I have two great regrets in my life. One is eating a chicken sandwich in Varanasi, shortly before flying to Kathmandu. This gave me the worst food poisoning I have ever experienced, nearly killed me, and meant that I missed a unique opportunity to visit Lhasa before it was turned into a Chinese Disneyland. The other regret involves three Inter-rail trips that I made in 1979, 1980 and 1981. They were extraordinarily rich in sights and experiences. Stupidly, though, I did not keep a travel diary at that time, so all I have are vague, if important, memories of what I saw, thought and felt.
At least I was able to learn from these two huge blunders. Afterwards, I no longer ate chicken sandwiches in exotic lands, and I kept travel diaries for all my major trips. The latter took the form of black notebooks, bought from Ryman's, in two formats: one small enough to fit in a pocket, and another, slightly larger, that I kept in the travel bag I used for longer journeys.
I now have dozens of these notebooks sitting behind me, filled with my illegible scrawl. I have been meaning to turn them into digital texts for some years, and to bring them into the 21st century, but have never got around to it until now. I am not transcribing them in any set order, but will place links to them below, as they go online, ordered chronologically. There is no overall plan, no overall significance. They are just what they are: quick thoughts jotted down in black notebooks, captured moments of a specific time and place.
Sitting in the Františkánske námestie next to the main square, with the Jesuit Church to my right. Still early, few people around – but not quite as dead as Stavanger. Arrived 11pm last night, on 11/11, in room 11 of Beigli Hotel, very central. Car picked me up at the airport after a full flight (Ryanair) from an incomprehensibly busy Stansted… Driving in, the roads looked modern and immaculate: the EU has been good to Slovakia.
My hotel in Baštová ulica, the narrowest street here. Going west, towards the castle, surprising number of derelict buildings. Very typically middle European – baroque buildings, paved squares, no grass. Sun shining, showing the city to best effect.
Down to the Hviezdoslavovo námestie, by the national theatre. A red tram rumbles by – Bratislava is a city wise enough to have trams. Both this and the other main square rather spoilt by the tacky little kiosks that are being installed for the Xmas fairs here soon. Golden leaves everywhere on the ground – autumn in full swing. Seems to suit Bratislava…
The wind whipping along the Danube's banks. Leaves piled up against the stone balustrade. A few runners out. And who can blame them? - a morning run along the Danube – what's not to like…?
Up on the observation platform of the UFO tower by the Danube. Best views of Bratislava, especially on a sunny day like today. A band of fog/smoke rolls down behind the castle. On the horizon to the north, the radio tower – reminds me of Tbilisi. To my right, the new skyscraper of Eurovea – not too intrusive. The Apollo Bridge clearly visible. Out to the east, huge chimneys belching smoke/steam, surrounded by the miasma of their own making. South, a forest of Soviet-style flats – looks like Hong Kong, but without the insane density or ambition.
Disturbingly, the tower shakes slightly from time to time. As did that crazy youth hostel I stayed in – Vienna, I think – which was located in a church bell tower. Smog is beginning to form – Bratislava has this problem like bigger cities. Although from up here, the city is bigger than I expected, and clearly growing, not least in the business area to the east. I have to say the castle looks sad: it has lost its lustre and gleam, and needs re-painting… The odd, long barge plies the Danube.
Back across the vaguely shaking bridge, then east along the Danube, searching for Moyzes Hall, where there is a concert tonight at 7pm of contemporary music. Took me ridiculously long time to find it, just before the old bridge. Then up Štúrová to the Hummel Museum. Not to see the museum, but to buy a ticket for the concert (10 euros). To Hlavné námestie, also spoilt by Xmas booths (empty). More people around – at least 30. Noticeable how many smoke here…
In the Koliba Kamzik restaurant. Ironically, this is part of the Hotel Perugia, which I nearly chose to stay in. More central, but Hotel Beigli looked better overall. Very heavy pork menu – and I really don't want to eat such intelligent creatures. So after (less intelligent) rooster soup, I chose (less intelligent) duck pierogies, with a glass of Slovenian red – Frankovka modrá. Vaguely rustic ambience in the restaurant, came recommended by the Bradt Travel guide, another excellent tome in this series.
For dessert, a conventional strudel, but accompanied by the infamous Tatratea – actually a highly alcoholic liqueur – but only the weak one – 44%, not the "outlaw" version, which is 72%. Pretty much like other strong liqueurs of this kind.
Time for some culture. To the Central European House of Photography – 5 euros. Interesting photos of old Slovakia – 1930s – 1990s – by Milos Dohnanyi. Black and white, evocative. Striking portraits by Antonín Kratochvíl – of the famous and not so famous. Blurred, superposed, craggy, indistinct. Always interesting to see famous faces – and faces famous for being famous – in this new light. For example Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, John le Carré, David Bowie, Ray Liotta. I love these photography galleries – they are always so minimalist – white walls, polished floors – to highlight the concentrated images.
Past the palace where Liszt played – Leopold de Pauli Palace. Just a plaque on the wall now… Nearby another palace, the Pálffy Palace, where the 6-year-old Mozart played. Plaque on the wall of a "juice shop". Looking for Zoya Gallery – and failing to find it. To St Martin's Cathedral – gothic, with a choir that looks quite English. Spiky, over the top pulpit in dark wood. Otherwise clean, light stone, whitewashed walls, modern organ.
Finally found Zoya – you just have to head towards the Armenian consulate… Nice pix by Erik Johansson – Swedish – trompe l'oeil. Obvious – like people installing the moon, a watermill on the edge of a waterfall made of fields, a Meteora/Avatar-like town in the sky, its supports scraped away by diggers. Not deep, but entertaining. Clever photography. More direct is "Man and Winter" of Ragnar Axelsson. Icelandic, and it shows. Lots of huskies, and amazing pic of Inuit hunter with his harpoon.
A roomful of curious bird photos – Sanna Kannisto, Finnish, but working at Lake Baikal. The birds look dead or posed – and are the latter, in a portable studio, before being released again after being caught. Weird, but pretty in a way. Another Finn – Pentti Sammallahti – pure photography – images, black and white, that are complete in themselves. All of them have one animal or more.
To the Johann Pálffy Palace. Downstairs to Celtic minting in a dark cube, with underfloor exhibits. More modern stuff – short videos, disturbing pix, installations. Then upstairs to a display of gothic panel painting. Then, unexpectedly, to the famous book-lined walkway of death: clever use of mirrors makes it look like a narrow pathway between infinite rows of books – clever and run. Up again to some absurdist pix – legs sticking out of houses heads in walls. Erwin Wurm – another floor of his stuff right at the top of the palace. A little of it goes a long way… Great gallery, though.
Since I am going to the concert at 7pm, I need to eat early, on the way. I find myself in Urban House, down with the cool kids, waiting for my Beyond Burger. Be interesting to compare it with the Impossible Burger I had in Hong Kong a few years back… Walking here, I found the main streets buzzing – people out on the pavements, eating, drinking, smoking. Has a good feel to the city, very liveable. Obviously very similar to Prague, but not nearly so touristic. Also more walkable – much more compact – quite like Yerevan in that respect.
Now in the Moyzes Hall, after a brisk walk from the restaurant. Beautiful Art Deco hall, all gilt, garlands and geometrics. Small chamber orchestra, nearly outnumbering the audience, currently at about 50. I saw a TV/radio van outside, so I presume this is either being broadcast live, or recorded. I'm sitting just behind the sound desk.
First piece by Peter Zagar (2022), quite melodious, uses full orchestra well. Very tonal now. Reminds me of Gavin Bryars. Second piece by Marek Piaček – three songs, amplified voice. Bit Nymanish melodically, also sounds influenced by musicals – in the best way. Rhythmically quite varied. Overall, though it meanders, musically at least – since I can't understand a word, it's hard to say how well the music serves the texts. Harmonic changes very reminiscent of some Nyman. Final piece of first half Ľubomír Burgr – combines some rather crude electronic sounds with Pärt-like arpeggios on the violin. Doesn't work for me…
To the castle, wreathed in mists. No one about, except a few dog walkers. Near the main facade, an incredible, ornate, cast iron gate – with a huge drop the other side. Equestrian statue of Svatopluk. Cold, damp morning, but that seems to suit this place. The castle looks better in this vague, looming form. My hands freezing – I can barely write…
Interior courtyard nothing special. Inside the History Museum of the castle. Big and – the main thing – warm. A room about the reconstruction of the castle, which burned down, and was in ruins for many years. Took lift to the basement, weird feeling of descending who knows where. In fact, when I got there – nothing. Nearby, stairs marked "Celts in Slovakia" – I descend – nothing again.
Along to a huge gleaming staircase in white and gold, looks newly restored. A chapel, with a modern organ, looking very Finnish. Alongside, a large Assumption of the Virgin Mary by Anton Schmidt (1762-63). Impressive for its size, if nothing else. Around the walls, 14 rather murky representations of the stations of the cross.
Up a gleaming white staircase. Very minimalist – looks almost 30s Italian Fascism in style. To an exhibition of Martin Benka (1888-1971). Slovak modernist. Some nice neo-impressionist landscape à laSisley. Early works. Later pix more pared down, Kandinsky colours, Cézanneforms of mountains. Final phase Soviet realism of strong men and beautiful women, mostly peasants, heart of the nation etc. His travel pix more varied – good ones of the Adriatic, blue seas, pines and cypresses. A musician too, who painted – and made – cubist violins.
Opposite, an exhibition about Slovak life in the 20th century – photos, videos, recordings. Soviet world and its circumventions. In the cafe – devoid of people, devoid of food bar a rather crusty cake (nope) – risking a cappuccino, which is unlikely to be good, but hey… Outside, fog still not lifting. Being inside a castle is a good place to be… Coffee not too bad – and hot – plus "free" caramel biscuit.
The castle's museums are better than I expected – just as well given the rather miserable weather. I did the right thing making the most of the fine sunshine yesterday. In the background, chants of perennially angry Slovak students demanding who knows what – freedom, probably – in a time capsule of captured rebellion. Judging by contemporary Slovakia, I'd say they got it. It's a very pleasant, highly functional society now. Safe, too. What more could one ask?
To the Romans in Slovakia - huge exhibition. Facsimile of an amazing map: Tabula Peutingeriana – itself a copy of a Roman map… One part marked "Colchi". Excellent exhibition – shows how much Roman stuff has been found this region – and how much we know, in detail – and how much more there must be under the earth.
Now in the castle gardens, which are delightfully autumnal. St Martin's Cathedral in front, the castle behind. The morning fog slowly lifting, the sun breaking through occasionally. Should be nice this afternoon. St Martin's chimes 12. Not heard many bells here, so makes a nice change. There's another church sounding, contrapuntally with the cathedral. Now a carillon, plus a low bell under it all. Wonderful: "Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco…" Incredible random symphony of bells, lovely cross rhythms. Now dying away; a lone bell sounds…
Clever public seating here: the backs of the seats form a platform you can sit on standing up. Doubles the seating capability in a compact way. More people around now – 100s, out on a Sunday stroll. Quite a few tourists – Italians, Spaniards, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Brits, Irish. A camera crew recording to my right – such a palaver.
In the Hradná restaurant – convenient, prices not too bad. Nice modern interior; warm. Eating beetroot starter, cheese dumplings for the main. This place starting to bubble – as I've just posted on Mastodon about Mastodon… One strange thing here and elsewhere – the napkins are almost diaphanous – is there a paper shortage or something? The sun pours through the windows, illuminating the few remaining leaves on the trees outside.
After lunch, out to understand transport. First, find a tram stop for #1, which goes to the main station. A little way away from the hotel, but not too bad. Road is a typical central European tram road – reminds me of Riga, when I was looking for – and found – that Georgian restaurant, and I also travelled by tram. Those long, broad streets. Then to find a ticket machine: done, but they only take coins. So to the Tourist Office near Hummel's house, who explain where the nearest machine is that takes credit cards. Then to here, the Primate's Palace – historically important, and also the site of a remarkable discovery: tapestries from the UK (Mortlake). No pix allowed, alas…
Decent portrait of Maria Teresa; Francis I looking weird in his get up, Bratislava and St Martin's in the distance. Mozart's mate, Joseph II, quite a characterful face. Tapestry of Hero and Leander – a putto looks on, and appears in another, smaller tapestry – copy and paste… A Guercino, Abraham and the angel. Nice moody pic of Bratislava from the north. Lots of ignorable pix of peasants, dogs, cows etc. Amazing view down into the chapel from a glassed-in balcony. Odd from this perspective.
In the Hummel Museum, where he was born 14/11/1778 – nearly his birthday today. His piano trios noodling nicely in the background. One room with two square pianos, plus a harmonium. The other room with an Érard grand. Reminds me of Pushkin's house in Chișinău... The rooms so small, but cosy.
To the National Gallery, most of which is closed as they prepare their renovated wing. On the first floor, a wonderful installation that consists of thousands of books on shelves, arranged alphabetically – but all in Slovak, which I can't really read. A few people sit on comfy sofas, reading. I wonder where all these books came from. Oh, yes, at one end, there is also a horse – stuffed, I presume. Not sure why… Quite a few books in German, in fact, but no other language that I can see…
Now in an installation about "The Bridge", which is what the newer part of the gallery is apparently called. Interactive – press a key – currently there is a cow on the screen, with The Bridge's characteristic gantries moving past. Seems to be a decapitated cow, from which blood is pouring – complete with trickling sound effects. Hmmm… Let's try another button.
Moving through a shattered brick wall, darkness broken by a candle. Gypsy music grows louder...a woman sings in Slovak (I think). Another candle, on a round table, with a high-heel shoe on it. That's it. Now the architecture button. Moving through The Bridge – blurred, the sound of water dripping, and light reflecting on the surface of a body of water… We approach a blind wall at the end… Which is the end. Probably enough for me, even though there are four more buttons…
From the SNG, along the Danube, to the Old Bridge. Wonderful effect created by the lit girders. Boats on the river, moored and moving. Pinkish glow to the west, behind the UFO tower. To the east, the Apollo Bridge more delicate. Shoals of fish suddenly rising like a local rainstorm on the water's surface. A gentle slapping sounds mingles with the thunder of a passing tram on the bridge.
Yesterday I made the mistake of not taking a coffee and bun in the afternoon, and a headache as result. Today, no such mistake – here I am in Pollito – a cheesecake shop in Laurinská. Nice vibe. Nice cheesecake…
To Nedbalka Gallery. Fourth floor – late romantic – lovely stuff by Ladislav Mednyansky – great Tatra landscape – amazing view of what looks like fjord with craggy mountains on both sides of a lake (called "The Tarn"). Another painter with the splendid name of Edmund Gwerk. Down to the third floor – where I see my old mate Martin Benka – quite a few. Lots of others painting those stern peasants. Also sub-Picasso Blue period/pneumatic phases. Second floor – Galanda group. Mostly derivative stuff – I saw Léger, Braque, Modigliani, Bacon, Hockney… But overall a good showing of Slovak modern art and great gallery design with the opening on each floor – a bit like the New York Guggenheim.
To the first floor – again, obvious influences – Rothko, de Kooning, Freud. One rather disturbing pic: "Proximity of Time" – by Michal Jakabčic. Shows two figures with big heads and tiny eyes, nose and mouth starting up at the sky while a third head emerges from light green earth, on which there is a triple-headed bird, and two other animals – one in a vase. Striking. To the ground floor – brand new stuff, quite a lot of photo realism, or approximations thereto. I particularly liked "Frozen in Time" by Juraj Duris, which shows some kind of boat/ship on the wet floor of a warehouse. No explanation, but striking. Definitely one of the best galleries in Bratislava.
Since the restaurant I was looking for – Wolker on Biela – seems not to exist, I opted for U nás dobre nearby – on Michalská – bit bright inside, but has plenty of Slovak dishes. I ordered the turkey (chrumkavé morčacie) with sheep's cheese, since they too are less intelligent than pigs, which I really really do not want to eat. That's awkward, because Slovak cuisine is basically pig… Also ordered a glass of the white and flowery Müller-Thurgau – bit fruity for me, but I wanted to try it to complement the Frankovka modrá I had (red) yesterday – which was really good. Finished off with the cherry pierogi – devastatingly sweet, apparently sprinkled with cigarette ash. But good.
Mondays in Bratislava seem to be like Mondays in Stavanger: practically every museum is closed. So a morning of walking – and of churches, which are open. Mostly: I went to look at the Poor Clares church: closed. Now in the Capuchin Church: lots of baroque paintings and woodwork, architecture uninspired.
Not having much luck. The superb Holy Trinity Church: closed. The Brothers of Mercy church: open – but locked inside with a huge grille. On the floor, a homeless man snores in the warmth. Beautiful baroque altar, bubbling and undulating wildly. The pedestrian street Poštová rather nice. To the Blue Church, which is...rather shockingly light blue, everything, with Art Nouveau curlicues on the outside and inside. Closed, alas, but worth seeing from the outside.
Interesting: just seen the tram driver get out and use a big metal stick to change the points – I wondered how that was done…
Sitting by the National Theatre, trams thundering by as usual. Leaves still falling, but will soon all be gone. Blue sky, fresh wind.
Incredible, two restaurants I tried were closed, and another non-existent. Must be the Stavanger curse.
On tram #1 – very smart and modern – announcements in Slovak and English… This is one long carriage; the older ones have separate parts. On bus #61… Despite the fact that driver wouldn't let me on the bus, which said "leaving in 3 minutes"… Turns out it was leaving to move around to the actual stop, where lots of people were waiting. Interesting ride out here – 20 minutes through the suburbs of Bratislava. Looking smart and modern, usual shops and shopping centres – little sign of the Soviet world, unlike in Georgia or Armenia, say.
In the cathedral: have I been here before? The front looks familiar, but then English cathedrals have a commonality. Drove here from New Forest. England does look parochial, the more I travel, the more so it seems. A strange vision: the cathedral is full of Girl Guides and Brownies – and an orchestra. And not a black face to be seen.
Tintagel – the wind blowing madly. My dragon's cave recognisable. Glorious.
3.10.93 Polzeath Bay
To: eating Kelly's ice cream – happily unchanged after 30 years. As is Polzeath, relatively speaking. Port Isaac too, surprisingly attractive – in the absence of other tourists. The Surfside shop in Polzeath recognisable. Wonderful waves and cliffs, as ever.
In the Tate St. Ives café – white like the pix of Pieter Jansz. Saenredam. Lousy signs – but we found it on the other beach, aptly turning its back on the rather tawdry and tacky harbour. Never been to St. Ives before: rather nice here with the sea on three sides. Fine beach by the gallery, good surfing.
Mevagissey of all places – once just a name. Attractive, even under the rain – especially perhaps, since the tourists have fled. Staying in the Sharksfin Hotel – one star – stunning location – our room has a brilliant view over the double harbour. Walking around the town, past the church with two or three voices within – heard later, distantly, through the rain. Pure distilled melancholy in the soaked, deserted streets. Country and Western playing in the hotel's restaurant. Two swans outside in the harbour.
Strange sight of the wind power generators today and yesterday – huge giants doing limbering up exercises…
Wonderful – not so much because of the sun – a fine, pale colour soon drowned by the rain – but for the chorus of cawing seagulls. Cold last night. For some reason, I think of Greek island ports – Naxos et al.
Well, here we are again. What a city; what a day. First, basic info: arrived Thursday evening, Friday at Confortec because of my new Confortique contacts. Yesterday a washout (= work). Today I'm taking off. Up early for a walk in the grey coldish (= good) dawn. Through Les Halles, through Marais, to Place des Vosges. First time in Place des Vosges – stunning. Typical French obsession with order and regularity. Lovely colonnades, very intimate in feel – perhaps because of the low roofs. To Hugo's house – bare inside, mostly pix.
Then to here, Beaubourg. Which I have not been to for probably 15 years. Much better than I remember it. Busy, bustling, lots to see. But before I walk around, a few important things. This place (Paris) is so wonderful that I feel I will have to do something really corny: live here for a few months – to write "Doing The Business" (DTB). It all fits. DTB is emotionally Racine-based. I bought Iphigénie today and had the idea of incorporating it and four other Racines = 25 acts in DTB (Iphigénie - the choice about whether to fire someone, Phèdre – the editor and her cub reporter).
Anyway, it looks plausible living here for, say, three months – allow £3/4000 for it, should be possible. End of this year might be good timing, not too many tourists etc. Sounds good to me...It is becoming clear to me that Glanglish II, III etc will follow occasionally. My main task is DTB etc. The other thing is Paris is probably the best place to learn Arabic for a trip in 1993. Also (here, for example) there seems to be facilities, libraries etc. Provided Is till have my NUJ card, Paris is cheap – especially cinema (I'm tempted by Dingo…)
But to the pix. First, though: note, there was a real competitive market in plays in seventeenth-century France - people producing spoilers etc (see Racine book). Exactly like magazines, exactly like business… Racine lost too… But "A comedy".
Why are the analytic cubist pix nearly monochrome: because colour would destroy the planes = the whole point. I want to produce black and white pix like these synthetic cubist works. Purest form of their art. Brilliant stuff – especially the Picasso – I must read the new biography. Up now in the cafe. Last time I was here it was really tacky. Not bad now – full of young trendies – far younger than me… Grey day out there. Paris still at its best.
I am now in a Japanese restaurant about ten yards from my hotel – for many reasons perhaps: because I'm pretty sure that I ate here some five of six years ago. Though it seems to have changed menus since then. Full of japs though...probably a good sign.
Certainly was. Absolutely yummy – and very cheap (about £5) for tea, soup, salad and huge rice and chicken "omelette" thing. Hearing Japanese spoken: makes me want to learn it. When, though? And how? I wonder if there are any bursaries for writers…?
"Charlus" was all that I could have wished. I understood about half and remembered nearly all of that. The narrator was good – not quite feeble enough; Charlus was, well, Charlus to a T. Ultimately quite moving too, the loneliness despite/because of all his power and accomplishments. Hm. Intimate theatre, below the main one. [DTB: "can't get this mag launched until you fire him" – cf. Iphigenie…]
12.1.92 Musée Picasso
Here again again. Everything I wanted. Analytic cubism the peak for me, really – so intelligent. Practically all of his pix have a woman in it. As if trying to understand them by re-stating the problem. Also minotaurs – at the heart of the labyrinth – Daedalus, patron saint of the new… (and Theseus in Phèdre…). Some thoughts on beauty – towards a Darwinian Aesthetic. Perhaps beauty is simplicity – compare "elegant" theorems in maths. Even in apparent complexity – a Bach fugue - you seek harmony = simplicity, all parts being of the whole. Also: the power of analogy. Analogy is about finding a structure pre-existing in the brain => saves brain cells – saves new learning. Similarly perhaps beauty is about minimisation of brain cells: a smooth "simple" curve is more easily stored than a jagged one => feels nice, because the brain finds it easier to grasp. Well, it's a start…
Back in the Japanese restaurant – weak, yeah, but saves faffing before the Racine (very Noh almost…? Nearest equivalent…) - also I have a strange lingering qualm about this trip – after all, I done little real work – very little today – and I've gained so much otherwise. After Picasso, to the other side of Paris: La Défense finally. Emerging from the RER, to be greeted by this huge primitive/modern arch, climb the great tsunami of steps – immediately made me think of Boullée. Up to the roof – crazy lift. Dull exhibition up there, crazy too – and very modern. Almost like a space ship – very flash, very French – compare the World Trade Centre – dull, commercial – and in the UK, nothing equivalent. The sheer effrontery of the French planning.
To Iphigénie, Comédie-Française. Round corner for a quick cafe crème before, then unable to find toilets – and no break. Comédie-Française sumptuous, acoustics not too good (I was on 4me). Very lush inside. Acting good: Iphigénie and Achille particularly so. Even with the lousy acoustics I could understand most of it: am I there?
NB: DTB – boyfriend is nearly killed in a car crash in Brighton (cf. Hippolyte) – driving because miserable, because neglected.
Strange day – work, first – consuming microcomputer magazines, then out to RBP France to convince them to launch Windows User...hard work, but at least not completely rejected. Strangely torn today… I felt I was living a Racine play – that flip-flop, that 0/1 of the binary digit, yes/no, the indecision. How so we decide (compare most important job of boss in DTB: to be decisive – because anything can be justified, any story sold – but not a changing one.)
Then for a long walk around Place des Vosges – which I really like. Most closed. Across to the Île Saint-Louis – which looks very touristy without the touristy (paradoxical, moi?). Saw place – studio – for rent there: £100 a week...nothing… I must come here – I could live here for years at that rate. Walking, walking – and back to here, which is a place I passed just south of Place des Vosges. Whereas everywhere else just felt wrong, this place, though grubby, felt right. Turns out to have Basque specialities...we shall see.
I was overcome by an intense fatigue when talking to the RBP bloke – I really don't care. Only a sense of duty – and a rather interesting possibility – kept me going. Vegetable soup no "tres chaud". One thing: somebody told me yesterday of a Linguatheque at the Pompidou Centre – practically every language in the lab...could be convenient. ["Truc" – the word on everyone's lips.] Soup – simple, good, hot, copious. Paris, obviously, is a walker's city. Perfect for the poor. It is also the quintessential city of exile. Perfect for me….
Tuna à la basquaise– everything I could have hoped. Délicieux. A long, narrow room, bare-ish walls, except for the bullfighting posters – and on the ceiling. Music – French – in the background. Only me except for two ladies (young) who seem to be friends of the patron. Life is good (could this be the half litre of win speaking…?) [Garbure – the soup]. On the wall, weird ball catcher – some Basque game, clearly. I must go there… Basque cake to follow – very strange, very nice. This, with plums inside. Yummy.
I was here on Monday; and less than two weeks ago. Life is so...hectic; interesting. I can barely keep up with myself. Work is crazy – editor of PC Magazine, Personal Computer Directory launching, publisher of Windows User, Electrical Retail Trade and (until today) Electronics Weekly. Freelance stuff for the Daily Telegraph had to be done this week. The novel barely touched for months…
Well, I sit now in the café of the main museum at Dahlem. Amazingly, outside, in the entrance hall, there is still (still? - the same one?) an exhibition of musics from the ethnomusic collection. And one of them is Balinese. So I came here to complete that cycle. Alas, not symbolic, I hope, the headphones had been removed.
A strange day so far, but not unpleasantly. Due largely no doubt to its sheer speciousness – there was no real reason why I shouldn't have come on Sunday – except that I wanted to see a little of the new Berlin. So a little work this afternoon – more problems – but hey. Then out to Dahlem. Always so strange going back after all those years. Too soon and things are spoilt, but leave a decent decade, as the memories begin to fade or simply get slightly mislaid, and the re-visit has a real charm.
Well, it had to be. Having found an Afghan restaurant recommended by one of the guide books (Cadogan, which really seem to be taking off – some are quite good – lovely typeface too), Katschikol, Pestalozzi 84, I had to go. Suitably Afghani cimbalom in the background, very full menu – better than Caravanserai in London by Paddington.
Long walk here through mainly residential areas [Dooch turns out to be cool, milky, with cucumber and herbs – lovely for this weather. Wow – vorspeise Torschi very hot – gherkins and fruits in vinegar and chili etc. - yow.] I find it hard to get a feel for Berlin. It is undeniably busy, but looking through the inimitably named "Zitty"(City Limits here) I'm not impressed by what's available. The contrast with somewhere like Paris is painfully clear: there I felt immediately that this was a bustling city I could live in. Here… [Main course badenjan, bonani, tschalau. Dessert – falooda, plus Afghan tea – scented, quite strong. Heavy but pleasant meal.]
31.8.91 Outside the Pergamon Museum
Strange to be back here. It is all so different – just walking in – and yet the same – the wrecked or decaying buildings, the strange absence of something – liveliness? Museum not yet open.
On the way back last night, I walked along the Ku'damm. Very like Champs-Élysées. Interesting the prostitutes out – in regulation gear of body-hugging pants. Many quite attractive – and young. But what a life – what prospects. Odd little Trabis everywhere – along with the huge, squat-brutalist architecture – damning evidence that architecture reflects the soul of a nation.
Sun very pleasant now. Along to Alexanderplatz. Amazing – a kind of grey Milton Keynes, now suddenly gone very tacky. Poor Döblin. To Moskau restaurant – very quiet, very civilised – fish soup (Baikal) followed by Uzbek plov (whatever plov is). Opposite, across the eight-lane road, a cinema is showing Lawrence of Arabia… Behind looms the Hotel Berolina. The air-conditioning whines. The food – and general ambience of the place, with shapes and objects all slightly foreign – reminds me strongly of Moscow – not surprisingly. The same is also true of East Berlin generally so far. Strange to be here again after so many years. Impressive main course – served in a hollowed-out cabbage, with lamb, peppers, mushrooms, rice, cream – huge and good. Good value too – about £6.
Back to Alexanderplatz, where I have to stop to read Döblin...but now how things have changed. The U-bahn number 2 to below Unter den Linden, which I walk along. The Oper, rather fine, a good square with crazy Pantheon-like church (hallo, Peter Greenaway). Unter den Linden busy – I can almost imagine it as the centre. To the Brandenburg Gate, now looking rather sordid with the Imbiss stands everywhere – the obligatory lumps of "wall" being sold.
S-bahn not open here, so I walk through the Tiergarten to the Neue Nationalgalerie – lovely cool woods – where I sit again now. I vaguely remember the Neue Nationalgalerie – a huge bright slab – of nothing – typical van der Rohe. The galleries are below. It all works pretty well. Lots of good stuff, but I am particularly struck by the integrity (sic) of the Lovis Corinth. I must find out more.
1.9.91 Kleist's Memorial, Wannsee
I think I must be getting into necrophilia or something: first Proust's grave, now here. So morose these krauts...but what a wielder of the German language.
I'm getting behind, as ever. Yesterday after Kleist to the Schloss Charlottenberg. Rather rushed alas – I was meeting someone for business at 1pm. So along to the Galerie der Romantik – for the Caspar David Friedrich – wunnerful. Then outside to admire the facade – and enjoying the sun (too much, I fear).
Lunch um die Ecke of our street and Ku'damm. Not much good – and lousy service. Then into the former East Berlin on U-5 to Friedrichstrasse. To the Brandenburger Tor along Unter den Linden for coffee and cakes in the café by the Oper – very nice, waiters with strange accents. Very civilised. Then back to the hotel for a shower and a rest.
Afterwards, we went looking for "Istanbul" – a Turkish restaurant, not surprisingly. Closed for repairs. Wandered around and found a Greek dive (ha!). Eat there – with various fun trying to get what we wanted. Had fun also trying out a list of Greek. Walking back past the deceptively attractive prostitutes on Ku'damm.
Today, along to the Funkausstellung – not as bad as I expected, but bad enough. Lunch up in the Funkturm restaurant – very nice. Lovely view, cool and good food. Then walk to here – after buying a ticket for the Israel Philharmonic tomorrow – an open air concert.
Where I sit now, in a huge natural amphitheatre, to the west of the Olympic Stadium. The sun has just set, casting a slight orange glow to my left; the sky, blissfully, is utterly clear. The day much the same as yesterday: long, hot and sweaty, lunch up in the tower again – very nice – could get used to it. Back to the hotel, quick eats, then out to here. One bit of nonsense: I follow everyone out of the U-bahn, after buying my ticket for the return – and throwing away the old one. But following everyone, I find buses to take us the rest of the way: will I be done for travelling without a ticket? No, in fact… Good few thousand around, eating, drinking, smoking. We were given small candles as we came in...could be good.
The concert about to begin. As the light changes, so does the aspect. I see now the candles already lit being used by people for their supper – especially where they have a ledge for cloth and appurtenances. Nice. Pity about the smokers...
As I suspected, this place becomes more magical as night descends. Sunset turned into a peach blur, the podium gradually stood out, and then the candles were lit. Hundreds – thousands soon – of points of light, wonderful ancient symbols. I shall light mine now...
From Piacenza to Roma. Lovely train – red and sleek like a long stickleback. In the Rome guidebook (one of the new visual ones from DK – excellently executed), page 87 – there is a patron saint of drivers: Santa Francesca Romana. Rome. Good to be back. Driving through the streets I'd forgotten how beautiful – no, grand – it is. The churches, the striated golden stone. And motorinidappertutto. Fine weather. To Il Miraggio restaurant – fine spaghetti with a sprinkling of fish. Bad news: I have seen the Mémoires of Saint-Simon in a second-hand bookshop… To our room – number 106 – tremendous view of Trevi Fountain – tremendous noise too.
I sit outside San Pietro – refused entry because of my shorts - don't you just love the church's mercy? (Ironically, too, they are letting in others with shorts…) A walk to the Spanish Steps. Erroneously, I have to say, since I thought I was heading due west. The sun moves to the west early here it seems. Sun very strong – almost Yogyakartan at times – but there is a good breeze.
Down to the Tiber – very French, with trees (unheard of in Italy) along its banks. Pass a square with bookstalls (but no prices). So to here, driving up past the restaurant where I remember distinctly (why, I know not) eating Fegato alla Veneziana. It's amusing (ish) watching everyone with shorts stride purposefully up to the cerberi, only to be refused (mostly). To the Villa Sciarra (Trastevere after the Gianicolo (fine view). Melancholy beauty of the ochre house. Lots of kids, lovely evening. Cats everywhere – Egyptian cats…
Now in Piazza della Santa Maria in Trastevere – a "characteristic quarter…" waiting for our Negroni. Which turns out to be about four times stronger than any Negroni I've ever drunk. Return to the hotel smashed. Eat pizza (50 metres from the hotel), then gawp at the fountain.
7.9.94 Hotel Fontana
The view from the third floor breakfast room (light with black grand piano) stunning down to the fountain (the coins visible). The sun catching the papal stemma. Last night very strange: smashed out of my head (I've never had such a strange single drink in my life), there were various loud noise – the police, cleaning lorries, who knows what. But bed hard and comfortable.
The Pantheon - much bigger that I remember – really such a palpable demonstration of Roman power and ingenuity. M.AGRIPPA.L.F.COS.TERTIUM.FECIT in huge letters. Behind me the restaurant/café where Mr Greenaway made The Belly. On the way the strange wall of colours from the Temple of Adriano – now part of the Stock Exchange. Motorini – lots of superb romane on them too, charging around. Bikes less common. Inside the Pantheon – stupendo – such power and lightness – and that massive hole punched heavenwards. The porch reminds me of Dendera – and perhaps has a similar function in a way.
By Marcus Aurelius column, at the end of Via Tritone/Largo Chigi a wonderful pedestrian subway that is a bookshop. To Tazza d'Oro – wunnerful – near the Pantheon, too – my centre of Rome, my omphalos. Bus ride (hot and crowded, Lire 1,200) to Stazione Termini, then to Santa Maria Maggiore. Big, very big – I was able to see thanks to my long trousers over my short ones, carried all day. Fine march of columns.
Now at Da Giggetto – near the sinagoga, and the Portico of Octavia (by taxi – about 7,000 Lire for three people – very reasonable, and the taxisti always polite with their Roman drawl – one, yesterday, reading "Greek philosophy"…). We sit near four free-standing columns from who knows when, and the remains of a portico. The synagogue heavily guarded… On the way here, the Vittorio Emanuele monument, a hideous pink…
Typical sounds – bad rock from a window high above us, a ball being bounced by bimbi, motorini (many), car alarm going off. We try: artichokes a la juive, baccala' spinati (cod, fried), and – da-da – suppli al telefono (is there a wire?). And then we'll see… The Romans with their eternal telefonini (I went into SIP today to ask about modems and telefonini – they knew nothing even though they had some ads in their window.) Opposite us, the old women out on their chairs in the street…
Basilica of Constantine – a bit impressive. Lovely in the early morning, cool shade, the deep green – especially the pines – which we can smell sometimes. Truly romantic mixture of churches, trees and awesome ruins. The fused bronze coins in the marble floor… To the Capitoline Museum. The Roman statues remind me of Musée Rodin – except that here there's a crowd. Fine views of Campidoglio and Sindaco's place.
For no very good reason, down to E.U.R. on the metro – full, smelling like Jakarta. On Linea B, a mad accordionist – earning around 10,000 Lire for five minutes… Metro dull – functional, no ads. Very sparse coverage of the city. Just not part of Italian culture (even in Milan, very half-hearted). cf. London and Paris – almost defines the city.
To the Colosseo Quadrato, the strange Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana – pure arches in the famous building (also called Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro, closed off), elsewhere columns reduced to rods. The metro long and dull back. The image better in films in this, cross between La Défense and Crystal Palace.
The wind is rising: a storm is on its way…
Café Greco – rather impressive, like a gallery – wonderful green conservatory before us. Elsewhere plush scarlet velvet. Some of the pix really very good. The waiters in smart black tie and tails. Marble table tops. Fine. Unlike the weather, which is turning. To Piazza del Popolo – the double churches, but not as I remember them from winter.