In Practice, Production on June 13, 2013 at 10:27 am
I should be running down by the water this morning, or at least walking faster, but I just have to slow down to look around. Everything is exceptional today – a great mixed sky like an oil painting, the cloud cover overhead breaking up in the east where the sun rises and graduating westward to a dull gloom which hangs low over the water, the whole sweep of it culminating in a funnel about a kilometre out where rainfall engulfs a short line of fishing vessels and their orange-buoyed nets.
Up past the sports field the spring flowers have gone to seed and their vibrant yellows and purples are beginning to recede into the dustier, dry grass hues of high summer. It’s very early and very quiet – quiet enough to hear the fish break surface in the river and for a few rabbits to linger in the open. A long-legged spider crosses the wooden walkway, pausing as I pass.
I go as far as the old military bunker and then cut across onto the sand. About two kilometres up the coast, the rock promontory of San Bartolome is lit up in a pin point shaft of sunlight that cantilevers its way in over an adjacent hilltop and illuminates the cliffs with precision. The sea is almost as calm as the river today, lazy waves yawning and sighing their way in and out over the sand. A few footprints, a few paw prints, the island like a surfaced submarine, the mountains of Morocco behind it; it’s a clear day and I can see deep into them.
This is a place that makes you feel More
In Presentation on June 2, 2013 at 1:16 pm
We go to Jerez. Our usual hostal: cheap, clean and sparsely furnished. Two high little windows into the alley, a cool-tiled floor, a double door with ornamental balcony that overlooks the inner patio, its railings hung with geraniums, a fan in the corner, a chair.
I go for a walk while K sleeps and, finding myself in an old tabanco (a sherry bar that serves from the barrel), I ask for a palo cortado; on a prompt from the ageing barman I stipulate that I’d like it chilled. Then I settle down with it at a barrel-top table and stare into the middle distance like the other two unaccompanied men in the place.
Tabancos will sometimes sell the region’s wine by the bottle as well and there are a few rickety old shelves for the purpose as well as large urns and plastic containers of sherry vinegar. I’m the youngest here by a long way, and I’m not that young. If you require vivacity in your watering holes it probably wouldn’t be for you, with its assisted-suicide-through-sherry vibe and pickled old men, but I like it. When I came in the guy behind the bar looked genuinely surprised to see me but by the time I get up to pay and leave, asking as I do if it would be alright for me to take a photograph of the place, he’s become friendly and says that of course it would. He does advise me that if he himself is in the photo he will charge me.
“Like Ronaldo does,” he says.
“Fine,” I reply, “please get out of the way.” More
In Practice, Production on May 27, 2013 at 9:26 am
I should be typing this in El Puerto de Santa Maria. We were to be there this weekend, celebrating my birthday and joining the last dot on our sherry map. Admittedly it isn’t a very complicated map; the town is the third and final dot on the famous Sherry Triangle, for us. We’ve already spent fine days sipping wine in the other two, Sanlucar de Barrameda and of course, Jerez de la Frontera. They like their place names long in this part of the world.
But I’m not. I spent the day grieving instead, in shock over the loss of a little cat that might as well have been a child to us. Birthday activities included searching the house from top to bottom, doing it again, and again, talking to more neighbours than we knew we had, covering Tarifa in missing posters, contacting vets and cat shelters, rocking back and forth and drinking to take the edge off it all. Getting used to the idea of her being gone for good.
Then she came back. After thirty hours, a helpful neighbour came to our door to tell us he had seen her underneath a car on the next street. He wasn’t the first Samaritan of the day and we trundled off behind him, myself already a little worse for wear and expecting another false alarm, but it was her. K in floods of tears. Bottle of wine promised to the neighbour.
So my birthday presents this year have been the fact that the cat isn’t dead and a horrendous hangover. Not much of a story, is it? Cat goes missing, cat shows up. Still, I got some mileage out of it More
In Practice, Presentation on May 15, 2013 at 8:50 am
Somewhere over France a bank of rain cloud, an inverted anvil of grey vapour, rises suddenly and singularly from the otherwise uninterrupted expanse of undulating whiteness below us. It throws a long, blue-grey shadow over the cloud canopy it defies, climbing vertically and coming to an end in a straight line that exactly describes a higher altitude, its upper limit a razor sharp edge, defying not just that lower strata but also expectations. It’s a surprise, an inexplicable shape, a visual shock.
Of course it only appears inexplicable. If I was sitting beside a meteorologist I might have it explained to me. The pressures at work, the anomalies, the weather fronts and the barometrics at play. I might be left (assuming it was a patient meteorologist) with a sound understanding, not only less mystified by what I was seeing but able, perhaps, to predict the next, capable of reading the conditions and spotting those that produce such a phenomenon. Assimilating the information, eliminating the surprise.
See it coming next time, in other words.
I’m not though. I’m sitting beside K and neither of us has a clue, so we crane our necks – her leaning over me – and stare at the funny thing till it goes past. We sit back and she returns to her book. Not a word. Sometimes it’s enough to look at something strange, then let it slip away without explanation.
Further on the cloud cover breaks up More
In Presentation on May 10, 2013 at 8:44 am
How exquisite to race along the country roads of Franconia in Spring, the sky finally clear after a dreadfully long winter, the curving, sinking fields around us dappled with wildflower. We have some sublime music on and it exhilarates – a perfect match for the serene scenery, this central European tableau of farmhouse, mill and die wälder, the abundant patches of old forest that characterise northern Bavaria. We ride the melodies through dorf and altstadt, through the rock formations of Fränkische Schweiz, the territory between Bamberg and Bayreuth they call their little Switzerland – pretty towns, dark-beamed buildings as only the Germans can build them and at almost every junction of the roads a little brewery and biergarten.
We stop in at a favourite, Kathi Bräu, for some quark and onion on heavy brown bread, then set off again along the winding rivers that snake their way from Schloss to Schloss, the imposing castles that number even more here than they do in Andalusia. Our eyes and ears are joined in pleasure as the ensemble, a quintet, race through their bright, 1979 recording of self-penned pieces. The title of the collection, “Highway To Hell”, belies the uplifting nature of the Australian musicians’ performance.
A few days later, we’re without any soundtrack at all, not even a breeze to rustle up the leaves as we walk through forest near the little town of Kulmbach. It’s the kind of country we don’t have in Ireland – there isn’t enough space between things there to fit in places like this, More
In Practice, Production on May 1, 2013 at 10:15 am
The cobbles glisten along the Carrera del Darro and little rivulets of rainwater rush downhill as we walk up, our feet sodden in their inadequate shoes. The weather gives K an excuse to duck into one or two craft shops on our way but she isn’t buying today. She’s in good spirits though; I’m making her laugh – something I regularly try and fail to do.
We’re sharing a tiny umbrella so the view is downward, at the pavement and the street; the rain has managed to take us by surprise and we will be wet through by the time we’ve hiked up to our little cave in Sacromonte, the old gitano quarter that these days is a warren of tablaos that truck tourists in for a bite to eat, some flamenco, and out again.
Wet, cold and happy; we’ve spent the morning and afternoon wandering through our favourite place. Like a lion’s paw resting on mown grass, a few outcrops of the Sierra Nevada come to a stop here on the flat of the vega, the vast flood plain on which sprawls the modern city. Above it, on one of the lion’s claws, the old red fortifications of the Alhambra. On the next claw, the rambling, crumbling, tumbling network of streets and patios, palaces and carmens that makes up the Albayzin. Bougainvilleas and cypress trees pop up amongst the stone-walled gardens and dusty red roofs of old, white-washed town houses, churches and former minarets.
We passed the caracole bar on Plaza Aliatar and walked down Calle Agua del Albayzin to Plaza Larga and through the old Puerta de las Pesas. More
In Practice, Production on April 25, 2013 at 9:30 am
As if they had been waiting for the starter’s pistol, plants have sprung up in the cracked concrete, in the car parks and along the walls and pathways behind the promenade. All of a sudden everything man-made looks precarious, the full force of nature bursting through the chinks in a green profusion.
Not just green; springtime seems particularly fond of yellows and purples. As I reach the end of the paved paseo, the wooden walkway that wends along the graffiti-covered wall of the football ground looks as if it’s floating on a multi-coloured carpet. The ground-hugging coastal shrubs are beginning to curl over the edge of the wooden slats, turgid with renewed vigour. Spring has been a long time coming; they’ll have less time this year to go through their little life-cycles and they look like they know it.
A plethora of beautiful weeds climb higher, daisy varieties mostly – yellow-on-white, white-on-yellow, yellow-on-yellow and yellow-on-green – but also buttery, bell-like blooms, drooping gracefully from their stems. Whole patches of yellow made up of these and a particularly regal-looking daisy – swathes of cup and coronet the insects buzz over. Thistles abound in purple, as do flowering bushes in violet, vermilion and dusty, lazy lilac.
Up in the bird reserve the tufts of beach grass ripple in the seaward-blowing levante. The greens up here glow, almost, as big red cattle graze. The river is lively with fish until an old man throws a dog toy More
In Presentation on April 16, 2013 at 9:20 am
Half an hour ago I didn’t know there was such a thing as manzanilla amontillada; now I’m tipsy on it. I asked for an amontillado but the bartender poured me a glass of this unusual and similarly named manzanilla and, realising his mistake, let me have it as well. Between the amontillado, the amontillada and the manzanilla pasada (which I just had to try) I’m feeling decidedly warm on this hot day in Sanlucar de Barrameda – it’s the third day of a glorious spell of weather in Andalucia and I’m on my third sherry in the third town, after Jerez and El Puerto de Santa Maria, of the famous ‘sherry triangle’. The town, incidentally, from which Christopher Columbus set out on his third voyage to the New World.
Not that they call it sherry – in Sanlucar, it’s manzanilla: a dry wine that tastes a little saltier than finos from elsewhere. The subtle difference is the product of terroir – yeast and soil and all the rest of it – but it’s more romantic to believe (which is probably why people have been told as much for centuries) that the saltiness is added by the marine breezes that blow through the bodegas here, up on the hill that overlooks the town.
It isn’t difficult to see why the place has given rise to a little romance. Wine towns always have a certain something and Sanlucar has the added boon of the water. It occupies the river mouth of the Guadalquivir where it flows into the Atlantic. Sea breezes do indeed blow over the bodegas and the Plaza del Cabildo, lined with wine-from-the-barrel bars More
In Presentation, Production on April 6, 2013 at 3:39 pm
The water is high in El Tajo and roars beneath the Puente Nuevo, dropping to the lower gorge in a ragged chute where the valley opens up below me into an open vista, ringed by mountains – gloomy today but spot lit here and there by a half-hidden sun. I’ve come down to stand on a ledge in the cliff side and wait for the light; sunbeams on the horizon edge closer as the heavy cloud cover oozes overhead. I want to catch it as it passes over the arches of the bridge, illuminating them in golden light against a backdrop of stormy, dark grey sky.
It happens for me eventually – a less-than-perfect result, not as impressive as the image I’d created in an expectant mind’s eye, but worth the wait. When I photograph I spend a lot of time like this: waiting, walking, chasing the light, letting it come to me. If I don’t get the shot I’m after I get another one, or just some time to be still and unwanting. When I get this one I walk further down to the base of the two hundred and twenty year-old bridge – the newest in town – and pass underneath it. The gorge is as dramatic, looking up from here, as it is looking down from up there and the river is loud – the lulling cacophony of big water, rushing through its looped and syncopated rhythms.
I’m glad to be down here because although I’m a fairly regular visitor to the town I’ve never made the descent on this side. My mental map of the place is expanded; I feel as if I’ve got to know it a little better. This isn’t a typical visit – I’m here without K and in the company of two English lords, More
In Presentation on March 29, 2013 at 11:07 am
It’s easy to forget when you’re walking the narrow streets of the old town – hemmed in by the city walls – that you’re out on a headland here. Further up the coast and looking back in this direction it becomes obvious; Spain tapers to a fine point in Tarifa, a slender town that reaches out into the Strait like a white needle reversed. Reversed because it’s the eye of the needle that stretches seaward and not the point – at the very tip of the headland there is a thickening where a causeway divides the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and joins the town with the Isla de Tarifa, a round and rocky former island that since it was joined to the mainland in the early 19th century has qualified as the most southerly point of the European continent.
The island is military and out of bounds. Walkers are welcome on the causeway – which, with the winds around here, is an act of bravery in itself at times – but no further. The island at the far end is gated and walled in with Napoleonic and British fortifications. It’s been tantalising me since I came to this town almost three years ago – a secret Tarifa has been keeping. When a tourist stands at the meeting point of the two seas and reads the ceramic plaque that tells them they’ve reached Europe’s southern extremity, they haven’t. They can see it in the form of the lighthouse that stands on the island’s southern coast but they’re still about a kilometre away. Which is to say, of course, I’m still about a kilometre away.
It’s been bugging me. More