Thursday, March 29, 2007

Life as a memory

Memories are soaked into every surface. It's like you can feel them when you touch the table in a bar or brush your fingers along the metal railings of a park. Life in all its glory one day becomes just another memory. We try to preserve the good things in our lives but they are destined to fly. The more they try to fly the more we try to preserve them.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


We sat in his kitchen sipping freshly brewed camomile tea and listening to African folk music. In the cramped space as the light filtered in through a small kitchen window Pavol spoke briefly of his past. His father was from Ghana his mum Slovak. He told of the seven years he spent as a dancer aboard luxury cruisers from Vienna to Budapest.

Leaving Vienna in the early evening, wealthy tourists all aboard Pavol and his partner would put on an exhibition of dance styles ranging from tango to jazz for the guests. Soft spoken with a warmth in his eyes he showed me souvenir cards from those times, photographs of a younger more athletic Pavol well dressed in a choreographed pose.

Maybe it was his minimally voiced fondness for those times or just that genuine reflexive ache for ones youth gone, but inspite of lively music and warm tea a feeling of melancholy filled the room.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Seventy years old living on a houseboat on the Danube. He worked at the petrochemical company Slovnaft for forty years. He has built four boats and sailed the river up through Austria and Germany and on to Rotterdam and The North Sea and down through Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania to Croatia.

Years ago a German yacht sailed into his little stretch of the rivers inlet and asked permissiion to moor up next to his houseboat. They got talking and asked what he was cooking. Just a simple lunch he offered and when they asked if they could join him the seed was planted for his waterfront restaurant. At one time a private restaurant but as demand became stronger it became open to the public in season from March to October.

Dodo the subject of a few TV documentary's is an authority on the Danube and its history as we spoke he showed me fantastic old photographic books, a light always on in his eyes.

The inlet is now home to a few more restaurants and a boating club that he is the President of. Off season the restaurant is closed and converted into the houseboat that he lives on with his third wife and a giant black Newfoundland called Andi. His wood burning stove fueled by dried out driftwood that has been battered by storms and carried along the river.


We drove across an expanse of muddy fields the light fading, my friend telling me of this place he was stationed at when he did his national service, as a border guard.

We arrived at the place; a small part of the river under a bridge surrounded by trees. Quiet unassuming and seemingly peaceful but with a dark undercurrent the feeling you get when the song your listening to in a major key subltly effortlessly drifts into a minor melancholic place.

The lookout post a concrete box complete with an aperture for pointing a gun out of sits under the bridge like a tomb.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Anton Podstrásky update

Many years of hard living, hard drinking & heavy smoking have their effect. Last year Anton collapsed and after being rushed to hospital it was found that he had to have his leg amputated. The arteries had given up and the pain he winced through for years was finally so intense that it made him pass out and fall down in the street.

Over the months since the operation he has reabilitated slowly. Making it to the his old haunt the market on saturdays for a glass of wine with old friends. Still drinking and smoking (You can't tell a 67 year old man who has been doing so all his life to quit now)
I got a call yesterday "Tono is in hospital, His stump has gone black" The doctors will remove the blackened infected remnant of what was Tono's right leg.

We will wait and we will see.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Contrasts in Sofia part one

Sofia like other post communist capital cities is a place of contrasts. The centre a mix of narrow streets, old buildings and stray dogs blending uneasily with high fashion outlets, cosmopolitan bars, restaurants and construction sites. It is knitted together by a ceaseless seam of cars and people. Off the wide main downtown boulevards the narrow side streets are a cultural patchwork of crumbling buildings, ankle high convenience stores, Turkish, Lebanese, Chinese, Japanese and Mediterranean restaurants, junkshops, fruit and vegetable markets, second hand emporiums, tea houses, coffee shops and Jewish bakeries.

On my way to a large outdoor market down a narrow dusty street that was home to both a synagogue and a Caterpillar earthmover I encountered a traditional barbers shop. The shops only occupant a dark haired man sitting quietly smoking and playing backgammon. The TV a soundless flickering ghost of an old movie for company. I asked first in Slovak then in English if I could photograph his shop. He replied without hesitation “Of course” After carefully considering and moving a piece on his board he added “You from London?” Our brief conversation amounted to him telling me he had lived in Sofia for ten years, was married and had a family.

“Business”? I looked around the shops corkboard walls, makeshift counter with two office chairs facing two picture frame mirrors, various religious icons, family snap shots, unlabelled bottles of lotions and potions, brushes, combs, a hairdryer and clippers hanging form the wall on a hook all bathed in a dusty unforgiving florescent wash of light. “Slow” He replied.

Contrasts I kept telling myself as the December chill bit my face and tears rolled down my cheeks. A few streets away I had been drinking hot tea made from fresh mint and cedar kernels after a steaming bowl of chicken couscous in a beautiful new Moroccan restaurant. Contrasts.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Gone Too

He was sitting there drinking his beer alone. Whenever I saw him he had a smile. Always just the other side of sober, red faced but with optimism. It was difficult making photographs in the bar. Especially being a stranger and a foreigner. Cameras were considered unnecessary and unpopular.

This picture was taken on the last day of 2005. The bar was about to close for modernisation. All the socialist memorabilia to be trashed, gone the bust of Lenin and the photograph of Brezhnev from behind the bar. Gone too the red drapery behind the TV set emblazoned with Lenin. That night I heard a story about this man, of how when he was a child his father who was a chauffeur drove all over Europe from here to the Mediterranean and back many times. Whenever possible his father would take him along on an adventure by his side in the passenger seat watching the world go by. A close bond that formed as a child lasted a lifetime: He and his father were constant companions.

His father died of a heart attack towards the end of last year and on the few subsequent occasions I happened to see this man there was a sadness more than grief about him. A lost man in usual surroundings has an other worldliness about him. At the beginning of this year I met my old neighbor for a drink in the reconstructed version of this bar and he told me of how the man in the photograph had been shopping on the local market and after having the usual few drinks slipped on ice, fell and banged his head.The man from the bar with the smile has gone too. He will be missed.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Open Wild

A lighted match finds us in this space my dear,
Like shaping wax in the flame of fear.
Call his name in your sleep but he’s gone away,
And there’s just you by the light of day.
You hold the image like a toy for a child
Like the hand you held in the open wild.

Open wild, like a late night bar
Whiskey and beer and love from afar
Open wild, as the band played on
Soon it’ll be tomorrow and soon you’ll be gone.

A long lost boat to sail away on my dear,
You gave up the ghost and it’s oh so clear.
Burnt every page in your diary,
I see your fate in a gin soaked expiry.
You hold the image like a toy for a child
Like the hand you held in the open wild.

Open wild, like a late night bar
Whiskey and beer and love from afar
Open wild as the band played on
Soon it’ll be tomorrow and soon you’ll be gone.

A cigarette marks the passing of time,
The seasons fade like the passion from a crime.
You try out a smile that only reminds you of him,
So you drink yourself to the bottom again.
You hold the image like a toy for a child
Like the hand you held in the open wild.

Open wild, like a late night bar
Whiskey and beer and love from afar
Open wild as the band played on
Soon it’ll be tomorrow and soon you’ll be gone.