Right now, the canal by our house is a fey wonderland. I took this photo there.
Christmas in London is a serious affair simply because everything closes. No tube, no buses. No shops or restaurants. The bustling, crowded city turns into a kind of ghost town. Other Americans have said to me, “I always dreamed of a London Christmas” and I’ve often wondered what exactly they meant– surely not the apocalyptic stillness I’ve encountered, having no one to see and no where to go on that day.
There is the argument that Dickens invented Christmas. Perhaps these Americans are thinking of A Christmas Carol— ragmuffins in the snow, conscience-pricking ghosts? Or is it something quaint, mulled and jolly– a received protestant memory? I suppose it’s where the archaic “Merry” comes from in the American “Merry Christmas”– this throwback of an idea. London is the Victorian city celebrating in ye olde stylie. Except it’s not. The only truth in these fantasies is that London at Christmas is a heap of juxtapositions, and maybe that’s why it’s amazing. It’s the one time of year you might have a Londoner smile at you for no reason, and that shopkeeper who you’ve seen twice weekly for years now might just let on that he remembers you. Of course, after the New Year things go back to brisk, slightly hostile anonymity.
Yule has always been my favourite time of year. I love the long nights and in London the nights are even longer. It’s harder to forget the pagan roots of the holiday– the lights and decorations are consolation in the darkness and the bitter cold. There’s less “Happy Birthday Jesus” and more puddings, ales, mistletoe and holly.
It’s easier to avoid the consumer cataclysm in London. I’m sure it exists on Oxford Street, the King’s Road and Carnaby Street, but if you don’t go there you don’t have to deal with it. If you do have to go to a store you’re more likely to hear a bizarre (to my American ears anyway), new-wave take on Christmas: Wham, Band Aid or even the Plastic Ono Band and Wizzard instead of the same schmaltz you’d hear in American retail establishments. Less Chipmunks and more Fairytale of New York.
And there’s something modest about the celebrations. As far as I can tell the big festivity here is the office party, and barring that, the coach ride to see relatives. Last night I was at our local pub and there was a table of celebrants having roast dinner. They all wore paper crowns (save two killjoys who took themselves too seriously. I believe you can judge the character of a person based on whether they are willing to wear the paper crown.). They read each other the stupid jokes out of the crackers which they pulled with childish glee, even though the lot were middle aged.
But there is the bizarro mirror, of course– being an expat here I see the British indulge in a Yank-style Christmas with I kind of sardonic guilt– it’s full on Hollywood romantic comedy, credits rolling over Louis Armstrongs’ It’s a Wonderful World. (The film Love, Actually kind of sums up this adaptation in a horrifying way.) Today two Radio 6 DJ’s I love to hate– Russel and John– played christmas music as they got drunk on cider and rose petal vodka this morning. And they played typical Yank Christmas songs, snarking all the way but still loving it, probably because they were opening gifts that contained even more alcohol. Damn if I didn’t get all warm and fuzzy, too. Especially when they played the atypical Ramone’s Merry Christmas, I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight. *sniffle*
But then, this time of year, almost anything sets me off, a song, a string of lights, a commercial for an ipod, even.
So today, after listening to Christina’s brilliant Xmas song, Things Fall Apart, I went for an astringent walk down the canal near my flat– frost-speckled webs drawn across the skeletal vegetation, only the thorns were left clinging to the frozen bank. The fog was so thick and ghostly, it blanked everything out– every tinselled sentimentality.
Last night my friend Kate and I hit the V&A late– it was some kind of couture evening, so they had movies, wine, DJ’s and workshops. We went to a pattern cutting workshop taught by knitwear designer Juliana Sissons. She was a pattern cutter for Alexander McQueen. We learned how to make a pattern block and got started on making a corset pattern. She gave us handouts for making a 19th century corset and I hope to attempt making one.
She was a great teacher, but beyond that her knitwear designs were spectacular. This is one of her designs to the left. Here are her designs from London Fashion Week, 2006. Totally inspiring. It made me want to break out of the chunky knitting i’ve been doing and really dive into some lingerie inspired matrix-y sweaters.
We watched most of The Secret World of Haute Couture. The director’s persistence in gaining access to the highly guarded world of designers and their obscenely rich clients was admirable, and the film argued convincingly that this was a dying art, as even rich people are wearing pret-a-porter now. But the hideous women clients and the designers themselves seem to belong to such a rarefied and sychophantic world where starving was openly mentioned numerous times– it was hard to feel convinced by any of it. We found ourselves laughing openly at much of it. After watching countless rich ugly women in ugly clothes, we decided to go get some wine, listen to the DJs playing remixes of 80’s stuff like Bronski Beat and people watch. Maybe it’s time for couture to die, I thought while looking around at the street-wise fashion in the main hall. I love people watching at the V&A– it’s the one place in London where you can count on seeing people dressed in high spirits.
This weekend I went to Shoreditch with my friend Kate for a noise show there. There were 6 or so bands playing, and I only stayed for a few, having an unfortunate “how will I get home at 11:30 from here” moment, even though I really wanted to see Jackie-O Motherfucker. It sucks to live way out in Hanwell and miss all the good things. Anyway, The venue was really cozy and reminded me of places in SF that I loved. It made me wish I lived over on that side of town in Hackney.
Highlights were paranormal hi-jinx of The Polly Shang Kwan Band. Everyone should go listen to Victim and Survivor on their MySpace page now to hear something that sounds like the aural landscape of Walpugisnacht and the birthing of werewolves. I can’t believe I just told you to go to MySpace. You know it’s good if I’m doing that.
The duo with the unfortunate name of Talibam! blew me away with their touretted-jazz version of Smoke on the Water. Here you can see them playing a morphing version of A Love Supreme:
This was someplace else, but you get the idea. Dig the guy’s panther shirt. He was wearing that on Sunday, too. Rad.
My evening ended with a bang, thanks to the punk-lounge-cabaret act that followed the snore-fest that was Sounds of the Exquisite Corpse– (who all sat on the floor so no one could see what they were doing). Anyway, I was just getting ready to leave when I saw two American dudes in 60’s suits with a drum set tucked away next to the vendor table. One of them was the drummer from Talibam!. Pretty soon they’re wailing out Girl from Ipanema and I want to marry them both. And they were heckled by hipsters, which made me want to marry them again. They were a bit like James Chance by way of clown school.
Here they are playing in waist-deep Coney Island seawater.
I recently collaborated with artist Edith Abeyta. From her release:
The catalog for the exhibition is a specially commissioned three-part
prose and poetry volume by Allyson Shaw
https://feralstrumpet.wordpress.com/ Her text is integral to each
tale/ installation and its optimum utilization would be to read each
corresponding section while viewing the installation. An ever better
scenario (is it possible to exceed optimization?) is to have a friend
reading it to you while traveling through the exhibition.
52 artists participated in the Blue Drawing portion of Cry Me a River.
Rheim Alkadhi, Katrina Alexy, Claudia Alvarez, Abbie Bagley-Young,
Sunny Buick, Alison Casson, Suzanne Coady, Shannon Collins, Susan
Crawford, Hope Dector, Pirkko De Bar, Ruth Dennis, Anne Devine, Irana
Douer, Rebecca Ebeling, Beth Elliott, Christina Empedocles, Elisabet
Ericson, Carol Es, Georgina Fineman, Betsy Lohrer Hall, Christine
Hawthorn, Syl Hillier, Peregrine Honig, Lindsay Jessee, Denise
Johnson, Marnia Johnston, Mary Kilvert, Mung Lar Lam, Miriam Libicki,
Hilary Lorenz, Allison Manch, Susanna Meiers, Nancy Mozar, Merry-Beth
Noble, Saelee Oh, Susie Oh, Naoke Okabe, Ahndraya Parlato, Charlene
Roth, Isabel Samaras, Colleen Sanders, Yong Sin, Jessica Newman
Skretny, Lisa Solomon, Michele Theberge, Deborah Thomas, Rebecca
Trawick, Kate Van Steenhuyse, Sarah Wagner, and Kate Williamson
An almost daily documentation of the installation progress can be
viewed on Marshall Astor’s site
Salty: three tales of sorrow
November 19 – December 14, 2007
Cake and Ice Cream Social Reception: November 20, 2007, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
El Camino College Art Gallery
16007 Crenshaw Boulevard
Torrance, CA 90506
Anyone in OC should really go– the show looks amazing!