Sunday, September 30, 2007

London in September

AOG, London

After being away from the island since the 22nd of July, I finally made it over to spend my birthday in the company of friends and family.

Seeing as how these days I'm "Homeless in London", my partner and I were lucky enough to stay with friends in Brixton, as well as being lucky enough to have friends to stay with in the first place.

The Complaints section

We rented a car, and for the first time ever, I drove from Gatwick into central London. One and a half hours later (more or less), we made it into town. It has always amazed me how long it take to get out of London.

Yes, London is gigantic, but what makes the process so slow is not its size, it is the fact that you get out of it through small winding streets masquerading as roads and highways. In this respect, Madrid has an advantage over London. Even in central Madrid, getting out of town takes no more than 25 minutes.

Yes, I know, Madrid is smaller (though not all that much these days), and many would argue that it has had the space to build motorways out of town. Yes and no. Madrid, like many other capitals, is surrounded by small villages which eventually have been absorbed into the city's fabric. However, I think that the only difference is will power. In Madrid, local politicians decided at some point that it should have ring roads and highways and ways out. Many of these are tunnels. Expensive tunnels which must avoid underground (Subway/Metro) tunnels, and entire city blocks with buildings on top. Not easy. And, considering how London is built mostly on flat land (unlike Madrid which is very hilly), I think political will power wins over weird excuses.

The Get Him! section

I remember once having the nephew of the Duke of Northumberland telling me (how's that for name dropping!!), that after WWII, when there was a plan to build a motorway right through South London, a little boy wrote to the Department of Transport informing them that he was very concerned about the plans to have a highway running right through his home. His father was some aristocrat, and the home in question was a palace somewhere down there (I forget where). So no highway was built.

Although a cute story, and probably a true one, it is amazing that even in 2007 things in London are as bad as they are.

The Culture and Recap section

We spent most of Saturday on the East End. It was a sunny day, and it helped make that part of town look less depressing than usual. We went to see an the Hiraki Sawa HAKO exhibition at the Chisenhale Gallery and spent the afternoon in the East End, mostly around Whitechapel and Aldgate- mostly Brick Lane. The smells of the area are amazing. It is an odd fusion of Asia, second hand clothing stores and avant- garde art galleries. All a stone's throw away from the City of London, the financial heart. I suppose this is one of the things which people like about London, this mixture.

It soon got late, and we rushed back to Brixton to get ready to go to dinner at the Texas Embassy in Trafalgar Square. It was great seeing old friends again. It was a lovely and familiar feeling.

Afterwards, three of us went to Bar Code in Vauxhall. I have to say, I was very pleasantly surprised. The decoration was modern, almost cutting edge, and, more importantly, smoke-free. I think one of London's most unique offers, insofar as interesting spaces are concerned, are the space underneath the railways arches which sprout all over London and the UK. Normally, they are very dingy, and certainly humid. I can almost smell the spores when I go into one. But, Bar Code, no spores. Well done. I was pleased we went.

Then home to Brixton to sleep. Sunday we didn't really have much time to do anything. I mostly got to chat with Oliver, our host, about many things. He mentioned he found it interesting that in Spain, in everyday language, there is a concept of "the modern" in a way which does not happen in Germany. Oliver is German. We discussed Spain, the UK, Germany, the US, life, philosophy, human Psychology, Zeitgeist, in short, nothing and everything. He eventually wants to return to Spain. It is just a case of convincing his partner Albert.

In the afternoon we packed and left for Gatwick. Another 2 hour drive out of London

Monday, September 17, 2007

Family Types

AOG, Madrid

This past weekend I spent it with my partner and some friends in Sitges, also known as gayville on the Med; a small town about 45 minutes from Barcelona.

We all rented a small apartment (decoration 70s vintage), and the beach was a 5 minute walk from there. On Saturday, we got there rather early and spent most of the day either baking under the sun, or freezing in the Mediterranean sea. Yes, Spain is a hot country, but September is September, and Autumn is just around the corner. My partner and I separated from the group at lunch time (2-4 pm Spanish time) and then went back to the beach, although on another part of town.

When we all met for dinner (round 10 pm), our friend Eduard was slightly outraged. The town council had placed a metal sign saying the beach were they had been all day (a nudist beach), was a family beach. It said so in Catalan, in Spanish, and (almost) in English (we all thought it was quite funny that they had written Familiar Beach, and not Family Beach). First, there was the issue of the wording: "family". Since there is no such thing as a "children's beach", or "unmarried people" beach, or "Divorcees beach", to call it a "family beach", was odd. What did it mean? That only families were allowed? Right then, how do you define a family?

The town council knows exactly what it defines as a family: One male figure, one female figure, and an overgrown monster baby figure, white against a pale yellow background. And here was the rub.

How dare the town council not only declare a beach as a family beach or not, it even defined what a family was: male, female, baby. And yes, by trying to "innocently" re- classify something which no one in Spain has the authority to do (no one classifies beaches as gay, straight, or nudist. Beaches in Spain are known as such through tradition alone), the town council has made a mistake. Or at least, it has offended a lot of gay people.

My friend Eduard was up in arms.

Why is there only one model of what a family might be? A family can be 2 people, or 20, and before you say "traditional", remember, this is 2007, and Spain has legalised gay marriages, and as we all know, gay couples can adopt children. As single people do.

It made me think. It made me realise that things are changing very quickly, and, at the same time, not quickly enough. Needless to say the party in power in Sitges is the Conservative party, a party very keen on keeping gay people off "its" town. Eduard had, has, a point.

Still, it didn't spoil the weekend for us, and we were soon making jokes about it.

Another typical weekend in Spain.