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Las Instantáneas

In Presentation, Uncategorized on June 2, 2014 at 8:42 am

Las Instantáneas

“The man is out there again”.

She means the man who walks his dogs behind our house each day, in the morning or early afternoon. She has told me about him on a number of occasions but for whatever reason I only saw him myself for the first time a few days ago. I stand on the patio bench and peer through the grille of the upper wall. Two leads for two small dogs who trot along peaceably, pausing here and there, as dogs do, to sniff or mark a pole, and always, alongside them or just behind and keeping them company all the way with perfect, leash-free discipline, a tabby cat.

                                                                           *

A white horse in the long grass that backs the beach. It would take a master to paint the scene above it; the hazy veil of a dirt grey horizon thins low in the sky, revealing a creamy ripple of higher cloud that expands as it arches overhead – little tufts pulled apart like the fibres of a cotton wool roll, white as the animal grazing. When I pass by again, some minutes later, the scene is gone, the clouds stage left as if dragged there by jaded stage hands. The show is over. It rains heavily the following morning and afterwards the horse isn’t even a horse, but a white yacht gleaming in a spot of sunlight against a charcoal waterline. More

Las Manchas

In Plenary, Presentation on April 24, 2014 at 9:41 am

Las Manchas

In Tangier, a body in a blanket: borne through the souk at shoulder height, a brisk pace and accompanied by boisterous call and response. Later, from our room, the sound of women’s chant in some adjacent house and of their ululating – whether in mourning or in celebration of come unconnected event I do not know.

We eat in the courtyard of the women’s charity and amble afterwards around now familiar shops. I buy incense and K lamps, and a wet, grey day opens up into sunshine. They call it the white city but there’s a good deal of clutter in the colour and a good dose of yellow and brown, as if the city were an ageing photo of itself, sunk into a geriatric tint and turned sepia.

It’s good to be back; we’ve been down the coast a little, in Asilah, a resort town with Portuguese and Spanish history and a beautifully maintained medina, although I suppose it could be accused of being a little sanitised – certainly so in comparison with its crumbling counterpart in Tangier. We’ve spent a pleasant couple of days there in what is essentially a typical seaside town but with added Moroccan intrigue.

Sitting outside the old walls with two tall mint teas, for instance, at around eight in the evening, the quintessential seaside promenade; it seemed the whole place was out. More

El Hammam

In Presentation on April 10, 2014 at 8:58 am

El Hammam

The feathery touch of the late sun against worn sandstone blocks, almost physical, like a warm breath.

In a plazuela to the side of the Iglesia San Dionisio, overlooked by a virgen in ceramics, K’s glass of water casting a long shadow and splitting the light into a colour spectrum on the arm of her chair.

The wrought iron doorway of the meson, swung open, and the waitress’ white shirt that catches the sun as she stands there.

To the left of the door, a window covered in iron lattice and behind that, glass panes framed by dark wood.

All of it set into the heavy blocks and all of it softy brilliant in the slanted sun, dappled in the shadows of the orange trees as the last light shines like time itself, animating everything.

Our table, which I thought messy at first and almost avoided till I saw that the others were the same, in fact strewn with fragile white stamen, fallen from the orange blossom overhead. The air sweet with its scent.

Hello again, Jerez.

The little plazuela is three-sided, opening up onto the larger Plaza de la Asunción with its weather-beaten but wonderful old cabildo More

La Intervención

In Presentation, Production on March 14, 2014 at 8:47 am

La Intervencion

Very few of you, I imagine, will have enjoyed the depth of understanding, clarity of judgement or richness of insight that K and I have been enjoying recently with regard to the questions and quandaries of global geopolitics.  Perhaps as few as none of you will have been able to appreciate, as we have, the fine balances and convolutions, the real dilemmas and delicate considerations that George W Bush, for example, along with his now legendary team of peace enthusiasts – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Powell – will have had to grapple with in their relentless pursuit of justice in the Middle East.

The precision that will have had to accompany Bill Clinton’s more famous compassion as he weighed up the countless (and often contradictory) criteria for going into, or not going into, or going into and then pulling out of, a Kosovo descending into deadly chaos. The teetering structures and the slip-slide systems that threaten constantly to tumble on the turn of a card.

A card in a house of cards. The often split-second timing with which the great players must make their calls and live with the consequences: Franklin D Roosevelt, the Federal Reserve and the war in Europe, Saddam Hussein and his attempted liberation of Kuwait, Margaret Thatcher’s critical response to the Falkland crisis, without which the world would be so very different today – what all of these leaders had in common of course was an unwavering regard for the well-being of the people their decisions affected. More

La Magia

In Practice, Presentation on March 4, 2014 at 10:06 am

La Magia

I have written about Benarrabá before and about the spell it holds over us. Even by pueblo blanco standards, it is tiny, hidden from view at the end of a series of hairpin turns, a kilometre or so from the road that threads along the eastern side of the Genal Valley and ends up in Ronda. A succession of larger pueblos, with names from the days when this was Berber high ground, adorn the road like a string of gleaming worry beads.

Unlike them, it is hard to imagine Benarrabá expanding or modernising. Expansion, in fact, is impossible – the town is draped across a narrow ridge that offers no more space – and any modernisation going on around here is going on in Gaucín, a few kilometres down the road, so this little pueblo of six hundred souls sparkles alone in the green velvet of the valley, isolated on its summit but connected by sight – and the ineffables of culture and history – with other tiny towns, visible in the distance on the other side of the river.

We come in February every time, the Andalucian winter just beginning to lift and the skies wet with heavy raincloud. The topography always seems to punch a few holes in the grey blanket, though, and vertical shafts of sunlight play across the slopes as if painted there by a master; the brilliant sun shines through the murk like a miracle, even as mist envelops the hills above the slanted little settlement that has never failed to enchant. More

El Soborno

In Practice, Presentation on February 19, 2014 at 10:27 am

El Soborno

“If you annoy me in Ikea today,” says K – we are on Calle Luna, a long pedestrian shopping street in El Puerto de Santa Maria that begins near the water where the tapas bars cluster along Calle Misericordia and ends in the Plaza de Juan Gavala, a little square of flower sellers – “I swear, I will leave you.”

It is K’s contention that I make a poor companion when it comes to enjoying the many delights that Ikea has to offer; I don’t like admitting to my faults any more than the next person but in this case I would have to concede the point – in Ikea one actually ascends into hell and the second my foot leaves the top of the infernal escalator the crankiness kicks in like clockwork.

Where are the pencils? Where are the bloody pencils? What is this thing anyway? Is that the number for the red or the white? White brilliant or white matt? What are we doing in the kitchen section? We don’t need anything in the kitchen section…

I invariably find myself admonishing K to ‘focus’. Never mind that teams of psychologists and designers have been brought in to create an environment that would prevent anybody from focussing. Never mind that K simply doesn’t want to focus, that she has never shown the slightest interest in focussing. Never mind that I’m not her headmaster. No, I acknowledge none of it – I just hop around after her barking the word ‘focus’, like a broken monkey. More

El Muecín

In Plenary, Presentation on January 2, 2014 at 12:01 pm

El Muecín

The pianist appears to be deaf, and I don’t mean in a Beethoven kind of way. We chose to sit next to the piano, I suppose, but that was before he arrived and cranked up the appalling backing track over which he tinkles lazily, one-handed, with occasional bouts of desultory crooning.

We’re in one of the grander hotels in Marrakech and the piano bar is dim. Everything that isn’t black or dark wood is red. We are reminded by the couple at a nearby table that some bars still have smoke in them. Dressed-up waiters bow from the hip. There’s a terrible distortion to the recording that adds to the comedy, and an awful tension in the room as the few of us present struggle to maintain our composure. He’s doing “The Great Pretender” now, and not in a Freddie Mercury kind of way.

Like most large buildings in this part of the world, the hotel centres round an inner courtyard. The pool out there is very still in the night, surrounded by alcoves and lounging areas, and there’s a great open fire at the back with armchairs to either side. We decide we’ll move out there for our second beer, and start to drink the first a little more quickly.

When Vincent Rose died in 1944 he was hardly a household name, but he had had a string of popular hits –  “Linger A While”, “Avalon” and “Whispering “ amongst them – and had worked with the likes of Al Jolson and Count Basie: an unlikely destiny for a boy from Palermo, Sicily. More

El Transporte

In Plenary, Presentation on December 25, 2013 at 2:08 pm

penny-farthing

The spartan waiting room, lined with glass along one side, is incandescent with the winter sun that glares from above the outline of Jebel Musa on the African coast, slicing through the interior space on a low diagonal. We’re the first in, having merely strolled down from the house, five minutes away, as we sit and sip coffee from styrofoam cups, watching the short line of vehicles outside that have come from further afield. It’s quiet – just a camper van or two with loaded roofs and a few four by fours as well as a couple of trucks.

Five minutes and a thirty-five minute crossing; we live forty minutes away from another world. From Africa. The thirty-five minute claim, emblazoned across billboards from here to Malaga and Seville, is a lie of course – it usually takes over fifty – and they make quite a fuss of boarding and disembarking, but still. The catamaran bobs a little as it pulls out of port below the old sunlit castle, past the the lighthouse on its wind-blasted island, relatively still today.

As the ferry revolves to orientate itself toward Tangier, sunbeams patrol the passenger area and the ceiling shimmers like the walls around a swimming pool. I watch the Spanish coast recede and see anew the beauty of the place where we live: the old town of Tarifa and the mountains that surround it. The wind turbines that cluster along the ridges of high ground, the rocky outcrops and the sand dunes. More

Cádiz

In Plenary, Presentation on November 14, 2013 at 11:25 am

Cádiz

Cádiz at night is the 18th century through a film noir looking glass. At every intersection in the old town the antique street lamps line up in all four directions, their light rising to illuminate the upper floors of the terraced town houses. Oddly uniform facades of cluttered little ornamental balconies – most glassed in to form protruding, paned windows – recede symmetrically into the distance on all sides. It’s a vertical world – the tall houses, the litter-strewn triangle of the retreating street, the mirror image funnel of sky revealed at roof level – in the form of a slender ‘x’. You might reasonably expect Mozart to walk around the next corner. In a trilby. Hands deep in the pockets of his overcoat, a gitanes dangling from his lips.

At street level the light of the lamps falls on cobbles, on ground floor walls whose colours daylight will reveal: the characteristic shades of the city – wine, champagne and salmon pink, pale blues and the ubiquitous brown of wet sand. All of them a little washed-out, as if the residents of this sea-locked city have grown so used to seeing their handiwork bleached by the sun and salt that they now paint it that way to begin with.

Some of the street level facades are left unpainted, exposing the mottled grey and sandy colours of the stonework and giving rise to the impression that this whole city grew organically from the waters that surround it; a close look at the big blocks reveals a surprising texture – they are comprised of shells and must be made of material gleaned from the sea bed. Neptune’s own bricks – a spellbinding detail. More

El Ángel

In Plenary, Presentation on October 23, 2013 at 7:58 am

El Ángel

On the roof at number eight again, a pale sun trying to burn through the thin layer of cloud overhead. I could be in the country here, in some crooked little pueblo, for all the city noise I can hear – which is to say, none. Red tiles and whitewashed walls, palms, ferns and potted plants – my visual field is a crowd of Andalusian tropes – but this place is different, has always managed to be different. Something in its proportions, in the shape of the slender carmens and villas that rise from the ramshackle roofscape, the better to build the miradors and terraces from which people have looked across at the opposite hill for centuries.

The horseshoe arches and heavy wooden doorways and window frames: there is something more distinctly Berber here than anywhere else on the peninsula. Something Arab. Something African. K has walked down to the frenetic city below where we were last night, almost intimidated by its busyness, its overflowing bars and bodegas, to shop. I’ll follow her down there soon; it’s only a five minute walk through the stepped and cobbled, car-free streets of the old town.

It isn’t completely silent; as I down the first coffee of the day and look up at the Alcazaba, I recognise a few notes of “New York, New York” as it wafts over from a house upslope behind me. It’s soft and welcome and entirely typical of the place. I can’t remember being here, in fact, and not being able to hear music, if only in the distance.  It always seems to be good music too: when it isn’t flamenco it’s jazz, or swing, or an old Billie Holliday number More

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