28 July 2011

Obviously Objectionable Occupants

I will get back to my feelings about the various Manchester International Festival events I went to. I promise.

But last night was another Bad Language event, the monthly literary open-mic night held at the Castle Hotel. It's run by lovely, talented, kind people and many talented and interesting people read their stories there fairly regularly. It's always a fun evening, and last night, I actually remembered to not only bring my voice recorder, but also to turn it on!

(Bad Language folks: If any of y'all want me to record your stories next time, let me know!)

So, here you are, a little story about Atlanta... and a little "found" poem about flat-hunting.

Listen to them here

Because my voice recorder is a little bit crappy, which is to say, it's held together by duct tape, it sounds to me like it missed a crucial word in the poem. Here are the words, for those who might be interested:

Catherine: Monica Grove 1B 1530
Howard: Talbot Road 2A 1600
Monica Grove
5 rooms
All postgrads
But the one guy who was there
wasn't wearing a shirt
was listening to awful dance music
and didn't turn it down.
Not a home.
More like a student flat
per Mackenzie Road, with more
obviously objectionable occupants.

25 July 2011

MCR International Festival

While the Manchester International Festival (MIF) was on, I kept going to events and thinking, "I should write a post about that. People will be interested in that."

And then I didn't. Because I've been finally getting stuck into my thesis, because I had big other stressful things going on, because I have big other wonderful things going on, and occasionally, I like to sleep, or at least, to dream.

Now that the Manchester International Festival is well and truly over (ended on 17 July), I'm quite happy that I haven't written a single word about any of the events I attended. That accidental occurrence entitles me, I think, to writing a "round-up." Herd your cattle, cowgirl.

Derf. I've just written down a list of the MIF things that I went to and have *lots* of opinions about. It is long. Warning: this may take a few posts...

Opening Night
Björk | Biophilia

First off, yes, I know everyone else has already written about this. Nevertheless.

I bought myself a ticket well in advance, thinking I would go alone. To my surprise, my dear friend Stuart rang me the day before the show. He'd gotten some free tickets through his radio show, which were coincidentally for the same evening! So, I went to see Björk play with Stuart and the lovely girls from his show, and since it's always nice to have company at concerts, I was feeling pretty lucky.

As it happened, it was *very* good to be at the show with company. Because that show was bizarre. Brilliant and fun and interesting. But weird. First off, Björk was wearing an enormous orange wig. So big, she needed a big chinstrap under it. There's a great image of it on this page, and you can see a clip of the show here. Björk's singing was beautiful, and she was backed by the Icelandic choir Graduale Nobili, who were absolutely fantastic.

Biophilia is meant to be all about music and science, so it was fittingly housed in the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. I've been there before, it's a lot like Sydney's Powerhouse Museum, but housed in the world's oldest surviving railway station. *swoon* Unfortunately, this also meant there were no seats and people crowding at the stage sort of obstructed the view of the stage.

This was no ordinary Björk show, as I'm sure her fans will already have read. This show also had a larger educational aspiration. Björk didn't just perform at MIF, she had an artist's residency there, and she organised a bunch of workshops for children to learn about science.

She had special custom instruments created for the show, each designed to express and show some scientific force. A big tesla coil that flared to the bass was meant to say something about electricity. A gamelon made of four pendulums used gravity to make music. An organ was meant to teach the power of air as a force. Even the beats for her songs were generated using pi, so they're not rhythmic at all. Trust Björk to still make that sound good.

But the thing is... Björk is an artist. A spectacularly eccentric one. She is the kind of person who would marry Matthew Barney. She is, simply, *not* an educator. She's not an explainer. She is that most wonderful thing: a poet. And as one of my heroes Dirac once said, "I do not see how a man can work on the frontiers of physics and write poetry at the same time. They are in opposition. In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite."

I don't completely agree with Dirac on that, but in this case, yes, yes, for heaven's sake, yes. I doubt anyone came out of Björk's Biophilia show feeling like they learned something about DNA or plate tectonics. We had to read the programme just to figure out what the custom instruments represented.

But absolutely everyone came out thinking it was delightful, and the music is wild, surprising, uncatchy and dramatic. Definitely check out the album. 


Dr. Dee
Damon Albarn | An English Opera

I had absolutely zero intention of going to this show. I never really got into Blur, and the only Albarn project I've ever liked was Gorillaz. But Stuart had a spare ticket going, so off we went! It was at the Palace Theatre, which is gorgeous. I'd never seen it before, but it's like an an old opera theatre, all ornate and red velvet everywhere. Lovely.

The opera was... well, operatic. It was sung in English, but I still didn't understand most of the words. The music was nice to listen to, the way opera often is, when you can't understand the words. What I liked best about Dr. Dee, though, was the visual experience. A set that moved up and down, Elizabeth I being lowered over the stage and then just kept mid-air, looming over all the action, occult-looking drawings projected onto her dress, folded paper used as set designs. It was beautiful. There are some dramatic and excellent photographs here.

And of course, because I can't let anything pass without doing at least a little research, I ended up quite intrigued by Dr. Dee, as well. The opera is a classic rise and fall story. John Dee was an advisor to Elizabeth I, a polymath, a scientist, a renowned mathematician. Wikipedia says, "in his lifetime Dee amassed the largest library in England and one of the largest in Europe." But like many geniuses, he couldn't stop until he'd figured out the code the explained the world... and a man named Edward Kelley, a sort of Rasputin figure, who claimed to have supernatural powers, and convinced Dee to focus all his energies on the occult. Dee lost favour in Elizabeth's court. Accused of being a conjurer, of being Faust, of making a deal with the devil, his library was stolen, and he died in poverty, selling off his posessions to care for himself and his daughter.

Fascinating, right?

To be continued...

05 July 2011

By chance.

Just about a month ago, I traveled down to London to be an audience member on the Radio 4 Bookclub. I truly *heart* Radio 4. Sure it's got its problems. Maybe too much comedy radio plays. Maybe a few too many airings of the Archers. It's still my favourite radio station ever. I listen to it just about all the time. Except when I'm writing essays and have to concentrate. Then I listen to Radio 3.

Anyway, Radio 4 have a great bookclub series. They invite an author on, get some listeners to read the book, come in and discuss in a little studio. Having tried to get a radio bookclub going a few times in Sydney, it was exciting to be a listener/reader for this one... especially since the book being discussed was The God of Small Things and the author, Arundhati Roy, was going to be there!

I'd been a fan of Arundhati Roy's politics for years. She's a hero. But I hadn't read her novel until Monika gave it to me as she was moving to New Zealand. I was helping her pack up to leave Sydney that day, and my eye wandered over the cover.

"I've never read The God of Small Things," I said. "Whenever I tell someone I'm Indian, the first question I usually get is, 'Have you read The God of Small Things?' I feel like they don't think I'm a proper brown person when I say I haven't."
"Take it," Monika said, "My gift to you: you can be a proper brown person."

I'm lucky to have friends who know when I'm being funny and choose to play along.

So, I read the book. I wasn't all that impressed, honestly, and some of you may remember my review here.

Cut to me in Manchester on any random night, listening to Radio 4 and the rain, and at the end of that month's bookclub show, they invite listeners who want to be at a bookclub with Arundhati Roy to write in.

Good thing I can type fast like lightning. I wrote in. They wrote back. I got myself another copy of the book, because Monika's gift to me was still in Sydney, and I bought a ticket to London.

On June 6th, I was so excited about being in London, that I found myself walking down the street with a big stupid grin on my face, American-tourist-style.
"I'm going to be in a BBC building," I thought, "Oh, wow!"
To be fair, it wasn't raining or even foggy or cold, so I did have *quite* a lot to be happy about.

Some handsome young gentlemen who were walking hand-in-hand down the street saw my goofy smile and said, "Bonjour, mademoiselle!" I don't know why everyone in Manchester's always talking about how cold people are in London. Those two gay men seemed *lovely.*

I had a few hours to kill before the show, which was being taped in Bush House. Which just happens to be right near Covent Garden... which just happens to also have a Tatty Devine boutique. I love small coincidences. I dropped by and bought a new necklace (pictured below), and then wandered around, enjoying the Covent Garden cafes and streets. I found a truly wonderful bookbinder supply shop, and they even do mail-orders. FAB. And Charles Dickens once lived near here! London is so old and cool and interesting and overwhelming, I nearly passed out.

Finally, it was time to go to Bush House, and get in the studio.

Bush House is a gorgeous old building with winding corridors and marble stairwells and a courtyard. They sort of ushered us through very quickly, though, so I only got exteriors.

The studio itself was nothing to look at, but they did give us some free BBC wine. And I got to take a photo with Arundhati Roy, a proper brown woman if ever there was one, by my account.

The bookclub taping went well, and I even got a question in! But of course, I don't know if it'll end up in the final edit of the show. It won't go to air until October– don't worry, I'll put a link up when it does, especially if my question makes the cut!

I left the studio and headed back toward the train station, still beaming and thrilled to have met Ms. Roy, and been in a BBC studio. It was just a lovely day altogether.

And lest you think that's the end of the story, dear reader, read on:

For those who haven't been on an British rail train, the seating on the trains here works like airplanes. As in, you get assigned a seat when you buy a ticket, you sit next to some stranger. 

I found my reserved seat, pulled out my computer, and started watching some This American Life: The TV show. Some guy sat next to me, and as you do in airplanes, we nodded at each other. Made short comments throughout the train ride. Near the end, I muttered, "Christ, it always feels longer coming back. I swear it didn't take this long this morning."

Stranger said, "You went into London and back in one day?"

I explained that I had to be in Manchester the next day, that I had a chance to meet Arundhati Roy, that it was worth it, even if it meant six hours of train in one day.

The train pulled into Manchester Piccadilly, and as we shuffled onto the platform, he asked if I wanted to get a drink. "Sure," I said, because I am adventurous and spontaneous, and because I trust this city to put amazing new people in my path. I will not turn them away.

His name's Mark, and he hates Manchester. Or at least he did then. I told him how much I love this city, and he looked surprised. When he told me why he hated it, I quickly diagnosed the problem. He had not been to the right places. He had not seen Chetham's, he had not been on a single history walking tour. He had not been to the Knott Bar. He had not made the right friends.

"It's your lucky day," I told him, "I am an *excellent* friend to have in this town."

Too late. He was leaving in three weeks, he said, to go back to Scotland, and then hopefully London.

As regular readers and my dear friends and family surely already know, I don't give up so easy.

I was determined to show him, in what little time he had left, that this town could be amazing. I should get paid by MCR tourism for this kind of work, seriously.

The upshot? He left for Scotland last week, but he's coming to visit soon. Another chance to convince another convert.