Dinah’s Mancunicon Con Report

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Mancunicon took place in a corridor.  I could see quite well both ways from my tableland, or mesa which I know is a Spanish table.  Opposite me was Ops, which must mean opposite.  So I wasn’t too confused, although humans of different sizes suddenly vanished and other humans suddenly appeared instead.  I often have gaps in existence.

Most humans were good at rubbing me under my chin and on top of my head and along my back the way I like it.  One human put a bright pencil labelled Barcelona in my mouth instead of my food-leaf or my tug-of-war stone.  Barcelona was okay to bite.

The humans vibrated lots of noises and sometimes fed each other chocolate or pieces of Catalan sausage which must be made from cats.  I could see into a big room where the humans swapped small sheets of coloured paper for blocks of paper with all sorts of signs on them.  Sometimes a human asked another human to put his name inside a paper block, near the front.

My name is Dinah because I am a baby dinosaur.  I am a girl dinosaur.  There were both Mans and Womans at Mancunicon, and small humans too.  I sensed that I was on a tableland with precipices on all sides.  A human called this Roar-aima.  So I roared.  And I panted.

Outside of Mancunicon was a hurricane of rain and wind.  Maybe an asteroid caused this.  Humans at Mancunicon vibrated about asteroids, and androids.  I do not like asteroids.

Half of my mesa was named Barcelona.  The other half was named New Orleans.  After a while I trod in the swamp of New Orleans.

Behind my mesa on the other side of a cliff was a very big cave, with chairs.  Humans crowded into the big cave to hide from the hurricanes and asteroids.

There were also small caves.  Caves are not for dinosaurs. My parents went into a small cave with a big friend to vibrate about Spanish Si-Fi.  I live in Spain.  My parents have no tails.  Maybe my tail will fall off when I stand up tall like my parents.  I watched Godzilla.  I roared and panted.

I came to Mancunicon in an airy plane named Easterjet.  In the airy port my parents woke me to prove I am not a jihad bomba.  I roared and panted.  But in the airy plane I must sleep in case I harm the lektronics of Easterjet.

When I am older and fifty feet long I will fill the Mancunicon corridor.  I do not want fifty feet because that is half a centipede.  I am Dinah.  I was at Mancunicon.  This is my con report.

We Collect Cemeteries

During Christmas 2015 a cap of smog was officially bad in Madrid, nevertheless a solitary seagull found its way more than 300 kilometres from the nearest brine to the central Retiro park.  Such persistence deserves a photo:

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In the nearby Botanical Garden, all was serene…

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…while just by Spain’s Kilometre Zero in Puerta del Sol crowds flocked to the annual metal Christmas tree tower:

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Our destination after Madrid was Genoa in Italy, to spend New Year with Roberto and Olga.  Spend, hmm… A direct flight was costly, so we hit on the cunning plan of first flying cheaply to Milan, staying a few days in a moderately cheap central hotel, then continuing economically by train to Genoa.  Alas, this plan collapsed since we seemed to spend more money simply surviving in Milan than we saved on the cheap flight.  The salaries of civil servants throughout Italy are everywhere the same; further south, they live like little princes, but in Milan they are paupers.  This is obviously the fault of Versace and Gucci and Prado, whose palaces fill every street, as well as the fault of the visibly clothes-addicted Milanese.  Even more branches of the fashionistas are in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, where we ate the most expensive pizza ever because we could walk no further:

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Just next door, we found three gourmet floors and a floating golden tree.  Note the small Dutch genre reflection to the right.  (The photographer distances herself from the unbalanced caprices of her model; I think I am balancing the tree quite well.)

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Smog was worse in Milan than in Madrid; private cars were banned from the streets for three days.  Many police cars needed to drive around constantly to make sure that drivers were obeying.

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We went to the Brera Palace to see paintings in the Pinacoteca, and then in the same vast palace to visit the observatory where Schiaparelli saw the canali on Mars which subsequently disappeared.  Signs with arrows pointed the way to the observatory.  Nevertheless, we checked with some staff to be doubly sure.  Affirmative.  Ascend two flights of vast Renaissance stairs.  More signs.  Head along a gloomy infinite corridor lined with broken sculptures from the art school.  The journey felt a bit like this scene (from the Monumental Cemetery, upcoming):

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Up another vast stairway went Cristina and I.  More signs, more cold stygian corridor.  Into sight at last came a big framed Hubble photo!  Getting hotter (or rather, even chillier)!  Around a corner to the door of the Observatory itself, where finally…  Chiusso fino a Gennaio 4.  (“Shut till 4 Jan”)  Why in Dante’s Inferno was this notice—the only one anywhere saying so—not at the start of the route fifteen minutes earlier?  Imbecillità!  However, we weren’t expecting to like Milan, even though in an earlier era Stendhal, one of the greatest French writers, required the affiliation Arrigo Beyle Milanese Scrisse Amò Visse to be inscribed on his tombstone in Montmartre Cemetery.  (“Henri Beyle Citizen of Milan Wrote Loved Lived”—oh this is undoubtedly a literary blog!)  We were in Milan mainly for the Monumental Cemetery!  We collect cemeteries.  The one in Milan expresses civic pride in being Milanese.  What do we say to Death?  We…

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Consequently, here is a member of the Guild of Breadbakers still plying his trade:

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…even though a naked woman is becoming stone.

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How did the family, who paid for this statue, react to the remarkably realistic result:

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It’s a tough job being an angel of death:

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…on account of the constant child abductions…

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On all of the finials of Milan Cathedral figures are poised, as if the sculptor Sir Antony Mark David Gormley Order of the British Empire paid a visit during the Middle Ages ad majorem dei gloriam OBE—never did I see such figures on a cathedral before.  (During the past decade, Gormley has been positioning large cast iron and fibreglass casts of his own nude body on the edges of buildings around the world, causing worried Chinese citizens to phone the Suicide Police.)

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Within the Cathedral is a pathological statue of flayed Saint Bartholemew, draped with his skin, modestly inscribed on the plinth beneath with NON ME PRAXITELES SED MARCO FINXIT AGRAT (“Praxiteles didn’t make me, but rather Marco d’Agrate“).  Circa 1504 – c 1574, the dates of this self-effacing sculptor; we aren’t exactly sure—but hey, his plan worked: here at least he is remembered notoriously.

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When you chat privately on your phone in a quiet spot in Milan, you never know who is listening agog:

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Onward to Genoa, where the jewel of cemeteries,  Staglieno, awaited us; visited three times by now, but still yielding up marvels—we haven’t yet even explored the wooded hill where vegetation half-hides many mini-castle sepulchres and mausoleums.

The 19th century bourgeoisie of Genoa wanted photorealistic sculptures:

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A century of wind-blown dust cooperated, bonding to the sculptures in convincing chiaroscuro patterns:

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Oh, and here’s the old dear who spent her whole life from adolescence onwards selling sweeties outside, so that she could scrimp and save for a statue within:

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Oops, almost forgot.  I wrote a story about Cthulhu manifesting Itself in Staglieno Cemetery, with hideous consequences for a tourist group (and for the world in general).  Because I approached this story completely seriously, the writing of it had such a bad effect on my brain that a friend phoning me asked if I was all right because my voice had changed.   “The Walker in the Cemetery” is collected in my Saving for a Sunny Day (NewCon Press).

Towards the end of the 19th century, eroticism erupts amidst bourgeois death—Eros and Thanatos court one another.  Here’s just one erotic piece from Staglieno:

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However, this is a family blog—so we shall limit any further eroticism to dolphin porn on display in the Aquarium of Genoa:

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The Aquarium is built out into Genoa harbour like an ocean liner.  Next to it floats a full-size pirate ship from a bygone movie; that ship can’t actually sail, but it does look good!  Further along are the diminishing remains of the Costa Concordia, which sank just off Isola de Giglio with the loss of 32 lives, apparently because the Captain wanted to salute a party on shore, five miles closer to a rock than was sensible.

Into the aquarium, one of the best in Europe—and yes, a vampire squid

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Genoa is city designed by Escher: take a public lift from street level to the fifth floor of a building… and you step out on to yet another street.  We went to a New Year’s Eve party at travel guide Paula’s apartment, only accessible via a lift and a maze in a different building.  Did her huge furniture arrive by helicopter?  Another great party was in Roberto’s dad’s and Ada’s place, up and down stairs and corridors in a complex edifice we think of as Gormenghast.

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Here, I imitate Quasimodo for the benefit of very tall, glamorous Russian Anastasia from Istanbul:

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Because we were showing more than usual tourist interest in the Basilica di Santa Maria delle Vigne, the volunteer supervisor very obligingly decided to show us around, including behind the roped-off altar, where normally only priests may tread.  ‘Us’ was Cristina (on camera) plus Olga and Roberto’s sister Daniela—who is also tourist guide—and me and Roberto (left to right; the obliging Signor is in the middle):

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And lo, this church is the origin of focaccia, as a parchment from 1229 attests!

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Elsewhere, finding a palm branch on a pavement, I demonstrated correct comportment for the benefit of the younger generation:

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That’s all folks, till the next time!

Gombrowicz and the Giant Rat of Rome

One of the authors I tackled in my long-ago, maybe misconceived book of literary criticism entitled The Modern Fantasy, never published as a whole—see “A Book That Made Me, and an odd bull” elsewhere in this blog—was Poland’s Witold Gombrowicz, mainly on the basis of his novel Ferdydurke.

Near Rome‘s Castel Sant’Angelo, on the promenade overlooking the Tiber, are a few secondhand book stalls, just a tiny bit as in Paris. Passing by with Cristina this August of 2015, my eye was caught by the dust-jacketed Grove Press edition of Gombrowicz’s Cosmos, which I felt compelled to buy for 3 Euros.

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Nearby, a bride and groom were posing for inventive pictures of their wedding day:

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Earlier, from one of the bridges out of Trastevere, Laura had spotted what she declared to be a beaver swimming complacently in the Tiber. Of course the creature couldn’t possibly be a beaver—dam, no!—but its tail remained ambiguous due to ripples of water—until it revealed itself as a rat the size of a beaver. Queen Rat.

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Gombrowicz’s most famous short story is entitledThe Rat. In Gombrowicz’s phantasmagorical world chance juxtapositions, such as a hanged sparrow coupled with other hangings, convey sinister significance amidst mundanity, questioning the way reality is constructed. So of course I had to buy Cosmos. Or buy it once again.

For an international capital, Rome seems to contain very few restaurants offering the cuisines of any other nations. Might it be naughty to call Rome the city of ten thousand restaurants with the same menu?   (Unfair!—but who wants to waste a good joke?)

It was distinctly hot. A Roman aired his back for a long while:

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A painting of the triumph of Christianity over the old gods struck me as economically metaphorical instead of triumphalist. How soon until the vast army of Saints come tumbling down? Inevitably they will, some day.

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On a previous visit I’d been enchanted by the cemetery for non-Catholic foreigners near the pyramid of Cestius. Back then I spent so much time amongst the slim towering cypress trees fascinated by the umpteen tombs of writers, artists, scholars and diplomats, that the closing bell tolled before I could arrive at Keats. This time, to frustrate us, the cemetery keepers buzzed off for a week’s Ferragosto holiday.

As Yeats wrote of Keats (the two don’t rhyme)—

I see a schoolboy when I think of him,
With face and nose pressed to a sweet-shop window…

Me too.  At last I saw Keats’ grave through a solitary slit in the wall:

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Who put the slit there, I wonder, and when?

STOP PRESS:  Paolo Cingolani points out that “the rat” is something else:

“Laura was right. The Gombrowiczian Giant Rat in Rome, similar to a beaver, but with a thinner tail, is a nutria, or coypu: there are many colonies along the Tiber. There is a friendly one, downstream, where people feed nutrias by  hand”

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Northward Ho! Vote for Helsinki!

At the end of May 2015 I went with Cristina to Copenhagen so that I could be a Guest of Honour at Denmark‘s delightful Fantasticon, and three weeks later we paid for ourselves to travel by way of Stockholm to excellent Archipelacon in Mariehamn, capital of the Finnish island (and archipelago) of Åland where the locals prefer to speak Swedish. Two journeys to the North, where the summer proved to be the coolest for many years—drat this global warming!

Fantasticon took place in the suburb of Valby, pronounced Valboo, a shortish walk from Copenhagen Zoo. But first the hospitable Danes put us for a couple of days in a buzzing, fun hostel-hotel just near the main railway station in the heart of town so that we could do tourist things, never having been in Denmark before.  Almost immediately next morning we headed for the Medical Museum, as we tend to do in cities…

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…to be rewarded by a special exhibition of abnormalities:

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This set us up for lunch in what used to be a Russian consulate much visited by hungry sailors, to satisfy my appetite for herrings in curry sauce. Too many tourists were posing around the Little Mermaid, but Cristina found two other mermaids:

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Other highlights of Copenhagen included a surprise Tesla car showroom:

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…and the Amber Museum which was rather good. Usually such places and chocolate museums are basically shops, but this was full of interesting things such as an amber galleon to prepare us for the Vasa when we got to Stockholm:

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…and the Glyptoteket museum where I balanced a good Van Gogh:

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Not forgeting the fun-park plus gardens of Tivoli, which are rather delightful:

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I mean, how magic is this?

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Yes, we did stroll through the weed-smoking, self-governing hippy enclave of Christiania, but we found it less utopian than we might once have done.

Being flat, Copenhagen is a bombardment by bicycles (including in the subway):

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Before the con started, while I was looking at a camel in Copenhagen Zoo

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…I was phoned from England by the genius agency in charge of selling my house to tell me that the solicitors for the buyer had a document from the Land Registry listing me as bankrupt 30 years ago, so that I might not have a right to sell my house. “Eh?” said I. “But I never went bankrupt!” “Well,” said the phone, “can you courier us a document proving that you weren’t bankrupt?” “Um,” I said, “I’m in Copenhagen Zoo looking at a camel—and how could there possibly be any document proving that something never happened?”

During the con, increasingly surreal mobile phone calls dogged me, distorting my personality:

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Only when I got back to Spain and saw a scan of the piece of paper from the Land Registry was I able to do what two teams of imbecile solicitors and agents had failed to do—namely phone the Enquiries number printed prominently on the single piece of paper, to be told immediately by a helpful woman that the category listed on the paper had nothing to with bankruptcy. But by then the house sale had fallen through. And this is merely one example of the many blundering stupidities that several expert bunches of clowns have littered the path to a final sale with, like banana skins. Estoy hasta los cojones de esos cabrones gilipollas; pardon my Spanish.

Unlike my house sale, Fantasticon was very well organised and user-friendly, including publishing a story collection by me in Danish, selected and translated with quite a long Efterord by Niels Dalgaard, splendid cover by Manfred Christiansen.

Slow Birds Danish

Many new friends! And it was good to see Pat Cadigan feisty on her first big solo outing after chemotherapy.

The cost of beer in Copenhagen only left me semi-bankrupt, so—by way of Spain—we headed presently to Stockholm to complete the process.

Our boat-hotel beside the Old Town was the biggest steam-yacht ever built when Barbara Hutton‘s multi-millionaire dad gave it to his daughter as a 17th birthday present, following up with a cheque for one million dollars on her 21st birthday—though this was mere pocket money compared with her trust fund. Who could say which princelings and playboys had stayed in our cabin, or whether Scott Fitzgerald had peeped through the porthole? In 1939 Barbara gave the yacht to the Royal Navy to help the war effort, about the same time as she married Cary Grant, husband number 3 out of 7. Later, the yacht became a ferry to Finland before ending up moored in Stockholm:

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The decorative Old Town hosts a giant SF bookshop, SF-Bokhandeln:

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Did this have as many kilometres of shelves as Gigamesh in Barcelona? In the end we never found out.

Also nearby in the Old Town, within the Royal Palace, is Gustav III‘s collection of Roman statuary bought on a trip to Rome in 1783-84 from the Catholic Church which had a monopoly on ancient statues. At first, this room appeared to be totally black and white; only after ten minutes did some muted colour start to register on the eye.

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Perceiving our interest and that my shoes matched his own, one of the Observers from Fringe contributed his knowledge about was the world’s first ever public art museum:

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Here’s one of the chaps who let the Royal Palace burn down in 1697 running the gauntlet rather than being executed immediately. Since he had to do this seven times, and the double line of soldiers was seven or eight times as long as viewed here, probably not much of him survived intact.

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We also came across a charming square in the Old Town with this statue of St George and the Dragon, where I cannot understand how an arm of the trampled dragon appears to be holding a weapon; but I was footsore, in need of a beer.

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A fountain, warning of over-population, captured our attention:

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Here’s the Vasa, which sank almost immediately after being launched in 1628 for the benefit of posterity:

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Naturally Cristina and I went to the Fotografiska museum to see giant photos.

And then we took the early morning booze cruise through the umpteen islands of the Stockholm archipelago—slowly, so that the wake of our gigantic ferry didn’t wash any islands away—onward to the next archipelago where we were in Finland (just).

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Archipelacon was graced by George Martin as a GoH, along with Parris as fan GoH, a prime reason why 800 people attended. No more could, because we filled all the beds in Mariehamn on its Åland island, thus George was able to stroll around without being besieged. The other Guests of Honour were Sweden’s elegant Karin Tidbeck, Finland’s Johanna Sinisalo (stress on the first syllable) of Iron Sky and Troll Story—one of the Barcelona Eurocon 2016‘s excellent guests of honour ADVERTISEMENT!—with genial Gary K. Wolfe as Academic GoH. Almost all of the programme, and the Souvenir Book, were in English which Scandinavians speak fluently at the drop of a hat, including while talking to each other.

The organisers did a brilliant job—and these will be the same people (along with more people) who will bring the Worldcon to Helsinki in 2017 if they win the vote at the Sasquan Worldcon in Spokane this year (August 19 to 23). So convinced were we that they run a wonderful Worldcon in Finland that Cristina and I both bought supporting memberships of Sasquan so as to vote for Helsinki, and we urge everyone to do likewise—that’s what a credit card is for!

The only thing that Archipelacon couldn’t organise was the outdoor temperature, so that the nightly parties around the main hotel’s swimming pool, with many partiers drawing blankets up to their chins in the everlasting sunshine, looked a bit like an 1930s sanatorium for TB patients, though everybody was happy. Here’s the swimming pool before we put on our blankets (thanks, Hanna Svensson, for the photo):

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Did I say night? What night? Between about 11.00 pm and 1.00 am there were just some shades of grey (as it were). Here’s the view from our hotel balcony at 23.06:

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Back in Stockholm again, staying in a different hotel, we came across what looked like the Indiana Jones‘s Ball of Doom waiting to roll:

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…but in fact it was a homage to the Holocaust and to Raoul Wallenburg who saved many Jewish lives—in many languages except for Spanish which is the second most spoken.

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Nearby was a fountain which transforms visiting swans to bronze, a bit like the petrified birds of Lake Natron:

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…as well as a café so closely surrounded by a ring of trees that they must have been planted as soon as the kiosk, or its ancestor, opened:

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In the Norsk Museum we confronted a redoubtable king:

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…and outside was a jolly offer we forced ourselves to refuse:

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Mind you, we also saw this:

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…though I should perhaps add that, according to several online dictionaries, pong is Swedish for—eh?—pong.

Our new hotel was conveniently near by coincidence to the Monk’s Café artesan beer pub, our access made even easier by an old movie poster tunnel through an intervening hill:

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and there in Monk´s Café we happily completed my bankruptcy by beer along with friendly fans, such as Bellis:

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With Coleridge in Cadiz

Streets in the geometrical old city of Cadiz (correctly, Cádiz) tend to be very long and narrow—beware of cars and motor bikes unexpectedly swinging around a corner to crush you.

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Bizzarely, most streets have two different names displayed on wall-plaques of the same size—one may be an antique name, the other a name chosen by a politician, but how do visitors know which name to use?   On the other hand, Carmen Moreno set out to meet us for breakfast, and went to the correct room of the hotel with a courtyard and cloisters at the correct number in the correct street—the only error being that she wasn’t in Cádiz but in a different town, Puerto Real.  (“I’m knocking on Room 110 now!”  “The corridor is empty!”)

There’s something a bit claustrophobic about Cádiz, a bulb on the end of a stalk where Europe falls into the Atlantic.   Here are the last two lights of the Old World:

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Cadiz looked to me a bit middle-eastern like a Damascus lacking minarets, probably because I’ve never been to Damascus.


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Cruzcampo tends to dominate beer-life at this end of Andalusia—except in little Plaza de la Cruz Verde where the amusingly decorated WASA bar of decent size serves real ale brewed in distant Cuenca, namely Dawat‘s exceptional “Black is Back!” stout, yum yum.  (For the benefit of discerning travellers I always feel obliged to mention notable real ale oases which I come across, although after an ale or two personally I proceed to a red wine such as Ribera del Duero, especially if the thermometer is near zero).  In a darkened square, the Town Hall displayed a sound and light spectacle upon its own facade, demolishing and reconstructing itself.  But soon I was succumbing to hypothermia, which submerged my immune system, allowing a virus to cause vivid fever dreams.

These dreams and hallucinatory insights were substantially the fault of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose Biographia Literaria (of 1817) I received as a Xmas prezzy, its Latin and Greek and German and Coleridgian English definitively annotated by Adam Roberts—a text unopened by me during the past 50 years, and which I carried through Andalusia as a kind of metaphysical Baedeker.

 

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Lamentably I became increasingly disenchanted at what a pedantic reactionary prig the romantic rebel Coleridge became.   I need about 100 pages to justify this opinion, but also so did Coleridge, consequently in the middle of a sentence he invented the sudden arrival of a letter from a friend whose opinions he much respected (i.e. himself), telling himself to stop explaining knotty philosophical matters.   During one of my fever dreams, the roots, trunks, and limbs of the liana trees (which also flourish in Seville) became the objective correlatives of the robust German philosophical systems which STC discoursed upon and plagiarised.   I can best explain the sense of oppression by photos:

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In showing these esemplastic images, I express the convolutions of Schelling and Kant which contort Coleridge.  (“Esemplastic” ≈ the mysterious, organic shaping power of imagination.)  A problem for Romantic poets, with the exception of William Blake, was lack of cameras.  Coleridge wades through treacle (while convinced that he capers acrobatically) because he has little truck with airy-fairy willowy atheistical Frenchy stuff.  For if a God does not exist, where is the foundation for the imagination?  I say: look in the water, not in the wood!

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In Cadiz I confronted behemoths of the mind.  Then worse arrived: scribbled on all surfaces in black and white, thousands of words appeared which could possibly be English but were not actually so.  The words were plausible English, though not plausible French or Spanish or Japanese, say.  I tried to inject some colour for variety, but colour faded to weak pastel immediately; there was simply too much verbal information which contained no actual information.  By now my fevered brain was speeding hotly as if it would overrun itself and fail—till of a sudden from this storming sea of words with no meaning I entered a still lagoon of calm without a word in sight, only a pearly grayness.  A version of Cádiz harbour, perhaps.

After a while I found myself trying to expand spaces within Cádiz, stretching alleys into squares which didn’t exist, but which I must pave with white stones while concocting a historical commentary for tourists.  More space; make room!

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I think this final vision represented the editing—the unwrapping—of a complex text.   Coleridge was an opium addict; his tangled, rambly writing was similar to my viral deliriums.   My harbour of refuge from hallucinations—from my heightened realities—became Nature methodised, in the phrase of Alexander Pope, the Mozart of 18th century verse.  When I was a student, people like Pope seemed merely a witty prequel to the wild Romantics.  Nowadays, give me topiary!

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Continuing the Coleridge theme, in Cadiz we dined with The Ancient MARÍNero and his missus:

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Here’s the old tobacco factory, Cadiz being even closer to the transatlantic source of leaves than Seville:

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And here are two kids in a seaside garden…

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beside a cruel tree:

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Seville Ho! Ho!

I didn’t expect there to be quite so much of Seville.  Queues kept us away from the Cathedral and from the Alcázar fortress (so we shall ignore them), but hurrah for the trees of Seville!  Seeds of these liana trees were brought back by scientific sons of conquistadors.  Once a source of rubber—see the tell-tale white streaks—its roots are redoubtable:

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Here novelist Concha and I try to fit inside one:

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Some palm trees seem excessively tall, outgrowing their strength:

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but other, shorter palms are under attack by evil red palm weevils, which the green bottles strive to poison before the head of the tree falls off:

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A fallen frond makes a good hat accessory:

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The vast María Luisa Park is full of gorgeous vegetation, bowers, tilework, reflections, fountains:

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..as well as numerous birdies.   (By the way, don’t drink the water yourself.)  Myself, I distinguish mentally between doves, which are white, and pigeons which aren’t, but both doves and pigeons suckle their babies with milk, which isn’t usual babycare for birds.

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The enormous Plaza de España on the edge of the María Luisa park is actually just the Spanish national pavilion for the World’s fair of 1929 (plus a mighty plaza).  An Ibero-American Exposition was planned for 1914 except that the World held a war instead, leaving another 15 years for Seville to prepare.

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Other sumptuous buildings adorn the neighbourhood.

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Due to such past investments, Seville dominates the tourist economy of Andalusia, accounting for hundreds of identical black and yellow open coaches with horses clip-clopping and ding-dinging briskly around the tourism routes, amounting in fact to quite a pesky nuisance and safety hazard.  (To take refuge upon a coach, with 3 friends or family tucked under blankets, costs 50 Euros an hour.)  Here is a typical traffic jam leaving the Plaza de España:

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And here, in a fraying street ceramic, is a car such as would have tootled around the exposition back in its day:

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Where are all the sprightly horses stabled?  Definitely not in the Royal Tobacco Factory, with its aircraft-hanger-size drying rooms, now the lecture halls of the University.  Sotweed sailed directly from the Americas up the Guadalquivir (mightier than further upstream at Córdoba) to what for a while was the only fag factory in Spain—built on the scale of the Hermitage in St Petersburg—where Carmen worked.

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I don’t know if this moat was ever flooded, but its wall captured the silhouettes of me and Cristina and Concha:

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Concha—Concepción Perea—is a fountain of information about tragic figures such as La Susona, who had her head hung—posthumously—outside her house in the Jewish quarter, from the 15th to the 18th century, to atone for stupidly trusting her Christian boyfriend:

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…and about the medieval Wet Street water supplies:

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An angel above the main entrance of the tobacco factory university was supposed to blow a fanfare if a chaste Carmen ever entered, or nowadays a student of genius:

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Much earlier, when the Moors were in charge, Vikings took similar advantage of the Guadalquivir, considerably wider than at Córdoba:

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This bridge (with a view of the Tower of Gold; thanks to straw mixed with the mortar) leads to the Triana Market where we encountered a strange scene of Santa Claus, a ham-cutter, and a piglet:

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Here’s the restaurant where we first met up with our chums in Seville, including novelist Juan Ramón Biedma on the left, in whose books rain constantly falls on his native town, novelist Nerea Riesco, and look there’s Cristina because Concha’s historical novelist spouse Teo Palacios is holding the camera:

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Quite close to this restaurant, recuperating a formerly tatty large square, mushrooms the Metropol Parasol; “We want something like the Guggenheim at Bilbao but, er, cheaper…!”  (Due to a few little technical problems caused by reality, the cost also mushroomed, to 100 million Euros.)  We like it.  It reminds me of a bygone UK TV series, Invasion: Earth, in which invaders from a higher dimension create intrusions into our 3-D world:

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And so we prepare to leave Seville for our next destination, as depicted in the murals of the Plaza de España:

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What will await us in Cádiz?

 

Córdoba Ho!

On the eve of Xmas Eve (2014), Cristina and I were at the Telefónica Foundation in Madrid‘s Gran Vía for a sparkling exhibition about Tesla—us shown around by the exhibition designer himself, Miguel Delgado, here next to me:

Tesla

Our batteries duly charged with electricity, right after Xmas Day Cristina and I headed by high-speed train to Córdoba, to began a long fight against hypothermia in Andalusia. Not a problem for the orange trees, all in full fruit, cropping abundantly in midwinter as well as in high season.

These oranges are in the Courtyard of the Oranges outside of the no-longer-Great Mosque:
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When I was a boy, I was riveted by a colour picture—in a multi-volume “Countries of the World” encyclopedia from the 1930s—of the umpteen striped horseshoe archways inside the Great Mosque; perfectly geometrical, not an irregularity in sight. Here’s the idea:

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What a let-down the mosque is by now, almost every perspective within uglified by vulgarities. Bursting upward like a vast mushroom, the central christianised core is okay on its own dictatorial terms; but elsewhere, what a chaos of visual pollution and idolatry, saints in their iron cages like lunatics in Bedlam, blotches of interruption assaulting the eyes.  (Admittedly the mosque is on the site of a former Visigoth church on the site of a Roman temple; history has many twists.)

Those wishing to drown their sorrows at the ongoing degredation of once-awesome architecture only need to head (supposing they aren’t Moslem) five minutes away to the Califa microbrewery pub opened in 2013; Calle Juan Valera, 3; their draft dark Sultan is delicious).  And while we’re advertising nifty places, I hail Hotel Plateros, here being visited from its country village during the festive season by a turkey friend of the family, never to feature on any menu (except perched on top):

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“Animals are so noble,” said the proprietress. On the patio of Hotel Plateros you can dress up as a Roman statue:

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before exploring other intriguing alleyways with revealing courtyards, leading for instance to the House of Heads (which were once strung up across this alley for their Dad to contemplate):

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or the relatively unknown Mudejar Chapel of San Bartolomé:

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or the Julio Romero de Torres Museum:

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A favourite of the Franco regime, Romero specialised in sultry black-haired Cordobesan women, surreally erotic death-fetishism, with flamenco and bull-fighting and the Roman bridge over the Guadalquivir often in the offing. Did we already mention ripe oranges?

 

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In the water gardens of the Alcázar fortress we envied the carp swimming lazily in steaming warm water due to thermal springs first exploited by the Romans. Did the carp feel a bit poached? Steam doesn’t show up in these photos, though mist does.  (I’m trying not to mention the Inquisition, except to say that in 1506 Córdobans rebelled against the cruelties of Inquisitor General Diego Rodríguez Lucero, shit be upon his name, chased the evil psycho away on muleback, and released over 400 victims from here.)

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Chunks of Roman stone litter Córdoba. Need a garden feature? Oh, that one will do!

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The Romans themselves even foresaw this:

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Originally the town square was paved in mosaics, now safe inside the fortress:

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Regarding photos and our valiant cameraguapa, at last we can reveal the guiding hand and eye of inspiration…

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Oh no I did not say that! I was joking! Ouch, ouch! I need my nose! How can I pose if you pull off my nose?

Black Pudding and Bibliophily in Burgos

December 2014: a week ago I was making my way with difficulty, due to the crush of crowds, through the big chilly Christmas market beside the Cathedral in Barcelona, wishing that some German had a stall with hot mulled wine. However, almost all the stalls were selling figures little and large and umpteen landscape accessories for nativities, including many versions of Catalonia’s favourite nativity figure, El Caganer, The Shitter. No mulled wine when you need it:
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(We don’t want the Shitter too large!)  Soon after, though, Cristina and I drove from Gijón through the dramatic Asturian mountains of misty snowy precipices, then east across the mainly flat and blank meseta tableland to one of the notoriously coldest cities in Spain, Burgos—and there in the Christmas market outside Burgos Cathedral indeed was mulled wine when I needed it even more, prepared in the style of Düsseldorf, as the proprietor explained. Oh joy, with cloves. Mulled wine, shared here with a naked pilgrim, since Burgos is on one of the routes to Santiago de Compostela a very long way away:

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Many sculptural persons are present in the city, both modern persons:

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…and more ancient persons (ride that dolphin, Luke!):

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(Warning: There might be quite a lot of photos in this post, just in case you are a slow looker.) For some strange reason (= ignorance) I’d thought that Burgos was an industrial city. But this capital of Castille—where the Spanish language first manifested itself in the 10th Century Valpuesta manuscripts—is quite compact, and is lavish with illustrious ancient spick and span buildings… such as this Palace of the Constables of Castille where Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic couplet, received Columbus after his second trip across the Atlantic, probably coming through this very doorway:

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Here is a gateway to Burgos:

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…within which is a pharmacy museum:

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I did like this door:

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For what reason did pharmacists of old use the semen of a lamb? Of an agnus castus? This should mean ‘without blemish’, or even ‘chaste’, though since when did lambs have semen yet? When that happens, doesn’t a lamb become a ram, an agnus become an aries? And this surely cannot refer to the ‘holy lamb’, another possible meaning? I await enlightenment from Adam Roberts, whose Latin is much better than mine:

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From the tower of the gateway we looked down on pollarded plane trees:

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…which a presumed cohort of expert gardeners are patiently waiting to fuse together:

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…whilst also busy tending long esplanades of mature inventively geometrically yew topiary which look two hundred years old yet as if trimmed yesterday with nail scissors. Everything hereabouts suggests considerable civic wealth both past and present.

The vast Cathedral is over the top in late Spanish rococo which out-rococo-s even rococo.  There are avalanches of cherubs in restored Disneycolour:

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Here the Madonna suckles an elf:

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And a swashbuckling pirate angel puts her best leg forward:

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The drum and cupola are made of royal icing:

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As Cristina remarked, one motive of a cathedral is to make people feel insignificant.  Towering 3-D gilding:

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…contains panels of intricate allegorical detail (bottom right, two inward, this one):

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An unassuming stairway ascends, so that an ecclesiastic dignitary can address crowds outside:

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This chap, above a lovely café-restaurant, is a copy of the same automaton fellow high up one wall inside the Cathedral who opens his mouth every hour, as he sounds clang-clong, to gulp any flies, hence his name Papamoscas, which also means simpleton. Like other restaurants in Burgos, this one had its historic ovens for roasting lamb and chicken inside the dining room, warmth being so important.

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The reason why Cristina and I drove to Burgos was for her gig as translator of the Game of Thrones books with Aloña Fernández, a journalist from Madrid specialising in TV series, at the Book Museum, Museo del Libro Fadrique de Basilea (Travesía del Mercado, 3), curated by slim, mercurial, hatless-in-Burgos Javier.

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Fadrique de Basilea (aka Fred the German) printed 75 books during 30 years in Burgos in the 15th Century, making him one of the printing greats. The four floors of the narrow but tall and very deep museum showcase reproductions and originals in association with Siloé, publisher of stunning facsimiles of ancient books. Cristina was presented with a perfect-looking page from the medieval Bestiary of Don Juan of Austria which is full of basilisks, minotaurs, cyclopses, salamanders, as well as moles and rabbits and porcupines—the original of which is in a local monastery—along with a scholarly 293-page volume of transcription and commentary. Cristina received the eagle page; I always loved The Eagle comic but this surpasses that.  The following isn’t from the book but from the Cathedral, but you get the bestiary idea:

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Here, the local then regional then ‘national’ champion El Cid leads the charge over a bridge across the pleasant rushing little river Arlanzón where mallard ducks dabble, and wagtails wag their tails:

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taking us from the magnificent to the utterly stupendous: the Museum of Evolution which must have cost twenty million Euros. Or fifty million, I don’t know. (Worth every penny! Evolution deserves a Cathedral as much as Superstition does, even if Superstition has caused sublime, and middling, and bizarre cultural art.)

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Particularly effective, when you reach the top floor of the museum, is to look down from a vast balcony with a bird’s eye view upon several sloping plantations of vegetation uprooted from the nearby Atapuerca Mountains:

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…through a cunning screen which overlays images of Early Man and beasts in motion (not as in El Caganer)—the distant past reanimated convincingly. Atapuerca is the archeologically astonishingly rich site where European “Adam” lived 800,000 years ago.

An excellent place to commune with Hominims.

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This untampered photo of the side of the Museum repays study, since what you see is clearly impossible—note the red car disappearing from our dimension:

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The photographer abominates the above photo as shown; only love condones the photo appearing in public, since this is how I perceive the world.

The black pudding of Burgos, incorporating rice, is much drier than the normal hot moist morcilla pig-blood sausages, crisping beautifully, a delicious World Patrimony Heritage Black Pudding. (For non-British readers I should explain that “puddings” are sweet desserts—except when they’re aren’t sweet desserts but are savoury fried Black Pudding, fried White Pudding, ovened Yorkshire Pudding, or steamed Steak & Kidney Pudding with suet pastry—is that clear?)

We stayed at the welcoming, warm, cheap Acuarela Hostal, a computer in every room, mere minutes on freezing foot from the town centre—and right next door to the gorgeous bar Qué Thomas (“Which Thomas?”, this being a witticism since “¿Qué tomas?” means “What are you having?”) with high maroon velvet chairs in its big smoking area and a bathtub dedicated to Hendrick’s half-full of illuminated simulated Gin, inscribed just above the liquid level with: “Bathe if you like, though don’t expect a towel.”  I myself am allergic to gin for life after an unfortunate episode at a party when I was sweet 16, but the Ribera del Duero (usually superior to most Riojas) was lovely.

Sorry there’s no autobiographical photo of the actual black pudding. I was too busy eating it for the photographer to get a chance.  But here’s pretty much what it looked like, only more so:

Morcilla-de-Burgos

 

Cyborged in Zaragoza

When I found this dramatic engraving of the Leaning Tower of Zaragoza, unknown to me, at a temporary antiques/junk stall in Gijón, I spied a possible story—and I don’t think I’m referring to the storeys of the tower, though I may be. ‘Drawn by David Roberts from a Sketch by Lieut. Eldridge of the Royal Artillery. Engraved by H. Adlard.’

leaning tower

Robert Leeds Edridge (1800 – 1841) was apparently at the Battle of Waterloo at the ripe age of 15, receiving one of 39,000 medals, which irritated veterans who fought their way through the entire Peninsular War against Napoleon. What, mass production of medals for anyone who was on the field? (Still, these were also the first ever personalised medals, the recipent’s name imprinted by machinery around the edge.)
Evidently Edridge was no lion since he was a mere lieutenant when he left the Gibraltar garrison 19 years later. The Gibraltar garrison mainly occupied itself with hunting, shooting, and fishing, while Edridge devoted his time to painting charming watercolours, and evidently he visited Zaragoza. David Roberts (1796 – 1864) was a more robust Scottish artist specialising in Orientalism, with a delicate alcoholic wife, who issued the lithographed Picturesque Sketches in Spain in 1837, a framed page from which I bought at that junk/antiques stall.
Surely no leaning tower could really have leaned so much? The city of Zaragoza duly demolished the tower in the 1890s—what a shame, since the tower proved to be structurally sound.  (Though in a selfish way I prefer the tower to have disappeared, since fewer visitors will be inspired by it.)  I only found the tower’s footprint in the Plaza de San Felipe, while an almost secret, unadvertised private museum beneath the gourmet food and drink shop on the corner safeguarded the clock face and clock mechanism as well as umpteen prints and paintings of La Torre Nueva (new at the start of the 16th Century).
Yet look what happened to me elsewhere in Zaragoza!

Zaragoza

Is “Cyborged in Zaragoza” a good title for my story, and how does this connect with the Leaning Tower? I await an epiphany.

Ebola now loose in Europe because of stupidity

When a Spanish priest in Liberia became infected with Ebola a few weeks ago, the Spanish conservative government stupidly flew the priest back to Madrid, to show what caring people the conservatives are. (The priest died, so that was a waste of time and money which should have been directed at treating him and a thousand others in West Africa.) The hospital to which the priest was taken used to be a top-rank specialist dangerous diseases hospital—until the conservative government ripped out the hospital’s guts for gradual privatisation. But oh, the hospital could be rejigged in 24 hours to cope with Ebola. Result: one nurse, at least, now has Ebola and has had plenty of time to infect others; nurses usually don’t work at more than one hospital but in this case extra nurses were drafted in then returned to other hospitals. Infection is by physical contact, not air-borne, say with a drop of infected saliva, faeces, blood. Incubation period: up to around 20 days (plenty of time to infect friends and family and colleagues). Death-rate: 70% for this virus so far in Africa, out of control, with 5000 victims so far, doubling every 15 days approximately, meaning ONE MILLION victims by January coming.
Well done, bringing Ebola to Europe, imbecile Conservative “Popular” Party of Spain!
Four years ago I and my collaborator Andy West wrote a novel, The Waters of Destiny, about the true cause of the big killer Black Death, which was manifestly a haemorrhagic fever, a close viral cousin of Ebola, and how this could spread worldwide nowadays, just as Ebola is now starting to spread—which is an important matter. No publishers or agents were interested. So, two years ago, we published The Waters of Destiny as an ebook, see www.watersofdestiny.com, first volume free. Few people have read it.  This is a very similar to the way publishers responded to Norman Spinrad‘s recent Osama the Gun, a major book about the motivations for Islamic terrorism—by ignoring it—so that he had to self-publish the text on Amazon.
The Waters of Destiny also deals with Jihadi terrorists, spreading the cousin of Ebola.
Less than perceptive publishers, moronic Spanish “Popular Party”.
I just heard that the infected Spanish nurse was “on holiday”. Where, et cetera et cetera?