Archive for 2012|Yearly archive page


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

La Matanza

In Practice, Presentation on December 20, 2012 at 7:22 pm

La Matanza

It’s Saturday afternoon and I get a text from L, our friend and language intercambio, to arrange some coffee and cake the following afternoon. I will meet him at the mudejar arch that leads to the old town and we’ll pick up some pastries before coming back to our place and “gowering into them”, as they say in my neck of the woods. I can’t vouch for the spelling.

A little while later though I get another text. L has just heard that there will be a traditional matanza down at the alameda earlier in the day. The reader may need some help with terms. Alameda translates as mall or avenue and just about every Spanish town has one – Tarifa’s (and I may be biased) is particularly handsome as it hugs the city walls, lined with stately palms and comparatively high-end restaurants. Parents take their young children there to stop off at the tiny playground on their Sunday paseo and little markets are often set up. There’s a book stall and a kiosk for the whale-watching excursions.

I’m still on a learning curve about the country we live in so whenever anyone slips the word ‘traditional’ in, I’m interested. I text L that, of course, we’ll meet him at the top of the alameda at one, More

Las Instituciones

In Practice on December 14, 2012 at 12:11 pm

JYCLa Giralda[2]

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 GiraldaSeville 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

La Vaca Roja

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

Los Barrios

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!”

Nothing. More

El Barrio

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

Blue Cock

In Presentation on October 30, 2012 at 10:31 am

Jerez never disappoints. As usual we leave the bodegas alone and find our sherry in the city’s bars. Anywhere that serves a palo cortado by the glass gets our business. You can pay as much as nine euros for a glass of good palo cortado in Jerez, but we choose to prefer the two-fifty variety.

There is this dance we always do first – a sad little conga round the clothes boutiques, K leading the way and I the downcast disciple. Apparently I can be quite annoying. First though we pause at the top of Calle Lancería for me to photograph a favourite building of mine; where Calle Larga and Calle de Santa María converge, the semi-circular Gallo Azul building is the city’s centerpiece.

A beautiful and elegant construction housing a high-end tapas bar on the ground floor and a restaurant upstairs, I have no idea what it hides in its upper floors as they taper upwards towards the neon La Ina sign in a style that seems more than a little phallic to me. The building’s name, which translates as Blue Cock, always, I’m a little embarrassed to admit, gets a giggle.

Photographs taken, it’s off to the shops and thence to a low-end bar for a low-end palo cortado. Sherry aficionados will know that even cheap palo cortado is expensive and excellent wine. More

Los Alcornocales

In Practice, Production on October 23, 2012 at 9:56 am

Cork oaks have an ancient look to them – their soft, springy bark is grey and deeply wrinkled, their trunks a contortion of twists, adorned with moss in fizzing greens and lichens in porcelain shades of washed out blue-green, green-blue and jade.

I can’t always persuade K to come walking with me, and indeed I haven’t been out for a while myself, but I’ve spent too much time in the house this week and have come down with cabin fever, so here we are, walking up a rough road into the cork forests that overlook the Strait.

We’ve been to the visitor centre for the national park that surrounds us – two national parks in fact – and a nice lady has sold us a cute little pack that contains sixteen maps. The morning has been rainy but the clouds have cleared a little and the sky is pocked with blue patches as we tackle the first of them, the sun bursting through to dapple the world in moving circles of light.

It has helped my mood not one whit that we’ve spent the last hour in an enormous supermarket getting the weekly shopping done, me following K around like a sulking child, she eventually giving up on any notion of deploying my fetching capabilities.

Her: Could you please get a box of tagliatelli? More

Ungespundet hefetrüb

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