REVIEW : Mexico: just like Belfast on a rainy afternoon

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The Independent Culture
Damian Gorman made exceptionally heavy weather of his trip to Mexico for Great Journeys (BBC2). A one-man low-pressure system, he tracked through the country on the trail of Cortez, bringing overcast conditions wherever he went. He was only carry ing a small backpack but as he talked you imagined a great line of porters trailing behind him, bent double beneath the weight of cultural anxiety and poetic solemnity. He seemed to have bought large chunks of Ireland with him too, a country that got mor e namechecks than Mexico itself and was called up in equal measure by the strange and the homely. "A completely unfamiliar landscape for me, an Irishman, " Gorman said, brushing a liana out of his face and scanning the ground for 14ft snakes. Well, you d on't say.

Later on, though, he was in a more generous mood, claiming that Aurelia Rees, the woman who read his palm in Veracruz, was "the image of my late mother". The woman had a face like an Aztec mask, so the remark aroused some unhelpful speculations about theancestry of the Gormans. Had a balsa wood raft made an implausible return journey from the shores of Darien to Belfast Lough? He was reminded of Ireland by the scenery that looked nothing like Ireland, and even more so by the scenery that did. He was reminded of Ireland by Aztec remains and by Mexicans and by babies. Quite late on he revealed, somewhat redundantly, that he was a little homesick.

The stolid element of solipsism to all this was emphasised by Gorman's musings on history. "I'd be more like Cortez if I didn't watch myself," he said, as if conquest and empire were only a blink away, "and maybe Cortez could have turned out more like me." If he was unlucky, you thought, with that special savagery brought on by enforced companionship. I felt mildly repentant soon after because much of Gorman's agonising was decent in its motives and every now and then there were glimpses of a drier, self-mocking style to his narration - little clearings in the clouds of earnest self-regard. If only he'd go and have a couple of drinks he might be quite good company, you thought . . . before he confessed that he never touched alcohol.

In any case, the mist would soon close in again, bringing with it another fine example of the insensitivity of the doggedly sensitive, delivered in a whispered, halting brogue. "I want to speak to the villagers. Heart to heart. About the core of their lives. Their yearnings. And their loves," Gorman said, after arriving in a mountain settlement. A mental picture formed of the villagers recalling urgent business in the high pastures, somewhere this gloomy gringo couldn't follow them. "Maybe t h is is presumptuous, in a visitor," Gorman continued. No maybe about it, Senor. By the end, he had beaten the country into submission with his melancholy prose and went home on the plane, humming "Down Mexico Way" for the benefit of the camera. There wer e some very nice pictures, particularly those of Aztec pyramids, but as a whole the film had you rewriting the old adage: better never to set off at all, than travel so hopelessly.

Perhaps I'm just suffering a premonitory dyspepsia, because Gary Rhodes rubbed me up the wrong way in Rhodes around Christmas (BBC2), a seasonal pendant to the series.

He now seems incapable of speaking without exclamation marks ("That's what I call crackling!", "You're not gonna believe what we're making!", "Wait until you see the pudding I'm gonna make with these!") and he further punctuates his speech with maddeninglittle flicks of the hand towards the camera. The recipes included a seasonal salad made with cranberry sauce and pork scratchings. I have a horrible feeling this wasn't a joke.