Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A thing of beauty

In Plaza Castilla, Antequera, there is a beautiful and strong looking statue:

On a plaque at its base is the following inscription:
Lorenzo Valla (1445)
Allowing for the Roman-icised Vs replacing Us, and the poetic language used, I believe the following translation pretty much captures the essence:
Since love was to be impossible,
as one in a strong embrace
the lovers threw themselves
from atop of the rock
There is a free, English language, magazine 'Local Connections', available in the Costa del Sol district. In the regular 'Out & About in Antequera' column, of Edition 37, Aug-Sep 2007, Liz Partridge has written a piece titled Legends of Antequera. It goes:

The story begins sometime during the conquest of Antequera, when a young man, believed to be a christian, was captured and taken to Granada. There, he worked as a slave for a family of Moors in a beautiful house with a garden. But busy both in the house and in the city, it was sometime before he saw the daughter of his master. One day, as he was working in the garden, she came out walking with her maid. He politely urged her to take shelter from the sun under the pergola. She was instantly taken by his way of speaking and his good manners, while he fell in love with this gentle maiden. Dismissing her maid on some pretence, she was able to continue her discourse with the young man. They were irresistibly attracted to one another and, while discussing how they could possibly be together, decided to escape at the first opportunity, ignoring the obvious danger that entailed.

One night, while her parents were sleeping, they slipped out of the house and fled in the direction of the Rock. There, they rested awhile talking of what their life would be like together. Suddenly, they heard the sound of horses approaching at great speed and were horrified to see her father and his men drawing nearer.

The only refuge, under the circumstances, was the summit of the Rock, where they climbed breathlessly. Her father and his men dismounted and followed on foot. The maiden's father ordered her to return to her family and his men urged her to throw herself at his feet and beg forgiveness. The young man, hearing this , turned to her and said, "Go down, ask for his mercy and he will surely forgive you. As for me, I can no longer live." "Love of my soul," she replied, "if you die, then we will die together." Then, with their love declared, they embraced and threw themselves off the Rock, to their death.

There are various interpretations of this legend though they all end in the demise of the lovers. In one, it is said that the couple were found still entwined and were buried together. Another tells how, in the fall, they became separated and remained where they lay amongst inaccessible rocks. [I like the first version better - I reckon it is in keeping with the sentiment of the statue inscription.] Meanwhile, the Rock retains its mystery and its appearance of a face seeking the stars.

I am known far and wide as an old romantic, so I won't spoil that reputation by drawing any attention to the distance between Granada and the Rock outside Antequera. And I assume if she was to throw herself at her father's feet pleading forgiveness, she'd come down from the Rock first. No? Hey, it's a lovely story.

It's a lovely statue.

aka Mad

Friday, October 12, 2007

Living the dream

Well. Spain.

We spent the first weekend in Spain with my bro, BOK, and family at Majadahonda, Madrid. So nice to be with family again; so nice to be in domestic comforts. On Saturday night, we went and watched BOK race in a Street Mile run, he picked up third place.

We caught the train to what we thought might be a good place to establish ourselves: Antequera. Why? Easy access to lots of top Spanish destinations; nice size: not too big, not to small - 50,000 people; on good transport routes; banks, shops and all the necessary services, and a web site said 85% of tourists are Spanish. As we rode the taxi into town, from the spanking new Santa Ana rail station, built for the new AVE fast trains, we knew immediately. This will do. A gorgeous looking town. Nothing since has made us think differently.

Looking up our Cuesta towards Chapelle Tribune de Portachuelo

Within 24 hours we had found a fantastic place to rent. But possession would be in a fortnight, so we headed to Cádiz, Costa del Luz: a lovely place despite its tourist appeal. Half a dozen very large cruise ships visited port during our stay. But ... sun, sand, sea and warm as.

While there the Cadiz Film Festival was on. We found out the second to last night. The Jonathon Demi film, Neil Young: A Heart of Gold was showing. So there we went. Ten o'clock at night, open air, under the stars, warm, couple of cervezas, wacko! After the movie, they had a local blues artist perform: Felix Slim - Happy Skinny we called him. Very entertaining. Lovely night. Feeling pretty good.

Looking down our Cuesta towards Iglesia San Juan. That's treinta y ocho second on the right, the taller one.

Back to Antequera to sign our rental lease, and with a week to go we headed down to Málaga: Costa del Sol. The name suggests Spain's Sunshine Coast. But I didn't feel at home. Unlike Queensland's Sunshine Coast, the beach at Málaga is pretty ordinary. But there's stacks of shops. And we are talking here about two people approaching seven months since packing up and leaving 217 Wilton Rd, and still without our shipped goods, and still in clothes worn through Africa. I treated myself to a new pair of trousers, a couple of shirts, and new underwear. That evening I went to dinner feeling like a million dollars (Euros?) - must have been the new undies!

As you know, the Brits are all over Costa del Sol. As a result, you can easily pick up the English newspapers. And a good thing too - as a result I found this fantastic little article in The Sunday Times (September 30, 2007) written by Matthew Campbell, titled 'Book now for the flight to nowhere':

An Indian entrepreneur has given a new twist to the concept of low-cost airlines. The passengers boarding his Airbus 300 in Delhi do not expect to go anywhere because it never takes off. All they want is the chance to know what it is like to sit on a plane, listen to announcements and be waited on by stewardesses bustling up and down the aisle.
In a country where over 99% of the population have never experienced air travel, the 'virtual journeys' of Bahadur Chand Gupta, a retired Indian Airlines engineer, have proved a roaring success.
As on ordinary aircraft, customers buckle themselves in and watch safety demonstrations. But when they look out the window, the landscape never changes.
Even if 'Captain' Gupta wanted to get of the ground, the plane would not go far: it only has one wing and a large part of the tail is missing. (Gupta bought the plane from an insurance company, removed the Indian Airlines logo, and painted the Gupta name.)
None of that bothers Gupta as he sits at the controls in his cockpit. His regular announcements include,"
Passengers are looked after by a crew of six, including Gupta's wife, who goes up and down the aisle with her drinks trolley, serving meals in airline trays. As for the passengers, Gupta charges about 2 pound each for passengers taking the 'journey', they are too poor to afford a real airline ticket and most have only ever seen the interior of an aircraft in films ...
Jasmine, a young teacher, had been longing to go on a plane. "It is much
more beautiful than I ever imagined," she said.
Times up! We are into our new home:

It's fantastic. Everything we could of dreamed of: a white town; castle; churches, and now a lovely house with a to-die-for courtyard. We had visions of a basement flat! We are now living that dream. I must have known something. I even packed my art block, pencils and water colours when we left. As they hadn't arrived yet I actually went to the Antequera version of a $2 shop and bought some kids paints, and an art block. It's amazing what you can draw with the Bic pencil as well.

The house is owned by Brits, and has British satellite TV installed. As a result, we get to watch the good old Wellington/Kiwi boys Flight of the Conchords.

Getting our belongings from Customs was a real test. Incredibly, in a piece of clever timing, our stuff arrived in Barcelona two weeks before we touched down in Madrid. There have been the usual combinations of language difficulty and not fully understanding local procedures, not to mention the cretin we have had to deal with (being illegal immigrants hasn't helped the cause). Then, after four weeks, when it was cleared, we were informed delivery would be in 48-72 hours. A week later we still waited. The shipping agent then admits the transport company has lost our stuff! The new found patience and art of just accepting things that I discovered in Africa held me out through the customs clearance. But oddly, it wasn't replaced by anger, rage or any other nasty emotion. Just plain straight disappointment. All has been going swimmingly well. Will just have to work through this one. But it's now all but eight months of living with just a backpack of worldly possessions. If we has set of to travel nine months, you'd be prepared, it's just that when your expectations are raised ...

But we have managed to get stuck into the normal everyday stuff: rental lease, phone line installed, buy a cell phone (replacing one stolen in Ethiopia, mine is in the post somewhere (?) from Nairobi ... ummm), open bank account, set up water and power accounts. Blah, blah, blah. Life goes on. And the weather has been 25 degrees plus, each day, with only two or three days of feather like clouds. And not a breath of wind.

It's frustrating for Deb trying to do her uni study using an internet cafe.

Oh, and we have had our first visitors as well. Deb's mum and sister arrived. Tracey had taken Barbara on a trip from London, to Rome, Venice, Barcelona, and Antequera. Tracey stayed a couple of days, but mother-in-law, dear, stayed on. I'm going to get a medal for this one. Deb will take her back to London.We made it to Spain only two weeks before they arrived, and moved into the house two days before they got to Antequera themselves. Slick, huh? In the first few weeks we were able to get around to visiting places we hadn't seen on previous visits to Spain, but showing Barbara around to the 'big' sites meant that doubling up was inevitable.

We have been to see the local team play football in the Third Division, GroupIX against Granada74. It was no Real Madrid v Barcelona, I tell you. I did overcome language barriers to learn the support chant though:
An-te-quera! clap, clap, clap-clap. An-te-quera! clap, clap, clap-clap.

Though, my Spanish continues to struggle. There's a funny little man, (between you and me - a little, how do they say, - simple, I believe), who rings the doorbell each Thursday afternoon and opens up with a sales pitch at one thousand miles an hour. He is selling two local newspapers. One is priced at 1Euro-fifty, the other 75 cents. But for 1.50 I get both, and what looks like a raffle ticket or something. He points at a page in the paper. He appears to not notice that I cannot engage one single bit in his banter, or that I have not the faintest idea what is going on(except I have two newspapers obviously), he gives me a big smile, a wave and takes off. I look forward to seeing him again next Thursday.

However, I visited the barber, the old peluquero as we say around here, was able to order what I wanted, talk about the weather, the local football, the Premier League (Spanish), my trip through Africa, and that I'm now living in Antequera. Not bad. Usual bloke's haircut conversation.

But 'believe' I have found some Spanish classes. And some art classes - something I have promised myself for years. So, the two things I assigned myself to do in Spain: Learn better Spanish, improve my art skills. Hey, and you thought I was just going to lark around.

I'm not even going to mention the Rugby World Cup.

I mentioned I was reading Karen Blixen's Out of Africa (1937, Penguin) as we arrived in Spain. I sometimes got tripped up when reading this book. Often poetic turns of phrase demanded you stop, re-read, even re-read again. 'The vault of the nocturnal sky swung back over our heads as we sat on, new constellations of stars came up from the east. The smoke from the fire in the cold air carried long sparks with it, the fresh firewood smelt sour.' Just a randomly picked choice of many. But it's a book of its time. This paragraph, to me, captures so much. The era in which it was written, a poet at work, and charming images.

Charcoal burning is a pleasant job. There is undoubtedly something intoxicating about it, and it is known that charcoal burners see things in a different light from other people, they are given to poetry and taradiddle, and wood demons come and keep them company. Charcoal is a beautiful thing to turn out, when your kiln is burnt and opened up, and the contents spread on the ground. Smooth as silk, matter defecated, freed of weight, and made imperishable, the dark experienced little mummy of the wood.
And that word. Probably what we would call 'old-fashioned' now. I didn't have my dictionary when I read it - it didn't matter. Context gives ample meaning. Wonderful. Onomatopoeic.

All the bookshops in Spain, no matter how small, are carrying the book La Ladróna de los Libros. When in Malaga, I visited the grand Liberitería Luces, which surprisingly had a reasonable English section (not bad! It's Spain after all). And there it was , Aussie author Markus Zusak's The Book Thief (2007, Black Swan). Bought it. The only problem (small) is that the Spanish title has given away a clue as to the thief's identity. But the book actually introduces you very early on, - and it's on the cover! No matter. Apparently it has picked up several awards already, explaining the wide sales around town, but traveling through Africa this is all news to me. It's one of those, as the reviewers like to say, unputdownables. I shan't tell you anymore.

You've gathered: I quite liked Out of Africa. Before I let it go I have to share one more nice little piece from it, with you. It cheers me up a bit. Bit pissed about our belongings.

One evening, as we were going to play cards, the English traveller told us about [his earlier travels to] Mexico and how a very old Spanish lady, who lived on a lonely farm in the mountains, when she heard of the arrival of a stranger, had sent for him and ordered him to give her the news of the world. 'Well, men fly now, Madame,' he said to her.
'Yes, I have heard of that,' said she, 'and I have many arguments with my priest about it. Now you can enlighten us, sir. Do men fly with their legs drawn up under them like the sparrows, or stretched out behind them, like the storks?'
Think I'll call the office, and phone in sick tomorrow. Yuk yuk. Sorry, rubbing it in.

aka Mad