Friday, 21 December 2012

More from Spain

I don’t work on things chronologically, but usually have several projects going on at once. So, after writing up some of the Spanish journey, I then went off into an essay on a Polish writer, a foreword for a forthcoming poetry collection by Petar Tchouov, a Bulgarian writer, some other travel writing, and an ongoing translation of some of Annemarie Schwarzenbach’s work.

So it’s likely to be some time before I finish writing about the Spanish journey.  But, inspired by The Solitary Walker’s text and photos  from his latest walk, I’m putting up some more brief descriptions and images from Spain, before they get completely buried in the tottering pile of books and papers on my desk.

The olive groves. I managed to get lost again, quite spectacularly, one evening. After the sun had gone down, I explored a path, but after it got dark, very quickly, the path back had become invisible. This would not have been so bad, since I knew what direction I needed to go in – but the path I followed skirted a steep drop. Trying to find footholds in the dark was tricky. In the end I had to skid and slither down to the road below, hanging on to branches of olive trees. 
The next day, I followed the path and walked a long way through the olive groves. Each time I went onto a new path, I made a little arrow out of stones, so that I would know which way to go, on my way back. Incredibly – well not really so incredible – I still managed to lose the way, as I was thinking of something else and didn’t notice one of my carefully laid out arrows. And of course, in daylight, it did not matter.

distant hazy mountains

the descending track

Another day I walked in a different direction, clambered down the steep hill 
into another cluster of houses, another street. 

An old woman was sitting outside her house, knitting.

Walking back by the river I saw a squirrel, with very dark fur, almost black.

Market day in Villacarillo. 

These post bags on wheels look like a good idea.

When it is time to leave this lovely village, I take a different route back. A helps me with the ordering of a taxi to Villacarillo, then I take a bus to Albacete, which is in Castilla la Mancha, home of a rather famous literary character. 

From Albacete I take a train to Valencia 

then another to Vinaros, where I spend the night in the Hostal Teruel which I would recommend to anyone who plans to stay in Vinaros – the room was spacious and inexpensive, and you could eat in their café bar downstairs. Superb salad with potatoes washed down with red wine in the evening, and coffee and croissant in the morning.

But before breakfast, I had to visit the sea. 

The beach was deserted in the early morning. The cloud was thick – it even rained a little – the air was humid and warm, almost sultry. I suppose that most images of the sea look similar – water with waves big or small, the colour varying from green to grey or purple-blue, opaque or clear, perhaps some shoreline, the sky, blue maybe or cloudy or, as here, thick and dark. But for the person who takes the picture, each image is very different, for you can remember what was beyond the frame of the image – in this one, there were the shells on the beach, not broken up, but whole, colourful, striped, and thick. 

Carrer de la mare de deu del roser.

From Vinaros to Barcelona. The estacion franca. 

With its very grand - and rather empty - cafeteria and restaurant.

Then the night train to Paris.  Where they are trimming the trees. 


Sunday, 9 December 2012

Of Wandering ...

LindaCracknell’s Following our Fathers is an account of walking in Norway and later climbing in the Swiss Alps. In Norway they walked in the footsteps of a friend’s father who successfully escaped over the mountains from Nazi occupied territory. In the Swiss Alps she was trying to find the route her own father took, decades before. In Norway she mentions the importance of bringing their father closer, memorialising him in a walk. I always enjoy reading about Linda Cracknell’s travels  but this book held a further interest for me as I’ve recently been involved in my own search for my grandfather, which I’m currently writing about.

Although I love walking, climbing ice covered mountains is far beyond my ability. So I read this kind of literature almost sneakily, aware of reading about something that I lack the courage to try for myself. For me, it’s a bit like reading about spies and acute danger in enemy territory, safe in my own home, fire burning in the grate, or a summer evening throwing long blades of light onto the garden.

Cracknell’s prose is lyrical and descriptive. She talks of the mysterious and potentially dangerous boundary between two worlds, where rock and certainty disappear under a lip of ice and of the glacier’s troubled surface, holding secrets in layers and scars, and curved scratches, burping up occasional groans. Description of their ascent is interspersed with quotations from her father’s journal and from those of other climbers, as well as her own thoughts and fears about climbing and ‘summit fever’ so that you feel invited into her experience, rather than being kept at one remove from it. 


AndrzejStasiuk – On the Road to Babadag is subtitled Travels in the Other Europe, translated by Michael Kandel. Stasiuk’s fast-paced, urgent wanderings take him through his native Poland and on to Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary, Romania, Albania. His poetic and philosophical insights merge with the landscape, use it as a diving board to jump off from, sometimes to carry him deep into history and time. 

Gjirokaster, Albania
Memories are often jumbled, sometimes breathless, as he splices narrative, abandons tracks, shuffles index cards of memory, thumbs notebooks, lifts and traditions. “I remember a hedgerow and the stone balustrade of a little bridge, but I’m not sure about the hedgerow, it could have been elsewhere, like most of what lies in memory, things I pluck from their landscape, making my own map of them, my own fantastic geography.” This plumbing of outer and inner landscape is what makes his writing vivid and alive – he catches those moments that we remember from travel – dissociated sometimes from context and narrative, seeming fragments, selected by colour and intensity. It shows the disassembling process that goes on when we travel, the vertical experiences, while we so often try to present it as a linked narrative over horizontal space.

As well as what is seen, he weaves in the process of seeing and the attempts at recollection. “I should invent a graceful story that begins and ends there, provide a first aid kit that cleverly soothes the mind, alleviates anxiety and stills hunger...when I attempt to recall one thing, others surface.”

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Remembering Early Travel

sometimes the words to leave, to go away
suggest a backward glance -
but - to set off -
holds such a promise -
nothing left behind

(from Gold Tracks, Fallen Fruit)

Sunrise in the Sierra

I want to hear foreign music on the radio, turned down low, faint sounds of piano, then a voice, rising and falling, a texture of the air for no words can be made out, just this rhythm with, perhaps, a phrase coming into being like a lisp of foam, a rip of silky foam ….et puis......des orages.......agité....le sud...and then fading again, into background...wind in the trees, almost.

In your twenties you think you are beginning, just beginning, something long, this life that seems to stretch ahead of have a beginner’s eagerness, fresh into the lists, this race....for you want to move quickly, full of this desire for’s only later, looking back, you realise that it is life’s intensest moments that will be remembered, these will be the moments when you touched – what you were always longing to reach, and imagined would come further down the line, imagined that they would be reached, attained, at what you envisaged as some culmination, some cresting wave you were just beginning to ascend...but it is not like that. 

Castilla la Mancha

Looking back, the high points were often when you were most open to the unplanned and unexpected, open to what life made possible for you, only if you did not push it aside because it did not fit in with your prearranged idea of what it might and could be, what you wanted it to be and what you imagined you were looking for. When you are moving and when you are without a definite plan, without that barrier of outcome, life can inhabit that open place –

So I remember – when I first set out travelling in my twenties - cafés in France with the radio playing in the background, roadside cafés along the straight trail, poplar bordered, to the south east, to Switzerland, Basel...these straight roads, avenues of trees, and at night, the yellow headlights. It was all so other, so ailleurs and I let it all in, it was exactly what I wanted, this otherness, exactly why I had left behind what seemed like the sameness – of views, light, streets, oh just everything the same, unchanging, that’s it, a sense of nothing changing. So I had to initiate change, by moving, by travelling, by setting off...