1997 - London, Portugal, Spain and Morocco

Travels with Pilar Blaske - London, Portugal, Spain & Morocco 1997

From Picadilly to the Djema el Fna and Back

June 23 - Monday - Dallas/ London - Auguries in the rain. Water and memory. Concavities in the stone. Depart from Dallas in the afternoon. Getting wasted on demi-bottles of wine and shot bottles of Bailey's. Passing out somewhere bewteen New York and London. Waking up drenched in sweat, claustrophobic, nauseous. The stewardess, as much as we might protest otherwise, believes we are getting married on this trip. Gives us a bottle of champagne.

June 24 - Tuesday - London, England - Arrived hungover and jet-lagged. Tube to Picadilly Circus. A city that smells like Christmas. After some trouble, find a room at Millard's House in the Sussex Gardens area. Old Sweedish family management. Room down in the basement, wood paneled, near an ancient bathroom. Slept for a while then went for expensive Indian food nearby. Walked through Hyde Park.

Later, search for the Dog and Duck, end up at another nearby pub. Deep dark wood and neo-Victorian decor. Techo with R.E.M.. A few pints and back to the room. Watch bizarre British TV shows.

June 25 - Wednesday - London - Wake up early, read Perez-Reverte's Flanders's Panel. Surprisingly good English breakfast in the upstairs dining room. Coffee, juice, fried eggs, ham, stewed tomatoes, toast, baked beans. Outside, it's a typical grey and rainy London day. Almost cold. Took the Tube to Westminster Abbey. Walked amongst the bones of Kings, Queens and Poets. The Weight of Time makes you feel like a ghost. After the Abbey, walked around the Houses of Parliament. Down to the Tate. Amazing. Overwhelming. Blake's "Ghost of a Flea". John Martin's "Day of his Wrath". Watt's plaintive "Hope". A cup spilling over. Keiffer and the problem of asking the right questions about the presence and function of Art. Rothko and the gloom of the self being defied. No re-presentation. Immediate. In your face. Like a fist or a kiss. A single book, massive, heavily lined, emanating Mystery.

George Frederic Watts, Hope, 1886

After the Tate, a quest for the perfect Fish and Chips. All over Covent Gardens. Settling finally on whatever came next. Ate it with vinegar and green peas. No greasy newspaper.

Later that evening, went to Filthy McNasty's Whisky Pub. Sweetly drunk on Castlemaine XXX lager. Wandering lost around the neighborhoods. Barely making it back to the Tube on time. Went to call Pilar's sister, pass a guy pissing in the bushes. Reeling drunk. Tells Pilar: "Yor fokin byooful." Laughter. Down in deep water.

June 26 - Thursday - London - Up early, reading Flander's. "The sentence I am now writing is the one you are now reading." Upstairs for breakfast. Silent efficient waitresses in maid outfits. 

Set out for the British Museum. Hard rainfall and thick crowds. Rosetta Stone as the physical symbol of language. Hieroglyphic to Heirophantic to Demotic. Images, spells and letters. The smiles of the Pharaohs. Plunder of the Acropolis. Elgin Marbles and the Gnostic/ Romantic Trace. The museum effect. Lapiths and centaurs. Blake's "Illustrations for the Book of Job" in the stairway, almost incidental. Resonance of Job, Jonah and Jacob. Then the manuscripts. The Guttenberg Bible, Shakespeare, Keats, Shelley, Johnson. Diamond Sutra. Chinese books of bark. 

Mentally exhausted, leave and walk along with the masses in the rain. Into Soho, find a crowded place to eat good ciabatta sandwiches. Then back to the room to sleep off some last jet-lag. Pilar went out on her own to a nearby pub, experiencing a full dose of English reserve and alienation. I slept on through.

June 27 - Friday - London - Woke up at 4:30 am. Went upstairs to the lobby to finish The Flander's Panel. Pilar got up at 6:00. We went out for a paper. Came back for breakfast. Wrote for a while in the room. I went up to pay the old man for the last two nights, happily discovered that the room was cheaper than we had thought. Walked down Edgeware Road, stopping in at a Safeway for bread and cheese. Continued on to the Marble Arch, light rain falling. Pink roses all around. A monument to nothing.

Decided to go to the Victoria and Albert museum. Took the Tube. Overshot our stop and walked back through the neighborhoods. Stopped to look around an old cemetary. Checked email at an Internet Store on the way. Sent off a review with a few messages. V&A was better than I had remembered. The plaster cast room: with the Michelangelo and Donatello's Davids, Ghiberti's doors, entire cathedral entranceways and other monstrous replications. Had a cup of coffee in one of the exquisite Victorian rooms. Aferwards, we found a nearby comfortable pub and had a couple of satisfying pints.

Walked over to the National Science Museum. Notable differences between human artifacts of culture and natural artifacts of life. Returned to the room. Dinner of bread and cheese while watching bad British TV. Around 8:30 pm, went to Soho for a few pints at the Dog and Duck. Thick crowds. Picked up a couple of excellent kebabs on the way home and ate them in the room.

June 28 - Saturday - London/Lisbon, Portugal - Violent dreams redeemed by an inability to be harmed. An odd bird in the courtyard outside that sings the same sad notes. Heard it from the first night we were here. A strange and fragmented tune, sang over and over.

Breakfast. Same as it ever was. Go do laundry nearby. Return and give Mr. Millard (I presume), the old Sweede with missing teeth, our bottle of champagne. He is delighted, expansive. Must be the rare guest that gives a gift. Take the Tube to Victoria Station to catch the train to Gatwick. Time enough for a brief walk up to Buckingham Palace. Huge crowds to watch the changing of the guards. Japanese snapping and filming it all. Unimpressive to us. Barely make it to the plane on time. My mechanical pencil mystifies security for a while. Last two on board. Separate seats to Lisbon.

In Lisbon, a bus to the center of town. A differnt world. Bent old woman standing before a cart full of peaches, sounding out her pitch. Beggars holding out trembling hands. Beautiful dark men and women. A breeze from the sea. We find a room at a pensao in the Barrio Alto, Pensao Londres. A long and lovely walk up through the narrow mosaic tiled streets, wrought iron balconies waving with laundry and flowering plants. Up beside the Elevador da Gloria, past the port bars. A quarto for two nights. High ceilinged room with simple furnishings, a window opening to a ventillator shaft. Fragrance of freshly baked bread drifts up in the mornings. A bathroom in the hall with a giant tub, bidet and difficult toilet.

Down to the Baixa in a vain search for a currency exchange. Sangres Cerveja at Martinno da Arcada, famous watering hole of the writer Pessoa. I am exhausted for some reason. Around the winding streets to an inexpensive dinner at a family run place, Tasca do Manel. Little cash. We order the cheapest dishes. Pilar ended up with a decent fish pancake. I ended up with Peixe Espada, a plate piled high with fried sardines. Head accumulating on the side as I ate, staring at me with blank fish eyes. The proprieters coming by to make sure we liked everything. "There is soemthing wrong with the fish heads?" Joke.

Passed several pracas, plazas, with festivals going on. I was depressed for no definite reason. We stood atop Miradoro de Sao Pedro, watching fireworks explode over the city. Everything only made me more miserable and alienated. Some bizarre form of homesickness.

June 29 - Sunday - Lisbon - A good night's rest make all the difference. The vitality of the ocean's day: brightness in the blue skies, sweet breezes. Portugal. Elegant breakfast in a sunny white room. Black coffee, steamed milk, rolls and jam. Tall balcony windows opened white. A room full of light. All the time in the world.

Decide to head over to Belem. On the way: a one legged man crossing the road. Car stop for him to pass but he refuses. Some sort of superstition? Hops back to the side of the street. A primitive rambling Metro to the Rossio Train Station. Beggars everywhere. Huddles of rags with burned smoking hands emerging. It seems that most of the men walk with a limp. Short train ride to Belem. Walk out into the massive Praca Alfonso de Albuquerque in front of the Presidential residence. Pilar plays with an odd little Portuguese dog. On past a series of cafes and restaurants setting up for Sunday afternoon business. Up to the Mosteiro de Jeronimos. Impressive. Clusters of stone angels and saints. Made our way in at the conclusion of Mass. Tourists already inside posing with insipid grins before the tombs of Vasco de Gama and Camoes. Purity and danger. Made our way around the serene cloisters. Seemed like the interior square of a labyrinth. Worked out a communication breakdown between Pilar and I as a procession of priests walked be, censers swinging through the shadows, reminding me of the Monastery in the Desert.

Away from the crowds, we found a sidewalk cafe beside the Praca da Imperio. A sublime dinner there: Grilled sole, green beans, new potatoes, white wine and coffee. Delivered with grace and leisure. A little boy collected limes that had fallen from the nearby trees. Dogs chased soccer balls. High white clouds passed slowly over.

Down to the Parrao dos Descobrimentos. A sort of pseudo fascist chess piece of a monument to the Portuguese explorers. Further down the quay to the Torre de Belem - under restoration. Took the train back into Lisbon. Up the Elevador de Santa Justa, drinking cold Super Bocks above the city until evening, listening to the Gypsy Kings.Impressions: A one armed fisherman, a man with no teeth trying to sell me a gold ring, "Isth Ree", signs of the Secret Brotherhood.

Back to the room. Then we go write and drink beer in a small bar in the Praca do Principale Real. After, we stumble through the Barrio Alto looking for the perfect place to have dinner. Pilar finds an intimate out of the way place that is excellent. Later on, we walk laughing through the cobblestone streets, past the Fado bars, ending up at a festival in the Largo do Chiado. Drink more beer and watch the Portuguese families dance, sing, play.

June 30 - Monday - Lisbon - Wake up and breakfast. Take the train to Sintra this morning. Watching the vanishing point recede, sitting with my back to the train's direction. Pine and cedar covered hills, sandy soil. Images of East Texas. Pilar looking out the window, reflected in the glass.

Arrive in Sintra. Two arabian styled spires over the Palacio National. Lunch in a place recommended by my parents - who were just here: the Adega das Caves. Caters to tourists and the staff all speak impeccable English. But the food is still pretty good and not too expensive. Tour the Palacio. The white spires are above the massive kitchen. An impressive chapel. Doves painted on the walls. And the Sala das Pegas, the "magpie room". Magpies holding scrolls with the words "Por Bem" (In Honor) in their beaks. Images of lost bets.

Take the steep climb up to the Castelo dos Mouros, a ruined castle presiding over the city. Through a wooden turnstile, up the well worn switchback path. Mossy boulders, richly wooded coves, ivy covered caves. Near the lower entrance to the castle, a man plaaying a flute. Freestanding archways and crumbled walls echoing. Up along the walls overlooking the city and most of the landscape all the way to the sea. Eating chocolate, drinkng water. A cutting wind. Wildflowers like stars upon the stone. Wonderings about the ancient watchmen. What ruins us? The flute song floating mysteriously. Vines and roots separate the stones like laughter.

Back down to Sintra and the train back to Lisbon. 235 steps back to our room. Restored by a bath. Go to a Chinese Restaurant that we have passed several times, Han's. Chicken on an iron sheet. Burning and sputtering with oil. Chicken curry. The best chinese food I have ever had.

Later, up past our pensao to the Praca do Principe Real, stopping into a local place for a glass of port. Obligatory. Beer under the florescent lights and dark trees.

July 1 - Tuesday - Lisbon - Check out of the Pensao Londres. Down to the station and buy tickets to Faro, a city in the South. Metro up to the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. Tremendous elegance. Subtle lighting, placement and balance of presentation. Woodblock prints of Sagakumo. Turner's "Wreck of the Minotaur". Rembrandts. Rodins. A roomful of Lalique. The mystery of Gulbenkian.

Down to the Prace do Comercio. Catch a ferry to Barreiro, across the Rio Tejo. Poetic departure. Watching Lisbon spread out upon the waters. From Barreiro, the train to Faro. Perfect way to leave Lisbon, watching the city spread out against the waters.

From Barreiro, we took the train to Faro, in Southern Portugal. Rolling hills replete with olive, orange and lemon trees. Vineyards cropping out here and there.

At the station in Faro, a persistent Armenian man, Paul, offered us a place to stay. The usual haggling and we end up heading to the Hotel Marim. He drives us over, talking on and on about Texas and the US and Portugal. A clean and viewless room. We settle in then head over to a nearby Supermarket to get preparations for sandwiches. Lunched at a charming diner, the Cafe Sev, drank beer and wrote. A walk around the simple city. Stopping to peer through the gates of an atmospheric above ground cemetary.

Pilar made sandwiches in the room. Salami, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, mustard on excellent bread. Later, we discovered a place called the Kook's Bar, american styled, playing disco and rap. I ask for two glasses of sangres (blood) instead of Sagres, the beer. Stayed until 10:30 pm. Pleasantly inebriated. Forgot my jacket and had to run back.

July 2 - Wednesday - Faro, Portugal/ Seville, Spain - We woke up late, packed up and headed to the train station to get out tickets to S.A. Villa Real, a stopping point on the way to Seville. 

We left our packs at the station and walked over to the Igreja de Nossa Senhora de Carmo y Capela dos Ossos. The church is deceptively simple on the outside. Within is a beautiful and ornate iconographic altar and ceiling. A felt presence of the sacred. We then walk around the sublime Capela dos Ossos, a small chapel whose walls are entirely covered in bones and skulls. Above the doorway is written:

“Stop here and think of the fate that will befall you – 1816."

There is a small sign indicating there are 1245 skulls - all from monks once buried in the cemetery outside. 

The architecture of the bone, of the skull,
silences of the empty sockets.
Memento Mori written in every smile.

Imagining the work,
the dwelling, the space, the inspiration.
My brother's bones, broken, up in the walls. 

July 3 - Seville, Spain. 

July 4 - Seville - 

July 5 - Tarifa, Spain. - 

July 6 - Tarifa - 

July 7 - Asilah, Morocco - 

July 8 - Asilah - 

July 9 - Rabat - 

July 10- Rabat - 

July 11- Marrakesh - 

July 12 - Marrakesh - 

July 13 - Asilah - 

July 14 - Algeciras, Spain - 

July 15 - Granada - 

July 16 - Granada - 

July 17 - Granada - 

July 18 - Madrid - 

July 19 - Madrid - 

July 20 - Madrid - 

July 21 - Barcelona - 

July 22 - Barcelona - 

July 23 - Barcelona - 

July 24 - Barcelona/ London/ New York - 

July 25 - New York/ Dallas - 

July 26 - Dallas/ Austin