In Plenary, Production, Uncategorized on August 3, 2014 at 5:59 pm
It’s bright and on the inside of my sunglasses, the lenses are dappled with droplets of sweat. I am running away from the island I have shared with you, on the straight causeway that connects it to the coast: a brilliant, broiling Atlantic void on my left and the great, grand Strait on my right – that tuna-stuffed Styx, the dazzling blue Rubicon that made this, to the ancients, the ultimate dividing line: the edge of the world, the coast of everything.
Tarifa wobbles in the drops – little playa chica and its No Shitting sign, the tuna sculpture, the ludicrous but likeable outline of Santa Catalina, a derelict mansion. I flick my head to dislodge the drops and get a better view. It’s all still here, in all its glare and glory – the ocean, the hills behind the town, the pink dome of the St Mateo church. The castle and the modern port with its rotating ferries, the tumbling roofs of the old town, the schools and the fish factory and the holiday lets further up the beach. The cargo ships that clutter up the sea lanes and the huge dune at Valdevaqueros where the kite surfers congregate.
I’ve done a couple of kilometres and I’ll give it another couple. Then I’ll go home. I’m running so that I might stay alive a little longer and live a little better while I’m at it. Keep the blood pumping and the pump strong. I’m running so that I can write, running to get endorphins flowing and synapses firing. More
In Practice, Production on May 8, 2014 at 7:47 am
Trundling toward Seville with a bootful of booty – a creamy blue cheese from Galicia, a jar of blue cheese cream from Asturias, a jar of apple jam, a jar of orange jelly, a jar of strawberry jam, a jar of quince and orange paste, a jar of quince and lemon paste, a jar of chilli chutney and a small bottle of nispero liqueur, the maker of which didn’t so much recommend to us as warn us about. Two bottles of hand-picked olives in deep brine and three bottles of Extremaduran wine, a fridge magnet, two porcelain beer mugs and, wrapped up carefully in a straw hat, the most delicate cargo of all: six eggs from the finca we’ve just left and the chickens we’ve just waved goodbye to. Now all we have to do is get them home, just over four hundred kilometres away.
The project does not have an auspicious beginning; after just a few minutes we drive through a small town so sleepy and rural that even the main street is cobbled. Mis huevos, I complain as the car rattles through. We stop afterwards, outside a mammoth industrial complex of some kind that caught my eye on the way here yesterday – four huge silos and more at the other end next to a concrete dome the size of a small moon. At least half a kilometre in length, the plant consists of enormous pipes and ramps, a thousand stairwells, chutes and chimneys in all sizes and the constant noise of process. More
In Plenary, Production on April 4, 2014 at 9:30 am
Until the Arabs came, this was the end of the world. Everything to the west was monsters and mystery; everything to the south was sultry, secretive and uncivilised. To the Syrians and their Berber hordes it became a new frontier, and a potential route to the domination of Europe, but until that moment, for the people they were about to conquer, it was the edge of the known. For some it still is of course – Europeans are in plentiful supply who would willingly go no further.
Sitting on a bus and looking at the back of someone’s head can be a bracing business; we never see the back of our own heads and it’s probably just as well – this evening’s guy has hair cropped short with salt and pepper flecks and a line of imperfections along the rim of his ear (spots or old wounds of some sort) that he continually rubs and picks at. He has a way of sneezing that makes me wince even though he’s doing it in the opposite direction: a series of near silent convulsions after which he checks his hands, his jacket and the window for mucous. My hand’s been resting on the miserly ledge at the bottom of my window and just behind his seat; I pull it back a little and breath as shallowly as I can, impatient to get off and suddenly conscious that a blemish at the back of my own ear may be disgusting someone at this very moment, grey hairs involuntarily counted, greasy collar disapproved of. More
In Presentation, Production on March 14, 2014 at 8:47 am
Very few of you, I imagine, will have enjoyed the depth of understanding, clarity of judgement or richness of insight that K and I have been enjoying recently with regard to the questions and quandaries of global geopolitics. Perhaps as few as none of you will have been able to appreciate, as we have, the fine balances and convolutions, the real dilemmas and delicate considerations that George W Bush, for example, along with his now legendary team of peace enthusiasts – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Powell – will have had to grapple with in their relentless pursuit of justice in the Middle East.
The precision that will have had to accompany Bill Clinton’s more famous compassion as he weighed up the countless (and often contradictory) criteria for going into, or not going into, or going into and then pulling out of, a Kosovo descending into deadly chaos. The teetering structures and the slip-slide systems that threaten constantly to tumble on the turn of a card.
A card in a house of cards. The often split-second timing with which the great players must make their calls and live with the consequences: Franklin D Roosevelt, the Federal Reserve and the war in Europe, Saddam Hussein and his attempted liberation of Kuwait, Margaret Thatcher’s critical response to the Falkland crisis, without which the world would be so very different today – what all of these leaders had in common of course was an unwavering regard for the well-being of the people their decisions affected. More
In Practice, Production on February 12, 2014 at 12:01 pm
In February, with a messy sky diffusing the dawn light, the horizontals of the beach are toothpaste stripes; the water’s blue is deep and cool and the powder that whips across the surface of the sand makes it flutter brightly. As the liners head out onto the ocean and the whitewater flashes its thousand teeth, the day looks like it tastes of mint.
I turn left, not right as I usually do, so instead of making my way through the long grasses of the bird sanctuary, I walk south along this very last bit of Spain’s Atlantic coast, towards the island. The morning is bright and blustery. The winds were strong overnight and the little square where the promenade widens out is an apocalyptic scene; see-saws and rowing machines poke out of the sand like relics of a former time.
The beachside bar that overcharges us for wine whenever we’re absent-minded enough to end up there won’t be overcharging anyone tonight – the makeshift roof of corrugated iron that covers its terrace has collapsed. A new chiringuito, not yet built but present in the form of the steel girders that have been driven deep into the sand to support it, sits next to the causeway. Its customers will enjoy enviable views – of the island itself, and the lighthouse and the Tangier coastline – and I imagine they’ll pay for them in pricey wine, but for anyone who chooses not to be one of its customers, it will be a carbuncle. More
In Plenary, Production on January 17, 2014 at 12:25 pm
The lady who runs the little shop across the street where I go in the early morning for coffee and bread – a nice lady who always asks after our two cats, referring to them as ‘los niños’ – has refused to look at me for weeks. Everybody else is doing double takes: the bus driver, the French waiter in the bar where I write each day, even people in the street.
K was horrified at first. Then she let a couple of complimentary remarks slip out – pretty lips, apparently – and now she tells me she will not be offering further comment for fear that, as a consequence of my rather twisted psychology, any feedback at all from her, whether positive or negative, would only encourage me. She’s right – it would. The problem for her is that her silence does too.
So, I persevere. It’s day twenty-something now and I’ve stopped counting. More time than usual has been spent in front of mirrors as I watch my face, myself, become untidier. Even untidier, K would say. Overgrown, like a garden gone to seed. It isn’t happening quickly – I’m like one of those mid-table European economies at the moment in that there is growth, but it is slow. Development is patchy. Results inconclusive.
That’s if it is development. Maybe it’s deterioration. Entropy. I have, after all, reached an age where change may well be a positive thing, but then again maybe not. Whatever it is, it took a journey to get it started More
In Production on December 6, 2013 at 9:28 am
The other day, I had a slice of bread and butter. It was very nice.
Quite a week!
It was an especially nice slice of bread and butter because K made the bread. That’s right: Casa Alotofwind has acquired bread capabilities. A major breakthrough, and not for want of trying – we’ve both been at it for years. We’ve basically been the Iran of bread making.
K has been the front runner from the get go; the results of her attempts have been consistently better than mine. Less ‘bricky’ somehow. Less evocative of the construction sector, if you will. Mine we have regularly not even bothered to eat. Bakery in general has always been her department, as is anything that requires any degree of precision or self-control.
When I say that her bread has been better than mine I should add, in the interests of transparency and candour, that the difference has not been a marked one. Neither of us ever produced a loaf that had the necessary vim to peep over the top of its tin till this week. To be honest, given that we didn’t even eat my efforts, they might actually be described as better, in that sense. Not that the bread was better but, you know, the outcome.
With K’s we ploughed ahead. Whether this was down to their (slightly) superior appearance or whether it was a personality type thing, fuelled by a fear of saying no to her, I couldn’t possibly say. More
In Production on November 22, 2013 at 7:50 am
Up in the scrub of the bird sanctuary, the little wooden bridge has been listing for a couple of years and now wobbles, worryingly, over a whorl of fish in the river below it – a great tumult of watery life, the odd flash of silver belly glints in the writhing green murk.
Out over the Atlantic it’s getting brighter and the clouds have dipped beneath the full moon, cupping it as they fan outwards and upwards in either direction like a jewelled insignia. On the opposite horizon the sun hangs low like a hunter, its light predatory on the long, back lit grass as night flees.
Straight down the slatted walkway, its tip not quite clear of the black Rif mountains, the lighthouse on the island blinks. I’m sweating under my hat and warm jacket and I pick up the pace, on my way back to the first coffee of the day.
Later, up where the bus pulls out of town, opposite Lidl and arranged around the roundabout, a clutter of tattered hoardings hawk property for sale or rent. One of them has been there since I arrived three years ago and features an artist’s impression of a development that has never been built. The ground around them is strewn with rubble and litter and behind them the concrete training tower for the fire service seems to list a little itself. All in all it’s the ugliest little corner of town but you can still see the Strait and Morocco from here and a young man in a baseball cap and a leather jacket has chosen this spot to find Mecca; he’s up on the verge, prostrate in prayer. More
In Plenary, Production on November 8, 2013 at 10:21 am
“No puedo vestirme bien,” I complain to L, who employs me.
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
In Practice, Production on September 13, 2013 at 8:04 am
For protection from the brutal winds that blast the hills around Tarifa, the little homesteads that stud the slopes are invariably planted with something to surround them and take the brunt – some tall, bamboo-like grasses or a bank of prickly pear cactus. This evening these peripheries glow golden in the setting sun and so does the surrounding country as it descends from the high road to the shore below. I look down on it all from the bus window.
On the African coast Jebel Musa, Hercules’ southern pillar, peeks out from the murk of a marine layer and a few paltry tufts of cloud drift across the summit. Over Spanish soil the clouds are just as small and disparate but dirtier, full of rain. Above all that the sky is the tired blue of an ageing day. A lone vulture circles on this side of the strait – side to side and up and down through all the elements of the view, owning all of them. As it banks the sun catches its wings.
I’m on the bus because I’m back at work after a long and humid summer, but for all the mundane humdrummery of another working year, it does deliver this daily gift – the descent into the little pueblo that sits at Europe’s southernmost point, warmly lit by a yawning, westbound sun.
The winding mountain road straightens out as it slides toward the town and the vistas open up: the gleaming, endless Atlantic to my right, the Strait and Mediterranean to my left, Morocco dead ahead More