Las Instantáneas

In Presentation, Uncategorized on June 2, 2014 at 8:42 am

Las Instantáneas

“The man is out there again”.

She means the man who walks his dogs behind our house each day, in the morning or early afternoon. She has told me about him on a number of occasions but for whatever reason I only saw him myself for the first time a few days ago. I stand on the patio bench and peer through the grille of the upper wall. Two leads for two small dogs who trot along peaceably, pausing here and there, as dogs do, to sniff or mark a pole, and always, alongside them or just behind and keeping them company all the way with perfect, leash-free discipline, a tabby cat.


A white horse in the long grass that backs the beach. It would take a master to paint the scene above it; the hazy veil of a dirt grey horizon thins low in the sky, revealing a creamy ripple of higher cloud that expands as it arches overhead – little tufts pulled apart like the fibres of a cotton wool roll, white as the animal grazing. When I pass by again, some minutes later, the scene is gone, the clouds stage left as if dragged there by jaded stage hands. The show is over. It rains heavily the following morning and afterwards the horse isn’t even a horse, but a white yacht gleaming in a spot of sunlight against a charcoal waterline.


In the passenger seat on the Avenida José León de Carranza, that becomes Avenida Cayetano del Toro,that becomes Avenida Andalucia: a long, long boulevard that dissects the lego-like neatness of the handsome new city. On either side the apartment buildings – motley yet somehow uniform in their array of olive greens, powder blues, peaches and champagnes, the cleans lines and soft, sun-smeared curves, the hospital, the hotels, the old church – recede in a tree-lined symmetry toward a vanishing point which, when reached, is cobbled, fortified and old; we turn towards the water and drive along it on the Avenida Campo del Sur, dazzled by the golden sparkle of the cathedral dome, then park and it’s into the warren, the casco antiguo, unique in Spain and the world. A Salzburg with palm trees, a Prague where parrot-like tropicals flit from tree to tree in the teaming canopies that cover sultry hot squares.


There’s a soft roar to the blue burn of the quemada, bright in a blacked-out room as it sweeps around the curved inside of a little cauldron, driven inward as it shoots out and upward – a closed tulip of gentian fire: electric, fluid and fast. And through the sapphire blaze a ladle swings and scoops in circles and figures of eight, unsettling almonds and orange peel and now and then lifted to pour blue fire from a height. The gallega that wields it sings some old gallego song, and if I listened hard enough I might understand the words. But I don’t; there is no effort – I am lulled and slow and easy, and there is just the melody and the flame.


At the bus stop on the busy port road in Algeciras, waiting to go home, I see him emerge from an underpass on the other side. A face I’m familiar with from the bar behind me: one of the local boys – men of a certain age who gathered there for dominoes and banter when the old dueños still ran the place. He’s dressed for exercise – some tight sports shorts and running shoes – but he looks a little awkward with it, his grey socks pulled up on his legs in the way you don’t see much anymore, especially with trainers, and a body warmer on that calls into question his commitment to breaking a sweat on this fresh but fairly mild evening. His hair is long but he’s bald on top and looks self-conscious – I think I see him glance across a couple of times to check that I’m not looking, and I feel a little bad for him – unlikely in his gear and clearly feeling uncomfortable. After a few seconds of having my attention distracted by the traffic, my eyes rest on him once again now that he’s walked on a bit and up towards the coast on the pedestrian path that turns that way at the roundabout and, now that he’s away from prying eyes on the main road I see him break into his run, and there’s just something about it. Something uplifting. There he goes – fighting it off, not going gentle into that good night, and although I might claim to wear my socks with a little more aplomb, that makes him the same as me. I want to pat him on the back. Tell him “well done”.


In the castle, a princess. Out on the water at the end of a causeway – a manmade isthmus that pokes out from a city built on a natural one, the end of it fortified, like most things on this coast. A novelty for us to be on the water and not battered by tarifeño winds. The city skyline low and pixelated with roof terraces and the towers the merchants put on top of their houses. Only the churches and some port paraphernalia poke upwards. The little girl in her brilliant white dress poses happily in an archway while her family photograph her and we stand to the side, waiting.


E is madrileño. He’s only been in Tarifa for three months, but the work is coming in. He writes slowly and laboriously as I watch –  “But morning overtook Shahrazad, and she lapsed into silence”. The moment, as each of a thousand dawns approached, when the vizier’s daughter faced her own end and escaped it. The rising sun a perfect expression of her power and powerlessness, a suspended moment of hope and resignation, the breath of the narrator, in and out. A punctuation of life and death in the telling of tales. No better story than this story of a storyteller, and so I watch happily as E gives the moment some permanency in fluid Thuluth script, writing it slowly and with great care in jet black ink with a needle, on my arm.

  1. Lovely snapshots, all. Tattoos, however, never happened unless there’s photographic evidence ….. 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: