In Presentation, Uncategorized on June 2, 2014 at 8:42 am
“The man is out there again”.
She means the man who walks his dogs behind our house each day, in the morning or early afternoon. She has told me about him on a number of occasions but for whatever reason I only saw him myself for the first time a few days ago. I stand on the patio bench and peer through the grille of the upper wall. Two leads for two small dogs who trot along peaceably, pausing here and there, as dogs do, to sniff or mark a pole, and always, alongside them or just behind and keeping them company all the way with perfect, leash-free discipline, a tabby cat.
A white horse in the long grass that backs the beach. It would take a master to paint the scene above it; the hazy veil of a dirt grey horizon thins low in the sky, revealing a creamy ripple of higher cloud that expands as it arches overhead – little tufts pulled apart like the fibres of a cotton wool roll, white as the animal grazing. When I pass by again, some minutes later, the scene is gone, the clouds stage left as if dragged there by jaded stage hands. The show is over. It rains heavily the following morning and afterwards the horse isn’t even a horse, but a white yacht gleaming in a spot of sunlight against a charcoal waterline. More
In Plenary, Production on April 4, 2014 at 9:30 am
Until the Arabs came, this was the end of the world. Everything to the west was monsters and mystery; everything to the south was sultry, secretive and uncivilised. To the Syrians and their Berber hordes it became a new frontier, and a potential route to the domination of Europe, but until that moment, for the people they were about to conquer, it was the edge of the known. For some it still is of course – Europeans are in plentiful supply who would willingly go no further.
Sitting on a bus and looking at the back of someone’s head can be a bracing business; we never see the back of our own heads and it’s probably just as well – this evening’s guy has hair cropped short with salt and pepper flecks and a line of imperfections along the rim of his ear (spots or old wounds of some sort) that he continually rubs and picks at. He has a way of sneezing that makes me wince even though he’s doing it in the opposite direction: a series of near silent convulsions after which he checks his hands, his jacket and the window for mucous. My hand’s been resting on the miserly ledge at the bottom of my window and just behind his seat; I pull it back a little and breath as shallowly as I can, impatient to get off and suddenly conscious that a blemish at the back of my own ear may be disgusting someone at this very moment, grey hairs involuntarily counted, greasy collar disapproved of. More
In Presentation, Production on March 14, 2014 at 8:47 am
Very few of you, I imagine, will have enjoyed the depth of understanding, clarity of judgement or richness of insight that K and I have been enjoying recently with regard to the questions and quandaries of global geopolitics. Perhaps as few as none of you will have been able to appreciate, as we have, the fine balances and convolutions, the real dilemmas and delicate considerations that George W Bush, for example, along with his now legendary team of peace enthusiasts – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Powell – will have had to grapple with in their relentless pursuit of justice in the Middle East.
The precision that will have had to accompany Bill Clinton’s more famous compassion as he weighed up the countless (and often contradictory) criteria for going into, or not going into, or going into and then pulling out of, a Kosovo descending into deadly chaos. The teetering structures and the slip-slide systems that threaten constantly to tumble on the turn of a card.
A card in a house of cards. The often split-second timing with which the great players must make their calls and live with the consequences: Franklin D Roosevelt, the Federal Reserve and the war in Europe, Saddam Hussein and his attempted liberation of Kuwait, Margaret Thatcher’s critical response to the Falkland crisis, without which the world would be so very different today – what all of these leaders had in common of course was an unwavering regard for the well-being of the people their decisions affected. More
In Practice, Production on February 12, 2014 at 12:01 pm
In February, with a messy sky diffusing the dawn light, the horizontals of the beach are toothpaste stripes; the water’s blue is deep and cool and the powder that whips across the surface of the sand makes it flutter brightly. As the liners head out onto the ocean and the whitewater flashes its thousand teeth, the day looks like it tastes of mint.
I turn left, not right as I usually do, so instead of making my way through the long grasses of the bird sanctuary, I walk south along this very last bit of Spain’s Atlantic coast, towards the island. The morning is bright and blustery. The winds were strong overnight and the little square where the promenade widens out is an apocalyptic scene; see-saws and rowing machines poke out of the sand like relics of a former time.
The beachside bar that overcharges us for wine whenever we’re absent-minded enough to end up there won’t be overcharging anyone tonight – the makeshift roof of corrugated iron that covers its terrace has collapsed. A new chiringuito, not yet built but present in the form of the steel girders that have been driven deep into the sand to support it, sits next to the causeway. Its customers will enjoy enviable views – of the island itself, and the lighthouse and the Tangier coastline – and I imagine they’ll pay for them in pricey wine, but for anyone who chooses not to be one of its customers, it will be a carbuncle. More
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 Practice on December 16, 2013 at 10:02 am
“You’re a genius.”
My first words of the day. K has just handed me a second can of isotonic-whatever-it-is and informed me she still has a little bottle of water in her bag, and some ibuprofen in the car. The woman is a genius.
My head – or what remains of it – falls back on the pillow. It does strike me as a little odd that she would choose such a moment to tickle my feet, but then I realise she’s putting my socks on. That’s good; I wasn’t going to get around to it anytime soon. While I’m being dressed, the images start flooding in; the first of them provide me with my bearings. I’m in Gibraltar.
No wait, I’m in La Linea, across the border, but I was in Gibraltar. I remember waiting at the runway after dark while a Monarch jet landed, more or less silent in the air as it slipped in from the east, but roaring on the tarmac when it touched down right in front of us and deployed its flaps. A little more waiting while it trundled back into view and towards the terminal…
…K is putting my underpants on. I have neither the energy nor the necessary synaptic functionality to feel ashamed of myself. I am, however, able to feel a lot of pain, somewhere behind my eyes. I wonder what could have caused it. Could it have been the Domaine Patrick Mauvy 2012, a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire valley? It was certainly fruity, I’ll give it that, and successfully avoided that ‘furniture polish’ thing that Sauvignon’s so often don’t, but apart from that it seemed innocuous enough… More
In Production on December 6, 2013 at 9:28 am
The other day, I had a slice of bread and butter. It was very nice.
Quite a week!
It was an especially nice slice of bread and butter because K made the bread. That’s right: Casa Alotofwind has acquired bread capabilities. A major breakthrough, and not for want of trying – we’ve both been at it for years. We’ve basically been the Iran of bread making.
K has been the front runner from the get go; the results of her attempts have been consistently better than mine. Less ‘bricky’ somehow. Less evocative of the construction sector, if you will. Mine we have regularly not even bothered to eat. Bakery in general has always been her department, as is anything that requires any degree of precision or self-control.
When I say that her bread has been better than mine I should add, in the interests of transparency and candour, that the difference has not been a marked one. Neither of us ever produced a loaf that had the necessary vim to peep over the top of its tin till this week. To be honest, given that we didn’t even eat my efforts, they might actually be described as better, in that sense. Not that the bread was better but, you know, the outcome.
With K’s we ploughed ahead. Whether this was down to their (slightly) superior appearance or whether it was a personality type thing, fuelled by a fear of saying no to her, I couldn’t possibly say. More
In Plenary, Presentation on November 14, 2013 at 11:25 am
Cádiz at night is the 18th century through a film noir looking glass. At every intersection in the old town the antique street lamps line up in all four directions, their light rising to illuminate the upper floors of the terraced town houses. Oddly uniform facades of cluttered little ornamental balconies – most glassed in to form protruding, paned windows – recede symmetrically into the distance on all sides. It’s a vertical world – the tall houses, the litter-strewn triangle of the retreating street, the mirror image funnel of sky revealed at roof level – in the form of a slender ‘x’. You might reasonably expect Mozart to walk around the next corner. In a trilby. Hands deep in the pockets of his overcoat, a gitanes dangling from his lips.
At street level the light of the lamps falls on cobbles, on ground floor walls whose colours daylight will reveal: the characteristic shades of the city – wine, champagne and salmon pink, pale blues and the ubiquitous brown of wet sand. All of them a little washed-out, as if the residents of this sea-locked city have grown so used to seeing their handiwork bleached by the sun and salt that they now paint it that way to begin with.
Some of the street level facades are left unpainted, exposing the mottled grey and sandy colours of the stonework and giving rise to the impression that this whole city grew organically from the waters that surround it; a close look at the big blocks reveals a surprising texture – they are comprised of shells and must be made of material gleaned from the sea bed. Neptune’s own bricks – a spellbinding detail. More
In Plenary, Production on November 8, 2013 at 10:21 am
“No puedo vestirme bien,” I complain to L, who employs me.
In Tarifa the year has made its mind up: it’s autumn now, the mornings fresh and dim despite the clock change, the evenings dark and every few days or so what I now, after a few years of Andalusian acclimatising, call cold.
In Algeciras it’s a different story – the unseasonably late summer lingers on without consistency; yesterday it was fresh enough but today it’s just plain hot. Because I live in Tarifa I’ve come to work in a warm top that I regret the minute I step off the bus. Nineteen kilometres separate the two towns but there’s the small matter of a mountain in between and the temperature differential ranges between noticeable and shocking. Catches me out every time.
It’s particularly maddening at this time of year. I know I will have issues in my little classroom today. Gender issues. I will flick on the aircon to get the room comfortable and when the kids arrive, the debate will begin. Girls vs boys and me.
“Que frio!” M will exclaim, crossing her hands to rub her upper arms theatrically.
“Maestro!” P will chime in, her face a picture of suffering.
Never mind that both of them are basically wearing beachwear to school. The boys and I will look at each other as we always do, like sulking puppies. More
In Plenary, Presentation on October 17, 2013 at 6:44 am
The neighbourhood between the academia, where I’ve just finished work, and the bus stop where I wait each day for a ride back to Tarifa, is anything but picturesque. It has precisely nothing of the rustic charm that draws visitors to Andalucia, except perhaps an authentic dash of the chaotic, permission-free approach to town planning that created the medinas and pueblos blancos in the middle ages and continues to bash out the odd barrio today.
The pavements are in the kind of condition that could keep a thousand solicitors in work were this an anglo-saxon country, and that’s where there are pavements. There’s a chemist, a stationer, a few bars and a small family-run supermarket and butcher. I take a street that leads uphill toward the main road and the bus stop and pass a kindergarten and a kitchen showroom, opposite a hostal that advertises beds and showers. You’d have to wonder who would find their way to a hostal in a neighbourhood like this. The kind of person who requires assurance that it contains showers, I suppose.
It’s a quiet time of day – just a few people here and there sitting on the kerb or on their doorsteps – but there is the repetitive clanging of someone at work. As I walk toward a white van parked up on the left the noise gets louder – I can’t see the source because the back doors are open and blocking my view but I do notice a large pile of dung behind it. I’m pretty sure it’s horse dung; it has that grassy texture to it and also, standing above it and tended by a tiny but cocky looking young boy, is a horse. More