Archive for 2012|Yearly archive page

It’s Not You, Portugal…

In Practice, Presentation on September 26, 2012 at 9:58 am

There is something about returning home from a road trip that circumvents the end-of-odyssey blues I normally feel when I complete a journey: that little sadness as I turn the key in the door, the funereal quiet as I wake up that first morning in my own bed. I often see myself as leaving behind those things that excite me – adventure, stimulation, discovery – and coming back to the mundane, the daily run of banal challenges, the schlepp. Today though, the feeling is different: one of accomplishment and gladness to be back. Indeed, after two weeks of continuous road travel a couple of personal limits have been reached, at least for us.

Firstly, we’ve been noticing for the last day or three that our capacity to get excited about yet another city/mountain/castle/cathedral/restaurant or beach is flagging. We’re full up – we need time to absorb what we’ve seen (so much!), not more stuff to see. It becomes just that after a while: stuff.

Secondly, if I have to spend one more day in a Kia Picanto I think I’m going to have an embolism. Don’t get me wrong – we love Polly. She’s ours. She’s done us proud – up mountains and down, along motorways and country lanes. But she’s small. She’s very small More


The Dots

In Practice, Production on September 14, 2012 at 2:43 pm

There’s no answer.

A part of me is sure this is the place. I directed us here from the passenger seat without hesitation, once we figured out how to get off the highway that hadn’t been here last time and took the tiny road up. I remembered it all – that the road bore to the left as it rose and then curved into the lower edge of the mountain village, then another swing left and, soon after, this big brown gate on the right, of stately design in a grand stone wall. A worn crest carved above it.

Behind the wall and to our left a more modern house in bare brickwork confuses me. The old house is hidden from our sight, so another part of me is thrown – the bricks of the “new” house were bare thirty-two years ago when I was last here. Surely it would have been finished – rendered – by now? Could it be the house I knew?

No answer. I begin to doubt myself and we wander uphill to see if I can recognize anything else, and to see if I can find somebody to ask. At the top of the road we meet an ancient woman carrying some logs in a bucket as she emerges from the darkness of her apparently electricity-free house. Surely it can’t be in this day and age? Maybe she’s just thrifty. More

Bears and/or Bean Stew

In Practice, Presentation on September 5, 2012 at 11:02 am

The sun is coming up and has risen high enough to spear a shaft of honey light from right to left, tinting the ridge across the valley along its length like a hot blade, and giving us some idea of the compass points in this mess of mountains.

Three valleys, in fact, are visible from our high vantage point: to our left all three converge on the little town of La Vega, far below us. The ridge is called El Angliru – a long mountain that fills our field of vision. Its upper reaches, the knife’s edge, are stony and serrated – wild highlands. The slopes below, as in the other valleys, are green and cultivated – forested here and there, and elsewhere divided by hedgerows and fences into small fields, some of them on almost sheer gradients.

We watch the moving sunlight play with shadows. It’s silent here except for the bells – down in one of the valleys an unhurried and beguiling melody is chiming out from a church, behind us the closer tinkle of cowbells as some of the locals – butter coloured bovines with big brown eyes – graze.

Tiny little towns are visible on some of the higher slopes. It all looks so picturesque – old houses or barns occupy many of the fields we can see, pocking the ripples of mountainside like crumbs in the folds of a sheet, More

Las Catedrales

In Presentation, Production on August 27, 2012 at 4:34 pm

We leave Cáceres at midday, having climbed up the cathedral’s bell tower and down into an old aljibe, or water cistern, left here by the Arabs and drive over some hard, hard country, Extremadura explaining its name to us as we pass through it. One wonders whether anything here is ever green – at any time of year – but certainly not now in high summer.

They say Ireland is like a wet sponge clinging to a rock. I say they – it was probably me. Well, this is like a baked crust. The ground is strewn with sizeable boulders and partitioned by dry stone walls. The kind of skies you only see in big country – multiple categories of cloud wisp into the distances.

I can’t resist – I put some flamenco on, reminded here of my earliest notion of Spain, born not of my first visit but long before that, of a painting my father owned that depicted a señorita standing next to a table in some makeshift tavern, her stance that of a bailaora, the hem of her dress caked in mud and dust. The impression I had was of a people who lived without finery but not without style, and for all the talk of Spain’s homogenization, for all the “we’re all Europeans now” chatter – as if being the same was a good thing – I think I can still see it. More

El Camino

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

Loss, and Recovery

In Plenary on August 2, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I’ve had it. Can’t honestly be bothered making the effort anymore. Why, if it doesn’t get you anywhere? You try and build a life, placing each brick on top of the other so carefully – or each card, if we’re honest – and striving to stay strong. Ignoring the wind, telling yourself it won’t get you. Neither that nor the lightning.

Telling yourself that what you build you build to last.

But it’s hopeless. Hopeless. All we are is fluff on the breeze, surrounded by forces so much more powerful than we are. Disdained by the universe we inhabit, we float about blown this way and that, always on the lookout for the illusion that we can exercise just a little, just the tiniest occasional bit, of control.

That we can carve something out for ourselves. Act. Affect. Create. But we can’t even move; we are dust particles. It’s the world that moves around us, going about its impervious business. And the blur as it moves over us, infusing our senses with the fantasy, the seduction, the notion that we’re on our way. Somewhere between A and B. That there is a B. That there may be a Z.

But there is only A.

Atrophy, anguish, aloneness. More

Las Curvas

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

Holiday in Unescoland

In Plenary, Production on July 12, 2012 at 10:41 am

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a story about a visit we made with K’s parents to a sherry bodega in Jerez. It was an enjoyable but in some respects frustrating experience, mainly because it did not culminate – as I had hoped it might – with a sampling of the wine I went there for; the beautiful Apostoles, an aged Palo Cortado with a twist of the Pedro Ximénez  grape.

I’m not sure how effectively I depicted the pleasure of the visit, but it would seem that I did do a fairly good job of conveying my frustration, because barely a week later what should arrive in the post but a gift-wrapped bottle of the aforementioned wine.

No, not a PR exercise courtesy of the bodega (wake up, bodega people), but a very thoughtful and kind gesture by a regular reader here who had enjoyed the story and decided that, to hell with it, I would have my sherry.

As well as illustrating a reassuring human decency (God bless the aul’ gene pool) it did rather bring home the awesome power of the electrical interweb.

I wanted the wine; I said so on my computertelly; I got the wine.

Awesome. More

El Laurel

In Plenary, Production on July 2, 2012 at 10:16 am

The bright green of back-lit bay leaves on the laurel tree beneath the window. The uppermost branches and the sweetest new growth. The blue of the sky beyond them as they sway in the sunlight.

We didn’t know it was a laurel tree until an old man walked by one day with his granddaughter’s hand in his and asked if we’d cut him a sprig. I watch it now, rocking back and forth in the breeze before I get out of bed in the morning. The little quadrilateral of framed world I can see from the pillow; two elements – blue and green – somehow managing to exemplify our reasons for being here.

She might have been his great granddaughter; she was tiny and he was ancient.

Tomorrow it will be July. Summer makes me nervous; if you aren’t devouring the wonderful world, up to your chin in effervescing life during the brilliant season – in and out of the water, in and out of the blazing heat, floating on expanses of free time, drifting happily in the reverie of heat daze – you probably have an attitude problem.

Next to the laurel tree, the lemon tree. A few ripe fruits and more to come. More

Palo Cortado

In Production on June 21, 2012 at 12:45 pm

I have to get right down to the ground to take a picture of the ladder because it’s only four inches tall. My elbows get a bit mucky on the floor and people are staring, but I want the shot.

“Wait a minute”, I hear you ask yourself. “That doesn’t sound like a terribly effective ladder.”

“Normally, people need to bend down to reach things at the four inch level and when it comes to bending down, ladders are generally considered unfit for purpose.”

“Such a ladder”, I hear you continue “would appear to have been built to address a problem that does not exist.”

But you’d be wrong.

It isn’t all about you, you know. It isn’t even, I’m told, all about me.

And it isn’t a toy ladder either. Nor is it a model; it’s a real ladder and it’s used on a daily basis.

Nightly, in fact.

We’re back in Jerez and we’re taking a tour of one of its numerous sherry bodegas. It’s June and the bodegas More