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Posts Tagged ‘humor’

Las Huellas

In Production on November 22, 2013 at 7:50 am

Las Huellas

Up in the scrub of the bird sanctuary, the little wooden bridge has been listing for a couple of years and now wobbles, worryingly, over a whorl of fish in the river below it – a great tumult of watery life, the odd flash of silver belly glints in the writhing green murk.

Out over the Atlantic it’s getting brighter and the clouds have dipped beneath the full moon, cupping it as they fan outwards and upwards in either direction like a jewelled insignia. On the opposite horizon the sun hangs low like a hunter, its light predatory on the long, back lit grass as night flees.

Straight down the slatted walkway, its tip not quite clear of the black Rif mountains, the lighthouse on the island blinks. I’m sweating under my hat and warm jacket and I pick up the pace, on my way back to the first coffee of the day.

Later, up where the bus pulls out of town, opposite Lidl and arranged around the roundabout, a clutter of tattered hoardings hawk property for sale or rent. One of them has been there since I arrived three years ago and features an artist’s impression of a development that has never been built. The ground around them is strewn with rubble and litter and behind them the concrete training tower for the fire service seems to list a little itself. All in all it’s the ugliest little corner of town but you can still see the Strait and Morocco from here and a young man in a baseball cap and a leather jacket has chosen this spot to find Mecca; he’s up on the verge, prostrate in prayer. 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 Nabo

In Plenary, Production on November 8, 2013 at 10:21 am

El Nabo

“No puedo vestirme bien,” I complain to L, who employs me.

She laughs.

In Tarifa the year has made its mind up: it’s autumn now, the mornings fresh and dim despite the clock change, the evenings dark and every few days or so what I now, after a few years of Andalusian acclimatising, call cold.

In Algeciras it’s a different story – the unseasonably late summer lingers on without consistency; yesterday it was fresh enough but today it’s just plain hot. Because I live in Tarifa I’ve come to work in a warm top that I regret the minute I step off the bus. Nineteen kilometres separate the two towns but there’s the small matter of a mountain in between and the temperature differential ranges between noticeable and shocking. Catches me out every time.

It’s particularly maddening at this time of year. I know I will have issues in my little classroom today. Gender issues. I will flick on the aircon to get the room comfortable and when the kids arrive, the debate will begin. Girls vs boys and me.

“Que frio!” M will exclaim, crossing her hands to rub her upper arms theatrically.

“Maestro!” P will chime in, her face a picture of suffering.

Never mind that both of them are basically wearing beachwear to school. The boys and I will look at each other as we always do, like sulking puppies. More

El Reloj

In Plenary on October 31, 2013 at 11:43 am

El Reloj

Suddenly it’s dark when I finish work and as I walk through El Cobre, the neighborhood reveals a little of its nocturnal self. The change in the time, abrupt and artificial, appears to have a very real effect – there are people around now as I go on my way that I’ve never seen before, stepping out of alleyways and hanging around in doorways. Of course, they were there all along; it’s my routine that’s been shifted forward, into the darkness – mine and anyone else who works, or who has any reason to be in a particular place at a particular time. Most of the new faces are lined; the older generation around here, having no such obligations, live the way their grandparents would have – by the sun.

The change of hours provides a glimpse of our own artifice – the gridwork of language and number that we graft onto the world. Twice a year, a little slip between clock time and real time, a tiny tremor along the fault line that runs between the two and we have an hour stolen from us, or we get this extra one that jars at first before settling in.

The gable wall of a crumbling old house glows green, bathed in the light of the pharmacy cross; I think it is green, and wonder why I’ve never noticed in the daytime, till it flickers. Further up toward the main road more flashes of light against a wall, this time emanating in horror movie fits and starts from a welder’s workshop, frankenstein sparks flying and filling the night outside with the visual rhythms of an electrical storm. More

Las Jaulas

In Plenary, Presentation on October 17, 2013 at 6:44 am

Las Jaulas

The neighbourhood between the academia, where I’ve just finished work, and the bus stop where I wait each day for a ride back to Tarifa, is anything but picturesque. It has precisely nothing of the rustic charm that draws visitors to Andalucia, except perhaps an authentic dash of the chaotic, permission-free approach to town planning that created the medinas and pueblos blancos in the middle ages and continues to bash out the odd barrio today.

The pavements are in the kind of condition that could keep a thousand solicitors in work were this an anglo-saxon country, and that’s where there are pavements. There’s a chemist, a stationer, a few bars and a small family-run supermarket and butcher. I take a street that leads uphill toward the main road and the bus stop and pass a kindergarten and a kitchen showroom, opposite a hostal that advertises beds and showers. You’d have to wonder who would find their way to a hostal in a neighbourhood like this. The kind of person who requires assurance that it contains showers, I suppose.

It’s a quiet time of day – just a few people here and there sitting on the kerb or on their doorsteps – but there is the repetitive clanging of someone at work. As I walk toward a white van parked up on the left the noise gets louder – I can’t see the source because the back doors are open and blocking my view but I do notice a large pile of dung behind it. I’m pretty sure it’s horse dung; it has that grassy texture to it and also, standing above it and tended by a tiny but cocky looking young boy, is a horse. More

La Bahía

In Presentation on October 11, 2013 at 7:26 am

La Bahía

Darkness has fallen though the night is soft and warm – we watch the world turn around us as the ferry floats slowly up the mouth of the river Guadalete and then shimmies round to dock on the riverbank at El Puerto de Santa Maria. The pin pricks of a thousand night lights are reflected vertically, the white and orange lines that fall from them interrupted gently by ripples on the surface of the water.

It’s our second time in the town; the first was this morning when we arrived by car, seething with the  arrival-rage that has become customary for us.  It’s as if we deliberately don’t write down the addresses of our hostales these days, or the phone numbers. I think it’s K’s fault but she thinks it’s mine. But it’s hers.

I think.

We can be so thoroughly put out that the first hour or two of a visit are ruined, but not today. Firstly, we more or less anticipate it these days, and laugh at ourselves sooner rather than later. Secondly, the hostal. We came on a whim at the last minute and have paid thirty-five euros for our bed, so I’m expecting a rickety one, the smell of stale tobacco and a fly carcass or two. What we get is something else entirely.

We’re early but greeted warmly by C once we get through the wrought iron gate at the street and another door into an open courtyard. He shows us straight into a room that would grace the pages of any interiors magazine you might think of. More

El Consumismo

In Plenary, Presentation on October 4, 2013 at 7:18 am

El Consumismo

K is throwing a few things into an overnight bag and I’m on the other side of the bed pretending to do the same, although really I’m just hanging around.

“Explain to me exactly what you mean,” she says, coiling the flex around some kind of hair tool, “by lunch.”

A doozer of a question. Not for the first time, I take a good long look at my fiancée.

“Something to eat,” I reply – an uncertain, questioning inflection finding its way into my voice, “in the middle of the day.”

She’s brushed past me and is gathering up small bottles and vials in the bathroom. No response.

“A light meal,” I call after her, “in the early afternoon?”

She returns with a bag of cosmetics and a faceful of scorn.

“I know what lunch is, you moron. I meant what did you have in mind?”

Once again she has me on the back foot. I hadn’t thought the suggestion a controversial one.

“I, eh, didn’t…I don’t really…” I drop the pair of boxing shorts I’ve been fidgeting with into my little case, “I just thought we’d…you know…we might…eat something.”

“In La Cañada?”

We’re off to Marbella for the night More

La Venta

In Presentation on September 27, 2013 at 8:05 am

La Venta

The bus that I take from Tarifa to just outside Algeciras where I teach in an English academy is regular but infrequent – I’m left with over an hour to kill before I start work and I kill it in a roadside venta with a café con leche and a slow, bad-tempered netbook. Since my previous job was in the same area I’ve been a regular there now for three years and the coffee is often plonked in front of me before I’ve opened my mouth. I take it to the terrace and sit in the deafening noise of the port traffic – juggernauts and container trucks – trying to concentrate on whatever it is that day.

The neighbourhood is called Los Pastores and the one behind it, where I work, El Cobre. Neither of these places will ever feature heavily in Ideal Home or Town & Country and the latter in particular raises eyebrows when I tell people I work there; they often seem mildly surprised that I’ve lived to tell the tale. I’ve never experienced anything on my way to or from work but a few curious looks and a laid-back family feel to what is undeniably a down-at-heel barrio. I would concede though that a number of the inhabitants appear to be interesting.

I’ve written about the venta before and the tortuously slow process through which I eventually came to feel accepted and comfortable there. Nowadays it’s a fait accompli; I’m more or less treated like royalty. I’ve seen staff come and go and whenever a newbie arrives he or she is taught quick sharp that mine’s a coffee. I’ve had knowing conversations with the dueña about how the ideal olive is a cracked one with the stone in, More

El Incendio

In Plenary, Uncategorized on September 20, 2013 at 8:11 am

El Incendio

Filthy smoke obscures the coastline as I pass through Pelayo, Spain’s wettest village they say and the last stop before I get off the bus for work. It’s a mountain village above Algeciras, surrounded by beautiful Parque Natural – pines and cork oaks and rocky arroyos that spill down towards the sea. From Pelayo you can see both pillars of Hercules, one on either side of the Strait, or you can when the humid little pueblo isn’t shrouded in mist, which is most of the time.

Today though the fog has been replaced by the skyward plumes of dirty smoke on an otherwise clear day. Another long, dry summer is coming to an end and the crackling, brittle ground is burning. The brown cloud is drifting toward Getares, a suburb of the port, rising from a line of fire on the hills closest to the coast, maybe a kilometre from the road. Southern Spain is accustomed to wildfire and the authorities do not fuck around – the sky is loud and busy with helicopters that to and fro from a flooded quarry closer to town, huge and heavy water bags swinging from their bellies.

It’s quite something to see how much water those things hold – they release it slowly rather than all at once, making wet contrails for some distance before the bag is spent and the helicopter returns to the quarry. On the one hand, the quick and thorough response of the emergency services is testament to human ingenuity; how clever and conscientious we are, with our airborne water-carriers and our fire engines, our busy heroes working hard to save the day! More

Los Septiembres

In Practice, Production on September 13, 2013 at 8:04 am

Los Septiembres

For protection from the brutal winds that blast the hills around Tarifa, the little homesteads that stud the slopes are invariably planted with something to surround them and take the brunt – some tall, bamboo-like grasses or a bank of prickly pear cactus. This evening these peripheries glow golden in the setting sun and so does the surrounding country as it descends from the high road to the shore below. I look down on it all from the bus window.

On the African coast Jebel Musa, Hercules’ southern pillar, peeks out from the murk of a marine layer and a few paltry tufts of cloud drift across the summit. Over Spanish soil the clouds are just as small and disparate but dirtier, full of rain. Above all that the sky is the tired blue of an ageing day. A lone vulture circles on this side of the strait – side to side and up and down through all the elements of the view, owning all of them. As it banks the sun catches its wings.

September light.

I’m on the bus because I’m back at work after a long and humid summer, but for all the mundane humdrummery of another working year, it does deliver this daily gift – the descent into the little pueblo that sits at Europe’s southernmost point, warmly lit by a yawning, westbound sun.

The winding mountain road straightens out as it slides toward the town and the vistas open up: the gleaming, endless Atlantic to my right, the Strait and Mediterranean to my left, Morocco dead ahead More

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