Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

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Kew’s gardens.

January 4, 2013

After a fine New Year’s Eve party and a bracing New Year’s Day walk (and post-walk viewing of The Princess and the Frog), the 2nd of January was the day Toby and I went to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Before Christmas, Toby’s eagle eyes had spotted an offer for the 12 Days of Christmas at Kew, which basically consisted of free tickets to the gardens. And so off we went! Although it was a cloudy and drizzly day, there was plenty to see and we had a fabulous time (I must be growing up / getting old, because visiting a place like this for 3 hours would have been my idea of hell only a couple of years ago). There were various intriguing sculptures:

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Conservatories filled with tropical plants and palm trees, desert environments and tanks with marine life:

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A part dedicated to alpine plants (with some very pretty narcissi) and a Japanese garden area similar to the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park:

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Some beautiful temples scattered around (dedicated to a lucky Princess Augusta), an impressive lake, and some intriguing statues:

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As the rain came down more persistently, we walked through more of the park area, along an avenue lined with thimble-shaped bushes, and to a Japanese pagoda.

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This is where the pictures end, but there was more! We came across an overpriced café/restaurant which I am sure served lovely food and drink but at more than I was willing to spend when out for a day in a park. And if we’d gone there for free, I think I would have felt even more aggrieved had we already paid to get in and then had to pay more to sustain ourselves along the way! There was a stinky compost heap, and located near that, the most terrifying part of the day: the Treetop Walkway. So it looks lovely on the website – take my advice and stick to viewing the pictures here. Because once you’ve climbed four floors’ worth of see-through metal mesh stairs, you’ve taken a couple of deep breaths (up until this point in my life, I was able to tolerate heights, but I’ve evidently developed a fear of them) and begun to walk round (the walkway is a large oval-shape), you realise that IT MOVES. The fucking walkway SWAYS. I am using caps because that is how much it freaked me out. I held on to the wooden banister and started to walk round more quickly, keeping my eyes looking at the (on that day, murky) canopy of trees to distract myself from: the fact that the walkway seemed to be held up by nothing more than sparse metal trees, the swaying which appeared to be becoming more violent, and the mesh floor through which one could see the ground far below. Toby was a few feet behind me and suddenly called to me that he felt sick and had to go back down; I gauged that despite feeling like the terror had been unremitting for at least 10 minutes, I was less than a third of the way around the walkway and so I decided to practically run with him back to the lift and get down and off the thing sharpish. Even while we waited for the lift, I could feel the structure moving.

I never saw or heard a giant crash or collapsing of the structure, and so I presume that everything was fine and that the Treetop Walkway is indeed meant to sway (perhaps it gives one a more vivid experience of what it’s like to be a tree). The view is fantastic, as you can see on the link in the above paragraph. But if you even think you aren’t a fan of heights, take my advice and stick to the website experience: don’t go up there, because it’s terrifying to anyone with nerves of less than steel.

And with that, we decided to say goodbye to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. It is a truly fantastic experience and well worth seeing once – I’d happily go back again next year if we can get free tickets again. Although it feels very “cultural” and its visitors were largely comprised of families trying to entertain their children before they go back to school and elderly National Trust devotees, it was wonderful to do and see something different, and to be wowed by the feats and ingenuity of nature. The aquarium-style exhibits were wonderful, and the conservatories are numerous and really immerse one in a tropical environment. And of course, that Treetop Walkway is an unforgettable experience 😉 It’s definitely worth a visit!

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my favourite song – Mariah Carey – Outside.

July 17, 2009

The second song in this little feature that I’m doing is truly one of my ultimate favourite songs from my ultimate favourite singer Mariah Carey.  I remember for my 12th birthday, my nan bought me her new album at the time, the incomparable Butterfly, and I played it to death.  It was my first Mariah Carey album, I pretty much bought all her others as a result, and the way that I sing and my musical taste has been heavily influenced by this woman, and by this album.  My favourite song on this album is the closer “Outside”.

The song is a powerful, personal ballad which has a slow 6/8 time signature and a lush R&B backing (the ending of the electric piano is one of my favourite sounds/instruments) to compliment Mariah’s masterful vocals, which start off by emphasising the fragility of the lyrics and end up soaring over the gospel arrangement of the bridge, at once empowering both the singer and the listener.  I could rhapsodise about Mariah Carey and probably fill a book, but she is, IMO, the consummate singer/songwriter/producer of our generation.  She is a target of blame and a butt of jokes, but at the end of the day she has the best voice around, the most successful track record in popular music, a wonderful body and has no apparent vices or addictions.  On this song, I believe she is at her best.

Looking at the lyrics (included below), the song could be about a multitude of issues that cause people to feel alienated in their lives.  Be it homophobia, feeling insecure about your appearance or your intelligence, relationship troubles in either a romantic or a familial sense, the song encompasses a variety of situations and sentiments.  I believe the song is primarily about racism and the identity quest of being mixed-race, as Mariah has more or less stated this in interviews as well as being very vocal and open about her own racial identity and the prejudice she endured as a mixed-race child growing up in Long Island.  Although being gay I have endured some teasing and prejudice at both school and the workplace (though nothing serious, and I guess I handled it ok), the way I primarily identify with the song, and why it means so much to me (apart from the common sentiment that we’re all alone in the end etc.) is because I am mixed-race too.

Unlike Mariah, I have never endured any direct prejudice because of it.  In fact, to look at me, I am your typical white British male; except that’s not what I am. I am half-Italian and was primarily raised by the Italian side of my family (who came to live in Bristol about 45 years ago).  I’ve always felt more at home with that side of the family, and although I am gay and very in touch with technology, fashion and the media as popular culture, a part of me is still connected to the old-fashioned family values and Catholic traditions with which I was raised.  So there’s both a conflict and contradiction in my identity, and the fact that I fill in “White British” on forms (which quite possibly compounds the problem!) is purely because it is easier than having to explain to people my racial background every time someone raises an eyebrow at me.  After a short while, having to fill every single person in on my backstory and family tree gets very tiring, and I have to field questions such as:

“But you were born in England, so you’re English really.”  Um, I never said I wasn’t English, but if someone was half-Japanese and was born in England, you would probably still call them Asian, right?  Or Asian-British.  But because my mother is a blonde Italian who didn’t manage to bestow on me olive skin nor black curly hair, I must be exaggerating my background and be “English really”. No, not really.

“Wow, you don’t look Italian.” No I don’t.  Nor does my mother, but she was born there.  Appearances can be deceptive.

“Being half-Italian doesn’t make you mixed-race.” This is my ‘favourite’ misconception.  I don’t understand why so many people believe this, because if I were half-Spanish (another Mediterranean country, a very similar language, another very Catholic-centric culture – at least historically) nobody would dream of saying this to me.  I would be hispano-British or “Latino”.  But because it’s Italy, it doesn’t count.  Well, get real – in any case, Latin came from Italy not Spain bish bye.  Race is more than just the colour of your skin.  So rather than being discriminated against because of who or what I am, I’ve experienced a sort of “reverse prejudice” where people aren’t really ready to acknowledge who I am because they look at me and have already categorised me as someone or something else.

So that is why the lyrics of this song are so important and personal to me, and why I identify with it so much.  I used to sing along with the Butterfly album all the time, and time and again I’d tackle this song.  And out of all the songs on the cd, I found this one the hardest because the topics explored, the music and the vocal treatment were beyond my years.  Mariah Carey performs this song so perfectly that I don’t think I could ever do it justice, let alone better her treatment of it.  So I just listen and respect and let my emotions flow whenever I put it on my iPod or my CD player, and I hope that it touches you also.  Please listen to it, read the lyrics, and I hope you enjoy this song because it is very close to my heart.

It’s hard to explain
Inherently it’s just always been strange
Neither here nor there
Always somewhat out of place everywhere
Ambiguous
Without a sense of belonging to touch
Somewhere halfway
Feeling there’s no one completely the same

Standing alone
Eager to just
Believe it’s good enough to be what
You really are
But in your heart
Uncertainty forever lies
And you’ll always be
Somewhere on the
Outside

Early on, you face
The realization you don’t
have a space
Where you fit in
And recognize you
Were born to exist

Standing alone
Eager to just
Believe it’s good enough to be what
You really are
But in your heart
Uncertainty forever lies
And you’ll always be
Somewhere on the
Outside

And it’s hard
And it’s hard
And it’s hard

Irreversibly
Falling in between
And it’s hard
And it’s hard
To be understood
As you are
As you are
Oh, and God knows
That you’re standing on your own
Blind and unguided
Into a world divided
You’re thrown
Where you’re never quite the same
Although you try-try and try
To tell yourself
You really are
But in your heart-uncertainty forever lies
And you’ll always be
Somewhere on the outside