Archive for 2011|Yearly archive page

Gran Bretaña

In Plenary, Presentation on December 21, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Less than an hour’s drive from Tarifa, over the mountain, through Algeciras and around the bay, is Britain – probably the most distinctive physical feature in the whole of southern Spain. Many of you will know, of course, that Britain is a small, over-crowded and heavily urbanised island but you may not have been aware of some of its lesser known attributes; the commanding views of Africa’s northern coast, the small but stubborn population of Barbary Apes (unique amongst all apes in that they are in fact monkeys) and of course the tell-tale British surnames; Tewkesbury, Finlayson, Parody, Netto, Buttigieg, Benady, Santos, Spiteri, Zammit, Xerri and Crisp.

The main bulwark of the British economy is money itself. Investments, insurance, pensions and numerous other products I have a very poor grasp of are sold from here. Poker, a possibly related activity, is also popular. After that it’s booze. After that it’s cigarettes. And after that it’s you; the tourist. You come to get in the cable car and go see the monkeys. Then you buy some booze and cigarettes. Then you leave. It’s almost as if you came here for gambling, booze, cigarettes and monkeys! You certainly don’t come, I would hope, for the food.

Britain is peppered with traditional pubs – recognisable by their grim exteriors and sticky carpets. More

The Bus Stop

In Practice, Production on December 14, 2011 at 10:48 am

The street light cuts out again.

I look up at the blinding, dotted flow of headlamps that sweep uphill from the city and pass me by; the majority of them attached to heavy goods vehicles fresh from the port. It’s noisy with their motors and hydraulics but across the street and just beyond the electrical plant a full moon – piss yellow and hanging low – illuminates the cloud above and below it; it is enormous and silent and very far from here.

On the embankment by the roundabout a whinny in the shadows. The horse is always there, tied to a stump and describing circles all day as it grazes. I feel sorry for it as I always do for horses in urban settings. Earlier though I saw its owner with it, giving it a run, and there was no bad feeling; they looked like an old couple – each knowing what the other was going to do next.

The light comes back on.

My eyes drop to the page. I’m reading novels again. This one is good even if the author has felt compelled to assign an adjective to each and every noun. It isn’t pocket sized so I need to carry it in my leather satchel; travel time is reading time these days since I spend so much of my day on the bus. I have also honed my skills at walking and reading as I saunter along between here and the school, dodging lizards and grasshoppers and the odd snail migration. More

Los Invitados

In Practice, Production on December 8, 2011 at 9:50 am

Two bottles of St Georgen’s Bräu to start the season. A gift from friends who are visiting from Germany and who know my tastes. The beer was a discovery for me on a previous visit to BavariaFranconia to be more precise – and as well as evoking memories of Gasthof Schiller and juicy schäufele is probably, despite another brewery’s having nabbed the slogan, the best lager in the world.

Visitors, guests. We have them, we are them. The Schiller guesthouse in Wernsdorf where I first tasted St Georgen’s Bräu has been there in one form or another since 1348, but apparently only run as the guesthouse it is now since 1715. Still, they seem to be settling in. The biergarten there on a summer evening, a stein of beer on the wooden table, its surface dappled by spear tips of golden sunlight that pierce the leafed shade. A bone of slow roast pork next to it. The best hospitality makes you feel at home even when you know you aren’t, even when everything is new.

I don’t know how Georg Modscheidler did it, but sometime around 1624 he discovered how to brew my favourite beer. You always wonder, don’t you, about the sequence of events and decisions that lead to a great discovery. Read the rest of this entry »


In Presentation, Production on November 30, 2011 at 11:59 am


I’ve slept in, no morning run. I haul myself into an upright position and put my feet on the cold floor, moving them about a bit so they can find my slippers while I wait for my eyes to open. My head is pounding and breathing has been relegated to my mouth. That’s right, I have slippers. My lips are dry and cracked and there is a mountain of unwanted material in my nasal passages. I get to the bathroom and jettison the material. It’s the worst head cold I can remember and to top it all, K seems to have caught it so she’ll be feeling like this soon, and blaming me.


A lot of washing up. Bowls and pots and a thousand implements and items of cutlery; a never-ending litany of them. Worrying smell of gas in the kitchen which I really should tell the landlord, P, about. The chickpeas have soaked so I put them on to boil. They will take two hours or so. K thinks I’m mad to soak my own chickpeas. Maniac was the term she used, which I think is a bit strong.


So, a picture emerges; he wears slippers. He soaks his own chickpeas. He washes up in the nude. More

El Enseñar

In Plenary, Practice on November 23, 2011 at 10:37 am

I don’t usually write about work. Oh there are plenty of stories, believe me, but I shy away from the mentioning of either names or any obviously identifying circumstances or specifics. I don’t want to cause offence – to inadvertently portray a place that is shared by others in any way that they might find disparaging or insulting. What I see there is almost certainly not what they see there, and it can be jarring to become privy to someone else’s version of your events, especially if unsolicited.

Particularly where there are children involved I could never be sure, were I to write about them in any kind of detail, that I wasn’t being exploitative in some way. Nor would I want to excite anyone to a level of curiousity about me or my opinions that I might find uncomfortable. I don’t know what my opinion is half the time; why would I want to field questions on it?

No, better not. The hours spent at it accrue though, to the point where ignoring it completely seems a little fake. The proverbial elephant in the classroom. It has been a major part of the experience this last year and a learning curve all of its own.

The fact is, teaching the children – particularly the younger ones – has been humbling; an impressive experience that I won’t be forgetting in a hurry. More

El Acceso

In Plenary on November 16, 2011 at 11:21 am

We love Seville; it seems to us just about the perfect city. Leafy, shaded parks that provide contrast and refuge from the warren of narrow streets in the old town. Majestic plazas and hidden plazuelas. The Giralda, a twelfth century Almohad minaret, emblem of Spain, and the cathedral to which it later became attached, the world’s third largest church. The cradle of flamenco across the river in Triana. The Alcazar with its insanely ornate mudejar palaces. The old juderia of Santa Cruz, its boulevards and squares lined with orange trees. The bull ring. The Torre de Oro. Everything, basically.

K is in her element with the big city shopping and I am in mine with…well, anything – as long as it isn’t shopping. What we share is the opinion that this is the best place to eat in Andalucia; were El Tapeo a country, this would certainly be its capital. If it has one minor flaw, and this is in fact the only criticism we can ever think of, it’s that it isn’t Granada. But let’s not quibble.

We part for the afternoon – K for the shops, me for this other thing I want to do. When we meet up again she hasn’t finished and suggests I go down to the cathedral for a look. For all it’s glory there has always been something inaccessible about the cathedral for me. More

Return of K

In Presentation, Production on November 9, 2011 at 10:18 am

We’re in the living room. Laptopping.

K is browsing fashion sites and I am doing an obsessive compulsive circuit of my usual haunts; making sure things are alright on the social networks, repeatedly. If you add enough of them to your armoury then by the time you’ve checked them all it can seem worth popping back to the first, in case anything has happened there in the meantime. And then the second…

I emit the odd snort if, for example, something I have done or said or said that I’ve done, and which I consider to be perfectly likeable, has not been liked. Or re-liked. Or sub-twitted. That kind of thing. K says something but I fail to take it in as I search for human interaction on the little screen in front of me.

Not a tweet. I have no private or direct messages. No hopeful, blinking icons, flashing notifications.


I peel my eyes painfully from the web and look up. The long white curtains are billowing – we’ve had a temperature drop and the air is genuinely fresh and a little cool. I’m sitting here in a woolly jumper! Good Irish weather, I told my students today, and they laughed. I’m certainly overdoing it with the jumper, but still. More

La Torre

In Presentation, Production on November 2, 2011 at 9:49 am

Don Quixote is dead. The wise fool has recovered his reason and died in bed, surrounded by loved ones weeping. I shed a tear or two myself as I turn the final page. Then I resolve to do something quixotic today; I will walk to the tower!

On a promontory further up the coast the Torre de Guadalmesi edges its way into view after an hour or so of hiking from the little town of Tarifa. It looks close. It isn’t. Under the impression that it is, I follow the curves and gradients of the path as it runs along the Mediterranean. This is the now defunct road to Algeciras – a highway through the Spain of knights and bandits, Christians and Moors.

I come to a stretch of the old byway which is shaded and sheltered on the coastal side by a rock wall that protrudes from the ground to a height of about two metres and it dawns on me that, even in the absence of any paving or marks to evidence it, the road must always have gone this way; it’s the only rational – possible – choice right here. I may never have been on a road as old and with as much certainty. Thousands of years at least, and who knows how many thousands have passed this way, till it was abandoned in favour of more modern highways further inland, once engineering had made them possible. More

Las Estaciones

In Presentation, Production on October 26, 2011 at 9:55 am

Rubber lip grunt for dinner. With wedges. For the wedges I take two or three Patatas de Sanlucar – a huge and delicious potato that is ideal for frying but that also does very well in the oven – and slice them into chunky sections. I coat them in a little olive oil and a good bit of salt. Sometimes I add a spice, such as smoked paprika or ras-el-hanout, but not this time. These potatoes pack plenty of flavour and I don’t want to obscure it.

So that’s the wedges. Once they’re in the oven I start on the sauce. It’s got capers in it. And I saute up some broad beans with garlic and tiny bits of Spanish ham – a local classic to which I add a little fresh mint. This is going to be great!

We’ve been for a long walk over some hilly, coastal terrain and the season has changed, so I have weather on my mind as I cook. Going into a second year here one is made aware of the changing light as it comes round a second time; with deep satisfaction I am observing weathers I have seen before – the cooling of the air as I walk through town every day to the bus stop, the blinding sunlit facades against a backdrop of black cloud in windy, mixed skies and the odd drop of what will soon become downpour. It’s Autumn again, as it was when I got here and, almost wilfully, fell in love with the place. More

Las Nubes

In Presentation, Production on October 19, 2011 at 7:48 am

There is a point along the high road between Algeciras and Tarifa where a succession of twists and curves offers rapidly alternating views of the Straits of Gibraltar – hemmed in by the coastal mountain ranges of Europe and Africa – and the wide open, luminous vista of the Costa de la Luz as it stretches out along the Atlantic. There is a rare sense of scale and of place – one can picture oneself on the relevant page of the atlas – and today the scene is even more than usually singular.

Weather reports have described the area as nublado, or cloudy, but in fact the skies are crystal clear and brilliantly blue, marked only here and there by scissor-cut contrails. The clouds are down below in the form of a marine layer that drifts slowly westward through the Straits, trapped by a warm front that is moving in above them. They fill the narrow waterway with fluff, above which the Pillars of Hercules peek – papier-mache protrusions amidst the cotton wool of a child’s geography project.

I get off the bus and walk downhill into town and towards the casco where we live. With precision, the marine layer leaves the coast clear and keeps to the water. Only where Tarifa itself terminates at the Isla de Palomas – the continent’s jutting, southernmost point – does it drift overhead across the antique roofscape. Our building, when I reach it, marks the line at which the high-visibility day gives way to fog. More