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Posted on July 31, 2004 and read 8,520 times


Day 3

Earlier I told you that each meal was uniquely created, then presented in a unique setting. I take that back. Thankfully breakfast was in the same spot the 3 mornings we were at Touffou. On the first day, I misread the directions and nearly missed breakfast, having thoroughly lost myself within the labyrinth that was Touffou’s principle building. While we were welcome to explore, Madame did require her privacy. To keep us marketing tourists from photographing her boudoir, she sensibly had certain sections of the castle locked from our access. So she was surprised to see me emerge from a door that was only as tall as my chest, while she was discussing root vegetables with the gardener.

“How did you get here?” she asked. I answered in French that I really didn’t know and could someone please direct me to the breakfast room. For the next 2 days, finding the first meal of the day was easier. Turned out to be directly beneath the games room where we’d finished previous the day, seemingly just minutes before.

Speaking of rooms, the place we spent our working hours was magnificent. I just reviewed my meager diary entries, scribbled clumsily before passing out nightly, and giggled to see I’d called it the David Ego-vy room. Two walls sported romantic era paintings of hunting dogs shredding terrified stags and lions. The third was mostly windows, punctuated by a portrait of the David himself, pipe and all. The last wall featured an impressionist portrait of David, rendered exclusively with colours you’d find on a Hudson’s Bay blanket. It must have been planned: we all faced this iconic cartoon from a supplicating downward position, like he was some marketing Buddha. You could almost hear the old Presbyterian hectoring: Now it is time to work.

Between the day’s meals, we were to give a 10-minute presentation on work being done in our home shops that we’re proud of. This was troubling to me; in the 3 months I’d been chuntering away in the bosom of Ogilvy TO, nothing that I was proud of had yet been produced.

Morning people have a distinct advantage over the rest of us in this go-getter’s world of business. Ever noticed how marketing seems to over index on morning people? It was early when the group met for this first international show and tell session but it was already hot as a client with an unsigned photography invoice. Soon we were stuck to our huge leather armchairs. My legs were becoming stained. Fortunately this was Europe, too, so everybody smoked noxious purplish tobaccos.

The first to present was an insanely cheery morning person from Spain who showed 3 of the sort of direct marketing projects that you only ever see in textbooks. Budgets that the mafia blows to launder funds. The works garner best-of-show awards in every beauty contest for their sheer spending cojones.

Naturally this was followed by a speech from the most powerful person in the room that you don’t need a big budget to win awards. True but it rarely hurts to have a budget. The only agencies in Canada ever with a client willing to blow bucks this big were hired by Quebec Liberals, and they chose not to spend the budget on production.

On the whole, the work I saw from around the world was superb. There was the odd dud whose presence at this international reward for a job well done certainly wasn’t justified by the creative thinking. Then again, they likely thought the same of me.

I was the third presenter up. As I said, being the new kid at OgilvyOne Toronto, there was nothing that I was proud of. I chose to show linear concepts of work that had been presented to clients over the 2 previous weeks. The concepts I showed were good and my presentation stood out, being the only one on paper out of 20. While I showed the ideas and explained the briefs, I noticed that a few folks weren’t paying attention. I got a touch bitchy. When I found out during lunch that they didn’t speak English, I felt a touch guilty and sat at their table as personal penance.

Lunch was served in an orderly garden beyond the stables. Fortunately there were no horses housed there, any more, just a chi-chi gift shop that’s rarely open. So the subtle perfumes of the salmon and salads mercifully suffered no equine additions.

Lunch was accompanied by a local rosé and an international celebrity.

The event’s organizers had booked, better sit down, Malcolm MacLaren to speechify the afternoon away for us. Yes, the same MacLaren who’d hit 2 monstrous pop culture home runs. You’ve no doubt heard of The Sex Pistols. He was their manager/swindler. But you may have forgotten his internationally successful Operatic House music hit with Madame Butterfly. He was crossing genres over 3 years before Peter Gabriel was torturing Muslim cantors to introduce what he dubbed World Music.

For anyone with a ticklish curiosity, meeting Malcolm MacLaren was as big as visiting your industry hero’s castle. It couldn’t have been cheap to charter him, even if he was well beyond his best before date. Remember the aforementioned local rosé? It was lovely, bubbly, subtle, and worth an extra sip. Malcolm noticed that too. I watched him now and again a couple of tables from me during lunch. (Little else to do. As mentioned, I was sitting with the Brazilians, who were sweet guys and bloody gifted at their jobs, but monoglots.) Malcolm drank prodigiously like the out-of-control rock star you’d expect him to be.

So, during our venture back to the David Ego-vy room, Malcolm was already weaving. His speech while at times rambling was utterly fascinating: mostly an explanation of what work he’s doing now. He e-mails mp3 recordings back and forth around the world to under-20s. The “music” isn’t music. They’re essays in noise. Experiments, searching for digital truth. What was considered coolest and hippest among this demographic (don’t forget this was over a year ago and who knows what’s changed) was a genuine analogue moog synthesizer or Atari Pong game for noise samples. The kids felt there was something somehow more authentic in these early electronic machines. Malcolm and his pubescent acolytes would start with these and assemble different sounds, musical stings, effects and noises.

More often than not the final composition was cacophonous. Really not my cup of tea, but then I’m nearly 40. Well past it. However, a couple of the experiments took me much farther than the rosé and mid-summer heat ever could alone. Amongst hisses, pops and construction noise, Elvis cooed “Love Me Tender” in time to and at the same time as Mick Jagger jagging “I Just Want to Make Love to You.”

It worked.

I don’t think Malcolm had a prepared speech though. After playing a few of these daring pastiches, he suddenly veered off into recent history and talked about the smash he’d had with Madame Butterfly. He asked whether any of us had seen its 6-minute video because it had been banned in the U.K. My hand shot up. I loved that video. It was so bloody out there. Just a bunch of women sitting in a sauna, their controversials tastefully hidden by terry cloth. Every 40 seconds or so, one would get up and leave the sauna and maybe a new one would walk in. That’s it.

And it was banned?

I read once that there’s some antiquated law in the BBC constitution which is summarized in the politically charged rallying call, “No sex before six.” One shan’t corrupt the children while mummy’s cooking dinner. It’s what got Degrassi booted off the British TVs when Spike got pregnant. DEGRASSI!!?

I guess women in towels is sex. So the video was banned. This from a country where it seems every month another member of parliament is photographed slipping women’s underwear on his cat.

But I digress. (Blame the rosé.) When Malcolm asked the class if they’d seen the video I gushed favourably about the women sitting in a sauna. He didn’t hear me, being deep in his cups, and hooted: “Just a gaggle of women sitting in a Turkish bath! That’s all. Why would they ban that?”

A Turkish bath? I thought. Not a sauna, but a Turkish bath? Well, no wonder the smut was censored!

Soon however Malky began repeating himself and remaking the same points. When he surreptitiously crossed the room back to his misappropriated bottles of rosé, the house lights dimmed, a cane whipped out around his neck and pulled him offstage. “We’ll have a 20-minute break,” our host hostfully reported.

A few of us hurried off to pepper Malcolm with questions. What were Johnny Rotten’s teeth really like? How can you still be standing? Wanna make a band? That sort of thing.

Here’s Malcolm MacLaren struggling with gravity. Note the huge canvases with hunting dogs eviscerating stags in the back. This meeting just ain’t yer average direct mail brief.

We soon broke for the afternoon. I strolled about the grounds with my new friend Johan and we took photographs. Have a look. My room is slightly northwest of the stone lion’s head. Funny thing about the lion. Poor David and Madame could have bought similar ones in Woodbridge for about $150 a pair. New ones, not this 600 year old tat. And no tax if you mention Tony Volpe.

After a quick swim, everyone changed and met for the pre-dinner cocktail. This was fast becoming my favourite time of the day.

Below. The whole gang of creative directors from around the world. I’m on the left with the fantastic four t-shirt and the shit eater grin. This shot was taken on a tower atop Touffou’s chapel, which in turn was above the dungeons. Medieval irony? At this point in the day, Malcolm was no doubt sleeping off the speech he’d slurred through 2 hours earlier.

That night, things got interesting. Malcolm decided to join us when he came to at around 10. He made up for lost time and soon outdid us all. A true hero and example of why you kids should stay real and stay in school. It was fun. I told him of a fascinating theory I’d heard about current culture and how the modern westerner views the concept of time. (Feel free to skip the next two paragraphs if you hate party philosophers.)

Time used to be long. That is, things happened in logical succession. Look back in recent history and you can place when a photograph was taken by the styles and looks that the people sport. However, sometime over the past 15 years, time for westerners has become wide. That is, we no longer need to subscribe to any one look or era.

Visit any modern workplace (expect agencies, where everybody dresses in black) and you’ll see someone in a suit with an earring meeting with a mullet from an Akey Brakey line and some Clark Kent who just finished watering his lawn in the ‘50s. The hippie chick is the producer. It gets harder every year to ascribe a look that bespeaks only our time and age. There are trends, but it’s acceptable to cloak yourself in the styles of whichever era you fancy. One friend attended my wedding decked out like he’d just stepped off a punt on the Thames.

A true party trooper, Malcolm ate this horseshit alive and loved every speck of it.

At another point, even later in the evening, some young Englishman was waxing on about the Sex Pistols and Malcolm didn’t seem to mind at all. You’d think he’d be bored hearing about it. But I think they just happened to be some people he’d hung out with years ago and chances were we knew more about them now than he did.

Nonetheless, it was another truly surreal leap forward when I found myself relating John Lydon’s greetings to the audience during the Pistols’ re-union “Filthy Lucre” tour: ‘“Hello, Toronto,” Johnny rottenly taunted, “thanks for the money!”’ I imitated in my best 2 a.m. cockney. Malcolm burst out laughing. As long as the wine was flowing, Malcolm enjoyed all company and conversation.

But all good things must end and so I wished the 2 remaining party-goers, one of whom was of course Malcolm, a bonne nuit and tootled off back to my room where I could sprint towards my hangover.

The next morning Madame told us that Malcolm had ended his day even more lost than I’d begun mine. She’d woken up when she heard him trying for force open a window on the ground floor which he thought was his room. She went down and led him to his bed.

Funny that I simply didn’t think a party in this social realm could end up like every teenage visit to a friend’s cottage. Even in this impossibly vast estate the hostess is woken by those raucous kids and needs to know we’re all safely abed before she can truly rest.

I’d come thousands of miles and into stratospheric wealth to come home.

Steven Bochenek is a freelance copywriter, full-time father, slow marathon runner and mediocre musician. Ask for him by name:




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