The rain gods have relented and given us a glorious day of warm sunshine, bright and blinding as only the south of Spain can offer up. And thank goodness it came so conveniently the day I’d arranged to visit the photographer Sharon Minkoff ( friend of my theatre pal Eleanor Liddy). A thirty minute ferry ride across the Bay of Cadiz took me to El Puerto de Santa Maria. I’d been given an introduction – by email rather than those precious and important letters travellers relied on as in the novels of E.M. Forster. But, hey, how does it matter how I get my feet wet on foreign soil ( ironically on one of the only days so far my feet have actually been dry).
El Puerto de Santa Maria has lain quietly towards the northern end of the Bay of Cadiz for many hundreds of years. Columbus set sail from here to the ‘Indias’ on more than one occasion. The water well from which the 15th century sailors filled their ships before they discovered the Americas still stands, stone solid.
The winey smell of sherry aging in barrels wafts through the grills of glassless warehouses as Sharon leads us on a tour of the town’s quiet streets. It’s after 2 pm, the stores are shut for siesta, the townsfolk indoors preparing and eating their main meal of the day.
After a month of restaurant food it was bliss to be in Sharon’s kitchen sipping a cold cerveza while she cooked. On the rooftop patio we dawdled over lunch: black and green olives (both types cured by Sharon herself), aubergines cooked with onions and cilantro, fresh hand-made bread studded with walnuts, carrot and ginger soup, fresh mozzarella and spinach baked in phyllo pastry. Memories of wet feet and sodden clothes evaporated as quickly as the puddles between the cobbles in the streets.
Muchas gracias Sharon
Please enjoy Sharon’s gorgeous photos on her blog
The rain in Spain stays not only on the plain but all over Spain. The rain in Spain comes as a sudden downpour, as a steady pitter-patter, as a continuous drizzle. The rain in southern Spain comes off the Atlantic as a fierce squall that could drown a stately galleon. The rain in Spain comes every day.
If I’d known five weeks ago what I know now – see above – I would have brought a pair of purple wellies and had dry shoes and feet. My travel companion would not have to cover her schoolbag and purse in used plastic grocery bags (photo). I would have brought a golf umbrella instead of a tiny travel one. I might even had stayed home!
But hey it’s Spain, it’s Spring and if this rain won’t stop today or manana it’s bound to be soon. Tell me that’s true!
I feel for the men who will, for hours, be carrying the sacred images through the wet streets this coming week of Semana Santa. The forecast is for rain and more rain next week for these processions but I hope it will be revised and my next post will be of crowds lining sunny streets honouring the march past of vivid coloured images.
I am surprised to have been here a month and realize I have not set one word to the page. A quick review . . .
Week 1 Madrid : cool and showery and we both have colds. I’m sure once we hit the sun of the south the colds will clear and we will be warm and well.
Week 2 Jerez: (the south!): not just cool but cold, not just showery but pouring rain. Thank goodness I packed a light raincoat and an umbrella just in case. I envied the locals their furs(!), quilted down coats and their boots. Spent three days with soaking feet and three blankets.
Week 3 Jerez: a tad warmer but rain, rain, rain. It definitely hasn’t remained on the plain!
Week 4 Cadiz ( further south!) howling winds from the Atlantic and – yup- rain. However the sun came out yesterday afternoon and it was glorious. The sky was a brilliant cobalt blue, the ocean turquoise.
Beginning of week 5: yes it is raining but I have another cold and am staying in bed and have stopped caring.
But really nothing to get upset about when you are with flamenco friends from Victoria, Italy, Sweden, France and Switzerland, when the tapas are fresh, the wine and the sherry are little more than a euro, when you’ve watched THE best dancers and singers in the world, you’ve learned a new Alegria and you’ve actually danced bulerias in bars.
All last week I wrestled with the subjunctive for 4 1/2 hours each day. But it’s a case of the more you know the more you realize you don’t know. This language is getting very tricky but I am having fun trying it out. One more week of Spanish classes and hey no problema!
Spain is gearing up for Semana Santa, a huge celebration here lasting 2 weeks with solemn parades through the city.
Easy reading is damned hard writing – Nathaniel Hawthorne
This photo is from a month ago when the skies were dull, overcast and always seemed ready to drop rain. Today the sky is blue, the temperature has soared to possibly 25 degrees but old Nathaniel (see above) certainly knows the agonies of the writing business.
When the skies were gray, it was too depressing to be inspired. When it was raining I wanted to just sit and read a novel (someone else’s). When it cleared a little, I played tennis and injured my back and it was too sore to sit. Now the sun is hot, I want to be outside and going for a walk. Yes, Nathaniel it’s damned hard work. I am currently writing about the end of November 1916 when the ground was frozen and white with snow. How can I put my head down to this when what I have is windows thrown open and flowers blooming? No doubt what I am good at: finding excuses or as the Shawnigan Lake poet, Joanna Weston, says, reorganizing the spice jars!
I have a week to meet some goals, that is if I can find the time between going to see Monet’s garden tomorrow at Giverny and a shopping trip to Paris, conversation club, a meeting with a French lady who built a school in Senegal and with whom I am trying to co-ordinate a shipment to her school from the Compassionate Warehouse in Victoria.
Would hard reading be easy writing??
I meant to write this on May 1, May Day. It being a holiday I should have had the day off like all French workers but the boss tied me to the computer! I did get out for a walk to the next village of Cardonette where a flea market was in progress, hoping to pick up some very special local souvenirs but it was more like a communal garage sale. Nothing exciting to buy except the little bouquet of lily of the valley.
The weather has picked up- finally. I was beginning to despair of it ever getting warm. Up until now it has either rained everyday or been drizzly and damp. Yesterday the temperature rose a good ten degrees and I tramped across the fields for the first time since I have been here. Lots of birds, lots of birdsong and I heard a cuckoo for the first time this year. Unfortunately I did not have any money in my pocket – it’s a superstition here that if you have money in your pocket on the day you first hear a cuckooo, you always have money. Maybe I’ll go out again tomorrow with a handle of euros at my fingertips. Here cuckoo, here cuckoo!
The presidential election on the weekend was BIG! We at Les Trois Plumes had an early dinner so we could gather in front of the TV to hear the result right after the countdown to 8pm. It felt a bit like New Years! There are many happy people ( and much champagne was drunk) among my acquaintances here that France has a socialist president for the first time in 30 years since Mitterand in ’81. In another month France goes to the polls for a general election which is predicted to be a close race between the right and the left.
The work goes slowly and painfully unlike last year when I was full of inspiration. But I am sticking to it! I have read in more than one place that finishing a book is the hardest part. I’d love to hear from others on this! Perhaps some sunshine, which is on its way, will energize my fingertips.
Continued thanks to family and friends who encourage me through Skype and emails.
It is very, very strange to be back here; a feeling akin to visiting the place of one’s upbringing, eerily familiar yet disorienting. Perhaps it was the two Atavan and two bottles (mini!)of wine I had during the course of the seven-step journey: 2 x car rides, 1x 280 kph train ride, 1x bus ride and 3 different planes. Needless to say that all went by in an easy flash.
Unfortunately I seem to have a bad case of jet-lag, something I don’t usually experience coming in this direction. I have been awake until 5 am. most nights. Even though I don’t go to bed that early, my body is wondering what on earth I am trying to do urging it to sleep. So I spend my days fighting off the urge to fall asleep and not feeling much like working. The upside of so many hours awake in the wee sma’ hours is that my brain defaults to working out plot points despite my desperation for it to stop and get some sleep. So all has not been lost on the work front. I am only 1 day behind my schedule of a minimum of 4 new pages a day.
So it’s been a bit tough to get settled and the weather hasn’t helped. It has rained every day, the wind is strong and cold and we had a terrific storm on Thursday with thunder and lightening. So I have been cooped up and it’s left me wondering why I have come this far to have a) sleepless nights, b) constant fatigue, c) pressure to get my head down and d) miserable weather. The only up side is that I am writing a section which takes place in November 1916 when the weather was particularly cruel I comfort myself knowing I am not sleeping outdoors in a muddy trench and am not in danger of frostbite or getting shot at. And I have a hot water bottle! I guess I should be grateful that my current mood is in tune with my characters. Another good thing is I am reading The War of Art -Break through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield who wrote The Legend Of Baggar Vance. It’s by far the best book I have picked up on procrastination and other writerly battles.
However . . at 1pm this afternoon, the rain stopped, the wind died down and I walked for over an hour to the next village and back, feeling warm for the first time since I came and was quite happy getting back to my computer.
It’s interesting watching all the hoop-la in the run-up to the final stage of the Presidential election (next Sunday). It’s down to 2: Nicholas Sarkhozy, the current president and Francois Hollande, the socialist challenger. Everyone I have spoken to here is mad keen for Hollande to win. The champagne is already chilling. I’ll be happy with warm weather and a productive week. (But I won’t refuse any champagne on offer).
It’s been gloomy, misty and cold this past week and with a true literary pathetic fallacy, it’s somewhat a reflection of my mood.
A few days ago it hit me hard that I will be leaving this wonderful sanctuary in a little over a week. Although the draw to be with family and friends is strong, my days here have settled into a wonderful rhythm:
However my main focus now is a big push to get as much of my story down even if it’s drivel and will require hours of rewrites, so it will be heads down for the next week.
I did have a break this week when Jacques managed to sneak me onto a list of people in the Picardy tourist industry who were being treated to a day out to educate them about the region. The focus of the trip was around a painter called Alfred Manessier who among other things had created in the 80s the wonderful stained glass windows at a church in Abbeville which is NW of Amiens towards the coast. Among the guides for the day was his daughter who showed us his birthplace, his tomb (see picture below) and of course the windows. After lunch and 3 glasses of wine (2 bottles -1 red, 1 white – were already on the table when we got to the restaurant to be shared among each group of 6!), we were taken all the way to the coast to the Baie de Somme area. Very beautiful and I’m sure it is a wonderful beach place in the summer but it was freezing cold so we hopped out for a quick look then back on the bus and home. Had a nice wee nap on the way home – could it have been the wine at lunch? Hmm.
This week there is another trip which I will likely go on and I would like to have a day in Paris and walk the St. Germain area but writing may not permit – and hey, I’ll be back.
A tout a l’heure!
The sunshine of the past week has gone and in its place we have mists and drizzly rain. Rather gloomy or ‘triste” (sad) the man at the gas station remarked yesterday. But hey, I’m not here to get a suntan. When you’re poking about in museums and walking over fields where trenches once were, it adds to the sombre memory of all the horror that took place in this area.
The writing has been going in fits (small) and starts( many but not necessarily long-lived) as I’ve been able to get out and about quite a bit, thanks to Jacques and his little Citroen. He jokes that he is at my service as chauffeur, guide, French teacher, cook, translator etc. but in truth it is no joke as he has been exceptional at all of the above.
Saturday I went to Corbie, about 12kms away, on the hunt for a hospital that was here in 1916 (but of course is long gone), but at the tourist office I was given the name of a man who will help me find it. He was phoned but unfortunately was ill that day but I shall email him. I was also given the name of a woman a forty-minute drive from here who apparently is a great source of information. Another synchronistic event among many that pile up here. I already had this woman’s name in my notebook from a couple of years ago when I saw her on television program about archaeological digs around the Somme.
So yesterday I was off to Auchonvillers (or Ocean Villas as the British soldiers called it) to meet Avril. And sure enough there in her back yard was the actual trench the archaeologists had excavated! We had a great talk over a cup of tea (she is from Glouchestershire). The cellar of her house was a Dressing Station and her old barn which is now a tea room ( she runs a large guest house) was a stretcher-bearers’ post. Amazing! Plus, a man whose book I was able to unearth at the reading room at the Imperial War Museum in London 6 weeks ago in visiting here to give a lecture/walking tour on Sunday. So that’s where I will be, tramping across the front line of July 1916. Plus another man is coming on the 15th to her house who has just written a book based on a WW1 diary. And he comes from . .. . DUNDEE, my home town.
Do you think the universe is telling me something or what? I think it is reading me a story, word for word for me to follow.
This week, I was also at the WW1 museum in Peronne which is probably the best of its kind, attended the English conversation class again and had a wonderful dinner (my first authentic pot-au-feu) in a 300 year old farmhouse, the home of friends of Jacques.
So now it’s heads down today.
Re the photo:
we harvested the apple tree on what turned out to be the last sunny day.
Today is Toussaints – all Saint’s Day and it is a holiday. I was going to go to Amiens today and visit the Jules Verne house. He married a woman from Amiens and then settled there until he died. I never knew that. But being a holiday ( the schools have neen off for 2 weeks, not quite sure why that is) everything will be closed so I will slog away at the computer and go tomorrow.
Halloween is a non-event here. A friend I have made explained to me that they tried to make it like in N.A, tried to commercialize it but the French wouldn’t have it, so ne marche pas – it’s didn’t take off! Everyone seems relieved. Being a bit of a Halloween grinch, I commend their actions!
Now that November has come I’ll have to get organized if I am to see much else around here and even Paris and maybe other cities too. I leave for Penn in Buckinghamshire (30 miles west of London) where my cousins live on the 3oth. I am so settled here in many ways that it seems alarming almost that I have only a month left.
I wished I’d felt like that last week as it was not the best. In retrospect I think I may have had a bug or been abusing my body by drinking too much coffee. Most of last week, I would feel very woozy, shaky, had a stomach upset and was frozen all the time (finally finding a pharmacy that sold hotwater bottles helped). The upshot was I was very tired and very consumed with bodily processes rather than inspired to do much writing which in turn was a bit of a downer. Sunday was a bad day with all of this, the saving grace being Jacques invited me to have lunch with his son, wife and baby and his daughter who were all visiting for the holiday wekend. What interesting and warm people. At one point we sat around the table while I held the baby, Thomas, the son, played the guitar and everyone sang a song. This is how it goes. Everyone sings to one person in turn and sings the same line: Person’s name – I love you. Among my friends you’re the one I will never forget. So when it came to my turn – Diana (and everyone is looking and smiling at me) je t’aime. Parmi mes amis, je ne t’oublie -I could hardly contain my missing of all of you, my family and friends. So after a few tears in my own space, furious writing in my journal and coming upwith the theory that it was the coffee – regular which I never drink – that was the culprit casuing my health to go wonky, everything has gone well. Or it might have been the catharsis of tears and writing!
So yesterday morning, no coffee! And a request in for decaf which arrived this morning. Et Voila no more problems! Plus it was incredibly sunny yesterday so I was warm and when Jacques arrived with an armful of letters written by an Englishman during the 60s and 70s to a person he had met in this village in the month before the Battle of the Somme my day was definitely looking up.These letter ( about 2 dozen of them) were so eoquent and full of the feelingn and experiences of a young man in 1916 who witnessed so much horror. What a treasure and a stroke of luck for me. As Jacques said, “I think you find the right place here, yes?” I was so inspired to write after that. I have 3 chapters mapped out and wrote like a fiend yesterday all day.
In the evening I was invited in for dinner again. So another wonderful evening with good food, wine, new friends, appetizers in front of a fire, and even some real French converation it was a great and fruitful day.
My apologies for not including photos here but I apparently did not pack the cable I need to upload photos from my camera but thanks, Sharon, for the helpful hints anyway.
More writing today and maybe Jules Verne tomorrow.
My heartfelt thanks to all of you who have sent emails and Skyped. It truly is because of you this special time is possible.