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Though it may not be much look to at, this is early morning Cádiz viewed from the roof patio of our friend, Carmen. Through a sparse, but eager forest of desperately lean, and culturally-starved TV ariels, you can see the dome and twin towers of the old cathedral beyond. But to really appreciate Cádiz you have to get down onto the streets.
As I’ve said before on this blog, it’s always a real pleasure to wake up in my all-time favourite city of Cádiz. Appropriately known as La ciudad que sonríe, the city that smiles, it’s probably the friendliest city I’ve ever been. Luckily, for me, West Europe’s oldest inhabited metropolis is just an hour’s bus ride away from Conil, where I live.
Angelica and I had been invited to the opening of Carmen de la Torre’s latest show of acryllic paintings, reflecting the people of Cádiz, at one of the city’s galleries. It was to be her first exhibition after moving from Barcelona.
Sala de exposiciones El Pópulo, is situated in one of the oldest barrios of the city, where Roman ruins and artefacts are being unearthed all the time. I don’t know about in Roman times, but not so long ago it was the haunt of prostitutes and petty criminals, and not so safe to wander round late at night. But things have changed dramatically. As fast as crumbling buildings can be restored and renovated, new bars and restaurants are opening up, making the area a popular evening venue for those rather better off than most of the former residents. Unfortunately, like many other European cities undergoing such changes, a little of the character has also been washed down the drain. But not too much just yet.
Carmen and her partner, Harvey, had invited us to stay at their new flat overnight so that we didn’t have to rush home on the last bus, which left at nine o’ clock. It gave us time to mingle with the artists, who had gathered for the event, and a few of whom collected at a bar opposite after the gallery closed. It was a typically noisy Andalucian evening with everybody talking all at once. You eventually get the hang of it after a few years.
Carmen de la Torre and Harvey moved from Barcelona just under a year ago. After buying a flat in the old part of the city, they set about letting their presence be known among the art community without delay. As soon as she moved in Carmen got painting canvases while Harvey got painting walls, putting some of his skills as a former builder (among other things) into making their new home habitable. A man of many talents and skills, before he became Carmen’ s chief assistant, Harvey also used to translate Yiddish poems into English.
Carmen studied art in Seville, a city renowned for its art and artists for centuries. She has worked in animation, and is a talented caricaturist. But she came to Cádiz to devote much more of her time to painting, and has already made many friends in the local arts community.
The group of paintings on show at el Populo have been worked from photos. Many portrait artists use photography to work from, either completely, or combined with sittings. They have been doing so since photography was invented. Nevertheless, it wasn’t Carmen’s intention to slavishly recreate accurate depictions of photographic images. For her, such an exercise would be pointless. Her intention is to interpret and produce her own unique vision of day-to-day life in Cádiz by creating mirrors of its people and the lives they live from the simplest activities they engage in. For a carousel of the paintings enlarged, click onto any one.
The exhibition goes under the title Nuevo callejero de Cádiz, which very roughly translates as New kid on the block, and is being held by courtesy of the Ayuntamiento de Cádiz over the month of July. Entrance is free and the gallery is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10.00 am to 2.00 pm, and again in the evening 6.00 pm to 9.00 pm. It is situated in the the barrio also known as el Populo, not far from the Roman amphitheatre, on Plaza San Martín at the corner of Calle Mesón. Telephone: (+34) 956 259 435.
Following the exhibition, and for the rest of the summer, Carmen will be working at the artists’ studios in the 16th century Castillo de Santa Catalina (Saint Catherine castle). The castle is situated by the old harbour. British schoolchildren with an interest in history will recognise it as the place where Sir Francis Drake “singed the beard of The King of Spain” in 1587. It was here he laid seige to a good part of the Spanish fleet, before setting it alight, as he rampaged up and down the Spanish Atlantic coast. Regarded as a naval hero in England, in Spain he was seen as nothing more than a vicious pirate.
Situated on calle Campo de las Balas, the castle contains a gallery and is open to the public from every day of the week from Monday to Sunday opening at 11.00 am and closing 7.00 pm. Summer hours are from 11.00 am to 8.30pm. Opening hours can vary on concert days, so you may need to check before going. There is also a very pleasant, sheltered beach there.
Forming the other side of the harbour, at the end of a long harbour wall lies another old fortification, el Castillo de San Sebastian (San Sebastian castle).
Knowing what hard time preparing for an exhibition can be, next morning, Angelica and I slipped out of the house early, to suck up the atmosphere of Cádiz waking to a new summer morning, and before Harvey and Carmen got a chance to play diligent host and hostess. They deserved a rest. Besides, Angelica needed to shop for art materials, as she was running low on equipment for her own portraits, and I needed some new guitar strings.
The narrow lanes and streets of old Cádiz are full of bars and cafés. Not all are open at eight in the morning, but you can be sure to find one without having to go far.
La Primavera lies on a corner of calle Rosa. Without pretensions of any sort it’s typical Cádiz, mostly clean and tidy, but showing its age by being a bit frayed at the edges. Just like me, in fact. And a typical breakfast in a typical Andalucian café is café con leche (milky coffee served in a glass) and media tostada (half a bread roll toasted and served with a choice of toppings). My favourite is olive oil spread with a coating of mashed tomatoes.
The morning light is precious. Clean and clear, the air feels extra fresh, as bit of a breeze blows in off the sea. The city is really an island, joined to the mainland by a long manmade causeway, which provides a huge stretch of uncrowded beach for tourists and locals alike. After breakfast we meandered to the art shop, Piccolita, in Plaza de Mina on the other side of the old town. One of the most pleasant of all the leafy squares in the city, it also is the site of the city museum. In the end, though words can help, a picture tells a thousand stories, so perhaps this gallery of photos I shot will tell even more. For a carousel of the photos enlarged, click onto any one.
For photos of Conil de la Frontera click here
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Copyright © 2014 Bryan Hemming
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