Monday, 27 February 2017

Sicilian Food We Tried

These were delicious. They're made from a mixture of mashed potato and egg that's been covered in breadcrumbs and fried. Very creamy on the inside, though a little crunchy on the outside. Basically croquettes.

pani ca' meusa (spleen sandwich)
I only tried this once.  Perhaps I need another run at it, to get used to the idea. Jo slyly used her vegetarianism as an excuse not to have any. When I ordered it (by mistake - I thought I was ordering something less abdominal), I think the man who served me laughed. This may have been paranoia, but no-one else there seemed to be eating spleen sandwich.

The offal was cooking in a big, brass-looking pan that was very wide but quite shallow. From this it was ladled into a bun and topped with grated cheese. I feel a bit embarrassed to only have eaten about half of my organ bap, but the bits of gristle I kept hitting halted my progress too much and kept bringing my mind back to the gutsy nature of the meal. Also, it was just a bit bland.

The restaurant in Palermo where I had my spleen sandwich is worth a visit. The owners pride themselves in not cooperating with the mafia. They're part of the Addiopizzo movement, in which businesses refuse the pay 'pizzo' [protection money].

The site of my first ever spleen sandwich. It's on Via Alessandro Paternostro, which is also home to independent boutiques, artists studios and some good graffiti.
These are chick pea fritters that are tastier than that sounds. These are everywhere among the street food snacks that tourist guides implore visitors to try. The best version we tried was at the Palermo restaurant Ferro di Cavallo, which did very good, apparently authentic Sicilian food at reasonable prices.

arancini (little orange)
These are not little oranges, but you'll not mistake them for that: it's just what they're named after. They're balls of rice, often with a delicious filling, that are deep fried and sold everywhere as a street snack. Deservedly popular, they seem to be held in high esteem in Sicilian cuisine.

A sweet pastry whose name means 'little tube', these fried delights are generally filled with ricotta cheese. These, too, are absolutely ubiquitous and seemingly tied-up in Sicilian identity in a way that goes beyond their actual tastiness.

Friday, 17 February 2017

17th February 2018

­17th February 2018now that Trump’s presidency is over, just 13 months after it started, I can look back on the breakdown I had that coincided with his failed term in office

In the wake of the rise and fall of Donald trump, I could speak nothing but word salad. Forgive me for this slight misnomer. I just haven’t found a better tag to hang on what happened. Trying to process what happened has brought me to writing this now; I need to reach for any descriptions that get close to the feelings I felt.

Here goes: I failed to connect with the basic meaning of words. As far as my writing goes, it probably seems that I still do. Bad jokes were a feature of that rambling street-roving/bed-ridden time, too. To anyone watching at the time, it must have looked like I was wilfully ignoring grammar rules. Words spilled out like from broken milk bottles. As they ran off the worktops and pooled on the floor, there was no way to put them back in order. 

I’m sure I appeared to be enjoying the sound of my voice just as much as always. All the while, on the inside, I was captivated by the sound of my own furiously beating heart. Something like shock took hold of me. My nerves were smashed. Electrical fires went off at the heart of each frayed axon. Or so I thought. Whatever, it wasn’t the unequivocally tough response my team-mates desired.

In fact, this is all wrong. I shouldn’t use the phrase word salad. It’s unfair of me to over-egg the pudding when trying to describe my breakdown. Unfair to myself, too, since overstating things is what got me into such a broken-down position in the first place. It’s a longstanding habit. 

I can just imagine myself in a final interview for a job in which embellishment and double-speak would be key strengths. The interview is going well. “I’ve always told fibs”, I say. “When I was at primary school, despite what was then a burgeoning pathological fear of nuns, I had the whole convent strung along on my own version of the Rocky narrative. I was amazed that they didn’t know the story. Even more amazed that they believed that I was a 9 year-old boxing champion”. This is true. “At university, I seduced two of my tutors using a mixture of bullshit and sycophancy”. This is also true.

At times I would stay in bed for almost the entire day, only getting up to relieve myself in the toilet. I never quite got to the point of wetting myself. Like I say, I shouldn’t over-egg it. Still, at these points it felt like feelings of any kind were at an incredible distance. Like water glimpsed across a vast desert landscape. Who knew what was real? Since I was the only one in a position to know what was going on, or report what I saw, no one could get a clear idea. There were moments when I thought about language and it seemed that words had in many cases been replaced by symbols. Mashed encodings of indecipherable characters rose up when I tried to put a sentence through my head.  I might have been dying of thirst but I was adrift without a compass. I wandered, aimless and freezing, while the only drink for miles around was a frozen glass of milk lost somewhere in that snow storm.

Like I said before, this was not the display of strong backbone that my colleagues had hoped to see.

It began around the time that Trump was elected, though at the time I thought my up-and-down moods were just cycling along like normal. By the time he was openly attacking the most well-established media outlets, calling everyone a liar and disseminating not only hatred, which we’d become accustomed to during his election campaign, but also so many lies that no-one could see what was fact and what was fiction any longer, well, by that point I was acting like an angry fool. I’d lost all perspective. 

I think the first true signs of the break came when I had an unexpected fit of screaming. My sister was the unfortunate victim and I still feel bad about the way I spoke to her. She made some off-hand comment about how Trump wasn’t that bad; he wasn’t the monster that people were making him out to be. I spent about twenty minutes arguing with her, though really I was arguing with my own ideas of what I thought she was saying. 

At the time, when she was saying “Stop shouting at me, please”, I took it as more provocation. Here she was shouting at me, telling me not to shout. Replaying it in my mind now; however, I can see (or hear) that she wasn’t really shouting at all. I was just taking everything as provocation. Everything I did was rushed and at high volume. 

I was sprinting round on my bike telling everyone to f-off. I would flick the vees at any little old lady, no matter how carefully she was driving down the lane. This was how caught up I was in my own fury. I can’t even remember what I was mad about, but it all happened around the time that Trump was ramping up his hate-mongering. He wasn’t to blame. Don’t get me wrong. He was just an idiot with the tallest soapbox in the world. The factor at fault was the non-stop hate-ticker-tape running in my head. I’ve apologised to my sister and I think, I hope, she understands. Love and forgiveness is all you need, I hope.
Anyway, not to excuse that break with good behaviour, but I couldn’t bring myself to look at the world the right way up. Everything that everyone said seemed to be a lie.

I, the tiny liar who had convinced his schoolmates that he’d been to Hong Kong in the holidays and made up whole narratives about taxi drivers who drank from vodka bottles while tearing through the Kowloon traffic, and giant marbles that needed diggers to be rolled round in downtown games, I was in a rage over lies. Nothing seemed right. 

Yet the required response was, on my part, not forthcoming. The etiquette was, as always, far from me. Trump could lie. He could convince other people that his lies were true. I could feel some indignation, like a portly priest from a Thomas Hardy book, all ruddy-cheeked and parsimonious at the appearance of the travellers’ encampment on the edge of the village green, or like a Jane-Austen-laced bonnet-sporting mademoiselle with a precious Brontë cough, who, with no idea about how the world works goes into some lengthy, high-pitched jeremiad aimed at all the penny-pinching heart-string tailors of this world, but this indignation wasn’t going to get us anywhere. Especially not once it took over. Bouncing around like a perpetually hungry one-legged pigeon: this wasn’t the solution. I should have taken my opinions to a quiet courtyard and dashed their little heads on the flagstones. Ignore me: I’m not even sure what defines a flagstone as opposed to any other stone.

The point is this: in the time that Trump made his rise to power and fell so dramatically therefrom that, we hope, we pray, he’ll never return (a final, more moral bankruptcy from which there’s no redemption), I fell apart. I wasn’t there to help anyone. What would have happened if it really was the end of the world? Instead of being the hero at the heart of some Walking Dead scenario - instead of being the avenger who survives the apocalypse and brings communities back together – I’d be huddled under a blanket crying my furious eyes out. I can’t even say “thanks Obama”.

Let’s hope 2018 brings some better luck. Trump’s made a spectacular fool of himself by falling foul of the law on the grandest stage. Meanwhile, almost incidentally, I’ve learned something. I certainly feel more ready to tackle what comes my way, or accept it. I’ve learned from the heartache I gave myself. I think that’s the only way forward: feel the pain and move on with a better understanding of what to do next time.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

today's fake news

  • For a brief moment I lost control. 
  • I read 12 pages of the Eddy Merkx book that my Uncle Peter lent me. 
  • He reads a lot. 
  • I said two Hail Marys.
  • Three Hail Marys is a traditional Roman Catholic devotional practice, says Wikipedia.
  • I ate two apples and two satsumas.
  • The sunshine in Guernsey was magnificent.
  • Leeds United beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League (again).
  • Two iconoclastically gargantuan American figures spoke sense (again).
  • The Ligthouse People, reunited for a one-off gig, sang hymns to a congregation of icons.
  • Pussy Riot were invited to reprise their 2012 Christ the Saviour performance.
  • Tomato blossoms fell to a chorus of scribbles made by the pens of Guernsey poets.
  • The first annual George Métivier Festival was inaugurated.
  • Spleen sandwiches were served at the hospital canteen.
  • I went for a swim.
  • I ignored the news (a bit).
  • I put things like politics and agendas out of my mind.
  • I drank two cups of coffee.
  • We stood on top of a wall and sang our hearts out.
  • We heard music from around the world.
  • I felt happy.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Photos from Brittany

Last July Jo and I took our bikes on the ferry to France. Starting in St Malo, we cycled across Brittany. After a few days of cycling and camping, we reached Auray on the other side of the peninsular. The countryside we saw in between was vast and lovely. We stayed in some interesting places, like the excellent Pear Blossom House in Mur-de-Bretagne. That's run by an English couple who have a massive collection of sci-fi novels, Mucha-inspired glass lamp shades and a son who's growing up bilingual. After cycling for 6 hours up French hills and down Breton dales, it was a relief to get to such a welcoming place. We were that relieved that we simply went for a pizza and didn't even see the lake till the following day. Anyway, there are some pictures from that holiday below.

Mimi and Jo on Condor

graffiti along the St Malo to Dinan voie verte - these car-free green routes can be brilliant for cycling, especially if you want to avoid busy roads - in this case the voie verte runs along an old train line

more voie verte graffiti, this time inside an old station 

the Fete des Remparts in Dinan

pretty sure they're cooking endouille - offal sausage that's a Breton specialty - after trying it for the first time the taste kept coming back to me when we were cycling through the manure-scented countryside 


action Jo


a heated baguette vending machine in Mur-de-Bretagne

someone's back yard

a posing idiot by the canal we rode along near Pontivy

the view from that canal, or the Blavet

a shoe shop in Auray

buying tomatoes in Auray

back in St Malo, we visited the cathedral

Thursday, 29 December 2016

My Top 10 New Year's Resolutions

I'll list ten resolutions here. There could be more. Probably there will be fewer than ten to which I'll properly apply myself. 

There might be little point to New Year’s resolutions. Trying all year long or at least being equally interested throughout the changing of the seasons, day-in/day-out: that would seem to make more sense than pinning all of my hopes on one idea struggled after at the end of one period of 12 months, in order to get my hopes needlessly up and then miserably down again through the beginning of the following period of 12 months. It doesn't have to be like this, you say, quite reasonably. I don't need to agonise over self-improvement in this futile way.

However, regardless of whether or not I see the pointlessness inherent in the "quit chocolate biscuits" (never!) or "buy flowers for my god-loveit mum more often" (hopefully) brand of new year's wish-hope-prayers, I'm going to put down 10 resolutions here. The reason for this is not only to bore the pants off of you, though I apologise dearly for my blatant, unabashed infatuation with the timbre of my own soppy speech. The reason is probably that I find it helpful to set myself tasks. Life seems to be more boring when I'm unoccupied. Also, the clean slate nature of the date 1st January appeals to me. So do nudity and sunrises. My phone number is available on Facebook.

I'm sure this is where I should include a quote from holy scripture to show that making a new year's resolution is a 3,000 year-old habit that has stood us ever-progressing water apes in good stead up till now. However, even the infinitely malleable first line of the Tao Te Ching: "The tao (way) that can be told is not the eternal Tao" needs quite a lot of bending and persuading before it fits into my "make goals and work towards a smiling, profile-picture-ready you" mantra. 

In the beginning there wasn't a resolution, there was an action. A resolution is just an idea of action. My favourite kind. For now the plan is to create these vague targets so that 12 months from now I can look back with what will probably be a mixture of disappointment and pride. Also, when the time comes to review this nonsense I'll have a chance to do another blog post. On with the resolutionning:

1. go a week eating only what is produced in the local area
In Guernsey this surely will mean eating only non-processed food. That's meant to be healthy. Mercifully, butter will be on the menu. I already buy a lot of veg from Terry up the road, who grows lovely carrots and sells them along with the produce of his grower friends. This resolution will take that habit into overdrive. I know how to live on the edge.

2. practise languages I've learned 
It amazes me how readily they disappear from my memory, these languages that I spent quite a lot of time studying and picking up by loitering near foreigners. I want to spend at very least twenty minutes a week studying either Mandarin or German. That's so little to ask as to make the question a bit silly. Twenty minutes a week on each language seems reasonable. 

3. progress in languages that are new to me
I'm determined to learn more Guernsey-French, although this is a laughable waste of time to certain friends of mine. I'm also determined to do things in spite of other people's opinions, a sure sign of madness that I welcome. Progressing in this area will mean attending the pre-arranged sessions where a handful of the few remaining speakers of the language meet, as well as setting up some kind of learners group. Hopefully something called 'ch'est mon tour' will be got going very soon, right Joe Martel? I'd also like to pick up more French, Portuguese and Spanish. Not too much to ask.

4. read 52 books before the end of 2017
This will mean keeping a list.

5. at least have flights to Taiwan booked for some time in early 2018 by the end of 2017
I miss that place and the people that reside there.

5. be healthy
The older I get, the more value I put on this. I want to swim as near to everyday as I can manage, cycle around to places I want to visit (and to work, too). I'd like to breathe better. Not smoking lately has definitely helped in that whole pulmonary area, but I'd like to walk a bit taller and feel a bit more secure health-wise. I kid myself this is nothing to do with vanity.

6. eat better
Biscuit addiction is no laughing matter and, as much as I adore a bourbon and cherish even custard creams, it has found a victim in me. Eating more whole foods and fewer sugary snacks seems to make me feel better. I'd like to try eating salads for lunch and over-eating less in general. Hopefully this will give me the shiny and healthy coat I've always wanted.

7. go to more local gigs
Something like one or two a month at least - I've neglected the local music scene, which happens to be very good, too much.

8. spend more time with my blessed family
I'm lucky enough to be related to some lovely people. I like the support they give me. I'd like to see more of them.

9. write more
By this point I should have written some kind of long-form fiction that I'm pleased to show other people. Let's see if I have something by 31st December 2017.

10. go one fortnight without drinking any alcohol whatsoever
I don't drink very often as it is, but I'd like to try this probably pointless challenge.

pictured: me kidding myself about vanity

Monday, 19 December 2016

This Weekend in London

This weekend we saw Adam & Joe's nostalgia-trip multimedia show at the BFI Southbank. It was fantastic. Jonathan Ross was there and walked very close to me. Jo (Dowding, not Cornish) sat next to Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright. I was polite and didn't ask her to switch seats. We didn't realise who this bearded man beside Jo was until Joe (Cornish, not Dowding) asked from the stage "is our mate Edgar here?" and their mate Edgar put his hand up.

In any case, the haphazard show included various bits of animation, with the creators in attendance, as well as a bit of karaoke performed by Adam Buxton. Clips from the pair's Channel 4 programme, as well as even older content, were screened too. An homage to Adam's father, Bad Dad, who passed away earlier this year, was not only hilarious but very moving. The atmosphere was a bit like a university reunion. There was a "remember that time we stayed up all night eating cheese?" vibe and I would pay to go again.

BBC 6Music era Adam & Joe
We also went to the Union Chapel, where we saw Sheffield's scruffy pop duo Slow Club. They were supported by Auld, a young British singer-songwriter who played unaccompanied, but used guitar, keys and beats at once, using pedals and loops. Slow Club were mesmerising and the Union Chapel is a brilliant venue in which to see a band. No alcohol is allowed inside the church, but there's a kiosk serving teas and coffees, as well as tea cakes and snacks like crisps and nuts. Usherettes wander up and down selling ice-creams.

The interior of the building is a stunning space. I especially enjoyed the stainglass windows, ornate ceiling and, of course the neon reindeer. Slow Club played songs singularly and together, with some fantastic vocal flourishes, before coming back at the end for a self-conscious Christmas encore that included an unplugged singalong. All in all it was a touching scene, especially the contrast of Rebecca Taylor's soaring, operatic vocals and the funny, down-to-earth comments she makes between songs.

Islington's Union Chapel
Sheffield's Slow Club

Finally, since Jo and I wanted to go to the cinema and It's a Wonderful Life and Muppet Christmas Carol were sold out and, I discovered with only mild surprise, Jo had never seen Die Hard, we went to see Bruce Willis on the big screen at the Prince Charles off Leicester Square. The big-letter message outside the building was "Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal".

It was a very entertaining way to round off the weekend. If you wanted a drink during the screening, fine German beers and cocktails were on offer. Within the Prince Charles's unusual auditorium the crowd cheered and quoted along with the yippee-ky-aying action.

"You've never seen Die Hard?"
Of course, regardless of any comedians, bands or films we saw, the best part of the weekend was meeting up with friends and family. It was an absolute pleasure to see Richard, Nia and (London's happiest, most well-behaved baby) Arienwen for dinner at the Latchmere pub in Battersea and to wander around John Soane's House with Jo's old friend Philip.

good food and ales at this pub, which is also home to a theatre
the visitor attendants at John Soane's House are extremely well-informed and chatty - also, one of them, who had an encyclopedic knowledge of Masonic/Bedlam-related facts, was wearing a fine pair of spats

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Mayakovsky by Frank O'Hara

The following poem was part of Frank O'Hara's 1957 collection Meditations in an Emergency. O'Hara was a central figure in the New York art scene of the early 60s, before his death at the age of 40 in 1966.

Keen viewers of the 60s-based series Mad Men might recognise the volume as one of the books that Don Draper reads. Considering that Draper's character is detached to the point of being a virtual stranger to his own wife, one would have to imagine that the poems from Meditations..., which describe anxiety and alienation, would resonate with him.

My heart’s aflutter!
I am standing in the bath tub
crying. Mother, mother
who am I? If he
will just come back once
and kiss me on the face
his coarse hair brush
my temple, it’s throbbing!

then I can put on my clothes
I guess, and walk the streets.

I love you. I love you,
but I’m turning to my verses
and my heart is closing
like a fist.

Words! be
sick as I am sick, swoon,
roll back your eyes, a pool,

and I’ll stare down
at my wounded beauty
which at best is only a talent
for poetry.

Cannot please, cannot charm or win
what a poet!
and the clear water is thick

with bloody blows on its head.
I embrace a cloud,
but when I soared
it rained.

That’s funny! there’s blood on my chest
oh yes, I’ve been carrying bricks
what a funny place to rupture!
and now it is raining on the ailanthus
as I step out onto the window ledge
the tracks below me are smoky and
glistening with a passion for running
I leap into the leaves, green like the sea

Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.

The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.

It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.

Frank O'Hara, erstwhile curator at Museum of Modern Art and unofficial poet laurette of New York City