Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Some Random Observations (2)

Am again convinced that my arrival in literally any place in South America will ensure that construction work is imminent if not in progress. I have gone as far as to fantasise that there is some guy with a road drill who has specifically assigned the role of tracking me throughout South America - like a construction Kato to my Clouseau.

I am thrown by the reversed power role of being a student, not a teacher. I think this is good for me. I’ve met teachers that can’t get out of the role, ever.

It is hard to type in a hammock on the coast of Northern Uruguay, (I can't seem write either of these sentences without sounding like a wanker so I put them into one so as to be sufficiently exaggerated) I haven’t written much for a while, the music kind of took over in the last weeks in BA. Here however, without a guitar as distraction I'm starting to catch up. Thirteen hours in total, three on a boat and coaches of three and four and a half hours a piece. (I shall be glad of such contrasts later. This is a short trek compared to some that await). Punta Del Diablo is worth it. It has one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen and, though it is on the cusp of what seems like a change, the place retains its small village feeling…coloured two story houses, fishing boats, amazing sunsets and unbelievable clarity of stars at night. Not a lot of tourists yet, in fact the first days are cold and wet at times and I feel cheated. In that smalltown way I already feel tuned into the gossip of the staff. Most of it centres around the fact that, as the peak season approaches, all the staff are relocated from the dorms and placed in what is generally described as a chicken shack.

Today Damian and I hung out on his terrace after the class. We ate winter food on the hottest of November days - it was nonetheless delicious. I rambled some words to put to his melody between the investigations of ashtrays and the percussive/vocal interjections of his young daughter Lucretia. Am officially converted to Café Helado. Cold Coffee (Frapuccino?) as a result. Lovely afternoon.

So the intensive decoration work of the summer during the hottest two weeks of a pretty miserable English summer took its toll on my only existing swimwear. I may not be the only man to forget to buy his trunks before visiting a beach resort, but I am certainly the only one in Punta del Diablo. This might not be such a problem if the place were not so remote and therefore lacking in the sale of such items. As a result, (if you care to consult Googlemaps), about two kilometers north of those groups of bronzed and toned surf dudes and dudesses casually supping beer on the shore you are likey to find a pink, slightly beer bellied Englishman striking out into some vicious surf with only a pair of semi-transparent M&S boxer shorts for security.

A last night is always a strange night and it’s no exception in Buenos Aires. I think I stayed here too long. I’ve got attached to people, developed friendships rather than casual acquaintances. The evening starts slowly. I begin to make an barbaque under the watchful gaze of an Australian couple, naturally I fail. (eventually the guy salvages my pathetic attempt at a fire – I have been too long using those pound a pop barbaques in the foil for Brighton beach, it has blunted my admittedly brief Cubhood). The evening barbeque was to begin at 9 so everyone except Anna (a Norwegian) arrives around 11.30. I hit the Fernet. It tasted like cough mixture at first, in fact it still tastes like cough mixture but for some reason in a good way. We end up going to Roxy, a place I didn’t really like the first time. I don’t know what happens, the music selection is utterly random but it hits a good vein (as far as I’m concerned) and suddenly we are all dancing, proper dancing and the floor is filled with silver confetti and we are throwing it around and all grinning andsweating like idiots. I stumble in at 8.30 very happysad knowing I’m going to miss these folk very much.

I’ve been writing but it has changed. A lot of it goes on in my head at the moment and an odd note. I suddenly don’t have time. This period is necessarily nomadic. I arrive one place, get aquainted as fast as I can- people and place, think about the next or the tour or the next meal. Twenty-four hour bus rides take it out of you a bit as well.  

English Manners

Today was the first time I went to Damian’s house and didn’t have the vague sense that I might be intruding on his time. Or worse; that he might be taking some kind of pity on me for being holed up in my sauna, skint with only the psychotic sound of cats mating as company. Basically I’ve come around to the fact that he might actually enjoy my company outside of a Spanish lesson and likes the music I make enough to collaborate on something.

In order to arrive at this point I have had to confront my sense of good manners, which convinces me, even though I am having a perfectly good and relaxing time, that since the work (music) has stopped I had better think about leaving. The week before, whilst experiencing this same feeling Damien rather impatiently interrupted my pre-packing mutterings to say that if he wanted me to leave he would have absolutely no problem telling me so. As it was he said he had no such intention but if I was to stay he would feel a lot more comfortable if I stopped fidgeting and also if I stopped trying to read his mind.

The straight forwardness of this comment, despite my many well reasoned arguments to the contrary, gave me a acute sense of my complete Englishness. It was a moment in which I think I  recognised the true absurdity of English good manners. The point at which those cherished manners can become a complete obstacle to good communication and common feeling.[1]

[1] Or maybe it’s just me and I use Englishness as an umbrella for a kind of quiet self-loathing.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

On Not Having A Plan

I didn’t start with a plan. I can’t seem to make them. It is as if I have some inbuilt resistance to having anything fixed. I’m beginning to think it’s my Achilles heel. It is a condition that, on occasion has its benefits but ultimately I find the one sidedness of my own nature rather frustrating.

Before I left I remember a number of friends being quite staggered at my lack of preparation and knowledge about the places I was about to visit. The strange thing is that the larger part of me was, and continues to be, similarly staggered. It is as if there were a renegade minority in my being that was nonetheless capable of dictating my complete passivity with regard to making a plan. A friend of mine, having heard of my trip and taking the most cursory look at the internet was amazed to find himself informing me of the cultural and political mores of my imminent destination. I could only agree and share in his amazement.

Maybe travelling is the perfect confluence of precision planning and aimless drifting at their most respective extremes. I’m becoming aware of these two seemingly opposite skills are in fact my left and right hands out here….(and I am right handed, to continue a lame metaphor). I feel like a Hippy in the Marines (for Hippies). Somewhere there is a voice in the back of my head, maybe he is starting to sound a little like Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now…he wants to get the job done so he can surf (in the napalm). Perhaps my quiet inner (amazed) majority will benefit from my burgeoning suppressed Robert Duvall…I think I'm over-tired. Maybe I should stop this here. 

Hostel Characters With Affection (2)

Freddie (and the Girls), 22, Swedish – Cautious but ultimately friendly. Came to Punta Del Diablo the year previous and managed to land a job on reception this year. Is highly organized in that casual way that seems to be the exclusive preserve of Swedish natives. (Maybe this is why they write killer pop songs - they analyse the form like a scientist but are then creative and relaxed enough to casually knock off a melody that seems as if it has been around forever...and sticks in your head forever....I don't know; I find myself generalising again). Anyway, given his organisational skills I am surprised to find him adverse to the workings of computers. We bond over these shared frustrations and then more so as we are filling buckets to put out a fire on the terrace of a restaurant. (Perhaps I need another entry for this). I resist his attempts to convert me to Jose Gonzalez on the basis that the said record is being playing in every bar in the world on a Sunday afternoon (and so a conversion as such is not necessary).  He cannily navigates any potential friction with regard to the 'chicken shack' by moving to a remote forest cabin  with three exceptionally attractive Uruguayian girls who work at the restaurant. I consider the point at  which I leave him is probably the beginning of the best summer of his life.

The Irish Guy. Male, 6’ 4”  Irish, mid twenties I guess. I know nothing about this guy save for the fact that having embarked on a heady fusion of booze cruise and horseride he sat himself next to me and opened the conversation with the following:

Him: ‘Now you might be a good looking Scottish guy and you know and that would probably pan out ok but since youre not where does that leave you…?

Long pause. Some laughter. I open my mouth to speak..

Him: ‘I don’t know, it’s a shame, I think you can fuck off, but where do you stand with it?’.

I fidget a little. I’m confused because I'm laughing and feel genuinely offended at the same time.  A crowd of eight people are watching this impromptu monologue. I feel like I have just encountered the reincarnation of James Joyce as a paraletic Rugby player.

Me: Its fair to say I am not at all sure where that leaves me.

He slaps me very hard on the back. I fidget a little more.

Him: What are you going to do with your legs now? What about the knees? Eh? What about the angle? What do you think that could mean….?

Me: What?

Him: The angle, the fucking angle man.

I forget the rest. Eventually he gave up on me. I think I have some footage on my phone of some of the most surreal insults I've ever received. I do remember him turning his attention to a group of girls who I have been sat with, playing scrabble as it happens. He indirectly dismisses one by telling them that two of them are quite attractive and then proceeds to ask a girl called Cecilia if her breasts are real or fake. She replies, with the kind of retort you usually only think of after the event, that they are as fake as he is charming and his whole patter seems to dissolve into the ether. I never spoke to him again but I did see him the following morning. I never saw a man look so sheepish over his muesli. Strangely though, if one can put the misogony and general offence to one side, I thought him quite exceptional in many respects.