In Practice, Presentation on March 4, 2014 at 10:06 am
I have written about Benarrabá before and about the spell it holds over us. Even by pueblo blanco standards, it is tiny, hidden from view at the end of a series of hairpin turns, a kilometre or so from the road that threads along the eastern side the Genal Valley and ends up in Ronda. A succession of larger pueblos, with names from the days when this was Berber high ground, adorn the road like a string of gleaming worry beads.
Unlike them, it is hard to imagine Benarrabá expanding or modernising. Expansion, in fact, is impossible – the town is draped across a narrow ridge that offers no more space – and any modernisation going on around here is going on in Gaucín, a few kilometres down the road, so this little pueblo of six hundred souls sparkles alone in the green velvet of the valley, isolated on its summit but connected by sight – and the ineffables of culture and history – with other tiny towns, visible in the distance on the other side of the river.
We come in February every time, the Andalucian winter just beginning to lift and the skies wet with heavy raincloud. The topography always seems to punch a few holes in the grey blanket, though, and vertical shafts of sunlight play across the slopes as if painted there by a master; the brilliant sun shines through the murk like a miracle, even as mist envelops the hills above the slanted little settlement that has never failed to enchant. More
In Practice, Presentation on February 19, 2014 at 10:27 am
“If you annoy me in Ikea today,” says K – we are on Calle Luna, a long pedestrian shopping street in El Puerto de Santa Maria that begins near the water where the tapas bars cluster along Calle Misericordia and ends in the Plaza de Juan Gavala, a little square of flower sellers – “I swear, I will leave you.”
It is K’s contention that I make a poor companion when it comes to enjoying the many delights that Ikea has to offer; I don’t like admitting to my faults any more than the next person but in this case I would have to concede the point – in Ikea one actually ascends into hell and the second my foot leaves the top of the infernal escalator the crankiness kicks in like clockwork.
Where are the pencils? Where are the bloody pencils? What is this thing anyway? Is that the number for the red or the white? White brilliant or white matt? What are we doing in the kitchen section? We don’t need anything in the kitchen section…
I invariably find myself admonishing K to ‘focus’. Never mind that teams of psychologists and designers have been brought in to create an environment that would prevent anybody from focussing. Never mind that K simply doesn’t want to focus, that she has never shown the slightest interest in focussing. Never mind that I’m not her headmaster. No, I acknowledge none of it – I just hop around after her barking the word ‘focus’, like a broken monkey. More
In Practice, Production on February 12, 2014 at 12:01 pm
In February, with a messy sky diffusing the dawn light, the horizontals of the beach are toothpaste stripes; the water’s blue is deep and cool and the powder that whips across the surface of the sand makes it flutter brightly. As the liners head out onto the ocean and the whitewater flashes its thousand teeth, the day looks like it tastes of mint.
I turn left, not right as I usually do, so instead of making my way through the long grasses of the bird sanctuary, I walk south along this very last bit of Spain’s Atlantic coast, towards the island. The morning is bright and blustery. The winds were strong overnight and the little square where the promenade widens out is an apocalyptic scene; see-saws and rowing machines poke out of the sand like relics of a former time.
The beachside bar that overcharges us for wine whenever we’re absent-minded enough to end up there won’t be overcharging anyone tonight – the makeshift roof of corrugated iron that covers its terrace has collapsed. A new chiringuito, not yet built but present in the form of the steel girders that have been driven deep into the sand to support it, sits next to the causeway. Its customers will enjoy enviable views – of the island itself, and the lighthouse and the Tangier coastline – and I imagine they’ll pay for them in pricey wine, but for anyone who chooses not to be one of its customers, it will be a carbuncle. More
In Plenary, Practice on January 27, 2014 at 10:02 am
The sky has cleared after more than a week of rain and relative darkness: a wet cold that drenches the bones and dampens the socks in their drawers, a lack of light that dulls the wit, relieving everything of the fine lines and sharp edges that the play of brightness and shadow make to define and clarify the world – the contrasts that make comparison possible, the perception of difference, of change, or whatever you want to call it. The variations. The variegations. The building blocks of thought and speech, of language itself.
With Morocco’s black coast cloaked in mizzle and the cloud-capped hills hidden from view, the mind’s eye – bored and restless – turns toward that other landscape, the interior, only to be disappointed. The grey soup has seeped through the skull – it’s as murky, sodden and slow in there as it is everywhere else. There’s a kind of sensory deprivation, a shutting down broken only by fitful fragments – undirected flashes of memory that slither and trouble.
Two nights ago, though, on the coast road, the details of the dark night gleamed. The windows and streetlamps of Ceuta were crisp on the horizon, the pinpoints of Tangier port twinkling close and crystal clear. The red lights of the turbines that turn on African soil were a winking reflection of their counterparts on this side of the Strait, blades reinvigorated and rotating wildly.
There was a brightness to the high visibility More
In Plenary, Production on January 17, 2014 at 12:25 pm
The lady who runs the little shop across the street where I go in the early morning for coffee and bread – a nice lady who always asks after our two cats, referring to them as ‘los niños’ – has refused to look at me for weeks. Everybody else is doing double takes: the bus driver, the French waiter in the bar where I write each day, even people in the street.
K was horrified at first. Then she let a couple of complimentary remarks slip out – pretty lips, apparently – and now she tells me she will not be offering further comment for fear that, as a consequence of my rather twisted psychology, any feedback at all from her, whether positive or negative, would only encourage me. She’s right – it would. The problem for her is that her silence does too.
So, I persevere. It’s day twenty-something now and I’ve stopped counting. More time than usual has been spent in front of mirrors as I watch my face, myself, become untidier. Even untidier, K would say. Overgrown, like a garden gone to seed. It isn’t happening quickly – I’m like one of those mid-table European economies at the moment in that there is growth, but it is slow. Development is patchy. Results inconclusive.
That’s if it is development. Maybe it’s deterioration. Entropy. I have, after all, reached an age where change may well be a positive thing, but then again maybe not. Whatever it is, it took a journey to get it started More
In Plenary, Presentation on January 2, 2014 at 12:01 pm
The pianist appears to be deaf, and I don’t mean in a Beethoven kind of way. We chose to sit next to the piano, I suppose, but that was before he arrived and cranked up the appalling backing track over which he tinkles lazily, one-handed, with occasional bouts of desultory crooning.
We’re in one of the grander hotels in Marrakech and the piano bar is dim. Everything that isn’t black or dark wood is red. We are reminded by the couple at a nearby table that some bars still have smoke in them. Dressed-up waiters bow from the hip. There’s a terrible distortion to the recording that adds to the comedy, and an awful tension in the room as the few of us present struggle to maintain our composure. He’s doing “The Great Pretender” now, and not in a Freddie Mercury kind of way.
Like most large buildings in this part of the world, the hotel centres round an inner courtyard. The pool out there is very still in the night, surrounded by alcoves and lounging areas, and there’s a great open fire at the back with armchairs to either side. We decide we’ll move out there for our second beer, and start to drink the first a little more quickly.
When Vincent Rose died in 1944 he was hardly a household name, but he had had a string of popular hits – “Linger A While”, “Avalon” and “Whispering “ amongst them – and had worked with the likes of Al Jolson and Count Basie: an unlikely destiny for a boy from Palermo, Sicily. More
In Plenary, Presentation on December 25, 2013 at 2:08 pm
The spartan waiting room, lined with glass along one side, is incandescent with the winter sun that glares from above the outline of Jebel Musa on the African coast, slicing through the interior space on a low diagonal. We’re the first in, having merely strolled down from the house, five minutes away, as we sit and sip coffee from styrofoam cups, watching the short line of vehicles outside that have come from further afield. It’s quiet – just a camper van or two with loaded roofs and a few four by fours as well as a couple of trucks.
Five minutes and a thirty-five minute crossing; we live forty minutes away from another world. From Africa. The thirty-five minute claim, emblazoned across billboards from here to Malaga and Seville, is a lie of course – it usually takes over fifty – and they make quite a fuss of boarding and disembarking, but still. The catamaran bobs a little as it pulls out of port below the old sunlit castle, past the the lighthouse on its wind-blasted island, relatively still today.
As the ferry revolves to orientate itself toward Tangier, sunbeams patrol the passenger area and the ceiling shimmers like the walls around a swimming pool. I watch the Spanish coast recede and see anew the beauty of the place where we live: the old town of Tarifa and the mountains that surround it. The wind turbines that cluster along the ridges of high ground, the rocky outcrops and the sand dunes. More
In Practice on December 16, 2013 at 10:02 am
“You’re a genius.”
My first words of the day. K has just handed me a second can of isotonic-whatever-it-is and informed me she still has a little bottle of water in her bag, and some ibuprofen in the car. The woman is a genius.
My head – or what remains of it – falls back on the pillow. It does strike me as a little odd that she would choose such a moment to tickle my feet, but then I realise she’s putting my socks on. That’s good; I wasn’t going to get around to it anytime soon. While I’m being dressed, the images start flooding in; the first of them provide me with my bearings. I’m in Gibraltar.
No wait, I’m in La Linea, across the border, but I was in Gibraltar. I remember waiting at the runway after dark while a Monarch jet landed, more or less silent in the air as it slipped in from the east, but roaring on the tarmac when it touched down right in front of us and deployed its flaps. A little more waiting while it trundled back into view and towards the terminal…
…K is putting my underpants on. I have neither the energy nor the necessary synaptic functionality to feel ashamed of myself. I am, however, able to feel a lot of pain, somewhere behind my eyes. I wonder what could have caused it. Could it have been the Domaine Patrick Mauvy 2012, a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire valley? It was certainly fruity, I’ll give it that, and successfully avoided that ‘furniture polish’ thing that Sauvignon’s so often don’t, but apart from that it seemed innocuous enough… More
In Production on November 22, 2013 at 7:50 am
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
In Plenary, Presentation on November 14, 2013 at 11:25 am
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