THE QUEEN’S FUNERAL

I was moved by the Queen’s funeral. Awed, even. From the opening, searing deep chorale solemnity of the first voices as the coffin was borne into Westminster Abbey to ‘The Sentences’ – a seventeenth century piece by composer William Croft that stung with a purity of pain and sorrow, filling the vaults to the rafters of the abbey and the airwaves to Japan and around the world, I was profoundly aware of being in the midst of a truly historical moment.

As a typhoon passed over outside, D and watched much of the procession beforehand, amazed at the precisely calibrated organization and meticulously choreographed sense of occasion as the royal family walked somberly and gravely (almost ridiculously), in sync to Beethoven’s Funeral March (at one point, so hypnotized by the endless repetition of the music, I found myself going up and down the stairs to make herb tea walking in exactly the same stulted rhythm, unconsciously marching myself); transported to a very different, more gilded Britishness than the one I am used to (‘chaotic’, savvy, sarcastic, controversial, at ferociously political loggerheads); for once it felt, temporarily – even if this was only illusory – as if everybody had put everything aside and had reassembled themselves into one body of people concentrating their minds on just one thing: with London closed down, almost the entire country focused on the ceremony and the laying to rest of Elizabeth, there was a unifying sense, even from this distance, of a coming together.

It felt genuinely sad. The more I read about the Queen, the more I (perhaps naively) come to the conclusion that despite the many problems associated with what she represented (still strange using the past tense) – the public financing of the royal family, which many quite rightly see as outrageous; the legacies of colonialism; the inherited privilege and entitlement (and so on and so forth), this was a person of true integrity and decency, who spent her entire life dedicating herself to what she believed in. I respected her consistency. First and foremost, paradoxically, even, given her her great personal wealth, unlike so many who pronounce themselves to be Christians but in fact are not, I believe that in spite of her position, she did not generally condescend to people nor discriminate, but seemed to truly believe that all human beings are equal and worthy of respect ; I did not sense the deep hypocrisy present in so many of the supposedly ‘pious’ and racist and bigoted whose hearts are full of prejudice and hate. While the funeral service, so extraordinary in its choreography, and the BBC’s camerawork, as though, almost, you were watching a film that had been pre-considered (which of course, it had been), and not an event of great significance that was transpiring live before your eyes, with its cold but compassionate lenses moving down slowly from the cloisters onto the lonely coffin lying below, covered gently in simple flowers (at first I found the bouquet underwhelming in its scope, but came to like the naturalness of it; the rosemary especially, entwined with myrtle, roses and carnations – there was a tasteful simplicity), all of this non-contemporaneously and profoundly religious in its use of ancient Christian texts and hymns as well as some truly sublime and exquisite more contemporary organ and choir music, which may have felt alienating to the modern atheistic society of Britain; but at the same time, as the head of the Church Of England it all felt very right for her, personally – her own choices; purifying, cathartic, healing, rather than the sham of morality so often seen by religious zealots with no sincerity of religion their hearts. It was religion as consolation, no matter your own beliefs; magnificent, but also intimate, ecclesiastical public rites that allowed you to spiritually exhale and move on; songs and recitations that were often piercingly melancholy, reminding us ever more keenly of our own mortality and that of the ones we love, including the truly heartrending plaintive piece by the bagpiper that signalled the end of the funeral; an epoch making reign of seventy years ending definitely requiring such a drawn out, fantastical, almost ravishing, grandeur.

The lying in state for such a long period of time was, in my opinion, also remarkably well judged. From the sudden announcement of the death, up in Scotland, to the burial at Windsor, a sufficiently long period of time went by for the news to sink into the minds of the people; the various, televised ceremonies in different cities across the UK reinforcing the reality; the endless queues of people lining up for many hours to be able to walk past the catafalque (a new word in all our vocabularies), at Westminster Hall, hypnotic as it was broadcast live on the BBC like an art installation delineating time, slowing it down, deepening and solidifying the moment, crystallizing the mourning into something slow, considered, contemplatory, happening in real time; you could feel the passage of time; though part of me simultaneously felt sorry for the Queen, simply as a physical human being, being constantly on display in this way (I was very glad it was not an open casket : I remember parading past the waxen perturbment of Ho Chi Minh at his mausoleum in Saigon, the complete lack of personal privacy), this presuming that the Queen really was inside the coffin of course – a thought that occurred to me several times as the body was borne aloft across so many miles, turned, jostled, bumped on gun carriages, returned finally to Windsor – it felt tumultuous, rather than serene, for a recently deceased person to be disturbed and moved about so much: no ordinary person would have so little physical stillness. For this reason alone, I am pleased that she is finally at rest at the mausoleum in St George’s Chapel.

Ultimately, unenviably, it felt that Queen Elizabeth, her actions, her body, almost belonged to the State, truly its servant – hence the public’s ‘right’ to view or imagine her within her coffin, replete and loaded with whatever each member of the public wanted to project onto her embalmed figure. I found the spectacle of the crowds waiting patiently to walk past her quite riveting but also quietly harrowing; the Queen had dignity, but not the solace of peace nor deathly solitude. I felt sorry for her. But the public, of course, understandably, had to mark the moment, a change of monarchs – something that has not happened in most of our lifetimes, and the sheer numbers involved and the logistics required to make this run smoothly without hitch were very impressive. It was as though time had stopped, a National Event unlike any other I have ever witnessed, and so it felt absolutely imperative to be there, at the time of happening, on Monday evening, even just on a screen thousands of miles on the other side of the earth. I was transfixed. The beautiful music chosen at the funeral and the manner in which the whole post-passing was managed, was incredible to behold; it was like being cast back centuries into a history that you forget exists or existed, but was there before you, right in the present. Certain hymns, like ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’, took me right back to being a little child when we used to learn it at school, and made me feel quite emotional. Such carefully selected pieces of music touch people deeply; a shared cultural knowledge that you forget lies still within you; the soaring boys’ choir truly reminiscent of angels in heaven. — even if you don’t believe in them.

R.I.P.

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Walking in Windsor

It feels surreal, predestined, and quite fortuitous in many ways that on this long delayed trip back to England we had almost randomly decided to stay in Windsor, a place neither of us previously knew. After an arduous three day journey back to Japan, having left our hotel in Windsor at the break of dawn, with that particularly English beautiful cold damp smell in the air as the sun broke through the clouds, it was startling to wake up to the news that Queen Elizabeth had died. I had just, for some reason, in the grogginess of deep jet lag, been thinking about her, about her longevity, about what the world would say when she reached her hundredth birthday (I think most of us assumed she would go on forever), trying to imagine Charles as an eighty year old monarch, when I walked blearily into the kitchen and D, who had got up very early to go into work, and was looking at his phone, told me the sad news.

I am not a royalist; for me the royal family are just people, like us, with fallibilities and problems, at times even evil (just look at the disgrace that is Prince Andrew), but I do see the value in terms of tradition of the monarchy, and like many, had a great deal of respect for The Queen. She was dignified, hard-working, in many ways a deeply loyal and honourable servant of the country (I personally believe that she was stoically ‘holding on’ as long as she could for the people despite the grief she must have been suffering following the loss of Prince Philip and the exhaustion she was apparently feeling post-Covid infection, knowing that they needed the positivity of the Jubilee and the Commonwealth Games as a boost to the spirits after the misery of the pandemic): a living icon – at least while we were still there, just a few days ago now, her face everywhere in Windsor, probably the most royal family-centred town in the whole of the UK; souvenirs, posters, teatowels, mugs, portraits of her wherever you cared to look celebrating the Platinum Jubilee; we really enjoyed basking in the pub beer and fish-and-chip Britishness. The buildings were beautiful, the atmosphere benificent and calm, the fluttering bunting and flags everywhere very charming – there was a quietly celebratory feeling in the air as the long hot summer continued its dreamy late evening strolls; our hotel just five minutes from the castle, incantatory at dusk; romantic (we asked ourselves if the Queen was also up as we walked back to our room, assuming she was inside, not realizing she was ailing at Balmoral); soaking up what was actually to be the very end of her reign. The place where now the crowds are gathering and milling to see Harry and Meghan, William and Catherine was peaceful and quiet; we had a nice lunch with my parents there, who came down the day after we arrived, sitting together inside the beautiful flowering hanging basket covered pub that is nearest to the royal residence, The Two Brewers, right by the castle entrance; at that time, just the odd family standing happily taking photos in front of the gate; extraordinary to know now that this was the end of an era.

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SAMBAC MALAYSIA

You know you are probably a bit eccentric when rather than have a final spritz for your return flight home as you embark on the journey towards the gate of your departure from your miraculous lifesaver of the transit hotel, food so good your tongue is hanging out ( god how I missed real Asian food !)

you instead without hesitation plunge your fingers into the aroma oil burner in the entrance not knowing the temperature in advance but not caring because the divine scent of natural sambac jasmine oil is just so good that you smear it joyously over your hair, clothes, and skin

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EAU DE COLOGNE BASILIC POURPRE by HERMES (2022)

Some perfumes have made repeat appearances on this holiday. I am now lying in my transit hotel after a desperately needed shower and sleep after the gruelling first two legs of our rescheduled odyssey back to Tokyo via London and Abu Dhabi, a highly crowded headfuck of an airport with very bad feng shui (like being trapped in a crushed-in Escher painting pumped with bad smells (mainly ‘perfume’) and where travelling feels more like an ordeal and why you wonder why you are ever even doing it.

Among the thick, sickly and head turning ‘new fragrances’ clamouring for your attention in the jammed fragrance aisles – ‘Good Fortune’, a purple fruit number for Viktor & Rolf fronted by FKA Twigs as a soothsayer with a crystal ball, tolerable but whose name is really scraping the barrel of uncreativity and whose artistic directors need a quiet slap, or a sixties eyeliner pixie-cut Emma Watson for Prada Paradoxe (pink fruity), or the new Paco Rabanne Fame, fronted by perceived to be ingenue Neon Demon star Elle Fanning (pink fruity) – but hang on a sec, don’t I already have two perfumes with that very same name in my collection – Fame by Lady Gaga – a celebrity gourmand – plus far more importantly, Fame by Corday (a beach mirage of shimmering tropical flowers from 1946)?. Like the bastardized iridescent oilslick that is Joy by Dior (the perfumed equivalent of a petrochemical disaster, with its name pilfered shamelessly from Jean Patou), there no longer any respect left for original copyright of perfumery’s creations ?

In is a maelstrom of harsh and persistent aroma chemicals, it is sometimes difficult to stand out from the crowd. With every name from Chopard to Caroline Herrera showing ‘prestige’ collections and full floral armoires – some of the Chloe Atelier Des Fleurs were quite nice and I will come back to those later, and the new Bottega Veneta flowers such as Salvia Blu were particularly crisp and superciliously pristine to convincingly fashionable effect, but for someone searching for a pleasing spritzer on a grotty scuzzbag of an endless flight, the new Hermes Basilic Pourpre created by Christine Nagel, is degreasing, piercing, and a tonic to the nerves.

Although I reek of two many conflicting vetivers sprayed on my person, after my next long, and soapy shower (thank GOD for this hotel in the airport !), on the next, final leg back to Tokyo I might find a Hermes counter and spray on some of this curious and original cologne, which combines the bright freshness of the classic Eau D’Orange Verte with anise and cardamom and a patchouli geranium base note with an almost shockingly photorealistic nose burst of freshly cut basil leaves. A REALLY good basil note – possibly the best I have tried, alongside Sisley Eau De Campagne , which I also sprayed loads of at Heathrow, but here melded perfectly with the other green citrus underlay as though La Basilic herself, herbaceously resplendent, were emerging boldly, but graciously, from a leaf-fronded grove pool.

For those finding basil too foody or catpissy ( there is an undeniable olfaction link : sometimes I buy bunches of fresh basil for cooking and forget and then wonder if a stray cat has got into the house and sprayed), this odd little green perfume will be a bit wincey; for me, it is unique, new; appealing , and was also the first scent that stood out for me at Birmingham Selfridges on a day out with my mum when I found myself perusing and talking avidly with a lovely sales assistant had returned recently from Japan ( hello again if you are reading this – I never caught your name): she took me around some new, unknown to me perfumed intrigues, even if my eyes kept straying back, ultimately, to the Hermes.

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EAU DU SUD by ANNICK GOUTAL (1996)

In England, there are two perfumes. The overwhelmingly predominant one is inoffensive, aimiable, but rather low IQ-seeming vulgar floral Vanilla ( EVERY fragrance wearing woman who has passed me smells like this; D is nose-weary of it as well; no matter the contemporary female-marketed contemporary perfume’s starting notes, it will end exactly the same, to the point of complete indistinguishability : Perfume = Thick Synthetic Crass Vanila: Thick Synthetic Crass Vanilla = Perfume ( please memorize this important equation).

The other perfume of the two that are available to UK citizens ( far fewer, say, than the number of haircut styles available in North Korea), is brain aching synthetic oud – one I endured from someone metres ahead on the street combined this plague on the olfactory senses with a rich caramellized inner heart and a biting, ozonic top, which made me both physically and psychologically quite nauseated, while others slip the note into the classic macho fresh sport fougere. for football boys milling around the bar area at the pub.

I exaggerate of course ( but not actually). The Rules can be circumnavigated : I experienced a nice light figgy green on a woman by the Windsor Hotel breakfast bar; on the way to the PCR testing pharmacy ( the hassles and stresses we have gone through on this trip; cancelled flights, hellish, endlessly time consuming administrative infernos, head exploding psychodramas …) , a Meditterranean man pleadingly walking by us in an alluring, herbal aromatic almond musk, but 99% of the time, in truth it would seem that there are only the Nationally Validatd Two Options. And my does it get depleting.

Which is why it was so nice to meet up with my old university friend Emma in Norwich one day ( there have been a lot of lovely, reconnecting and emotionally cathartic experiences on this visit too ), to walk around the beautiful streets of this ancient cathedral city with someone with the sense and taste to wear a scent that has real elegance, elusiveness, and crisp citric chypric freshness, rather than being clobbered unmistakeable over the head with the aforementioned industrial mallets. It was the perfume man’s inhalation of Fresh Air.

Reminiscent of classics such as Eau Sauvage and Cristalle, Eau Du Sud is less prevalent than its close relative and perennial favourite Eau D’Hadrien, but is drier, more herbal ( mint and several citrus peels ) alongside jasmine and a deft touch of natural patchouli. It has lasting power, but not ‘persistence’, which is a quality I have come to really object to in a perfume – I don’t know : maybe I am now just too Japanese.

At any rate, Eau Du Sud accompanied our strolls and conversations quite delightfully as a soft, ethereal skin soundtrack, as we reminisced and examined our current state of affairs, over leisurely local ciders and ales, wondering where all the time had gone, while living vividly : immersed in the actual moment.

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PARADOXE by PRADA (2022)

The only paradox being that nothing has changed since Lancôme Hypnose.

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BLACKBERRY PICKING ….MURE ET MUSC EXTREME by L’ARTISAN PARFUMEUR (1993) + QUEEN JAM by BOUJEE BOUGIES (2020) + ENGLISH BLACKBERRY by PENHALIGONS (2017)

I find it almost impossible to believe that this time next month I will be back in England. The next four weeks are the hottest, sweatiest, most gruelling of the year for me at work, the flight will be endless, Heathrow is hell, but D has come up with the brilliant idea of us just taking a taxi to Windsor, where we will rest and bathe and wake up in a beautiful white Georgian hotel, have breakfast, and be met by my family for lunch and a stroll around some stately gardens or other before being taken back up to the house.

The other day, in a new second hand perfume store I have discovered near one of my work places, there was a bottle of Penhaligon’s English Blackberry, which according to Fragrantica and the perfume house’s own website, doesn’t exist, but it does on other fora, and I also physically witnessed and held (and naughtily sprayed it, the fresh scent of blackberries – lovely – I would like to buy this) filling up the room, so I know full well that it does, and it immediately reminded me of the classic and originator of this type of eau fruitee, Mure Et Musc by L’Artisan Parfumeur, a full and established summer and autumn staple which I have on occasion been wearing of late, as I find it relaxing and easy and reminiscent of the reliable and elegant interiority of Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage Extreme (1982).

In terms of this genre as a whole, there has been a vast oversaturation of fruit notes in perfumes in the last couple of decades; usually as part of truly over-egged scent pyramids that go through a grim peristalsis of diabetic flowers and ‘balsams’, and end up in turgid vanilla and fake ouds with nuclear levels of sickening sillage. Vile. On their own, though, ‘solifruits’ can be lovely; comforting, charming, particularly fragrances based on the concept of berries – we discussed the pleasures of blackcurrant and cassis perfumes recently, but blackberries and other deep coloured bramble fruit of that nature (recently I have been really enjoying just leaving my Boujee Bougie Queen Jam candle for an hour or so, and coming back into a heartwarming concoction of fruits based on a Finnish summer recipe of bilberries and raspberries with a rich heart of rose) — also have their own particular olfactive niche of the untroubled and the fun ; it all just makes me want to go out fruit picking.

As a child, I used to immensely enjoy the days out at the fruit picking farms, especially strawberries and gooseberries ( I found the texture of raspberries problematic, even if their taste and aroma were exquisite ) ; blackberries also especially exciting with the extricating of the thorns; their fragile squidginess, and delicious taste.

In more recent times, when back in Norfolk with Duncan’s parents, he and I were also sent out to pick wild blackberries that had accumulated in great profusion along some local hedgerows, taking a tupperware container and filling it up to the brim, while eating great handfuls along the way. I loved it, and hope that we can all go out and do it again this summer, in Warwickshire as well.

Sometimes in life, it is the simple things.

Blackberry-picking

– by Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun

For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.

At first, just one, a glossy purple clot

Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.

You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet

Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it

Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for

Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger

Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots

Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.

Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills

We trekked and picked until the cans were full,

Until the tinkling bottom had been covered

With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned

Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered

With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.

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AMARIGE by GIVENCHY (1991)

One of the great headache inducers of all time, a mimosa-tuberose-jasmine-cedar of toothaching proportion, Givenchy’s Amarige was also the inspiration for one of my favourite ever perfume reviews : https://theperfumeddandy.com/2013/03/21/too-much-is-never-enough-amarige-by-givenchy-the-perfumed-dandys-scented-letter/

Everything that needs to be said about this most extroverted of florals is mentioned here: and like the Dandy, despite all the well deserved piss-taking and mirth, I also have a spot of affection for this fragrance’s sheer gregariousness (and it has just occurred to me: good lord there was a parfum/extrait strength of Amarige as well – what on earth must it have been like? Has anyone here ever tried it?

Are you personally totally averse to this unsubtle, monstrous Minerva, or do you, like me, sometimes find it to be retroactively cheering?

the parfum, which I have never experienced: : :: for those who don’t know Amarige, even the eau de toilette smells as eye-searing as the packaging

Picking up a stray bottle of this a few years ago just for the hell of it — Amarige really does smell like the beginning of the nineties – totally inescapable for a while — I found myself spraying on a little yesterday on my left wrist for a day of doing nothing but pottering at home and sitting on the tropical balcony and listening avidly to Kate Bush’s Never For Ever. Though unsuitable, it was suitable: my skin immediately bringing out the cedar in the base: buoyant and brash (good for these delicate times), perfect for housework — and I might have to do it again.

My biggest association with this most blaring of Givenchy perfumes though, is definitely with my friend Karen, who I know wore it for a long time as a teenager when trapped in a bad relationship with a smothering northern boyfriend (Amarige is an anagram of Mariage), but one day just finally decided that she had had enough. While stuck in a pub with him blathering and boasting away to his mates in some corner, glancing at her sometimes with a proprietary eye, she found herself drawn into a conversation with a wise and much older lady who, when hearing of her predicament, gave her the strongest advice that she could – from personal experience; then, when the moment was right (she had become her lookout and secretly ordered a taxi for K), told her to just do it, just leave —- and she did, leaving her stilettos behind on the floor; running, exhilaratedly barefoot through the snow.

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scent harmony

We decided to just go out to the sea despite a very busy day in Kawasaki yesterday, somehow too restless to stay at home.

Although we missed the last order for the very restaurant we had travelled specifically down to eat at ( because we were sat talking on the beach ), we didn’t mind.

I wanted to be heavily scented, eventually settling on vintage O de Lancôme ( a lemon-leafed gentle chypre from 1969 ).

For D I selected a perfume from four decades later, Sappho by Lush ( 2019), an unusual tobacco jasmine vanilla that worked truly perfectly in tandem for some reason, scents floating in and out of each other with natural ease.

I needed such harmony today.

In a taxi on the way to the station on Saturday afternoon, the radio had been tuned into what I imagined to be the beginnings of Buddhist funeral rites for Shinzo Abe. Today in Atami, the polling stations – it is Election Day – were solemn and empty.

On the side streets, though, we saw several troupes of kids practicing taiko drums for an upcoming summer festival, the first post-corona ( we are not there yet I know, but people are ready ), the atmosphere focused; steady.

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JULY

The way it is right now, it is difficult to write. Each day seems to throw up another event of catastrophic proportions, of violence. I have so much to say, but then wonder whether I should be adding to all the clamour and noise of the world, which is already bewildering, maddening, insanity-inducing; like a constant hammer to the brain; making us dazed, exhausted, and discombobulated; sometimes I feel my skull will just be split open from all the thinking; the sadness; the deep exasperation.

Where to start?

I may as well start with the place that I am from. On Thursday, as we all know, the sometimes amusing, but ultimately recklessly irresponsible and pathetically shameful and embarrassing prime minister of the UK resigned, leaving a shambles of economic rubble and general aroma of fiasco in his wake. Ultimately, despite all his verbal dexterity and buffoonish public school boy charm – he was basically incompetent and incapable of telling the truth, making a mess of the country that my family and friends live in, living only for the narcissism of being in the top position in the land and the megalomaniac caprices that this enabled him to act out willy nilly – he eventually could no longer maintain the mendacious house of cards, could cling to the railings of 10 Downing Street no longer ; forced to resign in ignominy —- oh that Etonian arrogance and sense of entitlement ; how I remember when I was at Cambridge and surrounded by these supercilious, puffed up ex-alumni from rich backgrounds and being unable to connect to a single one of them on any level whatsoever; a sense, almost, of planetary difference: that we were divergent species: that I couldn’t even talk to them with my more regular comprehensive school biography with its self-doubt and worries about the future ; because, at the end of the day, no matter the pomposity and verbiage and pretending to care, let’s face it, the upper class Tories despise all those of the lower classes and patronize them just like playthings, indifferent to their multiple sufferings; a viciously tiered and cold-blooded system that is all just about constant reinforcement of their cushy, inbred privilege. If they leave the nation in tatters with millions unable to pay their fuel bills, who cares. They will still always have their houses in the country. The masses can eat shit.

One utter liar out of the way, awaiting his presumably similar replacement in the conservative government, headlines flashing about this all Thursday – the war in Ukraine now just a mere backstory —– we wake up with blue skies on Friday only to find out that the ex-prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, probably the most recognizable Japanese person in the world, has shockingly been murdered at close range at a political rally in Nara; killed live on TV in front of the media. Whether you like his politics or not, and I didn’t, it makes no difference to the appalling sense of carnage and disregard for human life; it was a horrific way to die, and this seems to be the general theme of this year so far: BRUTALITY. A total disregard for the sanctity of human life. Someone shot through the throat and in the back, obliterating his heart, constructed with home made artillery by some ex-military weirdo with yet another grudge; dying on camera; slaughtered on Youtube (Neither D nor I have looked at the footage of this moment : yet : I am tempted, because like everyone else I have a prurient side, but right now it feels wrong. I don’t want to be another internet bystander gorging on death: and how much death there has been so far in 2022……)

It is horrible.

R.I.P.

This country is shocked to the core.

But this is just yet another horrifying incident in a terrible, terrible year of guns and weapons. Death and destruction, all the time. We are becoming slowly inured to the plight of Ukrainians now; accustomed to it; the tragedy overshadowed by the other looming nightmares of each passing day. The war has been constant since February, but its influence seems to be spreading through the air like tentacles; like a virus. The air itself feels violent, somehow ( or is this just me ? )and it has become almost scary to just to check the news, even if I am almost ashamed to admit that the constant shootings in the USA are also now something that I tend to have a familiar, accustomized reaction to. Apologies to those litth ji few who might find what I am about to say offensive, but whenever there is a new massacre, and they will be endless, unfortunately, despite my obvious horror and immediate sympathy for those involved and connected, at another level I also don’t entirely care. You might say that I am bored. I shut my brain off. Deliberately. Oh, I think – another one. Oh well. That’s a terrible shame, but at the same time, no one else in the world has this problem and I think, dismissively to myself, it’s ‘up to them’ (which it is) : that if this allegedly democratic country actually wants and allows this, then this is what they are going to get. It is just so obvious and predictable. Of course there will be gun massacres. It is not even in the very least surprising. Of course. It goes without saying. I act to myself as though I refuse to be affected by it. ‘Fucking idiots’ I chant inwardly. But deep down, none of this self-preserving attitude, trying to protect my own sanity by trying not to from think about the 26 people being gunned down in a classroom when I am a teacher myself – little kids’ heads being blown off as they are doing their lessons, organs mashed like pomegranates, teachers becoming bullet threshed martyrs when all they were doing is their job and looking after their charges – I don’t think that any of this means that I have become insensate and cruel – it actually just prevents the trauma of hearing about it penetrate too deeply into my very delicate psyche. I am sure you are the same. There is an accumulation of horror, and it is becoming hard to take. So I have to switch off. Of course I do care about it momentarily, reading about it on the train platform on my smartphone as I am about to go and teach my evening classes, but then I just sink into a deeply negative closed off coma of interiorized, blank, inertia.

Because – and sorry to labour the point – this is the obvious result of a —- to the rest of the world totally incomprehensible —- love and appalling veneration of guns. The more you have, obviously the more killings and deaths. And unless, as a people, you really try and do something about this issue, then it is only going to continue to get worse, and these ‘tragedies’ will become so commonplace that we will eventually just turn the page of the newspaper without even reading about the all too familiar details – the way we are going, we are all just going to become more and more desensitized to everything, cut off: (it also deeply pisses me off, I have to say, that while America constitutes only 4.25% of the world’s population, it has this heart-fuckingly domineering, brain-washing ability to pound our global consciousness down to such a profoundly depleting degree; every new outrage plastered over our minds and into our consciences at new volumes of fury and irreconcilable difference that something I just honestly want to retreat for weeks on end and just close down and it’s not even my own country).

Thank God.

Despite what I am saying here – it’s been a while since I’ve done a full blown Black Narcissus rant – let me try and breathe for a moment before this looks like total anti-Americanism – I have to say that we have just, in the last month or so, had a couple of typically hedonistic and super-American weekends.

Even if, psychologically at least I don’t think either of us is particularly well, in truth, and because doesn’t all of this, as well as the burn out from the pandemic, just somehow seep into your bloodstream and brainstream like black poison? : I myself have become increasingly sociophobic and unable to stand being with people for any real amount of time; the main reason for much of the tension and the relationship turmoil on top, rows so terrible that it has seemed that we might be breaking up…… Yet somehow, on the 4th of July,. I couldn’t resist going by myself – somewhat sarcastically, perhaps, initially at least – to see ‘Top Gun : Maverick’ at the US military base city of Yokosuka (only 11 minutes by train from Kamakura and a different world) but also an always contrasting stimulant- multicultural, more relaxed, and with great burgers – watching some stars-and-stripes flag-waving down by the sea by the battleships and submarines after coming out of the the undeniable, total exhilaration of Tom Cruise’s incredibly thrilling action blockbuster in which he single-handedly saves the future of cinema on the big screen); amiable soldiers in uniforms mingling with the local citizenry; country music sing-a-longs at George’s Bar……..we might feel like fish out of water walking by, but I still enjoy being in Yokosuka sometimes because, let’s face it, at the end in spite of everything, America itself is exciting. And therein lies the rub. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t all be glued to the TV shows we watch, be mesmerized by the films, dance to the music, intoxicated by the sheer blustering, money loving jingoistic power of it all.

Two weekends ago was an even more unique opportunity to truly immerse ourselves in America, and boy were we immersed – we actually got lost on base – illegal there- and spent hours in the middle of the night trying to get out, wandering around eerily quiet avenues with flags draped outside every door taking photos – I am surprised someone didn’t just shoot me from behind the curtains – D eventually having to dangerously flag down a car, the occupant and driver very surprised to find these two unaccompanied aliens just wandering around the Lynchian city (the base is a walled city; a world of its own; cut off it was truly surreal). We had had a lot of fun dancing, but I didn’t feel safe. I knew there must be guns about. And eventually, as we were escorted to the exit in a military car driven by its naturally very suspicious owner, and our release papers were examined, we were let out. I felt such relief.

It was also, as it happened, the day of the ‘Supreme Court’ s ruling on Roe vs Wade. As we went up to the west of Tokyo area where the base is located were absolutely reeling. But it was also, that very evening, excitingly, an invitation to – yes, you are reading this correctly – a drag queen vogueing ball on the Yokota military base – a paradoxical opportunity I felt I simply couldn’t miss despite my reservations about corona, as it felt historic, unlikely, bizarre, even, and probably the way things are going, never to be repeated. It was quite a night. Amazing. But the more fun and enjoyable details of that can wait until another post.

Our host – because naturally you can’t get on base without a lot of security clearance and with a direct sponsor – was himself a military serviceman, who, in his off-base extra-curricular time had recruited the legendary drag house Haus Von Schwarz from various club nights in Tokyo and was a huge fan of Y, , the mother of the house (D’s film co-director and best friend). Ironically, given the magnitude of the political moment in America, as we climbed into his air-conditioned car we found out that he was really quite high profile in the ranks, showing us videos of welcoming Biden on his recent visit there as he was one of the co-ordinators of the proceedings, as well as none other than the great-nephew of the most famous Christian evangelist of them all, Billy Graham. As a frightened gay boy growing up in a very hostile, right wing environment ,he had spent his life at permanent political loggerheads – to say the least – with his fundamentalist family back home who were all undoubtedly celebrating the court’s decisions, ululating in tongues and cupcakes at the culmination of their life’s work, something that was totally intolerable to him in every way in every fibre of his being and though we had only just met, the gloating that he knew was going on : he was unable to conceal the fact that he was very deeply distraught at the lack of freedoms this new ruling entailed, obviously shattered, barely holding it together as we waited in the extreme heat – 38 degrees and almost complete humidity – to get the correct papers to be escorted to the venue – a ballroom – where the unusual, and initially rather tentative, event was being held.

I am now entering thorny territory. Possible cancellation territory. So I will have to choose my words carefully. On the volatile topic of Roe vs Wade, I must begin by saying that I believe that abortion is an extremely delicate issue and that I can totally understand both sides of the argument : friends on social media who declare a fetus is not a human being I disagree with philosophically; to me, it obviously is, just at a different stage of development in the human cycle. Denying this humanity is like saying that a 100 year old person near death is also not a person with a valid life. In this sense, I at least understand the reason why so many people are vehemently against it, but it has also become, like most political issues, way too black and white. But at the end of the day, at least the way I see it,a person’s own body cannot be controlled by another person. Childbirth cannot be forced on someone. Abortion is a terribly fraught, devastating decision for most: I have friends who have experienced it for a variety of reasons and it has left virtually no one unscathed (to my knowledge); I have supported these friends when needed (though I think for most women it is a private matter, as it should be, categorically not the state’s business), as I have also supported a friend who was almost pressured into having the procedure but in her heart knew she didn’t want to go through with it; it was her decision. Ultimately, I personally believe that taking away a woman’s right to have autonomy over her own body reduces the female majority of the population to mere inseminated livestock; walking incubators of wanted or unwanted babies with no control over their own destiny as individuals : it could even be argued that it is a form of slavery. And that some of the most backward states in the US – usually the most pro-slavery in the past – would take away the right to abort a child even in the case of child rape and incest – forcing that girl to gestate something inside her born of hatred and violence, devastating her in the process and in all likelihood destroying the life of the child itself – is completely unconscionable. In the purported land of ‘freedom’, it is a cruel joke.

And yet, although I think that there should be a total separation of religion and state, I can still understand how Roe vs Wade can be seen a moral issue, dependent on a person’s individual’s own religious or ethical beliefs. Like Shariah law, where homosexuals are thrown from buildings, and adulterers stoned to death publically, thieves’ hands chopped off, I can accept, to a certain extent, that clerics, who adhere to extreme interpretations of religious texts and somehow control the countries they originate in, truly, in the depths of their beings, believe that they are doing the right thing by creating laws that punish the ‘sinful’ in what I may personally feel to be a totally unacceptable and barbaric manner: the point I am trying to make being that whether I agree with it or not, I at least understand the original impetus for it. As a gay man who has struggled with many issues connected to being in an oppressed minority and a painful childhood as a result of it, the issue of LGBT+ rights is obviously very important to me, to put it mildly, and I plan to write about this at length from the perspective of personal experience; how for the same-sex couple nothing could be or feel more natural; that the opposite – being forced or expected to be with a person of the so called ‘opposite sex’ is deeply unnatural and quite simply, wrong for that person), but even with this said, I can understand – intellectually, in a way, at least – the objection to same-sex unions from people who believe that this ‘unholy union’ somehow violates and pollutes a ‘saintly’ institution, that of marriage, one that has existed for millennia between male and female in all cultures across the world, and that has been ‘perverted’ by the new non-traditional interpretations: I also understand that more conservative people, used to the traditional gender divide, find all the new identity politics disturbing and difficult to understand; feel threatened by it: big changes are afoot in how human beings express themselves; how much they can tolerate being put into boxes and categorized; trapped in stereotypical roles that feel wrong for them at the cellular level; but it is all undoubtedly happening too fast for a great number of people clinging to the past: and hence the current backlashes. It is a constant push and pull. As civil rights have always been.

I think what I am leading to is this:

IF – and this is a very very big if: IF I felt that the Supreme Court’s decisions were based on purely ethical/moral/ religious thinking; that the basis of the ideology were heartfelt ‘Christian’ values (very important to put Christian in inverted commas, because only a tiny percentage of so called Christians are actual Christians – as if Jesus would support guns! As if Jesus would support racism (NO: you actually can’t be a good person and be racist; it is an inherent contradiction in terms; Jesus was about compassion and forgiveness; love), then I could, despite my personal indignation, perhaps at least accept the essential integrity of the foundations for the legal decisions being made to take away our rights even if I myself think it callous, barbaric, judgmental and inhumane. I do believe that the majority of the Taliban believe firmly in the way that things are done in Afghanistan, for example, and I despite my own repugnance in their regard, I have much more respect for them than I do the Supreme Court, which is instead based fundamentally on the DOLLAR.

The court’s decision to expand gun control in the US, as well as preventing change on climate action (what? God not only hates the queers but also Nature? (!!!!) has blatantly exposed the corruption and evil at the heart of the supposedly just institution as well as its prime motives and blows all veneer of religiosity out of the water : ultimately, let’s face it, it is all about money, and protecting the rights of the rich. Conglomerates. Businessmen. Despite the wild west origins of America, and its long history of profound thirsting for the freedom of the individual and the need for physical security in such a vast, aggressive place, the fact that the highest institution in the country could make it easier for people to carry guns at this precise moment – so soon after the massacre in the elementary school in Texas – is more mindboggling and shocking to me than the overturning of Roe Vs Wade – unbelievably insensitive and morally wrong – and brings me inevitably to the thorny subject of Gad.

Gad is how I pronounce the word ‘god’ when I want to emphasize the deep disgust and hatred I feel for the invocation of a supposedly divine deity by those who co-opt this omniscient entity for their own materialistic greed. God is one thing: I am an agnostic: I don’t know what I believe. I am open to the idea, but am nobody’s fool. ‘GAD’, on the other hand, pronounced the American way, can go fuck itself. Nothing is more repugnant to me that the image of Donald Trump ‘praying’ to Gad with evangelists in a mega-church from a few years ago; corrupt doesn’t even begin to describe it. There are no words for the hollowness, the cynical, satanic emptiness; the creature who I believe is responsible for so much of what is going on in the world right now: even the death of Shinzo Abe, for all we know, could have been inspired by the orgy of gun death in the States, which is a tendency, a trend – America influences everybody, Japan too – much as the Joker stabbings in Tokyo last year were ignited by yet another sad loner watching a Hollywood Marvel movie and seeking the death penalty as his punishment (a trend here; people too cowardly to commit suicide by themselves in this weary and isolating world we are living in and instead inflicting non-ideological carnage on other people in order to receive the highest punishment by hanging). Look at the picture above; a gold machine gun being displayed at a Houston conference of the NRA, in my view the most vile organization that exists on the earth. Look how delighted, charmed, captivated the audience is by this gun : the woman to the right of the man holding it clasping her hands as though she is having a profoundly religious experience and feeling joy at the words of the sermon, of the priest. Instead, though she might have grandchildren who could be mown down at any given moment by the latest unstable young man who could storm into the playground and shoot her granddaughter’s eyes out, she is actually rejoicing here in the manufacture of a gilded machine gun. It defies belief, and I think this is the most nauseating picture I have seen all this year – and there have been many (this was in the New York Times yesterday) – including the charred and tortured corpses of Bucha. This is, for me, by far the most sinister.

During the ‘presidency’ of Donald Trump, due to my rabid opinion pieces on here where I almost lost my mind with rage, I would sometimes get into arguments with my parents and other people about this man; they insisting that I was exaggerating, overreacting, when in fact I feel 100% vindicated and think now instead that I was probably understating what a truly monstrous impact that man had, a bloated malignant narcissist who will soon be president again of a country that has gone completely and absolutely crazy (“FUCKING Trump” said our host on the base; he is responsible for all this!!!!!! , and he is right); from the hundreds of thousands of deaths from corona – all you needed was masks, just look at Japan – but that leering, orange monstrosity, embodying the sickening slogan in the rifle ad at the time of this page – CONSIDER YOUR MAN CARD REISSUED – ripped his off on the presidential balcony like the cartoon character that he is and jeered at those who just wanted to protect themselves, helping to create a million deaths in the ‘united’ states of america as well as directly influencing the disastrous policies of so many other places like Brazil as well (I pray that Bolsonaro, who is even worse, will be ejected soon; please -just another plundering, hate-filled bigoted vandal); his appointment of ultra-right wing supreme court judges directly impacting the gun laws in a free-for-all-fuckfest that will only benefit the shareholders of firearms manufacturers who are laughing all the way to the bank; a truly terrifying situation in which all Americans over the age of eighteen will be able to wander around with guns, legally, backgrounds unchecked, in a world that is increasingly troubled, toxic, too loud, too disorientating, confusing, overwhelming and debilitating, making it all too easy for any one of us to become sick with mental illness and thus, when the time comes, just shoot at random, just because.

No. Despite some of the hedonistic, perfumed fun times that I have been having – which I will write about later, as I can’t and don’t want to sustain this tone, which I just felt I had to try and get out of my system a little before I go out to do some filming – creativity the antidote- things truly do feel rather cataclysmic to me right now. There is a real ‘end of days’ feeling. A sense of things going very very wrong.

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