Monday, January 16, 2012

art and rain

They’ve been wanting rain and so I am happy for the people of Andalucía, because today, for the first time since we’ve come here (riding in on the tail end of 2011), it rained.

We have such a beautiful hotel room that truly, if we had to stay indoors all day and do our various works and tasks, we’d be happy. But, the desire to see and explore (so universal and so strong) pushes us out the door despite the threat of wetness.

(After a lovely breakfast in the protected courtyard of our hotel. We are, in this off off time, the only guests here.)


And in fact, it’s not raining. Yet. We walk, enchanted by the frequent pastry and sweets shops...

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...over to the Alcazar, but before entering, we get terribly distracted by an art fair in its little courtyard.

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Had Ed been Ed, there would have been a yawn and a tug on his part and we would have moved on. But, on this day Ed lets loose an otherwise well concealed Mediterranean undercurrent. He wants, for one thing, to look at art. (Later, he also wants to look inside a cathedral. And, as you’ll soon see, he nudges me to acquire something. Ed, today, is not fully himself.)

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And so we admire some small pieces (a still life of figs) and some somewhat larger pieces (a landscape) and one larger piece is done by an extraordinarily charming woman (Marisol Martin Galisteo) who notices our interest and says emphatically – it’s very very cheap. Ed laughs like a true Andalucían - very uproariously.

Marisol is so contagiously charming that I truly believe that if I hang her painting back at the farmhouse it will be like throwing her personality on our walls. Still, her art, though cheap, is the price of dinner. Besides, I don’t acquire things anymore.

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With a sigh, we leave.

At the other side of the Alcazar entrance, we notice that there is a Sunday flea market and now we’re really captivated...

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Here, Ed is as I know him to be: interested in seeing other people make use of old stuff.

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Except that this flea market also has a few artisans displaying their handcraft, including a gentleman from Cadiz (Ale Galdou) selling little handmade clay flutes (called the 'ocarina').

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These tiny things look like not much of anything. Three holes on each side and one in the middle. But listen to him toot that little thing!

The woman at his side (his mother?) smiles proudly and even more so when she learns we are from across the ocean. Her son the clay ocarina maker married a Canadian but now here he is in Andalucía again, trying to make a go of it with his little clay pieces. (We purchase one as a little gift for Paul, our coffee guy back home.)

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We leave the market now because really, we’re here to see the Alcazar. We circle the block in search of the entrance...

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But just then the rain comes down. Ed asks – so are you getting the painting(s)?

We’re back at the art fair. Artists are scrambling to pack up and cart away paintings. The disappointment here is palpable. I’m standing in the rain, undecided. As she packs her work, Marisol tells us there is not much support for the artist in this town. Her husband is there, helping her...

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– it’s been a bleak day even as she grins her lovely grin and throws out a friendly good bye.

She is so charming! Ed says. Ah, he’s been won over by the radiant Andalucían smile!
I call her back. We’ll buy it!

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That grin again! She and her husband promise to wrap it up and bring it over to our hotel the next day.

As we leave the little square, Ed tells me – too bad you couldn’t get the one with the figs, too.
The man has been struck by a Mediterranean virus! Or Spanish virus, because he really does quite love being here.

And just as we finish arranging the final details of delivery and the rain drops are becoming quite pronounced, frequent and wet, a friendly greeting catches us from behind and we turn to see the 'fig man,' scurring with his paintings, including his lovely little fig still life, back to his car. That’s fate for you.

As he places his sweet little painting into a bag for us, I ask him if he supports himself from his art. He laughs. I work for an insurance company! He writes his name on the back of his company card – Domingo Diaz Barbera.  Zurich Agencia de Seguros. The life of an artist. The flutist with the proud mother, Marisol with a husband who most likely pays the bills, Domingo who sells insurance.

We walk back to the hotel. The Alcazar is better seen on a sunny day.

Initially, people hide from the rain under awnings and cafe umbrellas.


But soon, the streets of Jerez de la Frontera become completely empty. People here do not like being wet or cold.

We pause at the hotel in the hope that the rain will cease, but it doesn’t and so with the aid of two borrowed umbrellas, we set out for the great walk of Jerez – as determined by some tourist agent who had the fun task of figuring out which blocks should be seen by any visitor who would choose to pass through Jerez.

If Jerez isn’t really a tourist destination, we say that that's a shame. The town is lovely!


So who, if not tourists, comes to Jerez anyway? Is there a draw? Most definitely: people come here to do business with the sherry producers. Jerez de la Frontera is the capital of sherry making. If your sherry isn’t from Jerez, then it’s not the real deal.


We wont be visiting any of the bodegas that display and sell the fine sherries of Jerez. Even with the addition of the paintings, we have so little luggage that we’ll be carrying our bags on-board and so taking back bottles is out of the question. The city is, for us, the destination onto itself. And both Ed and I are liking it quite a bit. So much so, that the original idea of going back to Cadiz for the day has been pushed by the wayside.

At times it drizzles and at other times it pours and I can have no real complaints about either – we’d had such a good spell of fine weather, after all – except it really is awfully difficult to take photos and carry an umbrella all at the same time. Still, here’s a bit of our walk, through puddles and all.




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At the cathedral, Ed surprises me again by urging us to go inside, to explore the architectural detail. We’re a tad late for that – the guard is locking the door just as we show up. But he reconsiders and allows us a peak and it is both unusual and splendid.


Outside again, we watch the water pour out of the jaws of the gargoyles.

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Around us, the squares and streets remain empty. You can listen to the rain hit the sidewalk. The city is otherwise quiet.   

Tapas time? I ask. Ed says he’s not hungry, but at the Bar Juanito they have an artichoke hearts that won the best tapas award at some national tapas competition...


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...and as long as we order one thing, we may as well add to it (each tapas is 2 Euros) and so we order a shrimp and wild mushroom dish that, too, is quite delicious.


Okay, I get it. The people of Jerez are alive and well, eating, drinking, warming their insides with all the good stuff that this region has to offer.

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The light isn’t fading just yet, but a good snack and a glass of wine are enough to push us back home, yes, home, today’s home, where we can lie down, doze off for a bit and watch the rain come down behind any of the five windows in our seven-sided room.

In the evening, there’s not even the pretense of weighing dinner options. We go back to last night’s restaurant because it is so good, so rickety chair casual that there’s no reason to go elsewhere.

The waiter tries to talk me into some of the heartier meat options, but I stay with the mushrooms with bits of Iberian ham. It is a completely satisfying meal, finished by a delicious dessert of cheese and something or other.


We walk back along wet streets in the golden glow of street lamps and oranges.