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 later on when I subjected J, the landlord at our local bar, to the whole thing. I think I may also have told it to a customer or two; my memory is a little hazy this morning.
Incredible – the depth of feeling and sense of loss a brat on four legs can engender. K is unwilling to let her out again until we’ve taken measures – she’s talking collars and mugshots. Gps has been mentioned. You can get that now for cats, apparently.
Anyway, instead of El Puerto de Santa Maria I’m down on the alameda trying to flog my art and photography. It’s my third time and business is slow, as Tarifa’s high season has not yet begun. At least, I hope that’s why business is slow. It’s good though to spend time in a place I usually walk through – actually rather a beautiful alameda, lined with palm trees that shade its terrace of white town houses, separated here and there by stretches of the old town walls. At one end a raised square and the brutal – yet somehow sympathetic – white cube of the theatre. At the other, the port and ferry terminal with a backdrop of African coastline.
Tarifa’s pricier restaurants line up here to entice passing trade, of which there isn’t much today. I busy myself with the netbook and thank the odd passerby for their complements, reflecting privately that I would prefer their money. It’s a grey but balmy day, no wind, and the humidity is high. There’s a guy further up who sells beaded wristbands and he told me that last summer, his first, went well for him. There always seems to be someone at his stall. No point in my being envious though – I don’t make beachy costume jewellery, I make odd pictures. I imagine my customers will also be odd. I hope there are a lot of odd people in Tarifa this year.
We’d seen the writing on the wall with Lily – she’s definitely a bit odd, a bit wild in the eye and scatty in her conduct. We’ve been nervous since we started letting her out and she has seemed pretty nervous herself. Sure enough, the inevitable happened. We shouldn’t be surprised – we picked her up at Lidl, where she was slowly starving to death in the car park so not only was she stray and malnourished – she came from the bargain bin. Not a classy animal, and though we have thoroughly bonded with her, she has been a complicated presence in our lives.
And will probably continue to be, or at least we hope so. Better that than the awful absence we felt yesterday. We’ll do what we can with a collar but she won’t be kept in the house – she’s determined to get out there and explore the big world that makes her brave and frightened at the same time, going a bit further each time, taking another risk each time. It’s in her odd, scatty nature.
And there’s the analogy – for all my anxiety down on the alameda, for all my worrying about sales and about how this first season will go, I am exactly where I need to be right now. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to sit there on my little stool, tapping away on the netbook writing unclassifiable, odd fiction or reading a book, displaying my wares to the world. That it’s to a largely indifferent world I can deal with – the world at large has often been indifferent to good work, so I like the company I’m in. I’m happy that this is in my nature.
It was nervy, coming down here for the first time, I don’t mind telling you. I’d never done anything like it before. The feeling of satisfaction is still tied up in a knotted stomach. It’s early days though; we’ll have to see what happens –I’m out on a limb and out of my comfort zone and, to repeat myself, that is where I should be. In a way it makes me feel more rooted in this place, more anchored for all the uncertainty.
A part of the fabric of the town, taking risks in public and waiting for the pay-off – appreciation of my efforts, money, a glass of good sherry in a particular bar in El Puerto de Santa Maria I must wait a little longer to see the inside of.
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