‘Wedding Pictures’ by Isobel Cunningham

So great to have an original illustration!

Montréal Writes

Wedding Pictures

Illustration by Andres Garzon

Hi, Honey! Oh, Granny is so glad to see you. I hardly ever get a chance to baby-sit now that Nanna lives with you guys. I can’t compete with her!

Oh, my. Look how you’ve grown. You’re a big girl now, five years old already! C’mon in, Granny has oatmeal cookies and milky tea just like the other time. Only don’t tell Mummy or you’ll never be allowed back! Just kidding, darling . . . wave bye-bye to Mummy in the car.

Yes, Granny’s been decluttering—throwing out old pictures and books and things. What, this big white book? That’s Granny’s wedding album. Pictures of the day Granny got married to Grandpa. No, Grandpa doesn’t live with Granny any more.

It’s a wedding, you know, the day people get married. Marriage. Do you know what that is? Well, maybe you don’t.

You’ve seen people riding around…

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Jewels of the Volcano



Yesterday we went jewel hunting – and we found some! On Wednesday we met some very kind Germans who were parked in their camper out in a wilderness just down the ravine from a volcano caldera. Now, there’s a something you don’t read every day! These two people were shuffling around in the dust with their heads down. It turns out they were looking for garnets…and finding them! I was very interested and so today we came back with a pick and a bottle for our treasures. As you can see we found lots of garnets and even some lovely crystals. All this bounty is the result of volcanic action that took place about 10 million years ago. This area (Cabo de Gata in southern Spain) is full of volcanic hills and calderas. After we had picked up quite a lot of garnets, Joe wanted to go into  the caldera. The path doesn’t look too difficult, does it? The picture is deceiving. As one approaches the lip of the crater, the path becomes steep and, of course, it is composed of unstable pebbles. As soon as we embarked on the top part I knew I would have trouble coming down but I certainly wasn’t going to give up when I was almost there.

It was so inspiring to stand about half way up the wide depression that forms the crater and look across to the other side. All around there are crags but the bowl of the crater is quite flat except for a little hill. Think of dropping a pebble into a glass of water and how the water flies up. Probably that was how the little hill was made. It was a wonderful sensation to stand there, totally alone since at this time of year, hikers are rare enough. The wind was whistling through the “bite” in the caldera wall and the sky was perfectly clear. There were large boulders all over the place and smaller stones scattered around. It just made me think about the millions of years that had passed since everything was in a turmoil and how surreal it was that we could turn around and see not far away a modern highway and the awful plastic greenhouses that cover a lot of Andalusia.

Now, the coming down part was less enjoyable. I have a bit of a problem with my right knee. My usual tactic is simply to ignore the pain and take care to go up with the good leg. Going down with the bad knee was rather perilous. To handle my deathly fear of falling and truly smashing up my knee I simply sat down and scooted down on my butt for the steepest parts. Needs must. Good thing I was wearing an ancient pair of jeans.

I am thrilled with my “Jewels” and even more so with the memory of climbing up to the caldera and looking over the extinct volcano.

The pictures – one shows the garnets just sitting there waiting to be taken home (down at the bottom of the pic)

. One shows the path up to the volcano lip, One shows the garnets and crystals after they had been cleaned up.  I can hardly wait to find some crafty type who will make them into jewelry for me and my granddaughter!

Talk to me, Baby

Find that dime, that quarter, that dollar, that card

Find the time, find the words.

Find the sea song that sends the sigh

over the waves

on the white wings of gulls.

Let me hear your breath, soft with a faint rasp

like the ripple of a wave that drags down pebbles.

Press the receiver to your shell ear.

Hear me lick my lips, draw in my breath

whisper ” Hello” before the goodbye.

Do I Have To?

  Spanish hunters buy these birds to use as live lures for wild partridge. We saw lots of them in clean, well-watered cages today. It seemed a kind of mean way to fool the birds. I know, we use duck decoys and moose calls to fool game into getting shot but this seems particularly gruesome to me. There were about thirty birds priced anywhere from €3 to €6 depending on the type of bird . ( They all looked the same to me) 

I could only imagine the procedure in the field as the captive bird calls and his wild brothers and sisters approach. What happens to him at the end  of hunting season, I wonder?

Carnival in Cartagena


We spent a few days visiting this ancient city recently. Yes, it’s named after Carthage in North Africa and it has a marvellous ruin of a Roman theatre  Last weekend was carnival weekend and I was astonished to see the energy and sheer number of people engaged in the carnival parade. There were a lot of very scantily clad ladies with huge feather headdresses but—seen one, you’ve seen ’em all! I was more interested in the political side of things. Spain is in the midst of a debate about the remains of Fransisco Franco, the general who ruled Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975. I am learning a lot about the Spanish Civil War and also about Franco …..I’m not getting into it! OK? A vote in the parliament last year approved the exhumation of his remains. Not so fast, where will he be buried then? The grandchildren of Franco oppose the move and propose that their ancestor be buried in the Cathedral of Madrid. The Government fear that such a move would encourage veneration of Franco so they refuse this alternative. The government even appealed to the Vatican to help decide where he should be reburied. That’s why the pope appears in the carnival float. This topic has been a hot issue for several years and so…. the float.

Despite this note of political turmoil, the rest of the parade was a joyful muddle of diverse themes. Hawaiians, showgirls, Chinese, Indian, Arabian, Mexican – all dancing along to infectious Brazilian carnival music! My favorite was a two year old dressed as a bee. She insisted that she must march in the parade. Over and over again, her dad marched her up and down 40 feet beside the parade route.  On the walk up she sulked. On the way down she beamed. To me, that’s the spirit of Carnival. Humor a bee! Why not?

You can take the boy out of the country…

This is how a garden is made! Jump over the fence behind the apartment we are renting, scrape with a borrowed rake, run for bags of earth, pepper plants, artichokes, lettuce, onions, broccoli, strawberries(!) hack with a hand pick and add to the pile of stones at the base of a slope bordering this empty lot. Now, plant…..muttering curses that it is very late to plant potatoes…….in they go just the same. 

Now every morning the plot is watered and we wait and watch. It is February after all.

The price of tomatos

 Hell or purgatory. Choose! I suppose purgatory at least holds out some hope no matter how faint. 

These are the shacks of workers who tend vegetables in the plastic greenhouses close to where we are spending some time this winter on the south coast of Spain. Huge swaths of the province of Andalusia have been swallowed up by these enormous agricultural enterprises. How much? Well, you can see the development from space!

The workers are Morroccans, sub-Saharan Africans and  a sprinkling of Eastern Europeans. Many of them go to work on bicycles. Some live in apartments in the small communities around the growing areas and many live in shanty towns made of lathe and plastic weighted down with stones. We have been told:

” They steal electricity for their shacks. ” 

” They have cell phones. Some even have cars.”

” It’s better here than where they came from.”

” They send all their money back to their countries.” 

Last week, driving to town to  we were horrified to see that some of the shacks had been burned down. To my initial consternation, Joe suddenly stopped the car, jumped out and began to talk to a man who was dragging together a few sticks with a view to ” rebuilding” I supposed. He told Joe that someone had been cooking with bottled gas and due to the high winds that have been prevalent lately, a fire broke out and quickly spread. Of course, there was no water supply to control the fire. Miraculously no one was killed and those who sustained injuries were treated in hospital. It seems workers in the ” plasticos” are entitled to medical treatment in Spain. 

That benevolence reminded me of 19 th century coal companies that offered a ” dispensary” to workers, many of whom died of black lung or ” retired” with no pension after suffering mine accidents. 

Joe has an intense interest in others. Sometimes my legacy of British reserve calls it “being inquisitive” but in this case I admired him. The worker wanted to talk to Joe, to answer questions about what had happened. Joe recognized him not as “one of them” as ” the other” but as a person who had suffered a great misfortune and who had a right to tell his story. If I was cowardly and stayed sitting in the car, I owe it to that man at least to write this. 

Is this the price of cheap vegetables and fruit in Northern Europe? If the home countries of the workers are hell…..is this not purgatory? Today it very windy and there are many white-capped waves on the sea between Spain and North Africa. Stay a few days yet in hell. Purgatory will wait.