In Practice, Production on May 27, 2013 at 9:26 am
I should be typing this in El Puerto de Santa Maria. We were to be there this weekend, celebrating my birthday and joining the last dot on our sherry map. Admittedly it isn’t a very complicated map; the town is the third and final dot on the famous Sherry Triangle, for us. We’ve already spent fine days sipping wine in the other two, Sanlucar de Barrameda and of course, Jerez de la Frontera. They like their place names long in this part of the world.
But I’m not. I spent the day grieving instead, in shock over the loss of a little cat that might as well have been a child to us. Birthday activities included searching the house from top to bottom, doing it again, and again, talking to more neighbours than we knew we had, covering Tarifa in missing posters, contacting vets and cat shelters, rocking back and forth and drinking to take the edge off it all. Getting used to the idea of her being gone for good.
Then she came back. After thirty hours, a helpful neighbour came to our door to tell us he had seen her underneath a car on the next street. He wasn’t the first Samaritan of the day and we trundled off behind him, myself already a little worse for wear and expecting another false alarm, but it was her. K in floods of tears. Bottle of wine promised to the neighbour.
So my birthday presents this year have been the fact that the cat isn’t dead and a horrendous hangover. Not much of a story, is it? Cat goes missing, cat shows up. Still, I got some mileage out of it 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 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