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
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 . . .
AMONG the northern toes of the Sierra Nevada, on a hilltop overlooking the city of Granada, stands the Alhambra – the most complete Islamic fortification and royal palace remaining in Europe. Built as a fortress in 889, it was enlarged in the mid-13th Century during the Nasrid dynasty, and after the fall of Islam in Spain, in 1492, became one the residencies of the Christian monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. It was eventually abandoned, partially destroyed by Napoleon’s troops, became a haven for the homeless, was rediscovered by European intellectuals and restored to its former glory – and is now Spain’s premier ancient monument and number-one tourist attraction . . . Continue reading Palace of the people
UNFRIENDLY and judgemental faces glower down upon the people of Granada from rooftops, columns and sunlit facades. These are the faces of the city Watchers. They have dwelt among the winds and the pigeons since mediaeval times and harbour little love for the mortals who scamper below. They can be vindictive, malevolent, rancorous and resentful. It is best to wander the streets with eyes averted unless you can summon the confidence to confront and challenge. I have spied the Watchers in many European cities – Krakow has a particularly virulent assemblage. Here in Granada they can be glimpsed by the light of the sun; or by the rays of the moon when – with a scraping of stone and a dribbling of dust – they occasionally change position. The city Watchers possess the scrupulous morals of the artisans who fashioned them and the tyrannical ways of the merchants and clergy whose unsoiled hands paid silver for the toil. They are an antiquity, a remnant of a past world that has survived into the present and will continue into the future. They guard and they condemn. And, occasionally, they act with frightful malice . . . Continue reading Eyes in a Granada sky
IT’S a big night in the Alpujarras. The Artists’ Network Alpujarra is holding its first exhibition in the village of Tablones, a couple of benighted kilometres from Orgiva. The event fills the Las Torcas building, next door to the ITV centre – the Spanish equivalent of the MoT. Enterprising types can have their car tested and visit the exhibition in one epic move. I settle for one out of two . . . Continue reading Art from a corner
I HAVE resumed my flirtations with not-so-fine art – an interest I suspended temporarily in 1973 when faced with a future in shipbuilding rather than a preferred path to art college and enlightenment. Enforced retirement has provided opportunities to grab the frayed strands of former pastimes, and to tug them gently to see where they lead – if anywhere. Though I daresay my place at Preston art college has long been filled by someone else with a bad haircut . . . Continue reading Poppies from the past