In Presentation, Production on February 7, 2013 at 9:57 am
I have made the first steps of a journey – in the footsteps of another. A man long dead but local: from just across the water in Tangier, the African town whose old medina I can make out on most days from the water’s edge. A man who embarked on his life just as Marco Polo turned the last page on his and who set out twenty one years later from his family home – walking, sailing and riding around the known world on a journey that dwarfed the Italian’s feat.
By the time he returned, twenty nine years later, he’d been married ten times, done the whole storms and shipwrecks thing, dealt with pirates, perilous employers and eminent hosts from Somalia to the South China Sea.
Having undertaken such a journey, measuring distances and incorporating a diversity of encounters so far in excess of anything Marco Polo managed, you might expect the travelling Tangerine to have achieved a considerable notoriety, to be renowned in the same way as his European counterpart. He isn’t exactly unknown and some of you will have heard his name before; a number of my readers are travellers themselves and others are living in Spain, a country the Moroccan visited and where consequently the name has a little more caché. Others, however, will be new to it and that is because its owner lived in a world delineated, as ours is, by language, culture and faith. More
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 Practice, Presentation on January 20, 2013 at 8:55 pm
I don’t know much about geology, but the rock I’m sitting on is worn, deeply striated and covered in mosses and lichens, and I deduce from this that it must be soft and permeable. That will have helped when the caves here were carved out back in the Bronze Age for use as tombs.
That’s all I know about this place, gleaned from the engraved stone slabs that have been put outside the closed information point. I’m alone up here, having had to climb the fence to get in. The ayuntamiento, or somebody, is enclosing the rocky, cave-riddled outcrop with a fence, laying paths and installing benches for visitors.
I’ve little chance of being disturbed here on this wild, windy Tarifa day. Anybody with any sense is indoors. Over on the other mountain I can see the zig-zag sendero that leads to the wind turbines that fan out along its ridge. It looks tiny from here of course, and tempting, but I imagine it would be a two hour trial to walk it.
What strikes me most about these tomb caves (since I’m alone, I get to sit inside one), isn’t so much that they date back to around 2500 BCE, but that they were still being used for their original purpose as recently as the tenth century. Three and a half millennia. 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 Practice, Presentation on January 5, 2013 at 4:21 pm
Our introduction to Madrid would, I imagine, have a lot in common with the experiences of others who down through the ages have come from quiet countryside and little town for a taste of the metropolis. In the first week of January the city is cold, but crisp and pleasant. It’s a holiday week and Sol, the central square, is crowded with tourists. The melee at nearby San Miguel market, a food destination, is insane and deeply unpleasant. If this place is ever reasonably quiet – merely bustling, say – we’ll come back then. The food looks good.
We dive into what looks like a deliciously kitsch Andaluz bar on the Plaza Mayor – the walls are lined with photos of corrida related gore and bulls’ heads. When we order a glass of wine and a small beer they put a tasty little arroz in front of us and an equally tasty broth of jamon. I begin to relax. Then they manage to upsell us a ración of boquerones fritos.
Then they charge us 19.50 for it.
You can take the one off the beginning of that price and subtract a further two for the going rate in our neck of the woods. Also, it looks like a media to us.
Welcome to the big city, bozos. 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 Practice on December 14, 2012 at 12:11 pm
The Plaza de San Francisco is one of Seville’s most regal, lined as it is with the facades of the Audiencia, the Ayuntamiento and the Adriatica’s curved corner, not to mention the terrace of balconied, 18th century town houses that would have accommodated the great and the good – chief benefactors of the city’s waning golden age. It’s one of those spots in Andalucia’s capital where you can stop for a moment, raise your nose in the air – otherwise scented with oranges or their blossoms – and still catch the reek of all the money that came pouring into this town, off the backs of South American slave miners for the most part, I would have thought.
Dark history aside, it’s a beautiful place, and rarely dark in this day and age. On the contrary, the plaza is sunny and colourful, a venue for everything from Christmas markets to Easter processions. At a distance from its southeastern corner, but tall enough to preside over it, is the Giralda – Seville Cathedral’s bell tower, symbol of Spain and former minaret, topped now with a 16th century addition: the belfry. People forget that the Moors built skyscrapers. The Almohads in particular – they erected the Giralda as well as its sister tower in Rabat in their native Morocco, both of them modelled on the Koutoubia minaret in Marrakesh. More
In Practice on December 4, 2012 at 9:47 am
The first sip.
O’Hara’s Red Ale is an expensive treat here in Spain but then it was never that cheap in Ireland. Not easy to find in either country but today I’m in my favourite Seville cervecería, in the Arenal neighbourhood that curves around the bullring, and it’s third time lucky; on my last couple of visits they had run out. I was beginning to think the entry on their beer list was a bare-faced lie.
I deserve this.
I may never have deserved a sip of beer the way I deserve this sip of beer. We had to cancel a previously planned visit to the city due to a bout of flu, so we’ve been looking forward to this occasion with particular enthusiasm and a degree of impatience.
Last night, while I popped out to the shop, K turned the oven on and the house blacked out. You turn your back for five minutes. She naturally concluded that the two events were connected but when I returned, opening the front door to find her lighting candles with her miner-style LED headband (bought for camping purposes)on, I checked the breakers inside the front door and everything looked tickety-boo. 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 Presentation on November 16, 2012 at 9:41 am
I’m looking for purity.
Natural wholesomeness. Clean, untainted goodness. Healthy, nurturing freshness, whatever you like – you get the picture.
My search has brought me to an industrial estate just outside Tarifa – I’m walking on a cracked, ill-maintained pavement, along a rusting and dilapidated steel fence beyond which a patch of wasteland is a mess of weeds and debris. A little further up I can see a car-wash place and various noisy workshops. Trucks pass by. No sign of the goodness, as yet. I must have walked up and down every “street” in the place.
Ah, here it is: Tarifa Natural, it says over the warehouse loading dock. It doesn’t look like the kind of place I should be walking into, but I do. I’ve been directed here, by the nice women in the herbolario in the old town, and I must have walked a mile all told, so I’m going in.
I step past a forklift and somewhere at the back of the building, out of sight, someone is using a pneumatic drill. The noise is deafening and there’s no one around. I wander about and when the drill stops for a moment I yell “hola!”