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Holy Catholic Ireland, Batman!

Irish Blasphemy referendum

Ireland has a blasphemy law.

Take a few minutes to digest that.

Because whatever you think it means, it means.

I had thought that my wife had got it wrong or that she had mistranslated what her mother had said or it was simply another my-mother-in-lawism.

But no.

‘We’ve got the Blasphemy Referendum on the same day as the presidential elections, you know,’ was the way the conversation went between my better half’s mother and her self.

‘What?’ the wife had responded incredulously, and somewhat confusedly. Her mother could have literally meant anything. Is it blasphemy to her to have another referendum? Do the Irish wish to place the Catholic Church back into a place of centrality in the constitution and Irish society and so therefore are about to commit blasphemy against all that is decent and good by swearing loyalty back to the holy Catholic Poobah of Rome in all his piousness? Or did my beloved simply mis-hear her own mother’s accent? Was my m-i-l sick of making decision through plebiscite? Was it with a heavy sigh that she said ‘we’ve got that blasted referendum’ over re-nationalising sewage treatment or something?

She clarified.

‘Because blasphemy is illegal, you know. You could be fined €25,000. €25,000!’

And a few moments of knowing acknowledgement of the Irish character of old and a google search or two confirm the laughably theocratic thing you think “blasphemy referendum” means, is what it means. The Irish are about to go to the polls to decide whether blasphemy should still be illegal in Ireland.

Which is interesting.

When I was I wee slip of a study abroad student at the tenderly legal age of 21, I left my native America and set foot on The Emerald Isle’s shores for the first time.

I had been raised Catholic but was not very good at practicing, well, at what I had been raised. But something vaguely spiritual awakened in me in the land of saints and scholars, land of my forbears, holy, holy hosanna in the highest, holy Catholic Ireland where St Patrick ran out the symbolic pagan serpents, and I thought, why not, for shits and giggles, why not see a real, devotional Catholic, pious country as it celebrates the most divine panus angelicus, the consecrated mysteries, the inner meaning of which always seemed to elude me (question as a child: why was Jesus keeping his heart secret?)? So I did.

I had been raised ‘Irish American’.

I have reconciled myself to the fact that ‘Irish American’ counts as a culture. I don’t think it entitles you to call yourself Irish, but it does require you, it seems, to buy into the stereotype of the Catholic Ireland myth, a place second only to Rome in its Catholicity, a land where the aisles up to communion are paved with potatoes and gold (neither of which are indigenous to Eire).

I had somehow not been privy to the many scandals to do with the Catholic Church, child abuse, rape, molestation and rank hypocrisy.

I had not been privy to Ireland’s secular awakening during the economic boom in the 90s known as the Celtic Tiger, a time when the Irish fairly quickly shirked off the shadows of groping priests and the shackles of roman collars.

I had also never seen Father Ted.

So my vision of a pure and Jesused Ireland remained untainted on a Sunday morning when I wandered into a church in the suburban village of Maynooth, just west of the capital, expecting at least some of the mass to be in Latin, expecting at least three miracles before the second reading, the whole church bursting with song and several hours of Irish people soberly and self flagellatingly meditating on the most divine.

An Ireland that was happy to give the Catholic Church a special place in the Irish state enshrined in the constitution of 1937.

An Ireland that would ban the joyously scathing satire of Joyce, Beckett and O’Casey (to be fair, it’s been a while since there’s been that scale of censorship).

An Ireland, bless it, that would write, and keep on the books a law that would sanction the the act of blasphemy (whatever that means and whoever decides what it means) with a fine of up to €25,000.

An Ireland in which a man from Ennis in County Clare would lodge a complaint about actor and writer Stephen Fry who, in an interview with Irish Radio and TV personality Gay Byrne, questioning the existence/benevolence of a god who would allow obscene amounts of children to suffer in horrible ways.

An Ireland in which the same man, clearly finding himself at a loose end, called up the police to find out if they could please update him on the status of his complaint two years later as he would like to know when they’d be prosecuting that awful auld Stephen Fry fella to the full extent of the law.

An Ireland, in sum, that pays gravely serious attention to its religion.

What transpired was a mumbled gathering of assorted worshippers, garbling through their prayers at speed, barely an intelligible ‘amen’ in the house, whilst all kept their coats on (in America’s puritanical Catholic Churches we were always taught to make ourselves comfortable in the house of god), a muted, dark and glum acknowledgement of a shared religious upbringing, with barely a bit of eye contact and not a note of music struck by a single vocal chord.

Far from genuflecting in front of our lord on the way out, the almighty was lucky if he got a curt nod as the becoated parishioners scurried out like rats from a sinking ship and blessed themselves as some hurried ritual to superstitiously ward off the holy cooties they might have contracted within doors, with Christ, as Beckett writes, ‘all crucified in a heap.’

It was not, suffice to say, the ossified holy Catholic Ireland that Irish America venerates. It was not an Ireland had time for a church steeped in constant controversy from the Magdalene laundry revelations to ‘illegitimate’ babies buried in mass graves by sisters of ‘mercy’ in whose care young mothers were entrusted bearing up against the then shameful badge of a pregnancy out of wedlock.

Tomorrow, the Irish go to the polls to vote for their president, a largely symbolic figurehead role (another discussion for another day with another host of issues) but the more important vote will be a kind of symbolic confirmation.

If Irish voters do as polls indicate they will, after years of far more important referenda embracing marriage equality in defiance of a homophobic past and bravely embracing reproductive rights in defiance of a chauvinistic and misogynistic past, across the country, they will be confirming their faith in themselves and humanity and liberal, progressive values, and away from a failed moribund model of morality.

In contrast to the cynical votes that brought about Brexit and President Trump, it will be an optimistic vote for the future. And for Ireland, simply a sign of the times.

So I say again, with less ambiguity, Ireland has a blasphemy law.

Soon it will not.

Praise be.

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Cultural Firsts: The Peking Opera

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Zhang Zhifang as The Leopard Antagonist in ‘The Monkey King’ 

It’s a day of firsts. 14 years in London (and most a lifetime spent as a theatre lover) and today is the first time that have crossed the threshold of Sadler’s Wells Theatre, quite possibly the premiere dance theater in London. You’d think I would have made the time by now.

And it is the first time I have seen Peking Opera live. I guess there’s nothing like starting with the best, so I am here to see Peking National Opera’s production of The Crossroads Inn and The Monkey King. Dance as an expressive art form is something I’m not sure I’ve ever engaged with or completely understood (owing partly to being born with little or no sense of rhythm), I am apprehensive and have no idea what to expect.

I need not have worried.

The show was nothing short of breathtaking.

Taking from ancient myth and adapting to modern parlance (with words like ‘dude’ and phrases like ‘how the hell’) The Crossroad Inn is a story of an exiled General Jiao Zan, played with a commanding stage presence by Liu Kuikui, who, in the changing tides of his country’s fortunes and regimes, goes very quickly from being war hero to banished prisoner on Shamen Island, escorted around by two Rozencrantz and Guildenstern-like-buffoonish guards, played with perfect comic absurdity by Wang Jue and Chen Guosen, whose comic interplay and fawning deference works to hilarious effect against the gruff general.

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Wang Haoqiang and Liu Bo in The Crossroads Inn

When Jiao Zan, intolerant of exile, and his guards, stumble upon the eponymous establishment run by a couple loyal to the seasoned military veteran, and agree to let all three guests stay for the night, acrobatic farce ensues. The piece culminates with a magnificently spellbinding display of deft, gravity-defying slapstick in which the proprietor, Liu Lihua (played by Liu Bo), and Ren Tanghui (Wang Haoqiang), The General’s personal protector who has followed him to the island to keep him from harm, soar through the stage, which serves as a darkened guest room under the premise that half he time there is not light and they are groping around to find the other combatant. The result, despite what is essentially a domestic comedy, is acrobatic spectacle on an epic scale.

The company outdo themselves in the second piece, The Monkey King, a tale much more firmly rooted in magic, myth and parable, when the Leopard (played with effortless aplomb by Zhang Zhifang), ruler of the Hongmei Mountains descends to choose a mere mortal bride amongs the village folk and marry her against her will. Fortunately for the bride and her family, the Monkey King (performed  with a mischievous wink and a lithe springy quality by Ma Yanchao) just happens to be passing through with his merry band of monks on their journey west to find ancient Buddhist texts. The royal Simeon agrees to help and like so many folkloric trickster heroes, devises a plan devises a plan full of intrigue, deception and disguise that is both funny and gripping.

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Ma Yanchao as The Monkey King

Never is this piece more riveting than when the two principal players are leaping, flipping and twisting through the air in joyful combat that seemed to defy all of physics. But this is predominantly due to the pure feast for the senses that the Peking National presents to us on stage. The multicolored and striped leopard looks vibrant, warm and very much the human manifestation of a wild, forest cat. The bright banana yellow and the cheeky humour imbued by the makeup and costuming of The Monkey King is ingeniously comic from his first appearance onstage and only grows funnier each time he flips or bounds back onto the boards. And Wang Luyu’s percussion is simply incredible in his ability to discomfit the ear and build tension to a crescendo in the showdown between the two, rounding off this most compelling evening in my first taste of this fast-paced, vibrant and kinetically charged art form.

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Defying gravity in The Monkey King

I have high hopes that we will see the Peking National Group again in London very soon.

The Peking National Opera presented their productions of The Emperor and The Concubine and the double bill of The Crossroads Inn and The Monkey King on 19-20 October 2018 in Sadler’s Wells Theatre.

Just You Wait: Reflections on Hamilton, Founders Chic and the Need for an Example in the post-truth era

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Jamael Westman as Hamilton. Photo by Matthew Murphy. Taken from theamerican.co.uk

There were two types of people in high school in the late 90s: those that screamed and swooned and became haunted with a lost look in their eyes at the mention of Tori bloody Amos (I mean Christ I had friends who wrote flipping research papers about her) with a log-lady like protectiveness, and those that wondered what the fuck they were on about.

I must confess, dear reader, I fell into the latter.

I fell outside the clove-cigarette smoking circle.

I couldn’t tell you y Tori kant read.

And I was never a Cornflake Girl.

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I never was. Taken from eil.com

Which is not to say I don’t appreciate the beauty of her music; perhaps it’s just envy or frustration that I missed the rapturous mass convrersion to the Church of Tori.

So it goes with most obsessive fads: Harry Potter, Bubble Tea, Christianity.

Blink and you miss the wave and the further it drifts away from you the less fun it seems like to catch.

Which is funny really, because I write to you from inside the Hamilton bubble, that wonderful phenomenon of storytelling that has swept from Broadway to most major American cities and now on to the London stage and that everyone who is anyone seems to be talking about and seems to know everything about.

Except me. I knew almost nothing. I heard vague references to a hip hop musical and Alexander Hamilton, who had always been a footnote in American history books mentioned somewhere in connection with federalist papers (yes, it’s true when they say ‘every other founding father’s story gets told’). And I hadn’t expected much because I’m one of those people who’s just ‘not that into musicals’ (I hated Billy Elliot the musical. Did I mention? Awww look at all the cute Northern miners striking for their very fucking survival! Good job, Elton John for condescending to them and treating them like pixies!)

And this wasn’t some desperate grab for tickets. This wasn’t me entering the Hamilton lottery every day or calling ticketmaster or camping out like I did for Ani DiFranco tickets back in Penn State. This was pure luck. My editor at The American happened to be unable to go and so he offered it up to me. On the night my mother-in-law was landing from Dublin for Christmas.

I ask you not to judge me for choosing Hamilton.

I wish I could buck the trend and say it didn’t live up to the hype.

‘Well,’ my brother intoned to me skeptically over facenet with digitally raised eyebrows, a couple days after I had seen the show, ‘I hope it’s more than just… gushing praise.’

I mean it was articulate gushing praise.

My younger sibling was worried that I had not caught on to the trend of Founders chic, the celebration and the cool rebranding of our anglophile, landowning, manipulative power hungry founding fathers and the backlash against said trend. He was right. I hadn’t been all that aware that John Adams had been made cool again or that all the kids were pejoratively referring to their worst enemies in the playground as lobsterbacks.

And I get the point. I really do. We spent the first couple hundred years setting up these white men indignant at having less privilege than their British counterparts as Gods. And I know it’s not as simple as that, but it’s also not that much more complicated. George never came clean about the cherry tree. He never chopped down the cherry tree. It was a myth invented by Washington’s first biographer. Draw what conclusions you will but that tells you a lot more about our national character and our unquestioning belief in the deified founding fathers than any account of our first commander-in-chief’s life and times.

But is re-interpreting Hamilton’s life as an inspirational tale of an American grafter overcoming adversity by pulling himself up by his bootstraps really dangerous? As a former History major and a former teacher of History, I can sympathise (see above for my irreverence and unquestioning acknowledgement of our ‘founding fathers” non-greatness and flawed humanity) with the frustrated historians who see it that way. After all, I refused to shell out to see The Iron Lady in 2011 because I’m not going to financially support anything that humanises a woman who would gladly see her fellow MPs die on Hunger Strike and question their virility before she would negotiate for their rights as prisoners of war. To be sure, Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill looks compelling but I’m deeply skeptical of the perpetual lionisation of prime minister who changed parties twice and didn’t really know what to do without a war to get him up and going in the morning (or midday… or whenever he slept off the previous night’s whiskey as it were).

But here’s the thing. Because Hamilton includes references to history does not mean it is to be taken as a History Lesson. It is fiction. A compelling story. But no more an attempt at a factual historical account than Richard III, one of Shakespeare’s most compelling portraits of witty, villainous, despotism in which the bard, according to many frustrated British historians, greatly maligned the last Plantagenet.

And I’m not going to repeat the obvious arguments in greater detail than has already been outlined with greater eloquence than I could accomplish here (that hip hop subverts the white elitism that was the currency of Hamilton and Washington’s era and forces us to reflect on it with fresh eyes, that Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians playing historical figures who would have been exclusively white also challenges us to a process of cognitive reevaluation of the way we perceive our history).

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I’d prefer Hamilton to Trump. I think. Taken from macleans.ca

What I will say is that we need Hamilton as a story and as a national mirror of who we are, and we need its critics every bit as much. We need Hamilton for reasons that neither Lin Manuel-Miranda nor anyone else could have anticipated back when the show opened in 2015, that its jibes at major political leaders would seem so much more poignant now than they did then. That we would suffer such a paucity of leadership that James Comey would join the ranks of bestseller authors by building a case several hundred pages long about the poverty of leadership from which we as a nation currently suffer. And we also need Hamilton because one of its very true facts: that unlike some of our current and recent political leaders, Hamilton came clean about his sexual misdeeds. He faced up and ‘overwhelmed them with honesty.’ He showed us how to handle a scandal. It may have circumscribed his political ambitions, but at least he was honest.

So read Hamilton‘s critics. Get to know them. Understand them. If this magically inspiring historical musical that is as American the spirit of protest that allows us to use our greatest words to protest through historical analysis, and to be inspired by an engaging narrative about energy, ambition and drive, then more power to it.

 

Travel Dispatches: Keep Calm and Drink Guinness?

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Taken from deviantart.com

Flying back from Dublin. Self-satisfied and smug, having sourced a helluva deal on a return to Newark with Aer Lingus for the upcoming annual summer sojourn to the Homeland. I haven’t flown Ireland’s national airline across the pond in years. But they’re cheap this year and if the movie listings for international flights in Cara, the inflight magazine are anything to go by (I mean The Shape of Water? Blade Runner 2049? I don’t get out to the movies very often) as well as the generally pleasant, friendly and efficient service so far, the experience promises to be pretty sweet.

I must have missed a thousand pithy punchlines in the process of being starburst/chewy sweet peeler for the missus, I muse (the fecking things are wrapped so fecking tightly!). It’s my special job in the first and last half an hour of any flight while ‘er next to me winces in pain and looks — and probably feels — like that false explosive head in Total Recall that keeps glitching on ‘Two. Weeks.‘ as Schwarzenegger’s character is passing through Martian customs. I take a moment to mourn the lost inspiration as my beloved grits her teeth and grunts ‘for fuck’s sake keep the ’em coming! This is bloody painful!’

Just keep peeling…

In the last twenty minutes as we can feel the rumblings of the landing gear underneath, I excuse myself and my geriatric bladder in a 39 year old body to pee. I make my way shakily to the back of the plane.

Left restroom: vacant. Open door, squeeze in, side strut. Jump back promptly. Immediate horror. I don’t want to know who has used the bathroom sink in an airplane to wash their hair but they’ve left it clogged to shit and they’ve got the sense of accountability and the personal hygiene of a university freshman.

Leave. Unacceptable. I’m too old to accept standards like this in my toilet experiences.

Across the aisle. Slide latch. Open door. Side strut squeeze in. Latch lock. Sink? Not clogged. Good. But oh fuck.

Is that?

No.

Great.

Either I’m traveling with Bleeding Gums Murphy, Meyer Wolfsheim, or there is a molar shaped sweetcorn kernel in the sink that refuses to tumble down the drain.

But I grin. I bear it. I relieve myself, wash my hands, molar kernel incrementally moving back and forth like a stubborn pebble resisting the undertow.

Shudder. Open the door. Slide out and return to seat. Smile composedly and imitate normality to wife.

Resolve self to re-check British Airways flight prices when we get back within wifi range.

Now, We Fight Back

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Photo by @pollyjohughes (dissembledesign.com)

7/7. The Opening Ceremony of The Olympics. Marching in The Women’s March on Saturday. Recalled moments in which I have felt a welling sense of pride in my adopted city.

They say that the arts thrive in times of intense uncertainty and pressure. I believe it true of progressivism as well. That we will become stronger through having our beliefs tested to the utter limits over the next four years I do not doubt. Though unwelcome, I wonder if the left perhaps needs this in order to sort ourselves out and pick more exciting candidates that act as beacons of moral leadership.

Whatever the sinister circumstances that brought us together over the weekend, let us not let it break us apart in the trying times ahead. Let us counter every one of Trump’s utterances of moral depravity with fierce, fierce love and unity. Let us counter his cynical, insidious narrative, every time.

Highlights of the day: a dog walking around with a sign on its back that said: ‘Even I wouldn’t grab a pussy,’ having to explain the course connotations of the word ‘pussy’ to my ten year old (Thanks, Mr President!) because it just became inevitable, and the eloquence of those present on the day, including Labour MP, Yvette Cooper, whose speech was moving and who spoke with conviction about the murdered Pro EU MP Jo Cox:

“We are marching because a talented woman MP was murdered by a far-right extremist and we need to call it out as the terrorism it is. And we are not just marching – we’re … standing up to the misogynists, the bullies and the haters who try to intimidate and silence people online, just as for years they tried to intimidate or silence women on the street.

“We are here because we want to take a stand against Donald Trump. Millions of American women and men voted for him. Marching isn’t enough – we need to persuade, to win arguments, to challenge the causes of division and to build a future in common. For the sake of our children and grandchildren … we are here because we will not let the clock be turned back.” (Reprinted from guardian.co.uk)

Thank you, London, as so many of the placards on Saturday said, we shall overcomb.

Surviving a Trumpish Presidency, at Home or Abroad

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Batten down the hatches, you say. Take cover, you say.

Repent, for the Trump is nigh, you say.

And well you might. The storm is no longer approaching. The storm is here. It’s raining down acidically on workers’ rights, the environment, third world countries, reproductive rights, our esteem in the world and the ideals Americans of every class, creed and culture hold dear. And those dark clouds in the distance are just about threatening functioning healthcare as we know it.

Ride it out for four years in the shelter in the backyard, you say.

Ride it out in Canada, the great paradise of the north, America’s own Scandi style Yukon Utopia, some say.

It won’t last, others say.

Not my problem, say the remaining few, the ones who didn’t bother to vote, refused to talk about it, and prefer to not get political because it ‘doesn’t affect them’.

But here it is, folks, the end of days. America’s last president.

You want to survive the next four years, the Trumpian apocalypse? Here’s a few tips how from someone who lived abroad during the dark, dark Bush years.

1. Stop complaining about the electoral college. Do you know how often we have a serious discussion about the electoral college and how unfair and undemocratic it is? About every four years. Because that’s the only time it comes up and we only really find it at fault when it throws up an anamolous result, like one that is the exact opposite of the popular vote. The truth is if Hillary had told a compelling enough story and convinced enough people that she was human and that she cared, we wouldn’t be worrying about the popular vs the electoral college vote. I’m not saying that sacred invention of the founding fathers is just or right. I am just saying that when the dust settles, we have bigger problems to worry about, like having a psychotic billionairre in The White House.

2. Own your country! Back in the Bush years, I was held responsible for every invasion, misadventure and stupid thing that my country inflicted on the world at dinner parties. Now it’s up to us expats and you mainlanders, to convince and keep convincing the rest of the world we’re not brash, loud, obnoxious, literal-minded morons. The decision our red-voting brothers and sisters have made has not helped in this matter in any way, shape or form. You’re at a dinner party and someone asks you what’s wrong with your countrymen, putting a bigot in The White House, you say uh… hello? Brexit? Le Pen? Actually, no, we’re being ambassadors not abusers. You say we also elected the first Latina senator, the first Indian-American senator, the first Vietnamese American congressional rep and the first LGBT governor in US history, all women. Our president may be a vile, hypocritical, crude, sexist, but most of us are not. More of us voted against him than for him. And we’re also responsible for the best TV (House of Cards, Mr Robot) and the best films that you watch. We are not necessarily a melting pot, but look for the extremes and you won’t be hard put to find people who are as unlike Trump as a bad toupee is from real hair. Emphasise that to our fellow citizens of the globe, and be conscious of that when you are sharing your life on a global social medium.

3. Do something! Did you? Did you really? I didn’t start volunteering with the Democrats Abroad until this election cycle, even though I always said, ‘I really should’. If you really want things to be different in the midterms and in another four years, volunteer for your local party, whether it be Green, Independent, Communist or Democrat. Unless of course you want eight years of radioactive orange masquerading as a statesman. The hottest places in hell…

4. Banish these words from your vocabulary. ‘Actually, I don’t like to talk about politics. I’m not really that political,’ or any variant therein. From now on, you might as well stop pretending. Sticking your head in the sand is how we got into this mess in the first place. You care about schools, the price of gasoline, how high your taxes are? That’s political. You care about air quality, the amount your township clears your driveway and how much they charge you for it? That’s political. You care about whether your government provides you with any opportunity for advancement, incentivizes you retraining, how much you have to pay for basic necessities? Also political. I’m not saying it’s the only thing you can talk about, but avoiding it is delusional and dangerous. Duh.

5. Get angry and make noise.Make no mistake. Nothing in history worth changing — not slavery, not universal suffrage, not homophobia — has ever changed without a significant amount of anger and noise. No injustice was ever fought by going placidly ‘amidst the noise and haste.’ Injustice, inequality, all the wrongs that will issue out of the executive branch of the government over the next four years, must be fought hard and noisily. No inch must be given, no quarter conceded. This doesn’t just mean being politically active. It means challenging ignorance, whenever and wherever you see it. Workplace, public transport, social media? You let it pass and you are contributing to it.

Now you can batten down the hatches. It’s going to be an exciting — and angry — four years.

Should you want to get involved as an expat, www.democratsabroad.org is a great place to start. And in the spirit of equal time and because I assume most Republicans are secretly pretty embarrassed, http://www.republicansoverseas-uk.com.

Election Night 2016: The Nightmare

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‘History is a Nightmare from which I am trying to  awake.’

So says Stephan Daedalus in James Joyce’s Ulysses, in a moment in which he refuses to be politicized by the history of 800 years of British oppression of Ireland.

It puts things in perspective.

Election night. My fellow registered Democrats and I stand in a bar in Central London watching the results roll in. We have been working for weeks, and in fact most of my fellow Democrats for several months leading up to the election. We have regularly sat around a table littered at various points with laptops, bowls of potato chips, takeout coffees and sugary snacks, high up in a building let to the Democrats Abroad near Covent Garden, phonebanking our fellow Americans in order to get out the vote. Some of us — not me personally — have made thousands of calls. This is a massive global juggernaut of a campaign in which we have taken part. It has reached out to millions of compatriots worldwide.

Perched atop our liberal London eyrie, we steadfastly believe that our candidate is about to spread her flawed but moderately progressive wings and fly into history, heroically heralding in great swooping strides four to eight more years of Democratic residency in the White House.

Even as results roll in and we stand holding our collective breath, fingers crossed double behind backs, sugar plu, Joe Bidens dancing in our heads, even when we see the blue states crash blood red, even then we believe all is not lost, though our hearts are not as buoyant as they were when the evening started. Even as I leave my second party of the evening, the one I have got to after 2 am, the one where all the guests have already left in despair and the host ruefully sips wine and says ‘hath no man here a dagger for me?’ with his eyes, even then I think that the unions of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in my home state of Pennsylvania, which has not gone red for a generation, I feel even now most in our hour of need, the treacherous rednecks of Bucks, Monroe, Lackawanna and Susquehanna counties won’t betray us. Surely not now.

Only bleary eyed, in the cold, harsh political hangover of the next day after several precious but fitful hours of sleep the Ipad unusually laying beside me open to the BBC’s all night coverage, only then do I find that history is indeed a nightmare from which I am trying to awake all day long, and the corrosive politics of my country will once again away at itself and the world at large for a sustained and unpredictable amount of time.

Our eagle has flapped and fallen and we’ve all come tumbling down. Like the destruction of some intergalactic world, defenseless and full of reasonably progressive politics, it is as though a thousand leftist voices cry out in pain and then stop, disturbing the galactic balance of the force.

Well… the voices don’t stop for a good few weeks. They still haven’t.

Much to the displeasure of Trump voters and gloaters including my own Republican parents.

And well those voices shouldn’t stop.

The easiest path in the universe would be to throw in the towel, lie down and characterize your fellow citizens inbred piles of chewed up tobacco for brains as I did just six paragraphs ago, like the smug liberal piss ant than I am.

But we know what we have to do.

No. It’s not to rally together and bond, ‘healing wounds’ in some saccharine crusted patchwork quilt. Cauterize maybe. but not heal. Some wounds are worth keeping. Some pain is worth remembering.

We need to do what we did not do during the entire campaign. We must tell a compelling story about the terrible risk and the horrible threat that our own commander-in-chief poses to us as Americans. We need to keep raising our voices as loudly and clamorously as possible.

We need to keep on waking each other up from this nightmare of history, keep waking each other up every day and stay as woke as we can.

 

Crazy Sh*& My Republican Parents Say or Trying to Find Traction in Nonsense

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ibtimes.com

 

“But Dad, I read an article from Alternet that meticulously compiled Trump’s interviews and public statements. You want to know how often he lies? Statistically, he lies every five minutes.”

“Yeah?! Well She lies every two minutes.”

“Um… uh… um… well. That’s pretty bad.”

My father. Just a few weeks ago. Making a sound case that a vote for Hillary is just as bad as a vote for Trump.

I mean, come onAmerica! What do you do? And I’m not talking to just my small, closed-with-an-insularity-and-fascism-that-stinks-of-npr-the-guardian-the-new-york-times-and-radio-4, left wing, like-minded card carrying traitors commies liberals. I mean the almost sensible compassionless, selfishly driven amiable and good tempered conservatives and libertarians that I haven’t unfriended and or stopped talking to.

How do you find traction in a post-fact, post-truth world of unreality and ignorance. Like the young Republican — with whom I had a bizarre exchange back in my college days in front of the Willard building in Penn State — who told me in front of my Green Party Stall that he’s an environmentalist and has a great bumper sticker that says ‘pave the rainforests’ right before hearty guffaws of laughter, sudden change to seriousness and then, “but seriously, what about the family planning clinics that are responsible for the fall of Western Civilisation?” with no irony whatsoever, the right wing modus operandi is science fiction.And aside from my old pal ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, how is a thinking person to respond?

It’s the bistro ship in The Hitchhiker’s Guide. It defies all laws of history, memory, logic and thought to drag its notions of fancy and imagination from the ununiverse of black space dust and anti-matter into existence and real form, looking odd, misshapen, lumpy and… well… not of this world.

How else do you explain Trump? He’s finally used enough of his underpaid workers from his various restaurants and hotels (whose nationalities he loves) to bring himself from the void of nothingness in between dimensions into reality like some hideously deformed, monstrous product of hate fostered over say… oh… I don’t know… the last eight years or so (that’s right, Republicans, it’s true. This is of your own making. What Republicans read my blog?).

I thought that if I was honest with my father for the first time about my political views (I’m in my… ahem… late thirties), that we’d have a productive exchange of views, that we’d air our differences, that we’d get to know each other better. I mean, did my Dad really not know all these years that I was as far to the left as the hard shoulder of an American passing lane. Well as far to the left as a European Conservative. Well, as far to the left as an American socialist?

But my father, like so many Republicans so happy to trample all over Godwin, likes to pull arguments out of all sorts of places and as long as he emphasises them with enough conviction, brandish them as truth or fact or legitimate even. It’s difficult when truth gets in the way, so it’s easy to brush aside. Like when my mother also said over the summer:

“I’m hopeful. George W. Bush didn’t seem too smart at first but he did pretty good,” to which of course my reaction was absolute horror, or in the parlance of the post-truth millennial world, shocked face, shocked face, shocked face, pile of poop. How could my mother not know to say pretty well instead of pretty good? So embarrassing.

And how could bad, Northeastern Pennsylvanian grammar erase the truth from one’s mind of one of the most divisive presidents in history?

In the same way that the constant drip of Hannity, Dennis Miller and the strange, circuitous, other-worldly logic of Trump can make you think that he’s “not that bad”, that he’s going to “make America great” again and that he’s going to somehow “sort out the jobs for everyone” by closing us off to the world and tacitly encouraging a violent dystopian society in which dissenting voices are dragged out and silenced.

And I suppose this is why the best argument we have lies with the post-millenials, like my nine year old son, who, on our first morning of our annual trip to America, said to my father, “Grandpa, do you actually like Trump?”

My father cautiously replied with, “Well, I like some of his ideas,” to which my son, with great conviction responded with, “don’t! I think he’s a big fat idiot and farthead!” and continued making fart and poop jokes about Trump for another ten minutes.

Out of the mouths of babes comes the most effective rebuttals to the childish arguments of the right.

Laughter, the most potent weapon.

Homeland! What the f*$£! are you doing?!

Right.

That’s it. That is it.

What the…?

Forty seven to forty what?

That is it. This needs a blog post.Where’s the computer?

All right, America fans. Here’s how it is.

I know you’re going to say, that I’m sitting on my great British Spotted Pony of a high horse.

Believe me. I know. I’ve been called Madonna for extolling the virtues of walking up the escalator on the left and condemning my compatriots for standing in the middle.

I’ve been called an ex-patriot for dripping contempt on the invasion of Afghanistan (by my family).

But as the saying goes, sticks and stones may break my bones, but this is freakin’ important, America.

And insane.

I told you this was insane. 

It started as a farce and now it’s turned to the blackest, most tasteless joke in American history. Donald J Trump, controversy-ridden, provincial, racist, bigoted dealer in debt and misery, is a percentage point away from the highest office in the land.

And you put him there.

Okay. Okay. We put him there.

Now it’s time to undo the damage, folks.

Why, you ask? Why?! Because this is the greatest threat to America since The X Factor and if we don’t act now, it could prove almost as clear and present a danger to our way of life. Almost.

But here’s why else:

  • As this study (that I will come back to in my Saturday blog) from Alternet categorically concludes, Trump is not the straight talker that his supporters think he is. He lies, on average, every five minutes, even in his sleep (okay, I made those last clause up, but it was to prove a point and you wouldn’t put it past him, would you?

 

  •  Do we really want one of the most blatantly racist men in the history of business and politics sitting in the oval office? No. no, we don’t. Not just when the world has spent eight years understanding that we’ve finally started to grow up about the question of race.

 

  • He is also one of the most proudly stupid businessmen or politicians in history.

 

I know you think it isn’t a big deal and that Trump is a man of the people. I once got on a Guardian forum to defend our voting for George Dubya, telling British readers that it wasn’t that we were stupid, but that, unlike the British, we liked our politicians to be, not elevated above us, but just like us, if not below us. And if there was one thing we couldn’t say for Dubya, it was that he was above anyone intellectually.

But proudly stupid? Dubya was brainless, but unaware of his own brainlessness. Trump knows how stupid what he’s saying sounds and the louder he says it, the more it increases his credibility with his core, all of him understand that to say stupid things in public is to admit to your own humanity and therefore to be one of us (not one of me thanks).

As the saying toes, we get the leaders we deserve, compatriots. In our proud history of Charlie Parker and Bessie Smith, Edith Wharton and TS Eliot (that’s right I bet you all forgot he was one of us, didn’t you?), Thomas Edison and The Wright Brothers, in all that cultural and intellectual richness, don’t we deserve better than proud stupidity?

Look folks, I get it. You want someone exciting. You want someone ‘non-establishment’ and Hillary is neither of those things, but she is whipsmart, has the experience and the drive to make America greater than any Trumpian nightmare dystopian vision, while keeping us in some kind of relative harmony with the rest of the world.

For that, I’m with her. I know how I’m voting. Just think of me and the rest of the expats. We don’t want to return to the Bush years. Don’t make us sow Canadian flags on our backpacks again.

Please! 

 

Underexposed

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Great stories do not present us with anything new; they present us with what is familiar to us and then they make it unfamiliar and weird and crazy.

And fantastic.

Underexposed Theatre have come pretty close to achieving this in their recent run at The Old Red Lion in Angel, with a clutch of new plays that seek to force us to question and complicate our assumptions about, well, everybody, from the typical male sex drive to a long distance gay romance between London and Syria to the good intentions of a doctor who is judged for the strength of her convictions.

 

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Nick Skaugen and Charlotte Nice in ‘Native Tongues’ Photo from twitter @UNDEREXPOSEDthr

The evening begins with a delightful piece called Native Tongues, A Sci Fi Sex Romp, by Nick Myles, a story with a thoroughly preposterous premise of an estranged boyfriend and girlfriend with a thorny relationship meeting in a gym and being thrown in different directions in time, the corollary conceit that the former lovers can still talk to each other across millions of years. Charlotte Nice as Jen and Nick Skaugen as Oli have such a sweet and amiable chemistry on stage and genuinely push us beyond the self-centred egos and 90s sitcom cliched reasons for breaking up and into the nature of companionship and connections.

Gabrielle Curtis is as impressive as ever, penning and starring in three of the plays of the evening, all of which were delightful, one of which, Bonus of Contention, A Sexual Battle of Wills, was pure magic. Said battle pits Kara and Seb, having got together for a ‘closure chat’, against each other with Kara attempting to seduce her ex and Seb utilising all the force of his willpower and quite a lot of wit to resist the notoriously male inclination to jump at sex whenever it is presented. The air sizzles electrically with sexual tension in this confrontation and Curtis and her partner in this piece, Connor Mills, deliver scalpel sharp dialogue with contrapuntally perfect comic timing, bringing the intense chemistry between the two characters very quickly to a rolling riveting boil. Wonderful.

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Connor Mills and Gabrielle Curtis in ‘Bonus of Contention’, photo from timeout.com

Also by Nick Myles is the powerfully hard-hitting London-Damascus, A Transcontinental Gay Love Story. This is a story that both contrasts and unites what it is to be gay in both a country where homosexuality is illegal and punished with death and in a country where it is embraced and celebrated more than ever before. Sweet and funny at points, heartrenderingly moving at others, this piece is poignant without ever getting preachy and Freddie Wintrip and Reece Mahdi are magnificent as the long distance lovers.

There are points in the night that don’t work so well. Daisy Jo Lucas’ The Goblin King presents us with a potentially intriguing and contemporary problem, that maternal instincts do not come naturally and that sometimes mothers genuinely fear and even loathe the role and its implications. And I’m not against a magical realist turn, but the one that happens feels a bit clunky and undeveloped. I don’t find I care much about Daphne, the career woman and resistant mother. And there’s nothing wrong per se with throwing in a character from The Labyrinth. Danny Steele does well. Ish. But I can’t help feeling like there is too much that goes undeveloped and that perhaps this play could have done better with a Goblin Queen played by the obscenely talented and criminally under-utilised Emily Bell, who plays Daphne’s assistant Clara.

And the evening does sink when it gets too worthy. Laurence Vardaxoglou’s C’etait Ouf felt interminable and unfunny, with Sophia Flohr, likeably enough stringing out clunky metaphors and telling us things that we all do in offices that trot out the old ideas that we all climb onto the same treadmill every day and never question it. I probably didn’t get it, but I can’t have been the only one.

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Amy Quick and Nick Pearse in ‘Bones’ Photo from twitter @UNDEREXPOSEDthr

But the underplayed gem of the night was certainly Bones, a beautifully written and performed chance encounter between Dom, an affably, clumsy cliche-filled man and Clara, a card shop attendant with a past. To see the barrier of ice melt between these two characters, played with masterful timing and subtlety by Amy Quick and Nick Pearse, is a genuinely moving experience that punctures our complacent guardian-reading sensibilities and fills us with a sincere affection for these two individuals.

This collection of scenes, if you’ll permit me a tiny bit of drama in a theatre write up, captures that old familiar Kafkaism, wielding an axe on the frozen sea within our souls. They shake us. And stir us and I look forward to more challenges from Underexposed Theatre in future.

Keep informed about this fantastic company:

http://www.underexposedtheatre.com

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