In Practice on June 17, 2015 at 11:38 am
“We got a new doorbell,” says P.
“Did I tell you?”
My fork stops dead in the air, half way to my mouth. It’s the best opening line I’ve heard in a while.
“No, Mum,” I reply. “You didn’t.”
She embarks on an account of it, describing the melody (which I’ve forgotten) and telling me how nice it is to have a doorbell that plays a tune. It makes her smile, she says, whenever someone calls. I do wonder about the caller though. Are they smiling? There is no doubt in my mind that my brother, who pops in to see them every week, will be appalled. She doesn’t seem to have thought about my feelings either, about the difficult position this places me in – to be a person whose mother has a doorbell that plays a tune. This on top of the clock in their living room that plays a tune. I can’t remember that one either – I think I’ve blanked it out – but there’s no escaping it when, on the turning of the hour, the clock face splits in two and each half does a three sixty rotation, slipping back into place on the final note.
It’s all a bit much. What if someone were to call at a minute past one, and the clock was still going off as she answered the door? Have they thought about that? Aural mayhem. I can imagine any visitor taking a step backwards, my brother included – it’s the kind of thing that would make even family think twice about going in. Read the rest of this entry »
In Plenary on April 1, 2015 at 9:50 am
In Plaza Mina, any little irregularity in the promenades cups a vestige of the water that a rising sun will soon suck up. Smoother surfaces are smeared with a fine film of it, in sweeps and swathes as if somebody has been at them with a mop.
It hasn’t rained. The place has been hosed down by the orange clad operatives of the municipality – nocturnals that keep it clean, locked into tit-for-tat with the diurnals that dirty it.
We stroll beneath a miscellany of species – Date Palms and Banana Trees, Bunyas, Peruvian Peppers, Yucas, Cabbage Trees, Elms and Screwpines – and above us the upper branches, of the palms especially, squawk with the raucous birdsong of monk parakeets: bright green birds that delight the eyes and terrorize their fellow avians. From top to bottom – from the airborne exotics to the wrought iron grille of the benches and the monstrous roots of a Moreton Bay fig tree – the square is testimony. A story is told in the light that filters through the potpourri of plant breeds and dapples the stone paseos, the tables on their terraces, the old kiosk. It speaks of a great, enriching influx from a New World, of plants and parakeets and money.
In the grid of the old town, away from the squares, the x of each intersection is replicated on the vertical axis and the eye as it looks down any street is presented with the same symmetry More
In Plenary, Presentation on November 17, 2014 at 11:08 am
Like all drunks, we wake up laughing.
Then we lie there for a long time, not moving.
“I don’t want to move,” says K. “I’ll find out how drunk I still am.”
The day presents us with its first demand. It requires a decision of us – breakfast in or out. Out will mean more movement and negotiation of human affairs than can currently be imagined. In will involve twenty-four quid.
“It can’t possibly be twelve per person,” I say. “For bloody breakfast. Have you checked?”
We’re both looking at the ceiling. It isn’t interesting but it’s reassuringly plain and white and motionless. Anything else I look at has a tendency to slip and slide in an alarming way.
“Yes, I’ve checked,” says K. “It’s twelve per person.”
“Ridiculous. We’ll go out for a tostada.”
We don’t, of course. Preparing to haul myself out of bed, I lean over to kiss her but she turns away.
“It’s not you,” she says. “It’s my own stench. I can still taste the papas alioli.” More
In Presentation, Uncategorized on June 2, 2014 at 8:42 am
“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. 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, Presentation on April 24, 2014 at 9:41 am
In Tangier, a body in a blanket: borne through the souk at shoulder height, a brisk pace and accompanied by boisterous call and response. Later, from our room, the sound of women’s chant in some adjacent house and of their ululating – whether in mourning or in celebration of come unconnected event I do not know.
We eat in the courtyard of the women’s charity and amble afterwards around now familiar shops. I buy incense and K lamps, and a wet, grey day opens up into sunshine. They call it the white city but there’s a good deal of clutter in the colour and a good dose of yellow and brown, as if the city were an ageing photo of itself, sunk into a geriatric tint and turned sepia.
It’s good to be back; we’ve been down the coast a little, in Asilah, a resort town with Portuguese and Spanish history and a beautifully maintained medina, although I suppose it could be accused of being a little sanitised – certainly so in comparison with its crumbling counterpart in Tangier. We’ve spent a pleasant couple of days there in what is essentially a typical seaside town but with added Moroccan intrigue.
Sitting outside the old walls with two tall mint teas, for instance, at around eight in the evening, the quintessential seaside promenade; it seemed the whole place was out. More
In Presentation on April 10, 2014 at 8:58 am
The feathery touch of the late sun against worn sandstone blocks, almost physical, like a warm breath.
In a plazuela to the side of the Iglesia San Dionisio, overlooked by a virgen in ceramics, K’s glass of water casting a long shadow and splitting the light into a colour spectrum on the arm of her chair.
The wrought iron doorway of the meson, swung open, and the waitress’ white shirt that catches the sun as she stands there.
To the left of the door, a window covered in iron lattice and behind that, glass panes framed by dark wood.
All of it set into the heavy blocks and all of it softy brilliant in the slanted sun, dappled in the shadows of the orange trees as the last light shines like time itself, animating everything.
Our table, which I thought messy at first and almost avoided till I saw that the others were the same, in fact strewn with fragile white stamen, fallen from the orange blossom overhead. The air sweet with its scent.
Hello again, Jerez.
The little plazuela is three-sided, opening up onto the larger Plaza de la Asunción with its weather-beaten but wonderful old cabildo 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, Presentation on March 4, 2014 at 10:06 am
I have written about Benarrabá before and about the spell it holds over us. Even by pueblo blanco standards, it is tiny, hidden from view at the end of a series of hairpin turns, a kilometre or so from the road that threads along the eastern side of the Genal Valley and ends up in Ronda. A succession of larger pueblos, with names from the days when this was Berber high ground, adorn the road like a string of gleaming worry beads.
Unlike them, it is hard to imagine Benarrabá expanding or modernising. Expansion, in fact, is impossible – the town is draped across a narrow ridge that offers no more space – and any modernisation going on around here is going on in Gaucín, a few kilometres down the road, so this little pueblo of six hundred souls sparkles alone in the green velvet of the valley, isolated on its summit but connected by sight – and the ineffables of culture and history – with other tiny towns, visible in the distance on the other side of the river.
We come in February every time, the Andalucian winter just beginning to lift and the skies wet with heavy raincloud. The topography always seems to punch a few holes in the grey blanket, though, and vertical shafts of sunlight play across the slopes as if painted there by a master; the brilliant sun shines through the murk like a miracle, even as mist envelops the hills above the slanted little settlement that has never failed to enchant. More