ON a recent visit to Morocco, I had a touch of déjà vu. It was my first time in the country, my first sight of the capital, Rabat, and the Kasbah of the Udayas. But walking up the outer staircase of that 12th-century fortress, a vivid image came to mind – a lucid memory of a silver car flying down these same steps, through the air, in the opposite direction. “Maybe you’ve seen Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation?” asked my guide Aziz Goumi. Oh yeah, I thought.
THERE was once a tiny island in the Parana River, barely big enough to give a fisherman a seat or save a drowning swimmer. That river was and is one of the most turbulent on Earth, crashing down through Paraguay and making a musical sound where it rushed around that particular rock. For centuries, native Tupi and Guarani people had called it “Itaipu”, meaning “singing boulder”.
CONSIDER the macaw. The brightest bird in the rainforest comes in three main colour combinations – blue and yellow, red and green, and the particularly eye-popping scarlet macaw, its luminous plumage tinted with the full spectrum and tapering to iridescent golden tail feathers.
THE same sun that rose in the Far East this morning is now setting on the hills above the Scottish Highland village of Tomatin. It glints along the blade of Jock Brocas’s sword and casts his shadow on a gold and purple landscape. In this light, Brocas looks as much like a mythic Japanese warrior as he ever will.
THE terracotta warriors came to Dublin when I was a kid. A small detachment of them, anyway – perhaps a dozen life-sized clay soldiers from an army of thousands. Most were infantrymen, arranged in marching formation. A couple were cavalry, mounted on sepulchral horses and frozen in mid-trot. Their eyes were open, their faces angled and shadowed in a way that made them seem splendidly charismatic, if also potentially wicked. They didn’t quite look alive, but you wouldn’t want to turn your back on them either.
I moved to Buenos Aires the weekend before the 30th anniversary of the first day of the Falklands War. I knew enough not to call it that in Argentina, where those islands are known as Las Malvinas. To refer to them by their British name is a political statement if deliberate, and a dead giveaway if accidental.
AN ex-banker named Guillermo Benitez swings a sawed-off hockey stick in each fist, bringing both of them down on an old computer keyboard like a furious gorilla locked inside a school supply cupboard. His girlfriend Lorena Dominguez is more methodical, lining up empty wine and beer bottles on a metal rack to smash them one by one with an axe handle. The Ramones are playing loud and dumb over the in-house PA system. Through the bunker-like slit of the observation window, it looks and sounds as if these two are having a wonderful time, and this is the entire point of The Break Club.
ALMOST 100 years ago, a young apprentice from a Japanese sake company was sent to Scotland to study the art and science of whisky-making. Masataka Taketsuru travelled the highlands and islands and took menial work at various distilleries – learning by getting his hands dirty. He also took a local wife, marrying one Rita Cowan in Campbeltown before returning with her to Japan in 1921.
CHRISTMAS in Uruguay marks the start of the high season. Perhaps this sounds like a giddy little pun on the fact that marijuana is now legal here, but that would not be in the proper spirit. Arriving in Montevideo just as this landmark legislation is being rubber-stamped by the Senate, I quickly learn that foreigners tend to get much more excited about it than most Uruguayans, who kindly request that we please be cool.
IF you’re going to Lake Baikal, you’re going to Olkhon Island. And if you’re going to Olkhon, you’ll be staying at Nikita’s Homestead. This is the babushka-doll logic of a Trans-Siberian itinerary, especially as the railway passes through Siberia itself. In theory, you are wandering one of the world’s great wide-open spaces. In practice, you are following the same route as every other foreigner aboard the trains here, and probably making all the same stops.