Tuesday, August 28, 2007


The Doge of Bibliópolis

Last Night I went to the Plaza Santa Ana in the heart of Madrid to meet my Spanish publisher, Luis Prado, de facto ruler of the Bibliópolis empire. Luis is an extremely pleasant and engaging person and his girlfriend Ágnes is no less sweet and charming. I was pleased to introduce Luis and Ágnes to my friends, Rosa, Isabel, Steve and Frank, and we passed many pleasant hours with beer and tapas...

I have started a photography project that involves taking photos of various people around the world reading my books. Here is Luis Prado himself caught in the act! Most other writers would probably prefer their subjects to be smiling, winking or kissing, but I have insisted on expressions of dismay and bewilderment. This approach is more original and more modest. Am I not a self-effacing fellow? Am I not the most humble writer alive on the planet today?

The first photographs in this project can be viewed here. Others will follow in due course!

Friday, August 24, 2007


One Evening, Three Salads

I left Wales exactly 2 months ago, but only now have I fully relaxed into my new environment. It always takes me that long to re-orient myself, which maybe is slow by some standards. Already I might be halfway through my trip, and the thought of having to return back to Wales fills me with a profound gloom. If I can stay away for longer I will -- ideally I'll never go back -- but there's always the tricky question of money...

The first two months have been excellent, with considerable adventure and romance, and I've even managed to do some writing!

Last evening I went to the house of my friend Rosa for a meal. Three salads were served simultaneously, as well as couscous, mango, wine, beer and rum. A fine feast indeed! Earlier in the day my friend Steve Redwood had a mild heart attack, and armed police with dogs filled a neighbouring street for reasons I still haven't worked out, and I knew I would feel slightly guilty for adding this serious sentence to the preceding lighthearted sentences in the same paragraph, and I was right!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Toledo You So...

On Saturday I went to Toledo with my new friend, Rosa Tristán...
Small world: Rosa is a personal friend of Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan writer published by my Portuguese publishers, Livros de Areia.

Toledo is a marvellous city, a tangle of little streets and ancient buildings. We visited the El Greco museum and various other cultural highlights but I managed to get us lost on the way back. Rosa suggested that I deserved death for this crime and suggested Tuesday as the day of my demise. So it appears that today is my last day on Earth... She also invited me to her house for a meal on Thursday. I'm interested to observe how she will resolve this paradox.

The River Tajo that passes through Toledo flows west across Spain and becomes the River Tagus when it crosses into Portugal. Eventually it reaches the sea, passing through Lisbon first. My friend Safaa Dib lives in Lisbon. Therefore I decided to send her a message in a bottle...

First I wrote her a message in a Toledo cafe...
Secondly I sealed the message in a bottle...
Thirdly I crossed a bridge over the river...
Fourthly I let the bottle go...
Fifthly the message landed in the river...

Will the message ever reach Safaa? Probably not... In December 2005 I sent her a message from Al Hoceima in Morocco and that never got to her. Maybe it ended up in the collection of Roberto Regnoli instead, an Italian fellow who has a knack for finding messages in bottles. At any rate I intend to send more messages in bottles in the near future, to Caroline in Brazil, Shaswati in India, Hannah in Wales, Lowri and Sarita in London, etc. It's a sort of art project, I guess... Shame I'm not much good at art!

Friday, August 17, 2007


¡Agallas de Hierro!

Two very excellent people got married yesterday -- to each other!
Huw Rees and Manuela Ruault are now man and wife. I have been privileged to regard them as my friends: they are kind, intelligent, large hearted people, awash with talent and humanity, and I love them both very much. I regret that I was unable to attend their wedding, but tonight I'll drink a toast in their honour anyway. Huw has the funk, Manuela has the elegance, a combination superb and delightful. Big love to both of them, is what I say!

On Monday I had the worst day I've had since arriving in Spain, on Tuesday I had the best. Amazing how things can change so fast! I went dancing with Rosa, a journalist from El Mundo, and her friends. The fiesta was simply astounding. Thousands of people dancing to pulsating music, the streets flowing with beer and spirits, everybody in a happy mood. The universal goodwill was tangible. Wednesday night was less frantic but more cultured. On a stage in the Plaza Mayor a curious event took place. The fiesta coincided with the 60th anniversary of India's independence and someone in authority had decided to celebrate both occasions simultaneously. There was flamenco and bhangra, and at one point a tabla player and flamenco guitarist played together...

How candid is one supposed to be on a blog? I often think a blog isn't the right place to talk about emotional matters, and yet it also doesn't feel right to simply report on writing or travel news without casting any light on the inner story. And it's not just my emotional life I'm sometimes reluctant to comment on, but other personal details of a physical or mental or spiritual sort. However there inevitably comes a time when truth overrides tact, and such a moment is now... Recently I have done a lot of walking and dancing: my trousers are made of a rough fabric. Therefore I am presently suffering from massively chafed bollocks. Today's routine, and perhaps tomorrow's, will be partly determined by techniques to ease the aforementioned chafing, walking with a wide legged gait, primarily.

Elsewhere it has been suggested that my bollocks are made of iron.

Monday, August 13, 2007


The Shakes All Over Me...

There was an earthquake in Spain yesterday morning, only a small one, 5.1 on the Richter scale, but it shook me awake. The epicentre was south of Madrid and damage seems to have been minimal. However, I'm not used to earthquakes and found the whole thing rather unreal... I was still groggy from the night before, which didn't help me to understand what was going on. For a moment I thought I was being aggressively roused from sleep by an invisible man!

Good things and bad things have happened to me recently. I'm on an emotional rollercoaster but that's nothing unusual for me, I guess.
So I'll mention only the good things...

Madrid is a party city in party mood. The street parties are getting hotter and more vibrant. On Saturday night I wandered the streets of La Latina. There were many performers: a particularly skilful juggler delighted the crowd with an impressive display. Every street corner had a sound system. At 3am the centre of the city was packed with people.

There was live music too: I watched a very disorganised but very enjoyable band in a street so narrow there was almost no room for the audience! In the middle of the set, two African guys joined the band and launched into a very funky pulsating song and suddenly the crowd was dancing and me with them. Throughout most of my life I have been too self conscious to enjoy myself in public in the way I would like, but something in the music that night loosened my restraint and I felt much better for it. One of the things I like about Spain is the way that people are less judgmental than in Britain. Here, if you want to demonstrate your exuberance, nobody cares if you look slightly ridiculous. I feel freer here and want to dance more. The fiestas culminate on Wednesday night with the biggest party of all. I can't wait!

Friday, August 10, 2007


Fiesta Time!

I finally got hold of the Spanish version of my Infamy book. It looks great! The strange cover featuring lots and lots of gnomes marching out of a house has grown on me... and it seems the translator has done an excellent job, remaining undaunted by my word games, even using endnotes to explain the Wenglish phrases in my 'Ratón de la Esquina Rosada' story. I'm pleased, of course. Walking into FNAC in the heart of town just to look at copies of my book on the shelves was a self-indulgent pleasure I don't feel too guilty about, but when I returned the following day all the copies were gone. Either the book is selling well or they have already been withdrawn and pulped! I'll assume the former, as I'm always an optimist!

Three years ago, the first time I came to Madrid, I was told by my madrileña friend Nuria that certain things were compulsory before I left:
(1) Tying a white ribbon on one of the trees in the Parque del Retiro in order to be granted a wish,
(2) trying a pack of pipas or quicos from one of the chiringitos,
(3) Tossing a coin to La Cibeles,
(4) Finding a GANGA in el Rastro,
(5) Admiring some live performance en La Plaza Mayor,
(6) Visiting Goya or Velazques in the Prado, and Picasso and Miro in the Reina Sofía.

This is my third visit to Madrid and number 6 on that list is the only one I've ticked off so far. There's a slight possibility my friend Hannah might be coming to visit me later this month, in which case I'll make sure we do the other 5 things. In the meantime I'll be enjoying the street parties, as it is almost fiesta time! There has been some dispute about the actual location of these fiestas, but I'm pretty sure the first set are in Lavapies and the second set in La Paloma. With luck there will be traditional gatos there, not real cats but men and women dressed in old fashioned costumes, with guitars...

We had thunderstorms a few nights ago -- with hot rain!

Sunday, August 05, 2007


Lazy in Madrid

After I left Orgiva I went to Granada, one of the most beautiful cities in Spain, just for one night. The temperature reached a high of 44 degrees celsius in the middle of the afternoon, slightly too hot even for my tastes! I went to look at the Alhambra, naturally, but I took it fairly easy. The last time I was here was three years ago when I came with my former girlfriend, Catherine, who had been a student in the local university in the 1990s. I have mixed feelings about Granada because of this association with her. My relationship with Catherine was volatile to say the least! But the time we spent in Granada was rather excellent, I have to admit, and there was an incident with one hundred cherries that I’ll probably never forget…

The following morning I caught a long distance bus to Madrid. We stopped for a break somewhere in La Mancha and the heat was astounding – there was a strong breeze but it was a hot wind. Now I know what a loaf feels like in a fan assisted oven! I rose to the occasion. Madrid was cooler, only 38 degrees or so. I turned up at the apartment of my friend Steve and flopped on the sofa. Something in my body and mind switched off at that point and I’ve done almost nothing since then. Tomorrow I need to go back to doing things! Actually that isn’t entirely true: on Friday night I went to a street party somewhere in the centre of town, meeting up with Frank, a German translator I first met here in 2005. We drank too much beer.

After a week of walking in the mountains I looked quite rough. I cleaned up somewhat in Madrid and no longer look like the person in this photo!

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