Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Spain 2: Barcelona

It’s true that Barcelona never sleeps. It positively throbs. We stayed in a beautifully central apartment within walking distance of many of the Gaudi buildings and a couple of fabulous little squares, including one with a towering clock in the middle with a tolling bell and the most amazing ice cream shop on its corner. It had Nutella ice cream that tasted as if it had dropped directly from heaven into the old, glass-fronted, wooden-panelled shop with a beautiful, smiley boy behind the counter. Then the Poppy ice cream, like lying in a field of poppies with a Spring sun shining on your face. Sublime.

I’m the first to admit I’m a small town girl so I was initially a little intimidated by the city’s hum, but then we walked through its ancient narrow streets, exploring the back alleys that looked like scenes out of a gothic movie, washing hanging above, little balconies with potplants on them, ancient walls and new graffiti, and I got into the rhythm.

We spent a lot of time just wandering about the back streets, behind the tourist-tat-filled ones and sitting at street cafes, drinking ice cold beer, eating tapas, watching people. One day we wound our way through a narrow alley toward Barcelona Cathedral, confused by the ever-loudening rock music. Popping into the sunshine of the cathedral square, we were met by a stage made of a double-decker bus on which a Spanish rock band were rocking to a large audience of Spanish youths. To the left, some fabulous wall art, to the right, the cathedral herself – beautiful, ancient, intricate.

We stayed and rocked for a bit and then went into the cathedral, her thick stone walls blocking out the noise, her air thick with hundreds of year’s of people’s prayers. I’m not particularly religious but here, in this cavernous building with its many beautifully decorated, gold-bedecked little chapels, I was stunned into silence. I felt like the very air I was breathing contained so many hopes and dreams, mine included. Mainly the shattered ones, although, I’m sure the fulfilled ones were there. I was overcome by sadness and I cried, big, fat tears, the kind that drip off your face and land in your lap, for all the lost souls.

I lit candles in the courtyard outside with the pretty geese and I watched their flames flicker, little lights, symbols of warmth and love and hope and I breathed again, the warm air of Barcelona. Afterwards, anyone watching would've seen three girls disappearing down the side street to find the hidden coffee shop in which to drink carajillos, write postcards and watch life pass us by.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A visit to the gallery: Tretchikoff

I’ve always liked Tretchikoff’s work, so when I saw that they were showing the first retrospective exhibition of his work at The National Gallery, I was very pleased. H, C, and I traipsed off there on Saturday morning, wrapped warmly against the icy Winter’s day.

I love The National Gallery. It sits in The Company Gardens looking like a beautifully iced simple wedding cake, the old kind, back when they were always a square fruit cake with white icing over and you slept with a squashed slice under your pillow, to dream of your future husband. It looks out over the ponds of the gardens toward Signal Hill and inside it is still and the air is thick with art. It always makes me want to sing out loud.

The gallery types, especially, make me want to sing loudly. You know the ones – they all look terribly intellectual and have scarves wrapped artistically around their necks and they say things like “Ah yes, this was in his flower phase, when he was depicting the intricacies of the social system of the time, using a floral motif, ” where I say “Ooo, look at those pretty flowers he painted!”

I did, in fact, say a lot of that, because I especially liked his big, colourful, highly-textured flower paintings. His iconic Chinese Girl is there too, and a whole lot of others. I hadn’t realised how prolific he was, and how wide a range he had – from still-life to nudes to portraits to animals (which I didn’t like) to some haunting and disturbing war images, he did all sorts.

It’s always nice, though, to go to an exhibition. To see something creative, to admire a great man’s talent, to be allowed to look through somebody else’s eyes, just for a little bit, and to wonder what they were thinking and know that what you’re thinking they were thinking is probably a thousand miles away from what they really were thinking at the time.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Joan Rivers: A piece of work

I went to the documentary festival on Friday evening and watched Joan Rivers: A piece of work. When we went into the dark cinema, I knew very little about her, other than that she was famous for two things: being funny and being plastic-surgeried to the hilt. After leaving, I had those two things confirmed and had learnt a whole lot more.

She’s 75-years old and looks about 55-years old, but in a stretched and strained, far-too-much make-up, unnatural kind of way. Don’t get me wrong, she’s an attractive woman, but in a desperately clinging to youth manner, something I have never found graceful. When the credits roll at the end there’s a scene where there are two of her and one moves suddenly – it’s her. The other is her wax double at Madame Taussads (sp?). It provides the perfect analogy for her plastic surgery – she looks waxy.

The thing that struck me most, though, was her battle for perfection, her insatiable desire for recognition, not as a comedienne, but as an actress. She will never be satisfied with how well she’s done and she is so terribly sad for it. It’s also made perfectly clear that she’s lost friends because of it. Underneath her side-splitting funniness (and she is extremely funny), clear as day, is a creature so vulnerable, so terribly tragic that I longed to hug her and say: “It’s okay, relax, you’ve done well.” I think I'm going to write her a letter to say just that, even though I'm sure she hears it from far more important people than me, all the time.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Lift music

I'd tag her at about 49-years old, give-or-take five years. Her hair is dyed blonde, cut well and looks like it took a good amount of time earlier in the evening to get it to its current state - long, smooth and loose. She wears an unsuitably-tight-for-her-age white lace top. Underneath it she either has a boob job or a very good push-up bra, which we can clearly see. A little off-putting, really.

She breezed in as if she owned the restaurant, with a strangely-shaped large black suitcase that looked like something a mafioso might carry. She had various other boxes and a suitcase with her, all of which she placed next to us in the space left there after she ordered the waiter to remove the table and chairs. Right. Next. To. Us. Close enough for me to look at her perfect make-up, lots of it.

Collecting a bar stool from the bar, she placed it in the spot next to us too, and then led a power cord under our table and plugged in a small computer which she placed on a small table that she'd found somewhere while I wasn't looking. Her white lace top and dyed-blonde hair glowed in the blue light from the screen.

We were finishing up our food, chatting voraciously about books. It was book club, after all, a haphazardly put-together meeting of The Eager Beaver's Reading Circle because one of our circle, our host for last night, had to rush away to see her sick mother-in-law. We'd decided not to just cancel, but instead to meet at a restaurant, just to chat, because we can.

At this point the lady opened her mafioso suitcase and I wondered whether I should duck under the table, seeing the headlines in my head: "Eager Beaver's Reading Circle members injured in bizarre mafioso shootout at local eatery." Luckily, my sense came to me before I made a total fool of myself, as she pulled out a large, very shiny, saxophone.

She then began to play, using her computer to make background beats, what I can only refer to as Kenny G-esque lift music. Basically, my worst musical genre. Luckily, we were done with dinner, so could pay the bill and leave hurriedly, the dulcet sounds of the saxophone haunting us all the way into the parking lot.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Not another one

I’ve known her for years although, in the past four or so, I have seen her less and less. She moved back home to the small town where people know her and knew her parents and their parents before them. I was glad for her, she seemed lonely here and unsafe in the house she shared with her sister and son and she was always ill.

She called me two weeks ago, when I’d just got back from Spain and was sitting waiting for a friend at a restaurant. It was that dreaded, heart-sinking, scream-inducing phone call. The one where the person on the other side says: “I have cancer.” And you want to cancel the call and throw your phone into the pond next to you in which two goldfish swim, not noticing a thing, in the hope that, by throwing it there the call won’t have happened and it won’t be true.

Yesterday afternoon she popped in to visit with her son who used to be a little boy and is now a grown man. She looked tiny and fragile, despite being wrapped up in layers of clothing. Always prone to being a little morbid previously, she was surprisingly upbeat, if pale and wide-eyed.

At Real Work yesterday I had a discussion with a doctor who had been soothing another collegue whose mother has brain cancer (monstrous thing is everywhere). He said something I hadn’t thought of before: “We all die,” he said (I had thought of that, not the next bit), “and, in some ways, it’s a better option to be given a time frame. It gives you time to tie up loose ends, to say goodbye, to tell people you love them.”

A difficult concept to grasp. I have never been okay with the thought of death. Of anyone else dear to me’s death, that is, not mine. Mine, I’m fine with. Maybe that makes me intrinsically selfish?

I didn’t ask her what the prognosis is. She’s being given some treatment, and I hope it works but, mostly, I hope that in this whole process she doesn’t feel too sore or yukky and that she will be loved as she should be, to make it all as okay as it can possibly be.

These things remind one to hug the people you love closer, to be nicer, gentler, kinder. Time is limited, always.

This cancer thing is a bitch.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Alone time

I sat alone. Luxuriously alone. Well, really, I wasn't alone. Who is, in The City Beneath the Mountain? But I was alone in a generic coffee shop, at my own table, frequented only by a smiley waitress asking me if I wanted things. Being on my own is something that doesn't happen often.

I had my book with me and I delighted in spreading my (rather small) handbag over the whole table, making sure anyone who looked at me knew I was not expecting anyone else. I was just waiting for a friend who would not be joining me, but rather just picking me up. Then we were going shopping. In the meantime, though, I was fabulously alone.

To celebrate, I ordered a glass of wine. And I drank it, all alone, in-between reading my book and just sitting. Everyone around me was drinking coffee, it being a coffee shop, so I felt especially decadent. They were also all eating American-sized slices of cake and muffins that were aimed at Gulliver as I, again, questioned why such huge food is necessary... It's SO wasteful, nobody ever finishes those slices.

I was disappointed that I hadn't arrived half an hour earlier, as the table behind me contained two ladies who could've been in their 40's, 50's or 60's, maybe even 70's. It was really hard to tell because their skins were stretched and tucked, their lips plumped. They were plastic. It's beside the point, though, because unfortunately they were paying their bill, after what sounded like a long session.

"And then, my latest, was such a wonderful man. We were so in love and filled with passion, but after two months I realised he was just using me, so I kicked him out." She'd obviously just regaled her entire romantic history. And I missed it! But still, I was luxuriously alone, with my glass of wine and my book. Glorious.

I watched a woman interview a young girl in the corner, her hands twitching and wriggling beneath the table, which I could see from my vantage point. It was a job for a PA to a chartered account, one that is "well-known in Cape Town" and needs discretion. I'd have loved to know the back story to that too. Maybe he chartered accounts dodgy strip bars in the seedy parts of town.

Then C arrived and we did adminny things like paying bills and shopping for soap. I'm a sucker for a bargain and found an enormous bottle of the 2-in-1 shampoo I used in Spain, so bought it. It contains 150 washes, according to its label, so I hope I didn't love it so much in Spain because I had my Spain bliss on. Otherwise it's going to be a long hairwashing year!

Even the admin seemed fine in the afterglow of an hour with just me. That sounds terribly vain but is not meant in that vein. Snigger.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Glad-wrapped and pizza-ed

There was a sweet, young couple at the table in the corner. It was the most dimly-lit space in the otherwise quite-bright-for-a-restaurant pizzeria. He looked like the stereotypical computer-geek from teen Hollywood movies, she was young and pretty. They shared a chocolate brownie for pudding and left holding hands.

I needed to go to the restaurant, one I’ve driven past on my way home from work for nearly 14 years but never been in. I had a voucher you see, that needed using and a disposition that’d make a bipolar sufferer off their meds look like a kitten. That’s why I needed it. The cling wrap is too tight, I needed out. G, too, was wound tight as elastic inside a golf ball. An old family-friendly place that smelt like pizza ovens was a good choice. It catapulted me back to a childhood place and wrapped me in its warm flour-dusted embrace.

All around us were families, each seemed to me to have an anomaly of some sort. The family with grown-up children next to us had a mother who is obviously going through chemo, her hair almost gone. They were talking and laughing and shared a salad to start. When their pizzas arrived the table was suddenly too small as they shared those too.

Next to them, another family – mom, dad, teenage daughter and boyfriend and much younger, very pretty blonde princess daughter in a spangley outfit more suited to a burlesque club. The parents were huge, their children tiny. They, too, were deeply engaged in conversation and handed phones around to show photos, Facebook statuses, heaven-knows-what. The princess threw her head to the table when they didn’t listen to her story.

Behind us two fresh young boys (oh, I sound old… they were in their early 20’s) sat with an older wealthy-looking lady, possibly one of their mother’s, talking passionately about music. We decided they were hoping she’d fund their band. They reminded me of various boys I went out with in my university days.

There was an old-fashioned carpet on the floor in deep, rich colours, highly patterned. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much red wine, how many pizza crumbs and olive bits and parmesan sprinklings were crunched into those patterns. How many family dramas, delighted celebrations, declarations of love and declarations of unlove... just stories of people's lives does that carpet have woven into it? We drank wine, ate pizza, spoke of plans to see things, get out of the city, breathe. The feeling of suffocation is just there making us both tetchy and short-tempered and that makes me anxious, a gnawing in my stomach that something in my life needs to break open.

I’ll plan it slowly though, tentatively. Start with a night, look to see not just to look, breathe it in, smell the smells, feel the wind, writewritewrite. Turn it into something that’ll keep me. Something that’ll keep me happily, most importantly.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cotton wool mist

It wasn't that misty when I drove up to Real Work today. It was just the kind of misty that makes you feel like you didn't wash the sleepy dust out of your eyes properly. In Winter it's still dark when I take the metal-box-full-of-people-pretending-not-to-know-each-other to my top floor perch in The Ivory Tower at Real Work.

I'm not a fan of Winter, as you know, but I do like watching the sun rise out of my big windows that look all the way to the mountains on the other side, all alone with only my music, or silence, before the others arrive squwaking and preening. I'm spoilt, I know. In Winter, dawn often dresses herself in the oranges and pinks of a child's box of crayons. She throws colours on the clouds in great swarthes (sp?). Very pretty indeed.

This morning, though, the sleepy dust mist had an orgy while I caught the metal box up from ground floor to my high-up perch and, by the time I'd reached my big window, had reproduced and filled up outside completely. It was like being in a jar packed in cotton wool. It licked damply at the window and I changed that simile in my head. I was a little pea, left to germinate between two soggy bits of cotton wool, like we did when we were children, marvelling at the wonder of plants growing.

That sense of marvel, that hope to grow into something delightful, I think I'll keep that with me for the week.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

An open letter to Ronald McDonald

During a visit to Stalkbook yesterday to play Scrabble and voyeuristically mess around, I came across an ad that made me need to write another letter:

Dear Ronald (I hope you don't mind me calling you by your first name - you seem like the kind of clown guy who wouldn't mind),

I play Scrabble on Facebook. I love it. It supplies me with a wholesome activity to break up the tedium of my day. You should try it. If you make friends with me on Facebook, we could play a game together. There's something about words that makes me all mushy inside. But, let me not stray from the point. You're a busy clownguy, and I'm sure you don't have time to hear about my love affair with words. Do think about trying though, won't you? It's a wonderful stress-reliever.

Back to the point. While playing my beloved Scrabble my eye kept getting distracted by an ad for a competition to win a year's worth of McDonald's Breakfasts. Seriously. You probably know about it. It was amongst those other ads, the ones that advertise jobs from home that earn R40 000/month and 30kg weight loss in 2.5 days. You know the ones? The ones that surely only people whose brains have been turned to mush by eating too much junk food could believe.

Now I know that you are merely the head of a huge corporation with capitalist leanings, tending to focus more on the amount of money you can extricate from your adoring public by handing out 'free' plastic toys to fill our landfills and clog our drains with your nutritionally-questionable, ginormous, fast food, but surely even you can see the disadvantages of such a deal?

It can't possibly be healthy to eat McDonalds for breakfast every day. And who would want to? Oh, wait, maybe I'm alone in that thought. Forgive me, I'm medically-minded. Perhaps offering a bag of oranges a day for a year might be better? Or, if you really wish to please the tree-huggers (you do, don't you?), a bag of locally-sourced, seasonal fruit a day for a year.

Suffice to say, I probably won't be entering your competition. Please don't forget to join Scrabble so we can play a game, though. I might even allow our first board to be food-orientated if that'd entice you. I think a bit of word play is just what you need to save you from your corporate hell.

Much love,

Shiny x

Perhaps, this one, I should really send.

Oh, enough already

So there I was, whinging and whining and bemoaning my place in this unjust and nasty world we live in, when I looked out of my window and saw picture-book clouds (admittedly building up into a storm), that had turned bright pink in the glow of the sun setting over The City Beneath the Mountain. My heart scrunched at the beauty of it.

At the same time, I received a Real Work e-mail with photographs of a woman living in a faraway rural area with little access to anything, let alone medical help, who is having a nasty skin reaction to her medication. I cried. Not purely because it looked so sore and uncomfortable, but because of her eyes. They were dull. Not blank dull but the kind of dull that reflects a life of poverty, harshness and struggle.

I landed back to earth with a bump. How dare I be miserable in my kushy (sp?) job, a warm home with full cupboards to go home to, people who love me on the end of numerous telephones, all with their accounts paid? How dare I get cross because my personal space is forever invaded? Those people care for me, anger is not allowed.

So I cried, deep down crying, and pulled myself up by my bootstraps and made a vow with myself to spend more time finding nice things to do, for me and other people, and to spend less time navel-gazing in a quagmire of self-indulgent misery.

Forgive me for making you all (my two readers) have to be audience to it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Flitting fug

Somebody called me brave this morning. I stopped myself from screaming “No, I’m not”, throwing myself on the floor and wailing loudly only because he’s a kindly old man who I adore and would hate to make feel silly in any way. You see, I can feel my brave cloak slipping horribly and, when it slips, all manner of ghastly things might show that’ll make people run and scream even more than I felt like running and screaming this morning.

Yesterday I was fugged, today I’m flitting. Fuggedly flitting. From to-do-thing to to-do-thing, getting not one of them done. I have the concentration span of a flea on acid. Or maybe more a flea who’s just smoked the biggest spliff on earth. My senses seem dulled, yet my mind fires at a million firings a minute. I’m sure there’s a better word than ‘firings’ but I can’t get to it.

And through it all I’m struggling to keep the cloak closed because it’s cold out there and my exposed bits are shrivelling and shivering and crying to be looked after. I’m just not sure how to do the looking after right now, being flittingly fugged or fuggedly flitted.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The fug

I’m in a bit of a fug. Post-holiday blues, I’m sure. I don’t want to be getting up in the cold dark and plodding off to the same office each morning. I don’t want the minutiae of my life to take over my thoughts and fug me up. But they are. Minutiae are fugging me up.

In between, I had a lovely weekend with coffee with my old besties, then some admin to ward off too much guilt, a lovely welcome back visit to the market with a bowl of delicious chorizo goulash soup and a glass of bubbles, the perfect combination. Who would’ve thought? Then a rugby beer (again, who would’ve thought?) followed by a surprising birthday party.

It was surprising in that it was a party at which I knew a little of the people well, a couple of people a little bit, and the rest not at all. I’d been daunted by the thought of them, they’re the ‘cool crowd’. I now know how to get over that: place yourself at the bar. It also makes for a cheap night out, as everybody who buys a drink buys you one too. I knew about it on Sunday morning.

While propping up the bar though, I made some new, fun, interesting and, do remember, ‘cool’ friends. Maybe I’m in the In Crowd now? Nah, who’m I kidding? It turns out that some of them are, well, quite cool, and I often forget to put myself out there meeting new people, especially as winter spits her cold breath on us.

Despite the fun that was had, I am still fuggy. Very much so. I want to write fun, happy, stuff, especially that chronicalling our Spanish adventures before the memories start to get buried under those minutiae again. I just don’t seem to have the energy. I just feel sad.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Lucky Fish

While we were in Spain I left The House in the Middle of the Street with The Siamese Princess, Big-Boned BabyCat and The Big Black Dog in the capable hands of my friend, The Pond. When I landed in The City Beneath the Mountain after our trip to Spain I turned on my phone, as one does. There was a message from The Pond:

Hello, it’s me. Everything is fine at your house. Call me if you have any questions about the dog or cats. Or fish. Byeee.

Fish? I wondered if I’d heard right, having just flown and my ears being slightly blocked. I was sure I’d misheard, so left it at that, choosing to make numerous happy-I’m-home phonecalls all starting with the obligatory “Hola! Como estas?” that is necessary after a Spanish holiday.

On entering my kitchen I realised that my ears had not in fact been that blocked. There on the kitchen table in what I can only explain as an enormous champagne glass was a lone goldfish, swimming around and around, as goldfishes are meant to do.

We nodded (well, I nodded, he kind of waved a fin) in slightly embarassed acknowledgement of each other’s presence, not really knowing what to say, and I sidled off to wash airport off me, not seeing him again until the next morning.

In between time I called The Pond and exclaimed my horror of her not telling me the name of my houseguest, and therefore causing the embarrassed encounter.

His name is Lucky. I introduced myself at breakfast while he eyed my oatmeal porridge. The Pond says I may not give him any, no matter how much he looks at it. I enquired whether a boiled egg and toasty soldiers were a better option and she tutted and mumbled something about coming to collect him, possibly within minutes.

In the meantime, I’m to give him only three little flakey things each day. All I can say is that I’m glad I’m not a goldfish, even one called Lucky Fish.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Spain 1: Talking about a Revolution

There is 21% unemployment in Spain. It's hard to believe for someone like me, coming from a 'poor' Third World country. It's full of big buildings swamped in history, pretty, trimmed parks and public transport systems with undergrounds and busses. That work. No swerving taxi's full-to-overflowing, disregarding road rules and stopping mid-stream. The busses stop at appointed places, the Metro tells you how many seconds until the next train arrives. All things that, somehow, don't gel with unemployment.

But there you have it. 21%. And, when we arrived in Madrid, airport-dirty, plane-air-filled, slightly weary but thrilled by the feeling of being in Europe, we were surprised to find a little bunch of tents at the manicured park across from the station, banners announcing angry things in Spanish. We had heard about the revolution, of course, on the news, but weren't expecting to see it.

Two hours later we found ourselves at the Puerta del Sol, where, the previous weekend, the 15-M march through Madrid (which included some nasty incidents with police) had ended with a group setting up tents and camping, long-term. The day before we flew, apparently 160 000 people gathered there, under close police scrutiny. It was a Spain-wide protest against the political and financial state in Spain and Europe. Look at "2011 Spanish protests" on Wikipedia if you want the full story.

What we found was a Spanish square surrounded by beautiful, old buildings that had been solidly bedecked with protest posters, a fascinating contrast of old and new. I wondered how many protests those old buildings had looked over, what stories they could tell, what they thought of the large group of very ragamuffin-looking creatures camped out at their feet?

Because, essentially, it seemed, that here we had a bunch of hippies, each with a cause, ranging from animal rights to gay rights to refugee rights to what I think must've been marijuana-smoking rights by the looks of them., all camped out on the square. There was a lot of lying around going on. I'm sure it was just post-protest fatigue, as opposed to apathy...

Across the road the Spanish police camped out looking serious. G and I thought they looked just like policeman in the movies - all clean cut, dark and swarthy, with uniforms tight enough to show their pecs and Ray Bans to finish off the look.

Then, in Barcelona, we caught the Metro into where we needed to collect keys and came out of the mole-inspired underground, our eyes adjusting to the bright sunshine, into Placa Catalunya, where the Barcelona arm of the protest was happening. Here it seemed a little cleaner, more focussed. On day three in Barcelona we came across a march, streets closed, helicopters overhead, electricity in the air. And in Valencia too, the (even cleaner) Placa Adjuntement, covered with people, an incredible drumming group providing background noise. This was no small revolution.

I loved it. Not the apathy/layabout post-protest fatigue bit, but the combined human spirit bit. Because, between the dirty lying-about people there were highly spirited people fighting for things that many of us believe in, things we take for granted sometimes, Important Things. It's so very important to look up and take notice. And what a treat to witness something so big, something that's in Wikipedia, that'll probably be in history books!

So now I know what talking about a revolution sounds like (apologies Tracy Chapman - it's not so much like a whisper, more like a throbbing rhythm, an electrical pulse coursing through cities, a human stream of, urm, conciousness I guess. Ole!

*All Spain pics are courtesy of G, who took fabulous pics! This one is Peurta del Sol in Madrid.

Back from Spain

I'm back. I'd like to say that I'm oh-so-pleased to be home. I can't. Of course I'm pleased to have the comfort of my own bed, and a bathroom used only by me, and to see my friends and the animals and all that. But. It is officially winter in The City Beneath the Mountain, and you know how I feel about that.

Also, my head is filled with stories of Spain. I am going to attempt to write them all in the next couple of weeks - narrow streets, ancient buildings, history dripping off them all, a modern revolution taking place, Dali and Gaudi and beautiful, quirky, statues in Valencia, a French photo exhibition in Madrid, an incredible exhibition by an unknown-until-he-died American cardboard artist, street performers, musicians down below in the murky Metro with its tell-tale stench of, well, Metro, sweet orange juice, cold beer, hot caffe con leche, tapas, chorizo, jamon, the list goes on...

All in the hot, Spanish sun. Spain just has a frisson (not sure if that's the right word) of passion. It's in the air. The people don't seem friendly and then you're surprised by their smiles when they smile. They're openly affectionate. It was obviously Spring and love was in the air. And in all the parks, on street corners, in the bus... You get the picture.

It was wonderful. I'll be sprouting stories I hope. If I don't get drowned in the avalanche of admin and work that has met me. I need to keep reminding myself that the world is oh-so-much-bigger than this all.