Last day of fun in the sun

On my way to get the car from the convenient parking garage I stopped to photograph one of the many sculptures that decorate the streets of Palma. This is a Joan Miro piece called ‘Personnage’ and I was struck also by one on the trendy Passeig de Born with its built in watery reflections and fabulous title.

I decided to have a lazy day at the beach and I did get good beach time but travelled a few kilometres on the way. I hadn’t yet seen much of the east coast so headed off up the central spine Ma13 to the popular port of – guess what it’s called. As I arrived I found a convenient parking lot and could see no machines so I ask a fellow parker if we have to pay. “No, es gratis,” she replied and seeing my pleasure added a cynical “ahora, pero no se por quanto tiempo.” Whether she was indicating that the summer season would see charges introduced or that it would just be an opportunity for the local town hall to monetise its land was unclear.

I had a walk round the harbour, a coffee and thought it was a pleasant enough holiday resort with modern blocks of four to five storeys and loads of restaurants, bars, boat trip vendors and shops. Now for some open coast. I set off southwards and had my comparison of Palma with Valencia the other day reinforced by the fact that there’s a major wetlands natural park S’Albufera similar to the one south of Valencia. I decided to give it a miss on this occasion and then drove on with the frustration that frequently accompanies coastal drives in many areas of Spain. The main road is just inland from the coast and has a variety of apartment blocks, holiday homes and shopping parades obscuring your view of the sea, bar fleeting glimpses down side streets. So I turned left at San Baulo which was where the built-up strip seemed to run out, parked in a residential street where sounds of music, chatter and laughter showed that there were people living or at least staying here for the holidays. There’s a splendid promenade with an interesting piece of sculpture out on the rocks and a large pointy tower labelled ‘Military Edifice’ with no further explanation. It’s now 21 degrees and I’m pleased with my decision to head for the seaside. It’s a very pleasant stroll looking out across the Mediterranean and thinking ‘next stop Sardinia’ where, if I recall correctly, there is a Catalan-speaking enclave still.

It was great to smell the sea and wander along in the sun, but there’s more coast to explore. I pass a number of enticing turnings but then see this sign which after Christmas Day’s rather unfulfilling quest for Talaiotic sites, how could I not take this turning?

The promise of a whole village! My Catalan knows that much.

Setting off on the Ma 4021, I was a bit worried that, given previous experience, it might prove quite elusive. No worries! It is substantial and bang in the centre of S’Illot. First excavations began in the 1960s and 70s by archaeologists from the University of Marburg. They found both square tower-like structures and the circular sanctuaries we saw vestiges of on Christmas Day. There are helpful signboards and apparently much more to excavate especially towards the sea. Shame for the shops and blocks in the way! I’ll just add a few pictures here and for anyone who has some Catalan there’s a website and a YouTube video takes you on a tour of the site. It’s quite humbling to see what people could construct with limited tools and technology nearly 3000 years ago.

Scrambling through the stones and up the ramps is thirsty work and I also need a loo so it’s time to find a bar. I head to the sea and turn left. Lots of closed cafes, children’s playground and signs of a lively summer resort with this stunning white sand beach.

350 metres of sandy beach at S’Illot

I retrace my steps and find the perfect place to satisfy my needs. A beer, a view out to sea and some delicious gambas al ajillo made for a very happy tourist.

I’m due to get the car back to Mallorca airport by five o’clock so the remainder of the afternoon involves a series of drive by visits to a few towns in the east. Cala Ratjada and Capdepera look interesting and I was tempted to join the folk in the main square at the latter and visit its impressive castle. On my way back inland Artà and Manacor both looked like places worth a visit on another occasion. It had been a good last day exploring the island further and after depositing the car, there was a fabulous sunset from the bus that took me back to the Passeig de Mallorca two minutes from the hotel. My route took me past a lovely pastry shop from which I had been asked to procure goodies to take back home. Packed in a sturdy box I hope they survive the flight.

My negative test result is back so I can go home, mild disappointment there! Now it’s time to fill in the UK’s impenetrable Passanger Locator Form. The Spanish health declaration on the way out was so simple, why did completing the UK version take hours and refuse to let me either upload an image of or photograph my Covid passport but let me complete it when I eventually gave up and ticked ‘unable to upload image’? Eventually done and so packing was next and a light supper out in the old town again before returning for a final nightcap of that rather nice Mallorcan brandy Suau I’d discovered on nochebuena with a final view over the city from the terrace of the Skybar.

I got to the airport in good time after a final visit to the hotel breakfast buffet and checked in with all the right documents on my phone. I suppose the one good thing about being non-EU citizens is that you now get stamps in your passport – I used to love collecting those. A quick flight back to Gatwick, off to retrieve the car from Purple Parking’s country location and then back to my daughter’s to deliver the ensaimadas I’d been asked to bring back from the local pastry shop. Ensaimadas are to Mallorca as custard tarts are to Lisbon. It was here that I had to confess that I had not fully heeded Jo’s injunction to be sensible and not fall over. I did fall quite badly on the slanted steps outside the Museu EsBaluard last Thursday and badly bruised my left wrist and right elbow.

My downfall on these rather hard stones on the terrace.

I can’t get my right hand up to my mouth yet to drink so have to drink left-handed which I think Jo would have noticed. Rosa’s mother certainly did. She looked at my very puffy hand and enquired ‘Mala circulacion?’ To which I confessed I had fallen and bruised it. Pepita was instantly to the rescue with a tube of San Bernard anti-inflammatory cream which has certainly helped the swelling go down and the pain diminish. Still no stitches and no hospitalisation this trip so things are getting better. They say things come in threes so I’m hoping this is my last of the series. I might be allowed out again.

Bones Festes! Felices fiestas! Happy New Year!

Chopin/Graves Take 2

First things first – a trip at 10:00 to Clinica Belice for my two days before PCR test. Take 2 on that too as they needed to see my passport which was in the hotel – I’m really rubbish at this travelling lark. They were very efficient and friendly and I’m promised results tomorrow evening, [received Negativo at time of writing so if they have crew I might get home!].

Then later than usual to retrieve the car and set off. Well at least I know the way to Valldemossa and with the cloud much higher over the mountains I can appreciate the gorge that leads through the Sierra Tramuntana up to the town.

I know where to park so am soon in the Chopin/Sand cells inside the monastery. It is fascinating and reading George Sand’s disgust for the locals probably explains why they didn’t have a good time here. Her Un hiver en Majorque has some joyous descriptions of the landscape among the groaning about conditions and the impounding of a Pleyel piano for weeks by evil Spanish customs. When you read the copy you realise that they were only here for eight weeks and you wonder why all the fuss? She wrote about it and he composed some of his most famous works. Guess that worth some fuss – 24 Preludes Op28 are very highly regarded by Chopinistas.

What is fascinating is to see the wall displays of facsimiles of his manuscripts with furious revisions. He hit the paper hard as well as the keys. And it is good to see his bust keeping a watchful eye on the piano they’d paid Pleyel 1200 francs for and from which he’d had so little use thanks to customs difficulties

To talk of them living in a monastery cell sounds like real deprivation and there were three adults (FC, GS and maid) and two children living there but they did have a garden of their own which Mme really enjoyed with its stunning views.

There’s not a huge amount to see and an hour and a bit sufficed. Valldemossa itself is too touristy for my taste, highly groomed streets, some interesting art but a whole lot of craftish tat. So i have a peremptory stroll, stopping of course to snap Chopin Street and WhatsApp it to my friend Jadwiga who is Polish and a Chopin groupie!

As I left the town I was struck by the large number of plane tree avenues leading to and from Mallorcan towns – there are some on the mainland but it feels rather French midi to me. I love them. Good now, but must be great in summer.

Having not eaten until four yesterday I thought ‘wouldn’t it be good if there’s a restaurant between here and Deia.’ There was and it is clearly very popular because while there were only a few diners when I arrived just before two, by the time I left it was full. I had some great sepia in a spicy pica-pica sauce and habanitas con baicon – an old favourite but here the very small broad beans had leeks, onions and peppers as well as bacon. Very tasty and timely – I thought.

The short drive to Robert Graves’ house was familiar too and I much prefer the town to Valldemossa – sorry if that makes me a tasteless Brit. There was a convenient parking spot right opposite the house so I crossed the road full of hope.

The nicest ‘P off we’re closed’ sign ever!

Once again the lack of a planning companion struck – they close at 13:00 so I should have come here first. Doh! However the gate was not locked and I crept in to have a look at the garden at least. I was caught by the very friendly and fluent English speaking gardener who said he would have shown me round the house but had to leave at three-thirty. We chatted about the problems of gardening – it rained for the whole of November and everything is behind – but he’s doing his best, upon which I complemented him, explained I couldn’t come back again this trip but be sure not to miss it next time. He allowed me to take some photos and rewarded me with a couple of incredibly juicy tangerines.

With little encouragement, I decided to carry on round the Ma10 to Soller and then head inland and back to Palma through the middle. With today’s better weather in the mountains their scale, variety and colours were amazing – just not enough safe stopping places for photography but I managed a few.

I passed through some interesting towns that would repay a visit: the Botanic Gardens at Alfaibia are closed until March, but look fun; Bunyola had some interesting buildings; and as I came to the end of the Ma2040 I found myself at the Mallorca Fashion Outlet – no point me stopping there! This is on the outskirts of the town of Inca which is linked to Palma by a near-motorway standard Ma13 so I headed on home or back to the hotel at least.

Christmas Day and a day in a box

Imagine my delight when drawing the curtains to see the bright green shutters on the building opposite bathed in glowing morning sunlight and framed above by bright blue sky – yes this is Christmas! So I have a light breakfast and set off to the airport to pick up a car to go and visit Rosa and her mother and join them for Christmas lunch. Rosa had rented a villa through AirBnB in the middle of nowhere – in fact the guy who opened up for them said they were in the exact centre of the island – a claim I suspect is shared by several locations. But for any geolocators out there it’s between Sencelles and Inca, Benigali and Costitx. It’s in a part of Mallorca renowned for early settlements and since I’d never encountered the term Talayotic Period (1200-123BC) we decided to go and explore a couple on our way to lunch. Before we set off Rosa, Pepita and I had a ‘conversation’ about our very different experiences and lifestyles and with a few gaps where expressions failed us we got on very well I thought, there were a few smiles and chuckles at least.

We were, it must be said, slightly underwhelmed and the visit did not take too long so we set off for another which Google maps said was nearby. We found the hamlet of Binifat quite easily but found no sign of its talayot. Fortunately, a group of people were arriving for a family lunch and with the benefit of my two fluent Catalan speakers, a brother-in-law was fetched who give detailed instructions. Pepita decided it might be a few steps too far for her ailing knees (she is a little older even than me – I was told; I did not ask!) so we left her with the car looking for wild asparagus in the hedgerows and Rosa and I strode off down a lane and as instructed found a very small gate that involved clambering over a low stone wall and the along a fenced path beside a farm pasture. It was a slightly more impressive find with a circular shape and massively thick walls. I did not enter as it would have involved a crawl and I had posh trousers for Christmas lunch not my old jeans, but the nimble Rosa made it through and reported an interior circle looking very similar to the exterior. It would once have had a roof but that is long gone. The signboard at Son Corro said Talayotic sites were used for animal sacrifice and wine drinking and I think there were devilish cults and witchcraft involved too.

We rejoined Pepita at the car, asparagus-free alas, but glad she didn’t make the walk when we showed her the photos. We then went to a village called Costitx where there’s a restaurant inside the Casa Cultural building that also houses the library and the town hall. There were many families at tables enjoying the Christmas lunch – as did we. It was clear that apart from us the two extremely tall and thin maitres d’ (don’t they eat their own delicious food?) knew everybody and teenagers were subjected to lengthy hugs, cheek pinching and sundry other embarrassments. The restaurant could be quite hard to find as it’s called Notenom which means I have no name In Catalan. Two dishes were placed in front of us with the note that these were just nibbles and not the real thing. Whoa! Twelve beautifully crisp calamari rings and a plate of mussels in a fabulous onion, garlic and tomato sofrito. They were excellent but we decided to hold back for the real thing and half the mussels came home with us in a takeaway container. Next up was traditional Mallorcan sopa de Nadal which is filling chicken broth into which are placed pasta shells stuffed with spicy minced beef. I had to apologise for leaving a couple of the pasta shells with my regular excuse “Mas anos pero menor appetito” which usually garners a sympathetic smile. Next up was a huge chunk of Corvina served on a bed of potatoes. We had a) to enquire and b) Google to discover that what is often claimed as the tastiest fish in the Med is ‘brown meagre’ in English should it ever occur. It was quite meaty, very flavoursome and not too strong and I was glad I’d held back – at last a plate to be proud of. I declined the good looking almond cake with ice cream but one of us has a sweet tooth and a slice of that found its way (sin helado) into the homebound bag. No cooking for the Pascuals for the rest of their trip. Since picking up the car I have been most abstemious as even my Catalan understands “Al Volant Zero Alcohol” and I don’t intend to find out how strict they are. However a glass of crisp white with the fish and a copa de cava to celebrate Nadal were essential. It was an unusual but most enjoyable afternoon and was rounded off by chanting youth in hats and horns singing their way through the restaurant to the astonishment even of the owners.

I drove Pepita and Rosa back to their place and had a further coffee and chat before setting off back to Palma. I needed no more food but a few glasses in the hotel’s Sky Bar with views over Palma at night made for a memorable day.

Boxing Day dawned sunny again and I had decided to set off for Valldemossa to visit the Chopin George Sand museum and Deia to see Robert Graves-house. Oh where’s the trip planning suprema when you need her? I drove out of Palma admiring the mountains, arrived, parked, made my well-signed way to the Cartuja, the monastery where they lived and found this.

I decided to use the rest of the day as a recce and sightseeing day and after a coffee, I set off on the Ma10 up the west coast. Now loyal and regular readers of these scribblings will know that I can get close to ecstatic about twisty mountain roads with sheer drops, sea vistas and hairpin bends with rock fall warnings. You’ll be pleased to hear the Ma10 has been added to the list – it’s a beauty. And I had no one to scare! It does have a few miradors along the way so here was my first pause at San Marroig (from Cap Roig near where I used to have a house in Begur I know that roig is red and you can see why.

Next was Deia home to poet Robert Graves-for so long. His house will have to wait till tomorrow too. But the town perched on its hill is lovely. After a lot of trips to Andalusia it should really all be painted white but the ochres and browns suit the landscape.

I stopped by a large reservoir the Garg Blau – it was very blue – and was very impressed that they’d rescued a sixth century column from being flooded and given it pride of place and a plaque in a pull off on the Ma10.

I carried on with a brief stop in Soller which has a famous tourist train ride down to its port – not today’s though. Some interesting architecture and a quick coffee sufficed. The Ma!0 gets really hairy after Soller as I headed for Pollença where I thought I might get lunch.. Real hairpins, narrow stretches and brilliant views of proper mountains – the Soller Pass is at nearly 500 metres -and then down into a fertile plain behind Pollença. It’s a great old town and had a couple of open restaurants but with wing mirrors at risk in some streets and no obvious parking I decided to head for its port where surely there would be restaurants – it’s a resort after all. And there were. It’s by now gone four o’clock and I’m peckish so olives and bread with allioli keep me going as I order a frito misto which the menu said had a variety of fried seafood but when it came it was distinctly non-fishy. I enquired and was told I’d ordered Frito Mallorquin. It was very tasty but one guide book says it is not for the faint hearted – main ingredients: cubed potatoes, red peppers, onion, garlic, artichoke, black pudding, lamb and chicken livers all fried up in olive oil. I’m OK with offal but I could appreciate the guide book warning which I found back at the hotel for many others. The best thing was watching the evening sun fall on the lovely bay at Port de Pollença.

By the time I’d polished that off and found a less tortuous route back to Palma it felt like most of my Boxing Day had been spent with me at the wheel of my tin box – no complaints from me though – I always did like a location recce!

World of wonder

Christmas Eve has a special meal planned at the hotel but first there’s some boring admin to deal with. So after breakfast: Book a PCR test for Monday two days before flying home. Check 7 minutes walk from hotel, walk in service no appointment needed. Brilliant.

Christmas Day visit to Rosa and lunch out in the country will need a car. None available in the city but I can pick one up at the airport tomorrow and it’s on the way anyway. Check. So now to the real business of the day – a trip to the Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro.

The location is out in the western suburbs of Palma in an area called Cala Major and it takes about fifteen minutes in a taxi from the hotel. One of the things I wanted after the grey of London was some blue sky. Not yet in Palma but today as I walk towards the entrance the cloud lifts and there is a good-sized patch of blue. And of course with Miro there will be more sun inside.

My visit was a little truncated as a large part of the building was closed for repairs and remodelling but both in the extensive gardens where big sculptures were displayed and in the studio where the stacked canvases there were ample testaments to the genius and prolixity of Joan Miro. He and his Mallorca wife Pilar, lived on Mallorca from 1956 until his death in 1983. He used a small building Finca San Boter while his friend Josep Sert was designing and building a purpose built studio, now known as the Sert Studio. Up in Boter it’s fun to see the remains of Miro’s sketching in charcoal directly onto the whitewashed walls and also to note the eclectic collection of everyday objects he took inspiration from.

The Sert Studio is a fine building from the outside with a fluted roof either echoing waves or clouds and slanted tiles to allow filtered light and air into the capacious balconied studio. I was utterly gobsmacked by the sheer number of canvases leaning against each other and the walls. While there are strong similarities in Miro’s basic mark selection and palette, each canvas has a different atmosphere and you wonder what the finished articles would have looked like. It’s always fascinating to see artists’ work in progress and there’s plenty of it here.

There was also a rather good fifteen minute video about his life and work on Mallorca which after climbing and descending the many steps to Boter studio I was happy to sit for a while and watch. I was very pleased I’d made the trip out here and as I left wondering where I’d get a taxi, I came upon a bus stop that said Route 46 went up the Passeig de Mallorca which is very close to the hotel. It also had a QR code that informed me that a bus was due in ten minutes so I decided to wait. Well worth it! It headed off in totally the wrong direction according to my understanding of where Palma lay, but eventually came to a terminus in Genova, waited for a while and then returned me through bustling suburbs including one that must have been close to the more infamous areas of Mallorca as there were adult only entertainment bars, sex shops which I found a bit surprising next to supermarkets and pharmacies. However it did pitch up where I wanted and I had a stroll back to the hotel with a few stops for liquid, but little food refreshment as a six course meal was planned for nochebuena in the hotel. This began at nine o’clock began with cava, a delicious fish soup, crispy octopus and fillet of sea bass accompanied by frequently poured Verdejo and after a short pause and change of glass, a Rioja went nicely with the lamb stuffed with foie gras (apologies vegans!). I declined the tiramisu with red fruits but did have some home made turron (nougat) with my coffee. By now I was chatting to my neighbours Carl and Cristina, Swedish fiancés who were here for Christmas before heading to Andorra for skiing where they had become engaged this time last year. Sampling a copa or two of Mallorcan brandy, we got on well and I have an invitation to their wedding in Stockholm in August. I may just be too busy with centenary celebrations at Watford to attend however. But what a lovely Christmas Eve and one that didn’t end up in hospital!

Palma Art trail

Well, I got a music fix on Day 1 and have the delights of Radio National Classica on the TV in my room. It’s a cross between Radio 3 and Classic FM and plays an interesting mix of material. So Palma Day 2 today is devoted to the visual arts alongside coffee, beer, wine and other tourist activities. The hotel is very close to one of the island’s most important museums of contemporary so I headed there first after my surprisingly included breakfast. So long since I booked I’d forgotten it was a B&B deal. The joys of a Spanish hotel buffet again -with so much to choose from!

The Esbaluard Museu has a series of terraces with sculptures displayed and then inside has four distinct exhibitions on at the moment.

One by a Mexican artist Elena Del Rivero was very impressive with a variety of installations and community project artworkS which the museum’s photos convey better than I can.

An Elena del Rivero piece ‘Chant’ in which she sews found letters onto a gauze drape.

There was a rather overly political photo collage project by Rogelio Lopez Cuenca and Elo Vega about the despoiling of the island by tourism – maybe I just felt guilty! I did like one room though with twelve male mannequins in Hawaiian shirts watching touristy footage. They just missed having towels on loungers.

I was much taken by glass sculptures by the aptly named Lara Fluxa given the fluidity of the pieces highlighting how glass is flowing until it settles into a form. I found the variety of her work from thin and flighty to more solid and serious quite affecting.

The fourth exibit was called Masks against Barbarism and had as a central focus a sound piece of scenes from Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi alongside a series of other images from many different artists. The Jarry piece was especially interesting for me as my directorial debut was in 1964 when I produced a version of an earlier Jarry play Ubu sur la Butte as University College French Department’s entry in the annual Lycée Français intercollegiate competition. It won best actor but not best director (sad face) but gave me a lifelong interest in surrealism and the poetry of protest.

All in all a very enjoyable and stimulating couple of hours after which I set off towards the cathedral which dominates the city from every angle. It is a very impressive edifice but is closed for public visits until the New Year so I didn’t get to go inside – I guess I could go to mass on Christmas Day, after all I did go see the pope’s Christmas Day address in Rome a few years back.

But right beside it is the Almudaina Palace and since that’s the name of my hotel it would be wrong not to wouldn’t it? I’ve been struck by how there are far fewer examples of Spain’s moorish heritage here than in most other cities. However the name and the fact that it has Arab Baths makes it plain that they did get here. The original Arab fortress was seized after the expulsion as a Royal Palace for the kings of Mallorca and is full of massive rooms with various functions over the years. It also has great vaulted ceilings, faded tapestries and outside an impressive cactus garden.

I had high hopes of my next art stop and so paused for a beer outside one of the most photographed facades in Palma. You see it on postcards and publicity for the city and is is a fine example of decorative retail art. They have great bread and cakes too.

On my way I was able to pass through Plaza Frederic Chopin and think of my Polish friend Jadwiga Adey at home alone as her family based in Paris and LA are not allowed to join her. When I rent a car I’ll go to Valldemossa where Chopin lived with George Sand for a year. He was in poor health but managed a burst of great creativity.

When I got there, the Fundacio March (big Mallorca banking family) was something of a disappointment. Among some workmanlike but uninspiring abstracts, paintings by Dali, Juan Gris and Picasso just emphasised the gulf between OK art and great art. So I left there and had a further wander through the streets of the old town with a few refreshment stops enjoying people watching frantic last minute Christmas shoppers in the trendy thoroughfare that must have been named for me – Carrer San Miguel.

It was announced on the news that from tomorrow (24th) masks are compulsory in the streets again.

So it’s off to he city’s other trendy thoroughfare, the Passeig de Born to eat this evening amid the Christmas decorations and noisy revellers. it’s such fun to be elsewhere! And it’s 16-17 degrees. Sorry!

We discovered once before that most restaurants close on Christmas Eve – Nochebuena – so I was glad that the hotel offered me a special menu de nochebuena in an email a couple of weeks ago. I’m due to eat at 21:00 so having got back from today’s further art excursion, I thought I’d get another blog down. What with tonight’s dinner and Christmas lunch out in the country tomorrow, it may be a while before the next one. The wonderful world of Joan Miro is next.

The joy of Christmas travel

Well, after careful consideration, I decided I would go away for Christmas and with a family recommendation I’m heading for Palma de Mallorca for a week and will rent a car to see a bit more of the island while I’m here. I’ve completely forgotten how to pack and found the new rules about cabin baggage confusing – for an extra 20 quid I can take a big and a small one – one for the locker, one under the seat. Hooray no waiting at the carousel!

As the flight is at 07:10, I’ve booked into the Premier Inn North Terminal at Gatwick with a week’s parking with Purple Parking. So out of practice, I go to the hotel first and check in only to be told that I should have parked first and come in on the shuttle bus. As I go to retrieve the car there’s a security guard on his walkie talkie summoning the bomb squad. He admonishes me “Never leave a car unattended in an airport”. I grovel and set off. It transpires that Purple Parking is halfway to Brighton and I have a vague recollection of using it under a different name once before when Dee, Jacque, Toddy and I set off for the Copa de Ibiza in 2004, my only other venture to the Illes Balears. A short wait and a bus takes three of us to a stop outside the terminal from which the only route to the hotel appears to involve dicing with death with drop-off traffic. I make it, have a beer and supper and retire fairly early with the prospect of a 05:00 alarm. I was concerned that extra security and health checks might make the security/check-in process even longer than usual. It was not too bad and soon I was at the gate where my bag option also conferred ‘speedy boarding’. a real bonus. The flight was busy but not full so distancing and masks were easily possible. As we took off and headed out across the channel the sunrise was amazing (and a bit sharper than the through the window phone shot).

A corner of Sussex as the sun comes up.

The flight was pleasant enough with solid cloud over most of France until the Auvergne and the eastern Pyrenees showed a light touch of snow. We even arrived ten minutes early – just as well as getting out of Palma airport is a task of IKEA-like proportions. A bus into town, walk to the Hotel Amudaina where, despite it being 11, they kindly allowed me to check in rather than just leave my bags which is what I had expected. Having declined EasyJet’s breakfast offerings, it was dump stuff in the very pleasant and spacious room and pop next door for my first orange juice, croissant and an excellent café solo doble. Refreshed I decide to go and explore. It’s not long before I get confirmation of where I am.

This sign is on the waterfront where there are lots of posh yachts and in the distance those apartment blocks of cruise liners that flock to the wonderfully curved harbour.

Next to this is the Lotja, the old stock exchange which with its barleytwist pillars and fine ceiling reminded me of the similar building in Valencia. That evening I was to say to a friend I met later on that much of Palma reminded me of Valencia – no bad thing in my book.

So I continued to walk around the city with occasional breaks for coffee and beer. I found the cathedral which I plan to visit tomorrow and the market – Mercat del Olivar – I love the colour, the smells and the constant babble of chat in Spanish markets and had some tapas in a bar inside it. The Plaza de Espana was a bit sprawly and dull, the Plaza Mayor very elegant but spoilt by Christmas market stalls – what have the Germans done to the worl.

The old town is filled with narrow streets and occasional delights of modernisme architecture. Feeling I’d had a good first orientation I went back to the hotel to change into more suitable garb for a concert at the Palacio de Congresos where I was to meet my friend Rosa Pascual and her mother. As it happened Rosa’s mum wasn’t feeling too well so I had the pleasure of Rosa’s company, and no need to confess to my lack of Catalan, for a concert in a fine new auditorium.

It was given by the massive forces of the Orquestra Simfonica dels Illes Balears. The programme opened with a festive overture by William Grant Still which was unknown to me and quite lively if a little rough at the edges as the band settled down. We then had Handel’s Water Music and a suite from the Nutcracker at which I kept wanting Matthew Bourne’s dancers projected on a screen behind them. It then went a bit poppy and Hollywood before concluding with a special arrangement of some Catalan carols which nearly had Rosa joining in and which we both really enjoyed. Rosa thought the conductor had made a very sensitive treatment of some old favourites. She then kindly dropped me off at the hotel but couldn’t stop for a drink as she had to drive back into the middle of Mallorca along dark and twisty roads to a villa she’s staying in.
I went for a walk around the neighbourhood, was declined entry by one restaurant which said the kitchen had closed so ventured a little further and supped in La Bodeguilla with a great atmosphere, far too much food and my first taste of a local Mallorca wine OBAC de Binigrau which was a blend of several grapes, lightly oaked and most acceptable but I think they should leave off the subtitle if they want to export it. It had been long, varied, exciting and lovely day – and I’m abroad!

Christmas came early this year …

As many of you know, and the name of my blog probably gives away, I’m a big fan of the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. He’s just published a new non-fiction book about his extensive collection of T shirts. The publishers Vintage – part of Penguin Random House – ran a competition for a signed copy of the book and a unique T shirt commemorating the title. You had to submit your favourite Murakami-related T shirt photograph and explain why.

So I’m in Tokyo in 2013 buying the first copy of his then latest novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage in Japanese on launch day at Kinokunia Bookstore in Shinjuku, wearing an 1Q84 T shirt I’d obtained by queuing outside Foyles in London for the midnight release of the trilogy 1Q84 in 2011. Dee and I even appeared in an Evening Standard feature about the launch. Well it demonstrated my Murakami credentials and I won a prize! I never win prizes.

Congratulations and the signed copy.

And then it had to be added to the extensive collection of Murakami titles which are fully referenced in the Our Murakami library section of this blog.

The book itself is a marvellous revelation of some personal aspects of Murakami’s life which he seldom reveals. It’s generally known that he has a massive collection of vinyl albums – estimated at 10,000, but who knew he also gets T shirts wherever he goes. There is a chapter on record shop T shirts of course but also on surfing shirts. In one great anecdote he tells of his delight but also shyness at meeting a famous surfboard designer Dick Brewer whose boards he’d used for a long time. Richard Brewer was now working as an estate agent showing Murakami round a property in Hawaii. “So you have the same name as the surfboard designer,” Murakami observes. “I am Dick Brewer but my wife said I’d never get anywhere surfing all day, so I had to get a proper job.” There’s a good plug for Guinness too alongside a T with the famous badge:

Travelling in Ireland I’d stop at local pubs and be amazed that the temperature and amount of foam in the glass would vary and the taste would be different too. I continue to order Guinness in all sorts of towns – in fact I could down a Guinness right now – but I’d better finish writing this first.

Well Cheers Vintage and Cheers Haruki. I finally won something and something I’m very pleased to add to my (comparatively) tiny T shirt collection. And if you’d like to know more about this fascinating book go here.

What a week!

I normally only write this blog when travelling and usually when travelling abroad. But I haven’t done that since Christmas in Cadiz in 2019 so it’s been a while. However the last week has involved travel and events that hint at some sort of normal life again. The week began with me getting unexpected praise for writing something completely outside my comfort zone so I posted it on my Verbalists blog. It was a piece of music criticism as homework for a short series of webinars from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

So last Saturday I ventured to the wilds of east London (Gants Hill) for a delicious lunch and stimulating discussion with one member of the group BBPC (British Bangladeshi Poetry Collective) of which I am honoured to be a trustee. I was invited by Shamim and Eeshita Azad who I worked with in Bangladesh way back in 2009. My poet and artist friend and I are working on a translation project where she finds my editing experience a help. As I told her she mines the jewels; I just give them a bit of a polish. We made good progress and had a fun time. So why was the day spoiled by taking me nearly an hour to get back through the Blackwall Tunnel? What were all these people doing on a Saturday evening?

Sunday and Monday were consumed by domestic and gardening duties which proved fun in the sun and both flowers, fruit and vegetables are coming on nicely and I have a neat front hedge.

On Tuesday morning the four of us who are the executives and trustees of BBPC were subjected to a 90 minute grilling – not she wasn’t that fierce, a gentle toasting – by a bank manager, making sure we were who we said we were, what we planned to do and I suppose to make sure that we weren’t a front for a money-laundering operation. We survived and hope to have a bank account to go with our newly acquired status as a Community Interest Company. We had a splendid picnic that evening to celebrate becoming a real company. More excellent Bangladeshi food and the company of friends, oh how we’ve missed that!

On Wednesday Eeshita and I attended an excellent British Library streamed lecture by Jhumpa Lahiri about the art of translation something we will be featuring in BBPC workshops. She is Bangladeshi but now an American citizen teaching at Princeton and has just published Thresholds in English which is a translation she made herself from the novel she originally wrote in Italian after moving to Rome a decade ago to steep herself in Italian language and culture. Thought-provoking, informative and stimulating words from a fierce intellect who shared her thoughts with great clarity.

And as that wasn’t enough excitement, in the evening I conducted a Zoom interview for The Watford Treasury a magazine I help to edit. Talking to a Watford striker hero always gives me a buzz but Tom Smith as he is now, Tommy when playing, was charming, thoughtful, generous of time and gave me just what I required for an article I’m writing.

Then the real fun started on Thursday. I actually drove to Putney to pick up my friend Jadwiga and headed off for Glyndebourne to see Janacek’s Kat’a Kabanova. It’s the first time since 2019 and we were blessed with a glorious sunny day and had booked a hotel in Lewes so as not to have to rush back to London after the performance. We arrive in time to change and book a cab. Mad Mike panic – I normally keep cufflinks in the pocket of my DJ jacket, but after its last use it went to the dry cleaners. Taxi imminent, no time to go shopping so quick improvisation required. Has reception got a stapler? Of course and duly sterilised it provided a new way with shirt cuffs as we made our way the Glyndebourne, passed through the temperature checks and venue log in and went to pick up our picnic which we’d booked in the marquee for the interval. Glyndebourne is doing a big thing with local winery Nytimber and, well local businesses need support so drink was taken.

The opera was beautifully sung and played and is a heartening tale of disastrous marital infidelity leading to death – well it is opera. The score is dynamic and exciting and made for a fabulous evening and if you would like to you can read my review here.

It had been such a delight that on returning to the hotel in Lewes we decided a glass of wine would be a suitable accompaniment to discussing our views of the production. So we did that for a while and both agreed that while visual and direction aspects of the production were naff, the music and the experience were wonderful. As we were thinking about retiring two young ladies entered the bar, got themselves a drink and asked if they could join us. They were police officers due to give evidence in court on Friday and proved chatty and delightful companions as bottles rather than glasses were consumed and four people who should have known better struggled off to bed around 1.30 am.

The last time we visited Glyndebourne together it was glorious weather for the opera and biblical, monsoon rain next day, I might have been back in Dhaka. History repeated itself with one significant difference. Last time I’d left my car’s lights on by accident all night and had to call the AA who, after getting it started, advised driving solidly for two hours to recharge the battery. We zigzagged across Sussex and Kent before deciding it was safe to stop for lunch in Penshurst. The car was fine this year and took us through the deluge to Chichester where we had tickets at the Pallant House Gallery to see an exhibition From Degas to Picasso which was very impressive. But it did raise a question of access to art. All the paintings and prints were from the gallery’s own collection and was the exhibit was put together rather hastily once opening dates were known. There were more etchings, lithographs and screen prints than oils, but also a healthy selection of watercolours. We feasted our eyes but were saddened that all these images are normally hidden from view in a vault or storeroom. Here are two lithographs by Salvador Dali that showed a different side of his work – albeit with a few characteristics tics here and there.

Lunch in the café was pleasant and we were ready for a mercifully rain-free drive through the fabulously varied scenery of Sussex and Surrey via Midhurst and Haslemere marvelling that we were out of our homes and having a fine time with a friend. What a great end to a busy week!

Thanks to Farah Naz and Jadwiga Adey for some of the photographs.

Battered, bruised, down, but not out

Well I think that goes down as the most unusual Boxing Day I’ve ever spent. I woke after fitful sleep. I can’t lie on my left side because my shoulder hurts – it took a bang when I fell back from the wardrobe. I can’t lie on my right side as my swollen right eye hurts so I have to try sleeping on my back and have been advised to keep my head elevated by at least two pillows. I feel like I’ve been laid out in the coffin already but in my birthday suit not my best suit.  And I have to get clothes past the culprits before I can go – that’s top brass I can tell you.
884C9FD7-FA38-474C-8645-FCCC2C72CCEBHowever the hospital Hospital Puerto del Mar want me to report at 09:30 so off I set in a taxi the hotel has kindly called after my profuse apologies for their disturbed night of gore and mayhem. I had to take a taxi because from the interior of an ambulance I had no idea where we had gone and when I came out I got straight into a taxi back to the now calm hotel without really being very aware of my route or surroundings.

I report to Triage 1 and a ticket is printed out for me along with a page of sticky labels with my name, date of birth, admission number and cause of admission ‘Caida’ – fall. I wait for about 15 minutes before being called into Trauma 1 to explain to a doctor exactly what had happened. Well I knew sock, calcetin, take off, quitar, caida, fall, armorio, wardrobe and manija, handle. So I manage to concoct a narrative after which he nods sagely and sits me down to examine the cuts and stitches which he approves, does a name and number, day of the week, address in Spain etc as a concussion test and says he’d like a face specialist to check me over to see if the stitches will suffice or whether I need plastic surgery. Back to the waiting room for rather longer this time. Just like English hospitals there are too many people for the seats available and the one unisex loo is out of service. So I stand patiently, glad I’d had the foresight to bring my Kindle on which I was reading Kamila Shamsie’s excellent Burnt Shadows which combines Japan with India and Pakistan in a timely, tense tale.

A lady in blue with a face mask comes by and somehow I know she’s my face doctor. She must have seen a few others and then after a while she calls me into Trauma 2 and checks my eyesight with torch and fingers to count – no double vision and I’m glad that’s an index finger you’re holding up. She declares that the sutures will do the job and that no plastic surgery is required but they do want me to go to x-ray to check that no bones were broken – I think I would have known. So back to stand in a corridor outside the radiography room until my name is called. Eventually I enter and two young rather giggly radiographers are keen to know how to pronounce my unusual nombre. They try Raggett for size a few times and I tell them they’ve got it. A quick dose of rays and then back to the waiting area. The original doctor sees me again and tells me a nurse will give me a tetanus jab and dress the corner of my brow which persists in bleeding (sangrando) adding another verb participle to my vocabulary. He also said I should go to my Primary Care Centre in three days (it’ll be Monday at my surgery which will be the fifth day so maybe the stitches can come out too which he suggested should be in a week). The nurse then stings me horribly trying to clean up the mess a bit more and applies a big cotton pad with tape over my eye to stop the bleeding. Then I’m told I’m free to go and thank them all profusely for what has been excellent attention to a stupid accident. The worst part of it is that I had discarded a previous pair of freebie Bam socks because they kept slipping on my wood floors. Total idiot. Also I once heard a radio show a while back in which the presenters were discussing how sitting down to put socks on and off was a sign of old age. From now on I’m old.

I need a pharmacy and a loo by now so I walk away from the Emergency Department where I note I’ve been for just on three hours so I stride off towards what I believe to be the main Avenida Juan Carlos II that runs north-south through the new part of the city. It is and I find a pastry shop with coffee and churros so I set into those, recalling from goodness knows where that after a shock it was good to eat or drink something sweet. Well I’m not putting sugar in my coffee but a sugar coated churro will do the job. It also of course has a loo. Refreshed and emboldened I decide to catch a bus back up to the old city and my hotel. It worked fine with a one euro ten cents flat fare and there’s a pharmacy opposite the hotel so I get my prescription filled but have to repeat my now more fluent tale of Christmas Night. Jokes about amateur bullfighting and what the other guy looks like happen in Spanish too but armed with amoxicillin I go back to my now spotless room. I take pills and then a kind of, I suppose, post-shock lethargy sets in. I did of course sleep very little during the night and sit in an armchair and drift off a bit. Then alert again and turning on iPad mini to watch the footie later, I realise that what I’d written about Christmas Eve and Day had not saved properly so I had to recreate all that whereupon several photos duplicated themselves. Foreign internet, weird WordPress or just DRD – defective Raggett digits I’ll never know.

I feel I ought to go out and grab some lunch before it’s time for Prime to watch Watford at Sheffield United – my Blades-supporting nephew has wished us Happy Christmas and more wins but not today. But by the time I’ve thought about where or what it’s too late so I settle down to see the excitement of a lead unfold followed by a stupid penalty for their equaliser. So that’s draws home and away but at least this one had a proper goal and we’re off the bottom of the table. The later Leicester v Liverpool match is much more exciting and after that I decide that fasting will do me no harm and retire again for a disturbed but better sleep.

Friday morning sees me shower (avoiding getting stitches wet) pack and take my bags to the car. I then go for breakfast in the Plaza Espana and realise that my decision to visit the chapel with the Goyas before driving back to Malaga was muddled with 24 hours clock confusion – my flight is at 4.25 not the 6.25 in my head. However I can still make it easily albeit it not by the fully scenic route intended. But it gives my time to admire a few more of the fabulous buildings and squares of Cadiz  – just why is it only men taking breakfast? – and amble through its cobbled streets to find that the Oratorio is open.

I go up to the chapel in which there are five frescoes around the ceiling, three by Goya although from the distance and the lighting you’d be hard pressed to tell it if you’d just happened to wander in in ignorance. Still it had been on the tick list.

Back one last time to the car park – huge so I always wrote my bay number on the ticket – set up TomTom for the car rental place and off I go. While we had previously gone all along the coast down to Tarifa to look across at Africa and then along past Gibraltar, today’s faster route went diagonally across Cadiz province giving me only a fleeting view of Gibraltar – It’ll be interesting to see what happens about that in the next few years. Then it was along through celeb/gangster country Estepona, Puerto Banus, Mijas, Fuengirola, Marbella, and on to Malaga. They are amused to see that the car has no damage, just me, so my tale is told again with winces and sympathetic handshakes before a shuttle bus whisks me into a surprisingly quiet Malaga airport. I’m quickly through security and off to the Sala VIP lounge thanks to my subscription to Priority Pass. It’s also nearly empty and I catch up on emails and messages before heading to the gate.

E6CC61F6-91DC-49F3-A7D6-51E11188EC4B As is the new norm with Ryanair the Priority Q is longer than the paupers’. But in, I think, a first for me we board through an airbridge not by walking across the tarmac and climbing steps. The captain urges people to stow their stuff quickly as we can actually make our 16:25 take off slot if they get a move on – since we’d seen him and the cabin crew walk past us twenty minutes earlier maybe they could have got the plane loading sooner. However we’re in the air on time and I can construct the last blog from this excellent but eventful Iberian adventure. Obviously I’ll have to post it later when there’s some wifi – probably back home. Where I now am.

Well after a perfect journey back as far as my car at Stansted after which I endured a thirty minute hold up for an accident on the A12 and then a diversion for a burst water main close to home in Kidbroke. Is that an omen?

Nochebuena, Dia bueno y Noche terrible

As I said yesterday, I had plans for Christmas Eve and none for Christmas Day. Plan one was to visit the market where I remembered the usual bright stalls of fruit and veg, hams and cheeses and especially here fish. (Tick 1) img_3965

Plan two  was to find a little cafe for breakfast that Dee and I had frequented on previous visits. (Tick 2) I have an orange juice, coffee and bread with ham and tomato in Plaza Mentidero, a pleasant square where many others were starting the day in similar fashion. From there I walk through the Parque Genoves along the side of the bay of Cadiz and make my way to the location of Plan three the Oratorio of the Holy Cave which has three large Goya frescos – some of his very rare religious works. (Cross 1) Today counts as a holiday and so it’s closed. I’ll try to catch it before I leave on Friday. So I next get the car from the car park and head for Medina Sidonia one of the white towns I’d heard about but not visited. I saw too much of the suburbs of Chiclana de la Frontera on the way but did fill up with petrol before catching site of the impressive town, thought to be the oldest town in Europe.

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I wind my way up to it (Tick 3) and find a buzzing square and lots of very steep streets (I’m beginning to share my late friend Toddy’s dislike for ‘up’) but persevere and am rewarded with a fine church but also a view back towards Cadiz in which you just see the elegant suspension bridge that carries the road in the city.

I walk back down to the plaza and take a beer and some tapas as a band of hairy rockers are entertaining people in the Plaza. They are joined by a lively young lady fiddler and are not bad at all, but when they start in on Jingle Bell Rock, I know that’s my cue to move on.img_3997

I retrieve my car and head off towards Jerez de la Frontera, somewhat staggered by the vast numbers of wind turbines everywhere and being sorely tempted on the way by another white town Arcos de la Frontera perched on its sandstone ridge – there’ll be more up so I park that one for next time.

We visited Jerez several years ago and enjoyed a bodega visit so I thought I’d go back and see how it was now. Apart from additional suburban sprawl – does anyone need that many DIY warehouses? – the centre looked familiar and the Parking Mercado Central displayed a green LIBRE sign so I though (Tick – lucky day). However after luring me down the ramp, the ticket machine pronounced COMPLETO and I had to wait for two cars to leave before I could slip in. I headed off towards the alcazar and the patio in front of it which are still there and sherry producers are in every corner (there’s a Gonzalez before the Byas hidden by the tree).

 

As indeed are oranges, literally falling from the trees and as we’re in Cadiz province not far from Seville a chap’s mind starts to think marmalade in a couple of months time. What a chap’s mind had forgotten from previous visits is that nochebuena, Christmas Eve, is the big day when everything closes at six thirty so that friends and families can all gather for the big meal. But before they go home they go mad – well in Jerez anyway. The streets were nigh on impassable with revellers carrying bottles of sherry, wine and brandy as they walked. At every corner bar was an impromptu song and dance fest. In the lower picture the guy in blue is encouraging us all to join in and sing. I did manage to get a beer before heading back to Cadiz.

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I think there had been a similar walkabout in Cadiz too as many families were making their way homewards. The only restaurant near me that was open was offering only a special 65 euro seven course menu which would have been completely wasted given my aged lack of appetite. So it was crisps, nuts and wine and thank you for the lunchtime tapas.

Christmas Day dawned bright and clear and I thought I’d walk along the Atlantic promenade as we had rarely gone this far south on previous visits. I started out just after nine and it was a fine walk with surfers making some progress, far too many dog walkers and my planned breakfast having to wait until 11:30 by which time I’d walked down the entire promenade, into the dunes and back up the beach before the Blue Dolphin came to my rescue. This was after eight kilometres so I was peckish by now.

As I walked along the beach I saw these goal posts and wondered if I should suggest that we paint ours yellow at the Vic as it might give our ‘strikers’ a clearer target to aim at.

6CFA4D38-5997-41E2-AC85-4388F6F4D411I then headed inland and walked up through the main thoroughfare past the football stadium – unimpressive, , a beautiful brick and stone tobacco warehouse and through the park of the five continents – except we know there are seven now don’t we?

When I get back to the main square my feet are beginning to ache a bit despite my present to myself – new socks. They were a freebie from a company called Bam who make clothes from bamboo and send out trial sets to wheedle you in to subscribing, so I thought I’d bring them with me and give them an outing. Most places are open again for Christmas Day and I have soup, bread and olives for lunch in front of the Cathedral with a fine glass of Albariño. I can’t believe I’m sitting in the sun at 23 degrees on Christmas Day. Then I head off to check that the Cafe Royalty is open this evening – it is until 11.00 so I book for eight thirty and come back to change into a shirt, jacket and trousers rather than jeans and tee shirt of the marathon morning’s march.

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The elegant interior of our favourite Cafe Royalty a real blast from the past and the food’s good too.

On my way back it’s all looking very Christmassy and it’s been a very fine day so far.
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Then disaster strikes. As I prepare for bed feeling quite sleepy after my day’s exertions, my new Christmas socks prove very slippy on the marble floor and I career across the room to head butt the wardrobe which has severely pointy brass handles. The room immediately looks like a set from a horror movie and as I ring for help, blood drips everywhere – big tip on leaving for wonderful night staff – who arranged an ambulance and I returned from hospital about three am looking like this – appropriate for Boxing Day! Thanks to my EHI 111 card all this attention is provided professionally and complete free – no falling over next year then. Thanks Johnson.

I had to go back this morning for x-rays, anti-tetanus, a course of antibiotics and a new dressing. I’m a bit tired (but not emotional, I promise!) and am thankfully back in time to watch us not quite beat Sheffield United, well at least we didn’t lose.

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The ghoul of Christmas present