|The Bell Batterer’s Belfry
Between showers yesterday, the dog and I went out. He and I both need the exercise. The sun shone bright between downpours. The smell after the rain here in the Sierra de la Francia is different to how it is in Andalucia. Maybe it’s all the trees. There are Chestnuts – thousands of Chestnuts, Oaks, Pyrenean Oaks, Portuguese Oaks, Holly Oaks (no, not that kind), Eucalyptus, and Ash – no ash dieback here. I haven’t seen one pine, although there were two large pine cones on the track yesterday. And of course, strangest of all for this fish out of Andalucian water, there are no palms.
Alongside the track, there are brambles. About half the fruit is ripe, but there’s still enough to make blackberry pie for the world, or at least the local town, tourists and all. I picked a few to eat along the way. The berries were so juicy there was no hiding the evidence on our return.
Later, in the evening we went out into the lush greenery again. Looking down the slope to where the church nestles by the river, I could see someone in the bell tower. The bell began to toll, I asked not, of course. It began as though someone was pulling the rope to strike the hour, only it was half past six. On the strike of 10, I saw the tiny figure in the belfry move. The resulting noise seemed like he’d decided to hammer a second bell with avant-garde jazz syncopation. It went on for several minutes. The next thing I heard was some kind of Public Address announcement. It was too far away to discern a single word, and the echoing valley made sure the language could have been sanskrit. Then the bells began again.
|Two Old Dogs, No New Tricks
The old dog is not keen on loud noises, sonic booms, aircraft engine runs, slamming doors – anything that might sound like thunder to a dog that hates storms. So the Bells of Hell going anything but ting-a-ling-a-ling didn’t bother him… but they did bother me. I wanted to know what all the noise was about. Perhaps I’ll ask someone today.
The sculptures I mentioned in the last post appear to have been procreating. As you can see there are now three. I’m still not quite sure how they’ve been done. But the latest one, nearest the railing, is sacking, probably over a frame (if that’s the word) of rocks, most likely granite, given that it’s in plentiful supply here.
Speaking of art. I’m in two minds about Banksy’s latest stunt in Weston-Super-Mare. As always, he’s come up with an original and skewed concept. However, I can’t help feeling it’s a jaundiced and cynical view. Yes, it’s clever, but does it say anything new about the Dismal-land Theme Park that Britain has become?
So hats off, again, Banksy, for being original and provocative, but a thumbs down for giving us the same old world view.
Of course, well done too, for giving Weston-Super-Mare a real shot in the arm. I know it could do with it. I just wish you hadn’t done it by mocking everything it stands for – the working class at play.
On one of the walking routes near the tiny pueblo where I’m staying, someone had put this art installation at the side of the track, right at the very beginning. It’s part of a general initiative here in the Sierra de la Francia: Arte en la Naturaleza. Now, you may think that this is hippy-dippy, smell the flowers, new-age nonsense, but I like the idea. I took the photo about 5 days ago. 2 days ago the installation had gone, as ephemeral as the blossom on a fruit tree. There are other works dotted around the senderos all over the National Park.
In the front yard of a house near the place I’m staying there’s a sculpture of two figures, a man and a woman. I don’t know what the medium is, plaster, clay – it’s probably not plastic, not here – but here’s the thing. They look like they’re made out of paper bags, the kind you still get your fruit and veg in at a farmers’ market, if you’re lucky.
It’s a strangely magical place. Where I’m staying, the owners leave local produce in the lobby, so the guests in the two flats in the building can help themselves. And yet. Here I am with my laptop open using the village 4G network and the wifi to write this. Are we the last lucky people? Will I look back on this time at the age of 80 (if I’m lucky) and think about the time when fuel was available and I could travel 300 miles in a matter of hours to somewhere as different from the Costa del Sol as the Earth is from the Moon? I hope not. In the meantime, I’m glad to be alive and kicking now, in the best of times.
Stand in a narrow street with a dog and someone will stop to talk. At least here in this tiny town perched on the up-slope of a deep valley, where everyone has a few vines growing among the fruit, peppers and root vegetables of their market gardens. This morning an old lady stopped and asked what kind of dog it was. I told her he was a long-haired galgo, or at least most of him was. She laughed. I think the old woman must have been about seventy or so, eyes still alert and missing the look of fear and confusion you see in the elderly, especially if the amyloids have begun their work of dissolving the personality from the inside out.
The corner I was standing on gave a good view through a squarish window about the size of an 18th century landscape, if the museum hasn’t wasted its money. It was the view into the local ‘super’market. The range of products is extensive, but not available every day. The window is directly behind the counter. A man in a white coat served the customers, all ladies well past retirement age. Perhaps pensions had been paid into bank accounts this morning? There is a Banco Popular with an atm near the Town Square. I looked up the street on whose corner I was standing. More an alley, almost a snicket if that means anything to anyone reading this. The cars parked around the town’s narrow streets looked out of place. Too new and shiny, probably belonging to tourists like me. Most local vehicles are vans or drag a trailer behind them down to the huertas.
The grapes go to the Bodega Cooperativa on the outskirts of town. The lagares, vats hewn out of granite in the sides of the hills are tourist attractions on the hiking routes all over the valley. Locals tell me that only forty years ago the grapes were tramped in these by their parents or grandparents.
I think I’ll have a glass of the local vino before we leave this place.
The old lady wished me a good morning on her return from the shop. Her two plastic bags looked heavy, but I think she was insulted by the offer of help – and I was pleased that she was too proud to accept it.