Monday, 22 July 2013

Cycling in Corralejo

A BBC report says that Cambridge is “Britain’s top cycling city”. If this is indeed so, I feel sorry for the rest of Britain. For Cambridge, the last time I was looking (last month), is still far from being truly cycle-friendly. Unfortunately, there are no shortage of cyclist haters in Britain. This hatred is often based on a belief that it’s them, motorists, who are paying the mythical “road tax” while the rest are (equally mythical) “road tax dodgers”. On the other hand, (some of) the cyclists in Cambridge are arrogant like nowhere else. When Douglas Adams wrote about “a cyclist, who cursed and swore ... from a moral high ground that cyclists alone seem able to inhabit”, I’m sure he meant Cambridge cyclists.

I bought my first bicycle in 1998, shortly after moving to Cambridgeshire, in a hope to use it for my work commute. Back then, I had this mental image of Cambridge as a safe cycling place, which I by some reason extended to the rest of the county. The reality was different. The semblance of the cycling path was disappearing half-way from the village, and I was never feeling suicidal enough to hit the motorway. And so, for the next 13 years, my Integra Phantom was resting. (Resting, not rusting. It started to rust only here.)

I resumed cycling two years ago, in Corralejo. My first week here, I bought a budget Berg. Both Yuri and Timur were learning cycling on it, and then Yuri was using it daily, so it suffered a lot. In two years, I changed the pedals, wheels, gears, brakes (twice), saddle (twice), tyres (twice), countless inner tubes... well more or less everything apart from the frame and the chain. I reckon I invested in it at least twice as much as it was worth new. Still, cycling is the way to go in Corralejo. From our house, it is a 15-minute ride to the school and the same to Flag Beach.

When my old bike has finally arrived from England, I took it for a check-up to the sports shop where I bought the rest of our bike fleet. That’s when and how I learned (from “my” mechanic) that the brake levers in left-side-driving countries are the other way round compared to the rest of the world.

Now Corralejo is reasonably crime-free but one day Timur phoned from the school and said that his bike has disappeared. By that time, it also was a well-battered contraption scarcely worth stealing. Still, I went to the police to report the incident, if only for the sake of the experience. Needless to say, I never heard back from them.

Cycling in Corralejo is a breeze. Not because of the infrastructure — the cycling paths can be good, bad or absent — but thanks to the attitude. ¡Tranquilo, hombre! It’s only guiris (foreigners) who wear cycling helmets. Nobody bothers with hand signals either. The motorists normally leave the cyclists in peace; the cyclists don’t seem to be excessively irritating either. For me, the major annoyance comes in form of obese pedestrians who insist on crawling three or four a-breast, taking all of the pavement and a cycling path.

Ironically, just as we are planning to move, they, at long last, finished the re-surfacing of the high street and even put the new bike parking racks. If you are visiting Corralejo, think seriously of renting a bike. If you are moving in... do you need a second-hand one?

More photos of Fuerteventura @ Shutterstock.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Ansel Adams at 100

by John Szarkowski

No, the book is definitely not dead. And I can’t think of a better example than this: a true objet d’art. Now that’s how to use it:

Take the linen slipcase off. Open the linen-bound book. Read the text. Admire the tritone photographs Ansel Adams himself would approve of. Hang a print on the wall.

Much has been said and written about Adams’ legendary technique — probably too much, for in fact it was no better than it needed to be to describe what he wanted to describe; often it was not good enough for that, as he repeatedly deplored. His technique had to be better than that of most photographers because his subjects required it. Photographing the air of Yosemite required a more sophisticated technique than was required to photograph its geology. Otherwise, Adams’ insistence on precision would have been just showing off — fancy dancing with no partner, and none in view.

Saturday, 13 July 2013


by Robert Doherty

After watching the first episode of Elementary, I thought it was vastly inferior to Sherlock. Where British make three episodes per season, Americans make 24. Surely they can’t be all as good?

Well I was right here: they aren’t. Some of them are weak, and the very last one of the season is just plain silly. And there are some quite good too.

Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes is as arrogant and annoying as Cumberbatch’s character in Sherlock — or, indeed, as Moriarty in Sherlock. But there’s more to this particular Holmes than genius and arrogance. Eventually, I grew to like him. Maybe because of his vulnerability. Mainly because of his vulnerability. Lucy Liu makes a very decent Dr. Watson: intelligent, reserved and trustworthy. Also, while learning from Holmes, she teaches him a thing or three. Little wonder Holmes, now “clean” ex-addict, becomes so dependent on her. Elementary offers something that was missing from other recent interpretations of Conan Doyle classic stories: development of friendship between Holmes and Watson. On the other hand, Moriarty, aka Irene Adler (Natalie Dormer), is a complete disaster.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Tea at the Midland and other stories

by David Constantine

This book has 16 stories of widely variable quality. Now don’t get me wrong: there’s no sloppy work here. On the contrary, the author puts a lot of thinking into every sentence. However, at times it looks like he wants the reader to spend as much time pondering over every sentence. It’s all very literary but it does not flow: too viscous. Not my idea of a good short story. In general, not my idea of a good story.

An Island is the longest and least believable of the lot. Who on earth writes letters like these, especially to a loved one? It gets more compelling when the story is not exactly supposed to be believable, as with Charis or Doubles. In my view, Asylum and Strong Enough to Help are the best.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Fuerteventura en Música 2013

How time flies. That’s how I finished my post about the last year’s festival:

I have a year to sort the accommodation out.
It was not until last week though that I finally sorted it. By that time, I couldn’t find any reasonably priced hotels in El Cotillo for two nights. So, guess what, I booked our stay for three nights. Which provided us with a welcome escape from extremely noisy neighbours who arrived for holidays. (I never thought I am going to say this, but here you are: I am counting time till we leave this house for good.)

What I wrote last year remains true. Still, no publicity. Maybe because this year marks the 10th anniversary of the festival, they managed to print the colourful booklets and posters, although I only saw them in El Cotillo. The festival website had a list of bands, but it was not even said which band plays which night. The DJ breaks were still far too long. The police, even in greater numbers, were still hanging around the centre. This time they brought red and blue LED traffic flares, so their stretch of road looked more festive. The special buses seemed to run on time.

For me, the highlight of the first night were The Monos from Gran Canaria. I was more than impressed by their versatility and level of musicianship. Yes, it’s “only” rock’n’roll. Plus cumbia, funk, rancheras, reggae, ska, and even tango. And what a killer horn section! Who said that Canarians can only play timple? Oh, by the way, they also have a killer timple player. Listen to Llora la Tierra and Canarito de sangre and hear for yourself.

On Saturday night, as I was walking towards Playa de la Concha, I heard music coming from one of the streets. I came closer. It was a garage used as a dining room. Inside, a middle-aged woman was sitting near the gate, another was standing, probably cooking. An old man was at the table, playing timple and singing, paying no attention whatsoever to the beat from Playa de la Concha.

I guess every outdoor festival struggles with the problem of waste. In the early hours of Sunday, the garbage containers were overflowing. Maybe they were not emptied on Saturday morning. I don’t know what was happening with portaloos, I did not dare entering them this year.

The Palestinian rap trio DAM played an electrifying set on the second night. They even taught the audience some clapping patterns and a few Arabic (I believe) words. My only wish was they were backed by a real band. And, magically, my wish came true, for the next act, Babylon Circus, graciously invited DAM on stage and backed them for a truly great performance. That, I thought, is how Palestinian rap should sound.

Babylon Circus were the heroes of the night. To label them as “ska and reggae group” is, at best, misleading. Of course they do play ska and reggae, but these are fused with chanson, rock, swing and, yes, kind of music you’d expect to hear in circus. They sing in both French and English (yes, with cute French accent). The audience were exhausted from all this singing and shouting and jumping, while it looked like Babylon Circus were ready to play another set!

A hard act to follow, they are. Perhaps inevitably, the next band sounded, well, less great. I felt really sorry for them. To avoid further disappointment, I went back to the hotel. The formerly musical garage was dark and silent.

More photos of El Cotillo @ Shutterstock.