2015: A Brief Blast Back Through the Year Fantastical…

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2015: thanks and ta-ra to the Year Fantastic…

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2015! Whoa! Yeah, that happened. Way back on New Year’s Day I doodled up a unicorn and, with a hopeful spirit, hailed 2015 as the ‘Year Fantastical’. Turns out that it lived up to that title and then some. From my perspective, it’s been a pretty damn fantastic and quite incredible year.

So much happened in 2015 and I feel like I’ve done a lot, experienced a lot and learned a lot. Come the end point where we get all reflective and retrospective (it’s customary and inevitable) I’m struck by how ‘big’ and full of stuff this year seems. I’ve got so many memories of moments streaming through my mind and from all of them flow a multitude of thoughts and feelings. Some people say that I think and feel too much (tsk and hush, you people!) but, hey, I can be no other way. Plus, thinking and feeling are what make us human beings and what make us realise that we’re alive. The alternative is living on autopilot and if you’re living on autopilot you’re probably not engaging with life and consciously appreciating it. Hey! Life! Existence! Appreciate it!

So then, here I am thinking and feeling over 2015 and appreciating it before we say ta-ra. It’s been a year in which I thought and felt a lot. I smiled a lot. I cried a lot. (It was the death of Spock, the Norwegian Eurovision entry and Inside Out) I had triumphs and I also had some disappointments, but the good stuff far outweighs the bad bits. I’ll focus on the good in this brief personal look-back, ’cause there’s no point me dwelling on the crappy and/or grave bits here. (Though I will give a shout-out to several late, great cultural icons and my all-time favourite t-shirt which is lost somewhere in Italy. *sighs* I miss ’em all.)

Off the top of my head, here are some of the things I did and experienced that made 2015 genuinely awesome (as in they inspired awe and made me go “awwww!” or “awwww yeah!“): I got a tattoo; I levelled up as an English teacher by passing a CELTA course; I got to explore Dublin and Zürich among several other culture vulture trips; I took a train ride through the Swiss Alps; I saw what’s left of the Magna Carta; I got to enjoy la dolce vita over and over in bella Italia in places familiar and new (including Verona, Padova, Venice, hitherto unexplored sections of the Liguria coast and Emilia-Romagna to name a few); I went to the opera and enjoyed that experience in Verona’s ancient Roman arena; I became a hero to a whole new set of Italian children in Milano, Torino and the countryside near Padova; I composed the summer hit single that was ‘Pineapple Hands‘ and that became a minor cult phenomenon; I gave ‘Free Hugs’ on Valentine’s Day in the world’s most beautiful shopping arcade; I witnessed Italy’s biggest food fight – the all-out insanity that is Ivrea’s Battle of the Oranges.

I like this photo as an image to encapsulate the beauty, adventure and feeling of 2015...

Yeah, this photo sort of encapsulates the feeling and adventure flowing through 2015…

Throughout, I doodled like a demon and have spent most of the year with inky fingers. I also wrote some pretty good stuff and had a lot of fun working away at various creative projects. Daredevil , WiiU videogames and hanging with my family made home downtime a good time when I wasn’t off on (mis)adventures. Otherwise – turning to ‘important stuff’ and current affairs for a second – in spite of it all, there were progressive political and social moments in 2015 that gave me hope. The same goes for technology and science (there’s water on Mars!) and, sportswise,  I’ve been enjoying the Boston Celtics’ continued upward trajectory towards contender status.

Sonically speaking, my soundtrack to 2015 was mostly Dinosaur Pile-Up and Ghost and they gave me immense live shows to experience and brilliant new albums to crank to death. As for films, there have been so many superb movies released this year but my two favourites of 2015 were Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road. They beat all the rest for spiritual reasons, sentimental reasons and because they are stand-out supreme imaginative visions and masterpieces of cinematic storytelling.

I decided to close the year in suitable style by watching The Force Awakens again and that makes me even happier as I head into the future. Having had my nice nostalgia moment I’m now going to close this self-indulgent rear-view-mirror ramble. First though, before I hurl myself heart and soul into 2016, I’d like to hail all the human beings who shared the experiences and really made 2015 something special. I had a blast with both old friends and new friends this year and I’m grateful for all the energy, the companionship, the generosity and the niceness that people have directed my way over the past twelve months. It means a lot and I truly appreciate it. High-fives, hugs and ‘awww yeah!’s to everyone.

So, that was 2015 then, and thank you 2015. I say it’s high time we hit the New Year and moved on to the fresh adventures and experiences lying ahead in 2016. Awww yeah. I’m excited…

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Heart…

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Summer Camp Lunchtime Doodles August/September 2015: Drawing Pictures in Padova…

You know what I doodly-do when I do English-language summer camps in Italy every summer? Well, one of the things I do – aside from singing, dancing and struggling to control Havoc Beelzebambini while I teach them essential vocab like ‘tape’, ‘shame’ and ‘toilet plunger’ – is draw diary sketches during the lunchbreaks. Sì, signore e signori! Its time for another round of lunchtime doodles from summer camp! *fanfare*

As it was in Torino in June, so it was again in the countryside near Padova in late August/early September. Technical background and insight into ze process for those interested: this time I had to use standard paper rather than canteen placemats because there was no canteen arrangement at this school. Doodles were therefore done in the public park next door and were powered by packed lunch (mostly tuna sandwiches). Furthermore, I was determined that I’d make these daily diary doodles the most Jamazing yet and I sought to raise my game from ‘Yeah! Alrighty!‘ to ‘Oh Gods! Thor Almighty!‘. More sketches! Better sketches! More imagination and in-jokes and off-the-wall absurdity and semi-topical creative lunacy!

I think I did a decent job of that and rate these as my best batch of lunchtime doodles so far (until next year, if I make it that far and if they have me back). I won’t go into detail or try and explain ’em – just appreciate them for what they are. Then again, if you wish you can always try and dive deep into esoteric theory and try and discover the occult symbolism and the secrets of my subconscious manifest in miniaturised ink dribbling.

Here are the fortnight’s daily doodles from Summer Camp No. 2 collected together for convenience (you can also see them and my other arty bits on Instagram y’know). And stick around after the two weeks are done with – I promise that there are bonus extras…

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Summer Camp Lunchtime Doodles June 2015: Arty Tricks in Torino…

You draw is very beautiful! Is very good!” Awww, you’re too kind, kids…

That is what I doodly-do when I do summer camps. I get sketching, mesmerise Italian children with my doodles and then bat away their compliments because I’m not Moebius and am therefore not satisfied with my artistic (in)ability. Regardless, when I’m away in Italy I really look to raise my game and get art action on and amped up to a higher frequency. I do this because: 1. Camps require arts and crafts and visual didactic materials; 2. Italian children love drawing and love looking at drawings and art is a great communicative art and means of providing entertainment; 3. I love doodling and it makes me feel good and when you’re in a beautiful place with beautiful people feeling good anyway, yeah, perché no?

Drawing is fun, but it’s most fun when you’re doing it for and/or with children because of their childishness (‘good childishness’ in terms of a sense of wonder, curiosity, playfulness and an open-hearted and ever-present willingness to be amazed). At summer camp, the best drawing time is at lunchtime and that’s because I’ve sorta-kinda created a tradition of ‘lunchtime diary doodles’ (like these from two years ago! And these from last year! And those! And yeah, them as well!).

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Returning Home So I Can Return to Italy…

Allora, ragazzi! I’m back home. You may remember that I left home to go back to Italy for a month. That month has now passed so, yeah, ecco! I’m here to drink proper tea, watch Jurassic World (dinosaurs fighting dinosaurs! Yay!) and get my regular, essential Captain America-style supersoldier serum shot. (Last time I got said shot I was in Italy and it was delivered by J.K. Simmons’ Italian doppelgänger in a twilight mystery district of Milano and it was an unnerving and absurdist affair conducted without any word of English and I had the disturbing sense that I’d stumbled into a mildly-harrowing Coen Brothers movie. When we’re talking about sticking needles in my arse I think, yes, this time I’d rather go and see my local GP.)

Anyhow, home is nice, home comforts are nice and these things are all good but, hey, I miss Italy. As ever I had a blast and highlights include *clears throat*: visiting and catching up with old friends; making new friends; rocking another all-singing-all-dancing English-language summer camp in Torino and drawing for children and acquiring a fan club at that camp; going to Verona for the first time on a bro-trip with my, erm, bro; enjoying the treasures of Torino all over again; seeing the Shroud of Turin (so, in effect, seeing Jesus); pizza; and so much more in the brilliant heat alongside brilliant people.

It was beautiful, and because I’m missing it all already I’m going to head back next week and enjoy summer in Italy some more. I feel that this trip was cut too short and I’m missing too many things and have left too many things behind (for one, my favourite t-shirt, left behind in Torino) so I’ve got to go back. Then when I return I’m going to get on with working up some creative action and I’m amped to do that. I have some ideas…

I’ll be thinking over those ideas in Italy, but before I bugger off again I’ll put up a blogpost chronicling my daily lunchtime diary doodles from summer camp in the coming days. Also, while I was away this article I wrote on Mad Max: Fury Road – a gushing lovefest exploring the masterpiece’s inspiring philosophy and empowering nature – went live on Den of Geek. It may be of interest. More things that may be of interest will be written up and doodled up in the near future.

For now, though, bear with me because Italy is calling and my soul is yearning and I’ve got to return to the place from whence I recently came. Once more, here’s to Italian summer adventures and la dolce vita. Again then, andiamo

Carnevale and the Killer Citrus Spree: Orangemageddon in Ivrea…

Allora, I’d like you to stick with me and keep your senses sharp for this one. I promise you, it’s worth sticking with. It’s worth sticking with because it ends in an ultraviolent epic food fight and the Orangeocalypse. Yes, it does. ORANGES.

I’m going to write a retrospective blogpost discussing something that happened several weeks back. I’ve discovered that this is a legitimate and acceptable thing to do. Looking at other people’s travel blogs I’ve discovered that they’re all about things that said people did months ago because, naturally, they don’t have time or space to keep things in-the-now. (I guess that’s what Twitter is for, but why would you want to be on Twitter when you’re in the middle of globetrotting adventures?) Funnily enough, I was speaking to my man Drake (dragon-sailor legend, not the rapper who sits courtside at Toronto Raptors games) recently and he told me he’s thinking of blogging his circumnavigatory voyage around the globe. That happened (is happening?) over 400 years ago, so my ‘let me tell you about stuff from over 4 weeks ago!’ post isn’t as late. Anyway, enough digression and let’s get to down to oranges…

The aftermath, after the Orange War. Oh man, here comes a flashback...

The aftermath, after the Orange War. Oh man, here comes a flashback…

Carnevale is a very important annual event in Italy. It marks the start of Lent, just like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the Rio Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and Pancake Day back in Blighty and in Ireland. Italians, by the way, don’t really comprehend the significance of Pancake Day and looked at me like I was simple when I talked excitedly about “one of our most important festivals“. “We have pancakes as well,” they shrugged, or they simply said “oh” and that was that. (Flat, like a pancake) On Shrove Tuesday some friends and I got high on crêpes by the canal while the crêpe-maestro watched on with a mildly troubled expression but, hey, I digress again. Erm, there was marmalade on one of those quasi-pancakes. Marmalade? ORANGES…

So, Ivrea: a small town in Piemonte near Torino (Turin, if you like) which for the early part of the year holds the highest oranges-per-human ratio in the world. (Citation not necessarily needed) Other Italian towns celebrate Carnevale with masquerade parades, confetti, silly string and clowns (invisible and/or chronically depressed clowns in Milano, or Milan if you like). Venezia (Venice, if you like) hosts the most iconic Carnevale, but when I heard about the unique festivities in Ivrea I ventured over there in the snow and sought to see it for myself.

There’s a lot of fascinating history but I know that you only came here for the oranges so I’ll keep it brief. A long time ago (not in a galaxy far, far away ’cause, Princess, I’m talkin’ ’bout Ivrea) the tyrannical Duke of this beautiful little town had the right to sleep with every newly wed women (or rather ‘soon-to-be-wed woman’) in the locality on the eve of her wedding. Legend has it that a Miller’s Daughter (known as ‘Mugnaia’) refused the Duke and chopped his head off so hooray for her, hooray for period drama proto-feminism and hooray for decapitating rapist despot autocrats. To commemorate this medieval tale of rebellion against the cruel nobility, every year during the extended Carnevale festival one woman is chosen to be the honorary Miller’s Daughter and they ride around in a horse parade throwing flowers to the masses. It’s lovely, and everyone’s in antique costume and all the gathered attendees are wearing Phrygian caps (‘Berretto Frigio’) to show their revolutionary sympathies.

In theory, the red caps also ensure that you won’t be a target of the rebels’ orange attacks. (Ha, nice theory.) The main attraction of the Ivrea Carnevale experience is ‘Battaglia delle arancie’ – ‘The Battle of the Oranges‘. Sorry, I can’t say that without echo sound-effects and a mighty power pose – THE BATTLE OF THE ORANGES. Indeed, ’tis an epic spectacle. It rides, flies and almost-dies like this: there are nine combat teams and the citizens of Ivrea are all aligned to one of them. They have badass names like ‘The Ace of Spades’, ‘The Devils’, ‘The Panthers’ and ‘The Chess Pieces’ and they all have a long history and their own insignia and team colours. These ‘Aranceri a piedi’ (orange-throwers on foot) all wear their colours proudly and, in total, their costumes look like a mix of court jester, football hooligan and rugby player dressed for midwinter Tuesday night training covered in heavy metal patches. The look is topped off, of course, by the red cap and these mixed-gender tribal mobs (I love the progressive politics of this whole thing) gather in the streets and piazzas and some of them chant very aggressive-sounding songs.

Enter the armoured guards: this is where citrus gets real. The armoured guards – ‘Aranceri Carri da Getto’ sport ridiculous-but-utterly-necessary amounts of protection and ride their heavy-duty horsedrawn carts through the streets pelting the crowds with oranges. The orange throwers on foot – their target – respond in turn. The result is all-out orange-flinging chaos. It’s complete carnage: a juicy Battle Royale; a zesty clash for the end of ages; a fruity Ragnarök.

Orangeocalypse Now... "the horror... the horror..."

Orangeocalypse Now… “the horror… the horror…”

Spectators are ‘shielded’ from the Full Mental Racket by nets surrounding the piazzas and streets, but they don’t offer much in the way of protection. While observing from behind these nets I got dusted by stray flecks of zest, skin and juice and got bopped right in the middle of my forehead by a rogue projectile. I also had my phone knocked flying out of my hand and the Romanian tourist next to me got her designer label handbag soaked in citrus juice (the Orangeocalypse is no place for haute couture). The cars kept on a-comin’ and the orange throwers kept on turning back to pick up more missiles from the towering boxes packed with fruit (most of it surplus from the south of Italy, so really the whole exercise is creative recycling). Wave after wave after violent, angry, orange wave. It was mesmerising.

After watching the Battle I departed the city, shaken and stirred. Taking a step aside to look at this thing from another angle, here’s how it plays out: I’d been stood in that square for an age before tip-off, freezing and finding no comfort in a bag of dried oranges (dried orange doesn’t taste very nice) and feeling quite confused. More people gathered, there was a sense of looming and the ritual procedures occurred and I felt very confused. Somehow I’d ended up in a strange town in Piemonte wearing a silly red hat and that confused me. Then everything erupted into a orangemageddon and abject insanity and that was very confusing. Observe the insanity. (Ah, you can’t observe the insanity because I’m not allowed to upload videos. Never mind, ’cause that’s adds a more esoteric edge to the mysteries of Ivrea. One day I might try and re-enact the most epic and messiest role-play exercise I’ve ever seen in my life in your living room, if you ask me nicely…)

Everything here is confusing, insane, shockingly violent and a bit silly...

Everything here is confusing, insane, shockingly violent and a bit silly…

Madness. Madness. But it was beautiful madness and beautiful confusion and an immense experience to behold and sort-of-participate in. It’s this kind of inspired and creative insanity that has made Italy such a great nation, and such an important one in the development of our global civilisation and culture. The ‘Battle of the Oranges’, then: absurd and unbelievable. And very orange. ORANGES.