The smooth relentless journey from Victoria to Gatwick is very beautiful. Crisp blue pale sky and heavy ground frost. South London and Surrey waking to life. I listen to the glacial music of Brian Eno and drink poor coffee which tastes like fatty water wringed from an Egg MacMuffin bap. I have written a poem. I look forward to my flight
But look what happens when the Spaniards start using mannequins. They take human detail and mannerism more than a shade further than we do in the UK (or everywhere else I have ever been for that matter).
In general, our mannequins have no facial features, smoothed to cool humanoid abstraction. Spanish mannequins actually leer. You worry they are going to creep after you back to your home and murder you bloodily in your sleep. You’ll wake up to the sound of your own screaming and find some little plastic bastard’s stuck a screwdriver through your kidneys. I mean seriously, who is going to think “But yes, ay carumba, that little frock will look beautiful on young Esperanza, especially now I’ve seen it modelled by Chucky from ‘Child’s Play’”.
But come to think of it, I have an inkling of where they got the taste for these weirdly over-wrought figures…
An immediate conclusion you can draw from looking at this page is that I spent most of my time in Tel Aviv at night. Sunset is early now, as in England, but bizarrely the weather is gloriously sunny and hot in the days rather than grey and shitty. Short days and beach weather sit oddly in my mind.
Tel Aviv is a great city, especially for nightlife. So the more night, the more fun. It is a young place. It is new, proud, and vibrant like a lusty teenager raging his way through a pack of fags. It is not the easiest city on the eye for sure – the buildings are messy and shambolic, and most of the oft lauded Bauhaus architecture is quite frankly in need of rehab. The clean lines and smooth stucco frontage of the style loses all its harmony when it is cracked and dropping off. Abrasive, humid sea air has taken its toll on the plaster facades. There are some beautiful examples though, but it is no urban ideal of european modernism. To say so would be a bit like extolling the grace of Dagenham because there is a particularly intriguing Regency cottage somewhere amongst the public toilets and mangrove swamps. Not that Tel Aviv is anything like Dagenham, mind.
However, I would really recommend Tel Aviv as a place to go for a party. The residents are liberal, interesting and sternly independent. They have a reputation for being somewhat gruff, but I have always found that they are very fun and nice, and really just not up for bullshitting. A good illustration of the typical service culture: I was in a bar last night and the waitress bringing our drinks alerted me to her presence by bumping me in the shoulder with her bum. Well, her hands were full weren’t they?
One of the epic, aesthetically challeng ed/ing beachfront hotel skyscrapers
You see these escort calling cards EVERYWHERE scattered on pavements by crossings. At first I thought that Israeli pimps must be very messy, then I realized that this littering must be intentional – everyone looks down at their feet when they walk!
Sicily is one of my favourite places on earth. The combination of epic landscapes and heady individual freedom makes it a great place in which to adventure. Below is some advice which I wrote for my uncle, who is just about to go. I have laced it with some of my photos. Obviously, my advice is based around a set itinerary, but I thought I should post it here because what is the internet for, if not for sharing one’s experiences with others? [That is the most naive thing I have ever said]
We stayed in the historic quarter which is a good idea for several reasons: it is convenient for walking to the main attractions of the town; the area is overwhelmingly atmospheric; there is good accommodation there; it is very authentically Sicilian, not just a tourist zone.
We only stayed one night in Palermo, so are perhaps not the best advisors. We went for something a bit different to cap off the holiday http://www.palazzo-ajutamicristo.com/English/History1.htm . This place made for a bizarre and fascinating experience. It was hauntingly beautiful, shabby, and thickly aristocratic. It reminded me of that gothic building in Blade Runner. The room was comfortable enough, but not thoroughly clean and a bit pokey. We could park the car inside the the palazzo courtyard, which was very handy. I wouldn’t have wanted to stay there for more than one night at the price, but it was worth it just for the brief experience of feeling like a mediaeval Palermitan aristocrat! Perhaps you might find a more well appointed palazzo for the blend of comfort and character?
I would highly recommend visiting the markets amongst all the other sights, the produce is epic. Of course the cathedral at Monreale just north of the city is a must- the most breathtaking mosaics and tons of gold all over the walls.
It is a very touristy town, developed to accommodate the coach-loads of day-trippers who will be visiting the temples until the end of time. We stayed in a basic, functional hotel, and I get the impression that the rest of the accommodation there is not up to much (I might be wrong though). Apparently some people stay in nearby San Leone, but we were not terribly impressed. You might be able to find something nicer upmarket, or perhaps in the surrounding countryside.
My favourite town in Sicily. Definitely stay on the island part, Ortygia, which is very beautiful. The baroque streets are prettier, more friendly, and less ghostly than Palermo. The surrounding ocean is gorgeous – I loved wandering around the ports. Parking is totally hopeless on the streets, so you just leave your car in the car park just on the north of Ortygia and stroll back to your hotel – most of which are not too far away.
We stayed in Hotel Gran Bretagna http://www.hotelgranbretagna.it/ (just for the name of course) which boasted ancient frescoes in some of the rooms. I’m sure they were lying – most of the decor was a bit tired to be honest. However, I remember the place feeling spacious and comfortable, and being right in the middle of things with a nice Juliet balcony. I would recommend staying somewhere in that area but, mind, the one way system is hilarious and the driving is sociopathic as usual.
Ground zero for tourism in Sicily. The rolling hills have clearly been overdeveloped to accommodate the billions of tourists. In comparison to other places we had been to in Sicily, it seemed a bit hackneyed. On the other hand, we did say to each other while we were there that if we had just turned up on the plane straight from London, it would have seemed like paradise.
We stayed in the hills overlooking the town. It is one of those sketchy Italian coastal drives, like around Lake Como or the Amalfi coast, where you have to squeeze your car into improbable gaps between rocks and hard places at eye-watering speed. We found a charming guest house in a hill-top village which gave us great views over Taormina and an electrical storm that night.
I imagine there is no shortage of high-quality hostelry in Taormina, which would be much more appropriate if you want to spend a longer period there relaxing.
There is a restaurant along the coast from Taormina called Naomi. The food is good, but remarkable in its quantity. When we walked in we were sat down and, without a suggestion of menus, they started bringing food. I lost count after the twelfth course, I think. I admit that I started to become preoccupied with the possibility of splitting open. Nice drive to get there. Naomi is bizarrely high-lit by an enormous neon sign advertising itself to the coast. Vulgar but effective.
While the beach in Taormina is pretty enough with l’Isola Bella and such, it is nothing in comparison to the raw beauty of the wilder beaches. Lo Zingaro is a nature reserve near Castellammare del Golfo and San Vito lo Capo which has the most stunning white pebble beaches. The coves are lined with grottoes and the seas are light blue and warm, with lots of tropical fish. The rest of the reserve is rugged Sicilian countryside with ancient settlement caves and plenty of wild life. We stayed in a beautiful little place near the resort called Baglio La Porta, which I would heartily recommend to you, although many opt for the village Scopello.
Also, the Imperial villa at Casale is incredible. I think it was a Diocletian’s country retreat. It has vast mosaics intact, preserved by mud, or something. It is a good stop to make between Agrigento and Siracusa.
If you do venture that far out west, Erice is worthing visiting for the epic panorama.
The food is coarse, and less reliable than the north of Italy. The fruit is the best I have had anywhere in the world: plums that you suck out of their skins like honey nectar, and big grapes which are sweet and complex in flavour like dessert wine. Seriously, mind out for the prickly pears – the spines are tiny but impossible to get out of your skin. The locals call them ‘bastardi’ or even ‘bastardoni’.
I hope some of this is useful!
Ice cream was invented in Sicily. Probably adapted from Arabic Sharbat, the Romans used snow from Etna to extravagantly cool themselves in Summer. It was a good way to piss off the Ioneses next door. And ice cream is excellent here today.
But unfortunately, modern-day Sicilians are responsible for an unholy bastardisation. Ice cream in a bap.
They like sweet foods here, like cannoli. They like putting odd things in baps here too, like chick pea fritter (panella). But can you imagine a soft white bap mountained with ice cream, and the sight of a fat man slurping the soggy flaps of lardy bread at the end? I was so alarmed I hid behind a plant. I forgot to take a photo.
This way of eating ice cream seems to be all the rage in San Vito lo Capo, which is Sicily’s equivalent of Blackpool. One thing the town could learn from it’s English counterpart is that speedos on men are highly distasteful. But the men here, of all shapes and sizes love to gently peacock around town in nothing but a skimpy pair of swimming pants, licking the remains of an ice cream-in-a-bun. It was fearful when I got caught in a crowd of them in a café. Being crushed in the clammy throng made me feel like I had been thrust into the midst of a hectic frog-spawning session.
But these things aside, I love Sicily. It may not be as refined as northern Italy, but it is wild and rugged and real. I feel like I am driving into a western, cruising the flower-lined coastal motorway between mountains and the turquoise sea. Sergio Leone knew what he was doing when he made his spaghetti westerns. Sicily feels lawless, dramatic, and cinematic.
After 2500 miles, we have reached the furthest point in our grand tour. It feels further than that from Britain in terms of culture. Fewer constraints, less stress, more sun, more freedom. A good place for people to find their individuality. I miss quite a few things about London and Britain- family, friends, idiotic sports, complaining, fine queuing practices. But more than anything I miss a good curry.