Loving Lowry, part one

So yesterday we ended up in Salford’s Media City, which should really be pronounced as a single word, mediacity – somewhere between mediocrity and mendacity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe rather striking Lowry theatre/gallery sits on the edge of one of those windswept plazas contemporary regeneration schemes, vaguely recalling a trip to Italy, insist upon, regardless of climate. Opposite is the insulting Lowry Outlet Mall. And all around are luxury apartment blocks, astonishingly mundane and uniformly balconied, again regardless of actual fucking climate.

I asked whether it was mean to imagine the inhabitants spending most of the year staring out through their rain-streaked windows at the stacks of grey clouds, wondering whether they should bring their mountain bikes in, and to relish the prospect of the handful of sunny days in which Salford and Manchester decant increasingly drunk and loud and red people into the area?  And hoodies sparking clogs, or whatever it is the kids do on the corner of the street nowadays.

Apparently it is not mean; in fact, asking seemed to make other people happy.

smag-087-n388-edited-for-web_1But we were there to see the Lowry paintings, only recently abducted from the Salford Museum and Art Gallery (opened in 1850, it was the first free public library in the UK). The exhibition is not as substantial as the one we went to at Tate Britain, but is probably more representative of Lowry’s range, and there weren’t twenty or thirty people between you and each picture.

There is much to love about Lowry.


The comic grotesquerie of his figures, most based on actual people, comes from a place of utter sympathy, and the settings make it clear that their deformities and infirmities are a product of the environment in which they live – an industrial landscape organised for profit, not for health and well-being and fullness.

The way his cats look like rats, and his dogs look like cats or rats or miniature sawhorses, as if he has never actually seen one and is working from a combination of poor verbal descriptions and kids’ paintings on fridges.


The way even his sauciest of images talks of constriction and constraint.


The way he would begin by painting a completely white background. He started doing this in response to a critique of the darkness of his paintings – his early impressionist work is not so much about the play of light on surfaces as its absence – but the result is to ensure a different and mundane kind of darkness: our mortality; the bone beneath; how tenuous we are.

His Anthropocene unconscious. But more of that tomorrow, or when I next get a few minutes.


I cursed the Territories in general and Arizona in particular

burning-mantisBy train and stage and horse and mule I went, and, when I had to, on foot. I cursed the Territories in general and Arizona in particular. I cursed Prescott and Phoenix and Maricopa; Sacaton on the Gila River Reservation and Snowflake on Silver Creek. At Brownell in the Quijotas I learned that William Howard Taft had signed the enabling act that would make a state of that hellish country, and thereafter I cursed him too.

Theodore Sturgeon, ‘Cactus Dance’ (1954)

Arizona: to Mexico, where life is not cheap but prescription drugs are…

The day started well, with clouds lower than the mountain tops out back of the house,


though that soon becomes boring, when it is all you see all the way down to the border.

The omens were mixed. We saw a road runner running across the road. Followed by a coyote running across the road. However, there were about ten minutes and ten miles in between these incidents, and the coyote was ill-equipped for the task of meep-meep! pursuit. On the other hand, there was a radio call-in show asking the vital festive question: ‘Are gingerbread men really cursed? Y’know, like a kinda voodoo thing?’ Sadly, we lost the station before a definitive conclusion was reached.

az3Odd moments of cognitive dissonance en route do not prepare you for the sheer ugliness and stupidity of the border wall – a rusty brown fence – stretching through the middle of Nogales. To cross over, you go down a narrow backstreet with a cardboard sign saying ‘To Mexico’, and then just walk through a turnstile and you are there; on the way back, you queue on foot for an hour and a half to snake through a too-small yet still undermanned border post, where there is not even a pretence of questioning, or examining the papers of, white folks. (Later, we drive through a checkpoint some miles into the US, where the same rules seem to apply.)

Most of the people crossing over live on the Mexican side, but some groceries are cheaper on the US side, where parts of their families also live. It is maddening, on all sorts of levels. The yanquis crossing into Nogales are there for one thing – affordable prescription drugs (and dentistry). On the Mexican side, Nogales is a lot like a seedy old English seaside resort, but for the first couple of blocks, every other store is a pharmacy selling drugs at a fraction of the price they cost in the US.

And the place is full of middle-aged white men you recognise from the TV, buying meds to combat their jaundice – and viagra.

To everyone’s surprise, we got back to Tucson without me spending any time in a Mexican jail or a Homeland Security holding pen…


Arizona: magazines, hobbies and casualties in the war on Christmas

It’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it

Most pointless hobby ever

All your bible/archaeology/impalement questions answered in one place

Of course, it’s not as good as Bite
And just lying there, in the street, on the day Trump finally actually becomes President Elect, the latest casualties of the war on Christmas…