Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Here's a Quare One for You

Touring the Bourdeaux region of France recently chasing wines that were good but inexpensive, or not too bad and not too expensive. This proved to be an impossible task: the cheap ones are pure poison and you have to pay way more than I consider reasonable for anything I consider drinkable. Still it was nice to visit Saint Julien and Paulliac and to travel through the famous chateaux like Lynch-Bages, Leoville-Las-Cases and all the other shining stars of the Haut-Medoc.

But this is not the point of my story. As I was doing my leisurely thing with the girls, I was struck down with a spectacular chest infection, complete with acute sinusitis, strep throat, and a host of streaming purulent side effects. I didn't sleep for 5 days and ensured that anyone in a room with me didn't either as I coughed, snorted, snuffled and moaned. Every hour or so I would repair to the bathroom to do maintenance on my poor afflicted snout. I had intended to visit my French-based daughter and her family who were on holiday 40 miles down the coast of Bordeaux - near the Dune du Pyla. Instead I took to the bed in a hotel outside Bourdeaux and she decided to come to me instead. The hotel was set in extensive grounds, with a veritable forest surrounding it - bear this fact in mind. The morning of their visit I arose from my sweaty couch to visit the girls who were working on their tans by the swimming pool. I assured them I was still alive and then retired to the seclusion of the woods to make a private phone call. Ok I was ringing Paddy Power to back a rare Roger Charlton runner at Deauville (Definightly in a Group 3). I found a friendly tree stump in the heart of the wooded area and performed my discreet transaction. i stayed a while in sylvan seclusion brooding on my plight then returned to my sick bed.

My daughter and her two lively sons and more restrained husband arrived a couple of hours later. I stayed abed until dinner when I joined them. They had been set loose in the grounds of the hotel for the afternoon and one of them returned to the adults by the pool with a set of car keys which he had found by an old tree stump in an obscure corner of the woods. These just happened to my car keys, which for reasons mysterious, I had been carrying around with me as I did my earlier business. I'd obviously laid them down by the tree stump as I engaged telephonically with Paddy Power. What are the odds? The kids could have stayed by the pool, the woods were extensive, I had no knowledge the keys were even missing.

Consider the implications of being in the middle of France in a laden car with no keys - or no code or alternative set available in Ireland. I assume I would have had to set up a joint AA/SAAB initiative with all the multifareous hassle and expense that entailed - and me a very sick man. Definightly came second at Deauville but maybe I had used up my luck already.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What a Load of Rubbish

On the way from Cherbourg to Bordeaux I stop off at the charming and characterful (Chateau, Cathedral, old town etc.) town of Vitre. I stay in an eccentric little hotel which seems to be run by a retired prostitute and her poodle. In fact aspects of the hotel, large circular baths, discreet side entrance and liberal guest policy (I sat next to a Great Dane at breakafast, and many of the guests had dogs sleeping in their rooms), suggest it may have been a brothel in an earlier incarnation. But it was cheap, clean and very friendly. I was just sorry I didn't have my dogs with me.

Walking around the town later I was impressed by the cleanliness, the plentiful public toilets and the general air of a place that cares for its citizenry. Their rubbish bin operation, which I came upon in action (see image: street level bin on top of large tank being emptied), was the most impressive aspect however. All around the town were what looked like standard issue rubbish bins. However below each bin was a very large subterranean storage tank into which rubbish placed in the bin dropped. Instead of having to clear (or not) overflowing bins daily, the well organised local government had to do so once a week at most I reckon. Now Vitre is a modest town in the poorer part of Brittany (a decent two-bedroom house costs €200K). Isn't it a wonder that our well-travelled local governments aren't able to come up with a comparably elegant solution to our rubbish problems.

Dublin versus Tipperary: The All-Ireland Hurling Semi-final

There are I’m sure many different routes and routines employed by people for big matches in Croke Park. If I’m in company we’ll drive to the Gravedigger’s in Glasnevin, enjoy a brace of pints there, leave the car and walk down to Croke Park along the Canal.

On my own I’m inclined to leave the car at home and take the DART to Connolly Station. There I join the crowds wending their way the 20 minutes or so to the ground. I normally come out of Connolly, head North and turn left at the Five Lamps – as most people do. This time I took a different route, turning left earlier on Lower Buckingham Street and heading slightly uphill to where it joins Summerhill. Buckingham Street is an unreconstructed old Dublin slum – we’re back in the tenements. There are a few opportunists using rolled up newspapers (a nice anachronistic touch) to guide people into parking spots on the upper end of the street – but only the terminally na├»ve or totally lost succumb.

I have heard rumours (well actually John Leahy) that the Tipp supporters are staying at home until the final – the Kerry Complaint. Empirical evidence suggests otherwise. In fact there seem to be more Tipp than Dublin supporters about.

It’s a tiring walk and a hot day so I am glad to reach the stadium and enjoy a pint bottle of Bulmers. By the way, there always seems to be more than a pint in those bottles – and it’s not the ice because I always refuse it. The crowd is more gregarious than a rugby crowd and I strike up conversations with a various characters – a blocky opinionated red-haired Dublin club hurler and an old snedger with extreme BO from Thurles – both knowledgeable and passionate about their teams. It’s an older crowd generally. There is a preponderance of late middle-aged men.

In all sporting contests where teams are reasonably equal you have to ask who is going to bring the greater intensity, who is more motivated, more cranked up. In this match it’s obviously Dublin. They are missing some key players and are being written off by all the media and more significantly by the bookies – one to sixteen in fact, with the spread around 10 points.

And so it proves. Dublin come at Tipp like dervishes, and if it weren’t for a very fortunate Lar Corbett goal would have been ahead at half time. As it was they went in level after a half they dominated. Tipperary are a composed and confident team and they didn’t wilt under the Dublin fire. They scored a few elegant points at the start of the second half and from then on just did enough to hold them at bay. A gorgeous sideline cut from Noel McGrath was the highlight, and Padraic Maher showed once again what a key player he is for Tipp. They will bring greater intensity to the showdown with Klkenny in September – but so will Kilkenny.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Heaven Forfend

Gay Byrne for president – how can such a thing be. At a time of radical questioning of the status quo, and of the institutions that got us into this mess, how could anybody think that a retired entertainer from a bygone era should be president. We need someone with an open mind – not a dogmatic conservative with Victorian ideas about crime and punishment. And I would also question whether he has the intellectual heft for the office. He’s a lightweight who once tapped into the zeitgeist but is now a burnt out case.

Witness his daddy knows best fulminations in his role with the Road Safety Authority – gloating over a heavy sentences handed out to some woman in the UK. Remember his nasty ambushing of the fragile Annie Murphy on behalf of his old buddy Eamon Casey. Or indeed his failed ambush on Gerry Adams – someone who knew how to look after himself. But his worst moment for me came on his radio show (sometime in the mid-Nineties) where Thatcher was touting her recently published autobiography. The questioning was anodyne and non-contentious - no challenge on the hunger strikers for example, and no mention of her breathtakingly arrogant dismissal of the 1984 NI peace proposals (“out, out, out”). But we don’t expect depth from Gay so no big surprise there. What did dismay me however was the appallingly unctuous tone he adopted. His normal confident chirpiness was replaced by a kind of craven deference – voice lowered, delivery slowed down, reverence in every word. And this from our leading national broadcaster to a woman whose contempt for Ireland was palpable throughout her career. Shameful.

Lord he is not worthy.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Recent Reads - August 2011

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

Unfinished and supposedly inferior to Wallace’s magnum opus Infinite Jest, I found it hugely entertaining. It’s really a loose assemblage of virtuoso set pieces: the annoyingly perfect Leonard Stecyk in whose face the principal wants to sink a meat hook, the riff on his pathological sweating problem that’s straight biography I suspect, and the IRS induction scene with his Iranian guide. It’s mostly set in an IRS office somewhere in middle America and there are reams of hilariously plausible arcane detail. Read it and weep for a lost talent – although page 85 may provide some clues as to why the author killed himself.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Immerse yourself in the madness of this superabundance. Drugs and excess in a tennis academy, and dark deeds in a half way house. Don’t worry about following the story, just relish the journey. The section on the cleaners in the academy (one cleans while the other gobs on the spot to be cleaned) is one of dozens of hilarious set pieces. It occasionally vanishes up its own arse with cleverness but is diverting enough to keep you hanging on.

Crime by Ferdinand von Schirach

Eleven grim vignettes by a German criminal lawyer, based on his experiences. The emphasis is on the odd, the violent and the implacable behind the bourgeois surface. Extremely gory and eminently readable. The bite sized chunks are ideal for holiday reading in the sun.

Yoga for People who Can’t be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer

Some early rueful reflections from the prolific and entertaining Geoff Dyer. Part travelogue, part memoir, it contains his usual blend of honesty, humour, drugs and sex The chapter on Amsterdam is all too evocative of a similar experience I had with the local skunk and his piece on Libya (Leptis Magna) captures the torpor and spiritual ennui of those blighted arab countries..

The Professor by Terry Castle

Honesty and self-deprecating humour are the hallmarks of this US-based English lesbian academic. The stand out pieces are her visit to the lesbian haunted Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe and the title piece, a painful account of an early and abusive love affair with a professor in a mid-West college. There’s also a pitch-perfect put down of that sacred monster Susan Sontag.

Mao’s Great Famine by Frank Dikotter

I was looking forward to this but I feel it was let down badly by its structure . Rather than an organized whole the book is randomly organized under theme headings such as Ways of Dying. The Vulnerable, and Destruction. This means you don’t get an overarching narrative but rather a loose collection of essays. Stodgy writing as well.

Come What May: The Autobiography by Donal Og Cusack

Shock horror, Cloyne boy comes out. Interesting that he laughs rather than abuses his old nemesis Frank Murphy – even telling a very sympathetic story about a suit-buying episode in Bangkok. An interesting glimpse into the secret world of inter-county hurling and what goes on behind the dressing room doors.

The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt

Tony Judt died in late 2010 from mortor neuron disease. This was his last work and it was dictated from his death bed. The essay Night is a chilling account of what it’s like to be trapped in this hideous condition. Grace under pressure in every word of this book – ending in a poignantly nostalgic recollection of a happy time in Switzerland.

Fascination by William Boyd

Boyd’s latest collection of short stories. As usual he’s an entertaining and undemanding read. He gets a little experimental with his structure in a few pieces (one, Beulah Berlin A-Z, begins each paragraph with the next letter of the alphabet, another Lunch, is written in the form of a list with appropriate headings. Unnecessarily fussy I’d say.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Two of the Good Guys

Two of the good guys in the art world died recently - Lucian Freud and Bill Crozier.

I first encountered Freud's work in the original Tate in London back in the late Sixties. It was a very graphic nude of Lady Caroline Blackwood - capturing perfectly the feral nature of that aristocratic troublemaker. I liked his unromantic vision and the too too solid flesh of his nudes. He also gambled, loved dogs, and led a resolutely raffish life - all positive signifiers for me. I wasn't a fan of his celebrity nudes (the Kate Moss one was vacuous, lacking the bite of the Blackwood) but I did like his depiction of the Queen as a grim old broiler, and he was merciless on himself in his self-portraits.

Crozier was an amiable cove. I met him a few times after openings in Taylor Galleries and always found him a friendly and unpretentious figure. I remember one incident in Buswell's where he had joined me for a pint after a show and he refused to budge when a member of the Dublin art world's inner circle tried to relocate him into her group nearby. He lived in West Cork for much of the year and I would bump into him regularly down south. I wasn't a big fan of his landscape painting - too bright (even garish) and formulaic for my taste - although I did like his still lives and his early more expressive work. I like my landscapes dark, dank and mysterious - more Wordsworth than Pope. He was fond of doing prints and did some very smart work for the Graphic Studio Dublin and the Stoney Road Press. These worked best for me.