Monday, November 28, 2005

Chasing snow

On Sunday afternoon, I tried to find some quickly accessible snow for Bondi to frolic in – not wanting to stray too far from the city while I awaited delivery of a new spare tyre. I drove up towards Monte Igeldo, but instead of making the final turn to the summit, followed a narrow road along a ridge for about 15-20km. I had the Atlantic on one side, and views of snow across the valleys most of the way. Looking toward one mountain, swathed in a funnel of cloud, it seemed to be a brazier of burning ice, generating jets of snowy flame. Posted by Picasa

Tapas in the Old Quarter

In the old quarter, I stopped for some vino tinto* (red wine) and tapas at Bar Etxaniz. Almost every other Euskera word (at least on signs) seems to have a 'tx' (pronounced ‘ch’). Bondi attracted the usual crowd of admirers, but with his unwavering attention to the food in my hand, he barely seemed to notice.

* … or for another eager Spanish student ordering at the bar: vino tonto (stupid wine) Posted by Picasa

Wave watching

It started getting much colder on Friday, with a surprise sleeting in the evening while I was on the AutoBia*. I found I had to start wearing glasses again in class, ‘fortunately’ having an old pair of reading glasses with me. It’s 8 years since I had my eyes lasered, but it seems that my astigmatism is creeping back. It returned 6 months after the initial LASIK (but myopia was held at bay), and I had them redone in 1998. It seems that my eyes are resisting any make-over.

* ‘v’ is pronounced ‘b’ in Spanish, and I have seen signs for both AutoVia and AutoBia. It’s possible that the latter is a Euskera (Basque) transliteration. In this semi-autonomous part of Spain – País Vasco (Basque Country, note the B/V thing again) – signs are sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in Euskera, and sometimes rendered together (as you find for Welsh/English in Wales). I’ve often seen the Spanish terms obliterated on the dual signs. Either way, it’s confusing for the innocent tourist, who is not sure if they’re encountering a new place, or a Euskera traffic instruction. In San Sebastián (aka Donostia), the maps are in Spanish but the street names may only be in Euskera. This compounds the problem of Spanish city street names only being placed on small placards on buildings, so it’s very hard to navigate from a car.

Saturday’s weather was not promising at first, but began to clear and brighten as we walked into town and towards the water. From the aquarium, near the foot of Monte Urgull, I could see a large swell rolling into La Concha, and further on, as the bay met the Atlantic, a small crowd had gathered to watch the sea battering the sea-wall. Frequently, some huge quantity of water would spray upwards as much as 20m above the walkway. I stood near the railing for a short-time, but photographs at that range generally came out as a wall of white.

Retracing my steps, I could look across the wetsuit-clad surfers at La Concha and see snow on the mountains to the west: the first snow I’ve seen since leaving the Pacific Northwet, two and half years ago. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Seis meses

Today marks 6 months since we left Australia on this adventure. I hope that a few of you down under are still keeping the light on. Posted by Picasa

Imperativo Afirmativo

One of this week's classroom exercises was to come up with a fantastic(ally dumb) invention, and write out instructions for its use, thus illustrating usage of the imperativoi afirmativo. Attached is my invention ( obviously just a button ) to get your car to go off and park itself somewhere. My Spanish skills may have finally surpassed my drawing skills. The right hand looks disturbingly like a duck's head for some reason, but it's too late to do anything as the picture is now stuck to the classroom wall for all eternity, just along from the job advertisement for a sex worker (from another class!). Posted by Picasa


After Getaria, we returned to the highway so that I could look around Bilbao some more. Unfortunately I suffered a blowout on the freeway, and had to pull over onto the (rather wind- and truck- swept) shoulder. I had jacked up the car when a highway patrol officer stopped to help. He wasn't able to loosen the wheel nuts and drove off to get further assistance. I had a go, and quickly loosened them, replaced the tyre and after waiting a short time for his return, decided it was safer to continue the journey.

By the time we reached Bilbao, it was starting to get quite chilly, so we were left with a quick spin around the city centre. El Corté Ingles was starting to put up seasonal decorations, but Bondi was more interested in fueling is thirst from a fountain near one of Norman Foster´s subway entrances - or "fosteritos", rising like the chrysalis of a giant sandworm from out of the pavement. Posted by Picasa


On Wednesday afternoon, I drove west from San Sebastián, avoiding the highway. One of the seaside towns I stopped at - Getaria - had a striking combination of headland, port-marina and beaches overlooked by a dense pile of buildings connected by a maze of stairs. The location brought to mind something that Hergé might have used in a Tintin story. The town seemed to be sprucing itself up for festivities or longer term tourism. Certainly, if this town were in (say) England, then it would be crawling with tourists. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Monte Igeldo

Today’s lessons were mostly about the verbs SER and ESTAR which both mean “to be”. In one lesson we used the context of a Spanish soap-opera “Betty is ugly” (trust me) to explore the different usages; and in my private lesson, I was reduced to a giggling fit playing 20 Questions and I Spy. Both are much easier than contemplating any more personal excavation of “to be”. Sigh.

After school, I headed for San Sebastian’s remaining “high point”: Monte Igeldo, standing taller than Monte Urgull on the western side of La Concha. Topped by an undistinguished hotel and amusement park, the views are really quite spectacular. We rode a funicular railcar up the hill: Bondi and I being the only passengers. At the top, with not more than a half dozen people floating past the closed thrill rides, I’m faced with the most terrifying prospect of all: no coffee is available anywhere up here this afternoon. Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 21, 2005

Seen and noted

* Tintin in Tibet, a Young Vic production, starts at the Barbican in London, Dec 14.
* Sir Ian McKellen (undoubtedly as the Widow Twanky) in Aladdin at the Old Vic, 7 Dec – 22 Jan
* From a bio of the late, great Dave Allen, comes the story of young comedian floundering at the Edinburgh Festival who asked a member of the audience his name. “Dave Allen” came the reply. The comic blundered on: “So, Dave, what do you do?” There was a pause. “I’m a comedian. What do you do?”
* Dorothy Parker: “If you can’t think of anything nice to say, come sit right here by me.”

 Posted by Picasa


Ithaca (C.P. Cavafy, 1911)

As you set out for Ithaca
hope that your journey is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.

Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - do not be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare sensation
touches your spirit and your body.

Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon - you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope that your journey is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbours seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind -
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and learn again from those who know.

Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so that you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.



The rest of Saturday and Sunday were “outdoors busy”. Walking around Pasajes – we returned on Sunday afternoon, and walked through the Basque pueblo of San Isobel, out to the mouth of the strait (on the Bay of Biscay / Atlantic). Bondi swam in the harbour both days. Shoals of large black fish Saturday afternoon, we walked up Mount Urgull, standing at the eastern side of the entrance to the bay of La Concha in San Sebastian. Sunday morning saw us visiting Hondarribia, on the sea, abutting the French border. We listened to some Czechoslovak buskers for a while, then headed for the lighthouse at Cabo de Higer, which probably marks Spain’s furthest extremity on the Atlantic coast. From there we could look up the French coast to Biarritz and beyond. After lunch, we drove back via a mountain ridge with spectacular views across the valley cradling the easternmost parts of this province, and along the coast in both directions. Near the church at Guadalupe, I was surprised to hear my name being called, and then found that Dadi, my Spanish conversation teacher, had spotted me (or guess who) from the car. A little later, at the lookout from Mount Jaizkibeli (545m, or 130 BHU*s in the old measurements), where cattle and brumbies grazed together, I could see peaks up to 50km away.

Bondi seems to have really enjoyed these two days. Sometimes we run along together, and he turns, looking up at me with a “I’m glad we’re doing this” smile.

* Bloody High Ups Posted by Picasa

Pasajes / San Pedro

20051119 - 1 San Pedro (1) 20051120 - 4 Pasajes (1)
San Sebastian has been warmly, handsomely, autumnal this weekend. On Saturday morning we drove to the nearby port of Pasajes (Pasaia), or more precisely the western side, known as San Pedro. Skirting the edge of the working port, we set down amongst a cluster of recreational fishers and old men engaged in some elaborate story telling. Across the water – only a few hundred metres, but a 20 minute drive around the port - dozens of Basque chalets line up, not pretty, but fiercely picturesque. Walking sea-ward, we come to a pleasant walkway, Paseo Punta Cruces, but the terrain of this narrow strait seems to transport me to another place (a windswept Aegean island?) and time (the 1950s, for some reason). I have a strange feeling, like I have only this day begun my travels.
20051120 - 4 Pasajes (3)  20051120 - 4 Pasajes (2)
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In recent days I’ve had many old memories bubbling up, many more than usual, but all seem to be from the time I was between 4 and 8. Some are mainly sensory, a quality of light, colour combinations; others are flashes of events, which may or may not coalesce into a ‘definite’ memory. I suppose that is the time at which I was becoming conscious of the scope of the world, and I feel great longings for that time – but not to be that age again – more to be of the age, and understand what it was to be full of and engaged in that time. There’s a different quality to my subsequent memories, and feel like I’m building a bridge backwards in time, perhaps to find another path that would have continued from that era.
20051120 - 4 Pasajes (9)  20051120 - 4 Pasajes (12)
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20051120 - 4 Pasajes (21)  20051120 - 4 Pasajes (15)
Driving map

Friday, November 18, 2005

Convidando esta la noche

I heard the last track of the New World Symphonies album last night. I recognised the piece Convidando esta la noche was the music played during the opening of the concert spectacular celebrating the 250th anniversary of the Salamanca Plaza Mayor, which I wrote about earlier. I have about a dozen short video sequences of that event, which appears not to have any televised news coverage, and many more photos than I published in the blog.

It was written by Juan García de Zéspedes (1619-1678), so predates the Plaza by about a century. The album sleeve notes say it "features dance patterns of African origin in the form of the guaracha, a dance still popular in Cuba. The synthesis of the sensuous, homophonic, ‘European’ sections and the exuberant cross-rhythm of the dance verses is particularly effective. " The Choral Wiki has sheet music , and a short sample of another recording, by SAVAE. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 17, 2005

La Concha at night

It's still pissing down in San Sebastian. Finished Coe's The Closed Circle this morning - nearly as satisfying as its prequel, and definitely as much of a page-turner.

Cheered up by delivery of 4 new Hyperion CDs: Marc-Andre Hamelin's disc of Schumann piano works, and disc of piano concerti by Rubinstein & Scharwenka. Some little known violin concerti by Coleridge-Taylor & Somervell, and another fantastic disk of baroque music from Latin America: New World Symphonies.

I need to work out a plan for December-January: will spend some time in UK re-learning English and applying for a longstay French visa (which takes months!). Would like to spend more time in Edinburgh and also revisit Wales for more family tree research. Bondi will need to see vets for maintenance and to keep current with rabies shots. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A wind strong enough to blow your clocks off. Posted by Picasa

Multiple reflections of us in the sea-facing windows of the Kursaal Auditorio. Check the water crashing over the river walls. Posted by Picasa

Rough surf near the river mouth. A new Australian guy in my class was among many snapping their boards around here on Saturday. Posted by Picasa

The dog that ate San Sebastian

 Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 14, 2005

First weekend in San Sebastian

I’m still rather put off by the way business is done in Spain. The flat that I’ve rented is clearly ill-suited for the casual tenant (no microwave, kettle or blankets; and a weird collection of kitchen utensils, including a bunch of teaspoons that seem to have been operated on by Uri Geller, and are no longer up to the stresses of stirring a cup of tea), Solved the blanket issue for now, by layering my unzipped sleeping bag between two thin bed covers, but missed a day of classes due to cold from one freezing night.

Shades of UK credit card restrictions: local branch of French department store FNAC won’t accept non-Spanish ID such as my driver’s license, as photo ID for credit card usage.

The weather has been highly variable this week. Wednesday wind gusts en route to school were enough to blow a new umbrella into a twisted mess of wire and fabric. Thursday looked fabulous (from my blanket-free bed, see above), and then Friday afternoon was pleasant enough to take Bondi down to La Concha beach. He’s become a whole new dog here, much happier, and definitely more playful, perhaps due to our new less-confined living quarters.

The constant Seattle-like drizzle has a Euskara (the Basque language) name, txirimiri exemplifying their love of onomatopoeic and jokey words. Similarly Kukuxumusu "the kiss of the flea", a Pamplona-based clothing company with a hilarious range of clever Far-Side-ish cartoons. One of my new classmates, an Israeli-American chef, worked for a spell in Seattle, and is not too impressed by the possibility of similar winter weather here.

Strolled around the Old Quarter on Friday evening. Bondi drew a crowd outside one bar, with his “little match girl” begging routine, while I supped on tortillas and tinto. Since returning to the north of Spain, I have frequently been asked if I’m on mescaline … or at least it sounded like that, until I worked out that I’m being asked if Bondi is a mezcla (mix / mongrel; or as we say in Australia, a bitzer: bits o’ this and bits o’ that).

That morning (Saturday), we drove down to the Gros neighbourhood, near the Playa de la Zurriola, the beach east of the river. A few surfers were braving the rough conditions, which saw large waves crashing up the river mouth and over the wall near the Kurzaal concert hall. I’m waiting for another sunny day to walk to the top of Mt Urgall, betwixt la Concha and the river, for a view over the city.

The weekend has been pretty relentlessly rainy, so aside from a few long city walks, have been concentrating on my homework, and finishing off Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. It’s a very well-timed work (or polemic), but even though written in the first person, I didn’t think it was very successful in pulling me into the narrator’s personal world. I definitely got the ‘larger’ world but was pulled along more by the turn of events than any close empathy with the protagonist.

Next off the shelf is Jonathan Coe’s The Closed Circle, sequel to The Rotters’ Club. I found it in the English lit section of FNAC which is much larger than any other domestic bookstores (not many of those of any size in San Sebastian) and thus not as confined to Dan Browniana and Harry Potter tomes.

Still very cautious crossing roads here. I’m used to American or Australian soccer mums in 4WDs looking the other way (or dialing in a third party on the cellphone) as they plough through a pedestrian crossing…but here… Here they are looking for the whites of your eyes, either before impact or later when scraping out their tyre tread.

Also having a bit of a DVD binge, catching up on a few unseen flicks (do they have a name for chick flicks here? chica plicas perhaps? pelicula = film) like Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Desayuno con Diamantes = Breakfast with Diamonds), Billy Elliot (Quiero Bailar = I Love to Dance), Will Smith’s Yo, Robot, and the very funny Shaun of the Dead (Zombies Party = Bernard’s Dinner). I saw that the local name of Rosemary’s Baby is Seed of the Devil, an immediate plot giveaway. I wonder if The Sixth Sense is called Bruce Willis is Dead Too! ? Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 10, 2005

San Sebastian

We're now more or less settled in San Sebastian, with a private apartment in the Amara area. No more home-cooked meals as with the Salamanca host family, but plenty of room to spread things out, and a "me"-sized bed. The apartment itself is in an undistinguished block, furnished a la Guernica with a violent clash of 70s-everything that the agent called "nicely decorated". It's also about as expensive as a much better equipped apartment in one of the central Parisian arondissements. San Sebastian / Pais Vasco is apparently one of the most expensive parts of Spain, and so many people live with their parents until they're 35 or so.

I have a 25 minute walk to school each morning, then a 90 minute grammar class. I'm mainly trying to wrap my head around usage of preterito indefinido and preterito imperfecto, plus trying to remember the actual verb forms for each. Then, there's a half-hour break to get coffee with class-mates at a local bar, before returning for our conversation class. Today we played charades, trying to guess the (Spanish) names of various famous films, which can be a little awkward when the translation is not literal e.g. Out of Africa becomes Memories of Africa.

Last night, Bondi & I had the opportunity to walk through more of the city. As it's getting darker sooner, we'll probably have to wait until the weekend for a proper look. Fortunately his leg has much improved with lare quantities of glucosamine/Chrondoitin supplements (seemingly unknown and unavailable in Spain). Unfortunately his skin condition is worsening/spreading, so I hope I can source medicated shampoo from somewhere soon.

Until then I may be at home watching the first 2 seasons of Newsradio on DVD, and pining for the remaining 3 seasons.

Absinthe with Cannabis anyone? Posted by Picasa

Kursaal Auditorium and Congress Center

According to Harvard U, the design is "two gigantic rocks stranded at the mouth of the river" Posted by Picasa