Matthew Gedden

Extracts From A Diary

Friday 25th August, 2017 (cont’d.)

Further down a narrow lane in the heart of Barcelona we arrived at the Museu Picasso. If we had arrived yesterday it would have been free, but of course we didn’t. The building is cool and stylish. The work housed here traces Picasso’s early years in detail, giving a sense of the artist’s youthful development. Some of this work is so traditional that it’s hard to imagine it was done by the same artist we are so familiar with. He spent some of his formative years in Barcelona and this period is particularly well-represented. I admired a sketch of an old man standing in the doorway of the Cathedral. What is apparent here is the sheer dedication to his craft with sketches and drawings as plans and ideas throughout.

My preferred section was the couple of rooms dedicated to his reworking of Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez, Picasso’s favourite painting. Initially there was a black and white version, but then there were colour versions, details and sketches, with the second room a riot of colour. I loved the manner in which he approached his subject from so many angles, each one unique but referring subtly to the original. Further on there were later pieces, some ceramics and work by friends and contemporaries.

We left at about 5 and headed down towards the beach, taking a shortcut that brought us to a different area from yesterday. We had a couple of swims and soaked in the early evening sunshine. At a nearby supermarket we bought some cans of beer each and then watched a few guys playing football on the sand. One in particular was very skilful and could easily be a professional player. He knew we were watching and began showing off; balancing the ball on his head, his instep and controlling it masterfully.

We walked back towards the Metro, stopping to watch a fluorescent chatter of budgerigars flit in and out of a small group of trees. Whilst waiting for C to come back from the toilets of a fast-food joint a young guy sat down beside me sipping a beer and smoking. Two police appeared from nowhere and began telling him off. It took me a while to realise they were telling him to put a top on over his bare chest. There seems to be a conservative side to the laid-back airs on the beach.

At the apartment we cooked pasta, pesto and parmesan washed down with a bottle of Cava. Maria, the girl looking after the flat, joined us for a drink. A bag of grass lay between us on the table but nobody mentioned it. She’s from Buenos Aires, but plans to stay in Spain as long as possible. She had one glass and then rushed off to get ready to go out. We polished off the bottle and then went back out to Las Ramblas.

Walking down the street there were numerous shrines to victims of last week’s terrorist attack where fifteen people died. Many of the messages read No Temin Por, we are not afraid, and the muted atmosphere was moving and heartfelt. Further on the centre was buzzing. We stopped for a drink in a bar in an area of art nouveau buildings. It can’t have changed much over the years, the paint was peeling and the glass faded but it retained a sense of what must have been.

Saturday 26th August p.m.    

At 2.30pm we realised we were running short of time, the train was due to leave at 4.45. We rushed back to the apartment, stopping for a beer and some patatas bravas in the local café before picking up our bags and heading for the station. Two security controls slowed us down but we made it in time and settled on our seats leaving Barcelona and Spain.

It wasn’t long before we were crossing the border into France. We barely had time to take in the scenery and the tantalising glimpses of the mountains before we arrived in Perpignan. The clear skies had been replaced by cloud though the heat remained. We bought coffees at the station and sat on the platform to wait for the train to Port Vendres.

My old friend James Hogan, poet and writer under the name Augustus Young, met us at the little station. He looked brown and wiry and of course older than when I’d last seen him. His wife, Margaret, died five years ago but he has kept himself looking fit and healthy. We walked to his house and he gave us the keys to his little garden apartment with its own entrance. It is dark and furnished in brown wood with a small kitchen, bathroom and double bedroom. After a much-needed cup of tea we met James again and headed out for a meal.

The menu at the Restaurant au Port was largely fish-based and the waiters were extremely perturbed by the fact that I’m vegetarian. They brought me a meagre salad whilst C and James tucked into various seafood delicacies. When I finished my salad I was promptly presented with a plate of fish. I explained again in a mixture of broken French and similarly broken English that I am vegetarian. Once again this causes consternation and much raising of the eyebrows in an accusatory fashion. I was eventually rewarded with a plate of vegetables and we drank a lovely local rosé from Collioure just down the road.

The conversation flowed. We talked about the Paula Rego exhibition C and I had visited earlier in the day in Barcelona. He was glad to hear of her work being shown there as they are old friends. He owns a few of her paintings and she painted a piece after one of his poems, ‘The Nicotine Cat’. He asked about the death of our mutual friend Aidan Higgins and talked about Aidan’s visit a few years ago with his wife Alannah Hopkin. He said that Aidan wrote very well but wonders if the work will last as it has, he feels, no moral qualities. Other subjects included Verlaine, Rimbaud, Kierkegaard and Charles Rennie Mackintosh who lived out the last years of his life in Port Vendres. Margaret was instrumental in setting up Mackintosh society and now there is a trail and tiny museum.

Monday 28th August  

I decided to run to Collioure and was rewarded with amazing views along the coast and the village ahead shimmering like an oasis in the sun. The road wound easily down past the museum and various hotels. I thought of Matisse arriving here in 1905 and being uplifted by the colours. Soon I reach the cemetery and search for the grave of the great Spanish poet Antonio Machado. It was easy to spot as it was festooned with flags, flowers and poems. There was also a postbox beside the grave into which people had placed more poems and even books. I thought of the hardship of his escape from the Franco dictatorship, the cold and then the sickness that killed both him and his mother within days of each other. I turned around and ran back into the light.

       Light And Shade
        (for James Hogan)

I measure my progress
in sunlight and lengthening

shadows as they inch
across the linear street.

Feet tap out the syllables,
the metre and long miles,

light and shade
breathe in the dust.

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The Duras Press

The Duras Press