Notes on Athens, Georgia

Joan Didion wrote on the South in her book South and West: From a Notebook which was based on notes she took on a one month trip around the gulf states in 1970. She paints a backward and unflattering picture of the South when she compares Louisiana and Mississippi with California. Her main premise is that the South looks to the past, while California looks to the future. To me, her writing is dismissive and somewhat arrogant, and says, at times, more about her than the place she was writing about. I have only been in Georgia and South Carolina for a few days and I didn’t go to rural and remote places as Didion did, so I’m not going to make generalisations like her. But I will follow her style of using notes she made along the way.

Arlington Cemetery and the Religious Order of the Military

Coming from a country with no great military tradition, the visual presence of the military and its infrastructure in other countries, such as France, the UK and the US has always intrigued and somehow unnerved me. We were in Collioure, in France, a few years ago on holiday. We went for a walk along the coast, just north of the town. Beautiful, beautiful place by the Med. We had to go around a military compound to find the path by the cliffs and when we came back they were doing some kind of training exercise in the yard outside the compound.

Washington DC – The New Rome

The most amazing thing about Washington DC for me was how much it reminded me of Rome – Rome as it once was, that is. All the buildings (around the National Mall especially) were so Roman, with friezes and thick columns (in a strange mix of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian) rising up above grand sets of steps. Huge domes in the middle, reaching skyward towards the gods, pregnant with glory. Full of the symbolic grandeur of Rome (and ancient Greece before it). Pale stone, clean and imposing, shining in sunlight. Huge lettering on the outside, massive doors for entry.

I Love America

I love America and I love Americans. I love coming to The US and I’ve been coming here since 1987 which was my first trip away with Ciara – to the great capital of the world, New York City. The heat in Hell’s Kitchen in July was tough. I remember that small room in Brian’s apartment and waiting for the fan to turn again and breathe its sweet momentary coolness over us. But the city blew my mind and I’ve been back many times since. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it.

On Airports and First Impressions of DC

On Airports I used to describe Heathrow Airport as ‘the worst place in the world’. That was when I travelled a bit for work and I’d often be sent through Heathrow. That was the time when you had to walk over two roads and into another county to get to the specific far-away-as-possible little terminal (that we christened Paddyland) to get to flights home. I wasn’t comfortable in airports generally that time, it wasn’t just Heathrow.

The Lobby, Du Pont Hotel, Early Morning

I’m sitting in the lobby of the Du Pont Hotel at Du Pont Circle, Washington DC. It’s the first morning of a few weeks in Trumpland. It’s early, very early. Jet lag. I think jet lag is a good term because the time zone your body thinks it’s in lags behind (in my case five hours behind) the time zone you actually inhabit. And you’re caught in the middle – a laggard. Neither here nor there. Hence the early morning writing in a hotel lobby, while besuited briefcased men and women power walk out the door towards whatever important issues await their attention in the command and control capital of the world. Also, the hotel provides free ‘coffee’, in the mornings; or more importantly, free ‘hot’ water for me to dunk my Barry’s Tea bag into.

Four Brothers in The Ossau Valley, Day 7

‘We’ll take it handy tomorrow,’ they said. ‘Sure it’s our last day’. ‘We won’t kill ourselves tomorrow,’ they said. ‘We’ll do a local loop out of the house and finish early and relax in the afternoon,’ they said. For me, today’s walk was the most difficult. I’m not sure why. Maybe because my expectations were of a stroll, which it wasn’t. Maybe it was the heat – it got up to 28oC and we were exposed to sunlight for most of the walk. Maybe I’m just tired now after six days of tramping around Pyrenean mountains.

Four Brothers in The Ossau Valley, Day 6

I love maps. I just love them. It’s the certainty of them, I think. And the comfort that when a map says this road goes here – then it does. And this mountain is here, it’s this high and there’s a cliff there. This valley is this low, and if you take this path, you can cross the stream… here! And so you do.

Four Brothers in The Ossau Valley, Day 5

They go low, so we go high. We drove south past Laruns into the mountains up to the Lac de Bious-Artigues at 1400m altitude. We were shocked, shocked I tell you, to find the car park by the lake full, with well-equipped and, worse – fit-looking – hikers setting forth. We were most aggrieved, having had the forests and mountains to ourselves the previous two days – well, except for the cattle and horses, but they didn’t clog up the paths, they weren’t smugly thin and they didn’t have hiking poles and expensive walking gear.

Four Brothers in The Ossau Valley, Day 4

After walking up through the early morning village of Bilhères, where we were living for the week, the path levelled off and we passed by some lush pastures and entered the forest. An old forest, big trees, venerable; moss hanging low from branches in the shadow of mountains. Steep mountains, high, stooping down to the valley floor and the running steam that we could hear but not see, far below.