In Practice, Production on June 27, 2011 at 4:19 pm

On the road to Cádiz

The big burn.

Summer has recoloured the country. What had been verdant crop is now yellow and baled in rows at regular intervals. Dusty and baked. Cattle sit down in the heat. The only living crop an endless field of sunflowers.

Vultures spiral.

We pass an expanse of solar panels that seem for all the world to have been built especially to resemble the local pine forests. Squat structures with wide canopies – sucking up the sun and casting shade beneath them. They sit on a rise as cracked and parched as a desert.

Brown, yellow, dusty greys – the colours dead things go before they disappear forever. The season scorches the year’s remains. Clears the way. As much death in Summer as there is in Winter; as much life there as there is now, here. It doesn’t seem such a brutal truth looking at wheat fields that I know will be green again and soon.

On the road to Jerez

Salt. The great treasure. We drive across the marshes that surround Cádiz. Pools of water are separated here by man made banks and skimmed by flitting water birds. White piles like condiment quarries whizz past. An artificial Dead Sea; devoid of all but microbial organisms yet producing this powder that preserves. It made man winter proof. It meant food could travel. It gave life.

We’ve been harvesting it for eight thousand years. When we first did so our populations exploded. Now of course we consider ourselves to be overpopulated. All this from inhospitable waters; fishless, undrinkable, foul.

We are resourceful.

At the Gallo Azul

When the breeze blows it’s even warmer than the still air. It is hot. We sit under a huge umbrella with a few dishevelled, sweaty others. Everybody looks like wilted spinach. I should probably be drinking a long cool coke and not this sherry.

This is Jerez’s answer to Times Square or Piccadilly Circus – the emblematic semi-circle of the Gallo Azul building. The words “Fundador” and “La Ina” spelt out across its crest in neon strips, the ground floor a place for pricey, tasty tapas.

Where is everybody? Jerez always seems sleepy no matter the time of day. It’s the same size as Granada; a proper little city. But everybody hides, or sleeps.

Gallo Azul. Blue Rooster.

A different kind of bird in the middle of the street is flapping frantically. A swift or swallow with a broken wing. It will die but the vestiges of its instinct to survive drive it to flap – and in so doing to propel itself awkwardly to the curb. Here it is out of immediate harm’s way. It flaps a while more and then stops, quietens, lies still, and waits.

At the Sunday market

Between the cathedral and the Alcazar, an open space shaded by orange trees. Tables and blankets laid out in lines and wares displayed – the oddest melange of bric-a-brac, antiques and crap. VHS cassettes, actual cassettes, nineties mobile phones, dolls’ clothes, naked dolls, second hand shoes.

A 1907 edition of Stories From The Arabian Nights with original illustrations. I don’t know which is more exquisite – the beautiful hand painted pictures or the walking away from it. We want our nest but we are not nest building just now. I need to be producing, not acquiring.

Further on, folders containing plastic sleeves are left out on a trestle and in the sleeves antique documents of all kinds – receipts, school reports, postcards, inventories, business cards, prayer cards and promissory notes; none of them written with this Sunday market in mind, with the foresight that the neat hand writing or the rubber stamp constituted an artefact, an item; that the transaction could itself be bought.

In place of the expensive, bulky book I buy a page with a board game printed on it. Ducks and historical figures and throws of the die. It’s the kind of thing that they were still printing in the seventies when I first encountered board games but that had looked pretty much the same since the twenties. One Euro.

For the nest.

In the Plaza Arenal 

A tiny bird on a terrace table upsets us. It’s too small and looks up as if to assess the likelihood of us being its parents. It looks at me and then it looks at K. Then it looks at me again. Then at K. Sorry, little bird. We can’t take it; that would certainly kill it. There isn’t anywhere safer than the table to put it.

We choose somewhere distant to sit but breakfast is hard to enjoy. Another bird. Harbingers of heartbreak. Little feathered messages of despair. Winged sentinels of what is the fucking point? On top of it all K can’t get a croissant. She really wanted one. She chose this place because she spotted a croissant. That was the last croissant though, we’re told. So it’s a difficult breakfast.

Then something unexpected; the baby bird flies. Awkwardly but well enough to get it onto the top of an awning. A purchase on survival. Progress. Now it just needs to sort out the rest of its life. Flap by flap. At this point I don’t feel it’s in any worse a position than I am and I forget about it.

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  1. I should learn from this. Flap by flap, not leap by leap. I’m always so impatient, I guess it’s time to have breakfast in Jerez, even minus the croissant.

  2. Another fantastic post! Love the slow pace of life in Jerez even if the birds do annoy you.

  3. I HATE it when I can’t get a croissant! They’re my favourite. I completely empathize with K.

  4. Lovely story. I’m so glad the little bird learned to fly!

  5. As always, a very entertaining and beautifully written story! 🙂

  6. Hi ¡!
    “Where is everybody? Jerez always seems sleepy no matter the time of day. It’s the same size as Granada; a proper little city. But everybody hides, or sleeps.”

    I was born in Jerez, grew up in Jerez and I live in Jerez… and I absolutely agree with you… Thanks for the post and please forgive my bad English.

    Best wishes

    • Fantastic to get a comment from a Jerezano!!!

      Glad that you enjoyed the post – although we think it’s a sleepy town we love going there; sherry in El Pasaje and something to eat on the terrace at the Cruz Blanca restaurant. The wonderful, elegant streets of the old town.

      Your English is perfect!

  7. Ok so I may have missed this in your previous posts but who does your illustrations?

  8. Well written, you made me sad for the bird, I would love to see those Sunflowers you mentioned.

  9. […] I say cough, but the word does no justice to the violence of the noise that cracks into our room like the thong of a phlegm-soaked whip. I feel as though I and the lower reaches of this man’s oesophagus are really getting to know each other. Although a light hangover keeps us horizontal for a little while, in the end it’s too much and we dress quickly, heading out for a tostada on the Arenal. […]

  10. […] that this place always seems to produce a surprise. Yesterday, not for the first time, the surprise had wings. We had begun the afternoon shopping and were sitting outside the Gallo […]

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