Pandemic travel: San Sebastian and Bilbao

As the years go by, realisation is dawning on me that Spain is one of my favourite countries in the world to visit. From the buzz of Madrid to the barrios of Barcelona; to the beauty of Granada; the seaside of Malaga and the Yumbo Centre of Maspalomas, it is a country of vast variety and culture; incredible food and scenery and with lovely people. And it’s hot. The proviso I would apply to my love of Spain is that I cannot visit between the months of June to September, not being built to tolerate such intense heat. Last weekend for the 6th time in three years I boarded a plane for Espana.  My destination was the Spanish Atlantic – the cities of San Sebastian and Bilbao in the Basque Country – a region located in the western Pyrenees, straddling the border between France and Spain on the coast of the Bay of Biscay. Euskal Herria is the Basque name for the area.

‘Puppy’ by Jeff Koons

It’s an area I have long known about, but never visited. Upon moving to Amsterdam in the year 2000 I was friends with a woman from the area who described a region of enormous beauty. Aer Lingus offers direct flight to the area’s capital Bilbao. The time to visit was finally here.

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Pandemic travel: Paphos, Cyprus

Ryanair is an airline that receives a lot of deservedly bad press. Its lack of customer service; its ability to charge extra for absolutely everything; its habit of charging more for a flight change than it is to simply abandon your initial flight and instead make a brand new booking; its hard sell at every point of the booking and flying process – I doubt the children’s charities who are meant to benefit from Ryanair lottery tickets receive much funding from the airline Like clockwork Michael O’Leary issues a press release every couple of years to announce that Ryanair are going to start charging to use the toilets on board. Cue lots of press outrage over this publicity stunt, even though everyone knows that free toilets are a legal onboard requirement in the aviation industry.

Paphos Castle

I have no issue with Ryanair. It is upfront about how horrible it is, almost proud of this fact. You get what you pay for – and woe betide you if you miss something – the airline won’t help. I like the fact that it flies to many destinations that other airlines don’t offer. It can also be very cheap so long as you check the small print. Your €9.99 trip to Amsterdam will actually cost you €140 when you add in the price of the return flight; the price of a carry-on bag and the train transfer from Eindhoven to Amsterdam. With a bit of plotting you can get some deals.

Two weeks ago the carrier had one of its flash 24 hour sales. I had a quick look at saw that a return flight from Dublin to Paphos in Cyprus including a carryon bag would cost €120. This is the longest flight on the Ryanair network.  The flight lasts about 5 hours. More horrifically, the outbound leg of the journey was at 5.45am on Friday morning. Needs must.

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IDGTF ’22 Double bill – ‘Quarantine / Three queens stuck in Dublin city’.

This May bank holiday Monday sees the welcome return of the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, for the first time since 2019. Now in its 19th year, the pandemic of the past two years had thwarted its occurrence for two years. It’s back for the next two weeks, featuring twenty-three productions in various venues around the city. Check out the 2022 programme on http://www.gaytheatre.ie.

For my matinee viewing today I went to the Main Hall in the Teachers’ Club on Parnell Square to see a comedy double bill ‘Quarantine’ and ‘Three Queens Stuck in Dublin’.

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Pandemic travels – March in Annecy and Lyon, France

A springtime trip to France sounded like a good idea. Especially as it had been almost fifteen years since I had visited that beautiful country. We decided to avoid Paris. France is a vast country (by European standards) and has appealing destinations other than its glorious capital. A quick scan of the Ryanair and Aer Lingus destinations from Dublin produced a clear winner- the city of Lyon. When I mentioned this to my sister she recommended a daytrip to Annecy. After a quick online search of that town we decided that a trip to both cities was required. And so our tickets were booked.

Lake Annecy in Les Alpes

For my reading entertainment on the lunchtime flight to Lyon, I was reading ‘Not the girl next door’ a biography of Hollywood legend Joan Crawford. Joan seemed like a suitable guardian angel for air travel. In case of turbulence I could picture her snarling ‘Don’t f*ck with me weather, this ain’t my first time at the rodeo’ (to paraphrase Faye Dunaway in ‘Mommie Dearest’.)
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Cathédrale de Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Lyon

To the theatre: ‘The Great War’ Neil LaBute and Judder Theatre

As the pandemic (or at least the lockdown) draws to a close, the theatre world is back with a vengeance. It was with great anticipation that I attended Chaplin’s Bar this evening, where in the upstairs space Judder Theatre is staging the one act play ‘The Great War’ by Neil LaBute.

Judder Theatre has been producing plays since 2018. After the two year plague, this is Judder’s first production since the world reopened. Originally its plays were staged in Doyles, before moving to its present home upstairs on Hawkins Street. The upstairs theatre is a comfortable and intimate space – the audience is like an observer in the room immersed in the action, rather than the distanced onlookers in a more traditional. For a play like ‘The Great War’ this is very effective.

The lights come up. A man and a woman emerge onto the stage and sit on the sofa. From the first words it is clear that this is a couple at war. Or to be more accurate, this is a soon to be ex-couple. In the process of obtaining a divorce they decide to bypass the lawyers for an evening, to decide among themselves, how to split the marital estate. There’s one, rather overwhelming problem however – they cannot stand the sight of each other. As they down hard liquor, barbs and insults are traded. They lament the nine years they have wasted on this broken relationship. Nothing is off limits. Bitterly condemning each other for squandering each other’s youth and beauty, neither seems ready to forgive or forget, using this meeting as yet another chance to tear a strip off each other.

It’s hilariously funny. Anyone who has endured a breakup will identify with the frustration and regret that is on display here – although perhaps not to the same vituperative effect.

To complicate matters, they have two children. How will the decisions they make on their future affect the boys? I won’t give any spoilers but what they reveal to each other about their thoughts and feelings isn’t precisely what the marriage guidance counsellor would consider mature or responsible.

The couple is played with relish by Gertrude Montgomery and Vincent Patrick. The onstage chemistry between them is electric – although you’d be in fear for them with the toxic atmosphere and brutal insults. Funny, sharp and with great timing they are a very effective couple in conflict.

Directed by Shaun Elebert this blackly comic play runs until Saturday at 6.30pm in Chaplin’s Bar on Hawkins Street.

Recommended.

Pandemic travel: Zagreb in Croatia

Since the pandemic, life has gotten smaller. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and in many ways it is not. These days, more thought needs to be invested in the planning of outings. Spontaneous nights out to concerts or plays are less frequent, and less certain. If you are single then your circle of friends may have contracted. It has in my case. When the two kilometre lockdown was imposed, followed by the five kilometre restriction then people were excluded from my life, by virtue of physical location. With worry over transmission, that distance seemed to continue after the lockdown lifted. Self-reliance became more essential. Being happy in your own company took on added importance. Being willing to travel abroad alone, comfortable in your own skin, is one of the skills that Covid has bestowed on me. I was accustomed to solo travel before the pandemic but it was the exception rather than the rule. I preferred back then to travel with company. I still do in fact, but in a situation where it’s a choice between yet another canal walk alone in Dublin or a little foreign jaunt alone – I choose the latter.

So it was last weekend I booked a trip to the capital of Croatia, the city of Zagreb. This was my first trip to Croatia and my second trip to a country from the former Yugoslavia, having visited Belgrade in Serbia in 2009. Croatia is now a popular seaside destination on the Mediterranean. Direct flights from Dublin to Dubrovnik; Split and Zadar are increasingly popular. Zagreb is about 150 kilometres inland. It’s a city of almost a million people so a decent yet manageable size.
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Zagreb Cathedral

Theatrical: ‘Abomination : a DUP opera’ at the Abbey Theatre



In May 2008, Democratic Unionist Party MP Iris Robinson gave an interview to the Stephen Nolan radio show on BBC Northern Ireland. In it she expressed sorrow that a gay man had been beaten almost to death in a homophobic attack in Belfast. Homosexuality was still an ‘abomination’ to Iris however, but homosexuals like murderers could be forgiven by accepting Jesus. She had a lovely NHS psychiatrist, who worked with her who could help those suffering from the ‘abomination’ to be cured. To say that the interview caused a reaction is quite an understatement. Universally condemned for her religious and homophobic extremism, neither Iris or her political party backed down. Her party colleague Ian Paisley Junior (son of the Reverend Senior who in the early 1980s campaigned against the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the north with the catchy slogan ‘Save Ulster from sodomy’) supported Robinson. Iris’ husband Peter Robinson – then the First Minister of Northern Ireland remained silent – possibly too busy shouting ‘No, no, no’, at any questions being posed to him.

She later stated in parliament that “There can be no viler act, apart from homosexuality and sodomy, than sexually abusing innocent children” (although she later claimed that this direct quote had been misinterpreted. )

The BBC started doing some investigation into Mrs. Robinson’s background and in January 2010 a Spotlight documentary was released which revealed that throughout the previous year’s controversy, 60 year old Iris had been conducting an extra-marital affair (I’m assuming said affair was ‘torrid’) with a 19 year old named Kirk McCambley, and that she’d been using her political influence to get loans approved for him to open a cafe. Iris checked herself into a psychiatric unit and announced her retirement from public life.

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‘Endgame’ by Samuel Beckett at the Gate – the worst night in the history of theatre

In November as part of the 2021 Dublin Dance Festival, I attended the Compagnie Maguy Marin’s performance of ‘May B’, in the O’Reilly Theatre. This was a modern dance interpretation of ‘Endgame’ by Samuel Beckett. Beckett had offered his support to the dance company for this interpretation. It was an appalling evening – you can read my account of it at the link – https://midnightmurphy.com/2021/11/08/i-went-to-an-interpretative-dance-version-of-samuel-becketts-endgame/

I had previously only seen Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ which I had modestly enjoyed. Last night I felt it was time to go the theatre with new eyes, to experience the Gate Theatre production of ‘Endgame’. Surely this was a work that needed to be seen in its original form, and not through the medium of a surly, jazz-hands, interpretive dance version.

This latest production was directed by Danya Taymor and has received state funding through the Arts Council and RTE. It stars Frankie Boyle as Hamm – a surly, blind and wheelchair bound man living in a grotty room in a post-apocalyptic world. He is cared for by a limping Clov (Robert Sheehan). Hamm’s parents Nagg and Nell (played by Sean McGinley and Gina Moxley) have no legs and live in a pair of dustbins in the corner. Hamm spends the play insulting and berating Clov, who threatens to leave Hamm, but never does. There are long speeches (it’s ‘an absurdist comedy’). There’s repetition in the lines and the actions – poor Clov is the only character that moves on the stage (Hamm being wheeled about notwithstanding) throughout the play.

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Chernobyl

Long live Ukraine #Ukraine

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The flight to Kiev from Dublin lasted 3.5 hours, and was a typical Ryanair experience. When you are trapped in the air for that length of time they can try the hard sell at their leisure. We were greeted at the airport by Vladimir – the representative of the letting agent whose apartment in city centre Kiev we were residing for the weekend. He drove us to our abode. It was 11pm. We needed a cocktail and headed to N::B Cocktail Bar (thanks to Google maps) which has to be the loveliest bar I have ever visited. It is just off the Maidan Nezalezhjnosti (Independence Square) and is a cosy yet luxurious and refined placed with the best signature cocktails on the planet.

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Hell hath no fury like the fury of justice

Avid readers of this blog will be aware of my adventure as the foreman of a jury in a high court criminal case back in 2018. As a result of that I was excused from any obligation to appear on a jury for a decade. However it was also stated that in the event that I was called before ten years had elapsed, and if I was so inclined, then there would be no obstacle put in my place. Jurors are selected from the electoral register. Back in 2018 I was registered to vote at my Dublin address. In the interim I had moved my vote back to my childhood home in Limerick (for reasons not relevant to this tale). Over Christmas a letter appeared, summoning me to jury selection in Limerick Circuit Court on Mulgrave Street at 11.30am. I had been slightly disillusioned (yet fascinated) by my previous experience (you can read about it at this link – https://midnightmurphy.com/2018/04/26/courtroom-adventures-part-one/). Like Sinead O’Connor in her epic hit, I was willing to give it another try however. I take my constitutional responsibilities seriously.

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Limerick Courthouse