Market day in Dreadlock City. Down from the hills and out of the tipis they are coming in twos and threes. The ones who have come far have backpacks. Some have guitars. A tiny lady in her sixties in a black dress, upper arms tattooed, gold pierces, bare foot, leads a little black dog. A big red-haired guy in a long kilt and heavy boots strides across the bridge. I’m parking the Berlingo. Earlier on I had seen, from the car, a group of five in baggy Indian pants, wrapped around with yellow cloth, some with mohicans, some shaven heads, others with long black locks or skanky dreads. Now the group is over the bridge and moving past the gas station. The local people stare, not over-critically – they’re used to it.
One man is really striking – he has a thin, dark brown cotton blanket over his head and shoulders and strongly resembles Jesus Christ as played by the Spanish student Enrique Irazoqui in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s remarkable 1964 B&W bibler ‘The Gospel According to St Matthew’.
Pasolini, a Marxist atheist, dressed the characters in his period movies in costumes that combined elements of the street with the wardrobes deployed by 15th century painters such as Piero della Francesca. In the case of Irazoqui he had cast a haunted, pale youth who glowed with pained earnestness and dressed him so that he seemed interchangeable with the beat kids and travellers who were beginning to thumb their way around Europe at that time.
It’s doubtful whether Pasolini’s politics would have led him to endorse the apolitics of the wandering youth, but their evident disaffection might have struck him as amenable to some sharpening and adjustment. His Christ is an enflamed revolutionary whose long speeches drawn directly from the Gospels and addressed straight to camera have such a mesmerising effect that even a fundamentalist atheist, such as Strength Weekly’s currently foreign correspondent, might be persuaded to reconsider whether it was entirely right not to have helped that old lady across the road.
It is probable that Christ did not thumb rides, but he was not above borrowing other people’s transport on special occasions. On Palm Sunday, according to several of the Gospels, he got two of his disciples to take a colt or donkey from a nearby field in order that he could ride it into Jerusalem.
Some years later, in 1957, thanks to Jack Kerouac, hitch-hiking was repurposed as spiritual practice. The causality is evident. I clearly remember, despite having been counselled never to ‘take a short ride’, my own ecstatic reaction to being deposited, in 1962, on the outskirts of the village of Melbourne, some seven miles out from my home town, after my very first attempt to hitch-hike to London. I had been blessed.
Kerouac admired his friend and travelling companion Neal Cassady, whom he considered to be a complete, radiant and thoroughly present being. The writer himself felt like a pale shadow of the permanently wired hipster yet was widely regarded as the very incarnation of the man liberated from context.
Kerouac mentions the looks he got when he descended into towns wild-haired from the road. He was entirely aware of his eccentricity and probably died as a result of resisting the notion, thrust on him by fans and critics alike, that, as a saint, he should be blissfully unaware of his own radiant awareness. By all accounts, he endured throughout his celebrity a nagging awareness of his limited awareness and an exaggerated sense of his unsuitedness for high spiritual office. He didn’t feel like the real thing.
In the olden days, of course, there were big people who were the real thing all day long and didn’t even know it! These were the people admired by lesser people who not only imitated their bigness but affected a lack of awareness that they – the imitators – were perceived as incandescent . They were not incandescent, of course, but they understood that the effect would be compromised by their appearing to know about it.
The original big (I refer to magnitude of being, not stature) people lived over a million years ago and were authentically themselves. Their radiance has been emulated everafter.
The ‘angel-headedness’ of the hipster was his (there were no girl hipsters) emblem of ignorance. He was oblivious. In extreme circumstances this had led to Dennis leaning on the live electric hob and not noticing until the elbow of his leather jacket had burned through. This would, generally, be unusual, for a degree of poise was required to maintain the balance between innocence and experience.
Setting aside the toothsome debate about Jesus’s own levels of self-consciousness (I think he knew he was weird, right?), I return to the Berlingo and its satisfying rear double doors that open to reveal chest-high shelving, so handy for stacking boogie boards. Walking away from the hired vehicle I look over my shoulder in response to a call behind me.
The young man with the blanket on his head walks towards me, his hand extended, as if in greeting. He is holding something that he wants me to have. On closer inspection I identify my Armani wraparound shades.
(Well, it says Armani on them and at €5 a pop that guy on the stall obviously doesn’t know he’s sitting on a goldmine!) I must have dropped them as I fastened the car doors.
The young Jesus smiles amiably and I realise that he has no particular axe to grind about the crass stylishness of my fashion items. In Christ’s own day, I imagine, and this is just me imagining, they wore a piece of wood with slits in.
For a moment I rather liked the idea that this striking crusty loved me unconditionally and could, if he felt like it, produce any number of designer leisure accessories and pass them among the people that they need not squint as the rays fell upon them. Then I reverted morosely to the view that we are all copies now.