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.