When I sip my macchiato of a morning, I remember Mont St Michel. The link lies in the small cup I bought there, a post-modern pattern of blacks and browns, born from the island’s swirling tides.
I watched these tides from the safety of the town’s ramparts, which have proved impregnable to both sea and invading hordes down the centuries. Victor Hugo wrote of the waters sweeping in à la vitesse d’un cheval au galop (as swiftly as a galloping horse). A bell tolls when the surge begins for, like many a medieval pilgrim, people still drown making their way across the tidal flats.
Some forty montois, or locals, live on the island. Most tourists come only for the day, and as evening fell I sat in a deserted cemetery tucked amongst the houses at the foot of the Abbey. There is also a quiet garden near by, and stone seats in the wall to sit and gather repose. A place to feel the spirit of the island, as it pulses to the rhythm of the tides.
Having ebbed, the tides began to swirl once more around the island. In the space of a glance, swathes of sand disappear beneath the unrelenting water until the island became once more a bastion of solitude floating on the waves.
Such memories sleeping in a small china cup, which holds at most two mouthfuls of coffee.
Gough St, Central is a small street in the Central/Western district of Hong Kong Island which boasts an amazing, and often changing, range of restaurants and cafes. It is reached by a five-minute walk from Sheung Wan MTR- uphill. Seriously uphill. Gough Street runs through that area of Hong Kong where the steepness of the streets necessitates a footpath more steps than path. Rock walls struggle to stop everything from sliding downhill, with roots of giant trees cascade over the rocks, somehow holding the stone walls together. Walking remains the best choice; many taxis won’t come to this area because of the difficulty negotiating the roads, and the ubiquitous minivans which serve as light buses simply can’t fit.
Yet walk up Aberdeen St, past the Lan Kwai Fong Hotel, and turn right into Gough St. In that short walk lies a snap shot of Hong Kong, from pedlars touting their wares on the street to high-end galleries. A few streets away are the Graham St wet markets; a few streets the other way is Cat Street, lined with antique stores. Continue Reading →
We found the queue long before we found the restaurant. In a city of 24 million, Nan Xiang dumplings reign supreme. A satellite restaurant in Hong Kong boasts a Michelin star, but the branch in the Yuyuan Bazaar encapsulates the paradox of Shanghai.
Once known as ‘The Pearl of the Orient’, Shanghai is a meld of Blade Runner, Gotham City and The Jetsons. From the airport The Maglev, (the world’s fastest train), races at 430 km/hr into the city. The number of high-rises beggars imagination – my taxi drove through a sea of buildings scraping the sky. Multi-lane highways floated through the air to merge with massive overpasses. I half-expected to see hover-jets. By midday the sun becomes an orange ball floating behind a haze of smog.
I woke to a watery sun creeping through the window. Yesterday, I’d looked over terracotta rooftops and onto an Umbrian countryside so classic as to be breathtaking. Now Assisi lay hidden by mist. Spires and steeples appeared and disappeared at the whim of a cold breeze, and every noise came as if from far away. Water dripped from the roof and onto the windowsill beside my hand.
Through the mist came the muffled peal of a bell calling the faithful to Mass. As the world slept I made my way through the dimly lit corridors of the hotel. Outside, a winter wind fingered my clothes. The few people passed at that early hour seemed more shadow than reality as I made hurried to the Papal Basilica of St Francis. Continue Reading →
Those mortals who have not read Wodehouse have missed a unique English writer. To define him as a comic genius belittles his mastery of language and of character.
Indeed, Wodehouse remains in a class of his own. His books are set in world not so much long vanished, but as never existed: an England unsullied by war, where trains run on time to old village towns unchanged with the centuries, delightful and absent-minded earls live in grand country estates with sweeping vistas hiding secretaries to be feared, domestic staff hatching plots, where love is always in the air, and one has a crisp fiver in the pocket. In every idyll a devil always lurks, yet however complex the plots, they always finish with all in balance, the demons resolved, and glorious summer shining over an English countryside in full bloom.
Wodehouse wastes not a word, each landing on the page with an effortless beauty balancing all Wodehouse writes. His skill was honed by a lifetime of writing. As he once said in an interview, “I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don’t know what I did before that. Just loafed, I suppose.” In publishing almost a hundred novels (as well as plays and musicals), he created the immortal Jeeves, the world of Blandings, and the likes of Psmith, Ukridge, Uncle Fred, Mr Mulliner and the Empress of Blandings. Continue Reading →
When in Hong Kong, I spend most of my time on The Island. One of my aversions to visiting Kowloon is how, for all its attractions, it is essentially one large tourist trap. From the moment I step off the Star Ferry to the struggle up Nathan Road, I’m subjected to a constant barrage from touts who make a living ripping-off tourists. At every step someone thrusts a would-be bargain into my face.
The crowds here are not the practical, walkable crowds of The Island. Tourists loiter every few spaces, with hawkers hovering around them, ready to pick off the unwary, the weak or the wounded. Despite the milling crowds, too many places offer the perfect setting for a murder. Even the walkway under the main street feels dubious, lacking both light and ventilation.