At the cortijo – days in the Sierra

At the cortijo – days in the Sierra

We’re more than half way through our time here, which makes me pause for thought. It takes a while to settle into a rhythm in a strange place. It’s not a holiday, but a transfer of life for a few weeks – well part of life at least – and so the place becomes a transitional home.

The routines of activity, the practicalities of living and the ‘worky’ things, these are all relatively easy to transport to this lovely Spanish hillside. It all seems idyllic: a peaceful, sunny escape. And in many ways it is. The physical dislocation, the distance you put between you and normal life is easy to manage because you select, or rather pre-select the bits of life that you’ll bring with you – art, writing, weaving. The routines of mind and spirit are more troublesome. You can’t select the emotional routines, the ties and tugs of affection, love, duty, responsibility that you’ll bring with you and the ones you’ll leave behind. They all climb aboard for the journey. And the dislocation in space sometimes makes them more difficult to handle.

For example, I think of my Mum, safe and cared for, I know, but it’s hard to not feel I have abandoned her. That sense is eased by the nightly phone call; but the same call can reinforce it. So this disconnection, this distance that we have put between normal life and the here and now in a little stone cortijo at the bottom of Europe, brings you face to face with some stuff that normally you don’t confront because you’re keeping your head down and you’re concentrating on the doing and not having much time to do the thinking. And maybe, back there in normal life, focusing on the doing is a way of abandoning the thinking. Who knows? But the cortijo days show me how caring impinges on and underscores the years I’m living through, as it must for countless others somewhere at the far end of middle age. And right now, my sense of it is sharpened through absence.

To lighter stuff – what on earth do we do here all day?

A typical day starts with some reading over an early cup of tea, supped before getting up. The reading, by the way, is serious stuff – politics, economics, travel writing. Breakfast is a big deal and we have a particular style: one day cereal and yogurt, the next day toast and marmalade, alternating in a strictly regimented way ensuring a perfectly balanced diet and, of course, a source of great amusement to friends who have been brave enough to stay with us or mad enough to take us on holiday with them. This breakfast ritual, by the way, was introduced and is closely monitored by Himself, a sort of retrospective addition to our pre-nuptial agreement. I’ve been too scared to test whether our union would survive any deviance on my part, for example, if, one morning, I fancied a boiled egg……….

After breakfast, it’s straight down to work. The Artist takes up his brush, adjusts his easel, picks up a tuneless hum (although there’s been less of that since I blogged about it; I fear I may have upset him!), and absorbs himself in transposing the pictures in his head to canvas, board or paper, collectively known as his ‘supports’ (new to me – where have I been?). He does this in a single-minded way, day in day out, with the odd day or part day off to do a hike or take a trip to the supermarket. His dedication, always pretty remarkable back at home, is wondrous to behold here, distanced from all the distractions and arrangements, the dates and duties of life in London. As for me, well, a much more flippant array of activities attest to my rather more ‘many and varied’ approach to life and my inability to be totally absorbed in one thing to the exclusion of all other things when there are so often other things I fancy trying my hand at. (Oops – long sentence ending on a preposition – must try harder!) So I do a bit of writing: this blog; some other notes and musings. I do a bit of breadmaking, having brought all my accoutrements with me including sensuously frothy sourdough starters and a Dutch oven (in effect a big Le Creuset casserole of many years’ service). I have an artisan baking day about twice a week and it keeps us in bread, of varying quality, depending on how experimental, accurate or patient I have been. A little rigid heddle loom also came on the journey and so some weaving is another option; two scarves are already off the system and a third is all warped up and ready to go. A bit of ‘work’ work is done too, some reading, analysis and commentary, pro-bono mainly, but so enlivening. Good for the mind and the sense of self.

And then there’s the stuff of living that we share: the cooking, cleaning, washing, making the fire of an evening in the wood-burning stove. The day is broken up by a coffee break, a late light lunch, nearly always on the terrace, a cup of tea about 4.30 to catch the last of the warmth. It doesn’t get dark until about 6.30 but it gets cool soon after 5 as the sun starts to sink behind the hills of the sierra. The evenings, after eating, involve a lot of reading since the Smart TV continues to defeat us. I think the ‘Smart’ is misplaced; surely it’s not the TV but the viewers that need to be smart and clearly we’re not! In a way we’re quite glad about this as we have fallen in love with quiet evenings with our noses in books. However, lest we become too serious, we have brought with us the complete boxed set of Blackadder and are working our way through it joyfully and with lots of laughing out loud. We’re currently in the trenches, where Captain Blackadder is going to more and more extreme lengths to avoid having to go over the top and Baldrick is concocting increasingly exotic meals ……