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Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

El Tesoro

In Practice, Production on May 8, 2014 at 7:47 am

El Tesoro

Trundling toward Seville with a bootful of booty – a creamy blue cheese from Galicia, a jar of blue cheese cream from Asturias, a jar of apple jam, a jar of orange jelly, a jar of strawberry jam, a jar of quince and orange paste, a jar of quince and lemon paste, a jar of chilli chutney and a small bottle of nispero liqueur, the maker of which didn’t so much recommend to us as warn us about. Two bottles of hand-picked olives in deep brine and three bottles of Extremaduran wine, a fridge magnet, two porcelain beer mugs and, wrapped up carefully in a straw hat, the most delicate cargo of all: six eggs from the finca we’ve just left and the chickens we’ve just waved goodbye to. Now all we have to do is get them home, just over four hundred kilometres away.

The project does not have an auspicious beginning; after just a few minutes we drive through a small town so sleepy and rural that even the main street is cobbled. Mis huevos, I complain as the car rattles through. We stop afterwards, outside a mammoth industrial complex of some kind that caught my eye on the way here yesterday – four huge silos and more at the other end next to a concrete dome the size of a small moon. At least half a kilometre in length, the plant consists of enormous pipes and ramps, a thousand stairwells, chutes and chimneys in all sizes and the constant noise of process. 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

Las Rutas

In Plenary, Production on April 4, 2014 at 9:30 am

Las Rutas

Until the Arabs came, this was the end of the world. Everything to the west was monsters and mystery; everything to the south was sultry, secretive and uncivilised. To the Syrians and their Berber hordes it became a new frontier, and a potential route to the domination of Europe, but until that moment, for the people they were about to conquer, it was the edge of the known. For some it still is of course – Europeans are in plentiful supply who would willingly go no further.

Sitting on a bus and looking at the back of someone’s head can be a bracing business; we never see the back of our own heads and it’s probably just as well – this evening’s guy has hair cropped short with salt and pepper flecks and a line of imperfections along the rim of his ear (spots or old wounds of some sort) that he continually rubs and picks at. He has a way of sneezing that makes me wince even though he’s doing it in the opposite direction: a series of near silent convulsions after which he checks his hands, his jacket and the window for mucous. My hand’s been resting on the miserly ledge at the bottom of my window and just behind his seat; I pull it back a little and breath as shallowly as I can, impatient to get off and suddenly conscious that a blemish at the back of my own ear may be disgusting someone at this very moment, grey hairs involuntarily counted, greasy collar disapproved of. 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

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

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

El Gastor

In Practice, Production on September 4, 2013 at 10:36 am

El Gastor

“You’d have a shit life,” says K, leafing through one of those magazines of hers in a deck chair out by the kidney-shaped pool, “without me.”

Strong words, but I believe she has me on this one. I give the proposition a moment’s thought, just in case, but no – I’ve got nothing. Still, I like to give as good as I get and after a brief period of reflection I manage to deliver a retort I think I can live with.

“We’re going to need more wine.”

“We have two bottles,” she says, eyes on the page.

“We have one bottle.” It’s exhilarating to be a step ahead of her. “I used some for the chicken.”

She looks up.

“You used a whole bottle of wine for your chicken?”

I shrug, lacking a magazine of my own to hide behind.

“That’s coq-au-vin, I’m afraid.”

She returns to her portfolio of cranky, hungry young women teetering on heels in what I assume are circus costumes.

You’re a coq-au-vin, I’m afraid.”

I pick up my book. That’s as maybe, I think to myself, but we are going to need more wine. More

El Viñedo

In Presentation on August 21, 2013 at 12:05 pm

El Viñedo

J is one of those people that other people call passionate. He speaks quickly and loudly, usually beginning a sentence before he has given himself time to finish the last one, gesticulating wildly as he does so. Bearded and boom-voiced, he runs his bodega and hostelry with presence and charisma. It’s particularly striking right now because the rather large man is standing in the middle of our room, giving us a dressing down for leaving our window open during the day.

“The hot,” he bellows, his face a portrait of betrayal and shattered innocence, “is terrible!”

“It come in!”

This accompanied by more wild gesticulations to signify, I suppose, the coming in of the hot. It’s a singular approach to customer service that I won’t forget in a hurry. I close the window and shutter and this appears to pacify him. He leaves, still mumbling about the hot.

K is a little skeptical. The bodega was her idea and isn’t what she was hoping for. I find it’s usually a mistake to build up too precise a picture of a place you’ve never been to but that is what she’s done. Some Italian movie she saw when she was young was to have been replicated here – vines and cicadas, balmy nights and a rustic farmhouse, family round an al fresco table and a love affair (with me, I would hope).

We’re not in Italy though More

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