Wednesday, October 20

Summer snippets — Cádiz

Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Augusto 2010, sandcombers, horses and jockeys.

hooves churning foamed sand
the sea pulls away from shore
gulls cry songs of salt

The photo is from a horse race I saw this August on the beach in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, where the Guadalquivir river flows into the Atlantic. Sanlúcar is a delightful town in the Andalusian province of Cádiz, in southern Spain. In addition to these waterfront competitions that it has been hosting for nearly 180 years, the town is famed for its wonderful manzanilla (the delicate local variety of the pale dry fino sherry), stately mansions and great cuisine, highlighted by perhaps the best prawns your teeth and taste buds could ever tuck into. I was able to sample generous helpings of all of these on a brief but rewarding visit this summer while getting acquainted with the ancient city of Cádiz and its surrounds.

A few more photos ...

Both of these photos are from last year's races and are taken from the website (Spanish).

The races must be held at low tide, so the starting times vary.

Where horses race, gamblers follow. One tradition associated with these races is to have children organize and run betting stands for other children. Yes, that is how we encourage the entrepreneurial spirit amongst the young here in Spain. These two sisters are taking bets on the next race. When is the last time you saw a bookie with a lollipop?

There is a love of horses and horsemanship in this part of Spain. Even the merry-go-rounds are low-tech and labor intensive. Why use plastic horsies when the real things are so abundantly available?

Let's leave Sanlúcar and head off to the provincial capital, Cádiz, founded by the Phoenicians around 3000 years ago, making it the oldest continuously lived in city on the Iberian peninsula and probably all of southwestern Europe. The old quarters stand on a narrow peninsula jutting out into the sea, so there are fabulous views of the ocean and the bay from all over the city. The sky, sea and sun-ripened horizon seemingly permeate everything in and about the city, its whitewashed homes, art, music, food, the laughter of its residents. The light and the air it inhabits seem different in Cádiz than anywhere else, tinged gold and silver, depending on the time of day and slant of eyes and mood, scented with sea salt or jasmine, depending on the season and direction of the wind. I can think of no better place to become schooled and wise in the ways and nuances of sea breezes. Sailing is key to the city’s history and sails and zephyrs waft constantly through the popular imagination, speech and songs of its people. Indeed, Columbus set out for the New World just around 60 miles northwest from here, and the city had its golden age in the 18th century when the Guadalquivir river passage to Sevilla silted up and Cádiz inherited the Andalusian capital’s place as main port for trade with the Americas.

A zen master of Cádiz sea breezes ...

One of the best known gaditanos, as the people of Cádiz are known, is the poet Rafael Alberti, born just across the bay in El Puerto de Santa María in 1902. At the time of his death on 28 October 1999, Alberti had become the last surviving member of the group of poets known as the “Generation of ‘27”, which included Federico García Lorca, Jorge Guillén, Vicente Aleixandre, Luis Cernuda, along with fellow travelers painter Salvador Dalí, filmmaker Luis Buñuel, poet Miguel Hernandéz and, farther afield, Chile’s Pablo Neruda and Argentina´s Jorge Luis Borges. Rafael Alberti fled the country in 1939, driven out by Franco’s victory in the Civil War, and spent nearly four decades in exile in Argentina, Paris and Rome before returning to Spain in 1977 after the dictator’s death.

Below you will find an Alberti poem about a wayward dove, Se equivocó la paloma, side-by-side with an English translation. As you will see, it is one of his simpler poems; but simple does not mean easily translatable, as you will also find. Its gentle musicality is nearly impossible to render in English.

The translation is largely based on the one published by José A. Elgorriaga & Martin Paul in the book: The Other Shore: 100 Poems by Rafael Alberti, Kosmos. I have made some changes to the translation, not with the pretence of improving it, but with the desire to personalize it, to make the poem 'mine' so to speak. I think all poems that touch us call on us to make them 'ours', to read them as if we wrote them, as if we are writing them with each reading and hearing. Perhaps it is just a matter of being open to having the poems write themselves into us. I have gotten helpful input on the translation from a friend whom I will leave unnamed here but not unthanked.
As an added treat, you get to hear Rafael Alberti himself reciting it. The poem has been set to music by Carlos Guastavino and the singer Rosa León chimes in movingly at the end. I encourage you to reread the poem, while listening to Alberti’s warm burnished recital.

And for an even more musical treatment, I am embedding below a version of the song by the much loved singer and songwriter Mercédes Sosa, la Negra, the "voice of the voiceless", whose own voice sadly left us just over a year ago now.

In closing, I will post links to two other moving versions of the poem-song, which I would embed here but do not wish to abuse your patience. For a more ‘classical’ treatment click here for a stirring rendition by tenor Martias Mariani, with Valerie MacPhail on piano, accompanied by a sumptuous slideshow. And for my personal favorite, you can find here the audio of a powerful rendering of Alberti’s serendipitous dove by one of the great flamenco voices of our time, Carmen Linares. I suggest you open Carmen's audio in a separate page by pressing the Ctrl key while clicking on the link, starting the audio and then reading the poem again.


  1. This morning I am waking to rain and the words of Rafael Alberti dancing in my ears. I don't care for the English version at all, in this poem, for me, the Spanish reigns supreme.

    I love how Spainards pronounce "corazon." It unravels my heart.

    Your posts contain so much, Lorenzo, so many layers, literate, travelogue, culture, treasure. Thank you again, for enriching my day.

  2. PS: The merry-go-round with real horses? I've got to show my kids that one, they would love it!!

  3. When you write up a post, you really address all the senses, Señor. I can hear and feel the pound of the hooves on the beach. I can smell the sweat of the flamenco singer (!), I can feel the zephyr (what a great word) on my face and ruffling my hair, I can taste those prawns (olé!), and I can see the sea and the dove, and hear the poetry and the gorgeous tenor Guastavino. Sadly, I could not get the audio of Alberti reading his poem to play.

    What you say about making the poem mine is really starting to sink in. It's a beautiful way to appreciate another's work, and to trade envy for pride.

    I really wish I knew Spanish, but even without knowing it, I appreciate the two poems side by side.

    It's wonderful to see you here again.

  4. I was transported, body and soul, through time and space, with this post. Muchas gracias. I second Terresa's and Ruth's words. Con corazon, Lorenzo!

  5. Reading and listening to your post was like being blessed with the gems of culture.

    Thank you for putting your heart in your writing. I am grateful for what you share.

    I too like the poem best in Spanish, and I will read more of his poetry.

  6. I forgot to comment on the haiku. I love "songs of salt" -- a nice title for an anthology of poems about the sea . . .

  7. wow. most it was heart pounding to watch the horses race by on teh beach...the poem, excellent...loved his pic i could hear his voice...

  8. Lorenza,

    What a wonderful read this is. The Sosa interpretation is gorgeous. I recall enough Spanish to be enchanted as I listened.

    I enjoyed your photographs, too. And how you write about poems betrays your love of words.

  9. I am glad I tried to load the audio of Alberti's recording in a different browser (it wouldn't play in Safari, but it did in Firefox), because it is gorgeous. I like hearing his Spanish "lisp" (Castellano?). Frankly, I think if he read the English version, or if you did, with the right pauses and intonations, he/you could sound pretty resonant and amazing saying . . . mistaken . . . a word I like a lot.

  10. lorenzo - oh my boy! you've ridden the waves deep here and brought riches to the surface. riches almost beyond imagining. i am thrilled by mercédes sosa's take on this. i'm left with the same sort of sensation i felt listening to miles davis sketches of spain with gil evans - of visiting someone else's home. a dream home - and then i was thinking what would or could they have done with this. lorenzo, you've had meals that have a beginning a middle and an end but no top or bottom or outer edges i'm sure. this post is so very much like that experience. steven

  11. Reminds me of Wallace Stevens' poem Le Monocle de Mon Oncle, in which birds also appear.

    And the poem echoes some of my current obsessions.

  12. Your haiku is delightful! The post sensual, engaging, titillating my senses, while encapsalating the beauty of the experience itself when listening to the poetry.


  13. I loved this post, Lorenzo, the richness and sheer variety of it. It resonated especially with me because, on my mother's side of the family, I descend from a Cadiz pirate, Juan de Cuevas. Thanks for giving me a small taste of my roots.

  14. Your blog is just so beautiful. I was a fool to not visit for so long!

  15. Raising my hand to agree with all the positive comments about your post, Lorenzo. This is so, so beautiful. Once again, you have taken me there. Horses, the sea, and poetry are three of my favorite things, so I was very excited to read it all.

    I love the poem. Not knowing the language, I am still impressed with the English translation. It is seemingly simplistic on the surface, but there is much going on poetically. I can only imagine how beautiful the original is.

    The pictures are awesome, too. I can smell the horses and the water. And a bookie with a lollipop! You made me laugh out loud:)

    I will return to listen to the audio as soon as my laptop is repaired (maybe next week). It's old, but it may have some hope. The one I'm using now is extremely old. It barely lets me open links, but not audio. Heavy sigh. But I was able to read and also enjoy the pictures. Thank you again for another wonderful slice of your life!

  16. Lorenzo ,
    I feel as though I come away from your blog a better human, always.

    There is a particular art to what you do.. I am in awe.
    And reminded of how wonder filled the world is and how I need to continue to explore however the opportunity arises... even "just" in blog posts.

    Thank you.

    and gratitude for your generous and supportive heart as always.

  17. am here via val at monkeys on the roof.

    love your blog, will be back~


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