EDINBURGH smells of sea salt and brewer’s yeast. The Scottish capital is a touristy city, pretty as a snow globe and selling the most superficial brand of Scottishness at its romantic, historic center – toffee, whisky, tartan, bagpipes. Beyond the well-preserved world heritage sites of its gothic Old Town and neo-classical New Town, it is also a prosaic modern conurbation, ringed with affluent suburbs such as Craiglockhart, and comparatively deprived housing schemes in neighbourhoods like Niddrie and Craigmillar, which still suffer from some of the gang and drug problems that blighted them badly in the 1980s.
IN an independent Scotland, the rain would keep falling regardless. Whether we vote yes or no in next year’s referendum, the nation’s future will likely be at least as wet as its recent past, and probably much more so. The best educated guesses are now suggesting that the floods to come will alter our landscape and our way of life to a vastly greater extent than any constitutional sea change.
MADRID turns awfully cold in December. The city sits high and dry on the Meseta plateau, about half a mile above sea level but nowhere near the sea. As the temperature drops, the engine fumes rise into the still air to knit a winter cap of smog overhead that locals call “the beret”. Pollution is a major issue in the Spanish capital. Homelessness is another.
THE whole world remembers what Neil Armstrong said about small steps and giant leaps as he climbed down that ladder to the moon in 1969. Fewer Earthlings could now quote the words spoken by lesser-known astronaut Eugene Cernan when he stepped lightly off the lunar surface three years later. “America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow,” said Cernan, the commander of Apollo 17. “We leave as we came, and, God willing, as we shall return … ”
ON a freezing evening in March 2012, a sombre party of architects, planners, and local organisers met for dinner in the small Japanese port town of Ogatsu. Properly speaking, the town did not really exist any more, having been annihilated by the tsunami that struck the north-east coast of Japan’s main island, Honshu, almost exactly one year earlier.
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.
To win the Pritzker Prize for architecture is like winning a Nobel Prize for literature, they say. The chosen laureate ascends into the pantheon of their art, and critics of that art take to second-guessing the jury’s decision. Two years ago, when the relatively young and little-known Wang Shu became the first Chinese national to receive the Pritzker, his selection was widely read as a political statement, though the meaning of that statement was open to question.
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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.
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.