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Archive for the ‘Plenary’ Category

El Nabo

In Plenary, Production on November 8, 2013 at 10:21 am

El Nabo

“No puedo vestirme bien,” I complain to L, who employs me.

She laughs.

In Tarifa the year has made its mind up: it’s autumn now, the mornings fresh and dim despite the clock change, the evenings dark and every few days or so what I now, after a few years of Andalusian acclimatising, call cold.

In Algeciras it’s a different story – the unseasonably late summer lingers on without consistency; yesterday it was fresh enough but today it’s just plain hot. Because I live in Tarifa I’ve come to work in a warm top that I regret the minute I step off the bus. Nineteen kilometres separate the two towns but there’s the small matter of a mountain in between and the temperature differential ranges between noticeable and shocking. Catches me out every time.

It’s particularly maddening at this time of year. I know I will have issues in my little classroom today. Gender issues. I will flick on the aircon to get the room comfortable and when the kids arrive, the debate will begin. Girls vs boys and me.

“Que frio!” M will exclaim, crossing her hands to rub her upper arms theatrically.

“Maestro!” P will chime in, her face a picture of suffering.

Never mind that both of them are basically wearing beachwear to school. The boys and I will look at each other as we always do, like sulking puppies. More

El Reloj

In Plenary on October 31, 2013 at 11:43 am

El Reloj

Suddenly it’s dark when I finish work and as I walk through El Cobre, the neighborhood reveals a little of its nocturnal self. The change in the time, abrupt and artificial, appears to have a very real effect – there are people around now as I go on my way that I’ve never seen before, stepping out of alleyways and hanging around in doorways. Of course, they were there all along; it’s my routine that’s been shifted forward, into the darkness – mine and anyone else who works, or who has any reason to be in a particular place at a particular time. Most of the new faces are lined; the older generation around here, having no such obligations, live the way their grandparents would have – by the sun.

The change of hours provides a glimpse of our own artifice – the gridwork of language and number that we graft onto the world. Twice a year, a little slip between clock time and real time, a tiny tremor along the fault line that runs between the two and we have an hour stolen from us, or we get this extra one that jars at first before settling in.

The gable wall of a crumbling old house glows green, bathed in the light of the pharmacy cross; I think it is green, and wonder why I’ve never noticed in the daytime, till it flickers. Further up toward the main road more flashes of light against a wall, this time emanating in horror movie fits and starts from a welder’s workshop, frankenstein sparks flying and filling the night outside with the visual rhythms of an electrical storm. More

El Ángel

In Plenary, Presentation on October 23, 2013 at 7:58 am

El Ángel

On the roof at number eight again, a pale sun trying to burn through the thin layer of cloud overhead. I could be in the country here, in some crooked little pueblo, for all the city noise I can hear – which is to say, none. Red tiles and whitewashed walls, palms, ferns and potted plants – my visual field is a crowd of Andalusian tropes – but this place is different, has always managed to be different. Something in its proportions, in the shape of the slender carmens and villas that rise from the ramshackle roofscape, the better to build the miradors and terraces from which people have looked across at the opposite hill for centuries.

The horseshoe arches and heavy wooden doorways and window frames: there is something more distinctly Berber here than anywhere else on the peninsula. Something Arab. Something African. K has walked down to the frenetic city below where we were last night, almost intimidated by its busyness, its overflowing bars and bodegas, to shop. I’ll follow her down there soon; it’s only a five minute walk through the stepped and cobbled, car-free streets of the old town.

It isn’t completely silent; as I down the first coffee of the day and look up at the Alcazaba, I recognise a few notes of “New York, New York” as it wafts over from a house upslope behind me. It’s soft and welcome and entirely typical of the place. I can’t remember being here, in fact, and not being able to hear music, if only in the distance.  It always seems to be good music too: when it isn’t flamenco it’s jazz, or swing, or an old Billie Holliday number More

Las Jaulas

In Plenary, Presentation on October 17, 2013 at 6:44 am

Las Jaulas

The neighbourhood between the academia, where I’ve just finished work, and the bus stop where I wait each day for a ride back to Tarifa, is anything but picturesque. It has precisely nothing of the rustic charm that draws visitors to Andalucia, except perhaps an authentic dash of the chaotic, permission-free approach to town planning that created the medinas and pueblos blancos in the middle ages and continues to bash out the odd barrio today.

The pavements are in the kind of condition that could keep a thousand solicitors in work were this an anglo-saxon country, and that’s where there are pavements. There’s a chemist, a stationer, a few bars and a small family-run supermarket and butcher. I take a street that leads uphill toward the main road and the bus stop and pass a kindergarten and a kitchen showroom, opposite a hostal that advertises beds and showers. You’d have to wonder who would find their way to a hostal in a neighbourhood like this. The kind of person who requires assurance that it contains showers, I suppose.

It’s a quiet time of day – just a few people here and there sitting on the kerb or on their doorsteps – but there is the repetitive clanging of someone at work. As I walk toward a white van parked up on the left the noise gets louder – I can’t see the source because the back doors are open and blocking my view but I do notice a large pile of dung behind it. I’m pretty sure it’s horse dung; it has that grassy texture to it and also, standing above it and tended by a tiny but cocky looking young boy, is a horse. More

El Consumismo

In Plenary, Presentation on October 4, 2013 at 7:18 am

El Consumismo

K is throwing a few things into an overnight bag and I’m on the other side of the bed pretending to do the same, although really I’m just hanging around.

“Explain to me exactly what you mean,” she says, coiling the flex around some kind of hair tool, “by lunch.”

A doozer of a question. Not for the first time, I take a good long look at my fiancée.

“Something to eat,” I reply – an uncertain, questioning inflection finding its way into my voice, “in the middle of the day.”

She’s brushed past me and is gathering up small bottles and vials in the bathroom. No response.

“A light meal,” I call after her, “in the early afternoon?”

She returns with a bag of cosmetics and a faceful of scorn.

“I know what lunch is, you moron. I meant what did you have in mind?”

Once again she has me on the back foot. I hadn’t thought the suggestion a controversial one.

“I, eh, didn’t…I don’t really…” I drop the pair of boxing shorts I’ve been fidgeting with into my little case, “I just thought we’d…you know…we might…eat something.”

“In La Cañada?”

We’re off to Marbella for the night More

El Incendio

In Plenary, Uncategorized on September 20, 2013 at 8:11 am

El Incendio

Filthy smoke obscures the coastline as I pass through Pelayo, Spain’s wettest village they say and the last stop before I get off the bus for work. It’s a mountain village above Algeciras, surrounded by beautiful Parque Natural – pines and cork oaks and rocky arroyos that spill down towards the sea. From Pelayo you can see both pillars of Hercules, one on either side of the Strait, or you can when the humid little pueblo isn’t shrouded in mist, which is most of the time.

Today though the fog has been replaced by the skyward plumes of dirty smoke on an otherwise clear day. Another long, dry summer is coming to an end and the crackling, brittle ground is burning. The brown cloud is drifting toward Getares, a suburb of the port, rising from a line of fire on the hills closest to the coast, maybe a kilometre from the road. Southern Spain is accustomed to wildfire and the authorities do not fuck around – the sky is loud and busy with helicopters that to and fro from a flooded quarry closer to town, huge and heavy water bags swinging from their bellies.

It’s quite something to see how much water those things hold – they release it slowly rather than all at once, making wet contrails for some distance before the bag is spent and the helicopter returns to the quarry. On the one hand, the quick and thorough response of the emergency services is testament to human ingenuity; how clever and conscientious we are, with our airborne water-carriers and our fire engines, our busy heroes working hard to save the day! More

Los Picos

In Plenary, Practice on August 28, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Los Picos

It isn’t the views that make me nervous. We awoke this morning to mist and now we’ve driven up into it on one of the winding highroads that wend their way through the Picos. The mist is grey and wet. So is the road. No, it’s the invisibility of the valley, far below the roadside on my left, that induces vertigo. It’s cold too – we’re nearing the sixteen-hundred metre mark and the sunless gloom is chilly. I’m preparing myself for heartbreak; I’ve been waiting for this hike for many months but it’s really about the views. Apart from the obvious danger of trying it in these conditions, it would be pointless.

I haven’t brought a jacket and it’s wet out there. I curse myself and my breathtaking stupidity. We’re not quite at the point of giving up and turning around, although I’ve suggested it a couple of times, clinging instead to the hope that the summer sun will start to burn the cloud off by late morning. When we finally reach the little right-hand turn we’ve been looking for, no such luck. K is trying to shake me out of my black mood and suggests we descend to the next village for a coffee to give the weather some more time to improve.

It illustrates a striking oddity of mountain weather that when we get to the village – a ten minute drive  – it is sunny, bright and warm. We are encouraged and sit with our coffee for half an hour before heading back up. Still no luck – we drive right back into the murk and park the car at the end of the unmarked little road. The beginning of the route is also unmarked so we have no idea where to go. More

Los Lugares

In Plenary, Presentation on August 6, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Los Lugares

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

La Gratitud

In Plenary, Production on July 13, 2013 at 8:49 am

La Gratitud

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

Spaghetti

In Plenary, Presentation on January 28, 2013 at 8:27 pm

spaghetti

“I’m not a conservative person, am I?” I ask K.

“Ha!”

We’re sitting in a wood panelled taberna in Madrid, towards the end of the evening. Full of tapas and perhaps a little tipsy, we haven’t ordered anything here, content to sit side by side with a glass of wine each and fill up on all the antique eye candy around us – the (inevitable) bulls’ heads, the little sign that announces the availability of snails, the dusty old bottles of sherry, the elegant, marble-topped tables.

What I thought then: not conservative. As a matter of fact I hold views which positively annoy conservatives. Actually, I consider annoying conservative types one of life’s great pleasures. More than that perhaps – a duty. It would be no surprise to run into conservatism here, given the decor, but actually the other customers look rather bohemian. We’ve been in Madrid for less than a week and we’ve seen the inside of a lot of bars.

Many, many bars.

Apart from the fact that I probably would have done that anyway, I’ve been researching for a story I want to do on the city and its tapas. K hasn’t voiced any objection to joining me, so here we are in Bar Umpteen. More