The Roquefort Files

Travels to the pub and back

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Roquefort Files

are all grown up and have moved into their own place: So long Blogger, and hopefully see you all over at the new site!

P.S: the new feed is here; this old one will no longer be updated.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The other day I whipped out some lube

and applied it liberally to my bike's chain, which was starting to sound a little dry and rattly. Pleased with my handiwork, I cycled stealthily to work. At lunchtime I jumped on the bike again to head over to Leith Walk to buy some lunch. The sun was out and I was enjoying the break after a particularly taxing morning; I gazed around at the dog walkers, smokers on their breaks and the pastoral scene in general and let myself relax into the rhythm of the pedalling and the warmth of the day.

I then shat myself as a middle-aged woman walked directly into my path from behind a parked van. I rammed on the brakes, tipping up on the front wheel and barely avoided body-checking her. I plopped back down onto the back wheel and stared at her, all of a foot away.

We mutually and profusely apologised and set off on our respective ways. I reckon we'd been about half a second from broken bones, but there we went, off for lunch or a meeting or whatever. I had a compound spring/twitch in my step for the rest of the day.

It's been a bit of a week for birthdays: Ash's was last Tuesday, so we went out for a little meal round the corner with a bottle of Tesco's finest (very definitively a lowercase 'f') left over from the dinner party a couple of weeks back, and came home both surprisingly early and surprisingly drunk. CSI is our current TV drug of choice, what with the Virgin/Sky spat cutting off our supply of the highest grade, and we settled in to loll off the wine. Incidentally, Mogwai seem to get fairly regular outings on CSI and I was prompted to dust off Young Team for a few listens. Glaswegian neds they may be, but they can rock the ambient-prog-soundscape (ack) genre with the best of them.

On Saturday morning Ash and I did a bit of hurried antique shopping, and managed to buy a set of six 'Ercol' Windsor chairs for the downright indecent price of £42.50 for the lot. These bad boys are '50s design icons that go for upward of £200 new. They're curiously small (if they were Ikean they'd be called Bilbo or Frodo) but with the addition of some cushions they'll make excellent dining room chairs...and I've just spend a paragraph talking about furniture.

That afternoon I drove over to Fife with Jeff and Devon for the second of the week's birthdays, this time Bryan's, deep in the heart of Methil. It was great to see him again, and the supporting cast (cousin after cousin and a corpulent neighbour - "Youse guys have waistlines, ah've got a coastline,") kept us entertained while the weather switched arbitrarily from cold to hot to wet and back again. We made our excuses after a pleasant afternoon and headed home, the sky visibly brightening as we crossed the Forth Road Bridge. I'm going to miss Edinburgh!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

If it ain't baroque, don't fix it.

I'm typing this on my phone as we sit under the awning of a closed taverna, watching the elegantly weatherbeaten Campo San Giacomo da l'Orio* being further beaten by the current weather: a sudden, relentless downpour dramatically accompanied by rolling thunder and bursts of lightning. It's about 6pm and trying for an early dinner is so un-Venetian we're being cosmically punished.

* * *
A couple of days earlier, the morning we were due to take the ferry from Pula to Venice, the ship was conspicious by its absence. A company rep arrived instead and told us that the Adriatic - doing its best millpond impression at that point - was too rough. They'd drive us to Venice by bus.

Five and a half dehydrated, hungry hours later and the best thing I could say about the journey was at least we could tick off Slovenia. We tumbled off the bus at Tronchetto, Venice's ferry port, found an ATM to load up on euros and headed for the most likely looking water bus stop. We wobbled aboard the vaporetto and sat back for our first, slightly proletarian, trip along the Grand Canal.

It is exactly as you imagine. Dashing water taxis weave between vaporettos and barges; baroque palaces sit right on the water, their front doors opening onto private docks or even the water itself; barber-striped mooring poles cluster along the banks and every scrap of dry land is utterly heaving with tourists.

The vaporetto stopped just past the Rialto bridge and we were plunged straight into the morass of bodies between us and the hostel. We got there, inspected the mosquito-encrusted walls with furrowed brows and headed out to get our bearings. We made it as far as the Campo San Polo, eating a doughy slice of steaming takeaway pizza along the way. The bus trip had taken it out of both of us (odd how sitting still for so long will do that) so we found our way back to swat a few mossies and pass an otherwise uneventful night.

The second of the Bs in B&B Rota turned out to be a cup of coffee and a lucky dip pastry from a Chinese café next to the hostel. This was our designated Obnoxious Tourist day, so we joined the other visitors inexorably pushing Piazza San Marco into the lagoon by taking in the Basilica and ogling the rest of the square's architecture. (Standing in line for the Basilica, my phone rang and I spent about a quarter of an hour and a fortune in roaming charges making an offer for a flat that was rejected a couple of hours later.) We dutifully shot a few photos of the Doge's Palace and Bridge of Sighs, then repaired to a streetside café in which we got drunk as only tourists on an island free of motor vehicles can.

That night we went for dinner at 6, and paid the karmic price for it.

* * *
The following day, I had a grand plan for us to take the water bus out to the cimitero on San Michele to check out the real state of death in Venice, but although we took the correct boat it happened to be going in the opposite direction. There followed an impromptu tour of the south-eastern tip of the city, passing by the Bond-villainous bulk of the Maltese Falcon berthed behind a prole-resistance cordon and finally ending rather anticlimactically back at Piazza San Marco.

We wandered around the Accademia area for a while, and I decided to tick off another box by visiting the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. I took in the Picassos, Magrittes and Dalis and emerged exactly as hopelessly philistine as when I'd gone in. I got more aesthetic joy out of reading The Elements of Typography over the last couple of weeks than I did out of my first Guggenheim museum, so I may well be doomed to forever under-appreciate modern art.

For our last night we walked over to Campo Santa Margherita in the Dorsoduro area. We had a couple of drinks outside as the light faded, moved over to a restaurant and stuffed ourselves with the sort of bog standard Italian food that tastes fantastic even though it's basically just tomatoes and pasta. The dull tourist roar had been replaced by a pleasant local buzz, and it was a nice way to round off the trip.

It may sound a bit anticlimactic, but for a city quite so alluring to authors, artists and tourists alike, I can't really recall any great ephiphany or occurence that suddenly opened my eyes to its appeal. What happened instead was that over the few days we were there, the place sort of seeped into my mind so that by the time we left it seemed to embody the archetypal European city. It's ludicrously grand, with church after church of Renaissance friezes and burnished gold fittings; literal palaces are everywhere and even the most humble apartment building is warped with age and history. Then, to a greater or lesser degree, there is a universal patina of decay - if a building isn't visibly leaning or fringed with lichen or exposed brickwork, another creeping inundation is only ever a few months away to help it on its way.

Venice is old Europe to a tee: grandeur, decay, culture, history, fashion and caffeine-heavy breakfasts in one handy package.

* In other news, the internet is now so bloated that it contains reviews of town squares.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I'd like to apologise

for failing to organise my screed of notes from Venice into something suitable to post here. In my defence, since we got back I've been dividing my time between looking for a flat over in Glasgow and fretting that once I found one I'd be in hock to the bank for the next 25 years.

Well, no longer I have that excuse because I've just bought one. Henceforth the fretting takes over full time.

Monday, July 09, 2007

A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum

The day after our respective diving adventures, we spent the day indulging in some of Punta Verudela's local entertainment. During the day we basked in the sun down on the rocky beach with our Teutonic neighbours; in the evening we ate at the local Russian mafia pizzeria (as evidenced by a Russian-sounding gent who monopolized a corner table, barking occasional orders down his cellphone and eschewing food for vodka) and rounded the day off with a nightcap at a deserted sports centre/bar hybrid with WWF Smackdown playing on the big screen. Back at the flat, we were serenaded to sleep by some German-accented karaoke from a nearby apartment. "Killing Me Zoftly," indeed.

On Sunday we packed up and caught the local bus into the town centre. Pula has ping-ponged from empire to empire since the Romans, and there's an impression of peeling off the skins of an onion as you travel in. You get Communist-era apartment blocks on the outskirts, petering out the further in you get, then baroque Austro-Hungarian façades, the odd angular Venetian edifice and finally, nestled among them all, scattered Roman monuments.

Our apartment was within spitting distance of the Arena, a mini-me colosseum parked on the edge of the town centre, and we wandered past it and around the circular Kandlerova Ulica which seems designed to entrap disorientated tourists in a never-ending parade of ice-cream parlours and shoe shops. James Joyce taught English here at the turn of the century (which might account for some of the indecipherable menu items) and at the end of Kandlerova we sat with his statue at Café Uliks for a spot of people watching. I came to the conclusion that Pula might only be a couple of miles north of Punta Verudela, but it's about ten years ahead in sartorial terms.

I wanted to do some roman' around the next day, so in the morning I took the camera and popped next door to the Arena. It's certainly impressive that it's still standing after a couple of millennia, but there was precious little context to all of it. I know next to nothing about the Romans (well, enough to feel slightly uneasy about the divers' signal meaning 'descend') and there were no information boards or the like, so I snapped some pseudo-arty shots of the Adriatic framed by the colonnades and wandered back to pick up Ash. We duly saw the sights - the Cathedral, the Temple of Augustus, the Venetian fort on the hill in the centre of town - but none of them really caught my imagination, and not one of them deigned to explain anything about themselves. Odd.

Despite being underwhelmed by what should have been historic marvels and instead were just ordered piles of rocks, after a couple of days pottering around I felt thoroughly at home. There's a nice bit of cheerfulness to the place (probably down to everyone getting plenty of vitamin B); it isn't too crowded, and the ability to sit outside to eat, drink or read any time of the day made me think that maybe Joyce wasn't far wrong in coming here for a while.*

* Actually, had he been staying in our apartment he'd probably have hated the damn place. The attic bedroom was too hot to sleep in, and downstairs the mosquitoes absolutely plagued us all night. In a delirious rage at about 4.30am, I swatted a particularly bloated one leaving a massive bloody streak against the wallpaper that I had to swab off with a kitchen towel. Urgh.

Saturday, June 30, 2007