Mike Gonzalez

A Gathering at the Funeral Parlour

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We live our lives as we dispatch the dead.

Once a year families in Mexico gather at graveyards to eat with the dead. It's a strangely joyous occasion. There is a flower that the Aztecs called sempixóchitl, the eternal flower, that people arrange in white sprays before they sit down to dinner at the graveside. On that day people give each other sugar skulls with a name label crudely pasted on the forehead. For weeks beforehand the skulls sit piled high at all the local markets, in bright colours, arranged in a pyramid.

Top of the Crops

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Review of 'Coffee with Pleasure', Laure Waridel, Black Rose Books £10.99

It may only be a small cup of latte in your hand but, together with all the other coffees that are simultaneously knocked back across the world, coffee is one of the three most important commodities in the world. The trade, amounting to over $70 billion annually, sits alongside oil and arms at the peak of the world economy. Yet, as the most recent Oxfam report puts it, the huge profits produced by our infinite taste for coffee go to the four or five giant multinational corporations that control its distribution.

Travelling Lite

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Holidays promise imagined places but only give us the familiar.

The postcards have started arriving--and it's incredible how similar they look to the covers of holiday brochures. The single palm bending slightly over a coconut or two, the still lake with snow peaks standing out against a blue, almost cloudless sky. Or there are the views of cathedrals, monuments and museums--the Amsterdam Van Gogh, the Louvre, the Bilbao Guggenheim. The bizarre thing is how close these views are to what we see on the endless holiday programmes where bronzed TV newsreaders take a holiday in the Bahamas and try very hard to look as though it's hard work.

Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game

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Watching the world cup was a game of two halves.

As I watched the England-Denmark game, my daughter asked me why I was so 'anti-English'. Another friend looked at me in that 'you miserable killjoy' sort of way, and reminded me that it was just a game, and the whole thing was pretty harmless. And I have watched the games, and enjoyed them. But I don't think it's quite that simple.

Is There a Doctor in the House?

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The trauma of ER is not just medical. Mike Gonzalez gives a diagnosis.

You know before it starts that one person will die and one or two be saved, that a group of people you vaguely recognise from the bus stop will mill around in the background, that it will rain unseasonally, or snow, that Carter will agonise and Dr Green and his surgeon partner will barely hold their lives together. You know that some group of people will arrive bleeding and broken wearing Viking helmets or the togas of a gospel choir.

Christiania Incorporated

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Has the dream of the hippy commune now turned into a nightmare?

Twenty five years ago groups of hippies and squatters took over a military barracks in the centre of Copenhagen and announced the creation of a 'free territory at the heart of the city'. It was called Christiania. Walking through it today, the marks of the Christiania commune are still there--the makeshift huts surrounded by plants neatly set inside tin cans, the military blocks occupied by squatters and, in one case at least, turned into a halfway house for the homeless.

It's Not a Dream--It's Possible

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The work of Studs Terkel lets ordinary Americans speak for themselves.

The working class has its historians too. Sometimes in the great debates about historical changes you miss the voices of people describing ordinary lives. After all, the sweep of history is as much about experience, about living through things, as it is about forces and events that shape us. In his great study 'The Making of the English Working Class', EP Thompson's preface was far reaching in its modest comment that 'I do not see class as a "structure", not even as a "category", but as something which in fact happens in human relationships...

Into the Heart of Darkness

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The global 'civilisers' have left a bloody legacy in Africa.

It seems appropriate that Francis Ford Coppola's 'Apocalypse Now' should be reissued. Its central figure, Kurtz, the crazed officer who reverts to a state of barbarism deep in the rainforest, might be taken to symbolise the same 'evil forces' that Blair and Bush denounce in their daily meetings with the press. Kurtz first appeared in Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness', but his role was complex.

A Land Fit for Heroes

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Why the British ruling class like nothing better than a complete failure.

Across a vast white expanse a single figure appears as a dot on the horizon. As the man comes closer, you notice he is puffing at a pipe, while the other hand is buried deep in the pocket of his coat. Hours later he stands in front of you. Removing the pipe from his white-flecked mouth, he speaks: 'Hello, old chap; don't happen to know the latest Test score at the Oval do you?'

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