In Plenary, Presentation on January 2, 2014 at 12:01 pm
The pianist appears to be deaf, and I don’t mean in a Beethoven kind of way. We chose to sit next to the piano, I suppose, but that was before he arrived and cranked up the appalling backing track over which he tinkles lazily, one-handed, with occasional bouts of desultory crooning.
We’re in one of the grander hotels in Marrakech and the piano bar is dim. Everything that isn’t black or dark wood is red. We are reminded by the couple at a nearby table that some bars still have smoke in them. Dressed-up waiters bow from the hip. There’s a terrible distortion to the recording that adds to the comedy, and an awful tension in the room as the few of us present struggle to maintain our composure. He’s doing “The Great Pretender” now, and not in a Freddie Mercury kind of way.
Like most large buildings in this part of the world, the hotel centres round an inner courtyard. The pool out there is very still in the night, surrounded by alcoves and lounging areas, and there’s a great open fire at the back with armchairs to either side. We decide we’ll move out there for our second beer, and start to drink the first a little more quickly.
When Vincent Rose died in 1944 he was hardly a household name, but he had had a string of popular hits – “Linger A While”, “Avalon” and “Whispering “ amongst them – and had worked with the likes of Al Jolson and Count Basie: an unlikely destiny for a boy from Palermo, Sicily. More
In Plenary, Presentation on December 25, 2013 at 2:08 pm
The spartan waiting room, lined with glass along one side, is incandescent with the winter sun that glares from above the outline of Jebel Musa on the African coast, slicing through the interior space on a low diagonal. We’re the first in, having merely strolled down from the house, five minutes away, as we sit and sip coffee from styrofoam cups, watching the short line of vehicles outside that have come from further afield. It’s quiet – just a camper van or two with loaded roofs and a few four by fours as well as a couple of trucks.
Five minutes and a thirty-five minute crossing; we live forty minutes away from another world. From Africa. The thirty-five minute claim, emblazoned across billboards from here to Malaga and Seville, is a lie of course – it usually takes over fifty – and they make quite a fuss of boarding and disembarking, but still. The catamaran bobs a little as it pulls out of port below the old sunlit castle, past the the lighthouse on its wind-blasted island, relatively still today.
As the ferry revolves to orientate itself toward Tangier, sunbeams patrol the passenger area and the ceiling shimmers like the walls around a swimming pool. I watch the Spanish coast recede and see anew the beauty of the place where we live: the old town of Tarifa and the mountains that surround it. The wind turbines that cluster along the ridges of high ground, the rocky outcrops and the sand dunes. More
In Practice, Production on June 13, 2013 at 10:27 am
I should be running down by the water this morning, or at least walking faster, but I just have to slow down to look around. Everything is exceptional today – a great mixed sky like an oil painting, the cloud cover overhead breaking up in the east where the sun rises and graduating westward to a dull gloom which hangs low over the water, the whole sweep of it culminating in a funnel about a kilometre out where rainfall engulfs a short line of fishing vessels and their orange-buoyed nets.
Up past the sports field the spring flowers have gone to seed and their vibrant yellows and purples are beginning to recede into the dustier, dry grass hues of high summer. It’s very early and very quiet – quiet enough to hear the fish break surface in the river and for a few rabbits to linger in the open. A long-legged spider crosses the wooden walkway, pausing as I pass.
I go as far as the old military bunker and then cut across onto the sand. About two kilometres up the coast, the rock promontory of San Bartolome is lit up in a pin point shaft of sunlight that cantilevers its way in over an adjacent hilltop and illuminates the cliffs with precision. The sea is almost as calm as the river today, lazy waves yawning and sighing their way in and out over the sand. A few footprints, a few paw prints, the island like a surfaced submarine, the mountains of Morocco behind it; it’s a clear day and I can see deep into them.
This is a place that makes you feel More
In Presentation on March 21, 2013 at 9:49 am
The sea is far below me, the cliff top far above and the curved cliff face on my left as the narrow track curls around it and reaches a ravine that’s not much less sheer than the rock to either side and covered in sub-tropical vegetation – deep greens in the form of ferns and palmitos, great leafy plant life speckled with the yellows and purples of spring.
Here the track becomes a set of old, uneven steps, steep and winding up the ravine in twists and sharp turns towards the top. Looking up at the zig zag stonework – almost swallowed up by foliage – and then over my shoulder out to sea and that other continent’s coast, it’s not the kind of spot where you would expect to bump into anyone. And yet, I hear voices.
They’re coming from behind and since I stop here to sit for a minute, they soon catch up. A pair of Englishmen – one is tall and straight-backed, wispy white hair blowing in the breeze, aquiline nose held high and appears, even up here after quite the hike, to be sauntering along as if on a quiet stroll round his own garden. He looks like I look when I take the few steps from the front door to the buzón to check for post, only taller and with better posture.
I feel a bit better when I see his companion, a stubby man with a snub nose, hair not so much white as dirty grey and beginning to stick to his head with perspiration, a few straggles of it escaping from beneath the temples of his glasses. More
In Presentation on December 28, 2012 at 2:48 pm
I have powdered my groin with sugar and cinnamon.
Open-minded chap though I am, I didn’t do it deliberately. No, it was an accident, the result of taking to my dinner with a knife and a little too much enthusiasm. I’ve been here before. In this restaurant but also right here, facing a plate of this – cinnamon, fine sugar, pastry, nuts and…chicken.
It’s a pastilla, and I find myself back where I first discovered this unusual Moroccan dish, here with my parents and K. I’ve since tried it in other places but nowhere is it as good as here. I say unusual but let’s be honest; it’s downright bizarre. I eat it, as I ate it the first time, in a fitful series of giggles and sighs. I find myself having to take little breaks in order to mentally process my meal. I rest my head in my hand. I look at each of my fellow diners. Are they seeing this? Can they believe it?
You can keep your grubworms and your candied scorpions; this is food at its most surprising, challenging and wonderful. A tablet made of pastry, a disc filled with the aforementioned ingredients and who-knows-what spices and layered on its upper surface (piled, heaped) with dusty sweetness – a checkerboard of brown from the bark of the cinnamomum verum and the white of the sugar. More
In Plenary, Production on August 31, 2011 at 1:43 pm
A year. Twelve months. Fifty two weeks. Three hundred and sixty five days. The first of them in August, just; sweaty, sweltering disorientation. Teeth clenched, eyes wide, ready.
September was a month of early mornings and confounding application forms. Religious processions and kind hearted bureaucrats. And baptism of fire in that most frightening of places. A classroom of children.
October brought reunion and a new beginning. Departures, grave-digging and grief. A weekend in oft-criticised Tangier. We loved it, especially the cake.
I was surprised to make it through the month of November, what with all the bloodsuckers. Back to our beloved Granada to clink glasses.
December was a lesson; when it rains in Spain it doesn’t mess around. Oh, and try not to be up a mountain when it happens. More blood loss and a snowy Christmas.
After all the mosquitoes, I got my first look at the Mezquita in January. Settling in to the apartment, the noise and the confusion. More
In Practice, Production on May 3, 2011 at 10:44 am
It’s the mark of home. On the wall, over the sofa.
A trophy of our travels – we picked it up in the old city of Jerusalem in one of the covered bazaars there. The vendor was the usual blend of charm and ruthlessness but I believe we may even have gotten it for a half decent price.
The work is not particularly fine and a close inspection of the detail unforgiving but it’s handmade at least – a quality that distinguishes it from the rest of the “shit” that was on display in the man’s shop. His word, not mine.
Most of it’s made in China, he happily informed us.
Not this though, and I believed him. It would be a rare machine indeed – and not in a good way – that could weave the irregularities or simulate the errors which the curious eye can see all over its surface. More
In Plenary, Presentation on April 26, 2011 at 8:19 am
Hills give way to the Rif mountains, olive groves to pines and the long ascent to Chefchaouen begins. Founded in 1471, Chaouen (as it is known here) was a mountain stronghold for jews and moriscos – refugees of the reconquista in Spain. In fact, nowhere in Morocco has such strong and direct connections with its neighbour to the north. The town was seized again by Spain in 1920 and only returned to a newly independent Morocco in 1956, complete with the empty mosque the Spanish had built to ingraciate themselves and which was never used.
For years it has held an allure for the traveller – its Andalucian visuals, the unique culture that arose through the isolation and blending of diverse populations and not least because the surrounding countryside is one of Morocco’s principle production zones for kif; hashish to you and me. More
In Plenary, Presentation on April 21, 2011 at 9:13 am
We’re standing in the tiny kitchen. We want to leave but will wait a few moments for the proprietor to finish his prayers. His daughter doesn’t want to take our money and besides, his prayer mat blocks the only exit.
We found this place by accident. Our blood sugars low, we needed something to eat and we spotted this hole in the wall, this hatch. The sign overhead informed us of tea on the terrace with panoramic views. Peering in through the sunken opening and past its solitary hotplate we saw nothing and assumed that the salon de the was to be found next door as part of the adjacent palace.
I beckoned to the bearded cook that we would like to go through but he indicated that we should descend the few steps into the sunken opening. Like the gentleman I am I asked K to preceed me. More
In Plenary, Practice on November 5, 2010 at 11:24 am
A week of opposing elements.
We celebrate K’s first week at work in Gibraltar and we lose the lagomorph.
We are hurting so we go to Tangiers, thirty five minutes away on the Moroccan coast, to distract ourselves. We feel like curling up under a duvet, so we force ourselves out there to explore.
Tangiers has always seemed an exotic, far away location to me. Now it’s our nearest city bar Algeciras. Still exotic though. A former colonial outpost that has seen better days – it is just my cup of (mint) tea.
The narrow streets of Tarifa are precursed here More