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 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 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, Presentation on January 28, 2013 at 8:27 pm
“I’m not a conservative person, am I?” I ask K.
We’re sitting in a wood panelled taberna in Madrid, towards the end of the evening. Full of tapas and perhaps a little tipsy, we haven’t ordered anything here, content to sit side by side with a glass of wine each and fill up on all the antique eye candy around us – the (inevitable) bulls’ heads, the little sign that announces the availability of snails, the dusty old bottles of sherry, the elegant, marble-topped tables.
What I thought then: not conservative. As a matter of fact I hold views which positively annoy conservatives. Actually, I consider annoying conservative types one of life’s great pleasures. More than that perhaps – a duty. It would be no surprise to run into conservatism here, given the decor, but actually the other customers look rather bohemian. We’ve been in Madrid for less than a week and we’ve seen the inside of a lot of bars.
Many, many bars.
Apart from the fact that I probably would have done that anyway, I’ve been researching for a story I want to do on the city and its tapas. K hasn’t voiced any objection to joining me, so here we are in Bar Umpteen. More
In Practice, Presentation on January 20, 2013 at 8:55 pm
I don’t know much about geology, but the rock I’m sitting on is worn, deeply striated and covered in mosses and lichens, and I deduce from this that it must be soft and permeable. That will have helped when the caves here were carved out back in the Bronze Age for use as tombs.
That’s all I know about this place, gleaned from the engraved stone slabs that have been put outside the closed information point. I’m alone up here, having had to climb the fence to get in. The ayuntamiento, or somebody, is enclosing the rocky, cave-riddled outcrop with a fence, laying paths and installing benches for visitors.
I’ve little chance of being disturbed here on this wild, windy Tarifa day. Anybody with any sense is indoors. Over on the other mountain I can see the zig-zag sendero that leads to the wind turbines that fan out along its ridge. It looks tiny from here of course, and tempting, but I imagine it would be a two hour trial to walk it.
What strikes me most about these tomb caves (since I’m alone, I get to sit inside one), isn’t so much that they date back to around 2500 BCE, but that they were still being used for their original purpose as recently as the tenth century. Three and a half millennia. 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 January 5, 2013 at 4:21 pm
Our introduction to Madrid would, I imagine, have a lot in common with the experiences of others who down through the ages have come from quiet countryside and little town for a taste of the metropolis. In the first week of January the city is cold, but crisp and pleasant. It’s a holiday week and Sol, the central square, is crowded with tourists. The melee at nearby San Miguel market, a food destination, is insane and deeply unpleasant. If this place is ever reasonably quiet – merely bustling, say – we’ll come back then. The food looks good.
We dive into what looks like a deliciously kitsch Andaluz bar on the Plaza Mayor – the walls are lined with photos of corrida related gore and bulls’ heads. When we order a glass of wine and a small beer they put a tasty little arroz in front of us and an equally tasty broth of jamon. I begin to relax. Then they manage to upsell us a ración of boquerones fritos.
Then they charge us 19.50 for it.
You can take the one off the beginning of that price and subtract a further two for the going rate in our neck of the woods. Also, it looks like a media to us.
Welcome to the big city, bozos. 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