Monday, June 30, 2008

The Greek Theatre at Taormina

I hate tourism. I hate tourists. They really make me crackers, especially at ancient monuments. So as I step down the stone steps of the Greek (and later Roman) theatre of Taormina, unable to think of antiquity and antique things - Sophocles, gladiators, wild animals - surrounded as I am by tourists falling all over themselves to get a photograph of what is unphotographable, seeking like children who have lost their minds the secrets of the Greek Theatre, all of them in fools' shorts, I boil over with wiild improbable rage, trying to take a photo myself, which would capture this. The essence of this place. Shooed away by a Dutch man in shorts (shorts!) who has brown vampire teeth and wants to photograph his fat-legged wife as she wraps herself around a Doric column, giving her vampire husband the thumbs up, I push my way through an English family standing on the stage, clapping their hands to check the acoustics, then sit down, with my back to the bay, and fume at the tourists. I read in my despised Lonely Planet guide that Taormina was a city founded by the Chalcidians of Greece and possesses a bay admired by Goethe and Maupassant. All this may be true, but in 2008 Taormina is full of turkeys from Northern Europe wearing shorts. Innumerable turkeys waddle up and down its streets, cameras swinging around their pale turkey necks, and I walk among them, even as they conspire to ruin my pleasure. Who wouldn't want to pluck them clean of all their money, dressed as they are like children? The enterprising Sicilians would and do, but this doesn't compensate for the fact that my pleasure in antiquity lies in ruins. Ruins like the Greek theatre of Taormina, which looks knackered from the attentions of tourists, who suck like vampires the energy out of the stones with their cameras, despite the fact it looks out over the celebrated bay. Only one question remains as I walk to the restaurant recommended in the Lonely Planet guide where the waiters will make me feel paranoid, and will then pluck me clean of my money.... Would the Sicilians ever wear shorts? I rest my case.

The Celebrated Bay of Taormina

In the Bay of Taormina celebrated by Goethe and Maupassant, a Brazilian man belly flops into the sea, does five feeble strokes, spindly-limbed like a frog, turns back, then with stick arms pulls his plump belly over the jagged pebbles and subsides beside his girlfriend. Why? Because he wants to watch the film she made of him jumping into the sea and swimming. I have a good mind to run up and harangue him on the necessity of experience, and failing this, to give him a kick - in a way similar to Johnson's refutal of Berkeley - in the bollocks. We are the voice clamouring in the desert, I want to say. Somewhat off subject. That was the portrait of John the Baptist I saw in the catacombs of Syracuse, where you didn't get to see any skeletons. Instead of running up to the man, and telling him what's what, however, I elect to start reading Thucydides' account of the events leading up to the disastrous and ill-considered Athenian expedition on Syracuse in 413 BC. But I wouldn't mind an ice-cream first. Before my next fag.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


I'm reading Thucydides at a bar where an old man stares at the bay with a far away consternated expression as if he has glimpsed the joke at the origin of time and then dunks a piece of bread into his beer, and I've lost count of the number of cities the Athenian armies pass through and leave as a heap of broken stone out of which a victory marker pokes. All because of Cleon. Thucydides really doesn't go for Cleon, Cleon with his big booming voice what had Pericles done on corruption charges in 430 BC. Cleon who wanted to slaughter all the men of Mytilene for resisting Athenian power. Cleon who said "It is a better for a state to enforce bad laws that are always obeyed than to have good one that go unenforced." Cleon who said "Ignorance combined with prudence has advantages over cleverness combined with intemperance." At the Athenian agora, these days full of tourists picking through ghost stones, Cleon pushed for an attack on the Spartans, an attack the Athenians then invited him to lead. Not expecting to be pulled up on his winged words and his rhetoric that derives its energy from saying what's worst, Cleon nevertheless led a successful expedition to Sphacteria, sold the women and children of Toronaea into slavery, carried out a few massacres, and got hacked to death at Amphipolis. Cleon, exulting in his negatives. But can you imagine Gordon Brown or Nicolas Sarkozy leading an expedition, now, on Iran, for instance? No, but you can imagine them walking around the Greek theatre of Taormina, wearing shorts.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Syracuse - A proposition

I watch Berlusconi on television, with his old man’s face and jet black hair implants as they fluff about beneath the blades of an overhead fan. The room is stifling, people fan themselves with crimped political programmes, but he is exulting about stuff, flanked by two women with implants in their cheeks and chins who are exulting in what he says. Today he's saying "If they're not legal, they go directly to jail," concerning blacks and Arabs, exulting in his words, while the women produce smiles that take over half the size of their faces. Everything about Berlusconi is orgasmic. The women look like they're about to come. Berlusconi looks like he wants to spurt all over their implants. As the clammy handed audience applauds, he pulls out a handkerchief and dabs his come soaked forehead. Tinsel falls from the ceiling, falls on the come flooded floor.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Piazza del Duomo in Syracuse, after a rain shower. The piazza is paved with glittering marble. If this were England, there would doubtlessly be signs everywhere warning us the marble was wet - a triangular sign illustrating a man crashing to the wet marble for having been so stupid as to walk upon it. If this were England, I think, as I look at five pairs of ducks in a water source by the port the Athenians failed to seize, despite having built a huge wall around the city, there would signs up warning us to "refrain" from feeding the ducks. If this were England, I think, eating an arancino on a bus, there would be a sign telling me that food smells cause disturbance to fellow customers. Later I go walking in the quarries where the Athenian prisoners laboured before being sold off as slaves, at least those prisoners who survived working in the quarries. Then I buy a Bic lighter in a shop, and it even didn't have an illustration on it, as to how a lighter lights. I am happy with this. I am so happy to have seen the quarries where Athenians died.


Or maybe I did, in Guatamela, the ragged Indians at the Lake Panajachel, coming out to meet the tourists and squatting on the dock. Why is tourism so grotesque? Then I think about that time in Spain, after the break up with N, on a mountain, listening to goat bells, and thinking I would like to attain to this kind of stillness, to be as absolutely quiet as a stone on the hottest day of the year. Alcibiades, after all, died riddled with arrows, having escaped his burning house. You choose.


An Arab with two bulging plastic bags steps onto the bus for Portopalo. The driver screams at him because he’s holding the wrong ticket. The Arab doesn't say anything. He steps off the bus. The driver, however, is still yelling even as he drives off. People step out the shade to see what’s going on. The Arab starts walking away from the bus shelter, through the gathered crowd, sweating, holding his splitting plastic bags. To have a leader like Berlusconi, it must feel like Christmas. For cunts like the bus driver.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I’m thinking about Alcibiades, the Athenian, who led one of the disastrous Athenian expeditions to Sicily but was arrested, in Catania, on the grounds of having “profaned” the Eleusinian mysteries. Alcibiades reminds me of those mates we all have, at least one of them, who always has the tickets for the best concerts, who knows, at midnight, that there are at least three parties worth going to. Meanwhile, a tall man is standing in the shade of a lemon tree. I can make out his gaunt face, his very clean white shirt, and I know he’s looking at me. I've missed my bus. I'm standing by the bus shelter, trying to work out how to get to Catania by midday, so I don’t miss my plane. I cannot help thinking that if Alcibiades had been in the same situation, he would already have found a solution, just as, on being led to Athens to face certain death for Eleusinian mystery profanation, he escaped his captors and jumped ship. The man under the tree steps out from under the tree, crosses the piazza. Would you like a taxi? he says. He's a handsome man, and half the teeth in his mouth are gone. "No grazie," I say. The man nods, then withdraws. I say "withdraws" because he takes two steps backwards, like the major domo in the Burt Reynolds scene when he rises naked from his bath. Sicily was built on the bones of the peasantry, I say, to myself, for the fiftieth time. The man turns around, then goes back to the tree, takes his place in the shade. Twenty minutes later a bus arrives, and as I get on the bus he stands watching from his covert under the tree, black hair, brown suit, a Sicilian man, half his teeth gone, a stillness quite like nothing I’ve ever seen.

Monday, June 23, 2008


"La nobilit√†," said the elegant landlady, "are still powerful. Troppo.” No doubt Sicily is built on the bones of the peasantry? I muse, addled by the sun during this my Marlboro moment, waiting for the sun to inch behind the lemon tree under which I'm sitting, so I can stop sweating. In her garden. "Da vero," I say, though I don't know what I'm talking about, not knowing anything about Sicily but what I read in my hated Lonely Planet guide, and the film The Leopard. I look at the pallazzo the landlady owns, where the yellow paint is flaking, and then I think back to the scene in The Leopard where Burt Reynolds steps naked out of his porcelain bath and his major domo withdraws from the room, ashamed. Then I think of something Engels said, about thought as the highest expression of matter. Then I drink some spumante. There's a black and white stray cat lying under the table on a teacloth, giving birth to a white kitten, then to a black one, then a black and white one, three variations of itself. I can’t help thinking that cats have it all worked out. You clever cats! I think, drunkenly, trying to make connections, when everything escapes me right now.


Noto - I'm sitting on the doorstep of my B and B. Across the street, a woman in a white linen suit comes out of her house. "You are waiting for the Signora?" she says, referring to my landlady. "A taxi," I tell her. "Ah!" she says, and rubs her fingers and her thumb together. "They're criminals, you know.” "Aren’t all taxi drivers bastardi ?" I offer as she crosses the road to stand beside me. “I wouldn’t know, I just live here,” she says. “In Parigi they’re bastardi anyway,” I say, determined to pursue my point. "And do you like this town?" she says. "Very much," thinking of the last taxi driver in Paris who ripped me off. "Do you think it’s beautiful?" she goes on. “Very beautiful,” I say. “The cathedral. The pallazzos. Bellissimo” "Bravo,” she says, admiring my taste. But what else could I have said? Your town looks like Clapham in the fucking rain. It wouldn’t even be true. “But nothing happens,” she says. “Nothing?” “Nothing happens every day. All people do is mangiare. Pastries, ice-cream, mangia, mangia." "And what do you do?" I ask her. The woman laughs, and pretends to give me a slap. Her breath smells sweet and high. That’s the choice here. If you don’t eat, you drink. And by that kind of overcooked, confit look of her handsome face, that's what she's been doing for twenty years. It’s an equally valid lifestyle choice in cities where too much happens. Like Paris.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Yes, you can drink your looks away in cities like Paris. I know of one place - La P------ P------ where it's possible, by midnight, that you've erected some stunning cathedral in your mind. However, by morning, you're faced with something like a Greek resort in winter, a series of half finished holiday homes staring at the wine dark sea, rusting reinforcement rods sticking out of the cement and quivering in the wind. Nearby, there are two taciturn blokes running two drink stalls, selling the same drinks, listening to the same radio station.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Catania Airport

We should put up counter signs everywhere. Here's the first, for public parks. SQUIRRELS WILL BECOME STRONG IF FED STRONG SUBSTANCES. Elsewhere, we could write SILENCE WHILST TRAIN IS IN MOTION or SMOKING FOR CHAMPIONS - GOOD! Alcibiades shagged Socrates after all. Or perhaps the ugliest man in Athens lifted his toga to allow the most beautiful one to blow him off. This is all connected somehow. A STEP TOO FAR.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Whatever it is, we're against it

My article in Spiked in the wake of the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, and moves on the part of Nicolas "Zebedee" Sarkozy to deny it ever happened. With the great Alan Sillitoe as guiding star. Er, not Nicolas Sarkozy's ....mine.

As part of this devastating critique of our soul-less institutions, here's a photo of me drinking beer in Sicily. Cliquez!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Irish say No, and I get to be on telly again. Yay.

The aftermath of the Irish Pah! Poo! Poo! to the Lisbon Treaty. I get trapped and have to explain my vision of the future Europe. This includes an historical figure such as Garibaldi. Imagine, we'll get to wear red shirts. And that would be good. Cliquez, camarade.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Your Favourite Author muses on the Irish Referendum on the Lisbon Treaty

My first time on French Televsion, leg jigging wildly under the table, talking in French about them ungrateful Micks who might even dare to say Pah! Zut! to the Lisbon Treaty.

Here's a photo of my fellow debaters, members of Leitrim County Council.

It's in French, cliquez ici