Thursday, May 3, 2007

Feast Days

Suspiciously unaffected by jetlag, perhaps due to late nights watching good movies and rambling the streets of Barcelona's Gracia district for the last six nights of my journey, I am now back home, safe, fairly sound, and very well-fed. Barcelona is a wonderful city. I left the mountains on the 25th of April to spend a few nights as a guest at friends of Cesca and Lluís, Matthew and his son Tijiane. They live in a barrio just north of the centre of the city, filled with stained glass apartment buildings from the art deco era, wonderful markets and fresh bread and cheese at practically every corner. I saw much Gaudí, many museums, and walked from morning until night each day through the city. Barcelonians are a lovely, curious sort. The women in the markets call you 'guapa,' as in 'qué más quieres, guapa?' and helped me find just the things I couldn´t leave without. Let the gods that shuffle paper and guard like sphinxes not seize upon my head for the publication of this photo.

Thank you for reading, everyone. It´s been a pleasure to write this series over the last few months. Love to you all.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Farrera, mi amor

I am back again. It's very funny. This time, I was packed up, sitting in the library, playing with the computer at 1pm. My bus was scheduled for 2:45 down in the town of Llavorsí. Twelve rich women from Barcelona were due in two hours, to take the entire centre over for a three day painting workshop. I was gazing out at the lump, which is what I´ve affectionately called the hill opposite--we gaze at one another all day, every day, and I'm absolutely in love with it--when in walked Lluís with a look on his face that made me feel like somebody, somewhere, had done something wrong, and perhaps it was me. Perhaps I had left a stain on the floor of my room. Perhaps the balcony was coming unhinged from my standing on it every afternoon, after a previous evenings of Cesca´s chocolate cake and avocado mousse. But then, 12 Barcelona women magically turned into 10 Barcelona women. He said, "You have the option of returning to your room, your same room, if you like. We would certainly like you to." I took it in very slowly, which may have made him say, "And if you need a reorientation, to say, 'you are still in Farrera, you are not currently on a bus to Barcelona' I can do that as well." I took him up on both offers. So that day, I packed up, they cleaned my room, I unpacked again. It was superb. Now I get to stay as long as I like (until near the end of April) and I am free to admire the lump, read, pace, go for walks and bother cuckoos, and generally fall even more in love. Imagine if the call from the missing women had come two hours later! So fortunate!

Other than that, there are only more nature stories of greening pasture, small flowers in the forest, brimming village fountains and sheep sent down to the crossroads to munch on the high grass in the lowlands while waiting for the summer pastures to climb slowly out of hibernation. I'm writing consistantly, and staying has made sense for the work as well as the heart.

That, and I found out tonight over dinner that the small pool in the river that I found, with a hand carved wooden spout that leads water down its small channel to cascade into the pool like a shower, was made by Cisco, the man I spend a day in the orchard with, learning how to graft fruit trees and, eventually, wild rose bushes with cultivated stock roses. (Whose house is a never ending work of art, a story I told last entry.) It makes perfect sense. Cesca said the pool is their version of going to the beach. Today as I was walking along a path to Alendo, the next village over, I came across one of the ubiquitous black water pipes, sticking out of the ground in the middle of nowhere and streaming water from its mouth. The irrigation complexities here are truly amazing. Beside the pipe, resting in the crook of two rocks, was a water glass, ready for use.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Bordes de Burg

Today I went walking with Cesca and Lluís and Lluís´ brother and Axel, the Finn. We walked up over 1000 feet, to 1800 metres through pine woods, across old fields, through scrub, and into a series of old houses used by Shepherds and before by the children of families who took the livestock up to summer on the pastures higher up in the mountains. The houses are stone, build for summer comfort, with chimneys that have turned the insides shiny black with soot, and barns for the animals at night. They would leave the children up there with the older ones for the whole summer, and they would run down, two together, if someone broke a leg. Beautiful high pastures that you would never know existed from looking up from the town. Then past them, even higher, to a long ago lake, that is now a swamp or a bog that has many frogs in the summer. We walked across the lake to a patch of earth underneath the pines, ate apples and olives and cheese and almonds and jamon, and then flew down the snowy slopes (there was 2 to 3 feet of snow for the last 200 metres or so) by jumping into the drifts. It was beautiful. The view from the top is spectacular, so much more of the actual Pyrenees visible, their shiny snow surfaces gleaming in the sun. I woke up this morning to the first pure clear day in ages, and it was warm enough that we hiked up in t-shirts. The water was running in all the streams. Some of the old barns and cottages are caved in, but some have been redone recently, and are very cozy looking summer protection places. And the light is spectacular. We saw tracks of a bear, skunk, tons of birds, and deer, as well as the ploughed up parts of the pastures where the wild pigs had been digging in the night.

Once down, we were invited into Cisco and La La's house, which is directly above Cesca and Lluís'. He has rosemary fresh drying in the rafters, and each stone from his house has a story, literally. he started pointing them out, telling how this one came from a river near here, this one from Farrera valley, this one when he saw it from his car and pulled over. Cesca told stories of an extremely slow Reneau lugging itself up the hillside one day--of course it was Cisco's, and it was filled with rocks. His stairs are pieces of wood inset into the walls of the house itself by 18 inches, and have no supporting rail on the outside. Very beautiful. The only room that is finished is the bathroom, which looks like a display suite, and was done because his wife kept asking for an indoor toilet. Otherwise, the house is a work of art in progress, and his attention keeps getting diverted by pieces of wood that look like something, and that he must carve into full being with his knife. I swear sometimes this village feels very much like living in the gulf islands. He fed us wine out of a carafe that you tip quickly into your mouth, using a tiny spout, and pour and swallow until you're satisfied (the spout never touching your mouth) and tip it back, quickly, so as not to spill, and pass it on. He fed his cats the remains of the anchovies he was eating for lunch, and refused to come to dinner unless it was at at least 8:30pm. No earlier, please, for any self respecting Catalan. The normal hour, at this time of year, is more like around 9:30.

And now I am back and very tired, and will rest and read in bed. Happy Semana Santa, everyone.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Farrera, de nuevo

I am back in the mountains. Can Serrat was a disaster, and fortunately I kept my head just enough to be able to flee, as fast as I could. I am here until the 14th of April, at which point I'll descend into Barcelona for the last two weeks before I return to the island. It feels both a very long and very short time since I've been home. But in the meeantime, I am very happy to be out of that place and back in La Bastida, with view of fields and sound of river, rather than view of enlarged culvert and sound of freeway. The extra cost is worth the sanity, which is returning.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Farrera, Dusk

I think perhaps that I have never been anywhere that so thoroughly integrates the human and the natural world, and where their seemingly opposing ways of living come to some sort of understanding. Farrera defies history--despite its thousand year ago history as an iron smelting town, which made barren the hillsides--and its present day life is more and more beautiful to me.

Oppen and Anna keep a flock of sheep in the town. Oppen, short for Oppenheimer, was born here, his father a Jewish German refugee from the war. His mother still mourns the fact that, as the smartest of six children, he became a shepherd. He´s very happy. He takes pictures of the water in streams high up in the mountains, way above the village, and will have an exhibition of his work--beautiful, strangely coloured photos of the rocks, currents and air pockets in alpine streams--near Barcelona next month. He brought over his laptop the other night, and showed us a bundle of them. Anna has blue eyes and gazes far into the distance, even when she looks at you. She´s spent a lot of time concentrating on wilderness. It´s the deepest stare I´ve ever seen. They are both coming for dinner tonight, with their 10 year old son, for my final night at the centre.

If the mountains surrounding the village were completely covered in trees, and not partially fields, leading down to the streams, I would not be so aware of the sluicing, rocking topography. There is one set of fields in particular that seems to be caught in the act of a wave--as if a giant glass were waving them around to test their clarity. The terraced fields lead down to lower paddocks for horses, and the grain growing fields, and then the gardens, each villager to his or her plot. Lluís and Cesca´s, our hosts, have "hort" written in bright paint on the fence of theirs. The garlic is a foot high, and daffodils and anenomes are blooming despite the frequent snow. This morning we woke to about three inches, and it all melted by noon in the sun. Everywhere are paths, hundreds of years old, which link the valley´s villages in the old way--with slate and dirt tracks, rather than roads. I walked to Mallolis the other day and found completely different birds, fig trees, a friendly dog (of course) and one young couple. They are the only inhabitants of the village.

So, just as I begin to figure things out (the paths leading upriver, the lost lambs that call from the wrong side of the stream but don´t need saving, the strange pull such a hemmed in, but incredibly coloured winter landscape has for me, I am leaving, tomorrow on the 2:45 bus to the next residency. More time here I think I will need to spend at some point. Deciduous trees which are not in leaf have almost as much colour as those which are. You wouldn´t think it, but it´s true. I can tell the birch by their red tones, the poplar by their golden ones.

The lambs that didn´t need saving were on the far side of Farrera stream, lost from their mothers, who I saw on the village side. Oppen saw me as soon as I left the house, far before I had even glimpsed the lambs, and wondered to himself whether I would try to catch them and bring them home. (I already have a reputation here, from getting behind one ewe at 1:30 in the morning nights before, and pushing her in the direction of her barn, as she had separated from the flock and was munching the grass in the middle of the village. She moved, eventually, and I got to scratch her head while she trotted along.) Of course, I did try. And he had to yell at me to stop, from the other side, where he was watching with his sheep, an hour later. I settled for standing guard to make sure they didn´t run in the wrong direction. Oppen was very amiable about the whole thing, when I walked to meet him that evening in the village. "The one thing you can be sure of in a place like this is that you are seen by someone, somewhere, no matter how alone you feel." Small village life. Twenty people and still there´s always a lookout. I should know. But I had a secret fantasy of showing up with a lamb under each arm, the third trotting behind, having earned my stripes as a shepherd (my secret fantasy profession). I settled for making a long strand of handspun wool from the bits I gathered off rosebushes on the way home.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Canvas in Snow

Em, in ferocious wind, putting down an onsite installation of a painting, in 25 pieces, by Krista, a fellow resident. After chasing squares of canvas up the two feet of snow snowy hill a few times, I finally´"nailed" them down with snow pegs. The piece is a blown-up, pixelated version of a golf course, which is more than a little ironic around here. The picture was taken from the other side of the valley, where Krista was waiting on the balcony with a camera and an orange sweater (to wave, once photos had been taken).

The snow continues to fall and stay, and then melt a little in the hot afternoon sun. I´m going to go for a walk in it now. Tomorrow, they may even let the sheep out of their concrete tanker barn for a while to graze, if this warmth keeps up.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Room with a View

Hello all. A few pictures of where I´ve settled for the next two weeks or so. After taxi, plane, train, subway, metro, bus, taxi, with a stop to buy groceries, 4am til 9pm at night from Cambridge to 7 hours north of Barcelona. I am enveloped at 6000 feet in a slate roofed house, or set of houses, really, with a view across the valley to the unleafed trees, and down to the west to the Pyrenees and an open vista. It´s like Nepal (terraced fields, donkeys, horses running amuk in the road, dialects, sound of water everywhere, but the mountains are just a little shorter.

Hoses sticking out of the ground on the side of the mountains testify to the miracles of irrigation that they´ve performed here. Our hosts, Cesca and Lluís, came here in the 80´s, Spain´s decade for ´back to the land´. They raised two beautiful boys, who are now in their twenties and back for the winter, and rebuilt the ruins of a stone house for themselves, herding sheep in a cooperative before realizing that one herd does not a 8 person coop feed, and turned eventually to renovation of the nearby school, old house and barn for Farrera, Centre d´Art i Natura, which is now a modern, Ikea beauty on the inside, and a traditional, clinging to the side of a mountain, slate house on the outside. I am snug at night under down, and the sun beams in at 6am through the enormous windows.

I´ve been on two walks the first day, one to the hermitage that one of their sons is rebuilding using traditional stonework, which lies across the valley in another town with even fewer inhabitants (we´re talking, perhaps 15 people, as opposed to Farrera, which has 30), and the second down, or up, the road that leads, by four wheel drive, to Andorra. I met a Guardia Civil coming the other direction, or the Andorran equivalent, so even coming up here isn´t completely getting away from it all. I´ll be sure to find a car and try to pass him on a turn, just to make things more interesting. The first spring flowers that come up in Finnerty Gardens are here everywhere--shade loving, green-tinged flowers with hand shaped leaves. I wish I could remember what they were called. Those and early blue violets carpet the snow-flattened grass. One almond tree, which sends its scent everywhere. The rest, poplar and maple, cherry, some beech. None even close to leafing out yet. A sun and wind swept, overwhelming beauty to it. Tomorrow, to work on Perception and such.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Chopin, Sausage & Windows to the English Garden

Though I think to write about every two days, it seems that a month between posts has become the norm, and for the that I am regretful, as so much has happened, and it is impossible to get it down here in any kind of continuous detail.

Let me just start a little. After escaping sheep country, we drove at furious place down to another rented house in Ronda, a hill town about 45 minutes from the Mediterranean, equidistant from Sevilla, Malaga and Cordoba. Green rosemary and asparagus sprigs in the hills, caves, pine, and warm, warm days on the patio followed. Ronda has a bridge with its own species of crow, with orange beaks and feet, that dive amidst the cliffs of the old and the new city, under the bridge and into the caverns of limestone, shrieking in a delightful way. In Cordoba, I found the Sinogoga and bought my very own Menorah, as I have always been so envious of the rest of the family's plethora. Twisting streets, white painted walls, patios with roses just coming out in leaf. We took the dog for another swim in the undertow of the Mediterranean with a trip down to Malaga for the afternoon. Found a pine forest with a dozen varieties of orchids just coming into bloom on the way to a gorge with catwalk strung along its side to the east of Ronda, and the ruins of a Church/Mosque/something carved out of an entire moutain side.

Sevilla for two nights, staying in an apartment in the old city. I would commit serious crimes to live here for a long period, so lovely it was.

Now I am heading to the mountains after a weekend in Paris, a week with my friend Hephzibah in Cambridge and London, and a twisted metro trip into the centre of Barcelona, only to leave it again by bus.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Sheep, Granite and Thunderstorms

Sheep. More sheep. You´d think she would have gotten used to them by now, but still she perks up in the back seat and watches them as they go past, their shepherds and dogs in tow or in the lead. Perhaps, having lost her puppy coat, she’s just admiring the do. At least there aren’t any sheep in this picture, when we finally escaped Extremadura for the day, searching for another place to stay and ending up far further than we thought we would—at the edge of the western world, the Mediterranean, at sunset, just in time for a bottle of wine and a plethora of stick throwing, trying to convince her to stay out of the undertow. She was so happy that we didn’t leave for over an hour, and made it back near 1am, the fog drawing closer the further north we drove.

They both might as well have stayed at home. Here, in the land of extremes, there are thunderstorms, hail, rain, morning fog, wind (blew the neighbour’s terracotta tiles off this afternoon) and cold. Cold. Did I say cold? Puffy coats reign supreme. I’m wearing all my sweaters. The sheep are thick. The strangest thing, however, is that Juan Pablo, the owner of this house I’m renting, still asks, during our twice weekly Spanish/English exchanges, if it’s true how cold they say it is in Canada. “Better than here,” I think, and smile, and shake my head.

The people, however, do their best to make up for it. Last Saturday we were taken out by Juan Pablo, his wife Louisa, and their friends Marian and Ema. Tapas, bacalao, beer, wine, three different bars and a tour of the square. Spanish hospitality reigns supreme. They didn’t let me pay for a thing (other than a round of beer for 5€ at the end of the night) and entertained us thoroughly. I hope we were a tenth as charming. This Saturday, we’re invited for dinner. Every few days, they show up with sheep cheese, home-made chorizo, aged sheep cheese, dulces, or freshly washed linen. Thanks to conversations with Juan Pablo´s father at the local bar in Puerto Hurraco, an unmarked door next to the library where the men gather from 7-9:30 each night, my Spanish is improving. He told me all about the Javelines that they hunt here, and how one got away from him once, only to be killed by the neighbour the following week. “It was the strangest thing,” the neighbour apparently said, “the pig had an eye missing, as if he’d been shot before.” Juan Pablo’s father agreed that the neighbour should have offered up some of the pig, in thanks for making it easy prey.

We are staying in an old family home of Luisa’s, renovated by her, Juan Pablo and their friends. Across the inner patio is the barn which is now the kitchen, feeding trough still intact. There are beautiful tiles from the ‘50s in the main house. It took about four days to warm up, and now it’s very comfortable. Across the street is the Frenchman that Luke avoids, and Chico, the tiny man who buys bread at the same time as I buy eggs, from the egg and bread man, who shows up at 9am each morning, honking like a kamakaze. He used to bang on the door until we answered and bought. He finally gave up when we started getting our bread from town (his is terrible). Vegetable man comes every Wednesday, “¿Qué más, cosita?” he asks, over and over, until I walk away with bags bulging with tomatoes and zuccini.

After this Saturday´s dinner, we’re going to the tiny square of Castuera, the nearest town, to celebrate Carnaval. And then, next week, despite everyone’s absolute loveliness, we’re escaping to Andalucía.

The Almond in the Earth

Everyone becomes obsessed by something. For Elvira, the Russian/Estonian writer and translator, it was an apartment overlooking the sea at the far end of Mojácar Playa. She had decided, at the end of the first week of the residency, to move here. There was little work for her as a translator of Estonian literature after the collapse of the Soviet Union. She felt, living in her apartment in Tallin, that she had become unconnected from things, a stranger in her own country. “Estonians, they do not want me to translate. There is no more work,” she would say, her chin in the air, her beauty startling. From then on, she could talk of nothing other than housing options in Mojácar—an apartment in the English end, a flat in the centre of town, the marina that might be built on the west end of the beach. We were even coaxed into visiting one with her. (which we then tried to figure how to diplomatically talk her out of buying). It was like the ultimate intimacy to come out of a residency experience. People weren’t getting married—someone was actually going to continue living here! We lived vicariously, and fretfully, through her real estate adventures.

For others, quite a few of us, it was the mountain. Mojácar Vieja, which towered above the foundation. Reputedly the old site of the town, it is covered in pottery fragments from the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moors, the Spanish. They abandoned it when the town overgrew its site. Fragments of walls, terraced gardens and mortar still remain. The whole thing is an archaeological site. It can be reached from the almond tree fields at the back of the house, where, despite drought, the earth was always damp and soft. The trees began blooming in earnest a week before we left. Almond entering the windows.

Francis, who lives in Northern Nigeria, fantasized about climbing it, and to our knowledge, never did. His discomfort with heights. Even a road with small cliff on one side could make him swoon. Kåre used it as solace and mini-gym, climbing to the top to read for hours. Jill, though she only made it halfway up, used to jog around a field at its base. ‘Trotting’, she called it, which we loved.

Hephzibah and I became obsessed with the mountain itself, and specifically, the almond, carved, in the Roman era, into its peak. Divesting it of its peak. Turning peak into flat top, into cistern, lined with rocks, mortar and plaster, creating an almond shaped hollow at the top—peak turned inside out, peak become basin, cradle. The whole town, as it was, lived off the water that was saved in the cistern. Hephzibah photographed the entire mountain, from every angle that she could walk to, and then painted each view. Stones from the top became tracings, mirroring each view, until a virtual compass of portraits grew in her studio. I wrote about her process, wrote about the almond itself, wrote about the day she stretched string from one end of the peak to the other, and then again at the radius, until a horizonal cross was made, from which she hung stones, finding, in a way, the centre of the mountain. The stones and the string were still there when we left. Something about its strange openness found its way into almost every poem I wrote in January.

Francis said he was going to climb the mountain on the last day, when he would be the last one remaining at the Foundation until his 7pm bus to Madrid. He would have found small piles of pottery, a kind of compass of stone, a metronome made of string, and stone piled high at the edge of the almond, where one former resident climbed down inside to paint a picture of the inner walls and was caught up for hours.

Oh, and Elvira decided in the end to rent an apartment for six months before committing to a purchase. Though it is a beautiful place, we northerns/westerners all breathed collective sighs of relief.

Granada in Winter

I had a small panic attack the night before leaving, and didn´t sleep well. Came down the next morning intending to tell Hephzibah and Kåre that they would have to go on their own. “I really want you to come,” she said, and so I did. Silly me. I was fine as soon as I got on the bus.

Granada in winter is a quieter place. We found a 20€ hotel on the small street that winds up to the Alhambra, set our things down, and went out to explore for the day. Long, puffy coats are the fashion. The women hold their chins high, and no one scolds them for it. We wound our way along the river, where I once had the most amazing, outdoor concert experience of my life (flamenco) and headed up into the old Jewish and Arab district, the Albaicín. In a small square that overlooks the entire city, we stopped and sat for an hour, drawing, writing, talking, while behind us, a couple of flamenco guitarists busked, trading off with one another on the guitar, the free one hanging out with their friends. The sun shone down. It was warmish—-much warmer than the bus driver and his “Cuidado, cuidado, hace mucho frio en Granada. ¡Es minus 6 degrados!” had said when we boarded in Mojácar that morning. We descended when the sun fell, wandered some more. Almost found Kåre a coat (the temperature dropped at night and he eventually went around wearing my scarf and Hephzibah’s gloves), and then found the first of many tapas bars.

I have yet to figure out whether the price for the extremely cheap beer and Rioja wine includes a tapas, whether they add a few cents on to the top of the bill, or whether we were simply reaping the rewards of not coming in the tourist season, and so were able to sample life more as the locals live it. In any case, the small plates of shrimp, beef, jamon, potatoes fried in rosemary, paella, bread and cheese, olives and blood sausage were extraordinary. We didn’t buy a meal the entire time we were away, but stayed pleasantly tipsy, which made for even more delightful conversation.

The Alhambra, which we walked up to the next morning, is pure architecture in winter. Not just the buildings, but the bare vines, the rose bushes pruned down to stalks, the black earth with stubs of perennials, the arbours and cypress trees black against the sky. I took much longer than I should have going through, taking photos of the mosaics and carved plaster, and generally enjoying the quiet, the lack of people, the space that such beauty puts into your skin, making me feel my self as expanded and light with air.

In the afternoon we headed back down to the city for more tapas before our 5pm bus home. We sat in three separate seats on the way home, writing, watching the sun fall. Andalucía: white towns; scrub bush mountains which are full with herbs and pine; light.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Pasatiempos con un Nigeriano y una Russiana y...

Good afternoon everyone. Pictures include my photos of a party in Elvira's room with musical instruments, a view from my room after rain, and a view of the desk of detritus... This is what happens after a month of piddling with words. It´s been a while since I´ve added an entry here, so I thought I´d spend some time in the bar this afternoon catching you up on the sights and sounds of the place. I wish I knew where to begin.

Over the first few days, everyone arrived at the residency. We now have representatives from many continents, and not more than one from each country, including Spain, Argentina, Latvia/Russia, Canada, The United States, Denmark, Nigeria and England/Australia. The slashes are for immigrants of each. On the third night together, the dancing finally began, in front of the fire that is lit for us each evening before dinner, and by 1am we were sweating and much more comfortable. These days we have settled into a pleasing rhythm, with little or no conversation at breakfast and lunch (everyone reads their New Yorkers or their Lacan) and much at the 8pm dinner. The nights are cold, so we stay in the kitchen by the fire, and show and tell has begun, with pictures--of traditional Nigerian dress and costume, homes, landscapes, religious figures and art--handmade videos of paintings and their versions, music, books and readings from Russian novels (in Russian) not unusual. The exchange aspect of this makes me very happy, and there is no end to the curiosity and warmth. I feel very fortunate that such a group of people has come together and can so easily get along.

I´ve been writing mostly strange poems about mythical beasts and birds of the area--things that I hear crying at night, things that I see and cannot identify and so must make up names for--and, as always, on the idea of threshold, which, here, is always an interesting subject, as we are on the threshold of new landscape, language, custom, culture and history wherever we walk and whatever we choose to discuss. I´m reading Ingar Christensen´s book Alphabet and often read while walking in the afternoons.

Sundays there is a flea-market at the big white building at the corner where the road turns up into the village, and today I went with Hepsibah and Jill, a British painter and an American writer, and we admired the rugs of the Russians, the teapots, the jewelery and tried to avoid all the British tourists. It is terrible asking someone where a supermarket is and receiving a reply that they can´t help you because they don´t speak Spanish. As I am always cold here I seem to pick up a sweater at every market I go to, and they are piled in my room when they aren´t piled on my shoulders in the evenings.

Last Wednesday I went to a market in Garrucha, the nearest town to Mojácar pueblo, which is just north about 7kms. It is an old style town, built with three story, tiled apartment buildings fronting the sea in a casual arc, forming a boardwalk that reminds me of Venice Beach and Habana´s Malecón at the same time. Much more traditional and pretty to look at than the beach of Mojácar, where new style Spanish hotels and Condos rise from the beach into the hills with large, car traveled space between them. Garrucha has a traditional street market on Wednesdays, where you can find everything from striped tights and puffy jackets to fresh dates, three thousand different cheeses and jamons, many many pairs of socks, cheap watches, and all the other plethora of a modern market. The primary patron seems to be the middle aged Spanish woman, who goes with all her friends, buying culinary supplies for the week, shopping for her grandchildren, and generally shooting the shit. I got accosted by a group of them at the cheese stall. It was mayhem, and we were all trying to talk to two men standing up in the stall, cutting wedges of cheese in a langorous hurry. Women kept speaking up before I could get a word in edgewise (I wanted some Manchego and some of the soft goat´s cheese they had displayed) so I was pleased when a woman behind me began creating order by telling everyone what place they had in the ´lineup´. I was next, she was second, and the others followed. She nodded her head and I felt safe. Safe, that is, until my turn came, when she promptly spoke up to the man and began directing him which cuts she wanted from which rounds. "Wait a second," I began, and she turned to me, protesting. What followed was a short burst of the Spanish finger, with both of us wagging "No no no no no no!" back and forth in front of the other´s face, while the other women took sides. She was the fluent one; I couldn´t get much past the "No no no" and the finger wag, so she won, and Hebsibah and I gave up and continued on, cheeseless. It was very amusing, but I am determined that next week I shall prevail. We did find olives, however, including some amazingly spicy ones marinated in what look like Bay leaves and chili. Delicious.

Other than the distractions of internet and marketing, there is little besides the daily rhythm of waking, eating an egg with fresh bread, strong coffee with hot milk, and reading and writing for the morning out on the terrace, followed by lunch in the sun--mostly vegetables and more fresh bread--followed by more reading, walking, climbing the hill behind the house, followed by dinner, wine, and conversation. It´s very, very lovely and my loneliness has abated with such good company. As well, there are no love affairs to distract, so everyone is remaining pleasingly sane.

The hill behind the house, which stretches up from the almond trees into a semi-terraced, crumbling heap of pottery shards, old stonework and cactus, is Mojácar Viejo, the old site of the village, on the top of which is a Roman era cistern, built of mortar and stone and shaped like a giant almond on its side, carved into the top of the hill. They had to cut the very peak off in order to make it. It was used to store water for the entire village as it then stood clusted around the bottom third of the hill, and there are traces of aquaducts and stone walls everywhere. The cistern itself is ten feet wide, perhaps thirty feet long, and curves in at the top edge (also like an almond) so that if one fell in, it would be very difficult to get out. In fact last night the dueña of Valparaíso told us that a resident from two years ago climbed down inside in order to make a painting of the wall. He was two hours late for dinner and appeared, finally, covered in scratches and in complete darkness, having found that it was considerably easier to get in than out--it took him three hours to find a way. As the mountain is quite high (think Mount Tolmie) no one could have heard him even if he had shouted. She also told us that there are abandoned wells around everywhere, and to be careful where we step. A boy was lost in one of them (what I see is a limestone landscape) and it took a helicopter with an infrared camera to find him.

So when I walk to my twice weekly Spanish lessons, I am a little cautious, though I think what I do appreciate here the most so far is the sheer history of the place. Lilburn says that North Americans seem to live about a foot off the ground. They have never landed, partly due to colonization, partly due perhaps to climate. Here, landscape seems inextricable from the people who inhabit it, and the two seem much more intertwined and connected to one another. The dogs run free, in smart and friendly packs of two or three, doing their dog-like thing and the traces of human occupation on a piece of land such as the hill seem less like garbage (abandoned refrigerators in the woods near Clear Hills tower) and more like some sort of speaking. The field´s plow turns up pottery, the caving walls beside the path into town contain pottery and bits of carved rock. It´s quite astonishing. Especially coming from such a young country, European occupation-wise. As well, there are constant and enduring reminders of the Moors´ occupation--many people still irrigate their fields using channeled water, flood gates, and high furrows for the water to pour down. Into the walls of gardens are built entryways for water, with small metal gates so that one entrance can be opened and another remain closed. It reminds me of Nepal, which also performed agriculture in essentially an inhospitable, mountinous and dry area. I love seeing these channels for water. Though even at this time of year, with no rain at all and constant sun, the fields are always wet, I think from the heavy dew each morning. I´ve been eating almonds off the trees around the house. I come back covered in mud, which the cooks, who also clean the house, just love.

Sometime before we leave on the 29th some of the residents are planning a short trip to Granada, to see the Alambra. We will hopefuly rent a car for two days to do so. In February, L and I (and the lovely Stoppage Dog!) have finally, after much anxiety on my part (over wanting the whole thing settled) found a place to rent in Extremadura, a land-locked region of Spain that lies next to Portugal. We´ll be in a four bedroom house with sun filled terrace, which is good because it´s supposed to be freezing there, so if anyone cares to come for a visit, there will be room for you. There are 120 inhabitants in the town we´ll be in, but Sevilla is two hours away by train and the bird watching is supposed to be spectacular. Perhaps we´ll be there for the beginning of the summer migration. The Asturias people backed out, because I waffled over going to Madrid to meet them and their dog. They had waffled the entire time, not wanting to commit to renting to strangers and leaving their dog with us, so I think it has worked out for the best. This place we have found is half the price, has just as much room, and we´ll only have one dog, instead of two, to worry about. Now to just get her to Spain safely...

But I´ll write more anecdotes before then, I promise.

Love to you all, and keep the comments and emails coming. They are much appreciated.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Pequeño Paraíso

I´ve arrived in my northeast facing, river bed, mountain and village viewed room, complete with terrace with morning sun, a plane tree with berries, and a plethora of birds vibrating outside. The room has the perfect desk, a rolling chair, gas heat, and a long, single, nun´s bed on a platform of adobe. In addition to make your own breakfast, we have six dishes to sample from for lunch, before meeting at a quarter to eight for a glass of wine and tapas before a communal dinner. I admit to appearing ridiculously spoiled, but am striving to only feel calm, anti-anxious, and un-guilty for being here. No voices, just poems, say the voices. So far, my co-conspirators include the Danish writer who sparked international fury over his request for depictions of the Prophet, a Nigerian painter and a New York novelist. Very lovely people all.

On the walk from the centre to an internet source (about twenty minutes uphill), pomegranates, almonds, oranges and lemons fell off winter-ed trees all around me in the fields, with pleasing soft thunks. I will be collecting seeds from all the cypresses, and getting to know the gardener, who supplies us with the beans, beets, asparagus and potatoes we ate for lunch today. Lorca´s collected poems was waiting in the library at the centre, and its lines speak of just these landscapes; even the pony in the field next door has become a little appealing.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Three black dogs

Two hours into my arrival in Mojácar, I´ve sniffed out the only internet cafe in what is a small pueblo clinging to a small hill just above the sea here in the eastern corner of Andalucía. Mojácar was a last stronghold for the Moors back in the 16th century (I think) and thus retains much of that era--tiny, carless streets winding up and down the hill in between whitewashed buildings with small, shuttered windows. The occasional view of the countryside occurs only when they haven´t finished demolishing or building a new house, and the panarama down to the sea and out over the herbed hills unfolds.

But that´s after getting here. Copenhagen, all one hour of it, during which time I had to befriend a woman at the front of the endless security line in order to make my connecting flight, was flat and full of blonds. Castles from the air were visible in the middle of what looked like marsh flats. I wonder if they float. Barcelona was for three hours, while I tried to find a phone, a sandwich, a terminal and an internet service. Travel. With Tubby the Bus, which is what I´ve named my ridiculous choice of wheeling suitcase that doubles, supposedly, as a backpack. Not really. I should have known those people with wheels were just pretending to look relaxed in airports. Really, they were thinking, ¨yes, the backpack looks silly, but god damn those people must be more maneouverable than me.¨ Tub´s never going abroad again.

The three black dogs found me as I walked through Mojácar this morning, after arriving by bus, shepherded by a motherly woman who insisted that I sit across from her at the front of the bus, and then cast protective glances at me the whole way. They are beautiful Spanish dogs, which means they never do wrong, and can be trusted off leash anywhere.

Tomorrow, I move from my perch in the hotel Simon into Valparaíso, which is down the hill from the pueblo, but up from the beach. There are two parts to Mojácar--the hill town and the tourist hotel zone down by the water. In the meantime, there is bougainvillea, rosemary clinging to the cliffsides, and more jamon sandwiches to find. I am lonely, but that is sola travel, I suppose. Mojácar lies less than 3 hours from Granada, so perhaps some small ventures might take place. On the way here from Almería, the countryside was covered in tarped greenhouses, out of which what looked like tomato plant branches struggled. The mountains come almost all the way to the sea, and then the land flattens out into olive groves, orange trees, dates, and housing complexes. As in Las Alpujarras, you could furnish your spice rack by going for a walk up one of the hills. Small bursts of waking, a courtyard near the church packed to the gills with hibiscus plants, in bloom; the light and the warmth; Bob Dylan´s biography comforting me a little. When I figure out how to add pictures, I will. Love to you all.