HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, June 26, 2013

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

May the Farce be with You

A month in France is a useful reminder of one’s European heritage. That is, specifically European, not “Anglo” as this is understood to encompass English-speaking British-North American-Antipodean culture.

French farce, for example, holds great value beyond mere entertainment for Anglos who grew up within the geographical limits of Eurasia’s damp north-western peninsula. One’s parents might have believed – and indeed sometimes may even have said – that wogs began at Calais, but French and other European cultures have always resonated well among the British, or at least those Britons for whom “Yer” is neither a real word nor a substitute for an entire conversation.

So spending some time in Marseille has been illuminating. The thick city accent is a treat, unless you have to try to understand people. But that would spoil the fun.  And anyway the behaviour of the locals is an engaging demonstration of the fine French tradition of carrying on, farce-wise.

Two weekends running, on the splendid seafront thoroughfare that separated our temporary home from the beach and the big salt lake that the Romans, bless them for their chutzpah, called Mare Nostrum, the police closed off parts of the road to accommodate events. One was a massive cattle and horse drive, said to have something to do with culture and heritage in this, Marseille’s, year of being Europe’s capital of culture. The other was some sort of run.

We saw neither event, since we are not the descendants of cattle thieves or in the least interested in how you can develop crippling knee problems in later life, but we did see the side-show. This was provided by streams of drivers who, rather than muttering “Merde!” and finding another way to go when they chanced upon a barricaded traffic circle, stopped their cars in the middle of the road to argue with the flics.

In some cases they did this with actual violence. One feisty little blonde thing leapt out of her miniature conveyance with a fetching series of angry flounces and advanced on the waiting gendarmes, screeching abuse. Or perhaps it was a stream of questions, perhaps pejorative, rhetorical or otherwise, and possibly beginning with “WTF?” Finding the official answer unsatisfactory (we hope it was “Can you not zee zat ze road eet ees closed you stupid hen?”) she jumped up and down in frustration, rather in the manner of a lady caught short in a long toilet line-up, and rattled the barriers with quite inappropriate force. She either hadn’t noticed, or didn’t care about, the growing queue of honking cars blocked behind her.

The drivers of the blocked vehicles probably didn’t find this amusing. We did. All it lacked for cultural completeness was Inspector Clouseau.

Homage to Catalonia

Five days in Barcelona is a great way to spend – well, five days, to begin with. No time is ever long enough if you’re travelling, especially if you’re also enjoying yourself. The old town had changed since the Diary was last there, but since that was 1966 it’s no surprise. Back then Catalans lived without the authorised benefit of their own national culture, or of their language legitimised by national law, and were even forbidden to give their children Catalan names.

Since then, the fascist Franco regime has long gone (and Franco himself too) and the new Spain is a different place, with democratic institutions and its king back on the throne for which Franco (to his credit) always believed himself only to be regent. One difference is that there more beggars. In the old days they had ways of making them disappear. Today you cannot do this, and quite rightly so. Nonetheless, they are a nuisance when they patrol the outside eating areas that abound in Barcelona and rattle their cups. It prompts one to guzzle the gazpacho and quaff the Pedro Ximinez far too fast lest either of them seriously sours.

There is a silver lining, however. None of the beggars seem to play the accordion. Aptitude with the Devil’s instrument is reserved for that class of irritating itinerants whose members ride on the city’s excellent metro trains and serenade you (whether or not you wish it) in expectation of financial reward.

We several times ate and drank at little establishments in Plaça George Orwell, in the Cuitat Vella (old city). It is in an area that is quite suitably proletarian for that writer chap who briefly fought for the Republicans in the Spanish civil war and named himself after the English river which he especially loved. We came to know his plaza in Barcelona as Penname Place. It sounds so much better than Eric Blair Square.

Jet Lag

Well, only a little – and in this case it’s the name of a nice little bar in El Gotic, Barcelona, which we found by accident even though it was just around the corner from our hotel. We were glad we did, because the free hotel Wi-Fi that was part of our deal was non-operational (though only for us, according to the hotel, which said we must have had a problem with our protocols; strangely our notebooks had no trouble with anyone else’s internet connection) and the bar was a handy login point.

We suggested to proprietor Nicolá (first names only) who was formerly in the aviation industry and is from Sardinia, that he hire a sandwich-board man to patrol the street in front of our hotel advertising working Wi-Fi at his bar just a step or two away.

Like many such establishments in civilised parts of the world, Petit Jet-Lag is a convivial place for locals and tourists alike. It has a nice tapas menu, great coffee and a good range of drinks. Plus it is open until 2am.

We became legends while there. On one occasion we’d had a trying day attempting to arrange our scheduled return to Marseille since the French air traffic controllers were on strike and the gallant French train drivers, not wishing to be thought absent from the front line of the battle to ignore budgets and promote the view that financial restraint or productivity have nothing to do with them, decided to stage a stoppage of their own at the same time.

Because of this, we reached the bar – where we were already known and had been classified as “old” (a tad unfairly although it’s true the Diary could easily have been just about every customer’s, and the proprietor’s, father) – in somewhat pressing need of zesty refreshment. We chose long Campari tonics, since we like them, it was a warm day, we were frazzled, and it’s a great drink if the barman remembers to pour Campari into the glass rather than just wave the bottle at it.

We drank them swiftly (see above). Next day we learned that when we left the previous evening the bar’s denizens said – it would be nice to think this was in unison – “Wow! I want to be like them when I’m old! Twelve seconds to down a long Campari!”

That’s How You Do It

While we were astounding the locals in Barcelona (see above) we spotted an item in a national newspaper that seemed relevant to a recent event – an ongoing one, unless we believe in miracles – in the field of zoonotic diseases in Bali.

It concerned a dog that had bitten five people elsewhere in Spain and had been found to be rabid, the first such reported incident since 1975. The health authorities in the area had immediately provided all the bitten bods with the full post-exposure vaccine course and the regional government had ordered the immediate vaccination of all dogs, cats and ferrets (a pet in Spain) within a 20km radius of the incident.

Oh yes, and the idiot dog owner who had broken the law by falsifying his animal’s rabies vaccination record and failing to report as required when he several times took the animal to Morocco, a declared rabies zone, and more importantly brought it back to Spain, was facing criminal charges.

Might the foregoing give any official mind in Bali cause for thought?

Ups and Downs

Interesting tourist arrival figures for April: the Japanese are returning in strength (up a standout 17.91 percent month on month versus 2012) which is great news, but the Aussies are showing signs of weakening: down 1.5 percent.

There’s no doubt the Australian economy is not quite as robust as the country’s government would like people to think – too many eggs in one overfull resource basket is one cause – though neither is it in the dire straits the country’s opposition likes to suggest. There’s a national election on Sept. 14 that should clear the air politically. That would be the best fillip to confidence, the long-missing subjective ingredient in the present economic brew.

Hector’s Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser newspaper, published fortnightly. Hector tweets @ scratchings.

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