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No sooner was I soaking up the long-awaited May sun rays than I woke up to find it was September. Where did the rest of summer go? Encroaching age has transformed my summers into a continual blur of speeding trains punctuated by long intervals when nothing much happens. I feel like a man standing on a country village railway station watching inter-city expresses whizz by. Blink, and you miss them. It wasn’t always that way. When I was a child, summers were endless, and the occasional train stopped at our village station.
As clouds move in crowds move out. The bars and restaurants of old Conil no longer buzz and bustle incessantly, the tills no longer ring. Cooks and washers-up idle at kitchen doors, chewing the fat with waiters who have taken up leaning on counters again, while their bosses eye them pointedly. Instead of waiting at tables they are waiting to be laid off for the long winter months without work or wages.
The main holiday season is short in the Andalusian pueblo. Starting around mid-June it fizzles out just before the new school year begins, the first, or second, week of September. Hordes of regular visitors, who exchange the stifling heat of Seville and Madrid for a couple of weeks soaking up sun on the airy beaches of the Costa de la Luz, will have to content themselves with photos and memories until next year.
The same annual influx presents an opportunity for Angelica and I to make an extra crumb or two. They come in handy for the lean months of autumn, winter and spring. And I mean crumbs. Even then we have to slog for them. That’s one reason my posts have been rather more unpredictable recently, for those of you who noticed.
Previous summers have seen Angelica set up her easel on possibly the most expensive couple of flagstones to be rented in all Conil de la Frontera to draw portraits. However, this year, as part of the local council’s contribution to the arts, she was offered a temporary lock-up stall erected on the square in the town centre dominated by the church of Santa Catalina. Rent-free to boot.
By the late nineteenth century, Santa Catalina, which had undertaken the wearying task of overseeing the spiritual rectitude of Conil for more than five hundred years, had suffered repair and reform so many times little of the original remained. In 1886 the architect, Pascual de Olivares, set about completely redesigning the exterior of the building to retain as much of the existing interior supporting structure as possible. It was reopened for services in 1891. But not for long. Less than fifty years on, the building had fallen into such a state of disrepair again, it posed a danger to worshippers. Its doors had to be closed in 1930. For most of the following eight decades its doors remained shut as it deteriorated further. It wasn’t until 2012 Santa Catalina opened its doors to the public anew. Transformed into an exhibition centre, the latest renovation has kept the Olivares façade.
The church’s slightly eccentric redesign always reminds me of Christopher Dresser (1834 1905). It fits into the period of the Aesthetic Movement of the latter half of the 19C, when the Scottish designer was at the height of his fame. If Dresser had designed wedding cakes, they would probably have ended up looking a bit like the Olivares exterior. One of the first independent industrial designers, Dresser’s, often dark, neo-Gothic style was typical of the Victorian period. Yet some of his designs for silver coffee pots and teapots appear extraordinarily modern today. Dresser’s designs are still being produced by Alessi, the Italian Factory of Design, including his famous toast rack.
Nearly all Angelica’s endeavours involve me in one way or another and the stall was no exception. Our days began at seven or eight each morning, not finishing until midnight. New batches of postcards and business cards were constantly needed, they’re my department. Preparing drawings and paintings for the stall took up quite a bit of time. We opened the second week of August.
After a day’s work starting about eight, a late lunch, and a very brief siesta, Angelica and I had to trek back into town each evening. It’s a twenty minute walk. Opening up involved a bit of heavy lifting. By the time we’d packed up and closed the shutter it was after midnight. Then there was the twenty-minute walk back, all uphill. A quick snack and a sit-down meant we never go to bed before two in the morning. Though three weeks doesn’t seem a long time, in theory, seven days a week with little sleep gets very wearing.
Making a halfway decent living for an artist and a writer anywhere in the world is practically impossible. Unless you become a favourite of the ever-shrinking moneyed classes. And they’re very few and far between. We can only hope and pray. Angelica is one of the only artists in Conil who relies on her income from art. We both do. Apart from my photos, we have little else on offer.
We didn’t expect too much, so we weren’t disappointed. The majority of Angelica’s portrait commissions came from former clients returning for more. Nevertheless, it was a good exercise in public relations, serving as an attraction for tourists and showing one of the cultural aspects to the town. We’ll probably do the same next year. If we get invited, that is.
This year’s stallholders were:
Copyright © 2014 Bryan Hemming
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