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Bit late in posting this, but time don’t half fly in this neck of the woods. I began working on it, what must be, almost a month ago. Has anybody else noticed how some Wednesdays keep going missing? I’m sure we had one a week, every week, while I was still a boy. As I was saying to myself, not more than a couple of minutes ago, these days, I often go to bed of a Tuesday night, only to wake up eight hours later to find out it’s already Thursday morning. It must have something to do with the cuts.
And what with all those missing Wednesdays, it hardly seems a couple of weeks since we were last in Cádiz, yet, as it turns out, more than two months have whizzed by. Her pencils down to stubs, and her oil tubes all squeezed out, it was time for Angelica and I to catch the morning bus to renew supplies. There are certain things that can only be found at the little art shop in Plaza de Mina. The owner’s a sweetheart; she gives Angelica a discount and always throws in a couple of freebies. That’s so Cádiz.
Regular visitors to this site will be aware of my love affair with the Andalusian island city. If we could make babies together I would, even if it meant selling my soul to Satan. He’d probably remind me I only had one to sell, which he took possession of years ago.
After buying paper, coloured pencils, chalks and erasers, we strolled across the city by way of its myriad lanes and alleys. The major part of the ancient centre was destroyed by fire in 1569. Few historic buildings remain from before that time, with most dating from the city’s second golden era of the 18th century. By then it had become a flourishing cosmopolitan metropolis through trading with Spain’s South American colonies for plundered gold. Rich merchants built houses four or five stories high, some with even taller towers to outdo their rivals in ostentatious displays of wealth. More importantly, they served as a way for merchants to get an edge on one another by enabling them to see further out to sea. The first to spy a fully-laden galleon heading for the harbour could rush down to meet it.
Down at street level, traffic is light nowadays. Thoroughfares built for a different age cannot accommodate buses or lorries, and the going is too slow and tortuous for most cars. There being virtually no parking to speak of, a few buzzing scooters weave their way between pedestrians and delivery vans, which are always getting held up by tight squeezes.
On the other side of town, Carmen, whose exhibition opening we attended on our last visit, had been given a summer residency in one of the studios the restored old castle now houses, along with a gallery. We popped in for a visit.
Castillo de Santa Catalina was built to defend the city’s harbour from attack after it was sacked in 1596 by the English fleet of the Earls of Essex and Nottingham. The location was used to in the 2002 James Bond film Die Another Day.
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Carmen’s temporary studio looked out onto a beach littered with small rowing boats marooned by low tide. We were soon joined by Harvey, Carmen’s Canadian partner. A harpsichord player of some note (or notes) Harvey also teaches spoken English to small groups of mature students. He had two in tow, whom he’d brought to the studio as part of their class. It was an unexpected treat for them, as they had more English-speaking people to converse with.
After the class finished, and the students left, the rest of us set off for lunch. Though the population of Cádiz numbers almost 124,000, it still feels like a country town where everyone knows each other. We were hardly through the castle gates when we bumped into a friend of Carmen. Amelio introduced us to Sabina. As luck would have it, they were on their way to pick up Carmen for lunch. Amelio is a Gaditano (native of Cádiz) while Sabina is a Greek Albanian from Corfu, now living in Edinburgh. A student of languages and tourism, she was over on a short visit to see Amelio and practice her Spanish.
Situated right by the ocean, a peña de flamenca stands near the other side of the harbour, just a few minutes walk from the castle, at the far end of the little beach. Peñas can be found all over Andalusia. In this sense of the word peña refers to club or association. A popular evening venue for aficionados of flamenco music and dancing, ‘La Perla de Cádiz’ – named after famous flamenco singer Antonia Gilabert Vargas (1924 – 1975) known as La Perla – operates as a tapas bar and restaurant during the day. A gated arch leads into a walled courtyard. Another arch on the far side takes you straight onto the beach.
We sat outside at one of the tables on the shady terrace. Delicious media raciones (large half-portions) of deep-fried fish and tall glasses of tinto verano, the iced summer drink of red wine and soda or lemonade, were the order of the day. All dying to taste what the others were having, we shared. In typical Gaditano style, our waiter joined the conversation, telling old jokes and tales. It was rather like being assigned our very own, personal, table comedian. At 45€ for six heads it was a bargain, old jokes n’ all.
Andalucians love dining out almost as much as they love talking. Best of all they love talking while dining out. Generally, conversations are as unpredictable as bush fires. More often than not, several appear to start up at once. Leaping from one part of the table to another, at seeming random, no sooner does one appear to have died down when another springs up somewhere else. It’s quite common for several to be going on at one table with everybody talking at the same time. More than once I found myself party to at least two completely different conversations.
Angelica and I had originally planned to catch the two o’ clock bus back to Conil. That became the three o’ clock. In the end, we just managed to catch the five o’clock by the skin of our teeth. All the way back, we discussed our ongoing plan to move to Cádiz. As soon as our boat comes in, that is.
Copyright © 2014 Bryan Hemming
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