MY introduction to Don Quixote took place in a pub called The Clarence in the northern town of Dalton-in-Furness, back in 1974, and at a time when I was obsessed with a song called Pinball and the world seemed a much milder, progressive and optimistic place. On the wall opposite the bar hung a colourful and captivating image of two dark figures crossing an evening landscape – one tall and shabbily elegant on a broken-winded horse, the other small and fat, perched upon a mule. From the dust of Spain, Don Quixote and his devoted servant and friend, Sancho Panza, had strayed into a world of rain, bar-billiards and pigeon racing. It was an unusual subject for a Lancashire pub where old men with their ties tucked in their trousers occasionally reminisced about the trenches and chuckled over cards and cribbage boards, but it lifted the decor from fifty shades of nicotine and elevated the conversation of the clientele . . . Continue reading Don’s the one
I ONCE spent a sad couple of days walking the streets of Great Yarmouth in the middle of January; sad days because the weather was wretched and the seaside attractions boarded up for the season – not sad in the sense some people regard seaside resorts sad in general. My memory tells me it was about 1993 and the country was in the claws of that deep recession everyone has forgotten – the one where the chancellor, Norman Lamont, insisted green shoots of recovery were bursting out everywhere. Only they weren’t – it was moss and lichen establishing brave new colonies . . . Continue reading Last resorts . . .
THE three kings followed their star of wonder and arrived in Orgiva last night to commemorate the Dia de los Reyes. The Spanish don’t celebrate Christmas Day with the enthusiasm of we peoples of the north; January 6 is their main event, or Twelfth Night as it is known. The Magi are delivered from the east on pick-up trucks and their helpers toss sweets and toys to the crowd. Once installed on their thrones, instead of gold, frankincense and myrrh, they distribute presents (which have been discretely deposited by parents beforehand) to the children of the town. And as if by magic, swallows and house martins – which I thought had flown south many weeks ago – emerge from the church belfry like silver sparks in the glare of the street lamps and swoop above our heads. It’s a pleasant affair . . . Continue reading We three kings
INCIDENT 1: Sitting at a table on the main plaza in town drinking tea. To the left is a row of shops; to the right the headquarters of the Guardia Civil with its sentry turrets and gun-slots. A young guardia emerges from the building and passes our table. He’s carrying a large plastic sack – about the size of a pillow – that’s stuffed with what appears to be chopped hay and dried leaves, all mixed up together. “What’s in that sack?” I say to my wife. “Dunno,” she answers, “What do you think it is?”. “Dunno,” I say. “I suspect it’s cannabis . . .” Continue reading Random incidents . . .
IN a space of three hurried days, conditions here in the Alpujarras have veered from blazing sunshine and temperatures of 30C to thunderstorms and snow on the mountains. The seemingly endless summer has ended. The parched land is sodden. Dust is mud. Dry streams are flowing. Dead grass, like Lazarus, is about to be resurrected . . . Continue reading First snow . . .
THREE times a week I’m up at seven for a pre-dawn walk. The sun doesn’t rise in the Alpujarras until about 8.05am, and the lanes are quiet in the blue-grey half-darkness. I follow the riverbed, scale a steep track up its western bank, pass through an olive grove, then a copse of eucalyptus, and then another olive grove, before emerging on a long, rocky ridge clad in prickly furze. On the crest of the ridge I sit myself down on a flat boulder to watch the sun climb above the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Perfect peace . . . Continue reading Outfoxed . . .
ON a hillside beneath the village of Capileira I discover the local lavadero, the laundry where women scrubbed their dirty linen before the advent of electrical goods changed their lives. Unlike the lavadero in neighbouring Pampaneira, which I have written about before, this specimen is situated at the foot of a very steep, wet and uneven track, and outside the village proper. The long climb back up the hillside, bearing a swill laden with wet washing, must have been an ordeal indeed, especially during the winter months with ice and snow on the ground . . . Continue reading Lavaderos and leeks
SOMETIMES I wish I’d been a stonemason engaged in restoring cathedral spires, or a potter shaping clay into useful and attractive objects. Or a bookbinder, or a crafter of fine leather, or a cabinetmaker – someone with a skill who can gather raw materials in his hands and fashion them into items that possess beauty. I feel a bit like that today when I visit a weaver’s workshop in the Alpujarran village of Pampaneira, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains of southern Spain . . . Continue reading The warp factor
IN Capileira, during summer months, flags come out and hand-woven banners are strung above alleys and pinned to walls. Midday arrives, and no one walks the streets except people with cameras. Capileira is Spain’s second-highest village – but that doesn’t render the air any cooler. Perhaps, because it’s closer to the sun, it’s slightly hotter . . . Continue reading Sounds of silence . . .
A FOREST fire today, sweeping across the slopes of the Sierra Nevada above the house. I stand on the roof and watch two helicopters and two planes bomb the fire as distant sirens scream. It is breathtaking how close to the mountainside the pilots fly before releasing the water. They really are experts . . . Continue reading Forest fire . . .