In Presentation on August 21, 2013 at 12:05 pm
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
In Practice on August 13, 2013 at 11:52 am
We walk the Cares gorge, beginning at its upper reach in Cain where nobody smiles and landlords tell you that you can’t use the wifi, even when it says “Wifi” on the outside of their bar. Oh, they’ll confirm that they have it – but it isn’t for you. Where your own landlord tells you that you can’t check in because check-in time is noon (this at eleven fifty, in the middle of nowhere). Seriously, people of Cain – cheer.the.fuck.up. I’m left wondering what the hell happened here, that they should be like this.
The weather falls well short of optimal – a grey and drizzly day that necessitates my horribly ineffective Primark rain jacket and a poncho from the gift shop for K. I finally renounce my long-standing anti-extendable hiking stick stance and buy myself an extendable hiking stick. We set off.
It very quickly becomes apparent that, despite what has been a very irritating morning – the smell of burning rubber from Polly’s brake pads, annoying news on Gibraltar/Spain relations, rain, Cain – this is going to be one hell of a walk. The river Cares has gouged out this gorge between the central and western massifs of the Picos de Europa; the mountains themselves are dizzyingly tall masses of solid rock on such a scale as to have me wondering if my eyes are deceiving me. In some places the gorge is a mile deep.
Starting at this end, the path – which was originally blasted out of the rock to facilitate maintenance of the canal that feeds More
In Plenary, Presentation on August 6, 2013 at 4:41 pm
Usually, when we arrive in a new place we get our bags inside as quick as we can and head out to look around. Not so in Santillana – we loiter in our little studio apartment, showering and catching up on emails, glad to be inside. The truth is the streets of this perfectly preserved medieval village – famed throughout Spain for its picturesque beauty – were intimidating as we drove in, dropped our bags off and drove out again to leave the car in the mandatory car park on the edge of town.
To say the place is popular would be to put it mildly. What would appear to be the two or three principal streets and square swarm with tourists and day-trippers. Getting even our small car through them is a cocktail of fear, rage and regret. The place is awash with cheap t-shirt emporiums and the kind of mass-distributed trinkets you could pick up in Málaga or Madrid. Somewhere behind all these multi-coloured leather goods and straw hats is the place that Sartre called “the prettiest village in Spain” but, as K succinctly puts it, “I think we got here about two hundred years too late”.
There are a few genuine artisans working here – jewellery, art, furniture – but lots of it’s just tat. A little girl’s flamenco dress, in Cantabria. Really? The region is famed for its anchovies and if the shop shelves in Santillana are anything to go by, they all come from this inland town; if the prices are anything to go by, they’re golden anchovies. We don’t see a single butcher, or electrical appliances store, or fruteria. More
In Presentation on July 31, 2013 at 10:28 am
Last time it was all scorched earth and a sky the blue of blue flame.
This time: a smattering of rainclouds drifting slowly beneath a higher layer of white. Greener country, cooler temperatures – the green of the cork trees, for example, like the brush strokes of a painter on the tans of the summer grass.
Last time we played flamenco – Camarón and Paco de Lucia and all the rest of it as we set out on our first big jaunt into the interior of this intoxicating country.
This time: I’m woozy with words in the passenger seat, a headful of problems from the page. The music is americana – plucked strings as the forests slip by. The lakes, the oleanders, the country more colourful somehow this colder summer, the range of shades augmented by sunlight dapples as the heavy cloud lumbers on and breaks here and there.
A wind farm pops up, the turbines standing sentinel on the horizon. As we get closer we see that they’re spinning fast – dervishes, describing an incessant ‘now’ with the rotation of their blades over the ‘always’ of the timeless landscape. The sky over them a gun metal grey, a few rickety old horses grazing on the roadkill-peppered verge.
Finally, droplets on the windscreen. I open my window to smell the rain and stick my fingers out to catch a few drops. It’s cool out there, but as we near Seville the heat rises and the air-conditioning goes on. More
In Practice on July 23, 2013 at 6:01 pm
We’ve been walking. Unusually, K has been pushing for it; she’s keen to see the Cares gorge when we visit the Cantabrian mountains this month and she wants to limber up. Out to Jimena de la Frontera with us, and an easy sendero that curls around the base of the promontory on which the pueblo hangs, overlooked by the obligatory castle. We walk along a sandy track past a few of the kind of little country house that, had we any money, we would buy. Just knock on the door and buy it. That cute.
The path winds its way along a defunct old canal that used to feed a munitions factory under Carlos III, the ironic remnant of a most unwarlike king. Then it follows the river Hozgarganta more closely, dipping down here and there to a rocky pool of clear water, little fish in the shallows. We’ve passed a couple of people along the way and K is too shy to undress and get in but as we walk her eyes rarely leave the inviting water, flanked on either side by some mammoth rock formations beyond which the country is hilly and irregularly beautiful.
At one point someone has gone to the trouble of carving steps in the rock to ease our passage and a very steep set of them departs to our right, taking the walker who doesn’t want to continue sharply uphill to the town. We go on, meandering through a cluster of old abandoned mills and, since we haven’t encountered anyone for a while, K’s craving for the water overcomes her modesty. Before I know it I’m sitting on the bank with her bra in my hand and she’s getting her mermaid on More
In Plenary, Production on July 13, 2013 at 8:49 am
We go to dinner at L’s apartment in one of the soviet-style blocks down by the water and as usual there are another few people for us to meet. As we climb the stairs to his second floor flat we find ourselves doing so with his son and his son’s girlfriend and once inside we are introduced to A, a woman of Argentine origin who now lives in El Puerto de Santa Maria – about an hour away – and who struggles, as we do, to make small talk as the others huddle in the kitchen preparing the food.
In his text message, L boasted that the dish on offer tonight had a five hundred year pedigree, billing the dinner as “una cena andalusi”. In fact there are two “platos” and I never clarify which one he was referring to – some tabouleh with herbs, apples and raisins and an andaluz salad I have read about and attempted myself but never tasted in anyone else’s home, a plate of orange slices, olives and bacalao, along with more raisins and potato wedges.
The latter is carried in by P – who is always here – on two plates while B, a Swiss woman who lives in Tarifa with her Spanish partner and who speaks tarifeño Spanish like a sailor, brings in the tabouleh and the meal is underway. We always like coming and tonight I’m glad to be here even though there are good days and bad days as far as my Spanish is concerned and I find myself slipping in and out of comprehension and a little frustrated with myself at times. I do pick up that A is some kind of music therapist and when the conversation turns to the food More
In Presentation on July 3, 2013 at 4:24 pm
Two strips of the AP-7 curve away high overhead where we park beneath a dizzyingly tall flyover and make our way down a dirt track, not all that sure if we’re in the right place. Tired legs make the uncertainty that much more tiresome but there are promising signs as we make our way – a couple of cars pass by and there are people coming the other way who carry towels and wear bathing costumes. A kitsch restaurant where the track begins proclaims itself The Roman Oasis.
We walk for ten minutes or so, reassured – once we’ve asked someone – that we’re not lost. Finally, on our left, we pass an abandoned old pension, or perhaps a spa, with the words Baños Romanos de la Hedionda on its façade and then, on our right, a path that descends to the river.
We’re near Manilva, just four kilometres or so inland from the Costa del Sol, the coastal strip of hotels, resorts and retirement communities that stretches in a great concrete swathe from La Linea to Málaga, then more quietly eastwards. There’s no sign of any of that here but it’s hardly deserted – preserved Roman baths may not have much appeal amongst the Costa clientele but they are very popular with the local families who come here each Sunday during the summer months.
We don’t have any Roman history in Ireland; I don’t think they had the stomach to pick a fight with us. My first thought as I take in the squat, white structure that houses the baths is that if we did More
In Practice, Production on June 24, 2013 at 1:02 pm
Some fuss at the front of an apartment building as the bus sets out for La Linea through Algeciras city centre. One of those unassuming if not quite unattractive pale redbrick efforts – six or eight storeys, double recessed balconies on the street side and the obligatory green and striped awnings hanging low over the railings which because of the recess protrude just two or three feet from the façade. A block of a building – we lived in one just like it in Madrid – I will have passed it by many times and never given it a moment’s thought.
Today the front entrance is cordoned off with police tape and a few policia local are in attendance. Some stand with hands on hips or arms folded and others talk on their radios, surrounded by a small crowd – just twenty or so – of neighbours. Several people are deploying the video-making function of their smartphones or making calls themselves, their necks craned upwards. A bus-full of necks, mine included, also crane to follow their line of sight.
For four stories above them the awnings have been damaged, knocked from their hinges to dangle dangerously overhead. I instinctively look to the ground to see what might have done the damage and sure enough, a significant amount of rubble lies at the little crowd’s feet. Looking up again establishes that the rubble used to be the protruding few feet of both adjoining balconies on the fifth floor. Where they should be is an open scar – a few pot plants teeter More
In Practice, Production on June 13, 2013 at 10:27 am
I should be running down by the water this morning, or at least walking faster, but I just have to slow down to look around. Everything is exceptional today – a great mixed sky like an oil painting, the cloud cover overhead breaking up in the east where the sun rises and graduating westward to a dull gloom which hangs low over the water, the whole sweep of it culminating in a funnel about a kilometre out where rainfall engulfs a short line of fishing vessels and their orange-buoyed nets.
Up past the sports field the spring flowers have gone to seed and their vibrant yellows and purples are beginning to recede into the dustier, dry grass hues of high summer. It’s very early and very quiet – quiet enough to hear the fish break surface in the river and for a few rabbits to linger in the open. A long-legged spider crosses the wooden walkway, pausing as I pass.
I go as far as the old military bunker and then cut across onto the sand. About two kilometres up the coast, the rock promontory of San Bartolome is lit up in a pin point shaft of sunlight that cantilevers its way in over an adjacent hilltop and illuminates the cliffs with precision. The sea is almost as calm as the river today, lazy waves yawning and sighing their way in and out over the sand. A few footprints, a few paw prints, the island like a surfaced submarine, the mountains of Morocco behind it; it’s a clear day and I can see deep into them.
This is a place that makes you feel More
In Presentation on June 2, 2013 at 1:16 pm
We go to Jerez. Our usual hostal: cheap, clean and sparsely furnished. Two high little windows into the alley, a cool-tiled floor, a double door with ornamental balcony that overlooks the inner patio, its railings hung with geraniums, a fan in the corner, a chair.
I go for a walk while K sleeps and, finding myself in an old tabanco (a sherry bar that serves from the barrel), I ask for a palo cortado; on a prompt from the ageing barman I stipulate that I’d like it chilled. Then I settle down with it at a barrel-top table and stare into the middle distance like the other two unaccompanied men in the place.
Tabancos will sometimes sell the region’s wine by the bottle as well and there are a few rickety old shelves for the purpose as well as large urns and plastic containers of sherry vinegar. I’m the youngest here by a long way, and I’m not that young. If you require vivacity in your watering holes it probably wouldn’t be for you, with its assisted-suicide-through-sherry vibe and pickled old men, but I like it. When I came in the guy behind the bar looked genuinely surprised to see me but by the time I get up to pay and leave, asking as I do if it would be alright for me to take a photograph of the place, he’s become friendly and says that of course it would. He does advise me that if he himself is in the photo he will charge me.
“Like Ronaldo does,” he says.
“Fine,” I reply, “please get out of the way.” More