Monday, July 30, 2012

Rainbow Country

The northern lights get all the press, but as we found on our trip to Iceland earlier this year, rainbows are also surprisingly common.

I think it is the changeable weather, coupled with the low angle of the sun, that is responsible for this profusion of rainbows. On our second day in Reykjavík, we saw a glorious rainbow over the Faxaflói bay.


And those are just the ones in the sky. Then there is the sculpture which greets you on arrival at Keflavík Airport.

And the many graffiti rainbows on the walls of Reykjavík.


And finally, my favourite: a poster in Café Babalú, a wonderful little coffee-shop in Reykjavík.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Beaked God

The most outrageous thing I have ever worn to an airport was a tall Ladakhi ceremonial hat. Shocking pink with a silken sheen and golden tassels, it caused a sensation at Leh airport in the summer of 2010.

I had acquired said hat at a street-market in Leh, but when packing at the end of the trip, I discovered it wouldn’t fit into my backpack. The only way out was to wear it to the airport, a solution which had the added benefit of providing long-suffering air travellers and airport staff with some free entertainment.

Recently in Venice, I bought a papier-mâché carnival mask, too fragile and oddly-shaped to go in my hand-luggage. But it was a striking and beautiful thing, hand-painted in bright colours and embellished with gold-leaf, and with a sinister, phallic beak, like the god Quetzalcoatl.

Naturally I wore it to the airport. Italians, naturally excitable, thought it was hilarious. Some tried to engage me in conversation, but behind my mask I remained silent and inscrutable. Occasionally I raised an enigmatic index finger. When the fancy took me I drew a finger across my throat in a slicing motion, or nodded in stately fashion. With these and sundry other cryptic and sinister gestures, I frightened off the curious. I was like unto a beaked god among these babbling imbeciles. But for security check and at the immigrations desk they made me take it off.

Unfortunately there are no photographs of the pink Ladakhi hat, but Myshkin took one of me wearing the mask, and a bed-sheet for a cloak.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Zone 1 Snobs

Transport for London has a system of fare zones: Zone 1 is a roughly circular area covering central London, and Zones 2 to 6 extend around it in concentric rings.

I stay at Island Gardens, on the Isle of Dogs. Though this is in Zone 2, it’s close to work (only a 15-minute cycle ride away), and rents here are lower than in central London. But these reasons are not good enough for the Zone 1 snobs.

Most people of my acquaintance who live in central London are, to a greater or lesser degree, Zone 1 snobs. Spoilt by their proximity to tube stations and good restaurants, they look down on anyone who lives in Zone 2 or beyond. As for dwellers of Zone 5 or 6, a Zone 1 snob barely deigns to acknowledge their existence.

Should some errand require a Zone 1 snob to venture into the outer boroughs, they do so with many a complaint and protestation, and great is their relief once their mission is accomplished and they can return to familiar territory – “back in civilisation,” as the Quaker (himself a confirmed Zone 1 snob) once said, on arriving at Leicester Square after a long walk that skirted the outer reaches of Zone 1.

Anasua is moving to London later this year, but because she is planning to live in Bloomsbury, she has become a Zone 1 snob even before she has arrived in the city. Last week I was telling her I stay near Canary Wharf, to which her reaction was, “Canary Wharf sounds so uncool! Exactly like living in Howrah. Or even [shudder] Garia.” Readers who are familiar with the geography of Calcutta will recognise what a damning indictment this is.

But Anasua is not alone in her disdain for the Isle of Dogs: Zone 1 snobbery is by no means a recent phenomenon. From an 1858 publication quoted in the Survey of London:
The island is peopled by a peculiar amphibious race, who dwell in peculiar amphibious houses, built upon a curious foundation, neither fluid nor solid. Damp is a thing unknown in the Isle of Dogs – everything that is at all wet being thoroughly wet through. The houses, in many cases, drop on one side, at a greater angle than the notorious Leaning Tower of Pisa … productive of great inconvenience in a thickly-inhabited house, especially where there are crockery and children.
And on that note, here is a photograph of a fellow resident of the Isle of Dogs – neither peculiar nor amphibious, but fittingly, a dog.