Play Me

by gringojenny

Picture this: a casual Sunday evening game of Scattergories – you’ve got 10 seconds left to think of 'Things found in the City of London'.

Blackberry: yes. Suit: yes. Piano…yes!

For the second year running, the City of London Festival began with an installation of 21 second-hand pianos all over London – from Hampstead Heath to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Each piano comes with a sight-specific song book including the likes of 'London Bridge is Falling Down', as well as the odd Beatles Medley thrown in for good measure.

The project aims to encourage social interaction and connection through music, and from my experiences, it does just that.

My first encounter with the street pianos came last year when I decided to tickle the old ivories myself on an otherwise dull Tuesday afternoon. After stumbling my way through a few precarious renditions of 'Yellow Submarine' and 'Humpty-Dumpty' I was approached by a sheepish looking tourist who requested I play 'Happy Birthday' for his girlfriend. Soon enough, we had the whole street involved, in was what was perhaps not the most tuneful version I have ever heard, but certainly the most enjoyable. Since then, my day is always made that much better whenever I spot complete strangers squeezed onto a piano stool, arguing over who gets to play the chorus of 'Hey Jude'.

Like public renditions of 'God Save the Queen' played on second-hand pianos, personal experiences are so much better shared, and I urge you to let me know about some of your experiences of the London street pianos, or indeed any similar musical encounter.

GringoJenny doing her part to improve her capital's ambience

(London, 2010)


Señor, be my twin?

by gringosam

Buxton is a quiet spa town in middle-England. The majority of British people would not be expected to place it on a map, but this peaceful countryside community is of importance due to its more prominent relatives. Buxton is, unknown to many, the British sister town of Quito – the Ecuadorian capital in which I am based.

At first glace, the two have very little in common. While the former is a tranquil haven for the British middle-class, the latter is a vibrant and crowded urban settlement tucked away in the Andes. Nevertheless, while they may be worlds apart in terms of culture and history, the two have more in common than first meets the eye. In relation to their respective countries, both are high-altitude market towns – although Quito’s impressive elevation of 2800m comfortably dwarves the 307m of Buxton!

Despite having a population seventy times smaller than that of it’s Latin American relative, Buxton comes with an impressive business repertoire of its own. Its thriving economy includes revenue derived from the commercialisation of the local spring waters, bottled and marketed by the Buxton Mineral Water Company. It is owned by confectionary giants Nestlé UK and has been the official mineral water of Wimbledon since 2001.

Michael Clement of the Buxton Tourist Information Centre declared that the local people of Buxton are 'very proud to be twinned with such a culturally vibrant city’. Buxton has been producing the same high-quality mineral water for over 5000 years, and Clement believes that the ‘common feature linking the two cities is one of a rich history’.

Our friend Michael could well be clutching at straws here though – I’ve never met anybody who is convinced by the logic behind the twinning of towns in this way. There are some bizarre examples out there: Gaza–Barcelona, Caracas–Reykjavik, Minsk–Nottingham and Hay-on-Wye–Timbuktu to name but a few. And I certainly wouldn’t have thought that Bishek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan (yes, Microsoft Word, I shall ‘Add to Dictionary’), would have much to offer to Canada’s most populous city, Toronto.

These non-relationships are quite unique in terms their subjects. Towns and cities are numb to their exotic twins, but imagine if the same concept was applied to humans. For every one of us fortunate enough to be paired with a Brazilian beach babe, there’d be three who landed themselves with a middle-aged Russian alcoholic called Sergei.

The twinning body, rather conveniently, is known by the acronym POINTLESS – Pick One Irrelevant Nation Then Locate Extravagant Sister Settlement. Having been critical of this set-up, I would say that my time in Quito has been wholly different on account of the city’s links with Buxton. Wait, no, it hasn’t. Perhaps in Buxton the Quiteño influence means you can now freely consume guinea-pig or call a white chap gringo as a matter of course? Somehow I doubt it.

The Shining: Freaky twins.