In Plenary, Presentation on January 28, 2013 at 8:27 pm
“I’m not a conservative person, am I?” I ask K.
We’re sitting in a wood panelled taberna in Madrid, towards the end of the evening. Full of tapas and perhaps a little tipsy, we haven’t ordered anything here, content to sit side by side with a glass of wine each and fill up on all the antique eye candy around us – the (inevitable) bulls’ heads, the little sign that announces the availability of snails, the dusty old bottles of sherry, the elegant, marble-topped tables.
What I thought then: not conservative. As a matter of fact I hold views which positively annoy conservatives. Actually, I consider annoying conservative types one of life’s great pleasures. More than that perhaps – a duty. It would be no surprise to run into conservatism here, given the decor, but actually the other customers look rather bohemian. We’ve been in Madrid for less than a week and we’ve seen the inside of a lot of bars.
Many, many bars.
Apart from the fact that I probably would have done that anyway, I’ve been researching for a story I want to do on the city and its tapas. K hasn’t voiced any objection to joining me, so here we are in Bar Umpteen. More
In Plenary, Production on January 12, 2013 at 12:44 pm
K is just where I like her: beside me.
We sway a little in our seats as I look across the aisle at a couple of bored-looking boys, obviously brothers, who remind me a little – because of their physical resemblance – of my brother and I when we were young and lived in this city for a short time.
We’re on the metro, linea 1, heading north beneath the city towards Pinar de Chamartín and the boys seem too young, as we would have been, to be unaccompanied. The doors open at the Plaza de Castilla stop and I see that they aren’t – their father has been sitting opposite them, beside us, and now stands and calls for them to follow him onto the platform.
We came here fatherless, my brother and I, for a new life in a new and exotic country, in a big new city and a hot summer, with our mother and her new Spanish husband. I was never to get on well with him. That’s life for you. The two boys don’t remind me of my brother and me in every way; the elder has his arm around the younger, who rests his head on his brother’s shoulder and dozes. My big brother and I fought tooth and nail, relentlessly. That’s brothers for you.
I was going to do this on my own; the plan had been that K would go shopping while I wandered down this memory lane of mine. More
In Plenary, Practice on November 27, 2012 at 11:11 am
Hercules is a name that will strike a heroic note in the modern mind, by and large. Heracles, for the pedants. Strength, courage, indefatigability, perseverance, all that stuff. He murdered his wife and children, which on the surface of it might have precluded hero status, but we seem to have forgiven him.
Perhaps we’ve done so because of the penance he made. Apparently quite upset with himself over the wife-and-child thing, our hero prayed to Apollo, who gave him an out. He was sentenced to twelve years in the service of Eurystheus, King of Mycenae, who put him to work on twelve labours – feats so incredibly difficult they were deemed impossible .
Hercules had Hermes and Athena on his side but even so, by the time he had faced and conquered the Nemean Lion, the Lernean Hydra, the Cerynitian Hind, the Erymanthian Boar, the Stables of Augeas, the Stymphalian Birds, the Cretan Bulls, the Mares of Diomedes, the Belt of Hippolyte, the Cattle of Geryon , the Apples of Hesperides and the Hound of Hades , our man was well and truly rehabilitated in the mythology of ancient Greece, and subsequently Rome and finally, of course, our own mythologies, burnished to a modern sheen More
In Plenary, Presentation on November 7, 2012 at 10:18 am
This week’s story is a straight-up destination piece.
Destination pieces are often considered passé in travel writing circles, but that’s a failure of the imagination. They are the most essential form that travel writing has because they are the work of a person focusing on a place and together, place and person comprise travel’s most fundamental relationship. It’s all there: person and place. Everything else is fluff.
The current obsession with novelty applies as much to this as to anything else. Our very thinking, it seems, is to be novel if it is to satisfy the demands of our chocolately-chinned, app-building age. “Why We Travel”, “How We Travel”, the titles, or variations thereof, of any number of more recent travel-related essays and articles, have become the questions to be asked since “where” , apparently, became so yesterday.
For me it’s just the opposite. While “how” has thrown up some reasonably interesting, if frequently delusional, reflections on the ethics of travel, the problem with “why” questions is that no matter how fascinating or thorough our contemplations of them may be, they can usually be replaced in an instant, and convincingly, with another well-known and very simple question: why not? More
In Plenary on August 2, 2012 at 2:22 pm
I’ve had it. Can’t honestly be bothered making the effort anymore. Why, if it doesn’t get you anywhere? You try and build a life, placing each brick on top of the other so carefully – or each card, if we’re honest – and striving to stay strong. Ignoring the wind, telling yourself it won’t get you. Neither that nor the lightning.
Telling yourself that what you build you build to last.
But it’s hopeless. Hopeless. All we are is fluff on the breeze, surrounded by forces so much more powerful than we are. Disdained by the universe we inhabit, we float about blown this way and that, always on the lookout for the illusion that we can exercise just a little, just the tiniest occasional bit, of control.
That we can carve something out for ourselves. Act. Affect. Create. But we can’t even move; we are dust particles. It’s the world that moves around us, going about its impervious business. And the blur as it moves over us, infusing our senses with the fantasy, the seduction, the notion that we’re on our way. Somewhere between A and B. That there is a B. That there may be a Z.
But there is only A.
Atrophy, anguish, aloneness. More
In Plenary, Production on July 12, 2012 at 10:41 am
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a story about a visit we made with K’s parents to a sherry bodega in Jerez. It was an enjoyable but in some respects frustrating experience, mainly because it did not culminate – as I had hoped it might – with a sampling of the wine I went there for; the beautiful Apostoles, an aged Palo Cortado with a twist of the Pedro Ximénez grape.
I’m not sure how effectively I depicted the pleasure of the visit, but it would seem that I did do a fairly good job of conveying my frustration, because barely a week later what should arrive in the post but a gift-wrapped bottle of the aforementioned wine.
No, not a PR exercise courtesy of the bodega (wake up, bodega people), but a very thoughtful and kind gesture by a regular reader here who had enjoyed the story and decided that, to hell with it, I would have my sherry.
As well as illustrating a reassuring human decency (God bless the aul’ gene pool) it did rather bring home the awesome power of the electrical interweb.
I wanted the wine; I said so on my computertelly; I got the wine.
In Plenary, Production on July 2, 2012 at 10:16 am
The bright green of back-lit bay leaves on the laurel tree beneath the window. The uppermost branches and the sweetest new growth. The blue of the sky beyond them as they sway in the sunlight.
We didn’t know it was a laurel tree until an old man walked by one day with his granddaughter’s hand in his and asked if we’d cut him a sprig. I watch it now, rocking back and forth in the breeze before I get out of bed in the morning. The little quadrilateral of framed world I can see from the pillow; two elements – blue and green – somehow managing to exemplify our reasons for being here.
She might have been his great granddaughter; she was tiny and he was ancient.
Tomorrow it will be July. Summer makes me nervous; if you aren’t devouring the wonderful world, up to your chin in effervescing life during the brilliant season – in and out of the water, in and out of the blazing heat, floating on expanses of free time, drifting happily in the reverie of heat daze – you probably have an attitude problem.
Next to the laurel tree, the lemon tree. A few ripe fruits and more to come. More
In Plenary, Presentation on May 6, 2012 at 4:08 pm
The next time the Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on our front door they’re in for a surprise. I don’t suppose they get many; never had a stab at it myself but I imagine their days are full of rejection, don’t you? Everything from polite but peremptory acceptance of the leaflet (yes, yes I’ll be sure to look it over, thank you) to profanity.
It can’t sit too comfortably with them that the words they’re most likely to hear when they rock up to introduce the belief that theirs is the one true Christian faith are “oh christ”.
They’ll have hit the jackpot when they ring our bell to ask if we’ve been thinking about Jesus, though probably not in a manner they could have foreseen.
“Thinking about him?” I’d spit, eyes raging.
“I’ve been thinking about nothing else all morning. That lock on the back door still needs sorting out properly and the rust spot in the bath isn’t getting any smaller. What is the point of having a mobile phone if you never pick up?”
At this point there’d be a glance exchange between (the inevitable two of) them, perhaps the deployment of a pre-arranged “safe” word More
In Plenary, Production on March 16, 2012 at 11:51 am
Across the rippled silver sand and down to the water, the sky vaulting above me and teeming with stars. I can see the band of moist sand before my feet get wet; a strip of shine where the waves wash in.
I’ve been to this spot before but not at this time. It’s a second viewing; the kind of revelatory glimpse of a place you only get once you’ve seen it a thousand times, and then see it anew. Out in front of me a succession of cargo ships navigate the Straits, twinkling like a chain of fairy lights.
Beyond them the fainter flickering of Tangier, its lighthouse and medina. And spanning my field of vision from the Isla de Palomas on my left to the huge dune up at Valdevaqueros on my right, the black Atlantic. Sand, water, lights; the world is made of these long horizontal layers and of the noise the waves make.
And of the vertical sky. Orion stands over me, high in the sky and dead ahead. When I first knew K we would stand out back of the house we shared in Dublin and I would point it out to her; Mintaka, Alnilam and Alnitak, the three stars of his belt; Hatsya, the tip of his sword. She would humor me by listening. It was the only constellation I could see from our yard that I could name. More
In Plenary, Production on February 29, 2012 at 1:11 pm
I’m staring at poo.
It’s a shapely stool – well formed and regularly shaped, but the colour is just wrong; a dreadful pale hue. Truly awful.
It’s one of a number of turds I’ve had a good long look at recently. I’m not sure why I stare though.
Perhaps I enjoy savoring the rage.
No doubt there will be more to look at tomorrow. One of the motifs, the little details of daily life, currently: pieces of poo.
Winter is reductive – the head goes down and the eyes are drawn away from the far-flung horizon. They focus on the minutae at our feet. The world is scanned, bit by little bit – unconnected dots; attention hopping from one to the next without time for drawing the lines as one scurries from one warm spot to another.
Life is grainy; a composite of discrete things.
It’s 9.35 in the evening as I step off the bus at the first of Tarifa’s two stops, on my return from work. I’m just inside the town which spreads out downhill in front of me, and I take a right into a neighborhood of uniform, almost Soviet-style apartment blocks, away from the casco where we used to live. More