Posts Tagged ‘consumption’

What A Difference A Day Makes (Or A Week In This Case)

May 16, 2014

The life of an artist is a series of ups and downs, a roller coaster ride between heights of glory, unconditional adoration and roaring applauses, followed by dizzying descents into the pits of brutal rejection, venomous envy and absolute indifference. Encouraged by last weeks intimate performance amongst our friends we descended onto the township of Whangarei with high hopes of being able to charm today’s youth with our latest artistic creation.

The Old Stone Butter Factory looks every bit the place to be in Whangarei. Yet another slab of industrial space is reclaimed for cultural purposes. You enter from the narrow Butter Factory Lane into a patio with wooden tables and chairs and from there your gaze is drawn along a weathered mesh of creepers up along a dirt-grey brick wall before being peeled away by the wandering cumulus clouds of the turquois sky directly overhead. Back down at the level of us common earthlings a grand opening in that same brick wall is framed with deep red curtains drawn to a waste line on either side. Your curiosity pulls you into a warmly lit interior, where a central bar with heavily bearded baristas awaits your orders of delicious treats and dizzying perfumes of coffee and ales. More tables of refreshingly uncoordinated design and style lure for your comfort zone and from a high stone wall to your right ancient tools of the dairy trade gaze warily down on the busy flow of youthful patrons.

‘We cannot live without consumption!’ comes back as an angry answer from behind the limelight as I announce the name we had given our performance. Jess and Dan, the owners of the place had been helpful all the way in setting things up for us here. Since we had first met them through a good friend of ours back in March it had all gone smoothly. We had arrived at the Butter Factory in the morning and found our flyer posted on all the doors of the venue, were given generous access to the upstairs area for a solid rehearsal, and the sound system had been installed early in the afternoon while an impromptu dressing room was installed for us in the future launderette just behind the restrooms. But once they had left, tired as they said from a long and hard day of work, the place turned into a kindergarten.

I don’t want to pick a fight, much less so at the very beginning of the show. Charm goes a long way, I innocently think, and do my best at it. ‘White Sandy Beach’, our first song, was meant to go in that direction by design and it goes through reasonably well. There is some strange howling during the sweeter parts of the lyrics, but the applause sounds honest and solid once we are through. The honey has been administered; it is now time to refocus on the problems.

To set the stage for the next song, ‘Vístete de Rosa’, I take some time to describe the life of an immigrant, more precisely what tends to happen to the identity of the many involuntary immigrants, those who are driven to wander not by their own will, but by the pressures of the economy of exploitation. The atmosphere turns to ice and as I start singing in Spanish we have clearly abused the Kiwi’s patience.

It is a downhill slide from here. The fourth song ends in an eerie silence, out of which a chatter emerges, the chatter of one of those many crowds of absolute indifference only the human being is capable of. I listen into this silence for a bit to see if I can find something to hold onto and pull us forward. I could be dying up here and every single person would look the other way, goes through my head. And in a sense we are! At least our spirits are deflating rapidly. How can you gift somebody with something they don’t want?

There is one more straw in the cup. Our trilingual interpretation of my countryman Mani Matter’s sociopolitical synthesis ‘Dene Wo’s Guet Geit’ seems sufficiently funny to cut through a skeptic mass of envy. At least that was our theory when we designed the program a while back, and now that theory has to stand up to its trial by fire.

I always wanted the guitar strumming for this song to sound a bit like the portrayal of Johnny Cash’s band in the opening of the movie ‘Walk The Line’, where Joaquin Phoenix plays the absent-minded Cash backstage running his thumb over the sharp teeth on the blade of a table saw, while the band raps a mantric guitar riff hyping the foot stomping audience up and beyond the boiling point. Unfortunately my limited technique on the instrument doesn’t quite get it there, and contrary to the well-orchestrated actors on the silver screen, our audience is absolutely non-cooperative. I had pleaded for their attention before starting the song, assured them that we loved them in spite of their uncultured demeanor, but to no avail. This is a horde of unreachable disdain and the notes of my song hit a wall of glass. A teenage girl stumbles through the tables staring at her smart phone, desperately thumbing around on it. The funky gadget frees itself from the imposed embrace of the youthful technophile’s pink fingers and crashes onto the pavement, bouncing twice and then slithering under a table. But a quick and agile chase brings it back into the domain of the rightful owner. The table on the left, where a bald white guy is taking advantage of the short attention span with which today’s youth garners affection, decides to produce its own music with a chorus of babbles that smothers all distinguishable personal responsibilities. While just beyond stage right from some long extinguished ashes rises a drunken phoenix to spread her wings of brown skined despair. She stumbles towards the stage and decides it is totally polite and absolutely appropriate to interfere with Beatriz’ props in a way that must make sense only to her own blurry vision. When the stubborn and desperate want attention there is nothing on Earth to calm their drive to grab any and all opportunities. Up she comes the short flight of stairs that lead her up to our stage, the last sanctuary that has so far been our sole bastion against the madness. Throbbing movements start to convulse inside her body and you can’t be sure if she is mocking something within or without.

That’s it for us, the last slither of a spell has been broken. We haven’t made our way even half way through our program, but decide to call it off. Once the song is at its bitter end we say a hasty goodbye and make our way to the dressing room. On the way there we pass the tall gent we had seen arriving shortly after we got there in the late morning. He had gone straight to the bar and asked for a glass of red. Curious to unravel the mysterious happenings in this place I probe him with a question: Is this all an outrageous act of miscommunication? Quite obviously he must have downed a number of other glasses of red and slung a slurry response my way: ‘Communication is a broad, a broad…’ The sentence is never finished. He fumbles in the pockets of his designer grade pants and flicks a copper coin into the little jar we had optimistically brought to the stage to collect the monetary reward for our artistic endeavors. In his gesture engrained lives the depreciation of the human touch.

We pack up our stuff back in the dressing room, stunned if not a bit bewildered. We had been warned about the Kiwi’s lack of cultural sensitivity and education by many other performers, who had tried their luck here down under, but had never encountered it so right under our skin. One tries always to be overly hesitant when it comes to believing the manifold stories of mankind’s uglier sides. Only once it has hit you in the face can you accept these kinds of things as facts. Now we know! New Zealand does have a tendency to be a cultural education project of the complicated kind! The cute red-haired waitress at the bar says it has happened before, but that nothing can be done. The patrons can only be refused service if they are really drunk, she shrugs. Nothing can be done?! Yes, it looks like I’ve heard that one right! And for tonight the artistic purpose of our efforts stands defeated: We really cannot live without consumption! But we quite clearly are struggling to live within!


Yet Another Giant Step Towards Civilization

April 27, 2014

Paid work has kept me busy over the last couple weeks and as already said, that means that time for reflection is frightfully scarce. But under the hood the concoction of an ever-changing future has been brewing. I’ve been scratching the guitar in every free minute I’m able to extract away from the call of economic duty to practice for our two upcoming shows. “Not For Consumption” is their pretentious title and we’re wandering into new artistic territory. I’ve been honing not only my finger picking skills, but also my voice to the point of daring to sing my heart out in public. The show will feature a program of songs in different languages, each one carefully selected to shed light onto a particular human issue with the hope of providing food for thought and seeds for change. Beatriz with her elaborate set of non-verbal skills will dance to illustrate the points made in the lyrics. A warm-up show will be held amongst friends up here in Opua’s Community Hall this coming Saturday, and then we’ll travel down to Whangarei to throw ourselves in the lion’s den of the general public at the Old Stone Butter Factory, a thriving and throbbing hub of youthful entertainment right in the center of town. We’re doing all this under a new name, since it is in many ways a rebirth of our lately so neglected artistic activities. After much thoughtful deliberation we decided to christen our new ensemble name as Clan Be, hoping once again that through these playful words solitude will transform and grow to become family!

Over the last couple days the air outside has dipped into the cool. It always seems here in New Zealand that the transition from summer to winter happens within a single week. As soon as the merry month of May approaches brisk Southerly winds wipe away the easy comforts of summer, leaves come flying off the trees in yellow, gold and red, sweaters come out of drawers in the evenings and it feels like the typical Kiwi woolies are next in line. For us feeble tropicbirds this means the scent of departure is in the air. But wait! This year the plan is drastically and dramatically different! We will depart, because depart we must, but not on the watery ways and not towards warmer climes.

For three times now we have been trying to nurture our cruising kitty here down under and bring it to the point where we could dare to depart for the next leg of our journey, the long haul towards Southeast Asia. While we have been fortunate enough to be able to crawl under many tables and earn a bit of cash here and there, the fact that this all had to happen on the dark side of legality made it a slow and cumbersome affair. Some money comes in but lots of it goes away. Everything is ridiculously expensive here amongst the Kiwis.

Funny enough it turned out to be officialdom itself that gave us a hint in a different direction. Just as we had entered New Zealand for our third summer of slaving away back in December of last year, we heard that New Zealand Customs had adjusted their rules about the temporary importation of yachts to fall in line with the regulations in the neighboring countries. While before a visiting yacht could only stay in the country for the period of twelve months, before her owners had to deposit a considerable sum of money towards the duty payments securing an eventual importation of the vessel, that period had now been extended to twice as much. Today a visiting yacht is allowed to stay in New Zealand for two full years. While this deposit was due to be returned if the vessel was to leave the country within a reasonable amount of time, it kept us, just like many other yachtsmen with limited financial resources, from being able to “jump” a season, leaving the boat to become green and moldy during the wet winter on a mooring in Northland and jet set to the Northern hemisphere summer and take care of a fruitful and prosperous business somewhere in our homeland. This bureaucratic change provided us all of a sudden and at the perfectly precise moment with the opportunity to consider this option for ourselves. And consider we did, long and hard! It does not make sense, we first felt. We considered some more and it still did not make sense. Even today we still feel it does not make sense. In fact in our mind there is no doubt that in a perfect world, it really does not make sense. But in the wacky world of human greed and grumpiness it sadly does.

Consider this, if you can: After living for pretty much exactly five years the life of austere and almost absolute simplicity on our small but very cozy floating home, with our consumption of worldly goods reduced to a fraction of what even the most progressive thinker and tinkerer in the developed world absorbs, turning every penny twice or thrice between our fingers before hesitantly exchanging it for some needed merchandise, we will now on May 19 sing the John Denver song “I’m leaving on a jet plane”, hop happily on just such a jet plane somewhere on the tarmac of the Auckland International Airport and within 48 hours will have participated in burning enough jet fuel to annihilate the environmental savings of all our careful living over the past couple years, our carbon footprint exploding with the fury of a megaton nuclear warhead set off by a slight wobble of political misunderstanding. In fact we will fly half way around the planet, back to my homeland that is, with high hopes to be able to serve the Swiss in one way or another in exchange for a reasonable amount of money, that will not only return to us the considerable expenses of this fancy travel experience but furthermore provide us the longed for savings needed for continuing our maritime adventures once back down under.

I’m hoping to make myself useful in the profession I was initiated in at the very beginning of my career as a responsible and responsive member of the economic community of modern mankind, as a schoolteacher. I plan to duly reinsert myself in the Bernese educational system and have already sent out applications to some schools that highlight my very best sides and omit most of my shortcomings, looking for relief teaching positions for the period we plan to stay.

In a hasty bout of shortsightedness one could easily say that this looks to be the sad and premature end to our adventures, which always lived by the notion of wanting to escape civilized life and run as far away as possible, but that is definitely not the case. We have long ago come to realize along the winding ways of our journey that there is no running away from anything, much less from the grip of the corporate economy. It has like a terminal stage cancer growth infected every last little corner of the globe. We have also learned that the fancy dream of a shady coconut palm on a blinding white beach overlooking azure waters of a reef is nothing more than the construct of cheap calendar photographers. I’m therefore going to Switzerland with my eyes wide open and with exactly the same intention we ventured out to the lonely isles of the Pacific Ocean: To study humankind’s various ways of coping with the perils of living on a fragile earth and to share our treasured experience as wanderers amongst the sedentary folks.

It will be no doubt an adventure of a very special kind and I promise to take you along in spite of sidestepping and in a certain way undermining this blog’s declared purpose of documenting Aluna’s Travels through the World. While living on land high and dry and miles from the salt of the sea, Aluna will continue to be in our minds. She will continue to do what all boats do, cause us enough worries about her wellbeing half of Earth’s diameter away from us to rob us of our sleep. But she will also be eagerly awaiting our return tied to a sturdy mooring here in the beautiful Bay of Islands, ready to continue anew the journey along the routes less travelled and the ways less trodden. She will give me strength to tackle the onslaught of the distant memories of my youth that will most certainly lurk at every twist and turn of my way back to the nooks and crannies of my homeland.