Hearspool 9: Obsession is the latest hourlong experimental radio production from Momus, broadcast today on Basic.FM at 2pm UK time or available here as an mp3. This time we’re on the moon — or is it Antarctica?
1. I’m reading (via the Amazon “Look Inside” page) the letters of Italo Calvino. He’s discussing Jaspers, Chekhov, O’Neill, Pirandello, Fellini. With a hunger that reminds me of Gramsci in prison, he keeps asking his friends to send him books, reminding them of his address: “Before I forget: Adressus Florentinus: - ℅ De Ponti, 11 Via de’ Cerchi”.
2. I check 11 Via dei Cerchi, Florence on Google Streetview, just to get the flavour of Calvino’s life at the time. The city’s infrastructure hasn’t changed much since its Renaissance heyday, but the people walking about look, frankly, dull: cowboys with fannypacks. Parachuted in from who-knows-where, these tourists inspire neither love nor lust. Their guts spill freely, they waddle around in white shoes, their jeans are studded blue dragon-hide, they both photograph and are photographed by the Google apparatus (whose shadow is oddly absent).
3. I was last in Florence in 1976, on a family holiday. I remember buying a pair of “moon boots” in the softest cream leather I’d ever seen. I was astonished by the sexiness of the girls on the carless streets, girls Calvino calls in his letters “the most beautiful I’ve ever seen”. In the 1970s, the West is still slim and sexy, it seems to me. The invasion of tourism — the “parachuting” — has begun, sure, but the streets aren’t yet dominated entirely by baseball caps, belly-bulges, Lycra and Velcro, jeans and fanny-packs.
4. How can people be so sensible to a city’s beauty (the tourists are avidly shooting digital snaps) while remaining insensible to their own ugliness? How can people admire a naked statue by Michelangelo when their own bodies would look completely flabby and ridiculous carved in stone and set on a pedestal? Isn’t there some sense of incongruity? Modern people are rich and free, yet beauty eludes them completely.
5. I try to people these same streets, in my mind’s eye, with Westerners from 1974. They’re slimmer and younger and much more aware of their bodies, they wear cheesecloth and kaftans and are heavily marked by the most countercultural, the most optimistic decade of the West’s 20th century, the 1960s. Their colour palette is much brighter than the 21st century Western tourist’s sad array of whites and blacks and greys and blues.
6. The people on the streets of Japan today please me. They dress well, and their bodies are slim and trim. Like Calvino in Florence, “I’ve never seen so many beautiful girls”. The Japanese look to me now the way Westerners did in the 1970s. Somehow all sorts of stories can unfold in my mind because of the possibility of feeling desire and admiration for ordinary people in public places. In Fannypack Florence no stories happen at all, or certainly not stories that I’d want to spend any time thinking through. Restaurant, hotel, airport, credit card, The End.
7. Trevor Bolder has died. He was the bassist in David Bowie’s early 1970s group The Spiders From Mars. Now Trevor Bolder is someone I heartily approved of, sartorially speaking. Not only was he “cool in the 1970s” (as just about every Westerner was), he was cool and Japanese in the 70s. Even more than Bowie himself, he embodies Glam Kabuki style in all its elegance and exoticism. Samurai shoulder pads, flared sleeves, a coxcomb collarpiece, traditional Japanese patterning, and those extraordinary sideboards, grown long and dyed white to contrast with cascading black hair.
8. Trevor Bolder could stand on a pedestal in a Florence square and it would still be the Renaissance. You would still want to exclaim: “What a piece of work is a man!” There would still be interesting stories to tell. The decline of the West could be postponed, if not altogether avoided.
Photographer Miyoko Ihara photographed her grandmother Misa (88) and Bowie-eyed cat Fukumaru to create a bestselling photobook. I particularly like the old lady’s wood-burning, water-boiling stove, perhaps heating water for a Goemonburo bath.