Castilian Westworld

The Conecta festival and the city of Toledo were fantastic and I’m going to write a little about my experiences in a later post. One of the stranger things we encountered during a pre-conference day of round-table discussions was the Toledo branch of the Puy de Fou historical theme parks. Founded in 1977 by notorious rightwing politician and novelist Philippe de Villiers as an offshoot of his historical drama TV show Cinéscénie, the original Puy de Fou in Les Epesses became the fourth most-visited theme park in France after the two Disney parks and Parc Astérix.

At night the park stages a performance in which various historical tales are re-enacted in grand mythic style. Columbus sails to the new world, Knights Templar crusade, Visigoths battle Romans. It is a deeply uncanny place, especially the brand-new ancient castles with perfectly pointed brickwork. The park is right in the middle of in a region so rich in real ancient castles it is called Castilla-La Mancha.

I had been wondering about the potential for using this place as a location for a fanciful and historically inaccurate TV series of my own, but when fellow writer Pierre Puget told me about de Villiers’ political positions – he is an apologist for ‘illiberal democratic’ populists like Hungary’s Orbán – I rather lost interest.

In Buñuel’s footsteps

I’m going to be in Toledo all next week attending the Conecta European TV networking event, and sticking around a couple of days afterwards for a little city break which will probably involve bicycles at some point.

When I mentioned to my friend Svitlana that I was going there, she told me the city was beloved by Luis Buñuel. A little digging, and it turns out before the Spanish Civil War, when they were all alive and on speaking terms, Buñuel, Dalí and Lorca visited Toledo and, “fascinated by the mysterious air it gave off,” were moved to invent their own semi-satirical religious order/artists collective, the Order of Toledo. More about it in this article by Roberto Majano.

The principle activity of the order was “to wander in search of personal adventures” and the induction ceremony was to be stranded alone in the darkness of Toldeo at the toll of the 1am bell. This reads to me very much like a precursor to the Situationist activity of dériving around Paris. Perhaps Guy Debord drew inspiration from Buñuel?

Bonus anecdote: Buñuel hired a sex worker in the city, not apparently for sex, but in order to hypnotise her, because surrealist research doesn’t have to answer to ethics committees.

Drunken Fuckwit Mangles Bikes

Last weekend the missus and I headed to Monterey for a relaxing weekend on the Pacific coast. We took our bikes and locked them to the railing between our motel room and the car park. We figured nobody would steal our bikes, they’re not exactly top models. However, when we got home on Saturday evening, after snapping the sunset, a pleasant dinner and a couple of drinks, our bikes had disappeared. Just as the idea of our bikes being stolen was sinking in, we realised the railing was gone too, and the smell of diesel was hanging in the air. Then we found our bikes.

Playing Catch-up

Looks like I’ve not posted in a while. Here’s a summary of the last sixty-six days.

Those who saw me and possibly the missus during December will know how much we tired ourselves out having fun and visiting what feels like everyone (but actually wasn’t) during the festive season.

Discovering that I’m a little part of history in a photo in the Globe museum (along with Eyelashjam and a small bunch of others) was a happy experience. Somewhere within me a small organ swelled with pride. Seeing M & K happily set-up in Brighton made both of us happy, and reunions back in Worcestershire and Buckinghamshire were as sweet as always.

We’ve been back in Davis for a month now, and I suppose we’re back in the swing of things. The tiny PS2 Rev Rehash gave us as a Saturnalia present has seen a lot of use, and led me to discover a very 21st century relationship dilemma which I’ll cover in a later post.

I taught my Cornish pastie and Chicken Tikka Masala course at the Co-op for a second time. No-one died. Even better, I’m working with my friend Ellis on a video project which will stay under wraps until it’s ready to be seen. I’m still procrastinating over writing the script for the short movie I hope to make with Jeff. It’ll happen soon; I feel it bubbling up through the mire of my consciousness. I’ve also had an idea for a non-narrative piece which explores reproduction and degeneration.

So far this year I’ve caught the following movies at the cinema:

  • The Queen
    Well-observed performances from Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen, and subtly critical of both the traditional British establishment and Blair’s courting of populist sentiment.
  • Pan’s Labyrinth
    Visually stunning, and a top performance from Sergi Lopez as a sadistic torturing fascist.
  • The Curse of the Golden Flower
    A grand statement about China’s current regime disguised as a lavish period romp; largely disappointing when you compare it to House of Flying Daggers and Hero, but look at all those extras – and all those jiggling busts!
  • Children of Men
    Felt like a hard punch in the guts; at one point I almost threw up with anxiety. It’s very impressive and I was slightly hungover.
  • Volver
    Quirky and darkly sweet, but not as kinky as I’d hoped. Everyone’s talking about Penelope Cruz and she is good, but Carmen Maura’s better.

I’m going to make an effort to catch Notes on a Scandal, Little Children and a nice little American social realist pic (don’t see many of those) called Flannel Pajamas. The Last King of Scotland starts at my work in the next couple of weeks, which makes it easy for me to see and I’m hoping we can get Paul Verhoeven’s Zwartboek (Black Book) mostly because it’s guaranteed to be up-front steamy and sexual, and there has been precious little sex on American cinema screens since the end of the Clinton era.

February 18th is the first day of the Chinese year of the Boar. Mmm. Pork. I’m looking forward to it already.

The Electric Lotus

Tesla Roadster

I was excited to read an article about the Tesla Roadster today. It’s essentially a Lotus Elise, but with subtle differences – the most significant being that it runs on electricity, not petrol. I think this is important because electric cars will not appeal to full-on car enthusiasts and petrolheads until there is an electric car they think is sexy; an object of desire like a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, or slightly further down the scale, a Lotus.

There is a significant chunk of the population who will not take electric cars seriously until Jeremy Clarkson drives one and has his face rearranged due to G-forces, and I’m hoping this car is it. Obviously, I’m still in favour of reducing the number of cars on the road and the pollution they produce, but there will still be people who do not want to give up their own personal motor, either for practical or frivolous reasons, so the sooner they can and, most importantly, want to turn electric the better.

I initially thought that electric cars simply shifted the production of pollution to one centralised place – the power station – and that the same amount of pollution was created. However, I recently read that it is more efficient to have one large engine releasing the energy from whichever source you’re using and distributing it to where it’s needed than to have thousands or millions of smaller car engines making the conversion at the point of use. This means electric cars benefit the environment through being more efficient even before renewable energy reaches the point at which it can service the majority of our electrical needs.

I’m also really excited because I do enjoy driving, I enjoy moving fast, and to be able to do so with a clear conscience would be a marvellous thing. And it’s named after a cool crazy scientist, and it’s essentially a Lotus, and you can get it in racing green!

Links:
Wikipedia entry on the Tesla Roadster.
Tesla Motors official site.

Booked

I just booked a ticket to fly home for the festive season. I arrive in the UK on the 5th December, and leave again on the 3rd January. Yay!

10,000 Feet High and Skiing

Looking down on Lake Tahoe from the top of the Heavenly ski resort, Wed 22nd March 2006

This week I learnt that skiing on powder is far more fun than skiing on slush. I have also discovered that it is in my best interests to cover the whole of my face when skiing from 10,000 to 6,500ft because the wind and cold lend one’s face the frostbitten Antarctic explorer look.

We spent four of the last seven days skiing in the mountains to the south of Lake Tahoe, which straddles the California-Nevada border. Mid to late March is peak ski season thanks to alternating waves of snow and sunshine. Some days it would snow during the evening and the next morning would greet us with bright sunshine and six inches of clean fresh snow to ski. The views from the top of the mountain are awesome, but almost impossible to do justice to with a little digital snappycam.

We were accompanied on this trip by Duncan, my biological father, who displayed an uncanny knack for finding good places to dine. The best of the bunch was a restaurant called Mirabelle, run by a real live authentic French chef who cooks divine soufflés and then wanders out of the kitchen to make sure he has a room full of happy diners. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the best restaurant in Nevada. Merci Beaucoup, Papa!

Hats Off…

…and coat, skirt, blouse, bra and knickers too, to the naked ramblers, Steve Gough and Melanie Roberts, who have just walked from Land’s End, the most southerly tip of the UK mainland, to John O’Groats, the most northerly.

Stephen Gough, the nudey hiker.

I’ve always harboured a secret desire to hike naked about the British Isles, or anywhere, really. But that’s not really news to anyone who knows me well enough. I’m tempted to replicate Mr Gough’s endeavour in the US, but I think I’d probably get shot as many times as he was arrested.

Quilty


This is a snap of the Central Valley taken by Courtney from the aeroplane that brought us back to California after Thanksgiving in New York. The original was very hazy and washed-out. I boosted the contrast and reduced the brightness until this image emerged. Then I forgot about it until today.

Upstate

Sunset over Geneseo, 25th Novemeber 2005

This week we’re visiting Courtney’s parents in upstate New York. It’s snowy and crisp out, and the light this afternoon was pretty good, so I took a walk.

Wash ‘Em

Courtney’s parents are with us in England right now for a visit and a slice of Anglicana. Last week we took them for a Ploughman’s lunch in the Farmer’s Arms, an unspoilt pub on the fringes of Birtsmorton Common. In the gents’ I was treated to a wonderful piece of rural dialogue.

The Farmer’s Arms gent’s toilet is a pretty standard two urinal, one cubicle arrangement. An ancient rural type was standing at one of the urinals, so in accordance with toilet etiquette I used the cubicle. As I went about my business I could hear the old chap mumbling and grumbling to himself. Perhaps he was attempting some kind of pep talk. He was still there when I left the cubicle. As I washed my hands he leaned over and said:

“I was always told that if you ain’t pissed on your hands then you don’t need to wash ’em.”

And the irony is that as we left the pub a few minutes later, he was the one giving me a funny look.

Pretty Bleak

View from the Stiperstones looking roughly east, 10th August 2005

Last month, Courtney, James, Dave and I explored the Stiperstones in Shropshire. It’s an impressively bleak landscape, and a site of scientific interest, which has peaked in recent weeks as full-sized, flesh-coloured human “heads” have been noticed growing on top of certain rocks. We hoped to see some of these for ourselves.

Packing

Bedroom with suitcase and piles of clothes, Sat 30th July 2005.

Tomorrow evening we fly back to England. Lovely. How many jumpers (sweaters) will I need? Answers in the comments, please.

World Tour of England 2005

The dates are set. Liam & Courtney’s World Tour of England will start on 1st August and conclude on 16th September of this year. That’s a whole six weeks of imposing on friends and family, running around our favourite places and checking out the things we’ve always meant to do, but never got around to. The Eden project is high on our list, especially if the Eden Sessions are on again.

A Taste of San Francisco

Gosh, I’m getting behind with this blogging malarkey. We must get an internet connection at home soon.

A couple of weeks ago Courtney’s parents took us to San Francisco. What a city! We got a couple of snaps, and this one seemed to give capture one of the many flavours of the place.

People, sealions, San Francisco, 25th September 2004.

Arf! Arf! Arf!

Road Trip: Day Fifteen

Day 15: Curry Village, Yosemite to Davis, CA.

We wake at 7am, having slept for twelve hours straight, and head up to Glacier point. The air is crisp and sweet at this height and the view is breathtaking. We’ve seen many of America’s natural wonders on this trip, from the Mammoth Caves to the Grand Canyon. We’ve seen small patches of intense prettiness and, more often, large swathes of imposing magnificence, but Yosemite has both.