It is the first impact when your head hits the water and your brain, that is bleeding and bruised, immediately flips and a sharp ice cold pick axe penetrates your mind and suddenly there is hope for the future, a future you had given up on since opening your eyes that morning. To dive into the fresh morning sea is the ultimate hangover cure.
So I swam for an hour oblivious to the morning activity of snorkling hoards and mishandled pleasure boaters. Children were entranced by the volume of sea bream that would devour the fish bread they threw from the side of the boat. Fighting packs of excited blue hungry fist fights would erupt in front of their very eyes. I swam through the clouds of fish than shimmered and yet stayed in place swaying with the undercurrent rhythm. The light was muted beneath the waves giving a mysterious other world and there was a silence only interrupted by the distant motors revving up and mooring into place.
Suddenly and without warning a slow dark shape drifted beneath me close to the sea bed. Majestically moving its outer edges and ghostlike disappearing into the dark. It was a stingray. In 20 years of swimming and diving off these waters it was unheard of to see one so close to shore.It moved as if listening to a Pink Floyd soundtrack. My heart was pounding with the joy of such a sight and I tried to follow it but I wanted to alert everyone above the waterline to come and see it for them selves. Unfortunately I lost sight after following for a while and at the same time I felt the sea grow cold around me. This was unusual because the sun was burning overhead but still my skin was covered in goosebumps and my arms felt weighty to the cold.
I looked up towards the little speed boat and could see, curling round the cliffs behind us, a thick stubborn fog making its way toward the bay and with such speed. I needed to move fast.
It really was all hands on deck as each of us did the necessary jobs in quick fashion. We sped off just edging ahead of the white blanket of mist and kept our eyes on the harbour opening as soon we would not be able to see it at all.
Danger over and a beer in mind we did a shop in the local market where I picked up fresh watermelon, parsley and mint, some fresh chilli and feta cheese. A large scoop of black olives and a large Figueres onion you could eat like an apple.
All was chopped into mouthsize chunks and then drizzled generously with Serraferran olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar. Then the juice of two limes were squeezed and mixed in thoroughly.
The afternoon crept into night and the rose flowed well until in the early hours it was evident the morning would have a familiar start.
Tuesday, 27 September 2011
I was in a recording studio outside Paris the other side of the Bois de Bologne. The session was winding down late afternoon and our producer took to the market streets of Suresnes to buy ingredients for a special heady mix that was to prove to be a most unlikely and unexpected early evenings diversion.
He slowly idled his way from stall to stall touching and smelling and contemplating each variant of fungus before making his choice and finally letting the stall holder break down for the night.
The local Tabac was busy with local workers eyeing him suspiciously. The pungent smell of toasted tobacco filled the air and the chink of beer glasses could be heard in every corner of the room.
Once he decided which Cuban cigar and how many he thanked the bemused assistant and turned to the door looking at the night sky that reflected on the tanned walls with their ornate cornicing. He pulled up his scarf around his neck and took once more to the streets. It was winter but the night sky was clear and cold. You could see his breath in clouds in front of him and tiny tears appeared in the corner of his eyes with the sudden icy jolt.
He careered through the back lanes and burst into the church door slightly out of breath. All the years of sitting in front of the multi track console had taken its toll on him physically so he was genuinely wiped out by the exertion.
Once he composed himself he soon gathered an interested audience at the back of studio one whereupon a Calor gas stove suddenly appeared courtesy of 'petite puce' the house engineer. He slowly and meticulously peeled the garlic and with a small knife he cut it into tiny strips and into the pan with good glug of olive oil. Then he gently picked off a little outer skin on the mushrooms before easing them beside garlic that was already filling the room with sweet aroma.
We looked on intriqued and someone put on a Serge Gainsbourg track to accompany him as he tendered, pushed and turned the concoction. Not every day you cook up an appetiser in the control room.
He passed around a half dozen cigars and then with slight of hand he poured six cognac into tiny faded glasses with rose petals engraved on the side. We all lit up and were engulfed in the first expansive puffs that rose like plumes to the ceiling. Then we were ordered to 'taste and enjoy' the full experience.
So, cigar in hand and with oil dripping down the side of my mouth I hungrily chewed the mushroom with the delightful garlic now brown and exquisite,then I swigged my cognac before sucking hard on my tightly rolled bundle of dried tobacco.
Suddenly we all felt trippy. There was no mistaking the slight transcendental rush that made me question what was going on in the room. The walls came alive with the past memories that still swirled around the chamber. Figures were coming up to me, floating and dancing around me and I could just make out a beautiful frilled dress with a young Parisian girl with impossible smile, then a bespectacled gentleman complete with top hat laughing and rushing off across the room. There was a chaos of movement that then disappeared almost as quickly.
Later we stood together at the steps of the old church pulling heavy coats on and adjusting hats and scarfs to keep out the deepening cold. Then we were amazed to see a slow moving, black and shiny vehicle coming towards us. Winding slowly down the glittering cobbled streets twinkling with snow flakes that had started to fall. It was a 55 Thunderbird and its cool lines and sleak angles purred past us as if from a dream.
We walked into the night in silence.
Tuesday, 20 September 2011
From the minute I touched down in Nassau from Miami I could feel the expectation in the air. The runway shimmered in the heat as I climbed aboard the South Coast twin prop and I edged into my seat and marveled at the sheer beauty of the view all the way to Eleuthera. This is where the full impact took my breath away. The thin strip of land that had so badly been hit by the hurricane only 2 weeks ago lay waiting for me to taste the spirit of the Bahamas and also blast me with a full force of heat to be reckoned with as I walked down the steps of the plane and struggled to breath for a few seconds. I had arrived and after the swift water taxi deposited me at the harbour itself I then took a golf cart to Tingum Village the hotel where I was to stay these 4 nights.
I propped my guitar case in the corner of the room and took to the sandy broken road and walked to the harbour past wooden shacks and sumptuous mansions side by side. The winds had torn up the coconut trees and ripped up the roads and work was being done none stop to return it to its former beauty.
Three streets down and the sea introduced itself to me once more and in the distance a tiny shack appeared to have activity going on around it so I made my way over. The locals were laughing and joking, drinking beer and smiling broadly at the incoming stranger. I looked to the back of the shack and there she was, Queen Conch. She was standing with knife in hand chopping up tomatoes,cucumber,onion,limes and conch in such small pieces that would make up the famous salad. She was beautiful. Her complexion shone around her and her ever present smile warmed you like no other. She would stand here all day making up the snack for all that came to her and she would joke with you or tell tales of island life and I was transfixed. After I had eaten she beckoned me to her and took me out the back to where the jetty was and pointed to underneath where a handsome man was throwing conch shells onto a pile that was growing by the minute. He showed me the technique of hammereing the end of the conch and then ,with a very sharp knife, there was a slick action that pulled the muscle out. It was alive and was moving in his hand. He winked at me and then proceeded to pull out four small strips like worms that were wriggling. He told me it was an aphrodisiac and I let them slide down my throat wondering what on earth I was doing.
That night I remember feeling so well and full of energy despite my long journey. The hours went by from bar to bar until in the very early hours I found myself alone and sitting on the deserted beach whereupon I took off my clothes and in the reflection of the full moon I swam in what felt like a dream.
I went back two days running to sample the Queens delicious dish and will always remember, beer in hand and live shell fish in my mouth, what a privilege it had been and a memory I will always keep.
Queen Conch salad.