As I write, the traffic is still backed up from the Wandsworth Road – I can hear an occasional frustrated honk from a trapped van man, or the stifled yawp of an emergency services vehicle threading its way through the metallic mesh. I’ve only been out this morning to walk the dog: a turd-bagging totter around the block, but even here, several hundred yards away from the actual road closure, there are sheepishly bemused drivers diverted away from the flock.
‘‘Which,” I asked the nice young man in Le Pain Quotidien, “is the most daily of your breads – by which I mean the most popular?” To his credit he wasn’t fazed: “The baguette,” he replied, “absolutely – we sell many more of the baguette than any of the others.” This seemed a shame to me, because the other loaves had a pleasingly rustic air about them – great cartwheels of golden pain ancien, reposing on equally golden wooden shelves, the whole reminding me not so much of a boulangerie in La France profonde, as of a BBC television adaptation of a Marcel Pagnol novel.
These are the coldest collations of the year: shards of glass tossed on the kerbstone, dressed with vomit. Nearby stands a seven-eighths empty bottle of supermarket champagne; while if you follow the straggle of pink streamers you can see beer cans lurking by the wheelie bin, tinnily jostling. The party has well and truly pooped out.
Last year there was comparatively little hoo-ha: the failure of the Mayan prophecies to come up to scratch left the credulous with sod all in the way of an apocalypse – while as for the more civic-minded, there was a mass sense of the anticlimactic: the Eve marked the end of the spectacular year of the Jubilympics, a twelvemonth of unsurpassed gloriousness and achievement, the like of which we’ll never see again in our lives, nor our children and grandchildren in theirs.
I thought it might be a good idea to depart this year with an explosive fart rather than a whimpering burp, so I arranged to meet a young radical friend of mine at the Spaghetti House in Knightsbridge. The Spaghetti House chain seems on the surface to be an inconsequential thing: there are 12 coiling across London, dishing up pasta, pizza and the trimmings in an ambience of dark wood and off-white Artex – so far, so dull.
Oh, I do so hope, dear readers, that you don’t feel I’ve been neglecting you? I do try so very hard to give the impression that I’m a grounded sort of a fellow, with a proper appreciation of the follies of our age – but it’s difficult you see, when I’m in such a whirl. I’m just back today from São Paulo, where the deliciously modest and unassuming Tracey Emin had a little vernissage at White Cube. I’d gone there from Hong Kong where I attended the opening last Thursday evening of Takashi Murakami’s new show at the Gagosian Gallery – lovely bright paintings of flowers and skulls that would make good wallpaper.
The “spatialisation of culture under the pressure of organised capitalism” is how the veteran critical theorist Fredric Jameson described the Westin Bonaventure hotel in downtown Los Angeles. This behemoth of a hostelry comprises a curious agglomeration of four giant squeezy bottles coated with mirrored glass grouped around a six-storey high atrium, up the sides of which shoot glass lifts. The Westin – which has a stand-still part in the epochal video-game series Grand Theft Auto – was, with its colour-coded zones and its restaurant-cluttered levels, an early spatialiser of late capitalism but, three decades on from Jameson’s appraisal of it, Zizzi, a chain of some 120-plus, vaguely Italian restaurants, is surfing the zeitgeist when it comes to such figurations.
The opening night of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées on 29 May 1913 has gone down in the aesthetic annals as one of the most exciting art riots of all time: the premier example of an aesthetically challenged mob baying for the blood of the innovators. As Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes dancers circled the stage in wild khorovods, to the accompaniment of the atonal “The Augurs of Spring”, they trembled, shook, shivered and stamped.
I’ve written before about those hideous, collective earworms – the nonce-phrases that clutter up our mouths then fall unbidden from our lips – and I make no apology for writing about them again; if you like – and if it makes it any more tolerable – think of this as a sort of nonce column, quite inadvertently repeated, with no more awareness being exhibited on my part as I type, than you have when you utter the words “to be honest”.
Numbers of giraffes (Girrafa camelopardalis) in the African wild have more or less halved over the past decade, while the numbers of Giraffes (Restaurant pseudoglobalis) in the urban areas of Britain have more than doubled. I wonder if there may be some axiom at work here and that the inverse correlation is a fixed law. It would follow that anyone could start any old chain of crap restaurants, calling them – for example – Platypus; and so long as the namesake species was rapidly exterminated, success would be guaranteed. I realise this is a troubling business plan – but we live in troubling times.
The mot juste is oophagy, meaning that strange form of in utero nourishment whereby embryos feed on eggs produced by the ovary while still in the mother’s uterus. There is speculation among ichthyologists – and sociologists – that oophagy may be preparatory for a predatory lifestyle, but in organisations such as the BBC it seems to serve no useful or adaptive function at all.