Grayson Perry and the travel pussy

It’s one part Hugh Hefner to another part Bond this morning, the first time in my life I have spent from waking until late afternoon in a bathrobe. Frustuk in the Capuchin wing of the monastery (those old monks presumably spinning in their graves, perhaps they moved to CERN). High ceilings, last days of Marienbad vibe. I download – buy – Dostoievski, complete works for one pound ninety nine.

It is fantastic to be able to buy and then read the books referenced in a place. In seconds. Perhaps for many the e-book is a modernity too far, but for me – on the road and unable to have a sherpa carry my extensive library – it is perfection.

Dostoievski published The Gamblers in 1866; but reading the novella now on the sun recliner next to the thermal whirligig pool it is as fresh and relevant and contemporary – and as cynical – as an AMC series about Madisson Avenue ad executives.

I whirl and gig in between the duplicitous, tragi-comic chapters. The Gamblers is a pretty savage comic-mode death-job on spa towns. I know, but have no facts, that we British went crazy for German spa in the Victorian Era. I’m pretty sure it was to here, Baden-Baden that William “Vanity Fair” Thackeray brought his chronically depressed wife for – failed – treatment.

Thackeray was the Wayne Rooney of the Victorian Novelists – ballerinas were his WAGs; and he ate like food was going extinct the next day. In one of his travel books, From Cornhill to Grand Cairo, he records a 12 course lunch, more food than I’ve consumed on this trip.

The Gamblers is located in BB, and thematically at the nexus of money, sex, race, Europe, marriage – and gambling. Funny that the “new” post-Bankruptcy B-Baden, seems so similar.

My poolside companions (inside and out) are leathered and German. They fill out those books of games fur uhr upon uhr. I guess they think I am dull for playing on a computer for hours. But it’s digital Dostoievski, so who cares? I start off feeling very white; later very pink.

At five I go back into town, and sit at the cafe which dominates the central crossroads. It’s not anything very special except that yesterday in the basement loos I’ve first seen – shades of Chapman’s Homer, Keats lovers – a “travel pussy.” In a vending machine that in the UK would be full of condomania, are one kind of condom, one “mini vibrator” and two types of artificial vagina. They are doing the Vagina Monologues in Strasbourg in November, but this vagina monologue appeared more about not having to “speak to the hand.” I needed a photograph.

Which is how I get to meet Turner-Prize winning artist, Grayson Perry.

The photographic plan was pretty simple, drink coffee, go for pee, take pix. But then as I am nursing another espresso (up to about eight a day, plus water and wine is my soul liquid intake…) when a slightly prim woman in vaguely punkish spex comes over. I guess because I have been looking over at the outdoor tables near me – where a large group of people dressed for a Hercule Poirot or Jeeves and Wooster shoot are drinking; a couple have wanderweg-ged over to a statue, a funny looking woman. Everyone is speaking English. About a millisecond before Punk Prim asks: “And who are you?” I hear the word “Grayson.”

So my reply to the question mutates. I say: “Actually, I am a critic from Freeze magazine.”
“Fuck, no!”
“That was a joke. I’m doing this walk…” Philippa Perry relaxes and we move into a long conversation about what’s going on – it’s a project for the BBC’s very own Medici Prince, Alan Yentob. The only man who’s nearly killed me at lunch. A long time ago at Kensington Place: I foolishly ate the monk fish, cue green skin, passing out….

Grayson is travelling – as his persona, “Clare” – Bavaria in a customised Harley Davidson bike, with a glass case at the rear where he keeps his teddy bear. The case is miked and camera’d to catch what the locals say. It’s all very high-end conceptual meets dressing up day on a particularly bohemian cycling holiday. Philppa has just published a well-received graphic novel, Couch Fiction; a graphic tale of psychotherapy. I promise to read it, though suspect I’ll have to wait for print, rather than IPAD download.

I meet the director, who asks about my shoes – he’s always had problems. An actress who has just been doing Shakespeare at the Globe; a publisher who wanted to come along. The elderly gentleman and his partner who customised the motorbike and travel with the gang to keep the Harley fine-tuned. Very “Imagine”; very old school BBC, the kind of thing we may have to fight for soon. Lovely, in fact.

We say goodbye and I go back to my Moleskine. Then Grayson comes over and sits with me because he knows how lonely it is travelling alone. He mentions a visit to Japan. He’s just ridden the Nürburgring with teddy. We get somehow onto mountains, church bells – how the English invented winter sports. He’s a friendly, very clever guy. I wish I knew more about his work.

“In the Swiss mountains, and again, more recently, ” I say, “I keep thinking about Casper David –
“- Friedrich,” I know, says Grayson. “I was driving the Nürburgring, and it goes pretty high and I was thinking Friedrich…”
“It’s funny how it took Romanticism to make people ‘like’ mountains.”
“They finally felt safe, felt safety, I think. The mountains weren’t the enemy any more.”

I begin to talk about Matthew Barney and the Slaugen show in Basel.”
“I have a problem with Matthew Barney -” But we never found out what.

Three London Biker-Geezers have arrived at the table. “I’ve got ten pounds says you were on ‘Have I Got News for You?” a couple of weeks ago.”
“Yes I was.”
Big grin – tenners all around. “You were good.”
“And what are you boys doing here?”
“We’re motorbiking Germany.”
“I just did the Nürburgring yesterday.”
“So did I, what time did you do?”
“Oh, it was slow. Where are you all from?”
“Essex.”
“I’m from Chelmsford [also Essex].”

We all get special Victoria Miro Gallery Postcards of the Project. The programme is out next year, 2011 – if the BBC still exists. I tell Philippa about the travel pussy. “We don’t need them,” she says, we’ll all travelling with our fuckees.”

The Travel Pussy is on the right

Later, winding home to the Capuchin Radisson, I stop at a posh bar in the hope of Russians, instead I meet a handsome local couple, Rainer and Renata (say), and they work as executives in one of the really smart hotels here. They’re sharp and fun, and they talk of the long Russian heritage here. Rainer’s just back from Argentina, lived in Chicago a long time. He loves the new bands, Hurts, and Delphic, and they’re both coming here – yes here – shortly. Better than Deep Purple, or Barclay James Harvest.

A bus stops by our table. A – sizeable – Englishman, young jumps out. “Casino?” he shouts. Twice. Nobody says a word. I stand up and give him instructions – straight, right, look out for, well you’ll find it.

“I thought I was back in Bournemouth,” Rainer says. Then I work out that the pair come from the hotel where the 2006 English World Cup Wags stayed. “Oh we loved Posh,” they say. Funny then, that this morning in a very Baden-Baden/Gamblers everything is for sale kind of way, that one WAG’s life, or at least their public personna’s life, has unravelled a little.

In the morning I begin to understand the Englishman and the casino. Tom slept rough the next two nights on the way to Heidelberg. I’m not doing that: it’s a bitch with the wifi. So I walk to the railway station, a two hour plus feat, far away from the old town, past malls and media centres and more casinos. The railway station has been taken over by England football fans. There is a nasty dark menace to the cafes and – yes bars. Everyone is drinking, it is 10am. The England match is in Basel, across the border. I wonder if these guys might have been turned back on an airplane. I don’t speak a word of English, but am so nervous, not speaking, I knock over and break a plastic moulded croissant. The boys just laugh. Two hours later I’m in Heidelberg and experiencing a spectacular time warp. Goodbye Proto Vegas; hello Second Athens.

Every biker needs a calling card

About robhunt510

Writer
This entry was posted in Alan Yentob, Baden-Baden, BBC, Dostoievski, Grayson Perry, Philippa Perry, The Gamblers, Thomas Coryat. Bookmark the permalink.

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