Sunday, September 30, 2007

Changing with the tide

Once a month, the local lido transforms into a nightclub. It's a strange event.

Just to explain the Canico de Baixo lido(1): it's not one of the stylish new ones, with wide spaces and generous wooden decking everywhere. This is an older one: someone poured cement between a bunch of razor-sharp rocks to make small sunbathing plateaux. There's a small shallow swimming pool. And the sea is on three sides.

They turn it into a club by draining & lining the pool, setting up small bars, twirly lights, and arranging some cushions and bean-bags around the place. Oh, and they put a rope around the three edges that open on to the sea.

Hmm. Sharp rocks, a drained pool, the ocean, alcohol, dancing. I cannot imagine how many lawsuits would ensue if this happened anywhere else on the planet...

But in Madeira, it somehow works. No-one tripped in a drunken haze and gouged out an eye; no-one fell into the sea; no-one was thrown into the sea. You dance, stargaze (Orion's belt was right overhead), curl up on a cushion and people-watch. After 5am, I noticed the tide was coming in, and waves were starting to crash over the club. Time to retreat...

1) Maggie - this is where we didn't swim because it was too rough; Tara & Mike - this is where we walked to with the kidlets and had lunch; Sean & Shona - this is where we went on New Year's Eve, the 'swimming while the red flag was flying' incident; Mom - this is the place we discovered after a very looooooong walk, many moons ago.

Friday, September 28, 2007

How to treat treatments

Today's work is going well so far: I've managed to make visible progress on a short-story, ghostwriting project and my screenplay treatment.

The treatment is taking a while. It's fair enough, I guess: you do need to map out the whole plot. My problem is that I keep slipping into dialogue. I got some screenwriting software, where you can toggle between the script and a series of index cards representing the individual scenes. No problem, I thought, I'll just complete all the index cards, squodge them together to form a treatment, et voilĂ !

After a couple of days I noticed that the index cards were filled with dialogue. I mean, stuffed to the gills...

Hmm. So I've started yet another file. The film's main action happens in a single week, so it's a simple calendar of daily events & scenes, to figure out the plot-development from start to finish. And yes, dialogue has been materialising there as well, but my theory is that when I trim all that off, I'll have my basis for the treatment. Baby steps :)

Have a lovely weekend.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Splash of colour

Aaah raspberries...

From raspberry muffins to raspberry martinis, they start and end your day with joy.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Long-suffering response

I caught some footage of Bush's speech before the UN General Assembly yesterday, and thought his choice of words was interesting. He was talking about Burma.

(No, it's not that he flaffed a little over Aung San Suu Kyi's name; God love him, he must have practiced that for aaaages.) He said that Americans were 'outraged' by the situation in Burma. Now, outrage to me suggests an initial reaction, it's kind of a response to being shocked by something: "They're doing what? You're kidding! I am outraged!"

But Bush's next sentence said that the situation had been ongoing for 19 years, which just plain undermined his first statement. Either a) Americans have just noticed the situation, which doesn't look good, or b) they knew all along and have been quietly outraged for 19 years, which doesn't look good.

I'd have left a good buffer before I mentioned the 19 years -- or else suggested that the situation this year was even more outrageous than normal, and that's what precipitated some US action.

I just noticed - U2's Walk On (dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi) is playing in the background. Love that symmetry! And you can see an amazing live version of Walk On right here...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Liquid happiness

I nipped out for my Swim Like a Fish lesson. In the pool, an elderly lady rested against one wall, her eyes closed, basking in the sunshine, in seventh heaven.

As I got in, she exclaimed how lovely the water was. She was French, had a sweet disposition, and we talked in that blend of French, Portuguese and English that seems to overcome any individual language deficiency.

She was surprised that I was bothering to put on goggles; I could be lounging at the side of the pool, sunbathing. I explained my fish-swimmy thing. She said you tan three times quicker in the pool; her brother is a doctor and told her.

At this point I recognised the scent that was lingering over the water: whiskey. Either she'd already had ample that morning (this was about 11.30am) or she was processing the Night Before, her system distilling ethanol at a rate that Guinness Distilleries would be proud of.

I started my fishy drills. Over the half-hour, she'd float over to where I surfaced several times to chat about the weather, the local dive spots, the weather (hot topic). Then she'd return to her sun spot, basking, eyes closed, smiling.

When my internal clock chimed to say 'that next batch of salsa has chilled nicely', it was time to go. I left her as I found her, in utter bliss.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Salsa Tales

So there I was, queueing in the veg shop, idly considering that my big bunch of local scrumptious on-the-vine tomatoes cost the same amount as the tin of tomatoes I needed to pick up en route home, and thinking what a rare and wonderful thing that was.

The lady totted up my shopping (tomatoes plus beetroot, carrots, onions, melon) which was coming to all of three euros. When we got to my bale of coriander (I am a salsa glutton), she laid it gently on top of the rest, "Oferta," she said, "No charge".

I looked around, figuring rent lighting wages insurance wholesale cost of produce... It was like approved stealing. Crazy.

And I tootled on home and made the best raspberry salsa ever. Life is good.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The hows and wheres of writing

Welcome back, little broadband connection. You were missed.

Another glorious weekend. I've been in for my session of learning to swim like a fish; now for some reading and writing.

And the news is, I'll be writing something else entirely, for Cured with Death is all finished. It's edited, polished, spell-checked. We have parted company. It was an odd feeling, waking up and not going straight for the file.

So the work to get it published begins. Meanwhile, I'm working on a short story, and writing my first screenplay treatment. It's a different approach for me: normally I have a clear idea of the end, the beginning and a few key scenes in between. Apparently, in screenwriting, you save yourself much torment by mapping the whole thing out in advance - a brief scene-by-scene description. Any plot/character weaknesses are highlighted, and when you sit down to write the script proper, it just flows. That's the theory, at least. So I'm giving it a go. It's hard: not to get distracted by dialogue, not to skip ahead to the climactic scenes, but the method teaches a lot about pacing and structure.

And I'm doing some ghostwriting as well. Busy busy.

This has been mentioned all over the place this week, but just in case you haven't seen it: The Guardian have posted their series on writers' rooms. You can see where writers write here. Very interesting: I loved Seamus Heaney's, and Jonathan Safran Foer's - who wrote in the Rose Reading Room of the 42nd Street Branch of the New York Public Library. Now there's a place to make you think big thoughts...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Saving society, one corsage at a time

From today, the New York Times has granted free access to its archive up to 1922, and it makes for fun reading.

The 1913 debutante season was a blast, by all accounts, filled with headlines like:

Newport Bud of Last Summer Introduced to New York Society by Her Father.

There's plenty of detail on the "wonderful galaxy of buds this Winter in society's garden"; every tea dance, every lunch out, article after article stressing the beauty and charm and er... charming beauty of the lay-dees.

And hey, the ridiculously expensive flowers "are always sent to the hospitals and the sick in the tenements". Such sacrifice, so that others can die/starve with an exotic orchid in sight.

The details of wills were widely publicized, and it's interesting to see how the Titanic affected estate law.

And it turns out, sometimes the Butler really did do it.

Some of the headlines read like articles from The Onion.

And my favourite:

-- it would make for fine dinner party conversation!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Over the rainbow

This morning I woke and sat in bed, staring out to sea. And then before my eyes, a rainbow formed...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Strange Days

In 1959 while Batista was en route to Madeira, Castro was setting up in Cuba, and cheerleading by his side was none other than Errol Flynn.

In articles and interviews, Flynn spread the good word about Castro – talking enthusiastically about the wonderful Castro brothers, what a ‘doll’ their mother was, how happy the Cubans were about the revolution. He also made a short feature, Cuban Rebel Girls.

You can see him on Front Page Challenge here, talking about his experiences and dispelling rumours that he fought alongside the rebels - he "didn't pick up anything more dangerous than a ballpoint pen”.

Flynn later retracted his pro-Castro statements; he died in October of that year.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Tales from Reids

I dipped into the autobiography of hotelier Jean Burca, who worked his way up from a commis waiter in the Savoy (London) to General Manager of Reid's. It was he who was ferried out to greet the liner carrying General Batista and his family, fleeing from Cuba in 1959.

He has a couple of good stories:

Their (Portuguese) Food & Beverages Manager came highly recommended by the manager of the Connaught Hotel, London. Turned out he borrowed money from the staff, stole the silver, built up a line of credit by pretending to be the manager of Reids, and spread the word that his wife was going to import horses from Ireland. The Governer of Madeira received a letter from the Portuguese Ambassador in Dublin, complaining that he'd lent £300 to "the manager of Reid's" and hadn't seen it again.

You wonder if Mr Connaught was playing a practical joke...

The other good snippet was when a letter arrived from Alessandri Prison, in Italy. A young man had seen a feature on Reids and really wanted to visit. So, he robbed a bank (as you do). Not very sucessfully, as it turned out.

The manager verified his story, then sent him two thousand escudos with a note saying he hoped one day his dreams would come true.

Inviting a robber to stay at your filled-with-wealthy-guests hotel. Hmm...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Pre-Pizza Post

A quick note, while my just-out-of-the-oven-of-the-restaurant-across-the-road pizza cools a bit: you can see REM's new video 'Leaving New York' here. Worth scrolling down to read the comment on their Dublin gigs.

That's all folks. Pizza is wafting scrummy scents my way...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Smoothing the edges

I've been delighting in etiquette tips lately - the stuff you never realise is an issue. Like when people say 'cheers' but don't make eye-contact. I'm a big eye-contact person, and never noticed that some people don't do this, but there you go! Apparently it's important, both for alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.

Anyhoo, I was browsing Tiffany's site (the next book is set in New York, and I've idly browsing, just dabbling with possibilities). Apart from lovely pictures of treaty things, they have a small etiquette section for dinner parties. Some are recognisable: It’s not polite to request the wine that you brought as a gift. Some seem quite American: Stand up when an older person enters the room - how wrong could that go - "Why, how old did you think I was? You didn't stand up for Marlene, and she's a year older than me. Really, how old would you say I am?". Shudder shudder. But this one's my favourite:
Bring a gift. But remember, because the hosts are busy, cut flowers are best sent ahead of time or brought in a vase.
Could you be more thoughtful!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Clash of the titans

An amazing battle in a rough neighbourhood...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Puzzling crossword

My treaty start to the morning is to curl up with a mug of coffee and do the crosaire (1). This morning I finished it all, which pleased me greatly. But I don't get my final clue, which was 25 down:

25 down) What one expects to hear from the end of 9 across (6 letters)

The clues are: _ A _ O _ S

Now, 9 across (2) was 'awaits', linked to 11 down (3), which was 'alight'.

I totally guessed 'carols', which is apparently right, but I have no idea why. And that's niggling me...

(1) the Irish Times cryptic crossword
(2) 9 across. It's what it is hanging around to make it not 11 down matter, by the sound of it (6)
(3) 11 down. Get down, having been fired (6)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

You hear something?

Mermaid research took a depressing turn. Here's a little snippet...

One of the problems besieging the waters is that seven billion tonnes of stuff are dumped in the oceans each year - most of that is plastic.

There's a thing called polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) - it's a synthetic chemical used to make plastics and styrofoam.

Which leads me to PCB contamination. It does all kinds of stuff: it's been linked to altered physiology, fall in reproduction, mass die-offs of shellfish. The concentration of PCB in Beluga whales (those little white whales) is so high that their corpses have to be treated as toxic waste.

Hmm. We're putting so much poison in the waters that it's turning living things to toxic waste?

Talk about moments when alarm bells sound...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Winds of change

On the site of the Guinness Brewery, there's an odd tower capped by a verdigris onion-shaped dome. When I was researching Dublin last year, I learned it was a remnant from an earlier alcohol-business: Roe's Distillery. In the nineteenth century, George Roe's Old Malt Whiskey was famous, and its premises boasted the largest pot-still in the world. This odd tower was the distillery's windmill.

It was builts in 1805 to grind corn. As windmills go, it's supposed to be one of the tallest in Europe. It was a smock windmill - the copper dome had big sails attached, and both dome and sails rotated in the wind. It kept its sails until the 1860s, when steam took over.

At the end of the century Dublin Distillers' Company took it premises, and then Guinness in the 1950s. It's called St Patrick's Tower these days. Driving through Dublin this summer, I kept a look-out for it among the cityscape, and sure enough - there was the windmill! It was like a tale coming to life.

Nowadays it's in the heart of the Digital Hub, which has a lovely symmetry - the windmill is still at the centre of the city's lifeblood. Thanks to Sean for the photo.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Space and time

You can imagine my excitement when yesterday's NASA image of the day was called Time Tunnel. I thought it might look like this...

... but they were actually trying to look back in time, to a quasar 12.7 billion light years away.

Anyhoo, the whole stars-and-time thing made me dig out a Louis MacNeice poem called Star-gazer:

Forty-two years ago (to me if to no one else
The number is of some interest) it was a brilliant starry night
And the westward train was empty and had no corridors
So darting from side to side I could catch the unwonted sight
Of those intolerably bright
Holes, punched in the sky, which excited me partly because
Of their Latin names and partly because I had read in the textbooks
How very far off they were, it seemed their light
Had left them (some at least) long years before I was.

And this remembering now I mark that what
Light was leaving some of them at least then,
Forty-two years ago, will never arrive
In time for me to catch it, which light when
It does get here may find that there is not
Anyone left alive
To run from side to side in a late night train
Admiring it and adding noughts in vain.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Women of the water

I'm unlearning to swim. Well, I'm learning a new way of swimming, which means unlearning the old way. Traditional theory is that your arms heave you along, your kicking legs heft you forward - the Total Immersion method is very different. It's slippery, and fishlike. And way cool.

But speaking of fishlike, I was reading up on mermaids for a short story. It was triggered last year when I came across an article on ama - the japanese free-divers (mostly women) who still dive for abalone and other delicacies. No scuba gear - they just take a deep breath and go. The ama are becoming an endangered species: the age range of the divers in one area was 45-85 years. The young nubile ama that perform for tourists are not representative, it would seem.

Anyhoo, so I've been reading, and I discovered Weeki Wachee, the City of Live Mermaids, an hour north of Tampa. There's a very deep, very strong spring there, filled with turtles and manatee and the odd alligator. In the late 1940s an ex-navy frogman-trainer somehow thought to make a 'theatre' out of it, and trained the local girls to hang out 20-feet underwater, breathing out of an air hose, and make it look natural. They were in the middle of nowhere, and their marketing consisted of running to the highway when they heard cars approaching and luring people in. More nubile young women performing for tourists.

They ate and drank (fizzy drinks) underwater, performed ballets and choreographed pieces - including holding completely still in a 5-mile an hour current. They hold their breath for a long time - the current record is 6 minutes 10 seconds. The lady from The Creature from the Black Lagoon (above) got her start there; Esther Williams hung out there, with a load of celebrities; Elvis (below) was a huge fan.

And these water-women are endangered too - their 'Save our Tails' campaign got a boost a few years back when Supergrass filmed a video there.

Wacky. I think this mermaid research may take a while...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Surrounded by words

So, I've reached that stage in revising the novel. There is no way out but through.

Busy busy :)

Picture for Richard, who asked for a view of the world around here...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Ashes and Snow

Pretty pictures today:

I came across Gregory Colbert's Ashes and Snow via Jonathan Carroll's blog - it's a remarkable series of... well, everything really: film, photographs, letters. I watched the youtube clip below, presuming that the images were composite, that the animals and humans occupied the space at different times. I was wrong.

There are some amazing photos on his website - the elephants are probably my favourite.


PS - if the English-speaking voice sounds familiar, it's because it belongs to Laurence Fishburne.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Sarong Days

I love Madeira at this time of year. The hot days are filled with fresh pineapple and slabs of watermelon and deliciously refreshing afternoon swims; the ripened vines are being harvested (by the old method, with a barefoot Mr Squodger squodging them in a shallow barrel); in the balmy evenings the dark sea sparkles with the lights of boats out night-fishing; and the stargazing at night is phenomenal.

It's pretty ideal, as lifestyles go. I feel very lucky indeed.

Mushroom update: first crop has finished, new crop growing slowly further along the ceiling. No sign of builder.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The sheep and the sea, and a dog

This evening I've been reading about The Sea Ranch, an area in Sonoma County, California where people try 'to live lightly on the land'.

It was developed in the 1960s by a group of architects, and apparently their environmentally-sensitive approach is still drawn on today. The houses are nestled into rather than carved out of the landscape - no manicured lawns or picket fences here, just grasslands, which are kept under control by sheep. Which brings me to their motif...

which reminded me of the sheep's head peninsula logo...

which reminded me of this photo that my brother took on the Sheep's Head...