Monday, 21 July 2008

19-21/07/08: Playing Catchup

The past few days have been pretty uneventful. The main thing I’ve noticed as we’ve gone further south is that the road systems get worse and worse. We’ve probably spent about three hours extra in the car as we embark on little excursions thanks to a vast maze of one-way streets, crammed motorways (post-Bastille Day mayhem, akin to our own Bank Holiday Weekend and National Holiday hectic exoduses) and streets so steep and narrow that navigating them, even at low speeds, is like any hair-raising ride at a theme park. We visited a number of beautiful villages and towns bursting with character (Castelnou deserves a special mention), but my trend of seldom taking photographs has continued. Before we left for Ceret, I was thinking about posting my best photos so far on my school’s online network (the A-Level Photographs have their own little forum which is a great little community and efficient way of receiving feedback), but as I looked over them I realised how many of them I didn’t like. They all reflect my current uninspired frame of mind. Though the views we’ve seen and places we’ve been have been mostly spectacular and full of character, I get this pessimistic thought of “Once you’ve seen one view, you’ve seen them all”; perhaps ‘photographed’ would be a more accurate verb. However, I have had a bit of a ‘black & white’ thing going these past few days. I have some black and white photographs that I’m really quite taken with.

After we arrived at our house in Ceret, we got settled in quite quickly. The house is amazing. It’s about the same size as our house back home, perhaps slightly smaller. It is at the end of a row of houses (much like a unorthodox uphill row of terrace houses) before you reach a bend and all the houses are suddenly detached and grow in size. There is a kitchen, bathroom and living room downstairs. The living room leads out onto a quite little garden with a nice low, shady tree. There is a small TV downstairs with one channel that has good reception. It shows dubbed CSI: Miami all day and usually a film on the night. I have found French sous-titres after trawling through pages of teletext which makes vaguely understanding what’s being said so much easier. It is good fun to watch on an night when it’s cool and the mosquitos come out. We have numerous scenarios similar to those in Friends when the gang watch the Spanish soup opera. Upstairs there are four bedrooms (one double, three single), they are all very small. My parents room and my room (which I eventually chose after much debate - it has the comfiest bed) both back out onto an upstairs terrace that is littered with six very comfortable chairs. I’ve spent a lot of time up there the past few days reading. I have turned into a reading machine. Within the first two days of being here I finished my first book (Jose Saramago’s Blindness) and then started and finished two others (Arek Hirsch’s A Detail of History, which I brought with my from home, and George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which I was pleased to find on one of the bookshelves in the living room).

The town of Ceret itself has more character than many of the French cities I’ve visited! It is currently having its own festival (I do not think it is Bastille-related). Most days in the town square there has been dancing, music and allsorts. It’s so lively! The town also has a lot of interest in Modern Art and Fauvism. On our second day here I went into the local museum with my Mum. She was very impressed, as was I. My Dad didn’t join us as it isn’t his ‘cup of tea’. Last year I went into a modern art museum with him and he spent the whole time muttering under his breath (and voicing aloud) how none of it was art. He was at first intrigued by the museum last year as it was home to a number of original Picasso sketches. This museum also boasted the same claim … sort of. The museum is home to around fifty of Picasso’s original painted ceramics. They’re all very roman, or perhaps Spanish. All the bowls have small painted scenes of gladiators and bullfights in stadiums. They are all very simply – almost like cave paintings. The rest of the museum was mostly full of fauvist and impressionist portraits, nudes and landscapes. I was especially interested as I had looked at both fauvism and impressionism for my art exams (both mock and final) this past school year.

The rest of our time in this area (so far) has been spent pottering around and getting a feel for the place. Today has been our first significant excursion after we have properly settled in. We went to the beach and spent the day there. We also went to Perpignan last on in the evening for a quick ten-minute look around some shops (we arrived just before closing time).

I was not keen on visiting the beach. I’m not keen on beaches if I’m honest. I detest the whole summer beach resort thing that Britons seem to be obsessive with. You see it on the TV all the time: Britons causing havoc in foreign places (usually Spain) and sapping it of all culture. The ‘concrete jungles’ out there really unnerve me. When I went to Florida a few years ago it was exactly the same there. There are great expanses of natural landscape with slaps of concrete all over the place. It really doesn’t agree with me. I don’t know what it is. I just hate being in places full of burnt tourists that have nothing but a beach, bars and hotels. There is nothing to them and I hate it. So I didn’t enjoy today that much.

Perpignan was fantastic. It’s a really great city. Our trip there today was merely a taster and we are going to go back some time this week. We walked around a bit and came across this small shopping centre. There was a shop in there called FNAC. It is three floors of DVDs, CDs and all other electronic needs. I love big French music shops. They are a thousand times better than back home. I went in there are started in the Pop Rock section. I was faced with physical copies of the latest albums by Animal Collective, Deerhunter, Atlas Sound, Bon Iver, Portishead, Sigur Ros … I could go on. I never buy CDs anymore because the stores back home never have anything worth buying, and yet here in front of me are albums that I love and that I have never seen in their physical form. It was like being stranded and starving on a desert island with nothing but a billboard of a cheese burger to stare at while all anyone offers you is sand and salty water. You swim across to another island and it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of all the food you’ve ever dreamed of. That’s what I felt like when I walked in there today. It was brilliant. However, all the CDs were still as extortionately priced as they are back home. Downstairs you could buy 3 DVDs for 20 euros … And just one CD for the same price. Crazy. I won’t be being anything from there, but it’s good to know that the rest of the Europe isn’t as deaf as the UK seems to be. Our country has, by far, the worst music taste of any other Western country.

After our trip to Perpignan, we stopped off in a small seaside town called Colluiture, or something like that. It was nice.







The 'rents wanted to do some shopping, and Mum managed to trip up outside a shop. Not badly, but enough to embarass herself. I decided that I'd go back to the car and leave them to it. They only wanted "tomatoes, bread and a paper" anyway. Dad told me, "Remember: it is the second right, not the first". This was thinking there was only two, of course. So it turns out that the second street I walked up, was actually the third. I walked up it for about half a mile, not really thinking. WHen I reached a block of flats and not a carpark I knew I'd gone wrong somewhere. I spent twenty minutes in a slight panic looking for the car park. And found it eventually. Once I got back to the car park I met my Dad walking towards me. They'd reached the car before me, and Mum thought I'd been kidnapped my gypsies ...

We then went back home and I wrote this blog. I also had a bit of a rant about my photos, and how uninspired I'm feeling.

Hence:

Personally, I’m yet to take any photos that I really like. This is a first, though so is the opportunity I have this year to edit my photos as I go along. I’ve had a bit of a knock of confidence. I strongly believe that ‘you’re only as good as your last photograph’, so right now I feel like a shadow of my former self. I need some direction. Taking simply holiday snaps is not good for me, but I have an idea. My current moniker phrase is “you have such an aura, dahling”, although I’m yet to think what it’s actually any good for. I think I may have something though. The past few days I have been really getting into some music on my MP3 player that I’ve not really bothered with before. Stuff that I like, but is yet to really ‘click’ with me. First is Deerhunter’s Fluorescent Grey EP - the title track being one of the best songs I’ve heard in a while – and second is My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless - a “classic” that’s hype has always boggled my mind; but no longer. My Bloody Valentine recently reformed and have been played a number of tour dates. They were playing a night in Manchester the day before I went to see Radiohead. I had the urge to go and see them and make it into a gig weekend, but the ticket prices were too expensive. I really regret that now. I read a post on Atlas Sound’s blog back in Couiza about his experience at one of their shows in London a few weeks ago. The band are always end with the song You Made Me Realise that leads into 20 minutes of deafening noise and feedback. He says that it’s “the closest I’ve been to [being in] a trance-like state in a long time”. The experience of standing infront of the wall of noise has been said to be the closest you can get to experiencing a nuclear holocaust (giving the noise the fan-given name of The Holocaust). With my recent affinity with the band Sunn O))), this sounds like something I’d really like to experience. I doubt I’d enjoy it, but I do not think that is the point. I cannot get enough of My Bloody Valentine at the moment, so maybe next time they tour I’ll make the effort to go see them. Hopefully they will tour again in the UK some time soon and they won’t go back into retirement. As well as these newfound music loves, I picked up a copy of The Observer yesterday, the Sunday edition with the supplement called Review. Inside they had an article and interview with South African photographer whose name currently escapes me. His book (which I do remember the name of) – The Hyena & Other Men – looks brilliant. Some of the photos published in the paper were amazing. Stark images of African men who walk around with hyenas – animals that are believed to be witches and are surrounded by many superstitions in African culture – and make them do tricks, or simply just keep them as intimidating pets. People are amazed by them and they give off a very haunting aura which is beautifully portrayed in his photos; hence my inspiration. I won’t find any Hyena men in the South of France, but hopefully I will also be able to take some starch and haunting portraits. Of whom, I’m not yet sure.

Anyway, I decided to have a go at just taking some random shots. They're not bad:







As you can tell (if you have been following this blog. No one probably has so this next little bit is pointless), I have no internet here, unlike back in Couiza. All blogs will be posted when I’m back home in England. Sorry for the delay.

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