A Journal of the Plague Year Day 7

Tuesday, 24th March 2020

Lockdown. As of last night, PM Boris Johnson came on to let us know that we’re no longer allowed out other than one exercise (type) a day, to go shopping (only food, pet stores and pharmacies) or to work (essential workers, or if you ‘absolutely have to’). The Telegraph of course emblazoned its headline this morning as ‘The End of Freedom’.

We’ll get fined otherwise, and if we hang out in groups of more than 2 it’ll get broken up, similar to the days of Thatcherism where more than 8 people around a radio constituted an illegal rave. I don’t however see myself joining a Reclaim the Streets brigade.

TOPSHOT-BRITAIN-HEALTH-VIRUS

It’s not so much that the lockdown is now in place, but why it took so long, given the track record of not acting quickly enough in Italy and Wuhan, alongside the proven benefits that South Korea, Singapore and the rest of China managed to pull off (for the time being -reinfection is still a fear, albeit with standard testing at every corner). Opinion posits this late joining to the party has been BoJo’s long championing of personal liberties; he famously wrote in his former Telegraph column that the ban on public smoking was akin to killing Iraqis to free them.

Well after the droves of people witnessed across the country’s parks and beauty spots over the sunny weekend, he had to bite the bullet. It sounds like in the West that’s exactly what is needed in order to keep the population indoors: guns, with the army having to be called in across the continent – Italy alone has had hundreds of thousands of people fined already. The army helicopters did a flypast over our estate last night, spotting some chinooks out of the eight before we stopped counting.

As mentioned before, us Brits are a libertine bunch, a bit too entitled since the days of Empire, and in contrast to a Germany where the death toll per capita is lower than its neighbours, perhaps due to a more heedful populace in a regimented Germanic stereotype. Albeit Austria -more specifically the apres-Ski resort of Ischgl -has now been pinpointed as a main source for infecting much of Mitteleuropa, notably a majority of the spreader Germans and Danes and as far away as Iceland. All thanks to a sick barman (who blew whistles to clear the drunken droves engaging in body fluid beer pong), and an ensuing cover-up, the management and council in cahoots. Austria had consistently denied the link until it became too obvious, with hundreds of patients sharing that same hand-warming, shoulder-rubbing vector-point.

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The US too appears ever hassled, with its right to bear arms in a similar cultural quandary as the UK, whereby it’s populace may now prove to be its own worst enemy. It’s one thing to have 165 million people left with a month’s worth of money before facing homelessness and destitution, as the current fiscal roll out is promising, it’s another to give them guns to go with their desperation. The Stateside press is fervent with calls to take out Nancy Pelosi, who undid the emergency draft of economic measures after noticing it did nothing for the common man and a lot for uncommon, big business. Predictably so -barging into DC and plonking down her 1,400 page amendment as a rebuttal to much more rebuttal. Going by what the Republicans had intended your average white collar worker would get $1200 a head, while blue collar families $600, as a random example.

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Meanwhile the Democrats took the opportunity to attempt a sea change in policy to come with the draft, from affirmative action rolled out into the corporate echelons to gender/ minority equity in the payscale, from halving greenhouse gases to increased union power, freer healthcare to free internet. This has of course stymied the fast-tracked path of the bailout, as businesses continue to fold and a large chunk of the population waits in limbo, attack rifles readied.

The fact that for most Americans keeping yourself in work is vital to paying for your healthcare, has become a vicious Catch 22 in these climes, whereby even the threat of illness negates work which in turn negates any chance of proper treatment, or will further indebt you for decades. This is what Obamacare, increasingly indentured, attempted to bypass. It seems the end of the American Dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, even if that entails for some, the white picket fencing off from community and a God-given right to bear arms, has come unplanned. Not in the shape of the Red Scare, foreign attack, immigrant takeover, economic overshadowing, nuclear war or a Hollywood alien race, but a mere virus exposing the flaws in every society so far. Plus a global, capitalist system utterly reliant on unceasing spending, no matter whether you’re in Louisiana or Lusaka.

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The fact Trump is now seeking to reinstate this system to the tune of untold dying is a sign of our times, and the monster we’ve nurtured, whereby dollars > death. The House Senate is now looking to shorten lockdowns, if even have them in place, which isn’t exactly democratic in any way given the commercial lobbying (read: corruption) and the lack of people voting on their own fates.

Yesterday we watched Doomsday Preppers straight after BoJo’s speech, which wasn’t the best choice in hindsight. I ended up yelling at the screen after having every button pressed repeatedly in seeing grown men (all terse, overweight and suburban) bring up their kids and inveigle other families and long-suffering wives into a life of unputdownable threat and big boys’ army games. Which got me triggered, so to speak. Watching white-socked wannabees bowling around pristine lawns armed with uzis and a well-tended fear of cityfolk, or the sweaty ranch-owning narcissist who puts his kids in life-or-death scenarios as per norm, in preparation for a terrorist takeover. His hiring of local law enforcers -constructively nurturing more trigger happiness -to stage a shouty ransoming of family members, guns to heads was especially revealing. All in aid of seeing what the 7 year old would do (he caved and put the shotgun down, bless his little warm, living hands).

I honestly think there is an unsaid link between our sociopathy spectrum levels with a hangover from our predatory evolution. That those on the far right have been shown to share nightmares of being hunted, hounded by constant threat (darkies chasing them with machetes, feminazis throwing tampons, trees getting hugged) -and that we ourselves demonstrate when put in the corner. When forced to defend our loved ones the last feelings of empathy or concern for the Other (side) goes well out the reinforced window. It’s a certain mix of cold disregard with wheedling attention and premonition that is a pathological condition methinks, and the series is making the most of it. I was shocked to find it was from the National Geographic, though of course majority stakes went to Rupert Murdoch a few years ago, and the channel’s always been in bed with Fox since 2001.

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Anyhoo they must be loving life right now. So I am not convinced this world deserves us, and that we deserve the world, regardless of how glossy a cover it makes and how, like most relationships in life, we pretend to care and support each other.

More commuting horrors of the tube were snapped this morning – but before we tut our middle class tongues, look again at the pics and note this is just the normal 5-7am rush hour for the poor as it is every day – construction crews, supermarket shelvers, carers, caterers, cleaners, transportation workers who have to come in from far to service the centre. Take away their trains and frequencies and it can only get worse -it’s a telling sign that somewhere like Denmark puts on more trains to enable social distancing, and we do the opposite to systemise it. Is that plain stupidity or just the usual punishing of the poor, at best callous, at worst intentional?

These people are not wilfully there, they are not congregating at sunrise for a latte in the park. They are trying to survive, and running a new gauntlet to do so; choice being a luxury we may have and they do not.

In short this is more a picture of desperation than disregard.

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There is always an underlying economy beneath our everyday, the background workers shunted into fruit picking, manual labour, cleaning and human exploitation from nail bars to prostitutes to garage workers to sweatshop droves in territories beyond. The fact most Londoners have no idea there is a peak travel time at dawn, where it’s standing room only on buses and trains, so long as you live out in Zones 4-9, and are up early enough to witness it, perhaps when catching your flight to more aspirational destinations.

You can actually work out how many slaves work for you here; take note that by namedropping you live in London you actually entail more indentured labour than if you opted for Dubai, pariah of a vast underclass behind the steel and glass, just less hidden. This appears to be our question in these days of our lives, do we look out for that unseen economy? Do we worry for and change habits for the untold numbers at the edges of society, the shadows in our peripherals, blocking the sun? The old, the sick, the alone, the homeless, the vulnerable who will be dying soon in forgotten wards and warehouses across the country in the next few weeks.

Italy has seen a fall in deaths again today, though still in the hundreds. It may be over the worst, though Spain looks soon to take that mantle. The UK waits in the wings, and a judgement on what our policy of half-arsed mitigation has sown. When push comes to shove, and for all our navel-gazing entreaties, how much will we look out for others, or take up arms against them? There’s a lot to be said about being alone in a crowd.

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https://elpais.com/elpais/2020/03/22…tml#foto_gal_4

 

In other news J, who was a photographer and artist in another life has had his image on valuable items, for an upcoming auction (online of course) added to the Chiswick house feed where he works. Very apt, and a sign of the times. When I saw it, jaw-dropped, I did actually ask where he got them from. What is it that we hold dear, no really?

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John Rogers, @durbinlewis

“Right now in today’s world our perception of value might have shifted somewhat since 1766, when Sir Thomas Broughton and Mary Wicker had their coat of arms engraved upon this soup tureen as part of their marriage silver. Nevertheless the timeless quality of the silver sold through the Wakelin partnerships continues to captivate collectors and aesthetes alike.

Lot 580 on the 25th March Silver & Objects of Vertu auction

 

Just saw two of our neighbours from the window, coming up with their shopping (Sainsbury’s looks like), and proving life can be normalised despite. The sun is out and it almost looks a vision of lost mundanity, with their produce and smiles and nice clothing, all satisfaction arising in a time of want. They’ve even managed to find loo roll.

The stairs, that’s where we’ll get them.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

 

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 2

Thursday 19th March 2020

Today was to be the new routine I’d set out for myself to structure the day. The alternative being where you wake, spend untold hours in thrall of the internet, then drop out of bed log-like, and rustle something up in your underwear (who needs PJ’s?), perhaps staring at a microwave woodenly or eating jam back under the covers, to more internet, hours irrelevant, each day or night merging and drifting like clouds. To start smelling, hair/ beard/ armpits a nest, clothes a memory, monosyllabic, perhaps drooling.

Against this scenario I aim to wake, and:

  • check the situation online -the ubiquitous news sites and chat fora, an hour tops.
  • Then lug myself to wash, do my hair, choose some proper attire (avoid ‘comfortable’ attire), perhaps a hat why ever not.
  • No breakfast, I’m never hungry in the mornings and it’ll save on the food. Instead write, work on the book, the diary, creative stuff like starting a photo essay.
  • Tidy, the little odds and ends. To music.
  • Make lunch, sit down to eat, communally if plausible.
  • Learn a language – carry on with online French lessons, start Mandarin.
  • Exercise. Make use of all our gym stuff I salvaged from the communal one.
  • Watch an episode of something, hour tops. Take a very privated walk, if in lockdown just the gated area (the postwar Estate was fenced off in the Eighties due to crime, a process now illegalised in London but done so before the law came into force).
  • Write on the book
  • No tea, dinner.
  • Check in on the craziness online.
  • Movie
  • Wash, cuddle, sleep.

Well one out of two ain’t bad. Will try harder.

Yesterday it had gone swimmingly, I genuinely felt better for having done all of that. Today I spent hours online in bed, fell out to brush my teeth then fell asleep again for 4 hours. Not the best start, tapping away in my dressing gown, but onwards.

Today’s chart:

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Roylab Stats, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDGiCfCZIV5phsoGiPwIcyQ

Yesterday I got news from a Civil Servant that they’d been told not to enter London from today, and that the M25 was about to become a new non-porous border. Then frantic messaging to all I knew on the coming lockdown. It even got leaked to some of the papers within the hour, not just in the UK but in Italy, who printed that London was falling. Coupled with that was footage of soldiers marching down our local High Street, that set Twitter aflame with rumour of the impending sanction.

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However we’ve all woken up, spied people on the street (shopping as per norm) and realised this has not come to pass. The soldiers snapped in Clapham were cadets, off to a local training centre, and apparently they do that every week. Well, now I feel a bit of a plum, having told everyone that’s dear to me (and discovering only then that some of them had fled to their native France and Australia), but assuaged by the fact they then probably did the same. The papers are now hinting it will come in force tomorrow, Friday. Luckily we’ve done our hoarding already, and will miss out on the shopping circus every supermarket must now be in, their shelves emptied and customers only allowed 3-5 purchases a pop.

I saw a video today of East Asian women in a supermarket being harrassed about wearing face masks, and why they were covering up they were sick. The accuser then summoned the staff, after which the group were thrown out by the security guards. I can’t describe how palpitating a mix of rage and sadness I felt watching that, especially with a bit of a familiar past to draw on.

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East Asians are the most likely to be racially harassed, to have racial violence upon the person, and the least likely to be promoted despite having the best grades, performance, and education levels (aka the Bamboo Ceiling). East Asians come shackled to the idea they are meek and thus an easy target, and living as one is a minefield, that directly affects your life plan no matter how hard you try and ignore it. Their ancestral culture an automatic mockery from the sound of the language to the food they eat to the way they look, to the regimes they entertain, to the usual alienness of blood libel – in short no matter how laurel-lying they are, they will always be lesser -in emotional intelligence, or EQ, in culture, in viability. Any intelligence is the semi-autistic variety, those world-beating grades or IQ scores passed off as rote learning, a stark lack of higher job prospects is excused by a bundle of ‘studies’ projecting it’s their Confucian upbringing and cultural cues to blame (despite the fact there exist managers across Asia, and they function just as well) and not the usual workplace bias as suffered by women, other races, LGBTQIA, the disabled, the overweight, the accented, and pretty much anything that’s not the Tall Heterosexual White Male. Sorry if you happen to be that, but you get a privilege that’s not in your control -to be treated more as human, the rest more as sub. Not your fault, but ours, we treat you better, all you 5%’ers of the world.

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And don’t even get me started on relationship prospects, where the swipe is the last great bastion (and indicator) of socially acceptable racism. How EA men fall short, so to speak, tarred by the same tiny brush that refuses to entertain the thought it might not always be the case for every er, member of a 2 billion strong people. I’d get it out, but that would be positively louche. -While women are rocketed way higher, in the objectification kind of way, you’re either a gogo girl or geisha, just don’t take your make up off. And never, ever burp or fart or nowadays, COUGH.

I could go on for days about this, thanks to an upbringing on a skinhead /army estate in the metro’s most racially divided wards, in their glory years of Thatcherism. The kind where, like missiles of a bygone age, bricks, sticks and stones came over the wall, 6 year old sisters got beaten up, shit got smeared,  words got sprayed, cars got leaned out of and flob got thrown. Where walking past any playground was to be avoided, and every street heads swivelled to wherever you were GPS located, meerkat style. Then your schools and oh-so-open-minded art college accusing you of plagiarising books because your essays too accomplished, while your mate who hastily copied your notes last minute would get the grade. Even after I left I’ve come across it in almost every workplace I’ve had, sometimes overt, most often insititutionalised. And no one fucking talks about it, how it’s acceptable to say and do certain things to one race but not the others. A facade I sometimes feel only I see.

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Says it all really, you not only have to battle the damn street, but the establishment, and a complicit society. That was the Eighties and Nineties, when people were less ‘woke’, yet now I see it re-emerging again in the Twenties, in light of this first globalised disaster. I see how this spread from a culture that apparently tortures animals as per norm (that evidence of low EQ, inhumane), eating them in disgusting ways (alien, blood libel, civilisational war, dirty, laughable), then spreading it through complicit government cover ups (not to be trusted, inscrutable, indoctrinated). Not that most people go around thinking all those things, but it does reinforce the assumptions they make when coming across it.

When I tell people the things I’ve seen over the years they’re appalled, and all this build-up over the past few months is bringing it to a crux. The Taiwanese girl at work who a customer was ‘disgusted’ with, and dropped her money on the till in a show of non-contact, the unremitting stares I get on the street, Benny Hill style seat-swapping on the bus, then reading the stories of the randomised people assaulted (often women), the humiliation of public tirades, avoidance and harassment on PT (to the point many changed their commute), the pupils being sent out for coughing or getting their jaws broken in the playground, people turned away from every hotel and now more, of complicit businesses backing up the racism.

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A bitter note in the fear. It doesn’t help, these divisions, those attempts at blame. I do see that people can’t hack it and have to take it out on another -a show of weakness rather than strength that’ll always manifest our societies, on all sides. From the idioted Chinese generals hinting the disease was left by the US Army during their recent training exercises in the area (with reminders the U.S. spread Mexican Swine Fever that killed 1.4 million), to the insistence it’s a ‘Chinese’ disease by POTUS and his inner circle. All alongside the usual calls in the press for who to crucify even as we wallow with greater priorities right now. My friend who has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is finding things harder, his fear of germs ratcheting to a peak on top of everything else. This is similar for East Asians, myself included, the layers of fear on top of fear.

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Ok, breathe (through face mask I’m too scared to wear).

I suddenly feel now I’ve written too much on this. A Pandora’s box I always look back on and get embarrassed, if ever I pique on the subject. It’s a bit like name dropping Dinosaurs in earshot of Richard Hammond from Jurassic Park. But let’s not talk politics, despite it being so Right Now. I even castigated finger-pointing only what? a whole 24 hours ago in the last post. Some notes:

  • The tenancy agency rang back (sound of numerous phones going off in the background), sounding annoyed and terse -I cut to the chase and got him to say basically nothing had changed for anyone who couldn’t pay, as if coronovirus wasn’t on, and that we’d contact him from there if we couldn’t. The government announced shortly after there would be some provisions of people like ourselves, private renters without income/ new dependents, which we await the deets with bated breath, excuse the pun.
  • The streets were yesterday moderately populated (although nowhere near as London normally is, which has nothing but crowds all day and night), of the usual hoarder hordes but also quite a few trying to make the best of their new time off, with the parks and cafes full and the pub to boot, a group of men carrying packs of lager somewhere. The sun had come out. Today is grey, the train station that faces our window silent, when usually it’s a constant bevy of noise and announcements – it’s the world’s busiest with a train on average every 30 seconds, a vast interchange rather than a main terminus, of which London has nine. It’s obsolete now, along with 40 tube stations closed.

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  • I am thinking of cutting my hair. Maybe dyeing it, my one chance to go all K-Pop and crazy without work to worry about. But then I want it long on top for my trip to New York, a holiday planned pretty much all my life and set for May, though likely it’ll be canceled. Such a distant perception these days, almost surreal when you scroll back and see images of people outside enjoying themselves, even just vague figures in the streets doing their day to day without such a specific care in the world.
  • Some leading members of government over the other side of the pond are calling it now the end of America. The effect of that on the populace, dealing with no end of shit right now, is not heartening, at a time we need it most.
  • China has announced zero new cases, for the past few days its handful have been coming off the planes. The web is alive with disbelief and recrimination in light of this, rather than hope.

Oops, there I go again. Politicising thingies.

On a smaller scale, got some tidying to do. J will likely want to polish his silver, a thing he does for his work which I see in a sense of calm, and the appreciation of detail, and beauty. We need this right now.

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I will get changed. I will do my hair. I will cook lunch. I will write some of The Book. I will not look at the news. I will read a book. About a house in the forest.

It’s only fucking Day 2.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020

Wednesday 18th March

Today I woke to the same routine these past few weeks, increasingly set every time I opened my eyes and reached for my laptop or phone. Then to scroll bleary-eyed through the news of ratcheting tension, emblazoned in headlines of school closures, lockdowns, crashing markets, panic buying and ghastly figures updated every hour. They say the higher a death toll goes the less people can conceive it, the scale of destruction getting more abstracted the worse it is. I don’t think it applies here, in this instance where we’ve tracked the gradual rise into exponential reaches that double every three days. The lists of countries multiplying alongside, the imagined scenarios fueling a sense of doom, global doom.

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https://www.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html?fbclid=IwAR0p3Bk2zOBydl0Zyo2OYAnuEXCIB-aqOyI4brLYy4ophiIXahNqT2riXMw#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6

At one point last night, after watching a mindless action movie on Netflix (Pacific Rim II, lurid, banal, unlikely to have a third) I stopped and my ebullience suddenly ebbed. Was this the end of times, was I unlucky enough to be living now? A once in a lifetime experience they say. But then we should remember that millions have had this same clouded prospect, not just clouded but tornadic – Syria, Iraq, Yemen, DPR Congo, Libya, South Sudan as society was whipped away around them. These conflicts prove just as abstracted to this day, when we are a mere spa break in comparison of worry and anguish, and the uncontrolled, unhelped death of your loved ones.

sLIS2017003D | Aleppo After the Fall

 

My partner A lost his job yesterday, my flatmate J is awaiting his fate in an announcement today, where he works as head of silverware in a West London auction house. We drafted a letter to the agency about our situation and their avenues of support available for us not being able to pay the rent in these trying times (yes we used that phrase, at John’s historicist suggestion). They must be inundated. Then it was the phone call home, that phone call home I’d been dreading all day, to find out the situation with The Family. My mother, 78 and still working in a factory, in part to support my sister (long story, do ask) may be quarantined as high risk for up to 4 months according to the government advice, or should I say, hint of what is soon to be imposed. My other sister in the process of moving back to the UK from the Netherlands, and possibly also out of work. Well, that escalated quickly. Almost overnight I was faced with the prospect of now having four grown dependents and myself on my one wage.

Thankfully, although the Natural History Museum closed its doors yesterday for the foreseeable next two months, I will still be paid. Turns out so will Mum, and my sister in the Netherlands, with her own company in science writing (I’ll just namedrop Atria Communications here) is working with the disease experts and is mobile, where the acronym WFH has become suddenly relevant and widespread (though commonly misread as WTF, it correctly shares the same impact of the word). So down from a possible four to just a plus one. I should be very, very thankful, I’m lucky enough to be waged with the government, and my mother and sister are in the science sector.

Most people I know are not so lucky, living from wage to wage, often abroad from their homelands and familial support network to boot. It’s stark how very quickly the gig economy has been so exposed to economic ruin, not to mention the fragility of property bubbles and rental market, notably in London where no one working, middle or even upper-middle class can realistically afford to own a property unless you like converting a walk-in closet in Clapham, complete with a shower under your bunk bed that dribbles onto a toilet. Or a bed-in-shed in Slough, one of a rash on tens of thousands now hidden throughout London’s leafy suburbia, of illegally built, money-making favelas. Thus a vast proportion rent their abode, and a vast proportion are now looking at homelessness. How did it come to this?

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I saw four homeless people today, three I suspected of being the variety who beg but find sheltered accommodation at night (appearing well fed, dressed, clean, I know a roster of them), but one who was genuinely sleeping in a streetside alcove, wreathed in soiled camping gear. I have no idea what will happen to these people. I also saw the very old, frail, and the heavily disabled, all of them on their own, clutching empty shopping bags on the way to the shops, and the circus that awaited them. Yesterday a woman in a wheelchair blocked everyone from getting baskets as she tried to get her goods into one of them (she was buying a large houseplant, I have no idea what for), but I almost caved right there and cried. I helped her out, but later heard others asking her if she was okay. Thankfully there’s still that. The mood was tense, every face deeply serious from staff to shoppers alike, but no one busting out into arguments, slappy fights or racing down the aisles, nor complaining about the epic queuing or emptied shelves.

The people are panic buying -game theory really, if one person does it everyone else has to, or they’ll lose out. Then we complain about everyone else, like how we moan about the traffic while sitting in it ourselves, or how the lovely tourist sites are overrun with tourists these days, as if we have a privilege to experience it over any given member of that yappy, sportswear-laden tour group. These days is a potion of concern, for ourselves, our families and the disadvantaged, in an uneasy mix of conflicting priorities, as we go for that last toilet roll, as we see the old lady standing destitute behind us.

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The UK government, to much fanfare, had recently announced it was following an experimental policy of mitigation rather than extending the containment stage. Hence why, in contrast to our European neighbours, there has been no lockdown, not of schools, of pubs, of gatherings, of farming festivals and horse racing stadia, of incoming visitors, or people in general when it could have made a difference. Despite that China already provided an MO in the form of Hubei Province, roughly the same size and population of the UK, that has proven to work, where we can learn from their open-sourced mistakes and successes. However one of these scenarios also happens to be cheaper on the economy – for all the talk on  ‘sombrero flattening’ no measures have been taken to effectively do so, as yet:

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The proven path so far is lockdown, infrastructure to feed that lockdown, ICU’s, and draft hospitals, with strict quarantining (where the staff get suited up 2 or 3x over, and no object entering those wards can ever leave again, hence why many healthcare workers had to buy new phones to discard later). It saved China, but took out two months of its economy. Britain seems to have tried to have its cake and eat it in contrast to the rest -to let the infection move through the populace while the elderly would be housed away, thus saving the bedspace. However, the Imperial College yesterday released its models on what this would result in, to both the UK and US govts it advises, alongside publishing it to the press. Over 200,000 dead and a healthcare system overrun to the scale of 8x over, and possibly 10x that for the States. This is why the government is about-facing to change tack once again, and why a lockdown is likely to be imminent.

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I cashed in an electronics voucher today, £100 worth, to buy an upgraded phone I didn’t really need, but in order to save my purchase should that company tank during the lockdown. Everyone in there was doing the same. The three workers were gloved up to the max, and wiping down everything passing over the counter, while thrash metal played apocalyptically. A young Spanish guy bought the phone I wanted, his old phone recently kaput and having little choice but to buy a new one before his replacement could be sent (if ever it would reach him), in a time when he could contact family, and where communication would be the last link that cannot, should not fail, no matter what.

Trying times indeed. I often think of what is important to me in life, often. Everyone is saying it’s like a film. Yet this is not so much a Hollywood disaster with gung ho renegades, rousing speeches and wavering flags in the background, to fistpumping and flowering explosions  -rather it’s more a surrealist study in existentialism. The world is increasingly looking black and white, and poignant. I’m not looking forward to an increase in pace, though admittedly holding out for a Deus ex Machina (my First World privilege right there) to throw some contrived lifeline. We can but hope, to Keep Calm And Carry On.

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Just try not to remember that the phrase was dreamt up by a wartime government facing imminent invasion and, unknown to them, the planned execution of the entire adult male population. Thankfully that never transpired, and if we keep our heads level and remember we’re not facing Mad Max or alien armies here -and at worse 3% mostly will succumb at or beyond their given life expectancy anyway -we can get through this together. Game theory once again applies: help out your neighbour or stranger, and the same will likely happen to you or your loved ones wherever they may be. But know this, we’re in this together whether we like it or not. There will be forces, currently garish in the press pointing fingers between countries, races, candidates, exacerbating desperation in desperate times, but we need to collectively fight from the same ground against a common enemy. Hand washing, WFH, WTF, losing support networks, social distancing yet looking after those in need have all already united us in a collective experience, we just don’t need more rule and divide. And neither should we enable the pathologically inclined who do so -those on the sociopathic spectrum in power or with a podium, cannot help it, bless em. We however can. Don’t feed those clicks.

In short, we have enough on our plate for going political or divided right now (if we must, we can enjoy all that later). By all means, exert your pressure, demand, let your voices be heard when things are found wanting, but do the finger-pointing later. Let’s just get through the damn day.

 

Tomorrow

 

 

 

Europe’s Greatest Weakness and Greatest Strengths

In short: it’s the borders, but not as you know it.

vienna

A continent loosely summed up as 750 million people in the more northern climes of the world, famous for its history, heritage and export of culture (and peoples).

But let’s look closer at the geography: the world’s sole ‘landmass’ delineated from the rest by physical barrier – mountain ranges and seas (do ignore the Indian ‘subcontinent’, China or Eastern Africa that could easily do the same) – with the Caucasus forming an adjunct against the Middle East at one end, and the more spurious boundary of the Urals at the other. Never mind that this range peters out uncharitably 600km from the Caspian coast, and is low and heavily gap-toothed anyway – infinitely porous for the peoples of the Steppe, and to which White Russia has long suffered and capitalised on, this is the boundary that claims itself a stopper against the rest of the Asian multitudes. That declares itself more than just a peninsular of Asia.

europe-map

The idea that all continents are defined by their physicality demonstrates European exceptionalism – insofar that the idea of Europe is in reality more based on ethnicity, thinly veiled. That what defined this continent has long been the triptych of pale skin, Caucasian race and Christian culture, all but glossed over in textbooks to this day and accepted as an unsaid, unquestioned norm. With this idea comes the attachments of history, a richly influential vein that runs through collective peoples who went on to annexe 3.5 continents other than their own (the two Americas, Australasia and Asia thanks to Russia/ Kazakhstan) as the greatest source of immigration the world has ever known and likely ever will. In short Europe is a sanctum alluding to the ‘old country’ for many hundreds of millions outside it still, and an idealistic narrative on governance  to even more – a cultural source code for successful nations if one may, yet often reduced to a sum of parts. Europe frequently gets boiled down to a list of these parts.

Ethnic map of the world by Haplogroup:

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This veneration is both the winning laurel and Damoclean sword. On one hand its historic urbanity, iconic motifs and exportable cuisines, languages, style and arts continue to draw visitors and investment by the billion, yet its exceptional storytelling can also jar with the demands of a globalised world, and demographic paths toward a more mutually reliant populace on the big spinner. As the per capita incomes of the Developed World and the Developing World (once known as the Third World) begin to converge the eyeliner so long denoting Europe as belle of the ball is increasingly consequential: attracting ever more suitors but also a more fragile sanctimoniousness.

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For example, Europe’s plinth-like status brings in 671 million visitors (2017, accounting for 57% of international travel), with $767 billion investment to local economies – by far the largest destination for tourism, immigration and FDI. New housing, continents removed, still delusionally aspire to Tuscan villas, Norfolk farmhouses and Berlin apartments whether they be in the sprawl of the Texan interior, embattled Israeli outposts or upmarket estates in China’s third tier cities. The English language/ suit has become the uniform for global professionals, and Greek democracy, Italian art, French enlightenment, English industrialisation, British and Russian economics, and Swiss modernism have been adopted as worldly norms – sold as templates for governance and modern culture. Looking back on this weight of far-reaching achievement pride becomes an easy reaction, despite cultural piggy-backing, technology transfer strictly limited between brothers-in-arms, and disparate achievements conveniently united by one race (a redrawing of boundaries as and when needed), cultivated under the umbrella term of Westernism – but subtly or not so subtly redolent of supremacism too. Not to mention a more painful eyeballing from history on an inheritance built on colonialism, slavery, incessant power struggles, foreign invasion and hierarchical inequality no different (or perhaps a little more avid) from the rest.

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But Europe today is also a region most angst-ridden about outside influence and historic navel-gazing (or utter lack of, via rose-tinted media portrayals), susceptible to modern day demagogues, where every major economy is now, for the first time in a century, either right wing or in coalition with the far right.

To start, one cannot possibly quantify 750 million people, 130 languages, 50 countries, 87 ethnic groups and myriad cultures and histories as one. Witness the past attempts to do so, whether through bloody world war or cultural hand-wringing when pacts such as NATO or the EU sacrificed imagined sovereignty for greater geopolitical win-win. The continent is still a disparate collection behind the flawless face, with infighting commonplace between countries, and regions within – not to mention many societal pitchforks readied for the stream of newcomers, whether they be from the continent or outside (and despite the welcome also laid out).

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Separatism within Europe:

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Yet should Europe give up on its institutionalised veneration on what it thinks it is to be European – rather than by dint of pure geography – it would find it can marry contemporary progressiveness with a rich past and continuation of traditions. Look at the record of the Nordic, Alpine and Benelux nations, world leaders in education, quality of life, social justice, economic performance and environmentalism coupled with a rich heritage of culture, architecture and the arts, all within the same breathless sentiment.

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But contrast that with worrying support for Le Pen, Jobbik, the Freedom Party or Brexit, coupled with instances of hate crime, terrorism, media-fuelled xenophobia and a stout lack of charity for the current refugee crises (the vast majority of the worlds 68 million refugees fleeing to neighbours within the already embattled Middle East and Africa – some of which have become refugee-majority populations within the last decade – with ‘only’ 1 million of the richest affording the crossings to Europe).

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Also note how Austria and Denmark straddles both these perceptions – open progressiveness with reactionary populism, which lends to the fact no part can be summarised despite all intent. Should Eurocentrism take down its artificial borders both in mind and physicality it can limit the damage wrought by a generalised decline in birth rates and productivity, both demographically and culturally. When the ‘old country’ no longer negates the idea that all societies are new, and that they have always had to be in order to survive.

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Europe is in short a wondrous, rich tapestry of histories and cultures; it does well to build on it. But it also does well to remember how porous its borders were in the age of empires, whether being invaded and influenced from outside (Egyptians, Phoenicians, Persians, Turkics, Huns, the Silk Routes, Moors, Mongols, Tatars, Ottomans) or doing the invading and influencing of the outside (Greek -Macedonian, Roman, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, British, French, Russian, German), that has so lent it the multitudinal aspects to build and importantly, trade on.

Les trentes glorieuses:

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This is not to overlook the genius of democracy, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, but they were not entirely standalone as we have come to assume, and with often fore runners abroad, from China’s equivalent scaled Industrial Revolution in the Dark Ages (that was destroyed by Mongol politicking and climate change), to Mughal manufacturing that took a quarter of global GDP and Ming Dynasty navies that operated history’s largest pre-industrial ships, industries, and explorations. On an interesting sidenote these were also scuppered by Mongol threat when funds went into defence instead, with the fleet burned and a capital offence made of going to sea, plus an edict for SE Asians to reduce their vassal envoys to every 3 years.

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Oops, where was I in my breathless account? The first shoots of democracy in Iraq and India, alongside the worlds first cities, or the first modern warfare. Another sidenote: they were  fired up by the Mongol-Chinese who operated the first guns (‘fire-lances’), cannons, mines, sea mines, grenades and automated rapid-fire crossbows in the attempted invasions of Japan employing vast armadas of 5,200 ships – but who ultimately opted to bury the tech when society started going all Call of Duty among themselves. Japan, replete with developing the worlds most advances weaponry (and had just invaded and colonised Korea with their prototype arquebuses) even dumped the lot and went back to 300 years of strict isolationism and the beauty of the blade via a Samurai-Shogunate society. It’s a myth that the Chinese used gunpowder just for fireworks, and that the Europeans turned them into weapons.

 

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A lot has been said about the vast rape of the continents by the Mongols (who killed so many Chinese, Arabs, Indians, SE Asians and Eastern Europeans the carbon in the atmosphere fell, who destroyed over the centuries the world’s largest million+ cities of Baghdad, Gurganj, Beijing, Nanjing, Hangzhou, and who would attack countries with navies made up of up to 7,000 ships), but they were also a big buffer against historical domination if not a global one. A kill switch or at least barrier to further ambitions whenever an empire started getting too big for its boots such as the Song, the Burmese, the Japanese, the Delhi Sultanate, the Song Chinese, the Persians and Islamic Caliphates.

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Plus much iconography we think of as intrinsically European come from beyond, from the adoption of a Middle Eastern religion that is Christianity, to the International Style of modernism (clue’s in the name) sourced from medieval Morocco and Japan, that the early modernists such as Le Courbousier studied – the white wedding dress of the Ottomans, the Romanesque arch of Arabia, the Mongol onion dome, the Chinese naval tech, the Japonisme of impressionism and modern art, the African beat, the SE Asian spices, the Americas coffee, Chinese tea, the Himalayan gardens, the Indian manufacturing, the modern American/Japanese business frame, the knife and fork, the apple, the tulip, we could go on, and still do. The idea of Europe breaking down its barriers to speed into motion its coming extinction, as had been done in the continents it itself overran in the past, only ever happened when coupled with genocide, including viral. The way we see the world today should, in a very European tradition, be encompassing, outward-looking, clear -yet holding a subtle richness of history and nuance beyond the everyday.

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Do you agree? Comment below:

The World’s Tastiest City

Tokyo’s 90,000 restaurants (compared to NYC’s 24,000 or Paris’ 40,000) and 160,000 total eating establishments garners no less than 216 Michelin starred places to dine in (down from 226 in 2015 and 267 the year before that), but still head and shoulders above second place Paris, with merely 105. It was also named as the World’s Best Food city by Saveur Magazine  last year, harking on  not just about the quality of local food but also its French and Italian offerings (plus the whiskey, omg the whiskey), and the vast array of global cuisine in general from Belarusian to Senegalese.

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However on closer inspection Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto and Nara are geographically one city, though Michelin divides them into three distinct guides, so really that entity beats the lot. On Michelin stars per person (taking away those small villages like Baiersbronn, Germany, Bray, UK, Yountsville, California and er Knokke-Heist, Belgium) Paris beats Tokyo, not just on per capita, but equal on the almost impossible 3 star rated restaurants (they each have ten) – though the Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe metropolis beats both with 14 triple starred restaurants.

These cities may not have the range over Tokyo but pack well above their weight in stars awarded, as do Barcelona (29 stars for 4.6 million), or Hong Kong-Macau ( 92 stars for 7.3 million), both in turn bettered by little old Brussels (30 stars for 1.2 million). But eminent above them all, by quite a margin would be Kyoto with 100 Michelin starred places for 1.5 million inhabitants– the world’s undeclared epicenter of exceptional places to eat. Meanwhile London toots the horn of most different types of cuisine awarded in one place, serving up British, Basque, Chinese, French, Indian, Italian, Japanese, pan-Mediterranean, Peruvian, Spanish, and Nordic cuisine with the appropriate(d) stars.

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Anyhoo this is the way it looks for the top selected cities, by number of starred restaurants as of 2016. Lift those trumpets:

  1. Osaka metropolis: (includes Kobe-Kyoto-Nara this is one contiguous city that merged together decades ago, not to be confused with a megalopolis, metro or CSA) 258 restaurants 353 stars
  2. Tokyo: 217 restaurants 294 stars
  3. Paris: 105 restaurants   135 stars
  4. Kyoto: 100 restaurants 139 stars
  5. Osaka: 89 restaurants 117 stars
  6. New York City: 75 restaurants 97 stars
  7. Hong Kong-Macau: 65 restaurants 92 stars
  8. London area: 70 restaurants 87 stars (London boundaries 65 restaurants 80 stars)
  9. Kobe-Hanshin : 53 restaurants 76 stars
  10. San Francisco: (Bay area) 31 restaurants 41 stars
  11. Brussels: 25 restaurants 30 stars
  12. Barcelona area: 25 restaurants 29 stars

Inhabitants per restaurant / star looks markedly different. As counted by the contiguous city (not metro), it looks like this. These are the single best places to land your chopper for foraging, provided your PA team did their homework:

  1. Kyoto  (1.5 million) 15,000 people per restaurant 10,791 per star
  2. Brussels (1.2 million) 48,000 per restaurant 40,000 per star
  3. Kobe –Hanshin (3.1million) 58,490 per restaurant, 40,790 per star
  4. Osaka metropolis (14.2 million) 55,039 per restaurant 40,227 per star
  5. Osaka  (8.8 million) 98,876 per restaurant, 75,213 per star
  6. Paris (10.55 million) 100,476 per restaurant  78,148 per star
  7. Hong Kong- Macau (7.3 million): 112,308 per restaurant, 79,347 per star
  8. Tokyo (29 million) 133,640 per restaurant, 98,639 per star
  9. London (10.4 million): 148,571 per restaurant 119,540 per star
  10. Barcelona (4.64 million) 185,600, 160,000 per star
  11. New York (17.5 million) 233,333 per restaurant 180,412 per star
  12. San Francisco -Bay Area (7.65 million) 246,774 per restaurant 186,585 per star

It’s notable how the Michelin people rate restaurants extensively in Europe, covering small towns, villages and hovels across France, UK and Spain but sees a notable drop once upstate a few miles from NYC or Tokyo for example (or was this coverage merely due to well-known celeb chefs opening in small retreats?). Likewise the large gap of unrated Chinese mainland between HK and Macau, which would prove rich findings I’m sure due to the beating heart – now bypassed- of Cantonese cuisine in Guangzhou. The Osaka metropolis however gets European level coverage due to its slew of city centres and different gastronomic regions within the city (Kobe beef a good example). Nevertheless it did get its annual share of doubts for some restaurants that went unrated (did someone drop a fork and not pick it up?).

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Michelin gets further complaints that they are biased toward French cuisine, and over-awed literally by Japanese, with some coughing abruptly and mentioning how the guide is opening up a new market there that coincides with its generous ratings. –Still, opposing camps complain they don’t rate Japanese cuisine high enough, with its complexities of flavor and form, plus subtleties of acquired taste, and the fact a few thousand stellar restaurants go unrated each year.

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en.wikipedia.org

Even then there are so many countries of gastronomic greatness not even rated by Michelin (Tokyo only got rated in 2007), with cities such as Bangkok, Beijing, Beirut, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Casablanca, Chengdu, Chennai, Chongqing, George Town, Guangzhou, Delhi, Dubai, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Lima, Melbourne, Mexico City, Moscow, Mumbai, Rio, Santiago, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore,  Sydney, Taipei, Tbilisi, Tehran, and Tel Aviv world famous yet still trembling in the wings for the ‘ultimate’ accolade to visit. Shanghai, with 120,000 places to eat is drumming her fingers, and Bangkok, busily tidying away its global capital of street food is especially impatient as vendors disappear.

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Michelin, let me remind you, is a tyre manufacturer that publishes road guides (and thus got delving into the foodie scene by awarding stars to rest stops back in 1926), so does not have road guides as yet that would cover for example, the whole of China, or the backroads of Morocco, which in turn would warrant the accompanying restaurant booklet.

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The final nail in the hickory coffin is frankly, well not everyone dines out in Michelin starred establishments. It’s not like the 15,000 per capita Kyotoites are funneling into its chichi places to dine each day, let alone year. Edible flowers and gold leaf is not necessarily reflective of the average Parisian dinner, as cool minimalism and outrageous art is not the table at which Hong Kongers usually eat. What’s worse is the galling fact one can have amazing restaurants but terrible cuisine at large – just visit Moscow, or dare I say it, Berlin whose wonderful places to eat – and the extensive waiting lists that reflect that – are like diamonds sold in naff catalogues for Argos. After 50 years of communist austerity.

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But of course Michelin has its Bibs Gourmands, nods of approval to places that cost below $40 a head. Though even then, the vibrant street food of Shanghai, market stalls of Fez, food vans of LA, or hole-in-the-walls of Hong Kong –although lightly covered- would still sorely miss out, some of the best tasting options on the planet, but heavily penalized on their non-existent, obsolete ‘ambience’ and ‘service’ ratings.

If a fork falls and a Michelin critic is not there to hear it, does it make a sound?

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Okay enough of this kitkat break. Next up:

The World’s Biggest City