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.