Archives for posts with tag: film


I am sitting in a ratty armchair in a cafe called KOH TAO, or at least that is what is written on the window. There are rustic and rudimentary bookshelves, rickety tables and a mish-mash of chairs seemingly rescued from skips. Too late I realise they offer BIG COFFEE. The cafe is filling up now. There is a brick-look wall with a “Banksy” style painting on it. Looks Palestinian. Ethnically challenged, anyway. I am still laughing inwardly at the Chief Rabbi or whatever on Radio 4 this morning saying that the current renewed conflict in Gaza is “something to do with Iran,” before being told by the presenters that he was still on air and suddenly snapping back into pious platitude mode. This place seems to attract the less physically repulsive members of society. There’s not much room, and crossing my legs results in a terrible testicular tangle. The chatter is drowning out my headphones, Brian Eno’s Discreet Music. I may have to resort to something more… plentiful. Actually I think I may have to bugger off elsewhere. My brain vibrates when buses go by. They look like they’re going to hurtle through the window when they come round the corner. I don’t know the name of this street, but that one there is Okendo, with the bus stops and the hotel, the Inland Revenue and a bookshop. My brother-in-law works at the hotel, which is a five-star, so he gets to do things like fix Lou Reed’s broadband connection. Lou Reed slapped his hand and screamed, “DON’T TOUCH MY COMPUTER!” which his interpreter translated as, “He says he prefers to be alone at the moment.” I explained about the electric shock therapy and that seemed to make it all OK, although he still thinks Lou Reed is an imbecile. He may have a point. A girl is now sitting cross-legged on her chair, so I pretend to myself to be outraged by this (because I know people who would be outraged) and make ready to leave. Actually I quite like it, falsehood notwithstanding, and certainly wouldn’t object if more girls sat cross-legged on rickety chairs in cafes.


(I was halfway up the hill, at an old gun battery, looking out over the sea. A fishing boat came in. I took a picture of it.)


I think the spiritual significance of this place is probably false. As far as I know, Franco stuck this big Jesus here looking over the city. I’ve been watching The Devils (1971) recently, so to me it is a cross between Orwellian and Ken Russellesque. The statue itself, creamy against the pure blue sky, has very clear lines, like precisely shaped marzipan. The right hand is held up in blessing, the left points demurely to one of those sacred heart things on his chest, like a junkie’s tattoo. The hand is massive, possibly to make it more easily distinguishable from the bottom of the hill. Looks a bit Wreck-It Ralph close up. The folds of his robe look like the pastry enveloping a sausage roll. The longer I sit here, the more I resent the statue’s presence. It seems nothing more than a fascist symbol. It is perched on top of an old fortification. There are many of them round about. They are something to do with Napoleon. I could go inside and find out what exactly, because there is a museum inside now, but I don’t feel like it, having been sent into a sulk by fascism. I will wait for said sulk to pass over before continuing.


The question I had in mind was a very vague one, along the lines of, “how do I fit in here?” I haven’t really got much of an answer, and to be honest wandering around pondering such impenetrables is pretty much my default activity. It helps me think about the place, and its convoluted history and how that inevitably impacts on me. The effects of fascism are all around me, and the church’s role is, I think, fairly cancerous. At the moment I don’t see any belief in God there at all, but I am aware that is just the mood I’m in, which is impacted upon by the current cloud of child abuse hanging over us all. I tried to get down the hill as directly as possible, trying not to double back uphill to find an easier route. Towards the bottom one path was closed off for safety reasons, so my plan was slightly scuppered and I ended up at the furthest end of the harbour. Violence and blame were on my mind. I have been attending a season of films about the Civil War in the Basque Country. In one of these films – LAUAXETA – A LOS CUATRO VIENTOS (1987) – there was a hotel in Bilbao operating as normal, a luxurious restaurant and so forth, while the city was under siege. The patrons were (of course) in league with those besieging them. It was like a strange dream. It was a terrible film, truly awful, but I kept thinking how good it might be to re-edit the footage, some of it very beguiling recreations, into something less narrative-driven and more oblique, more affecting. But at the end the audience (mostly old enough to have lived through it) applauded.



There are people in and around San Sebastián who can look at the sea and tell you what the weather’s going to be like. People who are as aware of the tides as they are of bus timetables. Nowadays you can get an app to tell you, which is perhaps even more remarkable, and adds a nice salty rime to your smartphone. It is no surprise that water is an important part of life wherever it is found, but it is striking how different its effects can be from place to place. Here in the Bay of Biscay the seafloor shelves off steeply quite close to the shore, and that makes it easy to imagine the people’s take on life to be fatalistic, always aware of the proximity of the edge of the underworld, having a kinship with prehistoric sea monsters. But really it just means there is (or there was) very good fishing to be had without going too far from land.

I was watching BATTLE OF BRITAIN (1969) last night, because parts of it were filmed round here. The role of the Normandy coast is played by Zarautz, so while the German military command was enjoying a slap-up meal by the beach, I could see a couple of very small rocky islands in the background, where a local delicacy, goose barnacles, grow. People risk their lives to collect these ugly stumps, and they just taste like a load of salty old seapuddle. Franco was still in power when the film was made, and it’s not the first time German soldiers have been welcome here, many of them having nipped along from France for a bit of R&R during the war. Still, it shocks a bit to see the main avenue festooned with swastikas.

And then, of course, Franco oversaw his own peacetime conflicts. I take a perverse pride, a pride of which I’m not proud, in the fact that I could take you to two separate places by the sea where ETA people were shot by the Civil Guard. In one case they, the Civil Guard, even dressed up as female hippies having a picnic in a little cove before whipping their machine guns out from under their kaftans and doing the business. No – this can’t be true. It seems too novelistic to be true, gaudy as a seventies thriller.

Sometimes little whirlwinds whip up out at sea and you wonder what it would take for them to get big enough to be anything more than a minor diversion. There are lots of rickety structures near the sea devoted to the consumption of snacks or beer. Some of them, if you’re really lucky, even have sardines cooked over a charcoal grill.

I once shared a flat with an unemployed trawlerman. He wasn’t very forthcoming on the subject, or indeed any other subject, but he didn’t seem too upset to be no longer working. He spent most of his time stoned out his box staring at the television. His one funny story (well, funny to me) was about when he was due to go off and do his military service and he bogged off on a boat to do his normal stint of fishing instead. The Civil Guard radioed the captain and made him turn back from Newfoundland or wherever. I didn’t like Nestor very much and even now that I am thinking about him I can’t be bothered to wonder where he is or what he’s doing.

I like the destructive power of the sea. Not just the thumping of the waves, but also the slow insidious dismantling of molecules wrought by the salty air. Balconies with peeling paint, railings rusting, sandstone being eaten away. Its effects are particularly poignant on the love locks that have appeared on the railings along a coastal path. You may have heard of this phenomenon – lovers put a padlock somewhere public to symbolise their union. Good news for trees (that don’t get names carved into them any more) and ironmongers (who sell more padlocks), but to me, the symbolism seems unfortunate at the best of times. Here they rust away so rapidly, leaving an air of dilapidation and distress that I relish perhaps more than I really ought to.



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