[morgueatlarge] Another flashback: San Sebastian

I spent a few nights in San Sebastian. These nights just happened to be over all saints day, which are pretty big-deal holidays in Spain. On arriving at the train station and finding via phone that the hostel was full (despite promising us there´d be no problem when we´d called that morning), we actually listened to one of the room touts at the station.

(Whenever you arrive at any place with a backpack on, there will be someone at the station offering you a room at a handy price. Usually the best plan is to walk past these people, but they can come in useful, as here.)

We ended up in a dinky little room right smack in the middle of town, about two doors along from the big fancy hotel that, the tourist brochure gushed, was where all the big names stayed when they came to town for the San Sebastian film festival! So the location was great, and the price wasn´t bad at all, thanks to some nifty negotiation by Ella.

We went exploring of the old town, which is right nearby, and find large numbers of bars, a reminder that this is a big tourist town. The oddest thing is stumbling on the presence of a fifty-foot woman, well, perhaps thirty feet – I came up to her shin. She was made of cardboard and dressed after Xena, and promoting the San Sebastian festival of horror and fantasy films, which was going on all over town. She loomed at the end of a long narrow street, and whenever we walked through the old town we´d glance down and see this woman with her sword in the air far, far away. It was, I have to admit, pretty fun.

San Sebastian consists mostly of two beaches, which are both beautiful. One of them is excellent, yellow sand and pleasant surf and long and wide, but the other is simply magnificent, a glorious curve of archetypal beach-ness that just kept going and going. Hence the tourist destination. At night the beaches become the domain of groups of teenagers drinking under the walkway, but they´re still very pleasant, and the strange curve of the bay inside the harbour mouth gives rise to interesting surf. At either end of this beach are hills, neither of them too large, one of them rising up over the old town and playing host to a grand lit statue of Jesus, which itself rises out of an old castle/fortress… we explored the fort by night after finding the gate unlocked, which was hair-raising and not exactly informative, but did give a great night-view of the city when we hit the top and relaxed at Jesus´feet.

The other hill is climbed by a cable car, which both Ella and I weren´t interesting in using, so we tromped up the road. It´s on a similar scale to, say, Mt Vic, maybe a bit higher. Anyway, just near the top we find the road blocked by a guy with a road barrier and a sign saying you have to pay a euro to proceed, because, apparently there were restaurants and a lookout up top. Well, we weren´t standing for that nonsense (its the *principle* of the thing), so we settled at the side of the road just in front of the barrier, where there was a pretty stunning view, and hung out. For a very long time. I thought the guy would be perturbed but he didn’t seem to be, Ella was convinced he was having too much fun raising and lowering the barrier arm when cars came up or down to really care about us. He did seem to enjoy raising and lowering the arm.

On our last night in town, we went to a bar for tapas – small snacks that you consume with your beer, arrayed all over the bar surface in an enticing smorgasbord – which served as our dinner. I can´t even describe the things I had, but they were all very nice indeed. Then we found a notice saying there was a free movie at a cinema down the road. So it was that Ella and I ended up watching the ’57 Hammer classic The Abominable Snowman, starring Peter Cushing, in the foyer of a cinema with one other guy and the cinema staff. Peter Cushing is even more dashing with a Spanish voice.


Ella is gone, and I strike out alone for Toulouse tomorrow. From the calls I’ve made, everywhere seems full. Will I find a bed? Will I survive? Don’t touch that dial.


Jocularity from the UKers in the hostel after the All Black´s big loss in the rugby test to England. Hope all of you back home are staying indoors until the riots have ceased.


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[morgueatlarge] Back in Barcelona. (Okay, with another flashback, but I need to.)

I didn´t talk about Barcelona last time I was here, except to say it was great and I was going to come back. Well, I have.


The past few emails you´ve probably noticed I´ve been mentioning this person called Ella that seems to be in all the same places I am. The reason is we´ve been travelling together for the last couple of weeks. She´s Canadian, which (as those who know my history will know) is an instant bonus point, and she´s a writer, which earns another. She, like all the best people, is capable of being utterly absurd and deeply profound, often within minutes of each other, and with complete sincerity for both. (I´m even stealing from her in saying that.)

She’s a Winnepegger. She has long brown hair. (Clear enough mental image for you?) And she´s become a fantastic friend very very quickly. She´s been supporting me through emotional rollercoasters and a nuisance of a cold (which is now all but gone, thanks for asking) and she´s generally an amazing person.

But, in terms of the stories I am telling you, there´s one thing you should remember: she speaks French and Spanish, and she could get by in Portugal as well. The deal is, she´s the translator, I´m the bodyguard. (Stop laughing. Stoppit. Yes, I know, I know. Look, she´s much better at her job than I would be at mine, but I figure I can play the odds on this one a few more days. Just shhhhh. She thinks I know kung fu.)

So we´ve gone to some places I would never have gone to alone. I´d like to take this opportunity to publicly give the big big ups to Ella.


Anyway, so I´m back in Barcelona. Yesterday Ella and I went to see the Sagrada Familia (my third time, still amazing) and Parc Guell (my second time, still amazing). I had been craving getting back to the Park – it´s my favourite place in the city, I think, even knowing that the city is full of great places. The last time I was there I didn´t get to linger as much as I would have liked…

…cue flashback music, go to black and white…

(1) morgue wandering around Barcelona with two reasonably normal looking American guys of a similar age to he… VOICEOVER: …because I´d fallen in with some jumped-up crazy punk rock guys from Fargo, Shipley and Mark.

(2) Mark stroking his beard and thinking about Amsterdam… VOICEOVER: they´d seen some interesting things on their travels

(3) Shipley lifting up his t-shirt and rubbing his nipple, apparently while dancing, as onlookers regard him, appalled. SFX: that “its getting hot in here” song VOICEOVER: and picked up some interesting habits

(4) The trio in montage at Pârc Guell, past the amazing works of Gaudi, strange pillars, crosses on a panoramic lookout, the steps with the colourful lizard, the corridor that looks like you´re inside a cresting wave, and more, faster and faster and faster, intercut with Shipley looking more and more uncomfortable. VOICEOVER: but the real problem was the quart of juice Shipley sucked down at the wrong time.

(5) Montage goes past faster and faster until it´s just a blur and suddenly CRASH CUT to still shot of Mark and morgue hanging around outside the toilet. The door opens, Shipley comes out, shaking his head. He pauses, looks thoughtful, turns around, goes back inside. (Astute observers will note that Mark looks somehow gleeful.)

(6) Different shot. Still waiting outside the toilet. VOICEOVER: the gates were opened, so to speak.

…end flashback, back to colour…

So. This time, Ella and I were careful with our food and drink, and we were fine. It´s a stunning place. We could have lingered for a long time. I´d like to think, if I was a local, I´d go there often. Places like this shouldn´t ever be taken for granted.

Barcelona keeps opening up new possibilities. I could stay a lot longer, but the road onwards is beckoning.


Shout outs to my amigos from Fargo, who I have shamelessly mocked for purposes of your amusement.


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[morgueatlarge] Flashback to Lisbon

First, Leon followers might remember this from an earlier email:

“Leon has headed off on his own, back to London… He´s going to try and get things going in the theatre scene, and with a bit of effort and a pinch of
good luck I´m sure doors will start opening.”

Well, he´s now working backstage on this thing Ken Branagh is directing. So. Now you know. (The show is called ´The Play What I Wrote´, check out
http://www.theplaywhatiwrote.com/ for more info.)



Second, while Percy´s funeral was occurring back home I was wandering the streets of Barcelona alone. I was pretty tired from travelling, and I´d been in a bar with some new hostel friends, and then I just wandered a bit. And I ended up checking my email, and received a flood of messages from people who´ve been reading these emails. And it was actually a really important thing for me. So thanks.


Third, because email has been so bitsy and inconvenient and quite frankly I’ve had other things on my mind, I´ve given pretty scattershot coverage of the last several weeks.

Here´s a flashback.

I stayed in Lisbon until Thurs Oct 24. You´ll recall I wanted to see fado, but ended up eating pizza and watching a video with Lisbon native Tanya and hostel-friend Amund. Well, my local contact Rui decided he was going to do something about that, and two nights later he mustered his compadre Ricardo and they went to meet me at the hostel, as arranged by email the day before.
The problem, of course, was that I had completely screwed up what day I was doing what and had in fact crashed out in bed when he arrived. Rui and Ricardo sat in the bar for what must have been hours waiting for me and finally sent the guy at the desk up to knock on my dorm room door. Guys at hostel desks don´t normally do that kind of thing, but there you go.
(Actually, the guy at the Rome hostel kept running messages for me as well.
Maybe I´m a bad hostel guest.)

So I´m just starting to drift off to sleep and there´s a knock and the door opens and the guy says there´s some people downstairs, and I jump out of bed and get dressed and run down, and along the way I realise what I´ve done ´- lost track of what day was what. There was a rogue Munsday in there that threw out my calculations, I guess. (Munsday = that day of the week that either should exist or accidentally does.)

So, Rui and Ricardo are astonishingly gracious, and won´t even hear my
abject apologies and general feeling of foolishness, and we jump in
Ricardo´s car and head down to Alfama. Alfama is the real old town of
Lisbon, the part that survived the 1755 earthquake (hope my date is right
Rui). It´s a hillside crammed with tall and narrow lanes and tiny squares,
honeycombed with small bars and restaurants, full of atmosphere. We enter this little fado bar and order a beer each and sit. There´s hardly anyone in the place. Things get weirder when three of the clientele reveal
themselves to be the musicians and singer by ending their break and taking
the floor. And then they began. There were two guitarists, one playing a
conventional instrument and the other a portugeuse guitar, and the singer. He was an older man, immaculate in suit and tie, holding himself very straight, and he sang and they played and it was amazing. Throughout I was reminded of the flamenco singer I´d seen in Barcelona and his dishevelled
appearance, his movement, the wildness in his song. This couldn´t have been more different, and yet the same in so many ways, deep expressions of
profound sadness, heartwrenching emotion, laying out the truth of life. Rui
and Ricardo said that it was an example of the difference in character between the Portuguese and the Spanish.

The musicians took a break. Rui and Ricardo told me about the history and
importance of fado and soon the musicians returned, this time with a young man singing (yet another of the audience transformed into performer), his voice full and rich, technically brilliant, although perhaps his heart wasn’t old enough to have learned the sorrow of his colleague.

And all of this to Rui, Ricardo, myself, two other locals, and the bar staff.

Astonishing. I recall Tanya´s words from when I was asking her about her nation and culture – “we are a sad people”.


Thanks Rui and Ricardo. And I better also point out that the only impression I´ve given of Tanya is ´don´t waste your time with Fado, eat pizza instead´, which isn´t a very good picture. She was full of love for her country and full of insight about what was around us, and it was thanks to her that Ella and I made our way north from Lisbon to Geres, land of the giant slugs – but that´s another flashback.



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[morgueatlarge] a train ride

I’m in San Sebastian. There is a beautiful whitesand beach and the sun’s
coming in like it wants to see what’s going on. Not much is, there’s only a
few people, the season is off but the weather’s still on. It’s a nice place
to sit and think.

In the first minutes of All Saints Day my grandfather, Percy Patrick Geddes,
passed away.

He’s one of the reasons I’m travelling. Growing up, it seemed to me that he’d been everywhere there was to go. He and my grandmother Felice drove all over New Zealand, all over Europe, to so many places. I was always finding out about more places he had seen and I’m sure there are plenty more that I still don’t know about. He loved to travel.

He was a great grandfather and a great friend and a great role model. I guess I idolised him without even realising it. He did living the way it was meant to be done.


So I was sitting on the train on the other side of the world from my family and I’m feeling every mile of the distance. I love to travel by train, and that’s another thing I get from Percy, railways man with the train set in the garage; I love to feel the carriage rock, love seeing the scenery scrolling past. The trip from Leon to San Sebastian goes through barrens, wide swathes of brown with low hills scattered with deep green, the sky thin
and grey. I was remembering all the things there are to remember and
feeling the ride carry me forward, a bit overconfused, a bit down, and I
began to wonder if I could even call the image of him to mind.

As if in answer, I suddenly saw him right in front of me, sitting on the seat ahead and facing me, smiling, wearing his thick coat and his hat and smiling that way he smiled. It was incredibly vivid, like my brain was
slapping me upside the head for being so foolish: of course you can remember him!, it said to me, look! And my imagined Percy grinned at me, nodding agreement.

It felt good.


Family, I’m thinking of you.
Friends, thanks for the support, especially Cal and Billy and Ella-on-the-spot.
I’m getting on, and travelling. The last thing I said to my grandfather before leaving new zealand was that I was following in his footsteps. I didn’t say this bit, but I meant not just around the world, but in life. Because, like I said, he did living the way it was meant to be done.

Take care everyone. We are a beautiful place.


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[morgueatlarge] Apologies if you’ve tried to reach me

I received a 1.5meg spam that disabled my account, and only just now cleared it.


I´m still in Portugal. There are some good stories to be told, such as the Andrew three-peat, the exciting trip to the wrong Geres, the giant slug, and the night I saw Fado despite a very high level of personal incompetence (thanks Rui!).

But I am not going to tell these stories now.

Because I have a cold.



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[morgueatlarge] Local culture in Lisboa

A bigger picture, now that I have a chance.

I´ve been in Portugal for a week and a half now. I like it a lot. I´ve been through the back roads with Badal and Devamani, and down on the touristy beaches of Lagos to decompress from life and tan up, and also in the big city of Lisboa. This city is so comfortable for me I can´t quite believe it.

Leon has headed off on his own, back to London (with a side trip to Paris thrown in). He´s going to try and get things going in the theatre scene, and with a bit of effort and a pinch of good luck I´m sure doors will start opening. Go Leon, my friend, go!

Yesterday I went back out to Belem. I´d seen the sights there before with Dean and Kerry and Leon, but this time I went with Ella the Canadian who came up with me from Lagos. The Monastery in particular was stunning, and it was something we´d skipped on our last visit. Truly an amazing place.

Again, I´ve found the structure of these places to be the greatest education about past ways of living – being in a classical monastery creates understanding about what it was to be a monk, walking the terraces and contemplating the richly symbolic decorations that covered almost every
surface, all different, all elaborate. The tiny confessionals that backed on to the church, and the long refectory, were also evocative of another way of life. I feel I could have been a 15th century monk, actually, if the opportunity had arisen. Additional bonus – Fernando Pessoa, the poet I mentioned in an earlier email, is entombed in the monastery. His small, elegant monument is marked with quotes attributed to three of his alter egos.

I had no idea this was there, and was very pleased to find it.

Anyway, the header of this email is ´local culture in Lisboa´, so you know I must have experienced some. After Belem, Ella and I went to see Amund the Norwegian´s new apartment, a very handsome place on the second floor of a building in Graca district, just over from historic Alfama. It´s right
above a tiny pentecostal church full of clapping and histrionics. He lives there with two young Portuguese women, one of whom was there last night, Tanya (spelling may be incorrect, but that´s how it was said). THe goal of the evening was to seek out some Fado, the local Portugeuse music, a kind of lilting, structured singing build around heartfelt sadness.

Well, Tanya discouraged us from checking out Fado, and we ended up renting a video and eating pizza as the rain came down outside. (The video was ´The Others´, which at least has a Spanish-speaking director.)
Then she threw on some of her monty python tapes. Then we went home.

Viva local culture in all locales!

I´m going to be in Lisbon for a few more days. Then onwards to some new

I´m not exactly homesick, but I am constantly reminded of all the wonderful people at home, family especially. Thinking of you all.

morgue (who still intends to check out Fado)

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[morgueatlarge] Julee Cruise in Lisbon

I´m back in Lisbon. Love this town. After arriving I made contact with Amund, the Norwegian I met when last here who is now studying Portuguese locally. We went to a big concert for the Numero Festival (numero is a local scene magazine) which was buzzing with the young and cool. We arrived at about 1am and things were two hours behind schedule, but Canadian pianist/bizarro man Gonzalez soon came on and got things moving, and he was followed by Khan from New York and Julee Cruise, the siren who did vocals for the creepy Twin Peaks music way back when. She sang ´Fever´and it was one of those performances that sticks in the head. Great night, I got back to the hostel past 7am which wasn´t ideal because breakfast finished at 10 and the lockout began at 10.30. So I´m up and at them again!

I am nicely tanned. But the beard must go.


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[morgueatlarge] Lagos, in essence:


you now know all you need to know to understand this place.

The 4km golden sand beach is great, the grotto-like smaller beaches are even better. The sand is good for castles.

I have had a lot to drink. This is not like me, usually. Here… here you can’t avoid it. The world makes you drink.

Bali concerns me. Some people here have been deeply affected. Friends and friends-of-friends. Travellers like those all around me.



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[morgueatlarge] Lisboa continues to be pretty cool

It is hard to breakfast in Portugal. At least, breakfast as we Kiwis understand it. We want eggs! We want big bowls of muesli and toast! We want something other than ham and cheese sandwiches!

Dean and Kerry and Ethan have set off north leaving Leon and me in Lisbon for a bit longer. I´m not finished here yet, I love the place. It feels very comfortable, with rolling hills like Wellington and a city centre that is full of activity and energy but without the odd moments of threatening unease that pop up in other cities I’ve been in so far. I am continually reminded of Jose Saramago’s ‘The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis’, the book that inspired me to visit Portugal in the first place (thanks Billy for the loan of that), which was set in the very streets I’m walking now. There are posters everywhere for a movie based on Saramago’s newer book ‘the stone raft’,about the Iberian peninsula breaking off, and I just bought ‘Blindness’ by him to read – i’ve finished the massive tome of Rutherfurd’s ‘London’ which has been my travelling companion for the last month. I now know more about London than before. Cool.

The hostel in Lisbon is not bad at all, and pleasingly cheap. As is becoming typical, the whole dorm room Leon and I ended up in went drinking together, along with the girl who checked into a different room at the same time as we did in the morning (this is Andrea, I mention her again in a bit so remember her name). Today we all went out to Sintra to see a 9th century Moorish castle and a more recent Royal Palace, both spectacular in their own ways and with commanding views of the whole region right out to the sea. They’re so close to each other, too, about five minutes walk on a narrow forested hill road.

The castle overlooking the Lisboa old town is amazing as well, clearly a fortress made to be defended. There was a 12 week seige at the place and as I walked around I was struck by how everything about it was made to withstand that kind of attack. I think the most evocative thing about old places is their structure and the story it tells about an aspect of historical life.

In Andrea’s (remember her?) dorm room is Rachel Pope, who I worked with at Massey University. She left work a week or two before I did and I’d wondered what became of her. Now I know. We met at breakfast, which in the hostel is served by the most emotional, agitated and frustrating old lady
I’ve ever encountered. She’s so bad she’s actually a good point. We put up
with it because it’s hard to get good breakfasts here.


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[morgueatlarge] Lisboa in October

well, it has been some time since I’ve had a chance to write, which means that a lot has been happening. Several nights in Barcelona, which were amazing, but I´m not going to worry about them right now – I´ll send another email some time talking about that city. It is a great place, probably my favourite place that I have visited so far, certainly the only one I didn´t
want to leave.

Leon joined me in Barcelona and we made our way to Portugal, and spend several nights with our friends Dean and Kerry (and their son Ethan, nearly 2) at Kerry´s father´s farm in the middle of Portugal, near Viseu and Nelas which is sort of southeast of Porto. It is a wonderful area, full of ancient hills ridged with patient stone. We went up into the mountains and had a glass of port at a little cafe/bar in a tiny mountain village straddling a rushing stream, and went to local markets where gypsies travel selling rugs and clothes and tools and more.

At nights we ate great local cuisine and sat talking over wine, while the enormous dogs barked and ran around. It was very relaxing. Cheers to Badal and Devamani for their hospitality, and to Dean and Kerry for coming to Portugal!

Anyway, we headed south and made our way to Lisbon, stopping at Fatima on the way. A fascinating place, filled with pilgrims and the curious. Tomorrow is the 85th anniversary of the last and greatest apparition at Fatima and huge crowds are expected, but there was no sense of anticipation there, instead a feeling of great calm. The size of the place is what surprised me the most, the enormous basilica with two-story reproductions of photographs of the children the most striking thing of all.

And now we are in Lisboa, staying at a Pension in Belem, which is out of the centre near historical locales. Plenty to see, and the nightlife is grand. It’s a good place and I’m glad I came.

Stay well you all

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