A Room With A Review

Do You remember italy? E.M. Forster

Morro do São Paulo, Bahia, Brazil

Even in the heat the Italians have greased back hair. There were four on the boat here, half of them with Roma waves licked like Danny in Grease, despite the sweltering temperature. An impenetrable hirsute structure, like the coliseum of hair.

Together we enter the island of Morro do São Paulo through a tall archway and immediately queue to pay a tourist tax of R$12. It adds to the sense of entering a tropical amusement park when I walk up and see the pretty square of pousadas with taxi men pushing colourful wheelbarrows of suitcases or crates of coca cola, filtered water bottles or strawberries.

"Ciao Lucia, la sirena!" chorus the Italians. "We see you tonight at the party." I soon come to realise that the tourist tax is more like a beach nightclub entrance price for some.

We are the lone Europeans. This island has been colonised by Argentines. From shop workers, to pousada clerks, bar girls, holiday makers, handicraft sellers. They’ve made this their place in Brazil.

They’ve chosen well. Morro do São Paulo is a small island, two hours by catamaran from Salvador. A half day to walk its circumference of yellow sands and clean, clear, waveless waters with mangroves at the edges and an interior of palms.

People are friendly. As once again the whitest person for miles around they all want to know what I’m doing, pass the time and swap stories. Pulpo, an over excited Argentine, a brilliant afro-ed Colombian and his German girlfriend, he googling places in the world he wants to see with an accent like a baddie out of a Western movie, a very serious Chilean lawyer who knows all about his country’s international trade and copper mining, Marcio the Rolling Stones loving university lecturer from La Plata and proud of it.

The island is separated by numbered beaches and Segundo Praia is where the party’s at. At night exotic fruit stalls collect in a square around a Brasilian pop blaring sound system. The array is tremendous of varieties which would give Carmen Miranda fits. Tiny red acerola, aubergine coloured shells on a giant cashew fruit, long root looking melons, limes the size of oranges, cocoa pods. They’re all made into delicious cocktails. I order one from Eduardo who let’s me sit behind his stall, like an apprentice, when it suddenly starts to pour with rain and we sing Parabens do voce, to one of the stall sellers whose birthday it is.

Then the local kids come out. They’re a joy to watch. Amazing dance moves grinding their bodies down low in the sand with sunglasses on in the dark and arms swinging at their sides, shirts off and huge smiles. Big show offs. The perfect white lighthouse winks it’s light across the praia to the merry makers.

Its an Argentinian beauty parade. Tall girls with long flat stomachs and hair down their backs and chiseled ken doll hunks in board shorts. You’d think all Argentines can trace lineage back to Native Americans for the number of Red Indian tribute tattoos of dream catchers, Indian chiefs and feathered arrays covering backs, chests and legs. Yet their body beautiful they lack the lusty swagger of Brazilians, their joy of flesh and the attitude that goes with it.

The morning is hazy in Morro. Mist clouds and hazy minds from the night before.

The moon has pulled the tide in close and all that’s left is soft sand and shallow clear paddling water and a rocky plunge pool to watch shoals of silver and yellow fish. Far away are the big waves, a white foam only dentists dream of. The tide has left patterns on the sand which look like mountain ranges seen from the sky or the pattern of flesh on an orange.

You can catch a horse drawn cart up to the north western side of the island for plains of bleach white sand. Or take a jungle stroll on the port side of Morro for palm fringed coves and a natural clay spa from pink rocks that are rich with minerals that look like streaky bacon and turn to skin smoothing mud when mixed with sea water.

I meet Mercedes, a statuesque woman from Uruguay with dark skin and big soulful eyes, at my pousada. She tells me Morro do São Paulo is tough on the body. Long hot days and long late nights ‘when am I supposed to sleep?!’ She jokes.

She’s come to Morro for sanctuary. Mercedes’ life started to roll out of control a year ago. A holiday to Rio showed her a love for Brasil but her lack of love for her abusive husband. They divorced angrily and messily eight months ago, soon after she was made redundant from an important engineering job and she felt like fate had served her up a passport to the country she’d soothed herself with the music and images of in her gloomiest days. She is two months into a stay she thinks may last a year and she’s just started a romance with a local who lavishes her with loving words. ‘I dreamt of an island and trees and the sea and it’s as though the world listened and brought me here to recover.’ On New Years Eve, it’s island custom to throw a flower in the ocean and make a wish for the year to come. Mercedes threw in a yellow rose and thanked whoever is listening for serving her bad fortune so she could find a new happiness.

I joined Mercedes and her friends at a party in an open air ampitheatre at a clearing up high in the forest, to listen to bands playing live samba and forro music. And then, somewhere close to dawn the island’s capoeira dancers came out, their bodies like licked caramels. And as they high kicked and spun turns both the moon and the sun shared the sky, like Morro do São Paulo, a constant and beautiful battle between day and night.

Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

The best of Brazilian blood has combined over generations on dark, sweaty nights in Salvador to create a beautiful blend of peoples with long limbs and red brown skin, squeezed into skin tight denim over perfect arses and hair long, wet and black from the sea.

Big bodied girls bounce round the city splayed like brown frogs on the back of motorbikes and men slouch on row after row of plastic yellow and red chairs outside bars playing Bahian drum music.

On the beach it’s a typical Brazilian mix from hoop wearing, stomach pierced Grandma’s to toned tattooed boys chatting in the sea like its a bar or a barber’s shop on a bobbing island of heads stripping off their shorts and swinging them round their heads, kids yelping, jumping, slashing amphibeans, only coming to land for slurps of juices and slaps of suncream from their mães.

Once upon a time this was Portugal HQ, the epicenter of their empire. The port is called Marinha do Brasil for every metal, wood, spice and fabric plundered from the new world passed through this port. The riches of Brasil are looked over by dirty tennents dangling with delapidation on the hillside and above that a yellow church in Pelourinho, lemon fresh paint on a grey sky yesterday. A blot-less blue one today.

The city had been left to ruin and has a reputation across Brazil as it’s most lawless city, bandeiros running rife, holding up buses daily, shoot outs on the family section of the busiest beach, near garrotting locals as they rip off the necklaces from behind, highest murder rate in a homicide happy country. Girls carry two bags. One a bolsa on their shoulder with fake wallet and cheap phone, the other a carrier bag with valuables.

I meet a European looking Salvadorian at a drumming night and he warns, ‘we are the ethnic minority here, be careful’. The city suffers deep racism with total segregation on beaches, in restaurants and civic life. This echoed by my friend Joe, who has lived in Brazil for three years, deposited from rain sodden Manchester, he speaks with a sort of Portlish or Enguese. English sentences with a Brazilian intonation and mixing sentences in both languages.

But Bahia has a new administration. Posters proclaim ‘O mayor da Bahia é trabalhando’ and work he is. In six weeks time the Barra beach area will have a pedestrianised zone, hurried for completion by carnival. A big success for the bureaucracy mad city which commissioned an 11km track of metro lines at the cost of R$1 billion and it’s never run a day in its life.

Salvador’s first son, Jorge Amando, made his name with a book called, capitains do areia- captains of the sand. And gangs of them jump dancing into the bus singing songs with abundant bravado, pesky trouble makers who ignore the bus driver’s nagging. Catching a bus is a challenge. Here they have a saying, ‘voce nao pegar o onibus voce vence o onibus’. You don’t catch a bus, you win it. They fly past, break hard, have no official stops, no maps, no announcements. This is the least touristy city I’ve visited so far. Not one English tourist voice, only four French and the omnipresent Spanish or their Southern Hemisphere cousins, the Argentines. All meander the paralelepipidos of Pelhorinho, the beleza colonial part of town of ice cream coloured houses. Blackcurrant sorbet, peach Melba, bubblegum blue, lemon and lime, strawberries and cream, passion fruit yellow, tangerine. This is where Michael Jackson shot ‘they don’t care about us’ and there’s a cut out of him a top a balcony in the swarming square.

Pelhorinho is land of bandeiros, the bandits. It’s Brixton-on-sea. Rows of clothes shops selling garish leggings, Lycra thongs, sports bras and kids cartoon t-shirt. Touristy shops, bars, great views, fat black women in hooped skirts, frilly white dresses and Quality Street sweet wrapper head dresses selling spicey Abarje snacks, fried in dende oil - too heavy from European stomachs.

Men out number women in the city They’re ceaseless in their cat calls, phtssss noises, comments, whistles. O Gringa! chega amiga! Onde voce vai borbaleta! Galinha linda! Belezzzza! It’s annoying, especially at night. So I sit with a circle of local women in a quiet square and eat cheese crepes on a stick and they talk tele novella storylines in deep detail and tell me I need a stronger suncream.

This city takes religion seriously. On sunday morning at Nossa Senhor do Bom Fim, a speaker systems outside projects the mass to a mass of people crowded inside and out. Parishioners stand hands aloft and swaying in prayer. Vivo Bom Fim! Viva Salvador! Vivo o gentes Bahianeiro! Vivo Brasil! Balconies filled with purple clergy. Regulars in white. Breeze rustling the prayer ribbons tied in hopeful devotion on every railing, every door handle. This is what the Catholics excel at - a sacred spectacle. Even an alter boy takes a photo during the procession of the much touched cross on exit through the enthusiastic crowd.

Joe says Salvador typifies the duality of Brazil. Extreme poverty, extreme wealth, it’s carefree yet bureaucratic, colourful yet dark. Still, despite its downsides which push him to the edge of returning home on occasion, he remains unfathomably captivated. And I can see why.

Manaus, Amazonia, Brazil

In the malestrom of downtown Manaus of petrol fumes and garish red lanchonettes touting pastries and men selling buckets full of water bottles to bus passengers through the window, it’s hard to remember the blissful view of the city from the sky.

After endless green came a brown expanse as wide from the sky as the sea, impossible to see a bank from the approach into Manaus. The city is an island, engulfed all around by the Rio Negro. It made a fortune so gigantic from the rubber trade that rich families sent their clothes to be dry cleaned in Europe and ostentatiously lit cigarettes with dollar bills.

The opposite is true now - thanks to the robbing English. The rubber trade vanished and what’s left are delapidated palaces, concrete and a chaotic port ferrying locals, as well as tourists (which incidentally are rare) across the rivers Amazon and Negro.

But true gems remain. Buildings like iced fondant fancies in candy colours stand next to concrete lumps. The city’s main square is cobbled in black and white to symbolise the merging of the waters. The crowning glory is the Teatro Amazonia, a confection of a building, a full Nutcracker suite of design. Raspberry pink, decorated with white stucco and a top a globe glorious in blue, green and gold mosaics bright in the sun.

But it’s not always sunny. It’s rainy season and once or twice a day humidity hits wheezing point and the sky breaks open tropical rain. Street vendors sell colourful umbrellas and everyone hides out till it passes.

Manaus is a city to eat in. The abundant forest offering an endless menu of treats and meats. Down town clears out at night and you meander. I ate scoop after scoop of jungle ice cream. Flavors I’d never heard of like pupunha, tucumu, soho de valsa, flocos, tapereba and passas all varying degrees of yellow before ladling on more cupuaçu and the omnipresent condensed milk. Everyone has a late afternoon snack of Tacaca soup. A broth with glue like manioc starch, mouth numbing jambú herbs and prawns picked and and stirred with a wooden stick. And the next day cups of a sort of rice pudding made of sweetcorn topped with cinamon.

This last treat was introduced to me by Hiroshi, a tour guide at one if the many city museums. He offered to drive me around for the afternoon to show me sights in the city sprawl and we set off, after a feijoada lunch in the university canteen, to see the natural sciences museum which had dated exhibits of stuffed fish and pickled reptiles, a lush tropical garden, turtles darting into water, giant otters playing in the rain and handicrafts made by natives in exceptional quality. From there it was to the home if Eduardo Ribeiro, a former Manaus governor and Brazil’s first black politician. The man made Manaus magnificent, commisioning it’s best palaces and bringing electricity to the city. But he suffered schizophrenia and was found strangled on a rocking chair, aged 38, by his mosquito net, a replica of which is laid out as a macabre shroud on his bed.

Where there was grandeur there is gruffness today and the city feels rough and ready. The port, where great Mississippi river style tug boats line up for Amazonian adventures, is gritty. The fishing harbor is salty to say the least. Side streets are deserted and dirty.

But there is a charm to the place. A wounded hero of a town. Full of happy people, relaxed lolling into lazy, out on the streets laughing and eating together. This could be a small town on the coast. But it’s a city of two million who’ve landed, somewhat incongruously, in the middle of the greatest rainforest on earth, and they’re loving it.

The Amazon Rainforest, Amazonia, Brazil

The Amazon feels primal. There is a sense that this is true Earth. Colours pure and basic. Dried blood red earth and a thousand shades of green. Blue sky. White clouds. Black water. Bright moon. And the energy of constant growth underfoot, all around. I wish I could describe the smell, vegetation and the garden in summer just after it’s rained maybe, but much more than that.

I left from hectic Manaus port with fishermen selling the fish I would later catch for myself, and bigger ones including the Jacuari which, once eaten means in local folklore that you will return again to the Amazon. This told to me by my guide for the river crossing, Elmo. An old man, gnarled looking like twists and bumps on a tree wearing a Bob Esponga cap. We crossed from the Rio Negro, which Manaus city sits on, and paused to view the meeting of this river, the longest tributary on the Amazon, and the great Solimões, or The Amazon River as it’s otherwise known. Here the two rivers mingle and their merging clearly defined due to their separate alkaline levels, sediment and temperature. One like warm coca cola, the other stewed tea.

Passing floating petrol stations we arrived at the other bank of the river into a tiny port and waited for the arrival of Anderson, the driver who would carry us an hour into the jungle. Our arrival was entertainment to the port people, work men in yellow municipal overalls stopping work to watch, lots of comments from the lanchonettes, offers of butter cheese from store holders and caju juice from the suco stand.

On route we stopped to see water lilies and passed parrot colored wooden houses, a tree graveyard with stump headstones and stopped for teeth rotting sweet coffee and to pick up and drop off locals. The tracks were wet in places and the van slipped and slided, red mud splattered in graffiti paint drips all over the back. Anderson spoke little English so I warmed up my Portuguese and he taught me new words and reminded me of old ones.

We stopped to make another crossing in a small yellow and green wooden motor boat. Taking with us bags of cement and floor tiles to be dropped off in a jungle house which was having its bathroom upgraded. Running water from the river and electricity are new arrivals to the area.

This was the Amazon proper. The river curved small and then opens up into huge passages flanked by trees and grasses. The boat making tight ripples on the black surface, like ridges on a vinyl record.

Houses are sparse but located on every bend. Steps lead down from the wooden houses on stilts, perhaps a floating home moored outside which float off when the water rises, taking its inhabitants many miles down stream. I imagine jungle teenagers rowing to moon at their prepubescent lovers like a tropical Dawson’s Creek. Inside they are spic and span and proud of it. Gorgeous hard wood floors you’d pay a fortune for at home felled from the forest, chainsaw scrape marks still visible.

The lodge was a cluster of palm thatched huts and one big two storey hut, dining room below, dorm room, above where I stayed in a hammock, lying diagonally which is the comfiest way.

And then came the real experience. The jungle a gigantic garden, amusement park, natural supermarket, enemy and pharmacy.

We set sail across the river to explore, taking turns and crossing other tributaries. I took the helm one afternoon! The sights are endless. Butterflies as big as two palms, pink dolphins the colour of the inside of your foot, monkeys make a motorbike reving mechanical sound to mark out territory, dragonflies passing like lawnmowers, kingfishers sweeping pasts, bats flying as fast as you can blink, tarantulas frozen still - a bite will blind you, medicine plants, free growing sandalwood, red macaws, black vultures, ospreys and eagles, globe eyed alligators slinking into the water and everywhere a vapor trail of Mosquitos.

I liked the story of one breed of birds, yellow and black in colour. The couples mate for life and the male will build his woman five nests for her to test out to find the one she prefers. If one dies the other will hole up in the best and starve itself to death. Exotic avarian Romeo & Juliet.

It rains once a day in a fury. I was caught in it twice, pelted by huge drops, shivering but the vista is tremendous. The rain clouds make a mist rise ghostly on the water. It looks like an instant dawn, obscured light, a hazy horizon and lightening flashes in a milky blue behind.

There are places to hide. Walking in the Forest during rain is a natural umbrella, once the odd drop making the bouncy downward from the water greedy leaves, you can shield yourselves in the arm pits of the colossal trees.

Now the water is rising and already some are so swollen we sail past the tops of trees up to their necks and chins in water. But a few years ago they had a terrible drought and the entire river in this area ran dry. Then 2012 saw the great flood. Trees still bear a black tide mark high up round their waists.

The forest is a living Whole Foods. As we walk, on a chestnut rug of sodden leaves, we spot Brazil nut trees and crack the cranium of the shell to reveal a spiral of the nuts in shells. Peeled open with a machete the nuts inside are so fresh their oil covers my lips.

And there’s more to eat. Medicinal plants that taste like crunched aspirin and make me spin for a minute with their strength, fruit like a giant pea pod where you suck sweet fluff off a seed, small orange fruits that are dense tasting a little like bread, green mangos small and hard.

The other guests were good people. Two American boys on a scholarship from Hobart studying Portuguese on the American education system’s money for six months jock-like and jovial, the Amazon’s ‘awesome’-ness a ceaseless thrill. A Scouse couple scorched pink with sunburn, he head to toe in camouflage patterned clothes and asking questions about the Brazilian drug quality. A stern Lithuanian woman and her Turkish husband who builds bridges and marveled at every road, bridges and large construction we passed, including the slow moving vessels carting sand and gravel for weeks up the river. A Dutch couple which typified liberalism. Her a gay asylum rights campaigner, him a deep sea rig engineer both avid Euro pop fans. A German from near Munster on the final leg of a life time’s round the world adventure. He’s taken one year off from his job as an economist in Zurich to comple South America, having in previous years done the same to see all of Africa, Asia and North America. And the guides, a mix of local river dwellers and Guyanan tribe natives who go by nicknames like Jaguar, Toucan and Jungle Boy. They laugh and tease constantly and sit back triumphant when the jungle reveals it’s bounty to expectant, camera poised tourists.

At night we fished on the boat catching piranha, cat fish and another breed with a wide mouth filled with teeth. The catfish thrashed on my rod splashing water and looking terrified till be stabbed a knife through its head and dropped it in the water at the bottom of the boat, the German shouting ‘stab it in the head’ the Scousers saying the hungry fish would be ‘wanting for their tea’ and me the clichéd girl squealing as the catfish made a guttural moan and a strange purr when grabbed round the neck. The boat was like a floating Vietnam with bloody water and half dead zombie fish in the bottom.

On the final night we made for the jungle to sleep in a camp on the edge of a silent pool populated by bull frogs. Here I turned chef and homemaker tidying a kitchen area, sliding a cut wild duck and chicken onto wooden spikes and turning them over a blazing fire. The flesh was so hot, after two hours of roasting. I sliced limes on a metal tray and under instruction from ship captain Marco made lethal caipirinha’s which the Scousers loved but thought was made of vodka and could not understand what cachaça was. A boa constrictor was spotted in the trees and the guide poked it down and we took turns to squeeze tight it’s tiny neck and stare at its angry face which resembled exactly a field mouse. It released a rank smell like death and vomit all across our skin and clothes before rearing up, just like a Lawrence of Arabia movie trained animal, to threaten us away, which we duly did.

We all talked late into the night about our lives at home and eventually slept under a candy floss colour red canopy of mosquito nets.

My highlight were my swims in the great river. The water a glorious warm, like the bath when it’s time to get out. It runs orange and looking back on your body limbs look carrot colored. I washed my hair with a blue cake of soap and dolphins swam nearby wondering what the commotion was. Total silence. The view above great sky and tops of trees and birds calling a soundtrack. The shadow of the boat cold and 8ft below fish, me diving in with total jubilation and wonderment at the marvel of this heavenly earth.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

I can’t read a map. I turn it round and round in circles inside my bag to look discrete, then in a door way, then giving up in sight at the intersection. I’m always lost. Always turning round somewhere. But I make it in the end. All this despite Buenos Aires’ painful transport system that pushes you down subterranean tunnels passing beneath the wide highways of the inner city.

Out in the open air buses wear little padded jackets in blue and silver over the metro pass buzzer and the sun shield and are tin can colourful on the streets. They fly down streets past posters for the Peronist party, Eva still alive as the party emblem. The famous photo of her nuzzled into the neck of Colonel Peron, the dutiful, loving First Lady forever.

It’s a grand, sprawling town. Somewhere crossed between Milan, Paris and Madrid but not as contained or consistently beautiful as any of them. Too giant to give good perspective. But architecture does deliver wonder with magnificent edifices which look like they were plucked from the green Loire and remodeled on a big grey Latin boulevard. Heading north, the endless park stretches for miles, it would swallow every Royal park in London. In the center, the river a cargo ship motorway flanked by mini Albert Docks and glitzy high-rise offices and apartment blocks. To the south, primary colored La Boca, and like all neighbourhoods which were founded by immigrants, it walks the tightrope that tips between vibrancy and violence.

Everywhere it’s hot. Everywhere takes forever to reach. Everything is cheap. In the evening the streets smell of charcoaled meat from the neighbourhood parrillas and gangs of women and kids go for ice creams. Nights in hot countries smell like possibility. Europeans rush from indoors to indoors but here there it’s about languid late nights sitting outdoors or ambling from here to there and back again. But still, many local streets stretch desolate in the dark and I hurry. I am extremely conspicuous. Western tourists are in small numbers. I barely see or hear more than 10. At night I glow bright white and in the day it’s impossible to merge. Clothes wrong, hair wrong. But everyone wants to talk…where are you from, 3 days is not enough, London is beautiful, do you love Buenos Aires, you must see this museum, watch you bag, why are you alone?

You eat well. Butter soft steak. Smooth wine. Gloopy sweet spoons of Dulce de Leche. Just ten pounds. Ten pounds of fat too.

I’d imagined a musical city, like Havana, with sounds and dancing on every corner but it’s not so. You hunt it out and try to make untouristy choices which means going further. Which means wrong turns too. I saw tango in a romantic old hall with an ornate glass ceiling and little piles of resin by the pillars for dancers to grind their t-bar shoes in. Old couples sat on red tables and took turns to swap partners round the room. Elegant older ladies with slim legs and set hair. Later I went to a contemporary club, dark except for one central spotlight and beautiful young people sharing the floor in a more dramatic style. More flamboyant and expressive. A huge human heart hung above the dance floor, the pumping passionate aeorta of new tango right underneath. And me. Looking clumsy but laughing.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

I can’t read a map. I turn it round and round in circles inside my bag to look discrete, then in a door way, then giving up in sight at the intersection. I’m always lost. Always turning round somewhere. But I make it in the end. All this despite Buenos Aires’ painful transport system that pushes you down subterranean tunnels passing beneath the wide highways of the inner city.

Out in the open air buses wear little padded jackets in blue and silver over the metro pass buzzer and the sun shield and are tin can colourful on the streets. They fly down streets past posters for the Peronist party, Eva still alive as the party emblem. The famous photo of her nuzzled into the neck of Colonel Peron, the dutiful, loving First Lady forever.

It’s a grand, sprawling town. Somewhere crossed between Milan, Paris and Madrid but not as contained or consistently beautiful as any of them. Too giant to give good perspective. But architecture does deliver wonder with magnificent edifices which look like they were plucked from the green Loire and remodeled on a big grey Latin boulevard. Heading north, the endless park stretches for miles, it would swallow every Royal park in London. In the center, the river a cargo ship motorway flanked by mini Albert Docks and glitzy high-rise offices and apartment blocks. To the south, primary colored La Boca, and like all neighbourhoods which were founded by immigrants, it walks the tightrope that tips between vibrancy and violence.

Everywhere it’s hot. Everywhere takes forever to reach. Everything is cheap. In the evening the streets smell of charcoaled meat from the neighbourhood parrillas and gangs of women and kids go for ice creams. Nights in hot countries smell like possibility. Europeans rush from indoors to indoors but here there it’s about languid late nights sitting outdoors or ambling from here to there and back again. But still, many local streets stretch desolate in the dark and I hurry. I am extremely conspicuous. Western tourists are in small numbers. I barely see or hear more than 10. At night I glow bright white and in the day it’s impossible to merge. Clothes wrong, hair wrong. But everyone wants to talk…where are you from, 3 days is not enough, London is beautiful, do you love Buenos Aires, you must see this museum, watch you bag, why are you alone?

You eat well. Butter soft steak. Smooth wine. Gloopy sweet spoons of Dulce de Leche. Just ten pounds. Ten pounds of fat too.

I’d imagined a musical city, like Havana, with sounds and dancing on every corner but it’s not so. You hunt it out and try to make untouristy choices which means going further. Which means wrong turns too. I saw tango in a romantic old hall with an ornate glass ceiling and little piles of resin by the pillars for dancers to grind their t-bar shoes in. Old couples sat on red tables and took turns to swap partners round the room. Elegant older ladies with slim legs and set hair. Later I went to a contemporary club, dark except for one central spotlight and beautiful young people sharing the floor in a more dramatic style. More flamboyant and expressive. A huge human heart hung above the dance floor, the pumping passionate aeorta of new tango right underneath. And me. Looking clumsy but laughing.

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past

He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God.
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Another sea. A cold one

Black Coat

I remember going out there,

The tide far out, the North Shore ice-wind

Cutting me back

To the quick of the blood—that outer-edge nostalgia,

The good feeling. My sole memory

Of my black overcoat. Padding the wet sandspit.

I was staring at the sea, I suppose.

Trying to feel thoroughly alone,

Simply myself, with sharp edges—

Me and the sea one big tabula rasa,

As if my returning footprints

Out of that scrim of gleam, that horizon-wide wipe,

Might be a whole new start.

My shoe-sole shapes 

My only sign.

My minimal but satisfying discussion 

With the sea.

Putting my remarks down, for the thin tongue

Of the sea to interpret. Inaudibly.

A therapy,

Instructions too complicated for me

At the moment, but stowed in my black box for later.

Like feeding a wild deer

With potato crisps

As you do in that snapshot where you exclaim

Back towards me and my camera.

So I had no idea I had stepped

Into the telescopic sights

Of the paparazzo sniper

Nested in your brown iris. 

Perhaps you had no idea either,

So far off, half a mile maybe,

Looking towards me. Watching me

Pin the sea’s edge down.

No idea

How that double image,

Your eye’s inbuilt double exposure

Which was the projection

Of your two-way heart’s diplopic error,

The body of the ghost and me the blurred see-through

Came into single focus,

Sharp-edged, stark as a target,

Set up like a decoy

Against that freezing sea

From which your dead father had just crawled.

I did not feel 

How, as your lenses tightened,

He slid into me.

T.Hughes

Ace Hotel, London & Rosewood Hotel, London

A tale of two new openings, one East one City.

For every man, for every mood, there is a hotel to fit. There’s shabby grimy bow bedded, there’s antiques and ticking clocks, there’s small and secret, grand and marbled, hip and chalkboarded.

The two here are spruced up smart and Danish furniture trendy.

Ace Hotel is the latter. Good for meeting friends in, drinking cocktails served by vaguely put out staff, a menu printed on a curled up bit of grey paper, everyone sitting round on Mac books looking earnestly at Instagram, doorman in an ironic cape, Negroni sloshing, people wearing beanie hats indoors, pretty good music and live stuff, a warehouse-like basement bar, great chairs impossible to sit up straight in.

This is a hotel which is a bringing you a lifestyle. You come here to do looking, watching, being seen. They shout into their phones as they catch a bus from Dalston “Yeah Ace, see you in Ace.” This isn’t bad. It’s good for when that’s how you feel like being.

Rosewood is a refurb of the Chancery Court and they’ve done it astonishingly well. It’s a completely different place. There is still a doorman in an outfit, this time he’s in hunting lodge green check and cap. It’s slightly embarrassing to have a door opened for you by an Edwardian groundsman but anyway. Rosewood starts as it means to go on with rose brass door bars. There are cages of love birds singing in the atrium and shiny tables with bowls of Quality Street (like a better version of Grandma’s house). The staff are indulgent in their attention, lavishing you with ‘can I help/get/fix you’s’. Everything is dainty, the water is served in thumbelina gold cups on tiny gold plates, the tea is from a minute glass tea pot in a delicate green rimmed porcelain cup, piccolo pots of jam for neat triangles of toast. Everything invites you to play the long game, languid chairs, dark lights, softness.

The bar is a grown up sweet shop. Bottles shiny in a backlit myriad of coloured glass. It’s a place for adult to be intense and luxurious and look into eyes not around rooms.

Amsterdam, Holland

I can’t write a hotel review about Amsterdam as I didn’t stay in one. I stayed in a commune, a giant grey house on a canal edge home to about 15 people, one of whom was a friend of a friend. It’s strange sleeping in a big house that functions as a home. The sound of people living, working, cooking, in and out of unseen rooms and putting on washing loads. But it was nice all the same, though I stayed awake late one night listening to the sound of lager-mouthed English people screaming pop songs as they rolled out of red light venues and searched for their hotels, the night fading with their memories.

Amsterdam is small and simple to move round on trams, buses, and of course, bicycles. Houses dip into the canals in places, much like Venice, skinny red buildings nudged up tight and wearing little curly hats in the gables. With less roads there is a noiselessness to walking round that adds to its calm and encourages meandering thought and that slow stroll only afforded to tourists. 

We visited the Rijks Museum, refurbished to great expense and the abode of many of the grand Dutch Masters’ works, including Rembrant’s Night Watchman, which most interested me for its secret trap door in the floor. A little like an organ emerging from the guts of a stage in old music halls, the painting can be hoisted to a cloister in the event of risk.

By comparison, The Sex Museum did not perform. Rooms of visual stimulus had no story so nothing about the sex industry, sex in art or attitudes around sex and pornography was learnt. A shame as it could be genuinely insightful.

Anne Frank’s House was a hushed journey around the family’s hiding place, or the Secret Room as Anne wanted to name her diary. I imagined a great deal in the creaking dark rooms and especially was drawn to her room, which she decorated with scraps of magazine cuttings. Pictures of babies and happy girls, movie stars, flowers and nature, the outside world she couldn’t see.

Pancakes are a must do. We ate thin pancakes, like battered doilies, with salty bacon and sweet syrup at the Pancake Corner. I’d eat them now.

The best part was the bridges at night, strung up with lightbulbs, reflected double in the still black waters.

 c

Got the hottest chick in the game, wearing my chain

Got the hottest chick in the game, wearing my chain

(Source: beyonce)

Journeys away from loved ones, or going to loved ones. They’re the only kind of journey.

Much is written about being away, yet much less is said about coming home.

I was away this weekend. Between the sights, the photo taking, long walks, cups of coffee and sips of beer I thought of home.

That familiarity is not a place. It’s a state of mind, a smell, a single object, it’s a voice.

And we all have that place, but sometimes we have to journey to find it.

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