I watched the grapes vines change from green to yellow to orange and then to brown. With the arrival of dormancy the leaves fall off and the cold nights got colder. Before leaving Argentina a trip to the lovely city of Catamarca was made. The mountain scenery of this region is dotted with cactii (Cactaceae). The largest plant is called Cardon Grande or Echinopsis Terscheckii and grows to a height of 7 metres. These spiky soft trees survive with little water and every now and then surprisingly spurt out a brilliant flower. These plants reminded me of people who operate in a similar way. I have met extremely tough characters on my travels with numerous defences but who are actually tender and able to create beauty. The jump between the horror that humans create and the beauty is always astonishing.
I am now far from cacti terrain, sitting here in an Amsterdam attic near the popular Vondel park where I saw a very Dutch contraption. It was a vehicle that combined cycling and drinking. A small bar on a platform with enough bar stools for 8 drinkers and one barman placed on wheels. The bar/bike was propelled rapidly around the park by a system of pedals pushed by the drinkers. I could not work out if it was stupid or fun.
Amsterdam is its usual jolly self as summer is on the doorstep, people zoom about on bicycles on their way to play or work. My fourth exhibition at Suzanne Biederberg gallery in the pretty Jordaan sector of town kicked off with art, drinks and friends from a number of European cities. Holiday from oneself was the shows title and this was also my desire the next day due to a little bit too much celebrating. Dutch herrings were required for breakfast to repair the damage.
I found myself in Cairo for a week due to a surprise invitation from a French diplomat. A hot noisy city constructed from new kitsch, old crumbling buildings, very ancient monuments and about 20 million people. A lack of rain helps to create a blanket of dust which colours the city a dirty sand tone except the colourful veils worn for tradition or fashion. People seem to survive by not sleeping, using car horns and a direct form of humour to ease their frustrations and poverty.
At night by the Nile when things cool down and the gaudy restaurant boats cruise along the river the chaos all blends together and seems ok. The mess of the mega-city becomes fluid like flowing Arabic script. Also observed was Queen Maatkare’s mummified baboon, the bent pyramid at Dashur and the delicious sweet apple flavoured smoke wafting from a thousand and one sheesha (water pipes).
It looks like Tokyo out the window today. A few days pit stop here to fulfil a strong desire from my youth to visit Japan. This city of millions (people and money) is packed with extremes and this month the sticky chemical weather makes air conditioning a fine invention. Geisha’s float by youthful punks adorned with nappy pins, sumie ink paintings by drunken monks are priceless artworks while manga pulp is devoured by the tome, pachinko parlours run on gambling frenzy and a deafening mechanical noise but just around the corner are serene moss gardens decorating ancient temples, food is served on earthy raku ceramic plates and in the other hand a hi-tech cell phone connects, computes and entertains globally, various bushido codes formalize violence while the pathetically cute hello kitty doll simply waves at anything and everyone. It’s a neat, safe but intense beast of a city. To ease this non stop hyperactive neon and bamboo input a visit to the 14th century Jizo-in Bamboo Zen temple in Kyoto was needed along with the consumption of yakitori, shabu shabu, sea urchin sushi and a little iced sake to refuel.
Sadly Japan was only a tiny 6 day visit. Moving on to Bangkok for a few days to pick up art equipment and begin acclimatization for the tropics. Bangkok as always involves catching up with old friends, drinking beer and a food frenzy. Thai food being just too good to say no to. Khmer food will be on the menu in the next update. I will be exhibiting at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Cambodia in Phnom Penh. Opening 5th August. See you there.