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
In Practice, Presentation on January 5, 2013 at 4:21 pm
Our introduction to Madrid would, I imagine, have a lot in common with the experiences of others who down through the ages have come from quiet countryside and little town for a taste of the metropolis. In the first week of January the city is cold, but crisp and pleasant. It’s a holiday week and Sol, the central square, is crowded with tourists. The melee at nearby San Miguel market, a food destination, is insane and deeply unpleasant. If this place is ever reasonably quiet – merely bustling, say – we’ll come back then. The food looks good.
We dive into what looks like a deliciously kitsch Andaluz bar on the Plaza Mayor – the walls are lined with photos of corrida related gore and bulls’ heads. When we order a glass of wine and a small beer they put a tasty little arroz in front of us and an equally tasty broth of jamon. I begin to relax. Then they manage to upsell us a ración of boquerones fritos.
Then they charge us 19.50 for it.
You can take the one off the beginning of that price and subtract a further two for the going rate in our neck of the woods. Also, it looks like a media to us.
Welcome to the big city, bozos. More
In Practice, Presentation on December 20, 2012 at 7:22 pm
It’s Saturday afternoon and I get a text from L, our friend and language intercambio, to arrange some coffee and cake the following afternoon. I will meet him at the mudejar arch that leads to the old town and we’ll pick up some pastries before coming back to our place and “gowering into them”, as they say in my neck of the woods. I can’t vouch for the spelling.
A little while later though I get another text. L has just heard that there will be a traditional matanza down at the alameda earlier in the day. The reader may need some help with terms. Alameda translates as mall or avenue and just about every Spanish town has one – Tarifa’s (and I may be biased) is particularly handsome as it hugs the city walls, lined with stately palms and comparatively high-end restaurants. Parents take their young children there to stop off at the tiny playground on their Sunday paseo and little markets are often set up. There’s a book stall and a kiosk for the whale-watching excursions.
I’m still on a learning curve about the country we live in so whenever anyone slips the word ‘traditional’ in, I’m interested. I text L that, of course, we’ll meet him at the top of the alameda at one, More
In Practice on December 14, 2012 at 12:11 pm
The Plaza de San Francisco is one of Seville’s most regal, lined as it is with the facades of the Audiencia, the Ayuntamiento and the Adriatica’s curved corner, not to mention the terrace of balconied, 18th century town houses that would have accommodated the great and the good – chief benefactors of the city’s waning golden age. It’s one of those spots in Andalucia’s capital where you can stop for a moment, raise your nose in the air – otherwise scented with oranges or their blossoms – and still catch the reek of all the money that came pouring into this town, off the backs of South American slave miners for the most part, I would have thought.
Dark history aside, it’s a beautiful place, and rarely dark in this day and age. On the contrary, the plaza is sunny and colourful, a venue for everything from Christmas markets to Easter processions. At a distance from its southeastern corner, but tall enough to preside over it, is the Giralda – Seville Cathedral’s bell tower, symbol of Spain and former minaret, topped now with a 16th century addition: the belfry. People forget that the Moors built skyscrapers. The Almohads in particular – they erected the Giralda as well as its sister tower in Rabat in their native Morocco, both of them modelled on the Koutoubia minaret in Marrakesh. More
In Practice on December 4, 2012 at 9:47 am
The first sip.
O’Hara’s Red Ale is an expensive treat here in Spain but then it was never that cheap in Ireland. Not easy to find in either country but today I’m in my favourite Seville cervecería, in the Arenal neighbourhood that curves around the bullring, and it’s third time lucky; on my last couple of visits they had run out. I was beginning to think the entry on their beer list was a bare-faced lie.
I deserve this.
I may never have deserved a sip of beer the way I deserve this sip of beer. We had to cancel a previously planned visit to the city due to a bout of flu, so we’ve been looking forward to this occasion with particular enthusiasm and a degree of impatience.
Last night, while I popped out to the shop, K turned the oven on and the house blacked out. You turn your back for five minutes. She naturally concluded that the two events were connected but when I returned, opening the front door to find her lighting candles with her miner-style LED headband (bought for camping purposes)on, I checked the breakers inside the front door and everything looked tickety-boo. More
In Plenary, Practice on November 27, 2012 at 11:11 am
Hercules is a name that will strike a heroic note in the modern mind, by and large. Heracles, for the pedants. Strength, courage, indefatigability, perseverance, all that stuff. He murdered his wife and children, which on the surface of it might have precluded hero status, but we seem to have forgiven him.
Perhaps we’ve done so because of the penance he made. Apparently quite upset with himself over the wife-and-child thing, our hero prayed to Apollo, who gave him an out. He was sentenced to twelve years in the service of Eurystheus, King of Mycenae, who put him to work on twelve labours – feats so incredibly difficult they were deemed impossible .
Hercules had Hermes and Athena on his side but even so, by the time he had faced and conquered the Nemean Lion, the Lernean Hydra, the Cerynitian Hind, the Erymanthian Boar, the Stables of Augeas, the Stymphalian Birds, the Cretan Bulls, the Mares of Diomedes, the Belt of Hippolyte, the Cattle of Geryon , the Apples of Hesperides and the Hound of Hades , our man was well and truly rehabilitated in the mythology of ancient Greece, and subsequently Rome and finally, of course, our own mythologies, burnished to a modern sheen More