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Blue Cock

In Presentation on October 30, 2012 at 10:31 am

Jerez never disappoints. As usual we leave the bodegas alone and find our sherry in the city’s bars. Anywhere that serves a palo cortado by the glass gets our business. You can pay as much as nine euros for a glass of good palo cortado in Jerez, but we choose to prefer the two-fifty variety.

There is this dance we always do first – a sad little conga round the clothes boutiques, K leading the way and I the downcast disciple. Apparently I can be quite annoying. First though we pause at the top of Calle Lancería for me to photograph a favourite building of mine; where Calle Larga and Calle de Santa María converge, the semi-circular Gallo Azul building is the city’s centerpiece.

A beautiful and elegant construction housing a high-end tapas bar on the ground floor and a restaurant upstairs, I have no idea what it hides in its upper floors as they taper upwards towards the neon La Ina sign in a style that seems more than a little phallic to me. The building’s name, which translates as Blue Cock, always, I’m a little embarrassed to admit, gets a giggle.

Photographs taken, it’s off to the shops and thence to a low-end bar for a low-end palo cortado. Sherry aficionados will know that even cheap palo cortado is expensive and excellent wine. We always seem, stylish and elegant as we are, to end up in the noisy, dirty bars. Jerez has its fair share of posh places but we tend to avoid them by unspoken arrangement.

We’ll be reminded later this evening that going for chic in Spain is a high-risk strategy – there is always the possibility that one ends up enjoying error-free cooking in an atmosphere-free fridge of a place.

On our way back to our hostal we approach the Plaza Arenal, emerging from the twist and tangle of the old town’s tiny streets. As we do so we pass, on our right, an ice cream place we sometimes stop into for something sweet. It’s a nice day, but not hot enough for an ice cream. We’re not quite prepared for what we see on our left, though – some candy for the eye and a taste left in the mouth that is only as sweet as it is bitter.

A large set of double doors I have never seen open is open today. Just inside is the kind of space I’ve seen a thousand times in Andalusian townhouses. A little entrance hallway lined to chest height in ceramic tiling. These old vestibules tend to end, three or four metres in, with a second doorway, of glass or wood or metal grille, that leads into the interior parts of the house, usually a patio or inner courtyard.

Many of the old houses have these days been converted into separate apartments, their windows and balconies overlooking this inner space as well as the street, for ventilation in the hotter months. Jerez gets as hot as Seville in the summer, just about, although the nights are mercifully cooler.

Here though there is no inner door. The hallway is an inexplicably located shrine. Behind the glass and metal bars at the back is something you can find examples of all over southern Spain, sometimes in a church, sometimes on the street. Baroque, bordering on the grotesque, decked in flowers and illuminated by faux candles, a figure of Jesus or Mary or some saint – a tormented expression on the face, onto which have been painted tears, quite possibly of blood. Robes of silk or velvet or some such, studded with jewels.

Each saint, each shrine, each version of the Virgin, each instance of the Christ, will have its own devotional raison d’être. Tuberculosis, eczema, some irregularity of the bones, freckles, something. It won’t necessarily be apparent to the observer what it is. Often you’ll have to ask or investigate to find out. Some you’ll never pin down. In the case of the shrine I’m looking at now, however, my fingers unconsciously working the zipper of my camera bag, there are no prizes for guessing.

The holy figure – I think it’s probably Jesus, reachable to you and I via the supplication of his mother, who stands below him – is flanked by two wooden boards that line each wall. Each is a crowded mess of orthopaedic jumble. Back braces, leg braces, plastics and straps. A child’s dress, a baby’s rattle, some awful looking constructions, some tiny pyjamas, some special shoes, a pacifier.

There are so many things it takes a few moments for the eye to distinguish one from the other, to get past the clutter, the plastic jungle, to the individual items, mute testaments to private tragedies, silent calls for personal redemption, or that of a mother, or a brother, or a child. The distance between the experiences of the person who has placed an object here and the passerby who gawks at it could not be greater – desperate torment for the one, visual curio for the other.

Not that it inspires a particularly elevated conversation as we continue on our way. We don’t want to talk about sad things today.

“It’s an awkward word, isn’t it? We just say Hahn in German. The English word makes me not want to talk about them at all.”

“Talk about what?”

“Cocks.”

“Well, that’s the word, I’m afraid. You can always say cockerels, if you like.”

“I tend to refer to them as male chickens.”

“A very German solution. Anyway, how often does the topic…arise?”

Giggles.

  1. Nice read….must try some of that Palo Cortado……….We live near a town near here called the Pobla Larga and alot of people call it the Polla Larga….

  2. Ha! the puerile ones are the best ones…

  3. Every right to play the downcast disciple, Robin. I don’t connect Jerez with clothes shopping either. The vagaries of the female mind, eh.

  4. There are shops in Jerez? – Never noticed them!

  5. I know exactly what’s behind the La Inez sign above Gallo Azul….the apartment I lived in for the five months I spent in Jerez. (The top floors of the Gallo Azul building are just storage, or were four years ago.) My terrace was in line with the illuminated sign, just behind the dome on which it sits. I loved the ‘Blue Cock’, and included it in an article I wrote about tapas in Jerez (http://wp.spainuncovered.net/time-for-tapas). You can see my photo of the La Inez sign at night on the slideshow on my website, http://www.spainuncovered.net. Sadly, as a place to live I found Jerez very boring so returned to Valencia.

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