Covid BCN 01

Since the whole of Barcelona is going to be locked down for at least the next two weeks, I thought I might post a few excerpts from my diary, detailing the ongoing craziness. It will depend on interest (my own and others) as to whether this becomes a regular thing.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

The Cercle Artístic Sant Lluc has said it will close its doors from 16 March because of the Covid19 hysteria, so I need to take advantage of the days left to get some drawing in. I think the next few weeks are going to become crazy. The other day I did a big shop at BonÀrea, stocking up on jars of lentils, beans, pasta and other non-perishables as I suspect that this week people will start swamping the supermarkets, bulk-buying against the scare of a lockdown as part of anti-coronavirus measures. Being a trendy liberal Guardian reader, I’ve seen this is already happening in the UK and elsewhere (worldwide toilet paper shortage!), so forewarned is forearmed.

As my working life is pretty much a model of self-isolation anyway (working at home, not forming part of large groups), I think I’m unlikely to be stricken down any time soon. My friend Jordi, working in the hospital reception is totally frontline, so if it does enter our orbit, it may be from that direction. For people like us, young(ish) and fit, the symptoms are likely to be mild, so I’m not too concerned. It is interesting to watch the world’s population at work though – a fascinating study for a science fiction movie: so this is how the world really reacts to an alien invasion!

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Barcelona life has undergone radical changes yet little has changed for me personally. Last night the government closed all sports and entertainment centres, bars, restaurants and non-essential shops. Most businesses are now working from home – it is in this sense that little has changed for me. Though it is a bummer that I can no longer go to the pool. I’ll have to get my bike rideable in the next few days. Last night, we had an early beer at Saïd’s, went home for dinner, and then Jordi and Andreu came round to mine and we had beers on the balcony. In that time, the Catalan government issued a decree to close all the bars and restaurants.

Inauguration of Concòrdia’s Balcony Bar – only Jameson’s whiskey served in honour of my Irish grandpa
Inauguration of Concòrdia’s Balcony Bar – only Jameson’s whiskey served in honour of my Irish grandpa

So my larder is full, I have beers, gin and Irish whiskey in stock … Hence these days should be an intensive of writing and art … Let’s see.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

I tried to go for a final bike ride today down to the beach and the police turned me back at Plaça del Mar. From tomorrow everything will be in total lockdown. I have food stocked up for a month though apparently food shops will be open. We’ll see how much translation work comes in over this time.

Actually I quite like having the excuse to do nothing but sit at home and write or paint.

Banner for BCN Free ART 01: The Port and Barceloneta
Click here to purchase BCN Free ART 01: The Port and Barceloneta on Amazon.com

Nothing to Lose – Clare Lydon

dreaming of books 9

Rather than a full book review, in these posts, I simply jot down a few lines on books I’ve enjoyed.

Nothing to Lose by Clare Lydon

Nothing to Lose by Clare Lydon

While lesbian romance is not my usual fare, I am pleased I made an exception for this heart-warming novel. And this was the adjective that kept coming back to me as I read: heart-warming. It is a novel about all the best things in local communities; it celebrates the humanity, compassion and solidarity that are dredged up out of even the stoniest hearts when disaster strikes. Truly comfort food for the soul.

Scarlet (yes, after O’Hara), burnt once too often, has now closed her heart to love and chiselled herself a survival existence in a basement flat in a small town. But when the rain comes down and leaves her world underwater, finally the floodgates must be opened. She takes shelter with Joy, “local mayor and sunshine specialist”, who helps her see that life can indeed return after the deluge. As a gay man (for whom sex is the bit before you ask someone’s name), I found the age it took for these two to get together both excruciating and tantalising. However, when they finally do, not only are they consummating their relationship, but reaffirming their links to the family and friends around them. Their relationship becomes a celebration of community.

Spoiler: as it says on the tin, this is lesbian romance, so there are a couple of raunchy, blow-by-blow, no-holds-barred yet elegantly rendered, girl-on-girl action scenes which, had I been of the right sex and persuasion, I would have found incredibly hot. In the event, I was able to skip nimbly forward with my modesty intact, but if this what you came for, you will receive full satisfaction.

Above all, it is a tale of love between two strong and honest women, both very different yet who each have a lifetime of experience to offer the other and, together, two lifetimes to do it in. This book does what a romance is supposed to: it leaves you feeling fabulous!

Get it here.


Fresh Air and Empty Streets – Oliver Cable

dreaming of books 8

Rather than a full book review, in these posts, I simply jot down a few lines on books I’ve enjoyed.

Cover: Fresh Air and Empty Streets by Oliver Cable

Fresh Air and Empty Streets by Oliver Cable

Having once sat drinking under a full moon on Sacré-Cœur’s steps, I immediately identified with this gem of a first novel set in the Paris streets. It is a sensitive story about a young man, Felix, who comes to meet, challenge and discover the father, Alexander, he has never known. In doing so, he is forced to question some of his own most staunchly held beliefs.

If the first few chapters feel slightly tentative, it is almost as if the author is wrestling with what sort of book he has inside himself. Then father and son finally meet and, as they explore their budding relationship, the writing becomes more assured. At times the prose truly catches alight, flaming brightly in passages describing Paris’s live jazz scene and Alexander’s regular haunts. The writing works best when, rather than trying to comment on the city or its tourists, the author simply slows his heartbeat to listen to the dark river running through himself and annotates its sounds, more in the nature of a poet than a narrator. The prose is strongest when focussing on those first tentative steps in a relationship – between father and son, or between new lovers.

With so many novels being bashed out these days by writers aiming to publish a couple of kilos of pulp each and every business quarter, it is a relief to find a writer who cares about his craft, as Cable clearly does. I look forward to his next book.

Get it here.


After the Rising – Orna Ross

dreaming of books 7

Rather than a full book review, in these posts, I simply jot down a few lines on books I’ve enjoyed.

After the Rising by Orna Ross

After the Rising by Orna Ross

“If you have not seen the day of Revolution in a small town where all know all in the town and always have known all, you have seen nothing.” — Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Scribner Classics, 1996. p. 106.

Though partially of Irish stock, I confess to scant knowledge of the Emerald Isle’s history apart from the dates of the 1916 Easter Rising and the gaining of Independence in 1922. So Orna Ross’s After the Rising was a compelling introduction, not least because the beguiling lilt of her prose situates one sure-footedly in a deceptively sleepy burg beyond the Irish Sea. Using various first-person narrative voices in the form of letters and diaries, the novel moves between the events of 1922, the 60s and 70s when the predominant narrator is at school and university, and 1995, when she returns to her village for her mother’s funeral and to confront the family’s history, rent by national politics and local rancour. Such a weaving back and forth between periods allows for an overview of the novel’s historical reach, reminding readers that today’s fervent youth will be but a dusty phrase in tomorrow’s history books.

If I was surprised to find little overt description of the divide between Catholics and Protestants, which I had always thought central to Ireland’s history, this is perhaps more of a comment on my ignorance about the conflict. Sectarian undertones are clearly present, but Ross prefers to filter the narrative through the gossip, grudges and friendships of the fictitious village of Mucknamore, where tribal identities and ingrained prejudices score more deeply into villagers’ lives than religion does. Generational hatreds feel bitterly yet bewildering personal as they are wont to become in small communities. In this, both Ross and Hemingway are on the nail.

Most importantly, this is herstory, the history of the land told through the voices of its women. As such it comes closer to the grain of what the struggle was all about. While all conflicts have their economic and political elements, I believe they tend fundamentally to be about cultural identity (though Marx might disagree): the ‘us’ and the ‘other’. The impression I got was that while the fight for a free Ireland was paramount, cultural identity politics were also of prime importance in deciding what flavour of an independent Eire was sought. The denouement happily expresses a loosening of some of these most fiercely held views, enabling the hope for a more tolerant future to creep in.

After the Rising is part of Ross’s Irish Trilogy, of which the next book, Before the Fall, will soon be completed by In the Hour.

Read more here.


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Nick Andrew Landscape Paintings – http://wp.me/p3Ca1O-58g


A long but excellent essay. Introduced me to Langston Hughes’ formidable poem

http://samadlerbell.com/the-uses-of-patriotism/


The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt

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Rather than a full book review, in these posts, I simply jot down a few lines on books I’ve enjoyed.

Cover of The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

A brilliant read. The two main characters, brothers and hired assassins, are grudgingly revealed through the narrator’s voice, and deWitt is ruthlessly Spartan in his prose. With the feel of a literary road movie, we are moved through a series of alien worlds at the pace of a dawdling nag. We never wholly come to know these rough environments, and they remain strange, as the protagonists are estranged from polite society. Yet through their mystery, somehow they beautifully and increasingly reveal the characters’ tenderness and humanity. This book promised much, and for me it truly delivered, never relying on the stereotypical tropes you might expect of the Western genre it moves within.

Available from: Amazon


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