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 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
In Presentation on March 21, 2013 at 9:49 am
The sea is far below me, the cliff top far above and the curved cliff face on my left as the narrow track curls around it and reaches a ravine that’s not much less sheer than the rock to either side and covered in sub-tropical vegetation – deep greens in the form of ferns and palmitos, great leafy plant life speckled with the yellows and purples of spring.
Here the track becomes a set of old, uneven steps, steep and winding up the ravine in twists and sharp turns towards the top. Looking up at the zig zag stonework – almost swallowed up by foliage – and then over my shoulder out to sea and that other continent’s coast, it’s not the kind of spot where you would expect to bump into anyone. And yet, I hear voices.
They’re coming from behind and since I stop here to sit for a minute, they soon catch up. A pair of Englishmen – one is tall and straight-backed, wispy white hair blowing in the breeze, aquiline nose held high and appears, even up here after quite the hike, to be sauntering along as if on a quiet stroll round his own garden. He looks like I look when I take the few steps from the front door to the buzón to check for post, only taller and with better posture.
I feel a bit better when I see his companion, a stubby man with a snub nose, hair not so much white as dirty grey and beginning to stick to his head with perspiration, a few straggles of it escaping from beneath the temples of his glasses. 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 Presentation, Production on February 17, 2013 at 5:03 pm
K is taller than me and as I’ve made very clear before (including inadvertently, I’d imagine) generally plays the part of the responsible adult at Casa Alotofwind, but today resembles nothing more than a toddler as she clambers into the little pen to get a closer look at the kids. More accurately: part toddler part predator, as she homes in on one in particular, big stupid grin on her face, and goes after it.
The clueless little thing soon finds itself held aloft in her arms and the recipient of a torrent of unsolicited affection, in the face of which it screams until she puts it down.
Grin intact, she goes after another.
It’s surprisingly cold in the barn, despite our being surrounded by a herd of payoya, a breed of goat native to Andalusia and known for the cheese they produce. Queso Payoyo is revered around here, in the way only the Spanish can worship an artesanal food product (the best is from Cádiz, you know…you should only ever eat it in the summer, at a wedding…it isn’t proper payoyo unless the cheese has been rolled down a hill, in rainy weather…my grandmother made the best payoyo in Andalusia…and so on) and we’ve come to a queseria near Casares in Málaga province to have a look at how they make it.
Juan the cheese man is dressed from head to toe (no great distance) in white, including snow white trainers and a little white hat. More
In Presentation, Production on February 7, 2013 at 9:57 am
I have made the first steps of a journey – in the footsteps of another. A man long dead but local: from just across the water in Tangier, the African town whose old medina I can make out on most days from the water’s edge. A man who embarked on his life just as Marco Polo turned the last page on his and who set out twenty one years later from his family home – walking, sailing and riding around the known world on a journey that dwarfed the Italian’s feat.
By the time he returned, twenty nine years later, he’d been married ten times, done the whole storms and shipwrecks thing, dealt with pirates, perilous employers and eminent hosts from Somalia to the South China Sea.
Having undertaken such a journey, measuring distances and incorporating a diversity of encounters so far in excess of anything Marco Polo managed, you might expect the travelling Tangerine to have achieved a considerable notoriety, to be renowned in the same way as his European counterpart. He isn’t exactly unknown and some of you will have heard his name before; a number of my readers are travellers themselves and others are living in Spain, a country the Moroccan visited and where consequently the name has a little more caché. Others, however, will be new to it and that is because its owner lived in a world delineated, as ours is, by language, culture and faith. More