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.

Tuesday, October 5

Pondering a lamp New Englandly ...

This week, willow of Life at Willow Manor has used the photo to the left as visual prompt for her creative writing blog, 'magpie tales'. For some reason, in my mind the lamp has conjured up the image of Emily Dickinson, perhaps because she is said to have written so many of her poems by lamplight. So, although I do not have anything in the way of my own ‘creative writing’ to offer for the lamp, I am embedding a beautiful video excerpt from a very promising new documentary on Emily Dickinson called Seeing New Englandly. Written and narrated by the poet Susan Sinvely and produced by Ernest Urvater, under the auspices of the Emily Dickinson Museum, the film had its first public showing just last week.

I learned of this film from Maureen E. Doallas’s bountiful blog Writing Without Paper, which I enthusiastically recommend to everyone. In addition to being a fine poet herself, Maureen is a treasure trove of information and links to the worlds of painting, dance, theatre, art, poetry, photography and much, much more. Her daily posts overflow with such treats. A case in point is her recent post on Emily Dickinson, where in addition to the video embedded below you can find a wealth of resources on the beloved poetess from Amherst, Massachusetts. Thanks so much, Maureen.

Seeing New Englandly (opening) from Ernest Urvater on Vimeo.

To see what other ‘magpie tales’ participants have seen by the light of this lamp, click here.

* * *

I am honored to have been named Blogger of Note at the Words of Wisdom blog (WOW) for October 6th. I would like to thank Sandy and Pam, the kind and energetic souls behind that excellent meeting place dedicated to allowing bloggers who "enjoy reading and writing great content to find each other", and extend a warm welcome to new readers visiting my blog for the first time from WOW.

Sandy and Pam have asked me to provide links to three posts here that I think might interest new visitors to the alchemist’s pillow. So here goes …

For readers interested in my poetry you can read Dream shavings  or Making a rainstick. For writing on Spanish society and culture, I would suggest my post of this past Saturday, Tertuliante por excelencia. And if you are interested in humor, try My braggadocio screeches louder than your braggadocio.

Also, if you would like to know a little bit more about the blogger behind the lapis lazuli elephant, I recommend the interview I did just a few days ago with by my much esteemed blog friend Bonnie at her Original Art Studio.

But that’s enough about me; if you like, leave a comment and I will try to return the visit to your blog.

I would like to thank Joanny of the blog Live, Dream, Love for having nominated me as a WOW Blogger of Note. In addition to being an inspired blogger herself, Joanny has been a kind and supportive friend for nearly as long as I have been writing here on the alchemist’s pillow. Thanks Joanny.

So to one and all, welcome to the alchemist’s pillow, please make yourself at home, look around and enjoy your visit here …

Saturday, October 2

Tertuliante por excelencia ...

Literary tertulia

Tertuliante por excelencia. Those of who do not know Spanish may nevertheless surmise that the last two words mean what in English is called ‘par excellence’ (from the French). And tertuliante? Well, simply, a person who engages in tertulias.

So, what then, Lorenzo, is a tertulia?

Ah, so glad you asked. It is a term that encapsulates one of the most attractive features of Spanish culture and a favorite pastime of my own. Though impossible to capture its meaning in a single English word, you can basically think of it as a cross between a literary salon and a coffee klatch, with some of the lofty focus of the former and the relaxed friendly informality of the latter; not as fusty as the salon, a bit less gossipy than the chat circle. No dissertations, no bellyaching about mothers-in-law. Neither overly high-brow nor too low-brow, but just-right-brow, themed chitchat amongst friends.

The history of Spanish poetry, literature, painting, philosophy and cultural movements and currents in general would be unrecognizable without tertulias. Madrid is dotted with the wonderful cafes, taverns, bars and restaurants that hosted such gatherings in the 19th century and much of the 20th (although the term and practice dates back centuries earlier). Sadly, some of those locales have disappeared, and others have become pricey tourist watering holes, but something abides nonetheless. How could it not, when we are talking about tables and bars frequented nearly everyday over decades by some of the country’s greatest playwrights, poets, composers, painters, philosophers, actors, journalists…?

Café del espejo 1845 — Museo de Historia de Madrid
But more than give a tour and history of those delightful spots (I’ll do that in person if you come out here), what I wanted to briefly discuss here is how this pastime of leading lights of Spanish culture spread to the rest of the society. For one did not have to write poems like Lorca or novels like Valle-Inclán to participate in a tertulia. All it takes is a bit of free time and the desire to while it away on a regular basis in a café in the warm company of like-minded friends to discuss a subject of common interest, be it literature, art, bullfighting, music, dance…

And the term has come to host what for me is a luxurious mainstay of Spanish culture, the habit of following all good meals with relaxed conversation, where no clocks tick, and our attention is wholly trained on the voices and banter of our fellow tertuliantes. It is still considered somewhat uncouth for a waiter to pressure diners to wind down the talk, pay and clear the table. I have never seen a “Don’t loiter” sign in Spain, and would have trouble translating the term and explaining the concept behind it for my Spanish friends. I have seen, however, and even been embarrassed by my role in, the almost heroic patience of tired waiters and cooks, holding their growing exasperation on a short stoic leash while standing by and waiting for after-dinner tertulias that just refuse to wind down and stretch well beyond any reasonable work hours. Just try that in a New York City restaurant.

Spain has always struck me as a very conversational culture. There is a love of words, especially the spoken word. After all, most of the people here do adhere to a faith whose sacred text begins “In the beginning was the Word”. Words are important, talk matters. Although when taken to the extreme of all-talk, no-action, it can feel hollow, or when spilled over into the terrain of gossip, it may grate, the notion of the art of conversation still has an important place. More than a can-do society, this is a let’s-talk culture. Since, traditionally, in towns and cities, homes were smaller than families, this need and love for conversation is largely indulged in semi-private nooks of public places, in bars, cafés, taverns, restaurants.

Bar Viva Madrid
Alas, Spain and the rest of the world are changing, Spain perhaps faster than most places. The busy-busy of everyday life is chipping away at the institution of the tertulia. Youngsters SMS text more than converse. Wrds r luzn letrs n chrm. Living always on the run and instant messaging are hustling wordy banter from the table. Many restaurants now want to slot in two or even three dinner parties one right after another at every table. The previously unthinkable ‘no loitering’ signs at cafés may not be far behind.

But blogging strikes me as a seat at a cyber-tertulia. And that is what this whole post is actually about, an introduction to a tertuliante por excelencia. I am referring to Bonnie of Original Art Studio, one of the coziest and most spiritually nourishing café tertulias out there. Whether taking us for a walk in her garden, or a look at her art work and photography, on incursions into the world of psychology and philosophy, or along on her spirited and spiritual forays, Bonnie’s blog always makes for rewarding reading. Hers is a restive and questing mind and she has much to say and teach and show, yet never preaches, proselytizes or pontificates.

And, above all, and this is what makes her such a tertuliante extraordinaire, she has the art of conversation. Often, blog comments are little more than appreciative admiring quips, or brief references to some point made on the blog post. But Bonnie always seems to want to make it a conversation, not a quipfest. She has a knack for drawing people out (she is a psychotherapist, after all) on her own blog and participates actively on the blogs of others, with exchanges that can grow into two, three or several more ‘comments’ by each tertuliante. Seeing the fascinating conversations that result between her and George of Transit Notes, Ruth of synch-ro-ni-zing, Robert of Solitary Walker and others, always makes for stimulating talk, enlightening conversation and, yes, just plain fun.

In recent days, Bonnie has put a lot of admirable effort into conducting interviews with some bloggers of her choosing. The results have been beautiful. The series has allowed me to meet new bloggers for our virtual tertulias, like Kent of Expat from Hell, Meri of Meri’s Musings and Friko of Friko’s Musings (I will not give links to their individual blogs, you can click through to them from Bonnie’s). Other interviews have helped me get a fuller view of the individuals behind blogs I so enjoy: the ever poetic Ruth of synch-ro-ni-zing, who has lately gotten into the alarming habit of making me fall in love with her every time she posts something new; George of Transit Notes, whose posts seem like one new tour de force of art and words after another; Brian of Waystation One, who seems to grow as a person, blogger, writer, poet and friend every day right before our eyes.

Bodegas Ángel Sierra

And today, Bonnie has posted an interview with yours truly, prefaced by some very kind words about this blog and me. You can read it by clicking here and will understand how touched I am by her thoughtfulness and generosity. I really enjoyed doing this with Bonnie. I know I have been fairly anonymous behind my blog and lapis lazuli elephant, and sort of like it that way. But it has been nice to let her brush aside a veil or two. If you have any questions you would like to put to me, I would be very happy to answer them there in the tertulia over at Bonnie’s Original Art Studio.

So go visit Bonnie and see the interview. Enjoy the other ones. And then stay around after the meal for the conversations that Bonnie, our tertuliante por excelencia, generously hosts, guides and energizes. There’s a seat for you at the tertulia. Pull up a chair. Loitering is allowed and welcomed.

El Parnasillo
The photos of various presentday Madrid cafés and bars associated with famous tertulias are taken from the blog Siete Leguas (in Spanish) with neither the knowledge nor the permission of the photographer/blogger, my friend Vicente. After all, what is he going to do; denounce me at the next gathering of our tertulia?