I recently saw a beautiful picture of a mosque and it immediately made me recall a wonderful time several years ago that I visited Marrakesh, a lot. T was working there for about nine months and so I spent most of the summer of 2008 nipping back and forth for long weekends and a few extended trips. I had no expectations or ideas about Marrakesh before I visited for the first time, and perhaps that’s the best state of mind with which to visit a new country because I fell head over heels for the place. I was blown away by the colours and the sounds. It was however a very tranquil and calm city, not at all like the noisy, dusty way it is usually portrayed in films. The light and the food were intense and wonderful and everything smelt like rosewater. Whenever I smell anything rose scented now I’m always taken back to the glossy modernist apartment T lived in, with its marble floors and the haunting echo of the early morning call to prayer filling the shadowy, cool white walls.
It was the most magical of summers. So I thought I would share some pictures of my time there to get us all in a summery mood.
When T first arrived a noble looking cat pitched up at his workshop and made herself at home. She promptly got fatter and one day gave birth to a bundle of little kittens.
One of the most beautiful sights in Marrakesh is the Jardin Majorelle. The villa and adjacent gardens were created by the artist Jaques Majorelle in the 1920s. The vibrant blues, cactus and bamboo plantations reminded me instantly of Frida Kahlo’s Blue House in Coyoacán. It is a cool and shady corner in a pink sunlit city. In the 1960s Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Berge bought the house when it came under threat from developers. Like me, they loved the dazzling blue colours, which reminded them of the Cut-outs of Matisse. I visited the gardens a few times that summer, it was just so serene.
Another of my favourite places was the Cafe de la Poste, one of the oldest restaurants in Marrakesh. It is pure French Colonial in style, and serves hands down the best baked eggs I have ever tasted. By day it is a mellow haven where you can spend a lazy morning reading a book and drinking coffee on the shady wooden veranda. By night it becomes a chic French saloon, dripping with 1920s luxe and colonial elegance. We spent a lot of time in this place.
As it was
While all of this was going on, the kittens had grown up a bit.
I ate some unbelievable food on canopied rooftops and in glowing candlelit taverns.
I’m not ashamed to say that when this dessert was put in front of me I welled up a little. It is to this day, the best dessert I have ever tasted. A giant profiterole filled with gazelle horn ice cream. No, not real gazelle. Gazelle horn biscuits are sweet North African cookies scented with almond and orange-flower water. I want to be spoon-fed this dessert on my deathbed.
In between me zipping back and forth between the UK and Morocco, the kitties had got even fluffier!
I don’t seem to have any shots of one of Marrakesh’s most famous features, the souks. Which is a bit weird because I spent what could safely be described as a crapload of time (and money) in those wonderful gilded and woven passages. Seeing as how no post about Marrakesh would ever be complete without a few shots of the souks, here are some that aren’t mine but are very pretty.
Then, before I knew it September had rolled round and it was my last visit. Sometimes, during that long, flower-scented summer, we would sit on the roof all night under blankets and watch shooting stars and wait for the sun to rise. I know for a fact that it’s not but, I like to think that this picture is of my last sunrise in Marrakesh.
Oh, and one more kitty pic for good luck…
Lots of changes have been occurring in Notebook-land in recent weeks and so I thought I would do a quick life-update post.
Incredibly, taught classes for my Masters course came to an end two weeks ago. I know! It seems like only days ago that I left my nice cosy TV job and became a full-time student again. I tend to live my life in academic years, with September being the start of all things new and I should know by now that in reality an academic year is significantly shorter than a calendar year. Running usually from September/October most courses teach for about 20 weeks, 10 before Christmas and 10 after. This leaves the time from the end of March until September earmarked for revision for exam graded courses or for researching and writing up dissertations, which is what I am doing.
I knew this ‘year’ would go quickly but it’s still unreal to me that I’ve actually sat in my last lecture. It’s a funny old feeling. Obviously I feel proud and pleased to have been through the process, but it also means I’m in a degree of free-air and need to keep flapping my arms and stay motivated during this unstructured period over the summer.
I will be writing up my dissertation. I’m studying Roman beads from London graves and I have had the amazing good fortunate to secure a placement for a few months with a fantastic archaeological unit and archive. I started last week and it was so lovely to be able to get cracking on something that I’m really interested in, surrounded be supremely knowledgeable people. So that little paper will keep me nice and busy until September.
Running in parallel to that, I have started working a few shifts at a wonderful new Modern Asian Deli which has a focus on fresh, clean and gluten free dishes. If archaeology hadn’t got me first, food is definitely something I could have devoted a large part of my life too. There was a time when a can of diet coke and a packet of ginger nuts equated to an adequate meal for me, but in recent years I’ve become more and more interested in clean, un-processed and raw foods. I’m no saint to be sure, but I do feel decidedly icky both in body and soul if I eat lots of processed food in a day and I generally feel happier, sharper and brighter when I eat well. So it’s lovely to be surrounded by colleagues and customers who are as equally buzzed by good food for few hours a week.
I’ve got a few other things on the hob as well, essays, volunteering initiatives in the future and an opportunity that I don’t want to talk too much about for fear of jinxing it!
Thrown in with that lot I have my usual mix of blogging, exercising, and seeing friends and family. These latter past-times unfortunately never get the time allocation they deserve relative to how much they mean to me.
So, as you can see I’m Chloe-pie-hands right now. Multiple jobs, multiple projects but just one faintly daft, personality.
Because, in my mind, I’m living a super-hero-esque existence with several not-so-secret identities, I simply don’t have time to expend much energy on my style choices. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up or don’t care and is certainly not an excuse to be ‘unstylish’ (heaven forfend), it simply means I need to be smarter and more streamlined in my dressing. As such, last week I purchased several new key pieces that match, I know fit and work well together. They consisted of black or neutral, cotton blend, stretchy items and a huge snuggly jumper. I also de-cluttered my wardrobe and put anything fiddly, annoying or items I wasn’t sure that I really liked, away and out of sight for a while. I’m sure I’ll unearth them again in the future, but right now I don’t have the time to be dealing with that tweed skirt that’s really a bit too tight and can only be worn with two blouses due to the slightly weird cut.
My wardrobe now has about ten key items that can be worn in any combination for work or play.
It doesn’t quite look as pretty as this (because despite what Pinterest would have us believe, life is never entirely neat). But I definitely feel I have a capsule wardrobe that has my back (ahaha) for these next few months of transitional plate juggling.
So this is me for a while, flitting between worlds and taking it all in.
I hope you are all having a wonderful weekend in the sunshine!
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Despite being a self-confessed Autumnphile I am, rather unexpectedly, excited about the spring fashions popping up everywhere at present. Specifically it has to be said, coats.
Bags and shoes are ok, but coats have always been my major wardrobe crush. I would have a different coat for every day of the week if I could annex anymore wardrobe space from a certain somebody.
So, with warm breezes well and truly in the air, I’ve put together a few of my current favourite high street and vintage spring coats and jackets – beware, pastels abound.
This lovely textured coat comes in two sherbet hues, and I can’t decide which I like more, so I suppose during my imaginary shopping trip of dreams, I would just have to buy both. I love how this has been styled with a simple black roll-neck to really make the colours pop.
Be still my beating heart. A mint coloured, 60′s coat, with no fur in sight, this translates to the coat of my dreams. I reminds me of a particular sweetie but I can’t quite put my finger on it, maybe a Softmint?
Not my usual choice and I have no idea quite how I would style it, but there’s something about this baby blue leather jacket that makes my tummy do a little flip. AND it is faux leather so even a boring veggie like me can wear it. Let’s just call a spade a spade – it’s lush.
Pink, fluffy, cocoon coat – what’s not to like. Again I’m loving how this has been styled simply with a beautiful soft roll neck jumper and mini beehive-esque do. This could happily be my uniform for the next few months.
*HEAD EXPLODES* It’s like every Wes Anderson film has been put through a sausage press and turned into a 60′s shift dress and peacoat double act. If this was a just a bit smaller I would be selling my cat for it.
Nom! Fluffy mohair and pastel tartan? Gosh-golly-oh-my, it just makes me want to step into some Hitchcockian Mary Poppins-land. I’d start with raspberry ice, and then some cake and tea and then steal a microfilm from a nuclear scientist in Zurich.
This is one of those pieces that I suspect is better in principle than practice. It’s gorgeous, I love how the black zips contrast with the marshmallow pink smoothness of the fabric. I love the double colour and how the sleeves look like you could take a bite out of them, like a Flump. But I think when I actually tried to team the darn thing anything I own, it would turn in to merry hell. Who wants a jacket that finishes up round your bra clasp, I ask you!? Be that as it may, awkward and clashing as it would unfailing be to wear, I love it just the same.
How cute is this? It looks a weeny bit like a maternity coat in this picture but I think that’s just the angle. I’ve had a fondness for the colour and the name ‘dusty pink’ ever since I managed to convince my mum to buy me a pair of Kickers from the Freemans catalogue circa 1995 that were ‘dusty pink suede’. I seem to remember much of the later nineties as me running around our house and various Centre Parcs villas shouting ‘WHERE ARE MY DUSTY PINK SUEDE KICKERS?!!’ Good times. If I still had those shoes I would definitely team them with this coat and go and eat candyfloss on a Ferris wheel somewhere. Preferably in 1949.
So with that, I hope spring has well and truly sprung where you are and lets all go shopping.
I have seen others taking part in the 100 Happy Days challenge all over internetland in the last wee while and I thought that it seemed like a lovely idea. I felt that it would work well as a countdown to a fun event like a holiday or something similar. So, what do I have coming up 100 days from today? Ooooh yeah! It’s my 30th birthday!
I’m really quite excited about my birthday this year. Some years I haven’t had the time to think too much about it because I’ve been busy or whatever, and whilst all of my previous birthdays have been truly lovely and full of the people I care about, I’ve never really planned months in advance for it. Well this year I am.
I’m pretty much the youngest in my social circle, and so I’ve watched my friends and older sister mark the 3-0 milestone over recent years with varying degrees of joie de vivre and terror. Some had big parties, some hid under a blanket. Watching lots of wonderful women (and they all were women) turn 30 made me feel fabulously powerful. I was so proud to witness these beautiful, funny and intelligent women reaching this landmark and having the opportunity to assess their lives, achievements and future plans. It completely inspired me to view the next decade of my life for exactly what it is; a new decade for new opportunities.
Approaching 30 doesn’t scare me in the slightest. I don’t feel old or sad to be leaving my twenties. I feel strong and pretty darn great to be honest. I feel like my twenties have been about experiencing life, developing my opinions and understanding my feelings. I have in the past few years melded this mish-mash of thoughts and emotions into a person I understand, and truth be told, quite like. My thirties will be about giving that person the opportunities to achieve everything she wants.
I can’t wait to celebrate my birthday this year with the people I care about most, my friends, my family and a true partner, who makes me laugh every day without fail. I’m very thankful for my life.
So what better way to countdown to the funtimes than the 100 Happy Days challenge!?
If anyone hasn’t heard of it, it is a very simple concept. You take the time every day to acknowledge something that makes you happy. It can be as seemingly trivial or as grand as you please – it’s a personal exercise and not a competition.
I’m starting today and will be using Instagram as my chosen platform to post my #100happydays pictures (chloe_notebook – come say hi ).
I love this whole concept because I suppose it’s something I’ve tried to do myself anyway for many years. I’m generally a pretty happy person. Less so now, but certainly in the past, I could look a bit gothy and I tend to be fairly stoical and calm which can sometimes be confused with melancholy, as such people tend to assume that I’m a bit dark and moody. Nothing could be further from the truth, inside I’m basically an idiotic spaniel puppy with eyeliner. I’ve always found a lot of joy in life, not unceasingly so it has to be said. There are stressful times and sad times to be sure, but I’ve always tried my best to keep my outlook inside bright even if outwardly the reverse may appear to be true. I try my hardest to be present in the moment and enjoy the small moments in life (even though sometimes that’s easier said than done).
Fittingly my first 100happydays is this blog, and by extension you reading this. Blogging here at The Vintage Notebook makes me truly happy. I’m proud of this little place and love having the space to let words tumble out of my head from time to time. The thing that makes me most happy though, is you dear reader. Thank you for stopping by and reading what I write, you make me very happy.
I can’t believe it’s taken me as long as it has to write these words but, I went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel. Weeks ago. The day it came out in fact. There’s been a whole lot of Anderson love around this blog in times gone by so you’ll have to forgive another liberal dollop of kitsch and unwavering symmetry.
GBH (as it will henceforth be abbreviated) is Anderson’s eighth feature-length directorial offering and it’s about as Wes Anderson as Wes Anderson could possibly be. Cinematographically it’s much grander (ha-ha) than his previous worlds, which have largely been rooms in dollhouses – confined and cubic. GBH embraces wide mountain-scapes and rooftop vistas, largely with the aid of the wonderful animation techniques which produced Fantastic Mr Fox. Stylistically the colour pallete was, again Anderson through and through and whilst yellow is the colour synonymous with his work, pink has to come a close second. A very specific shade of pink is peppered throughout the mustard brown sets of every Anderson film, simultaneously sparking flashes of 60’s Formica and femininity; Margo’s telephone and woollen gloves in The Royal Tennenbaums and Suzy’s outfits in Moonrise Kingdom are classic examples of its application.
Well Margo’s gloves are well and truly off this time around. GBH is pink, really, really pink. It’s everywhere, the characters wear, inhabit and eat pink. This makes the entire film feel like a fabulous German gateaux, piped, frosted, dusted with snowy sugar and finally sliced into during Kaffeeundkuchen.
In terms of plot and content, it is a madcap murder mystery crime capper set during the interwar period in a fictional Austro-Hungarian principality. The patisserie toned escapades are however overshadowed by encroaching European cataclysm at the hands of the sinister ZZ fascists, which ultimately draws the curtain on the world of the GBH. We see these events recounted through the doleful tales of an elderly man as he sits in the nearly empty GBH, now encased in a 1970s refit. It’s thin and ugly, wrapped in yellow ochre carpets that you know are itchy and prone to static. The counters and tables seem like they are covered with that fake wood print vinyl that you absently pick at when you are stuck somewhere dull and unloved, like an MOT service centre or a local council department office which deals with the quantification of car parking spaces. Anderson’s inspiration for the film was the work of Stefan Zweig, an Austrian novelist and pacifist whose despair at the rise of Hitler and the spread Nazism in European, led him and his wife to commit suicide in 1942.
When one considers this then, it is unsurprising that sorrowful and melancholic undertones are prevalent in this film. Yet, there is in evidence a resolute defiance in the face of darkness led by the power of the delightful, the polite and the humorous. I always find Anderson’s films hilarious but I would venture that GBH is the most consciously humours offering thus far. Ralph Fiennes is totally charming and his comic timing is genius, quite unexpectedly so really when one generally associates him with Voldemort, Coriolanus and Schindler’s List. Tilda Swinton is fabulous, Adrien Brody is slinkily creepy and Saoirse Ronan charming and strong in equal parts. Some may not appreciate Anderson’s established stable of stars who are trotted out unfailing for each and every film, but I do. I think it’s nice. It’s shows a genuine familial fondness in the production process and it reminds me of being a drama student and working on plays and projects with the same people again and again because you liked them and they liked you too, so they asked you to be involved. I think it’s an underrated aspect of what makes Anderson’s work, work.
Costumes are fabulous, although admittedly with a male dominated cast, most of whom are either in military or bellhop uniforms, there isn’t great scope for the wonderful outfits of, say, Angelica Huston in films gone by. Although as you can see Agathe’s buff pastel toned wardrobe is lovely.
In summary I suppose all that’s left to say is that I loved this film. It’s sweet, sugary sweet but with a mellow, dark aftertaste, like strawberries and black pepper. If you don’t like Anderson’s style generally give this one a very wide berth. If you do, you will find yourself returning to this film over and over again, probably on a Sunday afternoon, when you feel a bit fuzzy and want to snuggle on the sofa with a duvet and some choux buns and pretend to be Marie Antoinette.
I know this trailer came out a little while ago now, but I’m still so hooked on it I thought it was worth a post.
(urrgh, apologies, my imbedded You Tube plugin is being foolish tonight, so you will have to make the jump I’m afraid – click!)
Maleficent was always my favourite Disney character growing up, followed closely by the sassy French mouse from the Rescuers. I always thought that she was so beautiful and elegant and I loved the way her staff clanged on the flagstone floor. I’ve just remembered that for a while, I even had an imaginary pet raven who would sit on my shoulder when I was bored in school.
This trailer is so dreamy. It’s a beautifully thick and foggy sleep that you can never quite emerge from.
Needless to say I’m dying for the release date.
Sometimes even a research shopper such as I can go off-piste and succumb to an impulse purchase. In a month dominated by deadlines, presentations and many long hours in front of my laptop, I bought myself a little happy, for the sake of morale of course.
This little dress came home with me from Zara after sitting all alone and unloved on the sale rail, (Zara always has excellent reductions). Here I am about to head out for my sister’s boyfriend’s birthday drinks last weekend.
As any of you who have read this blog for a while will probably have picked up on, I’m an archaeologist in training. Or maybe now that my training is nearing its end, just an archaeologist – I’m not sure how I have to prove myself before I can officially say that.
Well regardless of the technicalities, my passion, joy and profession is archaeology. So on this International Women’s Day 2014 I wanted to draw attention to a wonderful group of women who run Trowleblazers. Their blog highlights the work of kickass women in the fields of archaeology, palaeontology and geology from years gone by, who have largely been forgotten.
I had been thinking for some time about writing a post profiling inspirational women in archaeology, like Gertrude Bell or Kathleen Kenyon, who dug the famous Jericho site and was acting Director of my own fair institution for a time. However when I discovered the Trowleblazers blog and twitter last year I promptly realised that their collective effort could do a much better job of it than me, so I humbly draw your attention to their good work.
The courageous and brilliant women documented by Trowleblazers are a true inspiration to me, and the knowledge of their work keeps me motivated and striving to be the best ruddy archaeologist I can be. I truly thank them and their trowels.
Some people don’t like the work of Wes Anderson, they find it contrived and maybe a touch pretentious. Well I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion. But that also includes me. So to those aforementioned people I would have to quote The Dude and say, ‘you’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole’. Yep, I’m afraid if you don’t like Futura font and a rotating cast of about five key players in every film you have come to the wrong neighbourhood my friend.
The last post was full of words and so I thought I would fill this one with images. I could wax lyrical about all of these films for a good thesis-sized piece - the deadpan one-liners, the music, Anjelica Huston, but I think I’ll let the visuals do the talking this time. So in descending age order we have… (by the way I’m not including Bottle Rocket because, well, it’s never really felt like a proper Anderson film to me even though it was the origin of the ‘three-profile-stare-into-the-distance motif’. Maybe I need to watch it a few more times but stylistically I like to think life begins with Rushmore).
The Royal Tennenbaums, 2001 (and my favourite film of all time).
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, 2004 (I’m not sure anyone on Earth has ever been more majestic than Anjelica Huston in this film, she’s a force of nature).
Hotel Chevalier, 2007 (little story – not long after I saw this short I had cause to rendezvous with T in a hotel in Marrakech. Before I stopped, actually more like one day forgot to smoke and never really remembered to again, I had a tradition whenever I arrived at a new hotel; before I unpacked or did anything at all I would take a cold glass bottle of Coca-Cola from the mini bar and drink it whilst smoking a cigarette on the balcony and breathe in my new city. I arrived at the hotel before T and started to prepare my usual ritual. However I then spied a huge, bright yellow dressing gown hanging in the bathroom, identical to the one from Hotel Chevalier. I promptly put it on, drank my coke, smoked my cigarette and breathed in Marrakech. It was one of the most blissful moments of my life. I still love Marrakech dearly. I also still have the dressing gown *blush*).
The Darjeeling Limited, 2007
Fantastic Mr Fox, 2009
Moonrise Kingdom, 2012
Castello Cavalcanti, 2013
The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014 (Gahhhh! Can’t wait to see this)
And if you haven’t seen any of those, do!
Occasionally in life you have to do things. Sometimes those things are amazing. So was the case when I was given tickets for the Drowned Man by my sister. I had the tickets and so I had to go. Of course I had also wanted to go ever since she had described it to me, and so it worked out rather well.
I will warn you now, if you have any intention of going to see this show (which I heartily recommend you do) don’t read anymore because it will totally ruin it for you.
The Drowned Man is the latest production from the fabulous Punch Drunk theatre company who in their own words ‘pioneered a game changing form of theatre in which roaming audiences experience epic storytelling inside sensory theatrical worlds’. Their latest venture is no departure from this format and allows a six hundred strong audience to wander through the three storey Temple Studios. The huge red brick building sits directly beside Paddington Station and is so large it is inevitably completely overlooked by most commuters, myself included. Audiences enter through a loading bay shutter and are then submitted to various coat checks, ticket collections and bag drops via a maze of temporary crowd railings which makes it feel not unlike you are gaining access to a military facility.
I’ll switch up the narrative for the rest of this post. The Drowned Man is an immersive interactive experience and audience members are encouraged to follow their own paths meaning that everyone’s experience of the action will be different. I can’t tell you what happened in the show because I don’t know. I can only tell you what I saw.
I walk beside my lovely Nell, arms linked through blacked out corridors. Shuffling and muttering with gaggles of people in front and behind me. We enter a black room and the door closes. We are all given white masks to put on, plain and vacant, somewhere between eyes wide shut and SAW. Suddenly with a clatter the back wall of the room is thrown open to reveal a heavy goods lift bedecked with actors portraits. A purring, ominous man in dinner dress invites us inside and acts as conductor and tour guide. He gives us some handy character insights and invites us to leave our friends and ‘go it alone’. Nell and I squeeze each other’s arms silently, meaning ‘not on your f-ing life’. Oh and one more thing – no talking.
We are, we are told, within the bowls of Temple Studios, famous Hollywood institution full of fading stars and broken dreams. Outside the gates lie the desolate scrublands where those who never made it eke out an existence in run down caravans and tatty dresses. Filming has finished on a major production and a wrap party is taking place that night. He’ll see us there. Bub- eye…
The lift doors open and, as in a dream, I can’t remember where I started. I remember I was soon in an Americana shop, selling leather goods with a wooden counter and till. Suddenly the score which is being piped in from all angles ups its intensity and the masked crowd begins to cluster outside the shop, so I follow. A dime store cowboy appears from nowhere, plaid shirt, black jeans, and soon engages in a seduction dance with two girls wearing bobby-socks. They make their match and leave. I realise I’m on a street from the 1950s, any street in any small town in America. There’s a diner with a barber inside, a cinema, the leather goods shop I had emerged from and a large fountain with several benches. I go into the diner, it smells like sugar and additives. There are a line of phone booths at one end so I go inside one and look at the business cards and posters for casting calls pinned inside. I consider briefly ordering a milkshake but then a man enters and locks eyes with the lolling waitress behind the counter. They twirl and swirl and skip around each other, ending up in one of the phone booths. She crawls over him, he lifts just with the strength of his back and the confines of the booth and they melt and fall over one another. Finally she relents and they kiss.
Then they rush from the diner and the crowd follows them. They crash through a door which reads ‘no admittance, studio staff only’. I follow the flow of the crowd as we chase down the action, the kissing couple are pressed up against a corridor wall, I walk past them because it seems rude to stay and watch. I’m now on a studio set for what looks like a low budget fifties teen flick. A girl’s bedroom has been set up complete with magazines, pink bedspread and hairspray. Beside this is a perfect mid-century kitchen, lemon yellow and plastic. Beside this, a high school locker room resplendent with school colours and white socks.
Lots of people are in my way and I can see very little, but then a directors voice bellows from the heavens, conjuring a sinister reference to the ‘sparkle in your eyes’ as one female actor seems to quickly take something to pep her up. The stereotypical high school dolls kick out a jazzy number with synchronised hand claps and beaming smiles. The voice yells cut and everyone deflates back in to human forms. The action moves to the locker room as one male jock brushes off the advances of a young actress, she is distraught and yells at him. He is alone. In slinks a woman, older, bolder than the girls and dressed in a cocktail dress, beside her a suited man with a wondrous moustache. They proceed to groom the young actor for stardom, he dances to their tune and accepts all advances.
They leave and we are alone on the set. I decide to go in to the corridor and see what I can find. I spy a room labelled ‘costume’ and of course take a look. Everything is dark and shadowy with very little light. There are rails of clothes at the far end of the room, hats hanging everywhere, glass cabinets containing gloves, handbags, compacts and shoes. It’s like the most wonderful vintage shop I’ve ever seen, and it’s all just sitting there, free for me to play with. I open some drawers and find yet more treasures. I run my hands over the fabrics and beads and glass. I wander through the racks of clothes but they have been laid out in a winding seemingly never-ending ‘S’ shape which gets darker the further in to the clothes forest I go, I hear voices inside the rails and get scared and back out. Maybe there’s another world at the end like Narnia, I think, but still don’t venture in again. I leave the room from a different door and am in a large muted green space that smells like antiseptic. Clip boards are pinned to every inch of wall space from floor to ceiling. Furled brown medical report are affixed to each one. I take some time to read the notes; Patient – Nancy Morgan. Occupation – Stand in. Condition – Anxiety. They went on in this vein, list upon list of ill or troubled staff members being prescribed cocktails of pills, I presumed to keep the smiles on their faces. Also in the room is a small stage and large projection monitor showing a loop of the running horse. I examine a sliver medical trolley equipped with syringes, kidney dish and various pristine steel implements. I pick up a pair of forceps and clang them together, then shudder and put them down very quickly.
I feel safe in my mask, anonymous and unaccountable. There are always people around me, milling in a similar isolated way, but really I am alone, wandering my own journey, seeing my own horrors. I go to leave the medical centre but as I enter the corridor a man in a white coat carrying a cane comes marching down from the opposite direction, followed by a band of masked observers. We nearly collide, he stops and looks at me hard, he takes his cane and slips it under my arm lifting my hand from my pocket and making me hold it out sideways. He eyes my outstretched arm as if taking measurements, his cane is under my hand and he gently flexes it so I wave my fingers slowly as he stares hard at them. I feel like John Merrick. He abruptly turns on his heel and walks in to his office. I along with many others follow him. He sits at his gloomy desk and begins to make Rorschach tests from a small tinkling bottle of black ink and heavy thick paper.
Some movement outside, a knock at the door and he leaves.
I go through another door into an almost entirely black room. A huge pile of scripts lie in a pyramid on the floor. I pick one up and take it to the desk at the end of the room to try and see better. I can just make out the title page which reads ‘The Drowned Man’.
I leave again and head back in the direction I had come from. I spy a room labelled ‘Wig Room’ and go inside. Dark, small and silent, filled with rack upon rack of decapitated Styrofoam skulls in gaudy curled and coloured creations. Paper eyes are pinned to them, cut from magazines always too large or small giving grotesque life to the staring faces. I peer around, touch the hair and leave.
To the next door along the corridor which opened into a dressing room. The cloying, sickly smell of old flowers fills the air, and I look up to see hundreds of dried bouquets hanging from the ceiling, remnants of faded adoration. I sit at one of the mirrors and read a letter which has been left open, it’s a love letter but I can’t remember the details. I open drawers and find lipsticks and powders, all old and used and full of memories. I read a few more letters but the names and places don’t make sense to me. I smell the air again and leave.
I head back through the boardroom and enter yet more black space, now becoming wholly familiar and not as unnerving as it used to be.There is a stage in the middle of the room with a black and white checkerboard floor. Small steps lead up and I can see something in shadow on the for towards the back of the stage and so I climb them. My boots rattle the hollow steps and I’m unsure if I should be doing this. I peer towards the shape on the floor in the gloom and can see a small basket, inside curled, as if asleep is a black dog, dead and strewn with flowers. I descend from the stage and move towards an assortment of backlit glass cases full of memorabilia like I used to see at the Hard Rock Café when I was little.
In another corner is a large glass window through which I can see in to a small house with a messy unmade bed, oodles of books and papers and a saggy sofa. A masked observer stands on the other side playing with a rotary dial telephone, listening, turning and listening again. I notice in the shadows on my side of the glass a similar phone on a tall stand. I pick it up and listen to cackles and tones, clicks and hisses. I put the phone back down and feel a bit sad that we never made our connection. I leave this space and head through a door. Yet more empty blackness.
I round a corner and am in a motel courtyard. Wooden veranda doorways run in a line with small prettily curtained windows interspersed. Facing this, to form a dusty mid-west street, is a large house, with a deck and a swing seat. I enter the door of this house and am in the messy bedded room I had seen through the glass a few moments before. My telephone friend has gone though and I make my way to where he had being standing. Where did he go? Is he still in this room? Which one of these masked shadow people is he? I pick up his phone and look up to see that the glass on this side is blacked out. One way glass. He never knew I was there. Suddenly I hear a tap. Someone on the other side is trying to reach me, I try to make the phone work but get the same buzzes and hisses, and they tap again. I tap back, slowly and gently, I try to convey that there is no point, I can’t see them and we’ll never reach each other. I turn away and wander through the room looking in handbags and on desks. Suddenly a foray outside breaks out. A man rushes into the dusty street, upset and frenzied. The bobby-socked woman from earlier emerges at the top of the street, they fight and cry and he drags her into one of the motel rooms. I don’t follow but head away and am back in the town square with the fountain and leather goods store.
I can’t remember what happens now but there is commotion as lives appear to be coming apart and lovers hurt each other. Here I loose Nell and end up alone in the crowd. I go back in to the dinner and sit down, my back has started to hurt. My timeline gets confused and dreamlike here but I remember a man coming in and crashing into a postcard stand and then storming out, he grabs a rope and runs into a small shack nearby. Too many people crowd in and so I can’t see but I hear animal like roars from inside.
Now I’m in a caravan park, wood chippings underfoot and large real trees creating eerie shadows in the lights. I go in to a caravan and read some fan letters addressed to ‘Dwayne’ that have been left lying around. A woman appears dressed in a tatty purple dress, clutching her belongings and looking scared. I remember suddenly that I had seen her earlier in the commotion at the fountain, she dropped to her knees and wrote in a notebook I peered over her and read ‘secretary’.
I wander across the wooden chippings on the floor to a small church made of corrugated metal, the entrance is a simple black hole. I move inside and see a small shrine with chicken feet, rosary beads and candle wax. I hear a noise in an adjacent compartment and peer around a door way. A man is stepping out of an old bath tub in the middle of the room, he’s naked and drying himself with a grotty looking towel. I think he might be the cowboy from earlier but can’t be sure. He gets dressed and leaves. The other audience members follow him. I’ve realised that as an audience we fall into two types; there are those who will stick with one character’s action faithfully, they well go where they go and chase after them at a run if they dash off to a new realm. Then there are the wanderers who drop in and out of certain scenes catching snippets of action. I’m certainly of the latter variety and I wonder for a second if this makes me a good or bad person? Am I fickle and easily bored? Probably. I’m alone in the metal church come shack and take some time to look around in the silence, I move into small triangular compartment where beads and voodo seem to litter everything. I feel someone watching me and leave.
I’m back at the caravan site. The women in the purple dress is still upset. A violently angry man in leather trousers bursts from one of the caravans and screams at her for owing him rent. ‘Do you know me?!’ she cries and I guess she has amnesia, and make a mental note – ‘possibly from the medical center?’ They cry and shout some more. I sit on a chair in the trees next to an old discussed dolls pram and watch the action. She’s writing again but the crowds scrabble around her and I don’t try to see. I’m feeling very tired.
The violent man grabs an audience member by the arm and drags her inside a caravan slamming the door shut. People wait and shuffle around as we hear him shouting inside. Just then another character runs past with their snake of audience, going at a real lick and sweeping up most of the caravan crowd too as they rush to witness a new scene. I stay outside the caravan as does the girl’s friend who is waiting anxiously for her. Everyone has left now and forgotten the girl getting shouted at in the caravan, attention diverted to a new venture. I look at the friend, she looks at me, two blank white masks staring at each other. I walk away.
I walk through the trees and find a door. Going through it I realise I’m in one of the motel rooms. I peer through the curtained windows and see the house with the messy bed and the telephone across the street. It’s a small room with two single beds. I root through the bedside cabinets finding flyers and letters. I feel like Agent Cooper.
Another scene, the bobby-socked woman from earlier sits on the swing chair on the porch, she waits for someone but he doesn’t come.
Later, or maybe earlier, I’m at the house with the messy bed and the swing chair again and the bobby-socked woman is leaving for the evening with a fair haired man who I take to be her husband. They head on and I follow. They go to a bar where a drag singer is performing ‘I Can Never Go Home Anymore’ beautifully. The singer begins to vamp for the husband. He’s uncomfortable but can’t leave. The singer towers over him, pushes him and eventually ends up siting on him as the blonde man lies face down on the bar. The wife looks on, just then the dime store cowboy from the earlier seduction dance appears and removes the singer, freeing the husband. Emasculated and ashamed he grabs his wife and leaves.
I decide to go to the cinema. I head to the town square and enter. The glowing sign tells me that ‘Eyes Without A Face’ is playing. Boxes of popcorn stand neatly on the kiosk. I head through the red walled corridors and enter a small cinema screening room with plush seats and thick red curtains. On the screen is the same running horse film from the medical centre. I leave again through a side door.
I’m in a large office. A desk stands at one end. Each end of the desk is an exact replica of the other complete with parallel clocks on the wall. However on one side the clock is going backwards. The studio duo who had schooled the boy in the locker room are tearing through headshots, throwing people away literary like trash, laughing mocking as their faces fall to the floor. The room is so full I decide to sit in a vacant office chair in a corner. My back aches. The woman says something about getting her secretary to clean up the mess, she writes a note.
I remember reading that this performance was spread over three floors and I knew that I had only been on one level thus far. I decide to find some stairs. I manage to locate stairway easily and the brightness of the white walls jars after so long in darkness. Blood smears trail up and down the walls. I head downstairs and come to a large open space with more wooden chippings underfoot. It seems to be a large outdoor space with the sort of wooden veranda bar I’ve seen in films depicting the southern United States. It looks as if a party had happened but I had missed it. Coloured lights are strung about and a sign reading ‘Happy Birthday Dolores!’ hangs limply. A sparkly garment worthy of Jessica Rabbit lies strewn over a chair. It feels like the Mariachi band had just left. I was sorry to have missed it.
I carry on through more doors and find myself beside a bank of dressing tables resplendent with glowing light bulbs, powder puffs and acres of glitzy showgirl costumes.
‘Excuse me’. I realise I’m in the way as two young women flit past me, and begin to make up and change. One is sad, the other confident and lovely with red hair and a cute fringe. The red haired girl hangs a small key around the neck of the sad blonde girl. I suddenly remember that earlier in the diner I had seen a Russell Brand look-a-like also wearing a key. I sense this is symbolic of drug use. Keep smiling, the show must go on.
I climb the staircase again and head to the top floor. Suddenly my feet hit an unfamiliar surface. Gritty and soft. I’m walking on thick sand. It’s black as always and I recall being on the beach at night sometime years ago. It feels vampiric and macabre, but maybe, I think, I have watched The Lost Boys too often. I’m in a huge room, in the centre sit row upon row of black clothed figures. It’s a funeral. Mourners silently waiting for something. Me? I seem to be alone and walk past the figures, realising that they are stuffed like scarecrows. Bright spot lights guide my way like stepping stones through the sandy gloom. I head further and further into blackness and can see nothing. I hear someone coming towards me and feel the throttle of fear briefly. The person walks past me, another white mask. I realise I’ve come to another staircase and so turn back and head across the sand again, as I pass the coffin I see photographs of the bobby socked wife from downstairs scattered all over it. In the corner of the space I spy more action. Suitcases, a lover’s triangle, shouting, laughing, tumbling. They run away. I head back downstairs.
I end up in a saloon bar. There are wooden tables and chairs around and a large raised platform to stand on. An antler chandelier hangs from the ceiling and not for the first or last time that night am I reminded of Twin Peaks. A hoe-down is in full swing. Yelps and claps from the group of men and women, eyes flashes, jealousies are evident. The music speeds up, the swings and whoops heighten in ferocity, it’s a messy crazy, thumbing blur of bodies and life. Suddenly the climax, the music peaks and then falls silent as the dancers collapse to the floor. Though a window across the bar I can see two people shagging, the woman pressed to the glass and her lover’s tousled head at her shoulder. I’m not the only one to have seen as a violent storm erupts within the dancers, clearly someone is being cheated on and it appears to be the guy throwing punches. The melee breaks off and people scatter.
The woman in the purple dress is back, but she looks different, smarter, hair brushed and make up un-smeared. She walks through the studio gates, she is starting work today. She heads into the big office with the long desk and clocks. She reads a note and begins to tidy up.
I find myself back in the square and the man with the rope is trying to hang himself again. I know where he is heading this because history is repeating. I nip into the shack quickly and watch as his suicide is interrupted by a man who comes crashing in to stop him, they scuffle, someone grabs a knife, it ends up in the stomach of the lifesaver, and he buckles to the ground. The suicidal man lurches from the shack, eyes the crowd fiercely and grabs the hand of a girl in the audience. He drags her running through doors, we follow, we are a crowd, flowing and flittering and I realise other audience snakes, loyal to their man and converging with us to form a tide of white masks. We pour downstairs into the big open wood-chipped Mariachi party space which I now realise is a hollow in a wood, slightly dipped and rolling with trees and leaves and a large knoll at one end. Audience snakes flow in from all directions via hidden entrances filling the hollow like a river basin when a damn bursts, suddenly we are all here. All six-hundred of us masked voyeurs have been brought to this point, funnelled and swept into a space at exactly the same perfectly timed moment, without us even knowing, thinking all along that we wanted to do it, that it was our choice to tread that path. How very, very clever. Nell! I suddenly think. I lost her hours ago, she must be in here somewhere, where’s my Nell?
Just then though a light shines on the leaf strewn mound, at least ten feet high. At the top are a couple, a man and a woman. She in a pretty dress, he shirtless. They are moving, pulling and fighting, hugging and parting. I see the knife behind her back. She pauses, thinks and then with a back step thrusts it into his stomach, and again and again. He falls, she holds him in her arm and cries.
A voice yells ‘Cut! That’s a wrap!’
We are all hustled from our places into the leafy basin and turn to face a raised veranda. Actors pour on to it from all directions, loads of them, far more than I ever saw perform. What where their stories? I wonder. We are asked to sit or kneel, I feel like I’m at Glastonbury. A dance ensues, stomping and frenzied like the hoe-down earlier. I see a woman in a red sparkly dress – Dolores! It’s your birthday! The music peaks, the stomping stops.
Rain falls at either end of the veranda in an isolated patch on two figures, a man and a woman, both holding, something, knives? Bodies? I can’t recall. Weeping, destroyed. I’m reminded of the desk in the boardroom, parallel clocks, one moving backwards, the same world with different lives, or the same life in different worlds?
The rain stops. We all cheer still crouched on the floor. I begin to look around for Nell, left and right. I look ahead and see familiar red hair. Sitting directly in front of me, in a crowd of six hundred people, four inches from my nose is Nell.