GENERALISSIMO Francisco Franco had been dead for a while before those he repressed felt brave enough to celebrate in public. The old man’s four-decade dictatorship of Spain did not neatly expire with him in 1975, and the country was still effectively run by soldiers and priests when a ragged lineup of young punks staged a free concert at Madrid Polytechnic on February 9, 1980. Forty years on, that night is remembered as the inciting event of La Movida Madrileña, the countercultural eruption of this city during the fragile and volatile “transition” to democracy.
IN the year before the pandemic I got a new gig, a side hustle, guiding tourists around Ernest Hemingway’s old haunts in Madrid. Starting at an ancient tavern and ending at a basement speakeasy, I led a glorified pub crawl across my adopted home town in the wake of a raging alcoholic.
BORN BUENOS AIRES, DATE UNKNOWN. DIED MADRID, FEB 23, 2021 Anuka was the name she was given by Terrie Orr, the Buenos Aires hairdresser who first fostered her – a skinny but greedy black street dog with beautiful amber eyes, snatched up from a park to be cleaned, fed, sterlilised, and homed by one of… Read more »
A COWARD may die a thousand times before his death, a morbid kid can be killed over and over in his own mind by phantom Soviet warheads. This was me in the mid-1980s, between the ages of 7 and 12. I spent, or lost, that much of my youth priming for nuclear holocaust, projecting scenarios onto the Republic of Ireland
ON September 13, Spain’s Congress of Deputies voted to expel the bones of General Francisco Franco from his Catholic-pharaonic tomb at the Valley of the Fallen. Not much longer would the great dictator be allowed to repose inside a vast basilica with black marble floors, flanked by chapels dedicated to the patron saints of his army, navy and air force, beneath a simple plate that bears his name but not his rank.
E.L. Doctorow died on July 21, 2015, about a month after Donald J. Trump announced and commenced his run for President of the United States. These events were not related, but they have since become fused in my mind. Doctorow was my favorite living writer, and when Trump began his campaign by riding down the escalator to the gold-plated lobby of his tower, I thought the scene could almost have been composed by that great American mythologist.
A BOGGLE-EYED pagan god feasts on the headless carcass of his own son. A humanoid billygoat in a monkish cassock bleats a satanic sermon to a gasping congregation of witches. A desperately expressive little dog appears to plead for rescue, submerged up to its neck in a mud-coloured mire beneath a gloomy, void-like firmament of negative space.
THE city of Madrid is no less essential to the films of Pedro Almodóvar than kinky sex, crimes of passion, eye-popping primary colours or gasp-inducing plot twists. Though born out in Castilla-La Mancha – Don Quixote country – Almodóvar made his punkish early movies here in the capital, where the death of General Franco gave rise to a buckwild creative scene.
SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS is commonly declared the enemy of art. The mind catches itself in the lofty act of creation, finds the work-in-progress embarrassing, and complains that it cannot be expected to express itself under this kind of withering scrutiny. David Foster Wallace felt this acutely from an early age, telling a university roommate that he could only write well when he was barely aware of himself and his surroundings: “When I can’t feel my ass in the chair.”
PICTURE an iron castle in a ruined garden, where a lonely poet sits in a bare, round room, writing about another lonely poet in a bare, round room, who is writing about another lonely poet … and so on. David Peace draws on this image in Patient X: The Case-Book Of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, which he calls “a novel of tales” about the eponymous short story writer. Akutagawa was a major figure in the Japanese literature of the early 20th century, whose tormented personal pathology led to his suicide in 1927, at the age of 35.
FIRST, a tour of the bare-brick cells and torture chambers of S-21 prison, now known as the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Straight after that, a buffet brunch at Raffles Hotel Le Royal, with oysters, lobster, wagyu beef tartar and espresso martinis. This is luxury travel in 21st-century Cambodia, where every visiting pleasure-seeker pays a kind of psychic tourist tax by looking at the country’s livid war wounds.
AMONG the mini-essays, weather diaries and reminiscences that comprise this book, Karl Ove Knausgaard sketches out a few quick self-portraits in prose. Picture him just before dawn, in the kitchen of his plush-rustic home near the Norwegian coast: smoking, drinking coffee, listening to Bach, denim jacket slung over the chair, long hair tousled like an opium fiend’s, looking past his blank screen and into the retreating darkness beyond the
AFTER the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011, I worked with a post-disaster clean-up crew in a largely obliterated fishing port called Onagawa. We mostly shovelled mud and debris, and did myriad odd jobs for newly homeless locals packed into evacuation shelters. Everyone had lost someone, and the more talkative survivors told us brutally upsetting stories of wives drowned in waterfront factories, elderly parents dragged away by the wave, entire families killed in their cars while trying to outrun it.
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.
ROCK and roll is roughly 70 years old. That’s just a little younger than Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney. Both of whom are still alive and well, recording and performing, even if most casual listeners only really want to hear the music they made half a century ago. The prancing spectres of his elders have been said to haunt Thom Yorke, the lead singer and songwriter of Radiohead.
LEGEND tells us there was once a poor boy called Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, who grew up in a housing project on Staten Island, just across the water from the skyscrapers of Manhattan’s financial district.
THE 21st annual Moby-Dick Marathon was the first to take place in a blizzard. Somehow, the event had never coincided with a major snowstorm before, despite being held every January in New Bedford – a squall-prone seaport on the Massachusetts coast, where North Atlantic weather systems spin like sawblades against the edge of the United States.
THE story goes that President Abraham Lincoln walked out of the White House in the middle of the night on February 20, 1862. He crossed Washington D.C. to Oak Hill cemetery, went into the crypt of his late son Willie, and sat there alone at his coffin. Willie had died of typhoid fever earlier that day, at the age of 11. His father, somewhat preoccupied through the boy’s short illness with fundraising for the escalating civil war, was now so possessed by grief and guilt that he may even have cradled the corpse.
THE best movies have music to match. The Godfather, great as it is, would be less so without Nino Rota’s dark and fateful main theme, also known as The Immigrant, or The Godfather Waltz – now a perennial repertory piece squeezed out by street accordionists all over Europe. Blade Runner’s visionary opening shot of the future LA skyline gets much of its transportive power from the electronic soundscape provided by composer Vangelis.
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.