Biarritz, June 2017

Biarritz, June 2017

19th June, Monday

Resting in the hotel, Le Gamaritz, where I was checked in by a lovely (both senses) girl of no more than thirty. Most probably less. Her father was recently in Ireland. He liked la bière. This morning I got a taxi to the station in Bordeaux. If you tell a Frenchman that you’re from Ireland it seems fifty-fifty that he’ll mention rugby. At the station I just sat there, conserving energy. Nearby a little blonde of five or six watched a lame pigeon. She spoke to her father. Il a mal.

On the train, a quite elegant lady sat across the table but spent much of her time nose-picking, while reading. I nodded off a few times but in Biarritz there were no taxis at the station.

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Got a bus for a euro to the Mairie and then set off on foot in the general direction of the hotel. A green neon pharmacy sign said thirty-six degrees. Bag or no bag, I took a break in the church of Ste. Eugénie before getting the camera out along the rocky seafront. This is a tasty resort. Surf crashes on the brown rocks both onshore and offshore and falls back into the varying twinkling shades of blue. The swimmers down below look and sound happy.

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Though I found the street name at a T-junction, I took the wrong turn that wound around to a very hot hill but a retired gent put me right. Je vous accompagne. After seven I headed out.

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Dined very well at Casa Juan Pedro, which overlooks the water at the Port des Pêcheurs. A fillet of hake and a half-litre carafe of white wine were followed by some fruity ice cream. Less than thirty euro.

 

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Thirty-one years ago (1986) there was a plan of sorts for a family holiday in Biarritz. It fell through and my parents took themselves to Antibes, on a bus from London, I think. They were harder times. The original plan gets a mention in the short video I’d made out at the Rocher de la Vierge.

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While I was at the tip, there were some swimmers (and surfers) hundreds of yards offshore but still inside the outer rocks. There must be strong tidal currents, though, as they changed position very fast. From there I wandered around to the rocky harbour that now only contains pleasure craft. By the time I left the table at the restaurant (it’s all al fresco) some cloud had gathered, out at sea. Wind rose down on the Grande Plage.

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Bordeaux, June 2017

Bordeaux, June 2017

17th June, Saturday

I’m in the Black Velvet Bar at eight, with a pint of Carlsberg. A burger is on its way. Though this place was on my list I’ve just found it by accident, in that I took a left off the Quai Richelieu to photograph something, on my way to the Bourse, and spotted the street name.

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The Garonne is muddy filthy, like a series of chocolate whirlpools. Though very warm, it isn’t as hot here as I’d feared. There is a breeze. I was right about a wine convention bunging up the local hotels. At the airport I saw a sign for the VinExpo and the taxi driver asked had I come for it. Non, le rouge me donne une gueule de bois. That was my way of saying red wine blows my head off. Too much of it. At nine, I found the Café Brun. I took some photos before it filled up.

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The DJ is behind my end of the counter. He had a problem with his Mac charger. Wires exposed on the lead meant it was fumé – i.e. ‘smoked’ – and he had to shoot home on his scooter for another.

“Lor” AKA Lorenzo also told me he was ordered by le patron to play Eighties stuff tonight but I got him to put on some French hits from that decade, starting with France Gall and Ella Elle L’a. The crowd liked that. Anyway, there was a bit too much English junk otherwise (e.g. Pass the Dutchie) but Hoegaarden’s on tap & I even got a buy-back. I’ll be back.

After leaving there I wandered around some more, lingering in Place St. Pierre and thinking this city is lovely, not least at night with the calm, warm ambience. It’s a mini Paris, without the hassle.

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I went back to the Black Velvet Bar and had a few more. I got joined by two young lads, one of whom banned the other from practising his English. The former later threw up in the toilets, in a brief time-out. Another character to appear was a flower seller in a fetching blond lady’s wig. Except he wasn’t selling flowers. They were plastic sticks with lights in them. He had a quick drink and kept going. The other time-passer was the silent TV screen showing a documentary on Lemmy. The subtitles were English. It never ended. Almost like Lemmy.

18th June, Sunday

It was a long walk to Gare St. Jean and I’m feeling the heat a bit more now. Resting on a soft seat, I’ll have to go about a return ticket to Biarritz soon… That’s done for tomorrow but I’m in no hurry to leave. The tickets cost €62 plus a few cent.

I’m in the St. André cathedral. It’s cool in here and there are lots of chairs. I could eat, I could sleep, I could take a leak. On the wander back from the station I passed two cardboard begging signs – in Arabic.

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La Terrasse St. Pierre: an elderly American woman nearby seems to have married more people than Elizabeth Taylor but in a professional capacity. She was on about doing it in Nepal and then performing on the side of some hill. That was before she got on to her “Anne Frank experience” but I didn’t catch those details. I’ve had a duck burger here to fill a gap. It’s not that I’m into duck. Burger du canard was chalked on the board and I was curious.

After chilling at the hotel for three hours, I walked back over the Pont de Pierre. It was baking in the fierce evening sun. The brown water runs one way, then the other, but that must be the tide fighting the river.

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A tall cruise ship has somehow made it upriver to dock north of the Bourse. It must be here for the wine. I sat on a stone bench on the Place de la Bourse. At ten past ten the lights came on and I filmed the show.

 

Breakfast Paranoia

Breakfast Paranoia

1998

Dublin

26 October

A strange, unsettling outbreak of paranoia in the renamed Billboard (“Leroy’s”) on Camden St: I was upstairs, waiting patiently, admiring the voluptuous new waitress. Thirty-something, a dyed blonde, bobbing up and down the stairs she came and went.

Three guys sat quietly at the table behind me, the farthest one back, in a raised corner under a translucent skylight. As I was eating the indifferent brunch, one of the other staff below discreetly called the lady in charge about an issue upstairs. Whatever the problem was, I was suddenly keen to find out. I just felt that I should know what the matter was but it wasn’t being broadcast.

Looking down I could something of a contagion spreading among the black-attired waitresses, an almost silent but visible effect like the chill in The Masque of the Red Death.

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I wanted to know more. The problem created a paralysis, like it was frightening, at least to women. I wanted to know but all I managed to make out was a simple exchange.

“Have you been up there?”
“No, I haven’t been up there,” replied the one in charge.
“Well, there’s something up there.”

It didn’t get any more appetising, what was on my plate. Those three guys behind abandoned their table and didn’t pay. When they had left, I was alone in the eye line of the anxious women in black, down below. They couldn’t stop themselves raising their eyes in my direction, in that of the skylight. Remember Harry Dean Stanton and the cat in Alien.

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Don’t look back. It was time for me to leave. I paid but wouldn’t be back. If we only knew, we’d go nowhere. Start a panic. If I’d turned around before the door and demanded to know what was going on, I’d have been the one to start that stampede.

Springsteen, Slane Castle, 1985

Springsteen, Slane Castle, 1985

On the first of June, preparations began quite early. Luke had the hash. For food he had a brown paper bag with half a pound of sliced ham from the shop. Just for the day he exchanged his van for a four-door saloon. The first stop was the shopping centre, for some slabs of beer and cider. As he, Doherty and Quirke pulled out across the forecourt of the petrol station in front, a woman pulling in to do her shopping started pointing upwards and beeping. Luke stopped. One slab was still on the roof of the car. It was a sunny day and they headed off. Bryan Ferry’s Slave to Love came on the radio as the breeze rippled through the open windows.

It was a Saturday. In 1984 the Slane concert had unwisely been staged on a Sunday, allowing the zombies a whole weekend to get tanked up enough to riot and besiege the local police station. That was the night before the concert. Things hadn’t improved much the next day as, backstage, Lord Henry tried to get Bob Dylan – who was caked in orange make-up – to get his act together and just go out there.

In 1985 the peaceful smoking of doobies and the eating of ham slices behind one of the goals on Slane’s GAA pitch was interrupted by the opening blast of Born in the USA, out of sight just down the road. A few songs later the three boys entered the concert over the vast panorama of the natural amphitheatre, the stage, the castle and the river. Springsteen was singing Trapped at that moment.

The sun was strong, beating down all day. The crowd was massive and Bruce told them they had never played to so many people before. For most it was just a day out and there was no festival atmosphere. Quirke hadn’t that much interest in the concert but Luke was on a different level, most of the time. He kept on and on about getting his hole. Quirke let Doherty talk to him.

When it was all over, they climbed back up the steep slope, grabbing tufts of grass, and Quirke glanced around to see hundreds of people tumbling back down the hill, left, right and centre. That much was a bit biblical. He fell asleep in the back of the car on the way home but woke up when they stopped for a minute. In the dark, Luke told Doherty to ask somebody for directions. It had been a long day. By the time he rolled up the window the passenger had forgotten whatever he was told.

The Irish Patient

The Irish Patient

The group of long coats passing down the hospital corridors on a night before Christmas carried no flowers. The nurses who spotted them decided they could only be visiting one patient. It had to be the one with the smashed wrist, acquired after climbing up a drainpipe that had given way and cast him down by a dark basement door, below the steep stone steps to the main entrance of the block.

One of the nurses brought in a plate of triangular ham sandwiches for the patient’s tea. The inhabitants of the coats sat on and around his bed. He shared the room on the ward with a couple of elderly men in bathrobes who wandered in and out.

The pair seemed to be looking for something, in the background, as the patient recounted what had happened to his wired-up wrist, as the eyes on and around the bed watched the good hand find the barest two triangles of bread, lay them out face up, and then methodically extract all the ham triangles from the others in order to stick them in between those two.

“They use industrial butter in here,” he explained.

Then he got one of the visitors to pour a soft drink into a plastic cup in order to wash that one thick triangle down. When finally allowed liquids after the operation, he’d polished off a couple of two-litre bottles of lemonade in the space of fifteen minutes.

Next a female visitor entered. Space was made for her at the foot of the bed. His girlfriend revealed she had told his father the truth – it had been her window over the ledge by which the drainpipe had given way – but the patient in the bed equably rationalized this confession. Damage done, there was nothing he could do about it now.

“Oh, it’s OK. I’m sure if somebody didn’t tell him he would have smelled a rather large rodent.”

The elderly men in the background were by now beginning to get a little agitated. They were looking for something.

“What’s wrong with those two?” whispered one of the visitors.
“They’re looking for the remote. They want to watch Glenroe.”

Watching the Sunday night soap was a simple pleasure, not to be missed.

“Eh, have you any notion where it is?”
“I’m sitting on it.”

The patient explained the apparent meanness of this concealment in a further murmur.

“At seven this morning the guy on the left there decided to empty his colostomy bag.”

Heads recoiled from the bed in distaste.

“While I was having my egg.”

Vienna, October 2013, Austria #3

Vienna, October 2013, Austria #3

Dr. John Flynn

Vienna Riesenrad Oct 2013

In October 2013, once aboard the plane to Vienna, I would have fallen asleep right away but for having to stay awake to order the breakfast. Awake all night with an upset stomach and then a long drive to the airport, I got less than an hour after that. At the Schweizerhof I had a shower and then slept for another three. Then it was time to head off, a bit like a zombie. That changed at Harry Lime’s doorway, by the smooth, sloping cobbles of Schreyvogelgasse. There was still daylight but lights shone from scattered windows. They reflected in others. Evening traffic hummed and rumbled on the nearby Ringstrasse, beyond which the university rose in the dusk.

Under the pale, yellowy pillars and ceiling arches, the Café Central was a temple for reflection on some of the characters – Freud, Hitler, Lenin, Trotsky, Tito – who had taken a…

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