With Coleridge in Cadiz

19th January 2015 5 comments5723 views

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.


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:



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



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.



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:




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!


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!


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!


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


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


And here are two kids in a seaside garden…


beside a cruel tree:




  1. Estimado Sr: cada vez que pasee Cádiz voy a llevar una mochila con Visitantes milagrosos, El modelo Jonas y Embajada alienígena por lo menos y te los voy a hacer firmar uno detrás de otro pisha.
    Eres un peaso escritor.

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