Looking back on Leonard

Leonard Cohen in Dublin 2013
Leonard Cohen in Dublin 2013

I can’t definitely say that I’d never heard of Leonard Cohen until 1980. I’ve seen YouTube clips of him on TV series that I know were required family viewing in the 1960s, but if he ever made an impression I quickly forgot him. However, when a new boyfriend introduced me to Songs of Leonard Cohen and Songs of love and hate I was hooked. Thirty six years later, I can’t say John (for it was he) and I have embraced all of each other’s musical tastes. I have never reconciled myself to Captain Beefheart, and he can’t understand why I find Abba so entrancing, but we share a good solid core and Leonard was the first. And the best.

Neither of us had ever seen him perform, so you can imagine our joy when he started touring again in 2008 – and then our sorrow when we realised that his only UK dates were when we were on holiday in the US. Not to worry – he would be performing in Dublin before we left. I still class that weekend as one of the most special in my life.

My weekend in Dublin with Leonard Cohen (I wish)

While we were away, we got an excited message from a friend, another Cohen fan. Good news! New dates! Leonard was coming to Glasgow in November. We immediately ordered tickets. I remember the concert was the day after the US election in which Obama got in for the first time. There was a sense of elation from both band and audience at the line Democracy is coming to the USA. That’s quite poignant to look back on too.

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Leonard Cohen and band in Berlin 2012

In 2012, we travelled to Berlin where the stand-out line in terms of audience participation was First we take Manhattan – then we take Berlin. This left me with the ambition, sadly unfulfilled, to belt out the same line in Manhattan some day.

Berlin: Leonard Cohen at the Waldbühne 05/09/12

However, we did get one more chance at a Cohen concert towards the end of his touring days when we travelled to Dublin again in 2013.

Dublin Diary: Day 1

Leonard was still in such good shape then. He skipped and danced, bent down on his knees – and got back up again without a struggle! When his former lover and muse, Marianne Ihlen, was dying earlier this year it worried me that he told her that he wouldn’t be far behind her, then I heard that he had said in an interview that he was ready to die. He recanted this in his final interview at the launch of his last album just a few weeks ago, but he looked terribly frail and, from comments made by his son Adam, was in a lot of pain and not very mobile. I was shocked at the decline in just three years, but I suppose that’s old age and we all have to face it.

I’ll leave you, not with my favourite Leonard Cohen song which would be far too hard, but with this little gem that I discovered a few years ago via the wonderful site, Cohencentric: I love Leonard Cohen.

Leonard – you might, or might not, have been ready to die, but we certainly weren’t ready to lose you. So long, and thanks for all the memories.

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2013: the best bits

Annual Review 2013

2013 was my first year of retirement so you would think that I would have had more time for blogging. Not so! I’m shocked to find that my last post here was back in October, and I am still no nearer my original aim of using this blog to write up past travel adventures. My excuse is that retirement has been very busy – I’m not going out to work everyday, but I have got involved in many new projects which take up my energies. I think some blogging resolutions for 2014 are called for, but in the meantime, here are my highlights of 2013.

Travel

Our spring holiday this year was to Amsterdam, our favourite city since we honeymooned there in 1981. In the summer we toured New England and, for the second year in a row, our autumn holiday was dictated by Leonard Cohen’s tour schedule: Dublin. You can see what I wrote about those (quite a lot) by following the links. At the beginning of the year, I was also good at writing up days out in Scotland; less so towards the end – I have a stack of photographs waiting to go on the blog. Resolution number 1: run through these in a short series of Scottish Snapshots. Resolution number 2: blog more regularly – it’s much easier to do when the memories are fresh.

Can I name a highlight for 2013? Difficult, but I did enjoy visiting Hildene in Vermont and would dearly love to have this view at the end of my garden.

Hildene, Manchester VT
Hildene, Manchester VT

Glasgow restaurants

In last year’s review, I toyed with the notion of reviewing restaurants, or at least writing a post on The Great Glasgow Curry. Hmm, given that I’m not keeping up with the travel posts I think I’ll abandon those ideas. However, I do like to emphasise what a great collection of restaurants Glasgow has – this year we ate out, by my calculations, 58 times in 38 different places. In 2011 and 2012, our most common choices of cuisine were Italian, Indian and Chinese but this year Chinese has been kicked out of the top three by “Modern Scottish”. I’m not sure how I would define that, and maybe some of the restaurants I classed that way wouldn’t agree, but I think it’s something like using local ingredients with influences from European (or beyond) cooking styles. (One of my favourites, which does proudly proclaim itself as Scottish, is Ingram Wynd.) Many other nationalities were also represented in our dining choices, including Greek, Turkish, French and Spanish – the latter including our find of the year, Malaga Tapas which knocks spots off the competition. It’s off our usual beaten track (West End and City Centre) but is worth going a bit further afield for. Curry’s still my favourite food though!

Culture

Not being tied to the 9-to-5 has its cultural advantages. A new pleasure this year has been attending A Play, a Pie and a Pint, which is exactly as described in the title and a lovely way to spend a couple of hours at lunchtime. In December, it morphs into A Play a Pie and a Panto, which follows all the pantomime traditions but is definitely not for children (too rude and sweary!) This year we attended the last performance, after which they auctioned off some of the props and costumes for charity. Is it significant for this year’s Independence Referendum that a cut-out figure of Alex Salmond raised about ten times more than one of Alistair Darling? And no-one in the room was prepared to bid for the mural of the royal family.

I also got to do lots of bookish things that I wouldn’t have time for previously such as volunteering at Aye Write! (Glasgow’s Book Festival), joining a book group and attending events at the wondrous Glasgow Women’s Library (where I also volunteer.)

Other than that, we have done the usual mix of exhibitions, theatre, film, dance and, above all, music. The classical highlight was the Dunedin Consort’s performance of The Messiah which took place in Kelvingrove Museum. We’ve been to concerts there before and it’s a great venue – the music just soars. Looking over the list of 15 or so gigs we went to, I’m struggling to find anything new – they were mostly old favourites such as Lene Lovich, last seen by me in Leeds University Union c1979, Alison Moyet, Nick Cave and Billy Bragg. However, in a year with a Leonard Cohen concert in it, there can only be one cultural highlight for me.

2014

So what of 2014? In last year’s review I made the following resolutions:

  • Keep active and find useful things to do, whether paid or voluntary. Yes, I’ve done that.
  • Keep writing in the hope of improving, and organising the presentation of that writing better. I planned to rationalise my online presence, but I still have four blogs and it’s still too many. I’ve already made a couple of resolutions above about writing more often. I’ll add to that – Resolution number 3: get back to the original purpose of this blog to record, mainly for my own benefit, previous travels – perhaps the A-Z Challenge in April would help with that? I’ll need to start soon though – lots of old photos to look out.
  • Keep travelling and enjoying myself! Goes without saying!

A happy 2014 to everyone.

Dublin Diary: Day 1

North Wall Quay, Dublin
North Wall Quay, Dublin

Not your usual tourist view of Dublin maybe, but on our latest visit we were staying at the Gibson Hotel on North Wall Quay. There were advantages and disadvantages to this. It’s a little far out of town – the hotel website claims a ten minute walk to the city centre, but I would say more like half an hour depending on where you want to go. There is, however, a very efficient tram service that stops right outside the door – and you need to get away. There is nothing else round about other than a cinema and the O2 – money for redeveloping the area has obviously run out. On the other hand, the advantages are that the hotel is modern and comfortable and, as I said, just across from the O2, which is why we chose it. We were going to a concert there on our first evening and were back in the hotel within about 10 minutes of the band leaving the stage. I would stay again under the same circumstances but, if in Dublin purely for sightseeing, would prefer somewhere more central.

Now who could take us all the way to Dublin for a concert? Leonard Cohen of course. This was our fourth time seeing him since he began to tour again in 2008 – we saw him in Dublin and Glasgow that year, and in Berlin last year. The first one was the best because we didn’t know what to expect, but he still charms us every time. Almost 79 now – long may he keep going!

Going home* from New England

After the disappointing weather in Acadia, it was great to finish on a high with a gloriously sunny day in Portland followed by similar weather for our journey back to Boston. AND our final B&B, Chadwick, was just as good as the rest.

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You can just see Scot, the owner, in the black in the daytime picture.

A day in Portland wasn’t really enough, but we made the most of it. Portland Museum of Art was very near where we stayed and we spent the morning there. We were very impressed. For the third time this trip, we came across the passion of one rich individual, in this case William S Paley, part of whose collection formed a special exhibition. Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, Degas – I could go on but find it difficult to imagine how one person could own all of these. The regular collections were excellent too, with American artists such as Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper and the Wyeths well represented, plus others whom I hadn’t heard of and whose names I meant to remember but, shamefully, haven’t. Linked to the museum at the back was the McLellan House of 1801 which has has been restored internally (but not furnished).

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We had lunch in the café before emerging into the sunshine for the rest of the day. The Old Port area and the Eastern Promenade are wonderful for whiling away the time and (ahem) the city’s large number of microbreweries provides suitable sustenance. The beer may have been one reason why the photographer (not me) was nearly run over getting this shot.

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Our flight on the final day wasn’t until late evening, so we had plenty of time to explore on the way. We didn’t leave the Portland area until early afternoon, visiting Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth and Prouts Neck where we had a lovely lunch in the Black Point Inn.

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We spent the afternoon in Portsmouth, just over the border into New Hampshire. Settled in 1623, this town was originally known as Strawbery Banke (sic) because of the abundance of wild strawberries along the Piscataqua River. Today, the name remains in an outdoor museum around the (filled in) Puddle Dock. Astonishingly, this area was lived in till the 1950s when it was cleared for redevelopment. Fortunately, some of the buildings were saved and provide an illuminating social history from Colonial times until (almost for me) living memory. This was a 1940s shop, yet many of the brands and labels are familiar.

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And that was it! A quick journey down the I95, hand back the Jeep and two flights home. Foreign travels over till next year then…..apart from the trip to Dublin in September to see – guess who?

*Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without the costume
That I wore

(Leonard Cohen)

2012: the best bits

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It’s been a funny old year. After working in the same place for two decades, I’ve now left two jobs within a few months of each other, experiencing both the sadness of closing down a much-loved library and the exhaustion of commuting to Edinburgh every day for a temporary contract at the Scottish Agricultural College. While I was there, SAC changed its name and I rather liked its new slogan, shown above. As 2013 dawns I’m not sure what the future will bring so I will hold to the idea of “pastures new”.

Travel

When I wrote last year’s review this blog had only been going since the summer: in 2012, all my holidays and days out have been lovingly preserved on it, so I’m not going to go over them all again here. I’ll cut straight to my best trip of 2012: Berlin. It was our second visit, and I think you always feel more relaxed when you already know a city and can mix familiar experiences with new ones. The hotel we picked, Circus, was excellent and in an area with lots of interesting cafés and restaurants, but the highlight, and the real reason we went, was seeing Leonard Cohen. The city was amazing, he was amazing – I won’t bore you any further because it’s all in my Berlin posts.

Glasgow restaurants

I don’t blog about restaurants in my home city as I go along, but I include a roundup in my annual review. Last year I had eaten in 35 different ones; this year that has gone up to 40. As before, my favourite cuisines turned out to be Italian (8 restaurants, 15 total visits), Indian (8/13) and Oriental (mainly Chinese but including Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese – also 8/13). The reason, apart from delicious food obviously, is that these three always offer me good vegetarian choices. Many other restaurants just have one or two dishes available and / or the chefs think that vegetarian = bland. The most fashionable dish at the moment seems to be risotto – some are very good, but if I never eat another one I won’t be sorry.

Can I choose a favourite restaurant? Not easy, but I’ll try. Of the Italians, the one I visited most (4 times) was last year’s favourite, Amarone which this year won two Glasgow Restaurant Awards. However, I discovered, thanks to a friend’s birthday celebration, Celino’s on Alexandra Parade. It’s a tiny restaurant and deli with great food, a great atmosphere and very friendly staff. I’m going to make it my Italian of 2012.

For Indian, I’m torn as usual, because there are so many good ones to choose from. I’ve had a blog post on the Great Glasgow Curry simmering in my head for a while, but it has never made it onto the page – yet. One I have already written about is KoolBa, which I reviewed a couple of years ago for Taste of Glasgow. It’s still one of my favourites, and I’ve been there 3 times this year, but, like my Italian, my Indian of 2013 is also a new discovery for me. Charcoals on Renfield Street was first recommended by a visitor to Glasgow, and I couldn’t believe I had missed it for so long. (The website is down at the moment so I’ve linked to its 5pm.co page.) It’s quite small and unprepossessing looking from the outside, but the food is very good and nothing is too much trouble for the staff. Charcoals was Best in Glasgow at this year’s Scottish Curry Awards, so I’m not alone in my opinion.

Finally, Chinese food. Strangely, I haven’t been to last year’s favourite, Dragon-I, at all. The most visited (4 times, including Hogmanay) was our local, Amber on Byres Road, which is a serviceable Cantonese restaurant – and doesn’t seem to have a website. This sort of place is being overtaken by a wave of more sophisticated restaurants, of which Dragon-I was a forerunner and my new favourite is the latest addition. Annoyingly, the website for Lychee Oriental is also inaccessible at the moment so I’ve again used a 5pm.co entry. I am writing this on my tablet, and all attempts at searching for the restaurant reach a trial site for mobiles with no way through to the proper site – why not guys? Still I won’t hold it against them. The food, the presentation and the staff are all lovely. Lychee Oriental won Best Newcomer at the Glasgow Restaurant Awards and was voted the Greatest Little Place in Glasgow on Facebook. It’s also my best Chinese and best overall Glasgow restaurant of 2012. Ta da!

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Culture

This is one area that my commute really affected in the latter part of the year. I was getting home too late to go to anything mid-week and I didn’t have the energy to plan for the weekend. We still managed 16 music events from classical to – oh well, I could go on with a list, but you know I’m not going to get past Leonard Cohen don’t you? He would be my gig of the year, any year. I’m surprised, though, at how little theatre we saw – which probably explains the lack of visits to Dragon-I too, because it’s right opposite the Theatre Royal. There was one outstanding dramatic event – Alan Cumming’s (almost) one-man version of Macbeth, set in a psychiatric unit with all the characters channelled through one patient. It was an awesome feat of memory, the best portrayal of vulnerability I have ever seen on stage and such a nuanced performance that it was never in doubt which character was being represented. If it wasn’t for Leonard, Alan Cumming would definitely be my cultural icon of the year, but he’s a close-run second.

2013

As I said at the beginning, my job has ended and I’m looking for pastures new. Perhaps I will have more time for travelling and blogging? I would like to use this blog for its original purpose, to write up holidays of the past as a record for myself, and maybe I should consider expanding its scope to cover restaurant reviews and similar? I enjoy writing and now have four blogs (the other three are all library or book-related in some way). Although there were good reasons at the time for starting them all individually, this is now too many. I’ve also diversified into Pinterest and Storify so I really need to simplify my online presence. I’ve made a start by gathering them all together at flavors.me but more needs to be done. So my resolutions for the year are:

Keep active and find useful things to do, whether paid or voluntary.
Keep writing in the hope of improving, and organising the presentation of that writing better.
Keep travelling and enjoying myself!

Happy New Year.

Berlin: Leonard Cohen at the Waldbühne 05/09/12

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So – the triumphant culmination of our holiday! Not that we didn’t love Berlin in its own right, but this is what it was really all about: the Leonard Cohen concert. If Leonard won’t come to us, then we just have to go to him – though you never know, he might appear yet. In 2008, we saw him in Dublin, then a few months later he came to Glasgow’s Armadillo. A girl can live in hope.

The venue, shown above, was the Waldbühne. This outdoor amphitheatre was originally built as part of the 1936 Olympics, and it’s enormous, seating about 22000. You go in at the top and look down 30m – fortunately we were in the first tier and quite central so got a really good view. The weather was also kind to us – it had been damp in the morning but stayed dry in the evening and it wasn’t too chilly, though the benches were rather hard and cold to sit on. Still, what’s a little discomfort when watching your musical hero?

Leonard, of course, was amazing. It’s hard to believe he’s almost 78 as he runs, or even skips, on and off the stage, and provides us with three and a half hours of entertainment. Even then, had it not been for the 11pm curfew, I’m sure he would have gone on longer – I’ve seen the set-lists for other concerts and we definitely missed a few songs.

Highlights? Well, the old songs always get a good reception. I follow the blog written by guitar technician Leif Bodnarchuk and, according to his tour diary for the Berlin concert, we became the leaders in the sing-along to So long Marianne stakes. One of the new songs, Going home, also got a rousing reception, perhaps because he name checks himself in it “I love to speak with Leonard” – well, I’m sure we’d all love to speak with Leonard, but can’t agree with his estimation of himself as “a lazy bastard living in a suit”. Leif thinks he was taken aback by the extended applause for a new song, so perhaps that was uniquely Berlin too. But the best thing of all, of course, is First we take Manhattan, then we take BERLIN! The audience participation would have taken the roof off, if there had been one. (Note to self: try to see Leonard in Manhattan and find out how it compares.)

This is a travel blog, not a music blog, so I should point out the general ease of getting to and from the concert. I thought it would take hours to climb the stairs and get back to the S-Bahn because of the throngs of people, but within 30 minutes of the concert ending we were on a train. Tired but happy.

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Page three of John’s Berlin Photo Journal has all the photos he took during the concert and I’ve pinned various reviews, pictures and videos to my Leonard Cohen Pinterest board. As well as Leif’s blog linked to above, there’s a photoblog from the tour Notes from the Road by JJ Carenza III. DrHGuy aka 1heckofaguy aka Allan Showalter ALWAYS knows where to find the best videos, and I’ve discovered Arelene Dick, another legendary Cohen fan, has created Pinterest boards for every concert.

Old Montreal

The old part of Montreal, down by the St Lawrence River, is beautiful to wander round. It’s also warm at the moment which, for refugees from the Scottish summer, is wonderful – breakfast outside? Yes please! We tramped around (well, apart from the time sitting in cafes) for seven hours yesterday and the highlights, for me, were the two Notre Dames.

Notre Dame de Bon Secours

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This is also known as the Sailors’ Church, and features twice in Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne:

“And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower”

“And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour”

This is more obvious from the back view, looking from the harbour:

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You can climb up the “wooden tower” and also visit the adjacent museum dedicated to St Marguerite Bourgeoys who had the original chapel built in 1657. (We also had coffee later in the day at one of the cafes beneath Suzanne’s “place near the river” which is apparently now part of the Auberge de la Place Royale.)

Basilique Notre Dame de Montreal

The other Notre Dame is the Basilica, a much grander affair, with gold stars twinkling from its blue ceiling. John took this fabulous photograph:

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The verdict

Old Montreal has the feel of a European city rather than a North American one. It’s very French, of course, but it also reminded me of home a bit – lots of grand 19th and early 20th century facades, as in the centre of Glasgow. The City Hall, pictured at the bottom of the post, is not unlike our own City Chambers in style.

Old Montreal’s a great place to eat too – Glasgow tries with its cafe society, but the weather is against it! Here, we liked Place Jacques Cartier and Rue St Paul which were both packed with restaurants spilling onto the streets. Not so many were open for breakfast, but we found Restaurant le Fripon on Jacques Cartier – much cheaper than the hotel and freshly cooked. Lunch and dinner were both on St Paul – Le Papillon for the former (HUGE salad which I thought would be a light lunch) and Dolcetto and Co for the latter. This was an Italian version of tapas which again was deceptively large. We ate too much, but it was all good. Always our downfall!

There are more pictures, if you are interested, on my Pinterest board of Montreal – although updating it is proving difficult over the hotel wifi and I might have to abandon that idea!

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My weekend in Dublin with Leonard Cohen (I wish)

Warning: there’s a bit about Dublin in this post, but a lot about Leonard Cohen. If you’re not a fan, you might want to leave now before you start looking at me in a very pitying manner indeed!

Leonard Cohen will be 77 on September 21st which has made me think a lot about the weekend we went to see him play in Dublin in June 2008. Not that I ever really forget it, it was one of the most magical weekends of my life. When I heard he was touring again after 15 years, I was devastated to find that his only Scottish date was in Edinburgh while we were on holiday. Not to worry – I got tickets for Friday, 13th June, the first of three dates in Dublin, so we planned a weekend around that. The concert was in the grounds of the old Kilmainham Hospital, formerly a retirement home for veteran soldiers and now the Irish Museum of Modern Art. The Hospital and our hotel were on two corners of a crossroads, on the others were the historic Kilmainham Gaol and a pub with an Italian restaurant. How cleverly I planned this, but things got even better very quickly.

After we arrived on Friday afternoon, we thought we’d go over to the Hospital to wander round the grounds. As we walked past the concert site, the screens burst into life and there he was. So we had the added bonus of watching part of the sound check and walking through the gardens with Leonard’s voice floating over the trees.

Royal Hospital Kilmainham
Sculpture In Kilmainham Hospital gardens
Fountain in Kilmainham Hospital grounds

Needless to say, the concert that evening was brilliant and lasted nearly three hours – there are many younger performers who barely give you half that. I won’t bore you with any more details (and believe me, I could), because the review by Bock the Robber is one of the best I have ever read and I couldn’t compete. And this is, after all, a travel blog and not a music review!

On Saturday, we went into central Dublin. This was our third visit and it’s a city we really like, but this time my focus was elsewhere and I can’t remember exactly what we did. In the evening we ate in the Italian restaurant in the pub – occasionally, we could hear snippets of that evening’s concert and I wished I was there again. But that wasn’t the last we saw of Leonard, oh no, there was more to come.

Our flight home on Sunday was quite late so we had another full day and visited Kilmainham Gaol, the place where the leaders of the Easter Rising were executed. This was not a “proud to be British” moment by any means.

Exercise yard in Kilmainham Jail, site of Easter Rising executions
Sculpture commemorating leaders of the Easter Rising

After lunch, we went back over to the Hospital to tour the art gallery. I said to John that we probably wouldn’t be lucky enough to coincide with the sound check this time, but when we were in the gallery we heard Leonard start to sing So long, Marianne and rushed out to watch and listen again – he stopped and started several times because he “got something wrong”. What a work ethic, what perfectionism. I hope I have that amount of stamina when I’m 73 (as he was then) , though I also hope I’m not still expending it on my job! This was a perfect end to a perfect weekend. Happy birthday, Leonard Cohen, and thanks for all the memories.

PS If any Leonard Cohen fan has wandered onto this blog and read this far, if you haven’t come across Heck of a Guy*, aka DrHGuy*, then hurry along to his sites because I can’t believe anyone knows more about Leonard, except possibly Leonard himself. He’s prepared this great birthday video tribute and has alerted me to other stuff such as “Hitler learns his Leonard Cohen tickets are fakes” on YouTube. (I thought his reaction was quite restrained under the circumstances, actually.)

PPS Leonard finally came to Glasgow in November 2008 and we saw him then too. He was just as good. Maybe he’ll tour his new album next year? If it happens, I’ll be there!

*PPPS 2016, these sites have now become Cohencentric.