Sunday 25 July 2010

Magpie 24 - Sun

one pillow creased with
my dreams of your yellow hair
shining like the sun

For more writers' takes on this Magpie prompt click here or on the image.

Thursday 22 July 2010

Magpie 23 - Fire Postscript

This week the prompt for the Magpie writers was an antique fire extinguisher. I wrote about Bob Hawke, an antique former prime Minister of Australia. Many others wrote about fire and smoke and near death experiences.

Yesterday I visited my wife in her city building to take her for a coffee; it was her birthday. As I arrived at 2:30pm there was a queue for the lift. Strange i thought, that all these people had taken afternoon tea at the same time! It gradually dawned on me that there had been an evacuation. FIRE!! I couldn't see Andrea anywhere in the foyer or in the queue so I headed for the 9th floor to surprise her. She was pleased to see me but perplexed, as we left the building, to find all her colleagues re-entering the building.

She suddenly realised that she had missed the evacuation, missed the fire, had been missed by the fire warden and, well, died on her birthday and gone to heaven. That's where I come in - narcissisist that i am. My helpful observation was that death on your birthday would make for a neat entry on your headstone.

She enjoyed the coffee but not the joke.

Two weeks in Niguelas Part V - Valle de Lecrin

An anxious Australian's ongoing experience of village life in Southern Spain (Part V)

The knot in my stomach sends me a message. It’s in Spanish so it’s a little tricky to comprehend but after translation it tells me three things. One – get moving; two – there are hidden treasures here and three – write about this and you’ll put the whole experience in perspective.

I know one is correct, two I’m skeptical about and three I adopt as my survival mechanism.

We search through a basketful of brochures and maps previous visitors have left in the cottage. There are maps of the major local villages, Durcal, Padul, Lanjaron but none of Niguelas or the local valley. We’re looking for a map of the Valle de Lecrin.

To the Moors it was the Vale of Happiness. That gives me some hope. It must have some charm for it to earn that moniker over the eight centuries that the African colonists reigned supreme. My knowledge of the Moors is limited but I am in awe of their sense of design which is evident everywhere in Portugal and southern Spain. These Berbers and African Muslims called the Iberian Peninsular - Al-Andalus. Their legacy is present in almost every building from local houses to palaces. Their decorative tile work, their archways, their insistence on simplicity in external design and surprisingly sumptuous interiors including the ever-present inner courtyard create a wonderful consistency across the region. The constraint which their religion imposed, dictating the absence of figurative representation has reesulted in extensive use of geometric patterns. Abstract motifs abound from relief carving referencing the Koran to patterned tile work which transcends expectations and sometimes covers every available surface . I’m hoping that the ‘Happiness’ label would not have been applied lightly.

The best map we can find is thirty six years out of date. It’s a topographical map of the valley printed in 1974. The motorway is absent and in its place is the A323 which still runs between Motril on the Mediterranean Coast and Granada but is only used by local traffic. All the villages in the area are marked but many of the connecting roads are absent – the only thing missing from 1974 are the donkey trails. On the positive side it is beautiful map showing details which, for walkers ,would be invaluable.

With this as our guide we set out on our day of discovery. The first challenge is finding our way out of the village. It feels like we are in some weird kind of fish trap where getting in is possible but exit much more difficult. We’ve managed to navigate our way from Lisbon via Southern Portugal to Seville and Granada all of which has been a challenge but to be completely mystified by the entrance and exit of a village of 1000 people feels humiliating.

The previous evening had been doubly humiliating as we sought to find the local Supermarche which our host Hermy assured us was down the road, turn right then left, through the tunnel under the A323 and follow that road for about half a kilometer. “You can’t miss it”. It’s as simple as ABC I told the team after getting off the phone to Hermy. We managed to explore the rest of the alphabet in discovering that down and right included a series of dirt slip roads running beside the A323, more than one tunnel and a number of No Entry signs. We did find the Supermarche, which was a good one but slipped up on the return journey and found ourselves unintentionally returning to Granada via the roundabout which had misled us on the way in. We got to know that roundabout very well over the next fortnight , at times circling it twice or three times seeking the correct exit.

As a result we were a little apprehensive about our first day trip. The A323 took us past the false entrance to Niguelas and followed the curves and contours of our map as if by magic. It seemed to be following an ancient line of least resistance no doubt influenced by the wisdom of millennia of donkey paths. From Niguelas to the village of Lecrin, two minutes as the crow flies, took us a delightful ten minutes as we wound our way down into a gorge bypassing the tiny village of Acequias, Niguelas’ nearest neighbor, and passing below the overwhelming monster bridge carrying the Autovia (motorway). The A44 bridged the deep river valley in one giant stride.

The landscape was harsh and stony with high cuttings of unstable pebbled cliffs threatening to collapse across our path as we crept cautiously through terraced hillsides planted with row after row of silver-grey olive trees. Our plan was to explore the series of villages in the Valle de Lecrin both to orient ourselves and to become absorbed in the local environment.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Two Weeks in Niguelas Part IV - Donkey

An account by an anxious Australian tourist of village life in Andalucia Spain

Early evening day one. A man leading a donkey passes by the bathroom window. The donkey is fully kitted out for work. He has a frame of leather and timber across his back and secured by rope under his flanks. It’s designed to carry heavy loads.

My brother and his wife decide to go for a wander towards the centre of the village and the church. It’s partly to get acquainted with the village and partly looking for assurance. When they return they report on an empty landscape of deserted streets save for a few mangy cats and another man with a donkey. The church is locked up tight. All the cars sit idle. The breeze gently moves the heavy cotton curtains which cover every doorway. It’s 6pm, a little early for the Spanish to be out and about.

Our landlords arrive to walk us through the practicalities of hot water systems, stove, washing machine, gas meter and remote control handsets (we discover that Australia has held Ghana to a 1-1 draw in their world Cup match – far better than the 4-0 thrashing that the Germans inflicted on the Socceroos four days earlier).

Adam and Hermy are lovely. I discover later that he is a blacksmith/artist. The heavy duty gate and security grills on the windows are exquisite pieces of modern design. He has taken bulls horns and a serpents head and body as his inspiration. Spain is full of beautiful artisans’ work in the form of carved doors, tiled walls, wrought iron work and inlaid surfaces. It makes for a rich visual tapestry.

Andrea and I cook while Mick and Mally promenade. I manage to get the charcoal barbecue fired up and then succeed in charring capsicum and zucchini beyond recognition. The local pork sausages fare much better. Andrea works her magic and manages to rescue the meal and we sit down at 9pm. We’ve discovered a surprisingly nice cheap bottle of local red vino which helps us all to relax at the end of day one. We are feasting under a brilliant blue sky. The sun won’t set for another hour and the locals are beginning to take to the streets before their evening meal. We’re a little out of step with the local village rhythm.

We retire for the night to the sound of a running stream. The whole village has water flowing beneath it through a system of channels – snow melt from the Sierra Nevada above. Over the next fortnight I discover that this water is directed to every possible village and orchard in the valleys below by a system of six hundred year old man made waterways. The Moors have left a fantastic legacy.

Monday 19 July 2010

Magpie 23 - Bob Hawke - Man on fire

Bob Hawke was Prime Minister of Australia from the mid 80s to the early 90s. He has recently been the subject of a TV drama and the second biography of his life by Blanche d'Alpuget.

For more writers' takes on this Magpie prompt click here or on the image.

Bob Hawke had
a family
a fire in his guts
to lead his beloved Australia

Bob Hawke
lived the life of a public larrikin
drank to excess
laughed too loudly
cried for his daughter
worked his charm on skirts across town
fell in love
with an inconvenient woman

Bob Hawke
gave up the grog
curbed his loutish side
cooled the embers of his secret love
to become Prime Minister

Nine years he lived
his truth
his lie
walked beside his public wife
to pursue his destiny.

Nine years he warmed his hands
with the fire
for his invisible beloved
doused the embers for his faithful Hazel
to love his love
as he loved himself -
With a burning passion

Home? Help!!

Brisbane suburbs.
I spent the last 14 days in throbbing London where the High Street of suburban Kentish Town (where we were staying) was bumber to bumper with pedestrians and where the centre of the city, Oxford Street, was thronging with locals and tourists enjoying clear summer days.

Arriving back in Brisbane felt like being back in rural Spain.

We collected our luggage from the baggage carousel (what if they provided some musical accompaniment as you watch everyone elses bags arrive (never yours) and go round and round and round endlessly) and headed for the Airtrain which would take us to the city. There we sat almost alone on Platform One (there are only two) waiting for the arrival of the 6:30am.

We listened to the young woman at the ticket office make multiple announcements reminding both of us to keep behind the yellow safety line; informing us that the 6:30 would be arriving on Platform One in 14, 8, 4 and 1 minute. As Platform One was the only possible destination for this train and as that fact was also displayed prominently on the electronic signage her advice seemed a little redundant. She also confirmed for us (both of us) that the train had in fact arrived and hey presto there it was in front of us.

At South Brisbane where we alighted - one stop from the city centre - we found ourselves on a platform reminiscent of Longreach in Central Queensland. It was consciously rustic, painted in fading heritage colours and almost deserted. It was now 7:45am on a Friday morning. where was everybody?

The last time we'd been somewhere this quaint and quiet had been in Andalucia in Niguelas at the village bus stop.

I was suffering from international traveller's cultural deprivation.

Niguelas on a busy morning

Ronda (Spain) Saturday Morning

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Two Weeks in Niguelas Part III The Beginning

An account by an anxious Australian tourist of village life in Andalucia Spain

So here we were sitting in the living space of our cottage staring at each other. The cottage itself was charming. A low set white washed Spanish villa with a kitchen well stocked with cooking implements (one of our essential requirements) and two small but beautifully appointed bedrooms. The living area opened onto a small garden and a swimming pool. Luckily the view of the abandoned development site over the road was obscured by a mature fig tree. Around the pool was a passion fruit vine, another mature fig tree laden with early fruit and a series of wire clothes lines criss-crossing the yard and covered in a creeping vine covered in young grapes. Rosemary grew wild in a sunny corner, a rose bush in full bloom shared another corner with a lavender bush. Sounds idyllic but I was still unnerved. The two weeks ahead lay stretched out before me like a highway going nowhere.

I reassured myself that my anxiety was not unusual. Change of job, change of house, change of plans – change of underwear I can cope with though I have been known to procrastinate in this area. My natural inclination was to get stressed by change and uncertainty. I identified with the author of the book I was reading as travel company. He had decided to walk the Santiago pilgrims walk from Granada and at the age of 65 and as an inexperienced walker, after two days on the trail he was wondering what had possessed him to imagine that having arrived in Spain with little local language, a 25 kilogram backpack, a map and an idea everything would fall into place. His feet were blistered,his pack was unwieldy and he was lonely.

I was not lonely or blistered, just uncertain. My challenge was to transition from tourist to traveler. To shift from observer of the exotic to participant in the ordinary. Niguelas was ordinary. Ordinary Spanish rural people living ordinary daily lives. I knew that my task was to allow this experience to unfold. I would need to be patient and allow the village to reveal itself to me. The embrace needed to be mutual.

Magpie 22 - Fruit salad

If tomatoes are a fruit why do we never find them in fruit salad?
Is it predjudice?
Is there an unstated caste system?
If so who are the Brahmins and are who are the untouchables?
Do tomatoes not mix well? Is it a social skills issue?
Or are they simply inclined to dress in bad raste? All that showy red and sometimes even teamed with a jaundiced yellow or sickly green.
Instead they choose to mix with the vegetables - carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, even potatoes - all in all a none too classy lot.
I guess it all comes down to nature versus nurture. In this case both. Brought up in the vege patch with beans and radishes, cabbages and brocolli as playmates and role models, they have just never learnt how to behave in the sophisticated manner of the citrus family and don't get invited to the fruit salad gatherings.

And speaking of strange flavours - in Lisbon, Portugal I discovered Eucalyptus Gelati in the ice creamery but was too afraid to try it. My memory of Eucalyptus Oil as a burning antiseptic was too strong.

This is in response to the Magpie Tales weekly writing prompt Click on the image for more responses from writers across the globe.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Water music

Every village in the Sierra Nevada region of Spain is fed by the the melting snow of the high country and this is captured in a maze of channels which were constructed by the Moors more than five hundred years ago. As the water rushes down from the mountains having slowly made its way through the porous rock of the range to emerge through countless springs it's diverted into multiple waterways which then feed each village and every piece of farmland. Small lot holders are allocated a time when they can divert the flow to thier orchards. If you happen to have fallen out with the local manager of this syystem you might find you've been allocated your fifteen minutes at 4am in the dead of night.

The remarkable thing is that every time you walk through any village you are accompanied by the sounds of rushing water often running under the streets and then emerging at various points as fountains, drinking water and open channels. The water, cool and clear, literally seems to crash through these underground pathways sometimes splashing through grate covers onto cobbled streets to remind the walker of their presence.

As our guide at the Alhambra commented: 'The Moors created music with water allowing its natural flow and rhythms to tell their story; whereas the Christians harnessed the water as fountains and turned the music into noise. Think about the stream versus the tap.

In these villages you go to sleep and wake up to the music of water. Not all are attuned to this element. As one previous guest in our lovely watery cottage complained: "I was kept awake all night by the noisy drain ouside my window"

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Two Weeks in Niguelas Part II - Exit 157

In Niguelas I you read of my alarm as we made our way to our holiday destination. Here's what it felt like as we got closer.

Niguelas II - Exit 157

It was Saturday afternoon. I read out loud the instructions which gave us directions to our cottage and additionally informed us that, as local supermarkets would be closed on Saturday afternoon and Sunday, we might be best to stock up at the 24/7 Carrefours on the Granada ring-road.

We drove on, desperately hoping to find a small SuperMarche before we arrived at our destination. Our cupboard was bare. We’d decided against stocking up at Ronda confident that Niguelas would be open for business. We'd failed to read the instructions our helpful hosts had provided. We'd missed our opportunity.

Exit 157 (Durcal, Niguelas) was our point of departure from the motorway and as we crested another gentle rise we spied what we assumed was Niguelas spread over the lower slopes of a barren Sierra Nevada. To be positive it did look look more like a village than a blot on the landscape and it was a discrete distance from its nearest neighbour, Durcal.

Exit 157 led us to a roundabout which I found on our hand drawn map emailed to us by Adam our local contact. He had advised us of a preferred and a non preferred approach to our accommodation, Casa Los Almedros. It looked simple.

We followed the signs to Niguelas as directed on the the map. My job was to read these written instructions aloud to Mick, who was driving, while the wives in the back kept an eagle eye out for landmarks. They also provided sound effects with shrieks of alarm whenever another car approached or when a stone wall appeared to be about to enter the car through the window. The road into the village led us up a long narrow tree lined avenue towards the centre of the village marked by the squat church bell tower.

All should have been simple were it not for the ‘Diversio’ sign placed across the road where the first white-painted buildings marked the entrance to the village. Past the blockade the street appeared to have been torn apart and was in the process of being repaved. Silent machinery lay scattered ahead of us.

The diversion sent us across a dirt track south of the village past a group of oversize rubbish receptacles, by disused farm machinery and through a run down orchard. The dusty lane headed west then cut north sharply back towards the village. Suddenly we were in a series of laneways large enough for one car with each laneway sending us in a new direction and each ending in another detour sign. The girls in the back were beginning to lose confidence in both our navigational and our driving skills as we headed for a T junction requiring us to fold both side rear view mirrors back and creep through at snails pace giving everyone the opportunity to observe the deep gashes in the concrete wall beside us, the result of foolhardy drivers before us.

The next arrow took us along a 250 metre stretch of dirt alongside what looked like a post war bomb site. Pipes lay exposed, strips of concrete led nowhere, ditches ran in random directions and the whole area was fenced off by two metre high wire fencing and a rough besser brick wall which had been laid by a drunk. At the end of this we turned north again to face the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and came to a road running east west across the top of the village. Our mud map now told us we were nearing our target and, unable to decipher the final instructions leant out the window to enquire of an aged local where Casa Los Almendros might be hiding.

He seemed to understand my question but being a bit doddery obviously didn’t interpret my sign language as clearly as I had offered them as he swept his arm left and right in a vague expansive way. Naturally we dismissed him as of no help to us and returned to our map. There we found another street marked – Calle Marie which we discovered we had parked in. We were then able to conclude that the house right beside us was our destination and then to our embarrassment realized that Casa Los Almendros referred, in fact, to the name of the whole street. Our aged advisor had known exactly what he was talking about.

We backed the car up the ramp leading to the cottage, turned off the engine and sat slumped into our seats, exhaausted by our five hour ordeal.

To say that our introduction had been less than inspiring would be an understatement.

Magpie 21 - Guy Fawkes/Cracker Night

I’m in London for 10 days. The 4th of July prompt caused me to remember my childhood Guy Fawkes Night experiences – Cracker Night as they were called in Australia. To link with other writers who participate in Magpie Tales click here or on the image.

Cracker Night

Twopenny bungers exploding behind my back
Catherine wheels spewing fire as they spin
Tom thumbs like strings of sausages
sputtering and machine gunning in the dark
Rockets piercing the sky
ribbons of light in their wake
Backyard bonfires
throwing golden cinders into the black night.

No mention of the Houses of Parliament
Or Guy Fawkes or a revolution
An Australian tradition celebrated in isolation
So out of context
A ban on the event for public safety reasons
Was accepted without resistance
Except by the kids who threatened to refuse their porridge
And the local shopkeepers who stood to lose a fortune
All because some child lost his finger to a home-made bomb
And some neighbours' letter box went up with a bang
And imported toads ended up as a displays of exploding guts.

We’ve made the shift
from a nation of petty crims and larrikins
To become a Nanny state
which bans roosters in backyards,
Tells us our kids aren’t safe on swings
Puts fences inside fences in public parks
And spends our public money on fireworks displays
To help us all have fun.

Guy Fawkes and his crew would be aggrieved
Tempted to take legal action to reclaim
their intellectual property rights
over celebrations involving fire and fun.

(c)Steve Capelin.

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I see no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holla boys, Holla boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him? Burn him!

Traditional rhyme