Archive for the ‘Blah blah’ Category
It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s time to rejoice. My name gets spelled incorrect a lot in Mexico (see Wreck section of FFF for more details), but this afternoon, it was spelled correctly. Not only that, when I told her my name, she asked “Greg o Craig?” Be still my beating heart.
I think she used a fake name for herself, though.
I messed up the order a bit yesterday. I woke with “Reptilia” from the Strokes’ second album in my head, so listened to that one before What’s Going On. The Nik Kershaw album… I loved that when I was thirteen. That record was a present from a friend of my father’s. He was working in a town called Skegness, a town on the coast of Lincolnshire, about an hour away from Lincoln where we lived. Can’t remember whether it was a work-related connection, but he was friends with an Indian family. I remember going there once. They had a nice house. And the daughter, Varsha, who I guess must’ve been in her twenties, bought this album as a present for my sister and I. And she wrote a greeting on the front of the record sleeve. In blue pen, on Nik’s face. At the time, that was a real bummer. I was very particular about my records. Plus, the thought of having to share one with my sister was horrifying. It was incredibly nice of her, though. As with a lot of pop records from the 1980s, it hasn’t aged well once you get beyond the singles. “Wouldn’t It Be Good” is still amazing, a really lovely song. “Human Racing” also holds up, mostly because it’s a well-written song with a pretty melody. That time in music, that time when we were all waiting to be obliterated by a nuclear war, was pretty good for catchy, slightly-melancholy, pop songs.
I have kept a thought in the back of my head that if I ever meet a woman who loves Nilsson’s The Point! record, I would be a fool not to woo her and spend the rest of my life with her. Hasn’t happened yet, but there’s still time. I own three copies of this album. It is my dream – a dream I will never realise because I don’t have the patience – to draw and animate a new version of the The Point! The original is great, but it’s so of its time, as, I guess, is the story; a story that, apparently, Nilsson thought of whilst high on acid looking at some trees. It’s such a lovely story, wiith some heartbreakingly lovely songs, that it could really do with being popular again, and somewhat egotistically, I reckon I could do it. But I never will. The idea is filed away in the folder in my brain with all the other too-much-work ideas.
Here’s the full original animated movie, narrated by Dustin Hoffman. Watching it will enhance your Sunday. And the rest of your life.
Title TK isn’t the best Breeders record, but it’s got “Huffer” on it, which is aces. Not got owt to say about the David Bazan album (I bought it from him after his show in Berlin a few years ago, and he seemed like a pleasant chap). Or the Bill Callahan abum. Or the Gillian Welch album. Underworld, though: of course I’ve got stuff to say about that puppy. Beaucoup Fish is a stunner. Not a bum song on there. I was pretty into the Tomato aesthetic at the time as well, so it was perfect. “Jumbo” is, of course, the best song. Can’t hear it without thinking about my friend John. There’s one moment in the song near the end, five minutes and 47 seconds in, when it has broken down, and there’s a little shuffle-y bit of drums before it kicks back in. John and I both love this moment of the song. One time, around the time when they were touring this album, they played live at Brixton Academy. We went along, took what people take when they go to see Underworld, and danced the night away. There was one point in the night, though, when my legs gave up on me, so I sat down at the side, back against the wall, dancing in my head. There was a woman in front of me who was really going for it. She had delightful calves. And because of my heightened state, I leant forward, tapped her on the back, she leant down, and I told her she was a great dancer. She smiled so big at that point, thanked me, and told me she was studying to be a professional dancer. I smiled back, probably did something dorky like a thumbs up, and she got back to dancing on her legs, and I got back to dancing in my head. It was a beautiful moment.
Yesterday’s albums. Left to right, top to bottom:
Room on Fire – The Strokes
What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
McLemore Avenue – Booker T & the MGs
Human Racing – Nik Kershaw
This is a Pinback CD – Pinback
The Point! – Harry Nilsson
Title TK – The Breeders
Curse Your Branches – David Bazan
Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle – Bill Callahan
Time (The Revelator) – Gillian Welch
Beaucoup Fish – Underworld
Into the Great Wide Yonder – Trentemøller
It is, by the way, entirely a coincidence that for the first three days of doing this, I’ve listened to twelve albums each day. I’m happy about the coincidence, though, because it fits into the three-by-four grid nicely.
I’m finding that my atheist thoughts regarding the lack of an afterlife and my desire to get three stars on every level of every Angry Birds game are at odds with each other. Finite time available, and I’m pissing it away smashing drawings of birds into drawings of pigs.
Note: title of this post is used ironically, of course. When I typed “why are atheists” into the Google thingy, it autofilled “so angry” as the top search option. I love that Christians have their own way for centuries, but if an atheist gets into a discussion about science and logic, they are “angry.”
I figure this is possibly a good way to keep up the recent spurt of writing. I like writing, but sometimes I just can’t be arsed. And once I get going, I feel like I should keep going, keep pushing along. So, with the lack of daily baseball podcasts to listen to at this time of year, it makes a wee bit of sense to listen to music and maybe write about it. After Thursday’s day-long enjoyment of album after album, I did the same thing yesterday. Once again, I began with What’s Going On. Figured it could be good to start with the same record and see where it took me. In a way, it took me to a similar place as Thursday. Then, it was Blue Lines by Massive Attack, today a vaguely related album: Raw Like Sushi by Neneh Cherry. That album’s best song, “Manchild,” was co-written by Robert Del Naja, and the album was co-produced by Cameron McVey, who also co-produced Blue Lines. The album as a whole hasn’t dated particularly well. Still enjoyable to listen to, but aside from a few songs, mostly for nostalgic reasons.
I’m already coming across a problem with writing about these albums: how do I do it without just saying “it’s great”? Got to try to avoid that. Got to push myself to go beyond that and see what my head can come up with.
Even though Morning Dove White came out before I met him, it always reminds me of an old friend called Darren. He loved One Dove, especially their singer, Dot Allison, and who can blame him? We worked together at a record distribution company in the late 90s. It was a beautiful time. The music industry in the UK seemed to be going great guns. People still went to record stores and bought records and CDs. And we’d get awesome bonuses if the records we were distributing reached their targets (£100 bonus for getting this record into the top ten, £500 bonus if that record gets to number one; that kind of thing). Best of all, though, was the atmosphere in our part of the building. We did telesales. Not telesales in the sense that we were calling random people about double-glazed windows; we called the same bunch of record stores every week. You get to know people on the other end of the phone, and generally, it was an incredibly enjoyable job. You’re talking about music all day: what’s not to love? I was there for three-and-a-half years, and I’m still friends with many of the people I worked with. In a way, it was too much fun. It was my first office job, and no office job could have a hope of living up to it.
Dancing comes back to me when I hear certain records. If I listen to the Happy Mondays, I find myself shuffling around in that late eighties/early nineties white British man way. And listening to either of the first two Prodigy albums has a similar effect. If I walk to the kitchen, I won’t walk, I’ll end up doing some ridiculous rave-y hoppy skippy dance all the way. And it’s not just when I’m on my feet. If I’m sat at my desk, my work rate slows significantly. My hands are too busy dancing to hold a mouse or do keyboard shortcuts.
When I worked for the aforementioned company, I had the chance to go to the offices of the record company that released the Gravediggaz’ second album, and briefly met the two members of the group that weren’t RZA or Prince Paul. I forget their names. I’m useless in such situations. They were just two dudes, but, really, what the heck of interest did I have to say to them? And why would they give a shit about what I had to say? I can’t remember what I actually did say, but I can be fairly certain it was a whole load of meaningless nonsense.
I’m at a point in my life, I think, where I’m finding it pretty much impossible to sing along with David Bowie songs without slipping into a bad impression. And there’s a certain amount of Rolling Stones songs where I’m pretty much doing an impression of other people’s impressions of Mick Jagger. It’s strange that Let’s Dance was Bowie’s biggest selling album. Beyond the first three songs – “Modern Love,” “China Girl,” “Let’s Dance” – it’s not overly consumer-friendly. I can’t help but imagine that a lot of the people who bought this album after hearing those singles were probably quite disappointed with the remaining five songs.
I saw Brendon Benson live in Berlin in 2003. I think the venue was called Magnet. I remember enjoying it, but I don’t remember much of the event other than it was the night that the Iraq War started. The next day, on Viva – a German MTV-ish channel – instead of the usual happy smiley VJs, there were serious-faced VJs, sat around wearing CND t-shirts, discussing war with German teenagers. That’s nearly ten years ago now, but the images from that first night of the war are still really fresh in my mind. I’ve had very little hardship in my life. It’s been a relatively normal life so far. There have been a few small earthquakes that have rocked Mexico City since I’ve been here, and the first time, I was like a baby. It didn’t feel nice at all. And the aftershocks for the next couple of days weren’t fun either. It was difficult to sleep. The rumble of a big truck going down the street would nudge me awake: is it another earthquake? I would be so utterly terrified and crying and useless if a war were to happen in my city.
Jason Falkner is one of our time’s most underrated musicians, I think. He’s written and recorded some wonderful solo records, and he’s also been involved in lots of other great things. He was in Jellyfish, he’s worked with Jon Brion, Paul McCartney, Air (he sang on “Radio #1″), Eric Matthews, Beck, Aimee Mann, Ben Lee, Daniel Johnston, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Glen Campbell, and he co-wrote five of the songs on the Brendon Benson album. He is aces. If you have babies, and you wanna get them enjoying the Beatles early on in their lives, you could do a hell of a lot worse than buying Falkner’s two Bedtime with the Beatles albums, on which are his instrumental versions of the band’s songs, arranged as lullabies.
The last song on Jason Falkner Presents Author Unknown is called “Untitled” (YouTube). It’s one of my favourite ever songs. It’s incredibly beautiful. For about two minutes it goes along, being all lovely, with a few strings coming in here and there, and pretty much exactly halfway through, it shifts into a fully string-laden coda (not sure if that’s technically the correct word) with the same two lines repeated over and over again: You may not have been able to change the world/But at least you changed my world. I was listening to this album a lot when my mother’s second husband died after having had cancer for a while. My relationship with him wasn’t always wonderful; he was, after all, not my father, and that was a difficult thing to get my head around for a while. But he was a good man. And when he died, those two lines from the end of Jason Falkner’s song went through my head a lot. Like most of us, he wasn’t important in the grand history of the planet, but he was important to the people who knew him. Which is pretty much what we can all hope for, really.
And on that somewhat sombre note, here’s the names of the albums pictured above just in case you don’t recognise some of them. Left to right, top to bottom:
What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Raw Like Sushi – Neneh Cherry
Morning Dove White – One Dove
Space Is Only Noise – Nicolas Jaar
Actually – Pet Shop Boys
Music for Jilted Generation – The Prodigy
Queens of the Stone Age – Queens of the Stone Age
Niggamortis – Gravediggaz
Viva! La Woman – Cibo Matto
Let’s Dance – David Bowie
Lapalco – Brendon Benson
Presents Author Unknown – Jason Falkner
Yesterday was one of those magical days. I woke up, made coffee, and put on Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. It was a joy to listen to first thing in the morning. Next I played Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, and it just continued. Every album I decided to listen to was brilliant. And I listened to every song on every album, too. Can’t remember the last time I did that with more than a couple of albums in a row. It was a fine time, Lucille.
A couple of days I mentioned on Twitter that I was happy that I lived in a world where “Little Red Corvette” was a thing that exists. And these albums make me happy to be alive right now, too. But, of course, I can’t help but think of the music I will miss once I am dead. That really great album that will come out one day or one month or one year after I die. And it will come. And then there’ll be another and another and another. I’ve often thought of all the great music my father would’ve liked had he still been alive. I think he would have loved Supergrass and Wilco and Richard Hawley and Baxter Dury and Super Furry Animals, and probably stuff that I wouldn’t even imagine he would like. Ho hum. It awaits us all.
Anyway, sometimes it’s nice to not let music drift by your ears because it’s just there in your iPod and on your journey. It’s nice to listen to things and be thankful for all the great musicians and songwriters out there.
This is what I listened to yesterday. Great albums all.
If a sock has come to the end of its life, you can have fun before you throw it away. For example…
I was just in the supermarket buying some milk. And spring onions. And mustard. And Tic Tacs. “Señorita” by Justin Timberlake was playing. I like that song, and hearing a song I like in a supermarket is one of the little joys of life. It adds a nice swing and shuffle to the tedium of putting things in a beige plastic basket. So, I’m walking around, singing to myself in my awesome falsetto, even doing a spot of whistling now and then, and just as it got to the back-and-forth guys-and-ladies bit, I was really gearing up for a good ol’ under-my-breath sing-along. And then some woman who worked at the supermarket turned on her microphone and started blabbing about the special offers they have today. It’s like the revolution was all for nothing.
Sometimes, in the course of a life lived as a male human being, you are called upon to go to a strip club. I have been to such a place on several occasions in my life, and have enjoyed them to varying degrees. I’ve only been to strip clubs in London and the States previously, and at the weekend, I went to one in Mexico for the first time.
In a bar in the Roma Norte neighbourhood, at some point in the early hours of the morning, after having drank a decent amount of rum, one of my friends was insistent that we go. So insistent, in fact, that he told us he would buy a strip club-priced bottle of rum for us to drink whilst watching ladies dance in (or out) of their underwear.
How could we refuse? What are you as a man if you turn down such a plea?
So we went to a strip club. A strip club called Caligula, (stylised as CALIGVLA). There were few empty tables available; all of the darker areas of the club, where lapdances were occuring, were occupied. We were escorted to a small table next to the stage. We had a first class view of the entertainment. The stage had two poles, and the dancers would cavort around one, then move to the other. But, really, what was going through my mind while an attractive woman with breast implants and weaing only the very smallest of underpants was dancing, was how the Pittsburgh Steelers would cope without injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. This was because behind the stage, on a screen about four metres wide, was a NFL Network programme, where muted heads talked about the Steelers’ quarterback while clips of the player and team played next to them. Nothing say erotic entertainment like a bulky man in a suit silently yapping to a camera about sports.
It’s an odd experience watching attractive women dance naked in front of you. On one level, it’s very enjoyable; my brain does seem to enjoy looking at it, it’s pleasant to see beautiful bodies of different shapes and sizes moving in a way that’s expressly designed to arouse. Also, without wishing to sound like an arty prick, it’s good to look at people in a different way, from a different angle, people moving without clothes, the muscles, the green, pink, and blue light on the skin, the differences in thighs, breasts, arms. It reminded me once again that I really should sign up for a life drawing class.
There’s also the grimness of looking at other men in the club. It’s just a mass of depressing cliches. Groups of young men getting drunk and not hiding the boners in their eyes, and the men who look like they could be dangerous at some point in their lives, and the ones who look like this is the closest they may get to a relationship. Men flashing their money to spend twenty minutes with a woman sat on their lap. Of course, when you are sat there, looking up at the dancers (and looking up really is a clever angle to have us view this, the legs are longer, and when you get to the end of the legs, it’s all ass and vagina), you are one of those men, too. It feels uncomfortable for a while. It takes my mind some time to get used to not feeling like I should avert my gaze (I wonder how the Jets will do this weekend?), and occasionally, the dancers, looking for a next lapdancee, will make eye contact and smile. I smile back. That’s what humans do.
It was refreshing to see a couple of the dancers without implants. Implants seemed to be overwhelmingly part of the uniform in Caligula, so to see real breasts was enjoyable. Interestingly, the women with real breasts also looked like the youngest. That made it a little depressing, to think that the career path probably dictates surgery at some point.
One woman danced to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.”
Later, salsa music came on, and two dancers took men up to dance with them on the stage. I cannot possibly imagine doing such a thing. Aside from not being good at any form of dancing unless it involves early Nineties house music and big fish little fish hands in the air nonsense, my brain would hold me back from actually getting up on stage in front of all these people and dancing with a woman way too attractive for me, and wearing more or less 100% less clothes than me.
My friend had a woman come sit next to him. She put her hand on his thigh, and after a few moments, he got his credit card out, it was taken away and returned with a receipt for him to sign, and off they went somewhere, so he could get his lapdance.
I’ve re-arranged events a little so this next bit appears near the end of this post, as it really is something that should’ve happened near the end of the evening rather than early on. It helps to make a better story if it’s at the end. A blonde woman was dancing on the stage, she was entirely naked. She got down on to the stage, cavorted a little, and ended up sat down, with her legs apart. The people on our side of the stage had a view right up in there. She was smoking a cigarette, she had a drink and a bucket of ice near her. She took the ice bucket, and somewhat inelegantly poured its contents onto her breasts. Huge chunks of ice ricocheted this way and that, skidding across the stage. She smiled at customers like she thought she was being incredibly sexy. She took the straw from her drink, and pushed it almost all the way up into her vagina. Still throwing out smouldering looks, she shifted so she was on her hands and knees, so she could shake what her momma gave her. She took a drag on the cigarette, reached her arm around to her backside, and pushed the end of the cigarette into her bum hole. She shook her ass again. I’m fairly sure it’s the least sexy thing I’ve ever seen a naked woman do. She took the cigarette out, took another drag, and the MC encouraged us to give her a round of applause.
My friend came back, with his lap freshly danced upon, we finished up our drinks, and left. Not through the same entrance we came through, though, oddly. Through a brightly-lit corridor of white-painted breeze-blocks that was definitely a staff-only part of the building. There was a shelf with cups and a microwave. Had I not been a bit tipsy, I might’ve been paranoid about where we were heading, but as it were, a security guy opened the fire door, and we stepped out into the car park.
I’ve previously thought about that Rihanna song “Only Girl (In the World),” that, were that actually real, what a truly horrible experience it would be to be the only girl in the world. And being at Caligula brought that back. A handful of security men and the development of social and moral codes is all that separate this place from being a really ugly scene. But that didn’t stay long in my mind, it was gone five o’clock in the morning, and there were tacos to be eaten.
Every morning, I make coffee, turn my computer on, and open the balcony door and throw out a handful of sunflower seeds for the house finches. There’s a lot of them; sometimes there can be ten or more at any one time. This is the only one I recognise because of the weird thing on top of her beak. She’s also by far the bravest of the finches. She doesn’t fly away when I stand up (my desk is near the door). She often perches on the metal bar on the balcony and looks straight ahead at the apartment. This, it would seem, is her way of telling me there’s nothing but empty seed shells on the balcony. She’s an ugly bugger, but she’s my favourite. I call her Bullet.
I will never tire of the feeling of waiting for a bus to go to a town I’ve never been to before. Leaving Placencia featured a lovely way of doing it, too. The place where I was staying was a few hundred metres from the end of the 20-odd km long peninsula, and the bus I’d be taking would go to the end, turn around, and pick up passengers along the way. It took nigh-on an hour to travel the length of the peninsula; so many people were scattered along its length, we were stopping and starting constantly. Most of the passengers were heading further north than I was, to Dangriga. I was getting off before then. When I bought the ticket form the conductor, I asked him to let me know where to get off so that I could get to Hopkins. He ignored my request, but thankfully, the guy sat behind me had heard me ask, and told me when to get up.
Hopkins is about six or seven kilometres off the highway. The bus stopped at the junction, I hopped off. There was an old guy stood around. I asked him if there were any buses soon. “In a few hours, yes.” So I started walking. I’d been warned about this, but figured it doesn’t hurt to ask. I plugged in my headphones, turned on “The Wall” and stomped along the side of the straight, sandy, road. I’d been told that the best way to get from the highway to the village was with a passing vehicle. It was hot. My shirt was drenched, and sweat was dripping off my face. Ten vehicles passed by before, about 40 minutes into my walk, and, as it turned out, about halfway along the road, a truck with an open flat back part (what are these vehicles called?) pulled up. A guy sat in the back gestured for me to get in. I took out my headphones, threw my backpack over the back door thing, and jumped in. The guy and I had a wee chat. He told me I’d come to the right place to relax. He was friendly. We stopped at a junction, pretty much the only junction in the village. The guy and I said goodbye, he wished me a good time in his town, and I chatted to the driver while another passenger got some stuff from the store. He asked where I wanted to go. A friend had recommended a place to stay. The driver, Johnny, told me it was nice there, and dropped me off right outside. Not to be, though. They were closed during the off-season to do some renovations, but the woman swinging in a hammock recommended another place a bit further along.
I traipsed along the road, ten minutes later saw the sign for Tipple Tree Beya, and walked up the stairs to ring the bell to see if there was a room. There was a room. About 40 dollars a night. Splendid. Two nights please. The room was one of three that faced out towards the sea. Small wooden rooms, with wood slats covering bug screens for windows. And a hammock on the deck out front. Perfect. After spending the last hour or so sweating buckets, I just dumped everything, put on my shorts and went out for a swim. Swimmy swim swim. Brain is there going, “hey relax, dude.” And it was nice. Two days here in Hopkins, then off to the western border, nip across to Guatemala to see Tikal. A couple of days there, then back up to Chetumal to fly back to Mexico City. The couple in the room next to mine were a lovely German couple. You really couldn’t ask to be sharing a hammock-y deck with nicer people. Spent some time in the hammock as the sky got darker, drank a couple of beers, and I was in bed by 11pm. It was still hot. I opened the window slats at the front and back of the room; no need to turn the fan on when there’s a lovely ocean breeze there to keep me cool.
With the windows open, a new room, thus new bed, I woke up around 5am. Just in time for the sunrise. The sky was all pink and dark purple. I walked down to the water’s edge. The husband of the woman who runs the place was raking the sand. He has the best job ever. Every morning, he does something nice and gentle and repetitive like raking sand while the sun rises over the ocean. Plus, he told me, it’s good for the back to spend some time each day walking backwards. Advice I have failed to heed, simply because I don’t have any beaches nearby, and walking backwards down the street would be mental. I had my iPod in my pocket, so I tried to draw a quick drawing of the sunrise. I did another a hour or so later. I did another 30 of them during my stay in Hopkins. It became a lovely ritual. To stop, have a look at the see, really look, and that flat block of water beneath that airy stuff changes colour so often. (Those drawings can be seen here.)
I had breakfast at a place called Innies. It looked a bit crappy from the outside. A concrete building painted pink and yellow with some kind of shower-strength leak coming from somewhere on the upper floor. Like a lot of restaurants in Belize, the glass doors and windows were tinted glass, so you can never really tell if they are busy or even open. It was open. Terrible instant coffee with what I think was condensed milk. I ordered an omelette, which came with beans and fry jacks, a local thing that’s basically like a puffy tortilla. The omelette had Cheez Whiz on top; a little daunting, but my gosh, it was delicious.
Lounge in the hammock, listen to music, read a bit, watch the grackles flying around, and squawking at each other. I like them. I like how strident they look when they walk, like, I’m. Going. Over. Here. They were brave, too. On the edge of the deck in front of the rooms were bowls of water for us to wash the sand off our feet. The grackles would hop up the steps and onto the edge of the bowl, drop big seeds in there to wash them, fish them out and fly off to have their snacks. Swimming, hammocking, swimming, hammocking. At one point in the sea, I realised that I only had a few vacation days remaining. Could I really be bothered to trek all the way, on three buses to get to the western side of the country to cross into Guatemala, change some money for a couple of days, come back, re-change money, just so I could spend the last day on buses all the way back to the northern border with Mexico? Nope. I chatted to the owner, two more nights please. Bingo. No more things to think about until I had to actually stop being on vacation. I borrow a bicycle and went for a ride to see what the rest of Hopkins was like.
I headed north, and after about 20 minutes of leisurely cycling, found myself at the top end of the village. On the beach, at a bar called Driftwood. I’d been told about this place by a guy who runs a bar/restaurant in Placencia, and it was as good as he’d said. They do pizza. Really good pizza, actually. It was pretty dark and empty inside. The guy who runs the place came out from the back room. I told him there was a few dogs, including a mean-looking pitbull/mastiff mix outside the door. He thanked me, cos she’d got out of his garden, and told me the dog was a sweetie. He gave me a menu, a beer, and I went and sat outside where the bar area has an open window and a, y’know, bar with stools. Not poop. High backless seats. We had a chat. He was, I guess, early 30s, originally from the northwest of England. The three dogs outside were all his and his partner’s. It was nice, in this country with so many stray dogs, to see people adopting some of them. One of them did a weird dipping-the-head motion every ten seconds or so. Apparently he’d had distemper, and the dipping was a tic he’d developed since then. He was a cute, friendly dog, though. A few afternoon beers and I was nicely buzzy. Cycled back to my room. Did a bit of swimming, hammocking, reading, and was truly knackered. At twenty past eight.
There was a big thunderstorm during the night. The whole room lit bright by the sheet lightning. Early to bed, so up before sunrise again. Same as the morning before. Watched from the water’s edge, had a wee chat with the raking man, did a couple of drawings, and then made a coffee in the drippy drip machine, after the Germans had given me half a packet of coffee that they didn’t need when they left in the morning. Back out on the balcony, and I had a chat with my new neighbour, a British woman from Newcastle. She could talk. I’d barely said hello before I was knee deep in her life story. Not that she wasn’t pleasant, you understnad. Although she did use the word “Chinaman” once.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but sat with my flip-flopped feet in the sand outside the pizza was a problem. I was bitten to fuck by sand flies. Mean little bastards. I estimated that I had about thirty bites, but when I counted, it was over seventy. Itchy. So very very itchy. I had a walk to go to a coffee place a bit later, they had Wi-Fi, and my willpower was weak. As it happened, when I got there, there’d been a power cut throughout the village, so no Wi-Fi, but I did get a coffee that had just brewed. I asked the teenage-ish girl who served me where I could get some cream for my sand fly bites. When she saw that both of my calves were covered in bites, her eyes widened and she said, “O! M! G!”
I walked back towards the room/hammock/sea. Stopped off at a place called Iris’ for some breakfast. Other guests from my place were there. We chatted. Dutch. Nice enough people. She was allergic to loads of things so ended up eating air for breakfast or something. Back to the same old swimming/hammock ritual for the remainder of the morning, until I fancied a change, so went for a wee ride up to a bar called King Cavassa Club near the centre of the village; that is, near where the road out of town is. A few beers in the sunshine, while the bored but pretty young woman who served me flicked through TV channels.
More swimming, and I think I got to the point, after two nights in Hopkins, where I was actually relaxed. In the water, not really swimming, my feet barely touching the sea bed, though, not thinking about anything other than the waves that I’d rise up to crash into a little bit. Kept on doing this. And after I’d been out there for 15 minutes or so, I saw a pelican dive bomb into the sea, and he/she righted him/herself and gulped down a fish. This was about 15, 20 metres away. I was bouncing as the waves pushed me up, the pelican just stayed still and let the waves pass underneath. The waves, though, were pushing him/her towards me. He/she didn’t seem to care. I stayed still, kept my arms under the water, and eventually, the pelican was about two metres away. It was amazing. we were that close to each other for maybe ten seconds. Then a few flaps of the wings, and he/she was off to get more snacks.
That night, the non-relaxing crept in. I woke up several times in the night thinking that I’d missed the sunrise. I hadn’t. It was still dark every time. Another lovely sunrise, though, slightly tainted by some guy a couple of house down using a circular saw before 6am. Another incredibly lazy day. Back at King Cavassa Club for lunch (stewed chicken, rice and beans). While I was there, a Hungarian family wanted to know when the next bus was. They asked in Spanish, and the waitress didn’t speak Spanish. She tried to tell them that the last bus of the day would leave at 2pm. It was 1.55pm. They somehow managed to have a vacation here without speaking English. They didn’t understand that they needed to get their arses into gear. The bus stopped across the street, so it’s not that far. But they’d just bought coffees. I got up in there, told them the story in Spanish, and they gulped down there coffees and got to the bus on time. I feel that that should be enough to get me into heaven if this God character really exists. I got up to pay for my lunch, and saw the guy I’d first met on the back of the truck when I came into Hopkins. He smiled, and said “Hello, Craig.” He remembered my name. I had not remembered his. We had a little chat and said goodbye. As I cycled back, I was heckled by a kid, “Hey, straight hair!” He and his friends giggled like crazy.
My last night in Hopkins, early to bed, awake at 4.40am. Plenty of time to make coffee and enjoy the sunrise one last time. Hopkins is a beautiful, sleepy place. Could happily have spent another week there. But it was time to leave. On the 7am bus. It was already packed. There are only a couple of buses a day, so, y’know. The conductor was young-ish guy, baggy jeans, a basketball vest over a t-shirt, Miami Heat cap, and, awesomely, a Hannah Montana backpack. It took about an hour to get to Dangriga, the next big town, where I had to get another bus. Stood outside the station, having a smoke, this guy comes up to me and asks if I wanted to buy some DVDs. He had about ten in his hands. I didn’t recognise any of them.
Then he offered me a CD, “It’s by P. Diddy!”
He asked for a cigarette. I gave him one. “Can I have two?”
“Can you give me a dollar so I can get a burrito?”
Tired of him, I just gave him a one dollar coin. A cab driver nearby rolled his eyes and asked why I gave him money. I shrugged.
The guy came back and said, “A burrito is two dollars.”
That’s not my problem, so, “Sorry.”
He then made sure I noticed that his blue shirt was a Snoop Dogg shirt. He pointed to the logo on the chest, then turned around so I could see a cartoon dog drawing on the back. He held out his fist. I bumped it with my fist. And then he left.
The bus from Dangriga that would take me to Belize City via the capital Belmopan was not a school bus. It was a Greyhound bus. With air conditioning, and seats big enough for adults. It was luuuuuuuuuuxury. Never in my life did I imagine a Greyhound bus would feel like luxury. A very pleasant journey. I enjoyed it on the way south, and I enjoyed it again on the way north. There was a sun halo for a while, too. But I needed to piss like a race horse by the time we arrived in Belize City. Off the bus, straight to the filthy bathroom. Utterly disgusting. I had my backpack on, so there wasn’t space to stand at the trough with two people already there. Had to use a stall. There was some sort of foul-smelling casserole in the toilet. I daren’t touch the handle to get rid of it. There were casserole stains on the wall, too, that seemed to have been put there with the intention of writing something. Graffiti told me that this was “THE SEX BATHROOM.” Other graffiti described things that could indeed happen in a sex bathroom, and in a country where most people are not white, there was graffiti that demanded that N-words should leave Belize. The floor of the bathroom was wet. I was wearing flip flops. I would spend the remainder of my journey wondering what the hell hideous things my feet now had crawling on them.
The next bus I needed would take me from Belize City all the way to Chetumal, across the border in Mexico. And as luck would have it, it was right there, filling up with lots of people. I nipped ’round to the back of the bus to avoid the queuers at the front. One spare seat, right at the back, next to the pile of luggage. I dropped my backpack on top, sat down, and spent the rest of the journey wedged between a whole load of luggage and a small old man with awesome, yet quite greasy, long hair. By the time got to Corozal, the closest town to the border, there were just a handful of people left on the bus. Me, an old Mennonite couple, a mother and her two toddlers, and a couple of German backpackers. We trundled towards the border. We all got off the bus to get out passports stamped exiting Belize. Back on the bus into the queue of traffic over the bridge that separated the two countries. As the bus sat there in the queue, we all got off and walked to go through Mexican immigration. The guy there barely looked at my face, didn’t say a word, scanned my passport, and I was back in Mexico. Eight-and-a-half hours on buses, and I need a place to stay. I had no idea at all where I would spend the night before my flight back to Mexico City the next day. But the bus passed a couple of places near the bus station. First one I went to, Costa Azul, was cheap, just 19 dollars a night. And I soon saw why. Basic. No towels. Less than half a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom. Horrible lighting. Plastic coated remote control. The people who worked there – seemed to be an extended family, various members of which were behind the reception desk at various times – were all really happy. To each other. Whenever I needed to ask a question, they suddenly stopped smiling and answered in a monotone, bored, manner. After all the travelling, I had no real desire to spend my one night in Chetumal doing anything other than watching telly with the air conditioning on. I’m not proud of myself, but I got a pizza from the Domino’s down the street, and settled in, watching “Hitch” and “Rush Hour 3.”
And that, aside from the scanning machines not working at Chetumal airport, and having my backpack searched by hand like a man artificially inseminating a cow, was my vacation.
The bus from Punta Gorda was, like most buses in Belize, an old U.S. school bus. It was hot as hell in there while we waited to get going. But, the journey north was only a couple of hours. I was heading to a place called Independence. When the bus pulled into the “station” (what seemed like someone’s driveway), there was a guy, as is often the case, targeting the tourist and insisting I take his taxi. Sometimes, I’ll go with it, but this time, I was in the mood for a walk. I had to get to a place where the water taxi would go across the lagoon to Placencia. I said no to taxi man, and walked. In the wrong direction, as it happens. I was walking in the exact opposite direction. Stupid, really, to think I would know where I was going in a town I’d not been to before, but I have a compass on my watch, and assumed that because Placencia is directly east of Independence, I’d be walking towards the water. Wrong. The lagoon curls around, so I should’ve not been heading south and east, but north. It was hot. I bought a bottle of water, chatted with the lady in the shop, and she told me where I needed to go. By the time I got to the water taxi place, I’d missed the 12pm water taxi.
The place was called Hokey Pokey. I bought a ticket for the next one, at 2.30pm. Two-ish hours to kill. Couldn’t really be bothered to go back out to the town and explore, so I sat there in the covered waiting area, as it started pissing it down. Which made me glad I’d missed the noon taxi: I would’ve got absolutely drenched. There were a few other people in the waiting area. A couple of them looked to be expressly ignoring the sign that said “NO LOAFERS.” The woman who was running the place looked like Proposition Joe. There was a Jackie Chan film on the ridiculously loud television. Everyone there, myself included, was entranced. The film was about diamonds or something. At the end, a hovercraft drove over one of the bad guys and all his clothes came off. Prop Joe found this hilarious and shouted, “his batty red!” Aaah, how the time flew by. Eventually, one of the loafers got up and shouted “Come on!” which was our queue to board the boat. We bombed across the lagoon, my enjoyment of the lagoon tempered slightly by having to hold onto my cap to stop it flying off. (My hair was just a mess underneath, and I was already feeling a bit self conscious after a less than satisfactory encounter with a mirror in the morning.) Twenty minutes or so later, we pulled up where water met some wooden planks supported by wooden poles, and it was time to find somewhere to stay. I’d been told of a couple of places that were reasonably priced, and headed off looking for the one that sounded best.
After a bit of a walk, I found the Sea Spray hotel, about 35 U.S. dollars a night. The Mayan receptionist was pretty and smiled a lot. Made me a little melty. The room was simple: bed, shower, toilet, unplugged fridge, fan. But it was only about about 20 metres from the sea. It was situated on the Sidewalk. The Sidewalk is technically a street because it is, apparently, in the Guinness Book of World Records as the narrowest street in the world. It’s about four feet wide. No cars would be able to use it. And there are signs saying that cycling is against the rules, so, not very street-y. I dumped my shirt, put on a clean shirt, and headed off. Walking down the Sidewalk, I heard “Hey white boy!” from behind me. I ignored it. “Hey brother from another mother!” It was an old-ish guy with dreadlocks. We exchanged general pleasantries, then he asked if I liked Bob Marley? I told him no, sheepishly. He wished me a good afternoon, turned around and left. (Later in my trip it dawned on me, after being offered a handful more times, that he was probably going to ask if I wanted to buy marijuana.)
Time for a beer. Went to the first place that would sell me beer, an open-sided bar called Barefoot Bar. They had Wi-Fi. So, moth to flame, iPod whipped out, and I started checking things. A few emails, some Twittering, some Facebookery, and checking on baseball scores. It was kind of like when you give up smoking, and then you have a cigarette, and it’s just rubbish. Tastes crappy and you’re full of self loathing. Really, what had I missed? Nothing.
I have said it before, and I will undoubtedly say it again, but white people are funny when they are travelling. Not all white people, tends to mostly be younger folk. In my experience, Belizean people are friendly, and will say hello on the street. You get into the habit of doing it, too. Walking along the Sidewalk, I passed a white guy, mid-twenties. I said hello, he glanced at me like I’d called his mother a whore and looked away. Dude: you are not an explorer. This is a tourist town. Seeing other white tourists may be spoiling your delusional thoughts of having discovered a pure gem in the wilds of Central America, but it doesn’t mean you have to be a cunt.
After a good, solid, twelve hours sleep, I was up and at ‘em. There’s a coffee shop in Placencia now, called Above Grounds. It’s on stilts, so y’know, ho ho, funny name. Sigh. Decent coffee, though. Went there every morning during my four-day stay in Placencia, and spent my time using the Wi-Fi, and drawing. The next couple of days were pretty much all based around swimming in the sea, drinking, eating, lying down, repeat. The swimming schedule was retarded by not putting on sun block early on in my stay, and having to stay out of the sea when it was really sunny, and having to coat myself in aloe vera at all other times, but now, a few weeks later, I’ve still got a nice bit of a tan, so, swings and roundabouts. One of the benefits, though, was it meant that when it was really cloudy, I’d go swimming. One time, it rained while I was in the sea. That really is one of life’s greatest things, I think. Getting your head down as low as possible in the water and watching the water bounce Tic-Tac-shaped drops back off the surface.
I only spent two days at Sea Spray, they were fully booked for the next two nights I’d planned to stay, so found another place. A bit closer to the shops, bars, etc., a bit farther from the sea. But it had air conditioning. And I used the hell out of that. Not ordinarily a fan of air conditioning. I’ve never lived in a super hot part of the world, so my view of AC is probably different to someone who lives in, for example, Phoenix, Arizona, but I can’t imagine what it would be like to live my days like that. Cold home, cold car, cold office, only ever experiencing the real temperature in short bursts. But, I did spend the whole of my Saturday night with the AC on, lying on the bed in my pants, watching movies on the telly.
My brain was beginning to think it’d be nice to be back in a big city again. But, brain: you’re a dick. I wish I could properly relax and get rid of those thoughts. I did a decent job of suppressing them, but they still found their way through the gaps now and again. And as the holiday went on, the thoughts got fewer and farther between. And that really started properly, as I left Placencia. I waited on the road outside the hotel, jumped on the bus heading north, and an hour or so later, I was off the Placencia peninsula, heading up the highway, toward Hopkins. Which we will discuss in the next underwhelming blog entry.
Punta Gorda is a town. I’ve just sat here looking at those five words for a good ten minutes. It was going to be a longer sentence, but in the end, I just added a full stop. It is indeed a town. A fairly sleepy town. I had the express intention of doing nothing on my holiday. I wanted to do nothing but sleep, eat, drink, walk around a bit, do some drawing. And Punta Gorda was the perfect place to begin that. I purposely didn’t ask for the Wi-Fi password at the place where I was staying or elsewhere in Punta Gorda. I didn’t want to know. And that lack of access was delightful. Back here in Mexico City, because I have taken to using my iPod touch as the clock in my bedroom, the first thing I do pretty much every day, is press the button, check the time, and before I put my glasses on, before I do bathroom stuff, or have coffee, is check email, Twitter, Facebook, blah blah blah. It’s rubbish. Easily solved obviously: put my watch by the bed instead of the iPod, but when things are there, they’re more difficult to ignore. Being away from the Internet for five whole days was fantastic.
And waking up in the jungle was fantastic, too. Waking up in the jungle heat, the smell, and waking up to the wonderful coffee they serve at Hickatee Cottages; just spending the start of my day sitting on the verandah in a shirt, shorts, and flip flops, watching hummingbirds humming. Next up on my great lazy adventure: a walk along one of the jungle trails around the back of the cottages. Jungle is ace. Yes, there are tons of insects and you get sweaty and a bit uncomfortable, but I love that when I walk around, there is so much there, so much to look at, and to be aware of, that my brain stops whirring with other stuff. It’s not overly dramatic to say that there is a chance, when in the jungle, that you could die. Of course this is true about the street outside my house, your house, everywhere; but in the jungle, there are creatures that could injure or kill you. Knowing that however unlikely it is, there’s a chance that there could be a jaguar out there, is quite thrilling. I saw lizards, plenty of birds and insects, I could hear the sounds of howler monkeys. The trail, though, was kinda swampy after the rain in the night, so it wasn’t as long a walk as I’d hoped for. So it was back to the room for a shower, and then hopped on a bicycle to ride into town to find somewhere to watch the European Championships final.
I ended up at the northern end of town, at a bar called Waluco’s. This was the only time during my stay that I knew anything was going on outside of my immediate environment. I sat at the bar, had a few Belikin beers, chatted with the guys sat next to me. They were Dan and Antony. They were old school friends who still meet up for a drink now and then. One of them worked in construction, currently building a hotel further north in Placencia, the other was recovering from a stroke. He was only about my age. His right arm was pretty limp, but he was getting some movement back in his hand. He spoke about the work he did before his stroke as if he really missed it. He drove (piloted? captained?) cruise ships. We watched Spain beat Italy, I paid as little attention as my mental brain would allow to the scrolling baseball scores at the bottom of the screen. We bought each other drinks. In fact, a guy who dropped by to pick up some takeaway food was in a good mood and bought the three of us beers on his way out. An afternoon of drinking, a bit of a fuzzy head, a cycle back to the cottages, some drawing, dinner, and the realisation that when I was having breakfast in shorts and flip flops, I’d been bitten by a doctor fly.
The doctor fly, called a yellow fly elsewhere, is a vicious little fucker. Over the course of my two-week holiday, I was bitten eight times by doctor flies. Each time, the same reaction: the area around the bite starts to feel a bit tender a few hours later, then itchy, then starts puffing up like a balloon. I’d been bitten twice that first day in Punta Gorda. The bite on the top of my left foot was blowing up so big that the next morning, I couldn’t fit my shoe on. One of the other guests gave me a couple of Benadryl. I took one, and after having been asleep for nearly nine hours, felt sleepy again and spent another five hours in bed. I went out for a bike ride in the afternoon. No destination, just a ride around. Some guy asked me if we’d met early near the Catholic church. Nope. After ten minutes or so more riding, I saw him again. He introduced himself as Ivan, telling me he was sure we’d met. We hadn’t. I rode off, and later found out that Ivan is wont to do that with tourists. If I’d've stuck around chatting, he’d have tried to scam some money out of me. On the dirt road back to the cottages, there were loads of dead, crushed crabs. Apparently, they live inland and take the trip to the sea quite often. I saw a couple of them scuttling across the road on their back feet. Not walking like crabs normally walk. I’ve never seen crabs go two-legged.
Next day: nothing. Just did some drawing, some reading, a little walk, some insect bites, heat rash, a blister on my foot after not putting socks on before my walk. Same thing the next day, my last day in Punta Gorda. Spent a good chunk of the afternoon drawing on the iPad, listening to music, getting bitten by insects. It feels weird to be experiencing this after being a professional illustrator for over ten years, but those few days in Punta Gorda really made me love drawing more than I have ever done before. Specifically drawing from life, not from photos. It’s something I don’t do very often. And something I should do a lot more. The insects were getting pretty hardcore about halfway through the drawing I was doing, so I took some photographs and decided to finish up in my room, but it just wasn’t the same. The colours were, of course, different, and the jungle-y garden looked different. (The drawing I was doing, btw, is the third one from the top here.) So I covered up as much as possible, covered the rest of me in aciete de citronela, and went back out there. Half an hour later I was done. And so were the doctor flies. A couple of bites, one on the hand, another on the thin area of skin between my jeans and the hem of my t-shirt that must’ve been exposed for a few seconds.
I would be leaving the next day, so packed up my backpack (I like being organised and ready to go), and about to take a shower, stood looking through the window at a couple of awesome woodpeckers pecking wood on a tree behind my room. They had red heads. They were lovely. Kate, Ian, and I went out to have a few beers and some food at a place in town called Asha’s. It was a wooden place on stilts over the water. It was nice to spend some time with them away from the place they run, and work at seven days away. There’s a joy in having friends in places around the world. It’s great to know you can go and visit them, catch up, and that. But it’s always sad knowing you won’t see them as often as you’d like.
Next morning, I said goodbye to Kate, and Ian gave me a lift into town to get the bus to my next destination.
I had a pretty boozy night a couple of Saturdays ago, and didn’t get to bed until around 5.30 a.m. The next day, the Diablos Rojos had a doubleheader beginning at noon. If you do the maths, the answer is “never in a million years am I going to arrive on time.”
And that was the case. I woke up, had coffee and some bread, put on last night’s clothes (mmmm, delightful) and traipsed to the subway.
I arrived at Foro Sol around 1.30 p.m., top of the 5th inning. It was the last regular season game, and it was pretty busy. I went to the section I usually sit in, and saw the beer vendor who I see every game. He was, like, “where the fuck were you?” He said it with a smile, shook my hand, put his arm around my shoulder and pointed to the ass of an attractive woman walking by.
I told him I had a hangover, I got a Coke from him, and took a seat.
A while later, he was bringing drinks to a family near me, and I asked him for another Coke. He came over, quizzical concerned look on his face, and asked why I didn’t want beer, did I feel bad? I told him I felt like shit.
He gestured and said “one minute” and hurried off to talk to a guy sitting a couple of sections over.
He came back holding a small plastic Canada Dry ginger ale bottle. It had about an inch of liquid in the bottom. “Drink it.”
It was tequila. And, damn it, if I didn’t feel better straight away. Maybe it was the tequila, maybe it was the fact that someone who is paid to work at the baseball stadium took the effort to do something so friendly and thoughtful.
I thanked him, and ordered a beer. He told me I didn’t need to thank him, “you’re my brother” and slapped me on the shoulder.
Seven years ago today, I went to a baseball game for the very first time. I’ve written about it over at The Score’s Getting Blanked blog.
Belize is a country I have come to know relatively well, in as much as one can know a place by being a tourist there. I just returned from my fourth trip to the country, and have now spent a total of six weeks in the country. There are times there when I wonder why the hell I keep going back. But there are also times when I imagine that I’d enjoy spending a longer chunk of time there to let the place really sink in. (The lack of decent Internet speeds, and the measly 30-day tourist visa are probably the main reasons for not really bothering to investigate what it would take to spend three or four months there.)
The last time I visited, I looked for flights direct from Mexico City to Belize City, and there were none, so ended up taking a ridiculous route via El Salvador and Costa Rica. This time, I did what I should’ve thought about doing before: flying to Chetumal, about 4 hours south of Cancún, and about 10 km from the border with Belize.
In the last few months, I’ve taken brief trips to Puebla and Oaxaca, and both times, enjoyed that feeling of having my backpack on, going to the bus station and waiting then heading off. I enjoy bus stations. They’re totally better than airports. That first day of my trip, though, had the potential to be a relatively stressful one. I didn’t have much wiggle room when it came to flight or border crossing delays if I was to get to the Corozal (the closest “big” town across the border) to get a bus to Belize City that would allow me to get the last bus of the day to my ultimate destination, Punta Gorda, right in the south of Belize.
The trip started off in the worst possible way: my upstairs neighbours (I don’t know their names, but lets call them Cunt and Twat) were having one of their idiotically loud parties. Despite previous complaints, and an assurance from them that they’d give me prior notice to any more of their parties, they keep on failing to bother. I’ve been in this apartment for three-ish months. They’ve had seven all-night parties in that time. And I’m not talking about a regular loud-ish party; I’m talking full-on massive sound system and lights, and going on until well into the next day. It was already 1.30am when I got home from having a few drinks with friends, so no point in even contemplating the possibility that they would turn the music down. I turned right around, and went back to my friend’s house, had another couple of beers and got three-ish hours sleep on the sofa.
For some reason, I decided to not take a taxi to the airport. Took the subway. A bit of a delay on the first two connections. A bigger delay on the next one. Arrived with about ten minutes until the flight closed. Got through the queue to check in with the gracious help of people in front of me in the queue. (The airline I was using doesn’t have individual desks for specific flights.) Exhale. The flight spent a wee bit too long waiting to get onto the runway, but in the end, it was a smooth one, arriving in Chetumal on time.
The airport in Chetumal is small. And, the good thing about those airports is the way you walk off the plane down some stairs and you can feel like the Beatles or a president for a few moments. Plus, arriving in a town on the Caribbean coast, you get the brilliant blast of heat. My backpack was one of the first on the carousel, out the door, “taxi!,” and straight to the Mexican side of the border. Got the exit stamp on my passport, then did what I’d been looking forward to ever since I booked the flight: walked across an international border.
There’s about a kilometre or so between the place where you enter/exit Mexico and the place where you enter/exit Belize. The Mexico border dudes are closest to the border. Just a hundred metres or so walking along the edge of the road until you are on a bridge crossing a river, the actual border between the countries. On the Belize side, there’s a few food places, a shitty-looking mall and a casino. I guess you’re technically in Belize there, but as I’d exited Mexico, and not yet had my passport stamped to be allowed to enter Belize, where am I at that point? I mean, if Belize were to refuse you entry, and then Mexico did the same when you tried to return, what would happen to you? Where would you be?
Something else that exists before you reach the immigration thingy, is taxi drivers looking for business. Friendly guy honed in on me, telling me he’d take me to Corozol for 20 US dollars. (In Belize, US currency is valid. One US dollar is equal to two Belizean dollars.) I bullshitted, told him a “friend” had told me it was 20 Belize dollars. He said he’d split the difference and take me for 30 Belize. After we’d agreed on that, I found out he wasn’t the driver. He was just the pimp. A Latino guy was the driver, and his pal, an old fella with greying dreadlocks sat in the front, me in the back. They drove me to the immigration point. This was a few drive through areas, like toll booths, and an office off to the side. I got out of the cab, went into the office. I was the only visitor in there. The immigration guy asked why I was there. Holiday. Noted that I’d been before. I love it here. Asked about the London Olympics. Don’t really care that much about it. Then we had a wee chat about the Belizean team. He didn’t know how many athletes would be going. (I just checked: they have just three competitors attending: Kenneth Medwood in the men’s 400m hurdles, Kaina Martinez in the women’s 100m, and Eddermys Sanchez in the men’s 66kg judo.) Kinda got the feeling he would happily have had me standing there chatting for ten minutes. A quick buzz through customs, and I’m back in the cab, chatting with the two chaps. Both of them awesome. We talked about the Queen’s jubilee. Belizeans seem to love her, and I found out why. Back in the day, Guatemala wanted Belize. They thought it belong to them. British Honduras as it was then known, had its borders protected by British troops. Thus, the Queen-lovin’.
The worrying about the tight wiggle room with getting to where I wanted to go turned out not to be anything to worry about. I was well over an hour early, had a Coke at the bus station, and got on the 11am bus from Corozal to Belize City. Buses in Belize are old American school buses. Like the ones you see in films. They don’t have a huge amount of leg room, or luggage room (it’s all just stashed in a wobbly pile at the back where one of the seating benches is missing), and they’re not overly comfortable. And they have music playing really loud. (During the journey we heard a lot of reggae. And in the middle of all this proper reggae: “All That She Wants” by Ace of Base.) The bus set off, but we’d not got more than half a kilometre before we were stopping to pick up another passenger. This was repeated quite a lot. If you want to get the bus, you don’t need to go to a station or a bus stop, you just stand at the side of the road and get on.
The bus stopped in Orange Walk, the only major town on the route to Belize City. It filled up to the point where there were ten or so standing passengers. A guy sat next to me. An Indian guy who’d been living in Belize for a couple of years. I could tell, as I sat in the window seat, that he kept looking at me. Like he wanted to talk. And when I glanced over at the other side of the bus, he started chatting. I took my headphones off, had a brief get-to-know-you chat, who where why what. He asked about night clubs in England. Pause. Then he asked if there were any “naked clubs” in England. I told him, that, yes, there are places to see naked girls dancing in England. He told me there were none in Belize. I asked him if there were naked clubs in India. He looked shocked that it was even necessary to ask such a question. No, there were not any naked clubs in India. Then he rambled a bit about the conservative nature regarding such things in India, and out of nowhere, told me the law was very harsh in India regarding rape. Err, what the fuck!? There was a moment where I wondered if I was sat next to a rapist. The conversation was very stop-start. We’d discuss a topic, be silent for a minute or so, then he’d come back with another question.
“Have you ever had sex with a black girl?”
I have not.
“Don’t do it in Belize…. baaaaad.”
Pause for a minute.
“Have you ever had sex with a Mexican girl?”
I have, yes.
“Did you pay for it?”
Three hours after leaving Corozal, the bus pulled into the station at Belize City. It’s not the nicest place in the world, the bathroom was disgusting, and I got the feeling that straying too far from the outside of the station would have me walking around neighbourhoods that I shouldn’t be walking around. I’d missed breakfast, only had a mini packet of crisps and a coffee on the plane, so ate a burrito at the bus station. It was about 90% tortilla which was welded to the greaseproof paper it came wrapped in. An hour or so later, the bus heading for Punta Gorda pulled in. There was the polar opposite of an orderly queue to get on the bus. A couple of younger fellas jogged to the back of the bus to open the back door and bypass the queue. I followed them and got a seat. The bus pulled out of the station, rammed full of people. As we got onto the street, someone outside the bus was shouting at the driver to stop. A girl of maybe 11 or 12 was running to jump on the bus. One of the passengers shouted the girls name. It was her mother. She’d gotten on the bus without one of her children.
Soon after we left Belize City, about eight hours since I left my apartment, I started to get that feeling. That lovely travelly feeling. My mind was emptying of all the normal stuff. Just staring out of the window at the landscape, the houses, the small villages. We headed inland first to the capital, Belmopan, and then back through a more jungle-y landscape towards the coastal town of Dangriga. It was lovely looking to see jungle again. There’s very little in life that makes me feel something inside like seeing jungle. There was obviously no air conditioning on the bus, and with the windows open, the smell of another country, another landscape blew in. A smell of heat, humidity, trees and plants, smoke from fires in villages. The bus was half empty after we left Dangriga. Now heading more or less directly south, this final part of the journey was long and dark. After being on a full busy bus all the way from the very top of the country, with ten or so remaining passengers heading to Punta Gorda (the most southern town of any size), it was really beginning to feel like heading to the last tube station on the line. Which it was. Around 9.30, the landscape became familiar. The barely-lit highway turned into yellow sodium-lit street heading into Punta Gorda, a town I’ve been to three times before. It was a feeling like that when, as a child, you fall asleep in the back of the car, and wake up when you are nearly home, and you know that you will be in bed shortly. I got off the bus in the centre of Punta Gorda, got in a cab, and head a couple of kilometres out of town to Hickatee Cottages, where I’ve stayed every time I’ve been in the town. It was fantastic to be back, to see Kate and Ian, my friends who run the place, again. Sixteen hours of travelling, and I was sat on the verandah, having a beer, chatting away. And then, it was time to sleep. Sleep in a lovely small cottage with the jungle all around and a thunderstorm that shook the building, and rain hitting the leaves of the jungle. When I can’t sleep normally, I’ll go to YouTube and find one of those rain sounds videos, dim the computer screen, and fall asleep. I did not need YouTube, I had the real thing.
It’s been a couple of week since I got back from Belize. As part of my efforts to not spend much non-drawing time using my electronic devices, I made notes about the trip with a pencil in a notebook. Thus, it’s not just a matter of copying and pasting blog posts about the trip. But, that’s kinda nice. It means I read my notes, and relive things a little, extending the vacation feeling just a little bit. More about the trip over the next week or so.
If you have any passing interest in U.S. politics, you’ll know that critics of Mitt Romney will point to how often he’s changed his mind about things. The right tried it – successfully, I guess – when John Kerry was the Democratic candidate, and accused of being a “flip-flopper.” I’m no fan of Romney, he seems thoroughly unqualified to be in charge of a country, but I find it interesting that in the world of politics, changing your mind is seen as a horrible sin that leaves you open to attack. The funny thing for me is when we have any sort of discussion, where there are two or more people arguing different sides, both are trying to convince the other that they are right. In politics, it seems to have (d)evolved into some sort of ugly PR who-comes-out-looking-best thing, rather than making a good, solid point. In other areas of life, if you accept new ideas and alter the way you think, it’s likely to be an advantage. But not in politics.
What got me thinking about this was when it crossed my mind that hypocrisy (misspelled and then auto-corrected by my iPod to “hippo racy”) is kind of like changing your mind constantly and simultaneously. You know when you have those cardboard discs attached to string, and when you spin it quickly, the red side and yellow side are spinning so fast, all you see is orange? That’s what I think the brain is doing when it’s being hypocritical. Kinda. Maybe not, but that’s how I think of it.
The older I get, the more I realise that I am hypocritical quite a lot in the way I think about things and people. For a long time, I’ve been interested in the idea that the people you dislike often are the ones you are most similar to, or display characteristics you dislike about yourself. It’s so easy to be hypocritical. And while I know it’s kinda wrong, I can’t help myself sometimes. Even when I try to lay out the arguments logically – like I hope to do shortly – I still can’t force my brain to not make a decision one way and stick to it.
The other night, I was at a baseball game here in Mexico City. One of the pieces of music played at every game, to gee up the crowd is “Rock and Roll, Part 2″ by convicted sex criminal Gary Glitter. The people at the baseball stadium here love that song. Everyone’s dancing, clapping, shouting “hey!” And amongst all these happy Mexicans, there’s one scowling Englishman who wants to photocopy leaflets and give them to everyone at the game, informing them that they are letting their children sing and dance to a song sung by a man who liked to look at pictures of naked children. Yet, I love the KLF. And will happily listen to “Doctorin’ the Tardis,” a song that uses a sample of the Glitter song. That’s easily justified in my mind: the KLF/Timelords song was sampled a long time before we knew of Glitter’s crimes.
But, something that is hypocritical, that I am unlikely to ever change in myself, is my love of the Gill Sans typeface. The letter G in the image at the top of this page is Gill Sans. The typefaces used in all of the books I have done is Gill Sans. I use it all the time on both Flip Flop Flyin’ and Flip Flop Fly Ball. Some old well-respected designer, I can’t remember his name, once said that a designer should only use three or four typefaces. I’ve found myself going more minimal than that, and pretty much only ever use Gill Sans. Gill Sans was designed in 1926 by a British chap called Eric Gill. Gill had an incestuous relationship with his sister, sexually abused his children, and fucked his dog.
Another hypocrisy example: Chris Brown. Hideous man. If you can stomach reading about such things, it’s worth reading the police report of what he actually did to Rihanna. And his subsequent, hey-can’t-we-all-just-move-on stuff is bullshit. Don’t care what his records or like, if they are good or not. He’s a twat. And then there’s Phil Spector. An utterly wonderful record producer. He made a handful of my favourite records. His Christmas album is just delightful. “He’s A Rebel,” “Be My Baby,” “Baby, I Love You,” “To Know Him is to Love Him.” Utterly fantastic. Yet he is currently in prison for murder. When he was married to Ronnie Spector, he seemed to behave like a psychopath, virtually keeping her prisoner. (If you like the music of the Ronettes and are interested, Ronnie’s autobiography, Be My Baby, is a good book.)
Both of these examples of hypocrisy seem to not hinge on what the people did, but what they produced. Gary Glitter: stodgy glam rock. Eric Gill: a beautiful typeface. Chris Brown: fairly run-of-the-mill modern pop music. Phil Spector: some of the greatest pop songs ever. It seems so wrong to me that I can make that distinction in my head. But I can and do. Very easily. I wish I knew why. But I guess, really, isn’t hypocrisy something we learn very early in life? How are we expected not to grow up being hypocritical when, as a child, we are told to “do as I say, not as I do”?
Five Things I Could Do with a Certain Degree of Confidence Were I to Be Named in Tonight’s Yankees Line-up
Five Things I Could Do with a Certain Degree of Confidence Were I to Be Named in Tonight’s Yankees Line-up
Swing my bat standing in the on-deck circle
Tap the catcher’s shin guards with my bat
Have my ass patted by the first base coach
Chat with the first baseman
Argue with the umpire
Five Things I Absolutely Could Not Do with a Certain Degree of Confidence Were I to Be Named in Tonight’s Yankees Line-up
Hit the ball
Field the ball
Steal a base
Not have a beard
Spit sunflower seed shells without them dribbling down my chin
For a while now I’ve been keeping a note of the misheard and/or misspelled names I’ve had in Starbucks and other places since living in Mexico. I’ve also been taking photos of a bunch of them too. It’s time to put them online all in one place. So should you give a monkeys about such things, you can see them here: http://flipflopflyin.com/wreck/