Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Everyone's talking about Jordan and Peter Andre

OK, well, everyone in the reality that I inhabit that is, which is what counts right? In this weeks' issue of OK Magazine, Jordan aka 'the heartbroken star' confides in the magazine about her 'shock' marriage split. Yes, she's so heartbroken and shocked she's managed to pose for an exclusive photoshoot to accompany the feature wearing 10 tons of makeup to look like she isn't wearing any. She's bare faced, sincere, and coming clean - get it?

It's good to know that despite being so distraught and cut up over the end of her marriage, she's still able to strike poses that show off a good deal of thigh and cleavage. I mean, why break with tradition? The pictures are accompanied by little blurbs to tell you what they are: Facing Page: Devastated Katie - Dress £189 Harvey Nics, Shoes £300 Gina, 5 thousand magazine deals (accompanied by flesh-bearing photo spreads) re public divorce: Millions. OK, so maybe it didn't really have that stuff about the dress and shoes.

It's sad for their children, not least of all because they will undoubtedly get dragged into future photo shoots accompanying their lingerie-clad mother spilling the beans on every last filthy detail of the state and demise of her marriage. But I don't really believe either of them are bad parents - I mean you actually have to spend time with your kids to be in a position to act as a bad parent right?

But (claws firmly retracted now) I do sincerely like Peter Andre. Call me sad, but in the various 'reality tv' pieces they have done he comes across as a genuine sort of person who isn't afraid to be emotional, and it's very clear he adores his children. As for Katie, well, who knows? The woman is about as charismatic as a piece of plaster board and appears emotionally arrested, so it's hard to tell.

There's massive speculation in Heat Magazine about whether or not the split is a publicity stunt, and OK magazine has dedicated almost an entire issue to the history of their relationship which resembles a photographic eulogy. Whatever's really happening, magazine sales are up and everyone's clearly making a buck.

And on the subject of making money, the 'Team Andre' T-shirt featured is something I macced up. Feel free to steal the idea, I'll certainly buy one. I also created it to accompany this post because I'm sick and tired of getting emails from photo agencies demanding huge sums. Haven't you people heard of fair use? Gawd.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Anne Frank's house

On Sunday morning, despite approximately four hours of interrupted sleep thanks to my hotel neighbors coming in in drips and drabs from their various nocturnal activities, I woke up and decided to visit the house that Anne Frank lived in before her untimely death. In retrospect probably not an ideal excursion what with being severely sleep deprived and hungry, but given that I only had a couple of hours to spare before our flight, I felt it was a more worthy use of my time than sleeping or eating breakfast. I bet Maslow would have something to say about that.

After waiting in the queue for 30 mins (getting there early has been an advantage) I entered with a tight feeling in my chest, knowing I was setting myself up for a difficult and painful experience.

For some people I think going to the house is a thing you do when you visit Amsterdam so you can say you've 'done' it. For others it is an integral part of their culture and past, (indeed isn't it an integral part of all of our pasts?) a concrete place to visit, meditate, and remember grandparents, relatives, and friends for whom no such place exists. For others still, and perhaps a category I fit into, it is about visiting an important historical landmark and paying your respects. To remember, and by doing so, become aware, and perhaps try and gain some understanding of the spirit of humanity, both good and evil.

It is no surprise that the experience left me feeling profoundly upset. Shaken in an archetypal sort of way that is hard to explain here. It wasn't just seeing a place that these people had lived and hidden in, both in fear and hope, for such a long time. The height charts still on the wall showing the children's growth. Anne's pictures (the subject matter not that different to things that interested me at that age) cut from magazines and pasted onto her bedroom wall, to try and approximate an outside world and freedom she had no access to. The windows perpetually covered so those people never felt the sun on their face for two long years.

More so, it was a painful template, giving a concrete reality to the millions of faceless families that were systematically torn apart and murdered. Just imagine for a moment, your children and or loved ones being ripped from your arms and taken to their certain slaughter. That feeling that you instinctively experience when you imagine that - that is the feeling that accompanies you when you walk through that house and which lingers long after you have left it.

What is desperately upsetting and deeply worrying, is that this is not just the story of this one family, or of the Jews, so we can reflect, 'Yes that was a terrible terrible thing that happened to them,' and then move on with our lives. Racism, discrimination, and ethnic cleansing are alive and well and happening today. People are being slaughtered en masse as I write this, just look at Darfur. And there's the disappearing of people in Sri Lanka, again, happening right now. And and and. This is not just history then, this is humanity at its worst playing this nightmarish drama over and over again, and one wonders if it will ever end.

As a teenager I asked my grandmother, who had lived through the war in South Africa. "But didn't people know about the Jews being murdered? Why didn't anyone stop it?" "We heard stories," she said, "but what could we do?" Indeed, what are we doing from stopping it happening today? How are the people in Darfur and Sri Lanka, and countless other places were such atrocities are taking place, any different to Anne Frank and her family? What are we doing to help these people?

It was also a very sharp reminder to me of the extraordinarily fine line between casual racist, discriminatory, and bigoted remarks and opinions, and the blanket depersonalisation and objectification of people which led to the Nazi's and their sympathisers doing what they did. How, I ask myself, could you kill all those people? How could you kill children and babies? These terrible cold blooded evils, perpetuated by men and women with their own families and children sitting at home awaiting their return each day.

It is important that we face these dark thoughts, and ask these questions, so that we can remember, become aware, and in doing so keep ourselves in check and teach our children. It is also true that at some point I had to stop myself from fixating on it, and indeed since my return, keep myself from returning to those thoughts, because it is too much. You need to step out of that place from time to time, because the alternative is drowning in it. As Primo Levi said, "One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way; if we were capable of taking in all the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live."

More positively, the experience was also strangely and surprisingly life affirming, not unlike surviving an accident. I came out of it acutely sensitised to my life and what fills it. It made me feel profoundly grateful for my family, for my daughter (who was showered with kisses and held a bit too tightly on my return), for Robert, for the fact that I live in a democratic society that allows me to voice these thoughts and opinions. That I can live my life without fear. That I can step outside and feel the sun on my face. That I can, god willing, see my child grow and have children of her own. That I am free. That I am free.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Jews for Jesus and intense environmental guilt

There was a neatly dressed middle aged man handing out 'Jews for Jesus' pamphlets in Hampstead today. As he tried to hand me one, I wondered if he had detected my one quarter Jewish ancestry in my features, or if the Jews for Jesus don't discriminate and are trying to educate and invite all and sundry. After crossing the street and taking another look it appeared that he was in fact disseminating to pretty much anyone.

I should have taken a pamphlet, as I'm curious. I mean, there are some questions regarding the central premise there. But I was in a hurry to get home and didn't want to risk a time consuming religious discussion. The last time it happened I managed to get a Scientologist so irate with me, that even as I walked away he was shouting angrily in my wake. Who knew that Scientologists could have such tempers on them? What with their low stress levels thanks to all those Theta tests.

Today I got suckered into buying an expensive cosmetic product that I really do not need. And I'm so angry at myself. I hate those cosmetics sales people. You go there to buy one thing and before you know it they've convinced you you really really need six. That your skin, your life, and the state of the world depends on it. What makes me even more angry is that I know this, and I went there prepared to fend off any extraneous product pitches, and what happens? I come home with something to 'intensely protect my skin from the environment.' What I really need is a product that intensely protects me from evil pushy cosmetics saleswomen and my own pathetic weak-willed narcissistic self.

I try and assuage myself with the (very) remote possibility that my odd extraneous purchase is helping our failing economy - circulating cash back into the market and all. Nothing like a rationalisation to deal with the guilt, if only it worked.

And on the subject of guilt, I'm off to Amsterdam with some girlfriends tomorrow for the weekend. It has to be said that I'm not looking forward to leaving Julia for a whole weekend. She'll be with Roberto, so in hands I consider as safe as my own, but it feels like such a long time to be away from her. This evening, while I was bathing her, she said, out of the blue, something I say to her when she gets back from the park with Anna, "Mamma, Imissya". Yeah, you can imagine how that makes me feel about leaving her tomorrow. Perhaps it's not so much about her separation anxiety as it is my own.

Not sure if I can be bothered to lug a laptop with me to the land of tulips and free syringes, so I'll probably make copious mental notes, forget everything on my return thanks to a couple of late nights, and write a highly embellished account of the weekend come Monday. Ta ta.