In Practice, Production on June 24, 2013 at 1:02 pm
Some fuss at the front of an apartment building as the bus sets out for La Linea through Algeciras city centre. One of those unassuming if not quite unattractive pale redbrick efforts – six or eight storeys, double recessed balconies on the street side and the obligatory green and striped awnings hanging low over the railings which because of the recess protrude just two or three feet from the façade. A block of a building – we lived in one just like it in Madrid – I will have passed it by many times and never given it a moment’s thought.
Today the front entrance is cordoned off with police tape and a few policia local are in attendance. Some stand with hands on hips or arms folded and others talk on their radios, surrounded by a small crowd – just twenty or so – of neighbours. Several people are deploying the video-making function of their smartphones or making calls themselves, their necks craned upwards. A bus-full of necks, mine included, also crane to follow their line of sight.
For four stories above them the awnings have been damaged, knocked from their hinges to dangle dangerously overhead. I instinctively look to the ground to see what might have done the damage and sure enough, a significant amount of rubble lies at the little crowd’s feet. Looking up again establishes that the rubble used to be the protruding few feet of both adjoining balconies on the fifth floor. Where they should be is an open scar – a few pot plants teeter More
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 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 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 Practice, Presentation on March 11, 2013 at 8:55 pm
When we first moved into the rental where we now live in the centre of the newer part of Tarifa, just outside the old city walls, we did what I imagine many couples do when they’ve been handed the keys but before they’ve moved any boxes – we cleaned the place from top to bottom. It didn’t look dirty but there is something about going over a new home with bleach and polish, and preparing to add your own dirt, that seems to make it yours. As a woman washes a man out of her hair, so we washed the old tenants away and started afresh. An additional incentive was the smell of cat that pervaded the place.
In the garden, same. It appeared to be some kind of feline colony with all the smells and deposits that that entails. I dug it up and planted aromatics, put down chicken wire and chased off anything with four legs for months, hissing and contorting my face in an effort to convince the neighborhood cat population that it wasn’t worth bothering with our garden anymore. I really went to town, procuring a pump action water gun and sprinkling the place with coffee grounds and lemon peel, as well as the more aggressive chilli powder.
The previous tenant, it became apparent from numerous conversations with the landlord, had made a refuge of the garden for the local strays, feeding them there, and in the house I bet; several of them would come boldly up to the window as if expecting to get in. I cursed her. More
In Practice, Presentation on March 4, 2013 at 9:18 pm
The lane leads down to the lower part of the town, which comes into view once we take a bend – the tall church against a backdrop of dark green mountainside, laden with low-lying cloud on this misty, wet morning. An elderly man is on his way up and about to pass us by, all flat cap and whiskers. We know he’s going to say hello because everybody in this place says hello.
“You’re in the hotel, are you?”, he asks. There’s only one twelve-room hotel in town and he hasn’t seen our faces before.
“Yes. You’re from here?” I reply.
He might not have understood me properly.
“I’m from here,” he announces.
“It’s very quiet,” I point out to him.
“It’s too quiet,” he says. “Out for a bit of a walk, are you?”
“Down to the river, is it?”
We have no intention of going all the way down to the river; we just want to stroll around the tiny town up here on its height and freshen up a little after last night’s wine. He takes his leave of us with a cheerful declaration in incomprehensible andaluz and we continue on our way. More
In Practice, Production on February 25, 2013 at 8:20 pm
I text L to see if we’re doing the intercambio, suggesting the usual Sunday afternoon at the alameda, or perhaps a copa tonight in the old town, as Tarifa celebrates Carnaval this weekend and we could do a bit of people watching and practice our Spanish and English respectively. He gets back to me and agrees to the latter so we arrange to meet at the old mudejar arch that leads into the little pueblo.
We’re not at all in the mood for revelry but at least pitching up and enjoying the others in their costumes comprises some kind of participation. We’ve been living very quietly recently and it’s good to take part in these things, especially I think in Spain where festivals and celebrations are given such great importance in a community.
We stroll towards the archway, anticipating the titbits of tasty historical information that L habitually drip feeds us. Tonight they’ll be Carnaval themed no doubt. When we see that his friend, P, has come along it confirms our expectations; they’re both real history and culture freaks. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a conversation with either of them that hasn’t, at some point, involved the Phoenicians.
K often finds herself an amused observer, sitting back as three men who may or may not know what they’re talking about talk about it in broken English or stuttering Spanish. More
In Practice, Presentation on January 20, 2013 at 8:55 pm
I don’t know much about geology, but the rock I’m sitting on is worn, deeply striated and covered in mosses and lichens, and I deduce from this that it must be soft and permeable. That will have helped when the caves here were carved out back in the Bronze Age for use as tombs.
That’s all I know about this place, gleaned from the engraved stone slabs that have been put outside the closed information point. I’m alone up here, having had to climb the fence to get in. The ayuntamiento, or somebody, is enclosing the rocky, cave-riddled outcrop with a fence, laying paths and installing benches for visitors.
I’ve little chance of being disturbed here on this wild, windy Tarifa day. Anybody with any sense is indoors. Over on the other mountain I can see the zig-zag sendero that leads to the wind turbines that fan out along its ridge. It looks tiny from here of course, and tempting, but I imagine it would be a two hour trial to walk it.
What strikes me most about these tomb caves (since I’m alone, I get to sit inside one), isn’t so much that they date back to around 2500 BCE, but that they were still being used for their original purpose as recently as the tenth century. Three and a half millennia. More