I arrived here at La Fragua in Belalcázar a week ago. Life here is beautiful. There is so much to appreciate everyday. I have time and space to think and create. I have a beautiful place to work and a beautiful place to live. I have a bedroom with a terrace that overlooks a castle. I have internet so I can stay in touch with friends and family and blog. And I have amazing things to see and eat, which is what most of this post is about.
It took a while to get all my supplies together, but now I am mostly there and starting to paint. It also took a couple days to get acquainted with the pueblo, or village, and learn where to buy bread, meat, cheese, produce, and other groceries. I also took a trip to Córdoba on my birthday last Thursday. Javi and Rosana from here at the residency were going for an art opening and I used the opportunity to get a lot of my supplies and to see the famous architecture there. I will post about that trip soon.
Being here is a full sensory experience. Right now I am writing from my desk in my room. The windows are open to my terrace and the castle on the hill right outside the pueblo.
I hear water running from the old stone pool (el pilar) – where women used to do their washing before the days of machines – flowing into the stream down below. I hear pigeons – always pigeons cooing – and when I am at the convent the sound of the pigeons reverberates against the stone and permeates everything else. I hear hundreds of other birds twittering and chirping (the castle is a favorite home for them). I hear the rooster. I hear the bell which tolls the hours. I often hear dogs barking, cats meowing, the workers building a house a couple doors down (which often is my morning wake-up call), children yelling, babies crying, greetings and instructions yelled in spanish, distant cars and 4-wheelers zipping around the hillsides. I hear how all sounds echo and travel here because we live in a world of tile and stone. I hear a chair scrape and the door shut on the other side of the house.
I see the hills closest to me covered in rows of olive trees. I see the farther hills covered in yellow grass because the rains have not come yet. I see flocks of birds flying from tree to castle to rooftop. I see white stucco houses with courtyards, archways and terra cotta tiled roofs. I see stone walls – old and new, maintained and crumbling. I see the plant I bought for my terrace’s table with its pink and orange blooms sitting in the bright orange pot I bought too. I see children on laptops using the free public wifi in the plaza surrounding the washing pool. I often see adults, children, dogs, cats, and an occasional horse. I see the house they are building and I watch the progression each day. I see the castle. I see the crumbling stonework, the grass growing on the top of the walls and towers, an old archway, the detailed pattern of the more elaborate stone decorations on the main tower, the graffiti sprayed onto the stones and on the little white house that sits in front of the castle, and the giant nests of storks (which have flown south to Africa for the winter; the nests sit on top of almost every tall building or tower in the pueblo). I see all of this framed in the two white arches that form the outer edge of my terrace.
I taste the many wonderful foods that are typical to eat here. I taste the almonds, eggplant, onions, tomatoes, basil, beans, peppers, and garlic that I gather from the garden at the convent and cook in various ways. I taste fresh oven-baked bread. I taste farm fresh eggs. I taste cured ham, which in the states we know as prosciutto (and evidently I have only had the poor quality packaged variety; going to get it fresh cut tomorrow). I taste olives – olives stuffed with garlic, olive oil, and whole olives. I taste cheese and there are only fresh and gourmet cheeses here that beg to be savored and paired with various other foods. I taste rich, local wine – mostly red (white wine here is strong and sweet but tastes almost like it is mixed with vodka; they call it fino). I taste Pablo’s homemade empanadas filled with meat, vegetables, olives and hardboiled egg. I taste tapas sandwiches made with different combinations of sardines, tuna, anchovies, meat and cheeses. I taste fried calamari, tiny eggplants in vinegar, fries covered in cheese and hot sauces, potato and egg torta, fried nuggets of tuna salad, smoked salmon and raw cod with tomato paste on bread (“spanish sushi”), potato and tuna salad, fried cod and so many other tapas (I will write a whole post on tapas, promise). I taste dulce de leche, coffee, and almond gelato. Most recently I tasted Fanta soda made with real lemon juice and real sugar.
I smell tomato sauce that Rosana, my housemate, made from the tomatoes in the garden. I smell basil every time I come and go from the convent because it grows by the gate. I smell hot olive oil when I cook. I smell baking bread and cooking meats when I bike through the pueblo. I smell the frying dough of churros in the churreria. I smell all the amazing foods I have eaten, as smell is part of taste. I smell tobacco smoke because almost everyone here smokes. I smell the sunscreen I try to remember to put on my face everyday. I smell the stinging stench of manure when I bike past the farms. I smell hot beeswax when I paint and everyone comments on how nice it smells. I smell the scent of the soap Ben and I bought in Barcelona and the smell of the new soap I bought here – both different from the soap I use at home. I smell dust and exhaust. I smell earth and plants.
I feel sun warming me all the way through – constant sun. I feel the warm air blowing my hair back behind me when I ride my bike. I feel the wax and the textures I create with it. I feel the ripeness of fruits and vegetables. I feel the readiness of pasta. I feel the ancient stonework and wonder what stories it could tell. I feel the wind when it blows mightily through the convent. I feel the cool tile beneath my feet. I feel the coolness inside the stone buildings contrasting with the intense heat outside. I feel the heat of the day give way to the cool of the night, only to slowly come to hot again the next day. I feel the blister on my foot from walking all over Córdoba. I feel where I stubbed my toe yesterday. I feel where I scraped myself the day before. I feel sharp grasses scrape my ankles as I walk around the castle. I feel the peeling skin on my nose because it seems to always be a little burnt. I feel hot showers relaxing and refreshing me. I feel the new leather of the purse and the weight of the thick silver earrings I bought in Córdoba (the city is known for leather and silver). I feel the heavy bags I bike with as I bring supplies to the convent and vegetables home.
Every morning I wake up and greet the castle outside my window. Every morning I feel eternally grateful to be here.