these Harlequin romances (the kind your mom
reads with her dildo while your dad is out drinking with his football
buddies), to know all I need to know. And, in our tourists' case, when
you strip all the outside accoutrements, however sorry or semi-cool they
may appear, what are you left with? A Nobel prize litterary genius, a
composer writing operas and symphonies inspired by your mind and erotic
aura?? Nay, to say truth, it's the same old dull stockbroker or used-car
salesman you're mindlessly dating these days! And, here and now, they're
polluting the natural marvels that are Capri and the Amalfi coast, making
it look like a Labor Day weekend on the Jersey Shore!
To the realists,
I say: I may be a tourist in these parts, but I take public transportations,
I stay at friends instead of giving business to one of the zillion hotels
disfiguring the landscape, I don't take photos of my fat wife, and I
cool in Ray Bans!! And I live in Paris, the number one tourist spot in
the world, so were I to stay home year round, I still wouldn't be able
to escape THEM!!!
Mt. Tiberio sit in antique splendor the remains of Tiberius' villa, wherefrom
he ruled the Empire, trying to beguile but a little the gloom and weariness
of his declining years, having grown hopeless of all but oblivion, finding
solace and a momentary swelling of his flaccid pulses in the spectacle
of little boys and girls, frolicking nude in the gardens as if they were
wood nymphs, thereby assuaging his gymnosophic seclusion!
In much later
times, Christian zealots wanting to establish in yet another place a beacon
to their shallow superstition, erected a chapel to some obscure San Fernando,
where once Jupiter illumined the thoughts of Augustus, Tiberius, and subsequent
Not wanting to leave well enough alone, a huge and ugly bronze
statue of the Holy Adultress has been dominating the landscape for the
past twenty years! Taking a cue from Leibniz in thinking their world the
best of all possible, Christians have continued leaving their deplorable
imprints upon all things, and in the fashion of turds, have so far managed
to keep rising to the surface!!
Turning my back on the sorry constructions,
I ambled back and forth between the ruined cisterns and the slave quarters,
the guards' rooms and the Imperial apartments, soon finding myself on
an umbral terrace beneath pine trees, hidden from mortal trespass, where
Trasillus, the Imperial astrologer, wearing the seer's Utter Black, glimpsed
at the star's mysteries. And, having pored over tablets and parchments
of archaic cyphers and runes, devised arcane thaumaturgies born of his
mantic arts, meant to calm the monarch's fears, and wash away anguished
visions of impending doom from these old eyes, filled with the vainglory
of madness and bale...
Two hundred meters
above the sea, as its waves lap at the cliff's base, I also let my mind
drift back to olden times above the surf, when galleys and xebecs, dhows
and fellucas from unknown isles and outland horizons beyond the morn',
fearlessly plied the turquoise main, returning from shores of camphor
and sandalwood, their oars silently cleaving the weltering waters of Mare
Nostrum, their holds filled with the treasures of far kingdoms beyond
the bourn of sunrise.
distance below the villa is a cliff-top garden of cacti and pines, languourous
flowers swaying in the salted sea-balsam breeze, bruiting with the songs
of cicadae, offering one a stunning gaze at becalmed coves where numerous
yachts lay at anchor, the privileged voluptuaries on board surely lunching
on rare viands and frosted drinks, between naked dips in halcyon waters
as smooth and green as a silky curtain of jade.
summer, the Rome Opera has been performing a mass-audience, sumptuous
production of Puccini's Tosca, outdoors in the unlikely setting of Rome's
Olympic Stadium. Normally home to both roman soccer teams, AS Roma and
Lazio, Lucilla, Davide and I sat in the turn where the visiting team's
"tifosi" would normally rant and rave. Beautiful staging with impressive
rotating sets, three of them (the set changes got applause from the crowd!!),
magnificent costumes, nearly two hundred people on the stage for the "Te
Deum" that concluded act one, and, last and certainly not least, some
fine singing and rousing music... It is of course impossible to properly
judge operatic voices in an outdoor amplified performance, but I was thrilled
by the lasting power, somber tones and dramatic shades of baritone Ruggiero
Raimondi as Barone Scarpia. In his sixties now, he has lost little of
the dark velvet of his voice, and his stage presence is as commanding
as ever. Tenor Vincenzo La Scola as Cavaradossi started acceptably, a
little too controlled maybe, but he improved throughout the performance,
not succumbing to facility and getting some fine pathos and sobs out of
'Lucevan le Stelle'. But the revelation had to be soprano Maria Guleghina
as Tosca, a magnificent new (somewhat) singer, with a stupendous voice,
rich and full in the mid-range, magnificently projected, rising to sharp
and crystalline high notes without a trace of metal. She brought to the
part an innocence tempered with world-weariness, and a sultry erotic sheen
that can make all the difference in this ever so well travelled lyric
role. Guleghina has been called 'the new Callas'. Whether she is, or will
be, is irrelevant. For her to be the new Guleghina is plenty enough already,
and I predict that someday, some young singer will, in turn, be called
the 'new Guleghina'. The audience was full of beautiful people, young
and hip, a far cry from the blue-haired matrons one encounters at the
Met or assorted american operatic abodes. Even the techno strains wafting
upon the wind from the outdoor disco a mile away were unable to distract
us from Tosca's leap to her Tiber death!
I should thank my
friend Davide who turned me on to a uniquely Roman pleasure, the joy of
driving through this immortal city on his scooter, a la Nani Moretti,
and allowing me thusly to ride through empty August streets, in awe of
the many wonders of Antiquity all about, revisiting old dreams on the
Piazza Navona where Gian Lorenzo Bernini showed with such stylish flair
his contempt for Francesco Borromini, and, last but certainly not least,
for introducing me to the beguiling Rosella, Roman Princess if there ever
was one, who took me on a memorable adventure through the romantic neighborhood
of Campo di' Fiori, and of whom I hope to tell you more in future columns!!!
Ah, Italia... I promised
my friends that, next year, I would speak their euphonious language. And,
mark my words, I will!!