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 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, 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 Presentation, Production on October 3, 2012 at 9:23 am
This makes a change.
I’m sitting in front of a half litre of dark beer, brewed just a few feet away, bubbly and flavourful. Tucked into an alcove at a wooden bench, I’ve found a space for myself. It’s a beautiful room, actually – low ceilinged on the ground floor of an impressively proportioned brewery building. The wooden beams overhead are supported by heavy iron pillars in an industrial but elegant style – I’d call it Victorian but I can’t imagine they call it that here, in this elegant little town in a quiet corner of north east Bavaria, famous for its numerous beers, on this crisply cool, dark Autumn evening.
Yes, it certainly makes a change. On the other side of the room some kind of team gathering (an all-male line up along a long bench and all wearing the same blue polo shirt) provide a robust soundtrack, but their noisy hubbub – from yodeling (I shit you not) to beer songs – blends easily with the hum of the other patrons’ chat.
K has told me to get lost. Her oldest friend is getting married in the morning and they’re having a quiet little hen night, just three of them. She has decided I’m to be left to my own devices in her beautiful hometown with a pocketful of cash. 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 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 Plenary, Production on February 21, 2011 at 10:45 am
We’ve seen a lot since we got here. Our use of weekend time has been ambitious and efficient in our rush to realise the wish-list we had compiled in Ireland – in our imaginations – as we strained and waited and held our breath, hoping that it all might happen.
It’s happening – we have walked beneath the striped arcades of the Mezquita in Cordoba’s Juderia, shielded our eyes from the sun to make out snow on the Sierra Nevada as they rose over the red walls of the Alhambra, evaded peddlars in the network of arteries that is the medina of Tangier, ducked from dark shadow to the white, white light of Malaga‘s streets, ambled the boulevards of Cadiz.
In Sevilla the blue green tile work of the Alcazar has burned its detail into us along with the gridded plan of its gardens; another Alcazar in Jerez, with its patina of shabby elegance and its teeming sunday market. 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