We both saw them at about the same time, great rafts of straw and twigs topped the pylons. Each with its own furry hat. Then the storks, massive bird seemingly precariously balanced atop their organic thrones. I have seen them, and more amazingly heard them, flying over south-west France. The spring and autumn skies awash with flying Vs disrupted by the upper currents, the voices merging into a cacophonous roar as they flew hundreds of metres overhead. And here they are in their summer residences soaking up the baking sun of the deepest south of Spain.
We are on a brief road trip – a couple of hours from our borrowed apartment at the less touristy end of the Costa Del Sol. A well-named area if ever there was, day after day the yellow sun sits in a sky blue arc overhead. It brings a profusion, even a confusion, of life. Garden flowers grown to giants, occasional bloomers in the UK covered here with a profusion of blossom, green everywhere. That was a surprise. The green. The trees, the shrubbery and the maquis (I wonder what the Spanish equivalent of that word is?) green despite the relentless drying sun. Vegetation on the edge of the continent but far from the edge of survival. We rode through the tree line to a wide expanse of high veldt, or was it the Peruvian uplands, where the storks chose to nest each bringing their own mystery as their arrival presaged summer.
It wasn’t an ordinary chair, and yet it was. Blue and green, cobbled together from seemingly random lengths of wood – jetsam or flotsam, who knows? Bishop’s seat or a Macintosh masterpiece, or perhaps the creation of the beach bar owner – Chirinquitos they call them round here. I had read that the owner was South African, journeyed from the southern tip of the mysterious continent and landed only just into Europe. I met him only as we left to pay-great manly paw reaching out to wish me well and hope to be back again, the smile on his face enough for the whole of the beach. It was an instant and personal connection. People leave their homeland the many reasons. Had he escaped, years ago, from the oppressed oppressive apartheid regime; was he a romantic voyager moving from place to place in search of adventure, excitement and maybe something deeper? The twinkle in his eye and the warmth with which he greeted this passing customer suggested peace, they carried the energy of the man who knows himself and is comfortably his skin. I choose to imagine that somewhere on his travels he met an Andalucian beauty and chose to settle with her on this sunkissed Mediterranean bench. The edge of Europe, his home continent within sight, almost within touch.
And the chair, well it was just a chair one among many an eclectic mix of old and new, hand and factory made, barely two matching yet all of them so appropriate for this beach bar. A place so full of life that I can feel it now. The most battered, the least swish, of the few that I’ve seen somehow had the most attraction. And after sitting drinking for an hour I could feel the life blood seeping back into me. I could spend hours, days even, just sitting in this world of battered reed umbrellas just being.
The blue and green chair my new companion, nothing fancy just honest.
A flash of purple in the mottled green morning light. The sun filtering through the freshly clothed trees, warming earth and sea ready to greet the future hordes. But for the moment, quiet. The only sounds the rustle of those new leaves, the gentle tinkle of the bells around the necks of the sheep/goats slowly munching the herbage along the roadside the wizened yet brightly smiling old resident of Çokertme patiently waiting before whisking them off for milk then cheese then breakfast.
The shock of the purple is extreme – its’ velvety texture, the strong leathery spike emerging from the centre; an Anglican Bishop amongst the Orthodoxy of the islands. More exotic than anything in my garden, more mysterious than the local language, this beautiful flower is known as a Death or Voodoo Lily. How strange for something so beautiful to be associated with death, or perhaps that is just my Western, atheistic, sensibilities linking a finality when others see death as a glorious release or path to heaven and life everafter. In a way this wonderful plant has that life everafter – the seeds that will follow the glory of the bloom ensure the survival of the gene line.
I am reminded of that wonderful piece by Jenny Joseph “When I am an old woman, I will wear purple”
WHEN I AM AN OLD WOMAN I SHALL WEAR PURPLE
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
Well done that plant!
Home is no longer here, West Yorkshire calls louder by the minute. The cockerel crowing his ownership of his clan to be replaced by muddy fields, straw bedding and uncomplaining horses. We fly around, taking planes like the buses of our youth, seeking the frisson and the challenge of new places and ones we know well. Every trip is a new trip to new destination, some of which happen to hold old friends in their welcoming arms. There is still romance in travel, in watching the houses and people shrink, as if taking Alice’s potion, as the silver bird powers her way skyward. The occasional glimpse of the ground not touched as the clouds part temporarily, the vastness of the desert, mountain or seascape as we pass by observing but not touching. Does our presence in eyes only make a difference to those below? Perhaps not, yet it changes me. The dots of the boats with their comet tails transporting who knows what to who knows where. Reminiscent of dhows on a Dubai Creek front, loading their Chinese tyres, Brazilian deck chairs, Pakistani spices… Delights from the vastness of the globe gathered here at dockside waiting for their final sea journey to a welcoming new home. Innocent and ignorant of their origin of their fate yet stacked proudly and brightly in the unremitting sunlight. They move from home to home, as do I.
I’m not supposed to be here – at least in the sense that this is not where I set off for. A clear and compelling image of a mediaeval marketplace has somehow attached itself to the wrong place name in my head. Yet fate deals what it deals and here I am in the wrong place/the only place I could be. I am in a bastide town – isn’t it the same as all the others or is it different? The wrong question – how is it both the same and different? The jumbled rocks, golden in their glory glow in this watery spring sun. The tricoleur, hangs limp, blown occasionally by a stray wisp of breeze, reminding me that although Aquitaine was for centuries owned by the English, and in a different way is in the process of being reclaimed, we are indeed here in La France Profonde. We live with the seasons, eating what nature provides, we wait patiently yet anxiously for the return of the beautiful yellow. She shines now, breathing life into trees eager to renew their acquaintance with the life-giving sun. Their leaves turning in just days from mere ideas into greening hands reaching into the air for sustenance. The shading planes behind, ragged stunted fingers pointing upwards, waiting yet ever seeking the trigger that will make it grow so fast and huge that once again, and as it is resting in the dark depths of winter, all new growth will be removed. The arms and fingers look tortured yet the trunk renews them from year to year, as if knowing and understanding the relief it brings to tired and overcooked humans in the dog days of August. The summer is over, her magnificent bounty (p)reserved for days to come, when evenings cool and sky is grey, when snow glistens and rain falls gently renewing the deepest thirst of the land.
I should be here, it feeds me and I feed it. Next time I will visit Monpazier!
The yellow bicycle, standing out glowing amongst the drabness of the grey and blue Raleighs; a daffodil brightening up the winter mud, showing the way to a spring and summer that we know will come sometime, that we know will blossom in ways unknown, that we hope will bring a bright yellow sun day after day after glistening soft rain. Where has it been, where will it go? Does it spend life shackled to this place through lack of adventurous spirit, or has it ridden the rugged mountain paths, the smooth village roads? Has it seen the ocean, the mountain tops, the clouds from above; has it heard the tickle of the crickets on a warm Greek evening as well as the croak of the frogs in this corner of 24?
The sun, the rain , the frost, the snow – all bringing their own unique and ever-changing experience for the yellow bicycle and her rider. I see them now, yellow bicycle and sun-reddened tourist, trying for harmony, unused muscles eventually complaining before being soothed by the wine, cheese, pate, bread… so thoughtfully prepared for lunch.
Then, on we go, a new adventure this afternoon. Perhaps not the Alps, but an adventure nonetheless. Yellow bicycle and rider experiencing it in their own unique ways.