Saturday, July 29, 2006

Winding down

Spain is winding down for the summer. Every day, more and more shops and offices in barcelona put up their notices about shutting down for August, or at least large parts of it. the buses run on special timetables (although they are trying to bribe more drivers into staying on this year) and even the supermarkets take a lunch break. we arrived here last year in mid august and found our neighbourhood almost devoid of open shops.

perhaps the most extraordinary manifestation of this is the weekly business magazine Actualidad Económica which wished readers a jolyy summer, gave them two gifts (an underwater disposable camera and a luggage strap) and said ta-ra for a month. 'Volvemos en septiembre' declares their website. You can't imagine Business Week or The Economist doing that ...

And if it's good bye from them, it's good bye from me. We are off on hols from Wednesday to San Sebastian, Cadaques and Studland Bay in Dorset. Normal service will resume in September.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

It's Rebecca!

The weather is hot
And the fans are on
Tonight dad and I
Are going to an open air
I am having a lot of fun
But I need to go back to London
To buy more glitter eyeliner.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

the heat is on

every day we buy la vanguardia, we check yahoo weather and the national weather service. it's all the same; scorchio today, tomorrow and the day after. jellyfish are landing in droves on the long beaches south of the city. and it's humid as hell.

but heck, it could be a whole lot worse. there has been so much good music to see lately. after ute lemper at the palau de la musica, there was ziggy marley outdoors at poble espanyol and last night the very odd and wonderful nina hagen at the barcelona music theatre.

yesterday's punk icon is now 51 and fronting a 13 piece swing orchestra. a rather amazing mixture of styles - part marlene dietrich, part barbie doll, part lene lovich (now that does date me) and part dita von teese, Ms Hagen belted her way through a motley collection of swing classics in english and german wearing a range of outrageous outfits including a stars and stripes superwoman cape.

mad as a march hare, as they say in germany, she is a class act, although we had too much of her band without her and could have also done without Spain's answer to the only gay in the village (el único gay en la aldea?) sitting behind us in his Daffyd style singlet and shorts. Having spent most of the time gassing in a loud voice to his fag hag friends, he leapt up in mid song to present ms hagen with a bunch of flowers. even the gay friendly nina would have been rather apalled to see that they were plastic tulips.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

End of the Bull

It looks like bullfighting will be over in Catalonia soon after a vote to ban the sport in the regional parliament.

in truth it is not a catalan sport, far less popular here than in the central plains and the south.

there is a fight in barcelona ever sunday in summer and we contemplated going 'for the experience'. none of us really fancied us that much and fearing that we would make a costly exit after the first bout, we opted for watching the match of the day on TV and, predictably, switched off after 10 mins.

fascinatingly, the weekly reviews of the fights in la vanguardia are covered in the paper's culture section, rather than the sports ...

Too hot to blog

sorry about the lack of posts but at 90F the hard work has been keeping cool. But we have been spending a lot of time at the beach lately.

We went down to the city's main barceloneta beach last Wednesday for Sarah's birthday and out to the wide open spaces of castelldefells the following night with friends for a picnic. Our friends were much taken with the fortnum and mason old spot gloucester pork pie i had lugged back on ice from london.

at the weekend we discovered the chill out bars of the city's Bogatell beach - just 10 mins beyond the bright lights of the olympic port - where you lie out on beach beds under the stars and drink mojitos. true bliss...

and on sunday we went up the costa brava to stay at the jewel of Tamariu so that we could go and see Diana Krall under the stars at the beautiful festival of cap roig. she was completely wonderful...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

He came, he saw, he ate

The fruits of my brother's recent trip here can be seen in his latest FT column. We did eat well that weekend.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Barca ben

Ben started his Barca football course today. Summer football camps in London are a blend of kick about and practice games. Not this one. the parents were briefed beforehand about diet, behaviour, etc and it was with some trepidation that our nervous boy today entered the imposing marble halls of the National Institute of Physical Education in Montjuic Park, a Soviet style palace of health.

He emerged, exhausted, several hours later declaring it to be the ‘Brazil of Soccer Schools’ having had the time of his life.


A great final with an inexplicable twist at the end. Why did the peerless zidane react like that? A racist remark? A joke about both his names beginning with Z? who knows. My comiserations to my French friends after their extraordinary adventure. Both teams would have walloped England off the park.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Intense joy

My little nephew William (ok, he's almost 22 and stands a good 5 inches taller than me) has just heard he has got a first from Oxford. It is a brilliant and richly reserved reward for a lovely boy who has worked so hard.

That boy will go places, mark my words, hopefully always after turning left when he boards the plane

Friday, July 07, 2006

7/7 remembered

I had my two minutes' silence on a hot Barcelona street. My overwhelming sadness was mixed with intense anger for the spitefully mean payments that have been made to the victims of 7/7 and their families - minsiscule amounts compared with the victims of the bombings in Madrid and New York, made worse by the pettyfogging and bureaucratic system of handing them out. Few things make me feel ashamed to be British but this is one of them

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Vive La France!

Felcitations mes amis! But who would have thought it after the rubbish they played in their first two games. Tonight they just about deserved victory in a compelling game over Portugal if only because the Fren old dog Zidane outplayed the Portugese old dog Figo. Let us hope the final is as good as the two semis.

ps the guardian resucitated the wonderful David Lacey to give Sven another good pasting. His summary, mangling Churchill:
Never in the field of football conflict did so few let down so many by so much.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Ben is Ten

The last Lander grandchild moves out of single figures. He has had a great birthday so far and seems happier, chirpier, nicer and sweeter than ever. Very hard to believe he really is 10.

Bye bye chupa chups

A black day for Catalan business. Chupa chups, the lollipop firm, is being sold by its owners, the Bernat family, to Italian-Dutch multinational Perfetti Van Melle (of mentos fame) for an estimated 400 million euros. That's a lot of lollies.

now you probably didnt know chupa chups were catalan but they are apparently the best known brand name to come from these parts.

But it is a sign of the times. Family owned businesses are very big here and I expect we will see more of these sales as 2nd and 3rd generations cash out to foreign companies eager to get hold of good brands.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Now for the analysis

Estimable pieces on England's disastrous World Cup campaign by James Lawton in the Independent (proved right all along) and Stephen Pollard.

read them and weep.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

allez France!

After being so rude about the French team below, it behoves me to say how good they were last night and thoroughly deserved their victory. A France Italy final now beckons. Better food and wine than the Germans and Portugese, if nothing else ...

The England saga was so depressingly predictable. The midnless violence of Rooney and the pathetic penalties. A fitting end to five years of rudderless management by a visionless leader. Why rob a bank when you can steal £4m a year doing that.

The postscript of Beckham's resignation as captain was even more pathetic. Football captains play a far lesser role than in cricket in shaping the destiny of their teams. Beckham rarely did and never when his team needed it. Goodbye.

El Bulli

We did it. We ate at last week at El Bulli and it was without a doubt the most wonderful eating experience of our lives.

Actually make that one of the best experiences of any type in our lives.

At a time when so much hype is given over to that which disappoints so much (I think he’s talking about England in the World Cup – ed), El Bulli was the real thing.

The best, most innovative, most exciting, most extraordinary food in the world, prepared by the smartest chefs and delivered to the table with real passion, precision and knowledge. The key phrases of the evening were ‘eat this now please’, ‘all down in one bite’ or ‘start from the centre and work outwards’.

Getting there in style added to the huge fun of the evening. We were staying in Cadaques and hired a Zodiac speedboat to take us across the sea, around the caves and cliffs of the Cap de Creus coast, to the bay of Montjoi where El Bulli is sited. The sea was still and the evening clear and short of helicoptering on to your yacht, it has to be the way to arrive.

The restaurant is a set of tiny buildings perched above the bay. Aside from the ultra high tech kitchen, it looks like a hundred other country Catalan restaurants. Too much dark wood, unremarkable furniture and mismatched overhead lights. The money it says, is in the food not the décor.

And how. The menu degustacion – 16 snacks and 16 courses – is a fairy tale ride of sensual tastes, flavours, scents, that sing, dance and explode in your mouth. Each one seems more remarkable than the previous one. It’s a little like going into the most luxurious hotel and every 10 minutes finding a new gadget or feature that makes you gasp.

To list everything we ate seems almost too mundane, reducing the six months that Ferran Adria and his team spend each year concocting these dishes to a mere line up. But first and last deserve their own billing. Both tasted exquisite and both bear the El Bulli trademark, being so weird and imaginative that you couldn’t help but eat them with a huge grin on your face.

The first snack on the terrace was a Nitrogen Gin and Tonic granita. I can tell you the recipe for this one. Mix Gordons’ gin, Schweppes and lemon syrup in a chilled bowl. Oh yes, then pour in pints of liquid nitrogen and stir madly until a granita is formed. It looks dangerous to do and I am sure many chefs were harmed in the perfecting of this dish. And it tasted wonderful.

The final dish was a fried egg. Or rather it looked like a fried egg. It was in fact a mango, surrounded by the lightest coconut mousse. Now, you say, any mug could do that. Well yes, until you pierced the apricot and it flowed like the yolk of a fried egg …

Ok, I’ll mention one more. A paperback book-sized polystyrene box that was full of frozen parmesan (more nitrogen here I think) and accompanied by a tiny bag of dried fruit and nuts to sprinkle on. So you sprinkled and ate and ate what seemed to be air of parmesan. But the ice seemed to disappear as it entered your mouth. There was magic involved here. By the end you had eaten everything and nothing. It was an illusion, much like the entire evening.

So to those who got us the table, thank you. And to the wonderful staff front of house and in the kitchen at El Bulli, even more thanks. Volveremos!

ps. for an exhaustive and fun account of eating at El Bulli (with many of the dishes we ate) with photos, click here. I have no idea who the guy is, but he likes the place.