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, 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 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 Plenary, Production on January 12, 2013 at 12:44 pm
K is just where I like her: beside me.
We sway a little in our seats as I look across the aisle at a couple of bored-looking boys, obviously brothers, who remind me a little – because of their physical resemblance – of my brother and I when we were young and lived in this city for a short time.
We’re on the metro, linea 1, heading north beneath the city towards Pinar de Chamartín and the boys seem too young, as we would have been, to be unaccompanied. The doors open at the Plaza de Castilla stop and I see that they aren’t – their father has been sitting opposite them, beside us, and now stands and calls for them to follow him onto the platform.
We came here fatherless, my brother and I, for a new life in a new and exotic country, in a big new city and a hot summer, with our mother and her new Spanish husband. I was never to get on well with him. That’s life for you. The two boys don’t remind me of my brother and me in every way; the elder has his arm around the younger, who rests his head on his brother’s shoulder and dozes. My big brother and I fought tooth and nail, relentlessly. That’s brothers for you.
I was going to do this on my own; the plan had been that K would go shopping while I wandered down this memory lane of mine. 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 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, Presentation on November 7, 2012 at 10:18 am
This week’s story is a straight-up destination piece.
Destination pieces are often considered passé in travel writing circles, but that’s a failure of the imagination. They are the most essential form that travel writing has because they are the work of a person focusing on a place and together, place and person comprise travel’s most fundamental relationship. It’s all there: person and place. Everything else is fluff.
The current obsession with novelty applies as much to this as to anything else. Our very thinking, it seems, is to be novel if it is to satisfy the demands of our chocolately-chinned, app-building age. “Why We Travel”, “How We Travel”, the titles, or variations thereof, of any number of more recent travel-related essays and articles, have become the questions to be asked since “where” , apparently, became so yesterday.
For me it’s just the opposite. While “how” has thrown up some reasonably interesting, if frequently delusional, reflections on the ethics of travel, the problem with “why” questions is that no matter how fascinating or thorough our contemplations of them may be, they can usually be replaced in an instant, and convincingly, with another well-known and very simple question: why not? More