Saturday, December 23, 2006

We like – We like to party!

Looking back, it’s been a pretty exciting year – and Mrs Donkey and I have visited some of the most amazing party spots in history.

It all started in the menacing island of Malaita, home to the fiercest of Solomon Island headhunters, an activity which would have involved a long row across the Indispensable Straight in war canoes to rape and pillage foreign shores, and which usually culminated in week-long feasts and celebrations, complete with human brain soup and concubine selection and sampling. Fortunately, our Christian forefathers put a stop to all those shenanigans, and our final party in that marvelous place was more tinged with sadness at having to say farewell to our wonderful friends and neighbours, rather than anything which featured all-night parties, music, sex and madness induced from the consumption of human flesh.

Our next stop, of course, was Delhi. Here the Mughals, the former Persian rulers of what is now Northern India, erected huge, marble-arched pavilions under which they reclined on massive, ornate, jewel-encrusted thrones while slaves fanned them with branches, and a multitude of nubile young women from the royal harem danced before you and your court by day, and above you by night. Here you would sample amazing dishes with influences from Baghdad to Yangon, and experience the peace induced by the bubbling of piped water fountains in the corners of each room. One would enjoy the scent of jasmine burning in the ornate sconces which would both drowse by day, and arouse by night, highlighting the contrast between the tranquility of daily life with the lechery and debauchery of the all-night parties.

On the other side of the country, in the jungle state of Orissa, Donkey experienced debauchery on a whole new lever – OK, better be careful here … not “experienced”, exactly … perhaps “saw evidence of” might be a more accurate, and definitely safer expression. Here I visited the ancient Sun Temple in Konark, and saw, carved into the massive stone walls of that incredible, imposing structure, in three dimensional, sculpted, graphic detail, the kinds of things that went on between the priests and devotees of that amazing religious cult; things which sadly do not continue today, thanks to those meddling Christian missionaries! Ah yes, the good people of Konark – now they really knew how to party!

The next stop was Singapore, where no one’s allowed to even smile in public, let alone have fun, for fear of incarceration without trial, followed by a hastily-assembled firing squad at dawn before your own embassy even gets a sniff of anything untoward going down. Not really a party town at all.

It was then back to good ol’ Aussie, where a wedding party is celebrated as it should be - amongst wonderful friends on a sandy beach, followed by twelve hours of drinking beneath a piece of canvas as a winter storm rages above you – the warmth of a fire and the love of good friends ingredients enough to bake an exciting, sustained celebration which lasts for days.

In Kathmandu, traditional parties are held in large, heavy-beamed, low-ceilinged banquet halls where course-after-course of spicy dishes are served amidst traditional dancing and endless consumption of blow-yer-head-off raksi; the traditional, very alcoholic, vodka-like Nepali spirit which is served from long-spouted brass pots and which must by thrown back in one gulp before your cup is immediately refilled. What happens at these celebrations after an hour or two I’m not quite able to tell you – it all gets a bit hazy, I’m afraid. But I can confirm that there is lots of shouting and smiling and laughter, so I’d assume it’s a pretty good party!

In Izmir, the Byzantine port city in modern-day Turkey, a nightly celebration takes place with Efes Beer and raki (another potent liquid which was recently declined by NASA as an alternative fuel when it was found to result in seven out of every eight space craft over-shooting the intended destination!). In Izmir, if you can manage to peer through the smoke of three-hundred chain-smoking young Turkish men and women, you might just make out all-night group dancing, frantic drinking and drunken revelers sucking back on the intoxicating, spiced mixtures within their ornate, person-sized nagile (hookah pipes), which stand to attention beside each table. When it comes to partying, young Turks have definietly got it goin' on.

Not far from Izmir is the ancient Greek, and later Roman city of Ephesus where, at least until St Paul came along with all his crazy ideas about treating each other with love and respect and denying oneself the material pleasures of this world, a new form of decadence had been born and refined, in which the rich and powerful enjoyed the finest of arts and culture, beneath beautifully-crafted columns and arches, drinking gallons of fine wine, bathing and playing sport together and sampling superb fare, all on the backs of armies and armies of slaves from across the empire … and I really don’t think I need to go into too much detail about the famous orgies of Roman times to highlight that having a great time was the single most important goal of any young Roman nobleman or woman.

And finally, to top-off a year-long tour of the great party destinations of the world, yesterday I toured the Prince Regent (later King George IV)’s Royal Pavilion in Brighton, England. This pleasure-dome is the embodiment of decadence, built as it was during a time when most of it's owner's subjects were languishing in the depths of extreme poverty. The Pavilion looks like a palace from a tale of the Arabian Knights, with its Persian minarets and onion domes outside, whilst inside, it is fitted with sparkling, jewel-encrusted chandeliers, incredible sculptures, rich, thick, soft carpets, guilt, domed ceilings and it is painted throughout in a style reminiscent of a pre-colonial Chinese palace, accentuating all the extravagance and more which is characteristic of history's most severe oriental dictators. The whole palace was designed and built to indulge the Prince Regent’s addiction to excess, and to house the nightly carousels; banquets, cigars, dancing and live music, and all within easy access to the royal suite for when things got a bit too hot for the public eye … a great temple to a life of hedonistic abandon – and a tremendous contrast to the squalor which existed not twenty metres away, in the muddy street outside. Yes, in Regency England, when it came to celebrations and parties, it was good to be the King!

And that’s really it for this well-traveled year. In a couple of days time, the Donkeys will enjoy a much less extravagant, but hopefully no-less enjoyable Christmas celebration in the cozy living room of Mrs Donkey’s sister in South London. There will be wine, great food, presents, music … piped, hot water … maybe some incense and many of the good things passed down to us from some of the great revelers of history. No harem, I suspect, this year … but it’s always good to have something to work towards for next Christmas.


This could have been anywhere in India, but just happens to be a manufactured pleasure dome in the UK. Sally at the Royal Pavillion in Brighton. Pic: Hagas

Friday, December 08, 2006

This Depraved Life

Mrs Donkey’s away and I’m back here holding the chilly fort … which means I get to do whatever I want, whenever I want. No restrictions, no protocols. So, if I wanna drink strong, black, thick-as-treacle coffee at 11.30pm, I can (Mrs Donkey hates coffee, she HATES me banging-on about it all the time and she definitely doesn’t like me talking about it at dinner parties – it’s a long story; some people dig on wine, others porn, but me, it’s coffee …. and it might be fair to say that I’m a bit obsessive).

But Mrs Donkey’s off in France, so if I want, I can write coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee.

Hee haw – yeah, that felt pretty good … let’s go again. Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee.

Ha ha, the freedom! Donkey needs no baby-sitter! Donkey’s his own Donkey – so while Mrs D’s away, it’s been a lot of coffee, and a lot of Blogging, and lately, there’s been a bit of TV thrown-in (hang-on, is it just me or is this starting to sound just a little bit sad?).

So each night I’ve been working late, getting home, shaking up some high-class grub, banging out a wicked-strength espresso, and lately I have been sitting down at 9pm to flick through the channels on the Teev to catch-up on what that Crazy Commodore is doing to poor old Fiji, and also to check-out what schlock the two movie channels are bashing-out … and here’s where things start to become unstuck for this timid, barnyard beast of burden.

A little while ago, some schmuck programmed the Star World channel so that it sits directly between Star Movies and HBO. This means that when I’m flicking between the two movie channels at 9pm, I tend to cop bits and pieces of that Gawd-awful Jennifer Love Hewitt show, the Ghost Whisperer. Now I haven’t ever watched a whole episode ‘cause it basically looks really bad, but I generally, unwittingly watch the opening sequence, which is the bit where some ghost-child or ghost-bride with fangs, eyeballs hanging out, screaming maw or whatever flashes up on the screen - all flying hair, sunken eye sockets and claws - and this is the last thing I see (and remember) before I flick it onto AusTV to catch the Pacific correspondent, live from the action (‘cause by then I know that the choice of movies is deplorable).

From there, I basically settle comfortably into enjoying the nightly thrills, spills and intrigues of Australia’s farcical foreign policy in the Pacific, and there I remain, quite content for a few hours, what with my steaming mug of freshly brewed coffee.

At about 11.30pm, the box goes off and I have a read. I then happily take a shower, and get ready to turn-in. Off goes the light, and I lay back to think about my day and my love, over there in France, living it up with all those hot French boys … and then it happens. Two cups of coffee in three hours, mixed with paper-thin walls and strange, creaking doors and cupboards coming from the house next door, followed by the arrival of an unshakable mental picture of screaming, eye-less, faceless, bleeding, angry ghosts from the 45 seconds that I saw of the Ghost Whisperer, and that’s it – I’m officially done with the dark for the night!

For two weeks now, I have slept with the fluorescent light on so that the ghosts can’t come out of the cupboard, and with my MP3 player banging out happy, all-night reggae on full volume so that I can’t hear the creaks from next door, and the bedroom door firmly locked and bolted as only the most secure fire-traps should be.

Each day at work I’m so tired as to resemble a Tim Burton-esque walking corpse (another week of this and I might even get a part in the season finale of the Ghost Whisperer!). I’m exhausted, and am having trouble staying awake at work – what am I going to do? I need to wake up … a strong coffee should do the trick…

Shit, it's that bloody Casper again ... better break out the Bob Marley tunes... Pic: Google images

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The trouble with hot princesses

Sometimes I really wish the faerie tales were real …

For starters, all the chicks in them are seriously hot! And they’re always on the lookout for a man. Oh yeah, and they’re generally loaded, too.

Take Sleeping Beauty for example; tall, blond, blue eyes and … well, not surprisingly, beautiful … and a princess too, if I’m not mistaken … or at least, she was eventually.

Then there was Snow White; not blond, perhaps, but tall, blue eyes, unblemished skin and, again if my memory serves, got her piece of the monarchy action in the end.

Cinderella – now here’s a peach! She’s just like you and me, but get a frock on her and she catches every young prince’s eye, what with the tallness, the blondness, the blue-eyedness and a certain poise and posture which just happens to be exactly what they like up there at the Palace.

And it goes on – the Princess and the Pea – blond and princess; Rapunzel – that’s always blond hair hanging out that window; Rumpelstiltskin – beautiful, yet tragically afflicted princess makes a deal with the devil; the Frog Prince – beautiful young princess with an affinity for amphibious royalty; Beauty and the Beast - tall, blond and quite a mover on the dance floor.

OK, you get the picture … and hopefully, you also get the common elements; these gals are usually rich and royal, and are generally beautiful, often owing to their blond hair, which as you and I both know, is more often found on your general, garden-variety white person. What I’m trying to labour here, is how the faerie stories which many of us grew up with, are about really wonderful, magical good fortunes which shine on the most deserving. And those most deserving, if the Brothers Grimm and their guild-fellows are to be believed, are young, rich, white people. Is it true?

Perhaps it is … if you believe in magic. If you don’t, you’ll realise that there are far more sinister foes loose in the world than wicked witches, goblins or trolls. Things called G8; called politicians; called development banks; “Think Tanks”; multinational corporations … and religion.

If the faerie stories were real, then it’d be great for those of us with the white skin, that’d be about 25% of us humans, which are not bad odds for being more likely to receive a slice of the faerie-magic pie. For everyone else, all 4.5 billion of you, well … I’m afraid you guys aren’t eligible.

For many of the rest of you, I’m afraid you’re going to have to resign yourselves to a life devoid of magical intervention. Most of you, of course, will be living on one of the muddy banks beside the filthy, stinking river beds of this, and hundreds of other towns the world over; in homes with no clean water, no sanitation; no warmth; no food; places where your baby brothers and sisters will die; and where diseases exist that the rest of the world has not known for decades.

Places where, as a three year old, dressed in a rag and covered in filth, you are sent to the traffic lights every day to beg for money just to avoid a beating.

I saw you this morning, Alita, taking time-out from your "duties" at the lights. You were standing by a new, sleek, parked car. I saw you stretching up onto your filthy, barefooted tippy-toes, straining your neck in order to see your scab-encrusted face in the polished side mirror. I saw you standing there, mesmerised, perhaps for the first time, by your own, pitiful reflection.

Oh, Alita! How I longed right then to believe the faerie stories. How I ached to run up behind you and to shove you through that mirror into a new world, away from this abusive shit-hole that you inhabit … but I’m sorry, my poor, poor Alita, for you are not blond and your eyes are not blue. The world has decided that you are not worthy … and you will never, ever be allowed into our Wonderland.

If only. Pic:

Friday, December 01, 2006

Shifting identities: reflections on World AIDS Day

Although clearly a Donkey, I have at times played at being a Horse (although I admit that in attempting this, I usually tend to come across looking more like a Zebra), but this kind of double-life has, on occasions, led me into some very interesting situations, and from time to time, has been the source of some very powerful soul-searching.

Today is World AIDS Day, and on this day, one such experience which springs to mind saw a much younger, and more innocent “Horse” meeting a young man who, after a serious heroin bender, had fallen “asleep” for 36 hours, lying awkwardly on one leg, cutting off the circulation. Starved of oxygen, the leg had gone into complete shut-down, and the muscles had started to degenerate.

The nerves had also stopped doing their thing, which was great for Jason, because without any sensation of pain, he was able to continue his daily routine of pounding the pavements in search of a fix, a bed, a smoke, a partner or whatever. Pretty soon, his heel and the ball of his foot were gone, worn completely away, and his Hep C had advanced enough that his chances of healing, unless some pretty major lifestyle changes were initiated and sustained, were pretty slim.

As I said, this didn’t pose much of a problem to him, until he was admitted to hospital by a concerned social worker, and this was a problem, not because he had a stinking, rotting, more-or-less useless leg, but because he was not allowed to “use” while he was admitted as an in-patient.

And so began his relationship with a young, naive “Horse. They both got on very well, and Horse swallowed all Jason’s shit about wanting to turn over a new leaf. Horse, more-or-less fresh from his sheltered, suburban up-bringing, worked very hard to convince Jason that he would be able to save the young man’s leg, and Jason was very grateful ... right up until the point where he discovered that the treatment would take three or four months.

It was at that point that a young medical practitioner in the same hospital was also pretending to be something he was not - a surgeon, and he was all but drooling over Jason’s rotting limb. Despite some seriously heart-felt reasoning from Horse that three months was a small price to pay for a functioning limb, the wanna-be surgeon’s offer of an overnight operation and “back on the street by Thursday” was more attractive to Jason, and that was the last Horse ever saw of him…

Donkey, on the other hand, was at that time engaged in some other work activities, and came across Jason a few weeks later in a men’s shelter in Melbourne’s grotty inner-west. He was wheelchair bound, and had not once returned to hospital to dress his stump, which was evident from about twenty feet away. He’d been off his head for three weeks, and despite the stench, had an impressive entourage “looking after him”, who, like Jason, were enjoying the freedom of his extra welfare payments.

For two weeks, Donkey/Horse implored Jason to come back to the clinic to have his dressings changed. The next week, I asked some of the infamous entourage where Jason had gone, and the shrug of the shoulders by way of reply spoke volumes about the end of Jason’s welfare payments, but very little about his actual welfare!

It was a rude awakening for a would-be-Horse, and pushed me one step closer to accepting my true place in the barn yard. Jason taught me that for some people, in the face of limited choices (real or perceived) their health is a secondary consideration, and that unless those Horses, “surgeons” and others who are entrusted with their care understand this, they are, through their naivety, risking the lives of those within their care.

After Jason, who I never saw or heard from again, I came to learn a lot more about intravenous transmission of Hepatitis C, and of course, it’s intravenous bed-fellow, HIV. I learned about a group of people whose needs often override their ability to prioritise in favour of their health, and their lives, and I learned about a society who is happy to turn a blind eye, believing intravenous transmission of HIV through injecting drug use to be someone else’s problem.

Since then, a much-prouder-to-be Donkey has also learned how people from that same society have unprotected sex with other people who have had unprotected sex with injecting drug users, and Donkey understands all too well why HIV through injecting with unclean, unsafe equipment is EVERYBODY’S problem.

Donkey has come to understand that protecting injecting drug users through supply of safe, clean injecting equipment also protects the rest of society from HIV and AIDS.

Out there somewhere, if he is still alive, there is a one-legged man who’s responsible for teaching me this … and although I may have failed Jason, I have turned my ignorance into a life-pursuit in an attempt to ensure that others are not forced to suffer the same risks as Jason and his mates.

World AIDS Day, 2006. Pic: