Old and New



Yesterday we traveled over a torturous road to a small mountain village, Huebro. We came to hang around in the big hill town of Nijar. We huffed and puffed our way up to the look-out tower that gives a view over the sea of plastic greenhouses that fill the plain. The real sea glitters beyond. Joe remembered that we had visited Huebro before. I had a vague memory of the terror that can only be experienced by a driver, helpless in the passenger seat when hair-pin bends are being negotiated on a narrow track with no guard rail. Joe could only remember the little taverna where delicious tapas and cheap but good wine was the staple. And so….we went. Is it better to close one’s eyes or one’s mouth in such circumstances? Choices, choices.

Thank the gods of travel that no one wanted to leave Huebro and go to Nijar on the way to…and we only met one brave soul on the way back.

What we found in the little taverna, next to an enormous church (is it ever full, I wondered) was a lively group of young families and this gentleman. He was preparing seed potatoes for planting. Of course, Joe got into a conversation with him and they discussed the virtues of various types of potatoes. He had an allotment somewhere close to the village and he was preparing to plant in hopes of a good crop in April. He had brought his sack of potatoes from home and was enjoying the company around him as he did his chore. The owner of the café certainly did not mind. I don’t think she minded much. She was a no-nonsense type. When Joe teased her by saying he hadn’t enjoyed his paella, she retorted, “Hombre, I don’t care. You cleaned the plate. Now pay me….and cash, we have no machines here.” Certainly the wine she served made me much more relaxed on the drive down.

The old man told us he was eighty years old. When is it that we start proudly telling people our age, I wonder. It never even crossed my mind to ask him but he seemed to think it was something I should know. I told him his potatoes probably kept him going and he laughed.

So, the old is centre stage here. Can you see the new?

My poetry book, “Northern Compass” available on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca

Only the Mountains do not Meet

That is an old Greek expression that means you can expect to meet people with whom you have some sort of connection as you travel around on your journey. That certainly was the case yesterday. We went for a long walk on the sandy beach of Capo de Gata and then settled down for a drink at a sea-side café. Joe went in to get the coffees and emerged triumphant with a compatriot of mine. Turns out this lovely Welsh girl could wave across the estuary to my cousins’ place in Llanelli. How lovely it was to hear her soft voice telling us her story! An intrepid cyclist (like my own daughter, Elizabeth) she was travelling over the mountains of Spain and had just finished three nights of camping in some abandoned houses in one of our favorite villages, Rodalquilar. I must say I admire people’s capacity for going on these adventures alone but as she explained in her quiet and modest way she was on an “interior journey”. No more was said about it and I thought how typical it was of her not to expand on what that meant – as so many would have. We were joined by a gentleman who obviously had some mental health problems – his desperation for us not to ignore him or leave made him talk non stop. Since the other two people at the table were the soul of kindness (Joe and our new friend Claire) I was free to throw out a few comments of a darker nature – sotto voce of course – about the need for “turn taking” in every conversation. Not to worry, all was carried away in the torrent of his fervent discourses on everything from philosophy to poetry and beyond. When he mentioned Mount Olympus I managed to convince him that I had, many years ago, climbed up to the refuge and spent a night there. He insisted on running home to get photographs of his own trip and in a few moments I was astounded to see him posed in a photo in front of the railings of the stone chalet where I once spent the night with my daughter, Helen. It was a mirror of the picture I have at home and as I looked around the table I thought how odd that the four of us should somehow have met that afternoon and woven strands of our time together.  “Only the Mountains do not Meet,” indeed.

As for the pictures of various local stones, they are proof that in some circumstances, even the mountains meet! Joe, a geophysicist by training, explained that millions of years ago volcanoes in the district spewed out lava that compressed various types of rock and melted them together forming a “melange” The melange at our table was interesting, beautiful and quirky. However, unlike the rocks of ages we were destined to part with many a promise to meet again.

This post today in honor of Mary Oliver who died yesterday. Explore this wonderful poet if you do not already know her. For humbler offerings see my poetry book, “Northern Compass” available on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca

I Plunge my Hands

Dylan Thomas wrote in ” A Child’s Christmas in Wales” ….”I plunge my hands into the snow and bring out what I can find.” And thus he began a memoir, magical and familiar that has been loved by many for long years.

Yesterday, I had my own childhood memory awoken by plunging my hands into a bin of grain much like those in my grandfather’s hay and corn shop. He made his fortune during the First World War selling supplies to the army. In a time when war ran on live horse power there was money to be made in keeping livestock well fed. He dabbled in futures without really knowing the term. He bought crops in the field betting that the notoriously bad Welsh weather would hold long enough for a good crop to yield him a profit. He was known in the district as ” Honest John” because good crop or bad, the farmers were paid in full and at the agreed time.

After the war horse power was quickly replaced by cars and trucks and John Wybron’s shop had to change. All sorts of animal feed, seeds, pigeon peas for local bird fanciers and pet supplies appeared in the front of the shop. Spot, the terrier, still ruled the big warehouse down a steep hill behind the business.  By the time I was old enough to remember visits my grandfather had died and my two uncles ran the shop, one keeping accounts and the other driving the lorry to pick up and deliver as far as Glouchester. A great distance in those days!

Yesterday, as I absentmindedly plunged my hand into a bin of grain in a shop here in Southern Spain,  I was transported back to those days when, as a little child, I would let grains or dried peas run through my fingers. I could smell the dusty mix and hear the crackle of a paper bag being filled. I could feel the rough wooden counter under my bare legs as I was lifted up to sit next to the old fashioned cash register. What is memory, after all, that it can be triggered by the simple touch of grain on a hand?

Lorca..on the way to the theatre



Last night, just a few miles from the site of the real-life event that inspires the piece, we attended a performance of “Bodas de Sangre” (Blood Wedding) by Frederico Garcia Lorca. Thank goodness I had read the play in translation last year as, naturally, the performance was in Spanish. Lorca, famous for his collaboration with Dali and other surreal artists of the 1920’sand 1930’s was assassinated in 1936. His body has never been found. The play, one of his most famous, is a strange mixture of melodrama and poetry. I enjoyed the performance very much, although what marked the evening more for me was a magical incident that took place before we even entered the theatre.

The performance was advertised on a play-bill stuck up on a kiosk in San Jose where we are staying. It was to take place in Nijar, a hill town about twenty-five kilometres away. We had visited before so we had no doubts about finding the place but once there we had no idea where the theatre was. The town is a maze of steep and narrow streets and the prospect of navigating them blindly in hopes of finding the venue was not a happy one. Fortunately, Joe has the habit of asking directions, sometimes of the most unlikely sources. Yesterday he chose to ask a schoolboy of about ten or eleven years of age. The kid was rolling down a steep street on a scooter and came to a swerving stop when Joe hailed him. He had a head of black curls and an engaging smile.

“Sure, I know where it is. You have to turn around and…oh, never mind. I’ll show you the way. Follow me.” As he sped off he hailed someone called Fatima and yelled out in something that certainly was not Spanish. Off we went! He zoomed down curved and steep narrow streets gliding over speed bumps with both feet on the scooter. We followed behind, our hearts in our mouths. As one point a woman in a hijab called out to him but with a wave of his hand and a few words he dismissed her and carried on leading us – two old strangers – to our destination. Now and then he would look back to be sure we were still with him and with a nod of his head urge us on. After a tight squeeze with an oncoming car at an impossibly sharp turn we emerged at the parking lot of a large modern theatre.

Our personal Hermes who had flown ahead of us as our guide turned out to be called Said. He accepted a few coins with surprise and profuse thanks in what Joe tells me was extremely polite and beautiful Spanish. I think I will remember this “overture” to the play long after the words of Lorca have faded from memory

Sunny Winter Sky

  This may not be your idea of a botanical garden but it is one of my favorites. It is a shot of a rather bare spot in the garden in Rodalquilar in the province of Andalucia in Southern Spain. This pomegranate tree had only a few fruits left and those had been ravaged by the wild birds who live here. It was quiet, sunny and cool in the garden today. We were the only visitors, in fact! A kind attendant told us that the staff had been obliged to chip in to repair the tiller. Seems the Spanish burocracy is so dense that it just seemed easier to make a personal sacrifice than to wrestle with various levels of government. Contacts in the renown Kew Gardens of London are very interested in this unique garden which features native plants from the semi-desert environment. Their offer to translate all the information  panels lies mouldering  on the desk of a fonctionaire somewhere in the maze of Spanish offices that approve such projects. 
On a happier note, today in the garden we saw many happy insects, bees among them ravishing some lovely yellow flowers. Young olive trees nodded benignly at us, knowing they would outlive us by a century or so. On a neighbouring hill we could see the deserted gold mine. Rodalquilar is no longer a mining village but a haven for artists and writers. It is almost time for almonds trees to bloom and I am sure such a sight is more inspiring than any gold mine. 

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?

In the Subway

In the University Metro Station

an accordion player.

The young feet hurrying back and forth

in rapid rhythm.

A few minutes before the hour

a crescendo. The crush of crowds

hurrying to class.

No coin, no glance.

With his strong left arm

he opens

the big instrument, black with mother of pearl, keys and buttons.

He pulls it open. He tilts back, body rocking on the chair.

A pleated fan curving, the angle always changing

as the tunes, well-known and loved

or strange, some from his own past, pour forth in an echoing stream.

The weight on his legs and the straps

over his shoulders

tire him at the end of the day.

He plays waltzes and tangos, show tunes and marches.

When some old man or woman loiters beside him

smiling as he nods, he wonders

what the coin will be.