Archive for January, 2008

We ‘have’ peace at the carnival.


This weekend it is Velez Blanco carnival and celebrations are kicked off by the children making their small parade around the pueblo. The day is fresh and warmed by the sun in a clear blue sky. This is Alejandro, Sesame and Solomon (maybe bored).



Almond blossom


I thought I’d take a picture of almond blossom. You can quite clearly see the stigma, filaments and anthers and the sturdy green sepals making a star almost holding back the petals.



Cazador (hunter)


It’s hunting season up here in the Sierra and a poor time to be wild. Be it as a boar, partridge or an ibex. The hills ring out with the reports of shotguns and baying hounds. And come early evening the small bars of Velez Blanco heave with ‘khaki’ clad huntsmen, their prey lying bloody on the rooftops of trailers which heave too with tired dogs.



First blossom of the year.




Green Woodpecker, parte dos.


If I had the means I would collect these anatomical watercolours by Tunnicliffe. He lived at Malltraeth on the Isle of Anglesey where the river Cefni flows across a wide estuary into the Bay of Caernarfon, just a few miles from my mother. Local youth and adults alike brought their bird finds (found dead, not otherwise) for him to make his astonishing anatomical paintings.

Like me he went fto Manchester School of Art and on to The Royal Academy of Arts where he was famously asked why he wasn’t seen there more often. To which he replied,

“I prefer the birds of Anglesey to the birds of Piccadilly”.

His works are important because of their scientific value, but more than that they are important works of art. I have a marvellous book on the animal and plant studies of Albrecht Durer, that star of the renaissance, and I would say Tunnicliffe has the edge, even given the inquisitive advancement of his epoch.

P.S. He didn’t put his specimens on a pink Gingham table cloth. This is some ‘Photoshop’ idiosyncracy I can’t remove from my scan.


Comments (3)

Bonnie Prince Billy


Our blog is supposed to be about our lives in Spain, and so, I guess, this technically  is no exception. It’s our January album. The new one by Bonnie Prince Billy. (a.k.a Will Oldham), ‘Joya’ and we love it.

So to be hypocritical I shall attempt to compress someone’s creativity into a few words. It’s existential ‘roots’ music with a twist of ‘Nashville’ but with it’s feet firmly set in western rock. That should narrow it down.

His voice is shallow and reedy, but he has an easy disposition to sophistication, making it necessary to persevere with new work but it is so worth it. Buy it.



Gerald Brenan - a life in 6 paragraphs


Portrait by Dora Carrington

Fascinating as biography is, if I was an author, I would hate to have my life simultaneously ‘summed up’ and dissected without a proper critique of my writing.

Brenan, Edward FitzGerald [Gerald] (1894-1987), writer and Hispanic
scholar, was born on 7 April 1894 at Sliema, Malta, the elder son (there
were no daughters) of Hugh Brenan, subaltern in the Royal Irish Rifles, and
his wife, Helen, daughter of Sir Ogilvie Graham, cotton and linen merchant.
Gerald, as he was always known, spent the first seven years of his childhood
either travelling with the regiment in South Africa and India, or living in
the family home of the Grahams, Larchfield, near Belfast. However, in 1901
Hugh Brenan became almost stone deaf as a result of malaria, and had to
leave the army. Gerald was a precocious, imaginative little boy, and devoted
to his mother, who stimulated his love of books and his interest in history,
travel, and especially botany. He won an exhibition to Radley College, where
he was extremely unhappy, and was awarded the Scott essay prize every year.

In obedience to his father’s wishes, Brenan passed into Sandhurst. Detesting
this prospect, at seventeen he concocted and carried out a wildly romantic
scheme to escape with an older friend, a donkey, and very little money, and
walk to Asia. His friend got no further than Venice, but Brenan plodded on
alone, braving wolves and snowstorms until he gave up in the Balkans, after
having covered over 1500 miles. His parents were relieved at the return of
the prodigal, and-a year later-the outbreak of the First World War
temporarily settled his future. He was commissioned into the 5th Gloucesters and in due course was sent to France, serving first with the cyclist corps, and later in charge of observation posts, fighting at Ypres, Passchendaele, and the Somme, and gaining the MC (1918) and the Croix de Guerre. It was in the army that he met Ralph Partridge and made the greatest friendship of his life, lasting as it did until Partridge’s death in 1960, despite a violent breach over an affair with Partridge’s first wife, Dora Carrington.

Demobilized in 1919, Brenan was eager to get away from England, and acquire the education he felt Radley had failed to supply. With little equipment except his war gratuity and some 2000 books in various languages, including the classics, he embarked for Spain, thinking his war gratuity would last longer there, and rented a little house in the village of Yegen on the beautiful slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Here he began life in his adopted country, devoting himself to reading, walking immense distances in the mountains, and writing quantities of long and brilliant letters. He
considered himself a ‘writer’ from the first, though he never finished his
projected life of St Teresa of Avila, and his first publication was a
picaresque novel called Jack Robinson written under the pseudonym George
Beaton (1933), which received elitist rather than wide acclaim.

During his visits to London, Brenan made many literary friends, and when in
Spain he was visited by Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf, Bertrand Russell,
Roger Fry, David Garnett, and V. S. Pritchett, with their consorts. At his
best a brilliant and amusing talker, Brenan’s character was full of
contradictions: he had a great capacity for prolonged and concentrated study
as well as outstanding intelligence and originality in the interpretation of
its results; he would often work far into the night, but he might collapse
many times in a month with what he called ‘flu’. Jack Robinson was followed
by an unceasing output until the book of aphorisms, Thoughts in a Dry
Season: a Miscellany (1978), in his eighties. The Spanish Labyrinth (1943),
a brilliantly penetrating study of the history of modern Spain, and The
Literature of the Spanish People (1951) were much admired in academic
circles, while Brenan’s knowledge of Spain took a form designed to appeal to
the general reader in The Face of Spain (1950) and South from Granada
(1957). The latter was one of his most successful and often reprinted books.
Two volumes of autobiography, A Life of One’s Own and Personal Record,
followed in 1962 and 1974; he also wrote two more novels and a life of St
John of the Cross, St John of the Cross: his Life and Poetry (1973).

As a young man Brenan was tall, sparely built, and agile; he had straight
fair hair and small, nearly black eyes set wide apart in a face that was
expressive and charming rather than good looking. He kept his agility until
his seventies. In comparison with all his intellectual activity his
emotional life ran an uneasy course. His love affair with Dora Carrington
was far the most serious in his life, producing as it did an enormous
two-way correspondence, some ecstasy, and considerable unhappiness on both sides. Otherwise he was obsessed by sex, and inhibited by fears of
impotence. A stream of prostitutes, hippies, and peasant girls occupied his
agitated thoughts and feelings and directed his travels. In 1930, while in
Dorset, he met the American poet and novelist (Elisabeth) Gamel Woolsey who was then involved with the literary Powys family, especially Llewelyn. She was the daughter of William Walton Woolsey, plantation owner, of South Carolina. She and Brenan drifted into a relationship, and although their temperaments differed greatly-between his nervous excitability and her dreamy melancholy-they grew very close. In 1931 they went through a
pseudo-marriage in Rome, ratified later in London. Gamel died of cancer in
1968. Brenan had one child, a daughter, Miranda, whose mother was Juliana
Pellegrino, an unmarried girl from Yegen village. She was born in 1931 and
later legally adopted by her father and Gamel, who took her to England to be
educated. She died of cancer in 1980.

After the end of Franco’s regime most of Brenan’s books were translated, and he became a hero in Spain, receiving the Pablo Iglesias award. He was also appointed CBE (1982). In 1970 Brenan moved inland to a smaller house built to his own design, and here he spent his last seventeen years, while his
eyesight and health gradually declined. He was cared for by Lynda Price and
her husband, Lars Pranger. In 1984 the burden of his rapidly declining state
led to his consenting to be taken by Lars to a home in Pinner, near London,
to the great indignation of his Spanish admirers. This resulted in an
extraordinary and much publicized sequel when two members of the Junta de Andalucia flew to London, kidnapped Brenan, and took him back to Alhaurin, where they arranged for him to be nursed and cared for at his home. He died there on 19 January 1987.

The Oxford Dictionary of Biography.



Storm over Bear Mountain


Not the mountain at the back. That, as I have mentioned before, is ‘La Sagra’ which is in the ‘Cazorla y Segura’ National Park, Granada Province, and it was bathed in sunlight. ‘Bear Mountain’ or ‘Sierra de Oso’ is the ridge in front of ‘La Sagra’ and in this picture it is about to be swamped by this rapidly moving and threatening black cloud. The picture doesn’t really portray the drama of the moment, it was like a ‘close encounter’ scene as this grey, billowing monster swept towards us from the ‘alto plano’. High winds ensued and clear, open, sunny skies.

Now the wind has fallen , having swept lorries from the motorway to Granada, and we are once more returned to warm sunny days and cool nights. There is still plenty of time for snow though.



Temple on a hill near Kalimpong


Days here in Los Velez are sunny and warm and nights are cold with the smell of woodsmoke in the air.

All of which are reminiscent of the eastern Himalayas. Often, I am reminded of this little temple, high on a hill, ‘clouded’ pines behind and a deep rumbling coming from within, as two gigantic prayer wheels rotate slowly.



Green Woodpecker


It would appear that we have a resident Green Woodpecker, a beautiful and far more iridescent sight than this ‘Observer’ book of birds illustration would have you believe they are.

The Green Woodpecker is a member of the woodpecker family Picidae. It occurs in most parts of Europe, and in western Asia.

The Green Woodpecker is probably the best known, though not always the commonest of the European woodpecker species; its large size, 30-36 cm in length with a 45-51 cm wingspan, conspicuous dress, loud call and habits render it more noticeable. Though a very green bird, colour is not always distinct in the field, much depending upon the light.

The plumage of the sexes is similar, dark green above and yellowish green below and with crown and nape crimson, but in the male the centre of the moustachial black stripe is crimson. Thelores and around the eye is black in both male and female, except in the Iberian race P. v. subsp. sharpei which lacks this black area. The rump is chrome yellow, and this is very obvious in flight, allowing identification of the species from some distance. The outer webs of the primaries are barred black and white. The bill and feet are slate grey.

The crimson at the base of the bill is present in the young of both sexes, and their upper parts are barred, their underparts barred, streaked and spotted.

The usual habitat is more open than those of the pied Dendrocopos species; it frequents old timbered parks, and any open country where there are ancient trees rather than dense woodlands. Though a large and heavy bird it has an easy, bounding flight.

It alights on a trunk or bough and works upwards with a diagonal or spiral course in quick jerky jumps or runs, halting occasionally with head drawn back and bill held at right angles to its body. As it proceeds it taps the bark smartly, probably sounding it for hollows made by its prey. Rarely, a bird will descend for a short distance, tail foremost.

Insects are captured by a rapid outward flick of the long tongue, gummed to its tip by sticky saliva. From early in the year until summer the loud ringing plue, plue, plue is a typical woodland call, often described as a laugh, and from which the bird gets one of its names, “Yaffle”.

Folklore has associated this “song” with a threat of rain, and another name is “Rain bird”, but weather has little to do with the bird’s calls. Though it has been heard to “drum” upon wood, it certainly does not use this call so frequently as the spotted woodpeckers. The alarm note is the laugh emphasised and harshened.

The food is similar to that of the spotted species, except that this bird has a passion for ants. It will attack large nests in the woods, throwing aside the piled pine needles with its bill and nipping up the insectswith its tongue. When seeking ants it will wander to a distance from trees.

The nesting hole is larger but similar to those of the other woodpeckers. It may be a few feet above the ground or at the top of a tall tree. Five to seven glossy white eggs are laid upon wood chips late in April or early in May. There is only one brood.



« Previous entries Next Page » Next Page »