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 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 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 Presentation on November 16, 2012 at 9:41 am
I’m looking for purity.
Natural wholesomeness. Clean, untainted goodness. Healthy, nurturing freshness, whatever you like – you get the picture.
My search has brought me to an industrial estate just outside Tarifa – I’m walking on a cracked, ill-maintained pavement, along a rusting and dilapidated steel fence beyond which a patch of wasteland is a mess of weeds and debris. A little further up I can see a car-wash place and various noisy workshops. Trucks pass by. No sign of the goodness, as yet. I must have walked up and down every “street” in the place.
Ah, here it is: Tarifa Natural, it says over the warehouse loading dock. It doesn’t look like the kind of place I should be walking into, but I do. I’ve been directed here, by the nice women in the herbolario in the old town, and I must have walked a mile all told, so I’m going in.
I step past a forklift and somewhere at the back of the building, out of sight, someone is using a pneumatic drill. The noise is deafening and there’s no one around. I wander about and when the drill stops for a moment I yell “hola!”
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
In Production on August 19, 2012 at 10:25 am
Any notion of whizzing along the highways in our convertible – K’s hair horizontal in the breeze along with my cravat, me pouring us both a plastic cup of Bollinger and throwing my head back to laugh at the sky - is put paid to immediately.
Firstly, we don’t own a convertible. Secondly, we’ve hardly driven a hundred metres and are not yet outside Tarifa‘s limits when we find ourselves in a traffic jam. The road to the beaches further along the little town’s coast is packed with Algecirans, their folding chairs and screaming children. I’m not getting a terribly “road trip” vibe from the whole thing. If this were the opening scene of a road trip movie, for example, it would be shit.
Thirdly, I don’t wear cravats – though this is something I will certainly reconsider if K ever gets us that convertible.
When we finally reach the intersection she decides to head for Algeciras to the right instead of Cadiz to the left. We get a reasonably clear lane and from Algeciras there’s another motorway up to Jerez and from there to Seville. It’s an inspired decision as although it puts a few kilometres on us we save a lot of time by avoiding the sludgy beach traffic. K is pleased and spends much of the drive to Jerez congratulating herself. More
In Practice, Production on July 22, 2012 at 11:16 am
It’s ten in the evening, we’re down on the beach, and they are all around us.
Puppy waves doggy paddle towards the shore in a long, long line of overlapping arcs.
A dome of light on the horizon – the last remnants of the sun’s toffee orange blush.
Los Lances as it bends away towards Punta Paloma and the two headlands up there, the more distant one a paler grey, the closer blacker, both their bends reflected in the mirror water that floods the beach here often.
The merest sliver of a waxing moon, exquisitely fine, like a thumbnail rip in the nylon sky.
Its delicate curl is echoed by the motor parachute that swoops up and down the beach, the pilot taking care each time he passes to leave us our space.
We stand out in the ankle depth and everything appears equidistant. Nothing farther away than anything else – Tangier just as near, and just as remote, as the chiringuito on the other side of the beached water where people are gathering in the music. More
In Practice, Production on May 20, 2012 at 3:36 pm
So, Valentin has attacked me in my sleep. He has pounced at my face and clawed me above my left eye. There’s a deep red gash that is very long and that I kept having to explain to the kids at school.
“Mi gato.”, I would shrug. “Yo estaba dormiendo anoche y……yo no sé….algo asustó a mi gato o….algo…ah…lo ha asustado?…yo no sé…una mosca…eh…cualquier…”
Such a pleasure for these people, to listen to my assault on their language. To stand by and watch as I single-handedly ruin it. They do quite well, generally, it has to be said, under the circumstances, in terms of remaining polite.
Please, please stop, their faces beg. We don’t want to know your stories, or about the things that have happened to you, if it means listening to this.
But I needed them to know. Apart from the fact that I didn’t want the gash on my forehead to be quietly attributed to some sort of alcoholic mishap, it had been a first for me, being attacked in my bed. It’s as though a rite of passage has been successfully navigated. In a way I feel as though I’ve shared an experience with the James Bonds and Chuck Norrises of this world. More
In Presentation, Production on April 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm
This is a map of its route. It began, as an idea perhaps, in Augsburg in 1678. The idea container became a brewer of beer. I would have liked that. He didn’t. And so, the idea and its container went north, through heavily forested country and farmland, over the Donau, to Nuremburg, where Johann Homann taught him to engrave.
He returned to Augsburg with the skill but it wouldn’t be till 1744, towards the end of his life, that the idea would find expression on paper. From there who knows how many journeys, how many copies, how many owners, till in the latter half of the 20th century it was picked up in an antique shop in Dublin, Ireland and found a home with us in leafy Lucan.
Since then it has been restless. Before long it was gracing walls in Madrid, baking in the summer heat of Spain’s central meseta. After that a return to blustery Ireland, to Dublin, then Dundalk. It crossed the Irish Sea by boat and might have settled in the gently rolling country of Hampshire, England. But it wasn’t to be.
It would have satisfied the container, I think, to see his idea take its longest trip yet, over the blue curve of the Atlantic to the New World. More
In Presentation, Production on April 23, 2012 at 10:05 am
So you know that (not always apocryphal) story people tell about having a tomcat or a dog for years and years and years- something called Tiger or Rover or Leon or Dasher. Then they tell you about how it goes missing one day.
The owner/couple/family search(es) high and low, desperately worried and anxious for their four-legged family member. Little Timothy is beside himself. There’s a vigil in the front room and neighbours pop by to offer pre-emptive condolences. Hours, days pass and then they happen upon the animal in some unlikely spot right under their noses – behind the shed, in the shed, whatever. Only it isn’t an animal now; it’s a whole new family, and it turns out they’ve made a fairly serious error in naming their pet.
There they are, five new puppies/kittens to take care of and one messed-up, deeply gender-confused parent. After all, if you’d been known as Butch your whole life you would probably have started believing it yourself. You might even have begun to explain that secret yearning to be called Lady or Princess to yourself as some sort of psychological disorder.
But no, you were right all along – just as you suspected More