Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Homage to Catalonia 2

Left Girona and headed east towards Begur and the coast. Begur is an undistinguished town devoted to relieving tourists of their money before they carry on to the coast. It's full of shops selling tat and overpriced restaurants - despite its spectacular location is hardly worth a visit. It does however, like most villages and towns in Catalonia, have a 24-hour manned municipal car park that costs only 30 cent an hour.

On to Fornells, a small harbour with a tiny beach - mostly occupied by the Catalan and French middle classes with a sprinkling of upper crust Brits. We stay in a nearby hotel and read to the sound of the lapping sea. Nice.

Next stop Figueres where the plan is to visit the Dali museum. We walked around this fly-blown unattractive city for over an hour without encountering a reasonable restaurant or bar. The Dali museum however made the visit worthwhile. Apart from a range of his paintings and drawings, he presided over the entire design of the building, which is a work of art in itself, or a grand folly maybe. You have to chuckle at the sight of a building decorated with croutons and topped with eggs. The old buffoon is buried in the crypt but he provides plenty to amuse us as we wend our way down there. Artistically the highlight for me was his pen and ink drawings but there was a fair sprinkling of his surrealist masterpieces worth seeing also. Gala's charms are featured regularly of course. There were plenty of curiosities including a holograph of Dali and the giant Mae West face - best viewed through a reducing lens set up on a platform above.

The road from Figueres to Cadaques is remarkable for the number of roundabouts that inhibit your progress. These devices have their place but someone in the Catalan local government has gone mad - it's as if all roads must be granted equal status and the idea of a main road is some corrupt Castillian notion. Cadaques is now of course a tourist resort and not the sleepy fishing village beloved of Picasso. It's still worth a visit though for its beautiful setting.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Homage to Catalonia 1

Girona is a very salubrious town as long as you confine your activities to the old town and its immediate environs. The old town hugs the banks of the River Onyar, which conveniently separates it from from the undistinguished new town,and climbs uphill to the cathedral. Two things are immediately obvious to someone coming from Paddyland, the streets are clean and the traffic is minimal - like a lot of Continental cities the rights of the citizens to a reasonable quality of life comes before private enterprise. Ireland prefers the private affluence amidst public squalour model.The women are dark and saucy looking with tatoos much in evidence. Must be a cultural thing, I saw two well set up tatoo parlours (studios?) within a few hundred metres of each other. I paid a visit to the Museu D'Art and throughly depressed myself looking at the work of the Catalan master Isidre Nonell. I should have realised what I was in for when I saw his first series of paintings was entitled the Cretins of Boi - gloomy portraits of hapless wretches in an insane asylum, painted near the end of the 19th Century. Things didn´t get better as he progressed into the 20th - though his subjects changed class as he painted more affluent looking women in various states of introspective misery. And all so dark - while outside the sun was splitting the stones. We met a cheerful Irish girl in a local bar and she directed us to a restaurant called Occi for dinner. We were expecting something Catalan and funky (beans and sausage, rabbit etc.), instead we got the only chi-chi restaurant in the town. The decor was international minimalist chic - a warning sign. But I knew we were definitely in trouble when the waiter offered us kangeroo. We struggled to find something edible on the menu - when we finally got the food, the tuna we ordered was raw, a detail on the menu we fatally missed. We drowned our sorrows on Tokai afterwards - and resolved to try some local cuisine next, and find the Catalan word for raw.

The Ryan Game

After the predictable Ryanair debacle we have fetched up in Girona. Michael O´Leary is determined to undermine our international reputation for friendliness by initiating a kind of police state at check in - the last time I felt this uneasy leaving a country was running the gauntlet of Saudi officialdom. His latest wheeze is to insist that one piece of hand baggage only gets taken on board - no handbags, no shopping, no extra parcels, no doll for your daughter. I see a pair of old lags at the gate, looking as if they are on day release from Mountjoy, enforcing this policy with glee on bemused passengers. I quickly cram my shoulder bag into my carry on bag reducing my two to the legal one. However, this is my undoing, my formerly legal carry on bag now bulges beyond the legal - as the very slim metal guide at the gate confirms. So my bag is whisked off me and consigned to the hold accompanied by all kinds of dire warnings about not being responsible for its contents´safety. My travelling companion gets by legally but of course we both have to wait at the other end for my bag to come through - and miss the last bus into Girona by 5 minutes. I do notice leaving the airport by taxi that there are about a dozen Ryanair jets on the tarmac. People will eat shit for cheap flights it seems.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tipp Top Again

Tipp are on the road again - winning the Munster Championship for the second year in a row and doing it the hard way by beating Cork, Clare and Waterford. They have a young and upwardly mobile team so surely their day is coming - maybe even this year. They have a few new young hot shots in the shape of Noel McGrath and Shane McGrath and the old guard, Eoin Kelly, Conor O'Mahony and Lar Corbett, are coming back into form. If they can sort out their full-back line (Patrick Maher looked outsanding when he moved there) who knows. The one worry I have is their lack of ruthlessness - there's no player on the team that shows the kind of mad resolve we saw in John Mullane last Sunday. They seem like nice skillful lads but without that killer instinct. In their three matches so far they petered out in the second half after cruising in the first - instead of applying the coup de grace like a Kilkenny. Sheedy needs to get them fired up for that big day in September.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star by Paul Theroux

Clumsy title but a great travel book by an author I've long admired. Thereoux is retracing a journey he took 33 years earlier and wrote about in The Great Railway Bazaar. He seems mellower this time around but his powers of observation are not diminished and he can be acerbic when it's merited. He casts a particularly cold eye on the autocratic regime in Singapore where free speech is not encouraged. Its leader Lee Kwan Yew, a cold and domineering control freak, gets a memorable bashing. Lee is the guy who famously backed the Chinese government after their massacre in TiananmenSquare. He's also good on the new India of call centres and IT wealth. However he flees that country in horror at the relentless tide of humanity that floods the cities and make every venture on foot a nightmare. Other things that stick in the mind were the bleakness of rural Russian life and the cultural vibrancy of Turkey.

What I like about Thereoux is the way he engages with the country through which he travels - he talks to the people he encounters on trains, he stays in cheap hotels where the real people go, and he eats what's available on railway platforms. The book has many incidental pleasures: rueful reflections on his earlier callow self, his spat with the monstrous V. S. Naipaul, compact descriptions of the politics and topography of the host of countries he traverses, and a colourful cast of characters met along the way.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Michael Jackson RIP

Never got his music or his dancing but boy did he add to the gaiety of nations. Like Elvis and John Lennon he had a long dying fall as a performer - his best days were 20years ago. It might seem a strange thing to say about an erstwhile black boy but he lacked soul. Listen to his version of Ain't no Sunshine... and then listen to the original by Bill Withers and you'll see what I mean. Or watch his dancing and then look at the early Elvis, or Robert Plant in his priapic prime. There was always an aura of Disneyland about Jackson - an absence of the real and the visceral. In Disneyland there are no genitals. He was Peter Pan -living in Neverland in perpetual childhood.