ON the morning of June 7, a few spectators gathered by the side of the narrow country road that runs through Ballig, a tiny hamlet on the Isle of Man. They waited quietly, listening for engine noise against the pastoral sounds of birdsong, the wind in the trees, a murmuring stream under an old stone bridge. Then a high-performance motorcycle blasted past, at such concussive velocity that it might have been a missile.
THERE are still a few bars in New York that started serving long before Trump Tower was built, before Prohibition came and went, before the United States even became an independent republic.
WHAT’S your favourite cloud? Perhaps it’s one of the stranger formations. Altocumulus lenticularis, maybe, which settles in spooky hoops over high mountain peaks like an alien mothership. Or it could be the simple, humble cumulus, also widely known as the “fair weather cloud”. Surely everyone loves those puffy cotton balls that seem to morph into friendly and familiar shapes – elephants, teapots, diving bells – while you gaze at them against a backdrop of blue sky.
FIVE YEARS after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, the port of Onagawa has a craft beer bar, an artisanal coffee house, a Spanish tile factory, and a workshop where electric guitars are carved from local cedar, all laid out along the new Seapal Pier shopping precinct, at the town’s own Ground Zero. None of these were here before March 11, 2011, when the quake sent a wave of almost fifteen meters through Onagawa Bay and over the waterfront – destroying more than seventy percent of the town’s buildings and killing about eight percent, or one in twelve, of its residents.
On a recent Saturday morning, I caught The Cervantes Train from Madrid’s Atocha Station. Don Quixote greeted me on the platform. He was dressed pretty much as described in the novel that made him immortal: a lesser nobleman of La Mancha from the early seventeenth century, passing for a knight in flimsy (cardboard) armor, and carrying the (padded foam) lance with which he tilts at windmills.
ON December 5, 2015, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that the long-lost San José treasure galleon had been found at last, some 307 years after it was sunk by English warships off his country’s Caribbean coast. The vessel was carrying a fortune when it went down – bullion, coins and gemstones en route from the mines of the New World to the coffers of Spain’s King Phillip V and his French ally Louis XIV.
ON a recent visit to Morocco, I had a touch of déjà vu. It was my first time in the country, my first sight of the capital, Rabat, and the Kasbah of the Udayas. But walking up the outer staircase of that 12th-century fortress, a vivid image came to mind – a lucid memory of a silver car flying down these same steps, through the air, in the opposite direction. “Maybe you’ve seen Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation?” asked my guide Aziz Goumi. Oh yeah, I thought.
EDINBURGH smells of sea salt and brewer’s yeast. The Scottish capital is a touristy city, pretty as a snow globe and selling the most superficial brand of Scottishness at its romantic, historic center – toffee, whisky, tartan, bagpipes. Beyond the well-preserved world heritage sites of its gothic Old Town and neo-classical New Town, it is also a prosaic modern conurbation, ringed with affluent suburbs such as Craiglockhart, and comparatively deprived housing schemes in neighbourhoods like Niddrie and Craigmillar, which still suffer from some of the gang and drug problems that blighted them badly in the 1980s.
IN an independent Scotland, the rain would keep falling regardless. Whether we vote yes or no in next year’s referendum, the nation’s future will likely be at least as wet as its recent past, and probably much more so. The best educated guesses are now suggesting that the floods to come will alter our landscape and our way of life to a vastly greater extent than any constitutional sea change.
MADRID turns awfully cold in December. The city sits high and dry on the Meseta plateau, about half a mile above sea level but nowhere near the sea. As the temperature drops, the engine fumes rise into the still air to knit a winter cap of smog overhead that locals call “the beret”. Pollution is a major issue in the Spanish capital. Homelessness is another.