Thursday, 17 July 2014

Let Us Be Lovers

At ten years of age, I took no greater delight than telling my mother I would be running off to America one day. Other children pulled out the "I didn't ask to be born" trope, but mine was much more sincere and less calculating, being more devastating for it.

All the small-town boy stereotypes rang true with me. I felt intensely disconnected in a place that was geographically cut off from the rest of the world, but also, in a perverse sense, connected through media.

I could sit in the car and listen to Whitney Houston's album (albeit six months after everyone else) but Whitney would never grace Gibraltar with her presence. Yet more torture, the big stars would possibly play in Marbella and Malaga, a couple of hours up the coast via an international border, it might as well have been another planet.

I watched movie after movie, and every movie that shone through my eyes would sing in the backdrop of New York. I devoured biographies of Motown stars my grandmother would let me borrow, and developed an altogether unhealthy obsession with Diana Ross and Detroit, Michigan. The romance of the city was too much, and nothing like the reality. But still, the birthplace of modern pop music, of Madonna and Aretha Franklin, it sounded like heaven.

The rise of twenty-four hour news channels brought us closer to our obsession with reality. OJ Simpson and Louise Woodward faced trials that were heavily painted in glamour and danger and the sprawling mansions of Beverly Hills. Growing up in a town where NOTHING HAPPENED, murder was almost an intense antithesis to borderline antipathy.

I saved up all my pocket money when I was eight years old and bought Mariah Carey's Music Box album on cassette tape. I drove my parents to the brink of despair with my bedroom renditions. Yet it wasn't my bedroom at all, it was Madison Square Garden.

Little did my parents know that my passion would stretch further and deeper when I discovered an animated television show about a rag-tag band of misunderstood mutants and their pledge to protect a world that hated and feared them. It was almost too perfect. I fell hard and fast for the X-Men and longed to go to Xavier's, a school where I would be loved and respected instead of disliked and ignored.

I'd been given a copy of a Batman comic one Christmas at school, and I read it until it very literally fell apart in my hands. On a summer holiday to Portugal, I found a copy of X-Men on a spinner rack, and after much pleading, it was finally mine. I read that until it fell apart too, and eventually my sister's friend would lend me his copies in Spanish, and a whole new level of excitement every time we shopped for food in Spain was born.

American comics, however, were the holy grail. Not just because spanish comics ran a year behind, but because American comics came with letters from readers as far away as Philadelphia. They were also replete with adverts for candy and movies I would never have a hope of tasting or seeing. One day I would live there, in this land of opportunity, of plenty, and nothing would be denied.

Interestingly, my obsession with the greater world, and in particular with America, shaped and sharpened my mind. Reading translated comics improved my spanish, and all the facts and figures stowed into those comic books, as well as the penchant for larger words, probably educated me better than the school system ever hoped to.

The epitome of my cultural learning came when God appeared on the television, or rather, Oprah WInfrey started being shown on satellite television every afternoon. My evenings after school were punctuated by X-Men (which I had already watched that morning before school, but I watched again) then Oprah, followed by The Simpsons and Disney Channel sitcoms until bedtime.

Oprah took me by the hand towards Alice Walker, Maya Angelou and above all others, Toni Morrison. I became best friends with the local librarians, in a library that spewed tumbleweeds for all the natives read.

I would wake up around 6am and eat my cereal (wishing it was Lucky Charms) while watching some bizarre Spanish variety channel that programmed hip-hop videos all through the night until 7am. I fell hard for TLC, Toni Braxton, Missy Elliott and L'il Kim. Fulfilling my request one Christmas for CrazySexyCool, and awkwardly listening to the grinding sex groans in the car with the entire family, my dad informed that had he known about the album's filth, he wouldn't have bought it. It was too late though, I knew the entire rap from Waterfalls.

Now I am here. In the reality of America as opposed to the intense consumption of its artistic vision thrown at the rest of the world. The world backlashed and I cared little for the dislike. I still don't understand this expression of "oh how American" filled with disdain, when there is space enough for yourself and what is essentially a modern Rome.

I don't know why it has taken me twenty-nine years to get here, but I am more appreciative to be seeing a truer America and not the Disneyland package trip tourism of mass appetite that so many Europeans adore. Traveller, not tourist. It is possibly my most overwhelming unashamed snobbery, and I am unapologetic.

So we are on a trip through Atlanta, to Virginia and Tennessee, then Washington DC and ending in New York City.

I am hurtling through Jupiter in a Mustang convertible.

- Jonathan Pizarro.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

No Jackson Either.

When we were on holiday in Santorini just before Easter, when the season begins and the trampling visitors arrive. There was still a laziness to the island, the sound of hammers and the smell of paint prompting the locals to action in anticipation of the money of strangers.

Feeling like the only outsiders to touch down in Oia, it was a shock to turn a corner and see throngs of Chinese people clad in tourist gear, followed by an immaculately dressed bride and groom having their photos taken amidst the stark white and blue the island is so famous for.

Where were these weddings taking place? It is usual to see not just a wedding couple but the veritable army of loved ones crowding around them. The restaurants were barely open, there were no churches ringing bells. Yet here they were, with glowing gowns and smartly pressed tuxedos, brides and grooms having their photos taken overlooking volcanoes and horizons.

A quick Google search later, I learned that it is traditional for couples in China who are due to be wed to take a pre-wedding holiday to places like Santorini, and have photos taken in their wedding attire. During the reception party, these photos are then projected onto the walls so everyone can marvel at the happy couple looking beautiful in a beautiful, mythic place.

Back home, I was amused to see a van with tinted windows pull up outside of my workplace, and another Chinese bride and groom come tumbling out to have their photos taken around Covent Garden. They posed, they paused, they turned this way and that way and held each other in staged tender moments that required them to hold still for minutes on end. The whole thing was exacted with military precision and little humour or self-awareness.

They looked determined, stoic and resolved to take that perfect intimate portrait with no sense of honesty. Just as quickly, they were practically pushed back into the van and sped off, a drive-by shooting if you will, off to another London location for another tender moment held together for minutes so the light could be just right.

I remember a local magazine in Gibraltar that you could pick up for free in any supermarket. It was essentially full of adverts and sponsored completely by businesses. In order to showcase a photographer, there was a section on weddings. Weddings are a big business in Gibraltar, as they are anywhere else, but the laws are somehow a little more relaxed and the paperwork can be pushed through in a matter of hours. Call it Vegas without the showgirls, it has enticed the likes of John Lennon, Sean Connery and Roger Moore to say "I do" (sometimes even twice).

So there's all the traditional ones, because that's the way it goes. You live at home, you meet your boo to be out and about and hope he hasn't already slept with half of your friends. You get engaged on a Caribbean cruise and announce it in the local paper. You get married in church even though the last time you went there you were twelve years old, and have your wedding photos taken in the local botanical gardens.

Every month the magazine was out, more botanical gardens photos. Until the picture of a couple running around on the beach, her dressed in a black lace gown and him with stylised devil horns made from his hair. Pure joy on their faces. In the second photo they're pulling faces, completely enjoying the world and each other. There was honesty there, and something different. This wasn't the "different" I keep seeing now, where everyone tries to outdo each other with "Oh at my wedding we had organic ice cream from a vintage ice cream van" but a genuine desire to be married, outside of expectation.

So really, I wanted to write about expectations. I wanted to write about exhaustion. And freedom. People have the freedom to be exhausted if they choose, and maybe those posing mannequins in Covent Garden are having the time of their life, I just felt exhausted looking at them. Pre-wedding photographs. Bridal gowns. Manicures. The expense alone seems so trapping, I'm not surprised at the lack of laughter.

I like that everyone in Britain now has the basic human right to be united in matrimony now, I don't see it as a patriarchal, outmoded institution and the matter of choice is what above all reigns supreme.

I just stand there, happy that I don't have to live up to any expectation that involves a £5000 dress and a trip to London before a ceremony. That I don't have to choose between beef and pork for 200 people, 150 of whom I don't particularly hold the strongest of warm feelings for, yet here I am trying to impress them, because it's my day damn it.

I like this freedom, this choice. Maybe one day I'll get married in blue jeans and make faces on the beach. Hand in hand. Laughing.

- Jonathan Pizarro.

Friday, 11 July 2014

My Headphones

I left my headphones at work the other day, and it meant going for a run in the morning with no music. It also meant walking around on a day off without any music, or podcasts. If you think this is one of those cliche posts about how great we all are without social media and technology, think again.

I love social media, and the fact I have the entire world in the palm of my hand. I don't believe there was a golden age where everyone used to talk to each other and suddenly that's disappeared. In fact, I think people are more honest in the way they approach relationsips these days. You no longer have to suffer through making polite conversation, and can instead be on your phone connecting with the people and things you actually wish for.

The key is in not letting that get out of head, and really finding purpose in what you are doing. If you're sat on the phone surfing Facebook over dinner, that's a bit much. Similarly, I sometimes find myself scrolling Twitter before bedtime and an hour of what was meant to be reading time has passed. This makes me feel bad, that I haven't done anything productive or in any way stimulating.

Back to my headphones. I was in a bad mood about having to run without my headphones. I really didn't think I could run as fast or as far without music to keep me from getting bored or unmotivated. I still had a good run though. I was more aware of my breathing, and the sounds of the park. I felt more involved in the world I lived in, I paid more attention to the smells and sights. I don't think I would do it all the time, but it was still a positive experience.

Walking to and from work, however, was a revelation. I did feel more connected, funnily enough my brain was more stimulated. Although I always listen to a podcast, which in turn can be food for my brain, not having anything to listen to made me more aware of myself and the way I go through life.

I've always had this battle with myself, where I think of myself of nosy. I have no greater pleasure than looking through windows into people's homes. I enjoy hearing conversations on other tables, and where I used to think it was just people being loud and not letting me read in peace, I realise now it's just my brain wired into getting those nuggets of curiousity for myself. I saw it as a weakness that I can't multi-task in that way. I can't read if I have the television on, or music, or someone is talking next to me.

Now I see, that people are simply stories to me. That I am obsessed with secrets and what people do in their lives, because that is essentially what makes a story. Rather than give you some story about how I found inner peace on the tube without my headphones, this is about my brain exploding at the sheer overload of people's lives around me. I saw threads before me that needed to be written, situations to make future scenes in novels, characters bursting fully-formed into little boxes I keep in my mind.

So I'm not off to join some Buddhist retreat, I'm just realising every day that what I was born for is to write. It is not a case of enjoyment, or a hobby, and whether I make a career out of it is a matter to which I am kind of indifferent (other than it meaning I could write all day and not have to worry about a day job). I just have a head of voices ready to spill out, and after taking a break it feels like not doing it makes me feel ill.