Category Archives: Gardens

Blanes. Winter is coming.

Saturday morning in the middle of Blanes.

Saturday morning in the middle of Blanes.

Blanes is a popular seaside resort on the Costa Brava of Spain. I’m lucky enough to be staying here while I work as an English conversation assistant in the next town, Palafolls. As you can see, the town centre of Blanes is a bustling metropolis. The farmers’ market takes place every morning but is particularly busy on Saturday.

In contrast, where I live, on the outskirts of town near the Camping Grounds, winter is coming and the shops are shut. Most of the apartments are empty and the hotels are boarded up.
blanes-masage-theraputico blanes-restaurants blanes-shut blanes-super blanes-wrapped blanes-backstreet
blanes-fast-food

blanes-mini-golf

I should add I took these photos on a Saturday at lunchtime.

The built environment

The built environment and the blustery day of Blanes in winter

There is one population though, that owns Blanes in the chilly temperatures.

blanes-cat-park

blanes-black-catblanes-catsblanes-cat-hotelTo the extent that some animal lovers have created Gatolandia – a cat hotel – to feed and provide shelter to our feline friends.

Gatolandia Birthday Celebrations

Gatolandia Birthday Celebrations

The area is very quiet. I am exceedingly lucky. Here is my apartment block. I think about half the flats are inhabited.

My flat is the top right hand corner. The sea view is the bottom left hand corner.

My flat is the top right hand corner. The sea view is the bottom left hand corner.

 

This is the view looking back towards the sea. I think about four of these flats have people living in them at the moment. The others are locked up tight.

This is the view from my little clothes-drying balcony looking back towards the sea. I think about four of these flats have people living in them at the moment. The others are locked up tight.

In the other direction, looking toward the Tordera River and Palafolls, you can see the empty caravans of the Campings and the hills of the Parc del Montnegre i el Corredor, one of the national parks of Barcelona province. This ever-changing landscape is swept by winds from the Bay of Biscay. The cloud formations can be spectacular, or absent! On the point of the closest hill is Castell de Palafolls, now a ruin, which some of the young people at my secondary college have promised to show me.

My view in the morning

My view in the morning

 

My view in the evening

My view in the evening

Even though there’s nothing very natural about these built up areas, I’m sure there’s something still untamed up in them there hills …

Slices of heart wood

Hola from Spain! I am currently living here, working as an auxiliar de conversacion de inglis in a small secondary school, in a tiny town on the Costa Brava. I’m very lucky. I’ve visited much of the country, especially the North when I walked the Camino del Norte y Primitivo. I’m still trying to process my impressions of the last few months but here’s a little taste of the Camino – all 876km.

Now that I’m feeling more settled in my little flat overlooking the hills of the Parc del Montnegre y el Corredor, I have time to return to this blog. I am learning how to be an English conversation assistant and hopefully, along the way, be better able to teach English. In between days at school, and typing, I am still restless. There is much to see locally, of course, but I do feel the need to tick off some of the big towns of Spain. (You might find some ideas for your own travels here)

I visited Valencia on the recent long weekend. It is a wonderful town of history together with a heady vibrant energy of rejuvenation. But one visit really tumbled me and it was La Memória dels Arbres, in the University of Valencia Botanic Gardens.

sun strikes Toi Toi in the grass section

sun strikes Toi Toi in the grass section

I wandered around these gardens, a formal zoo for plants that was established in the sixteenth century, with no great aim. It is a lovely oasis. Living in one of the flats overlooking these neat and tidy sections would be idyllic. Birds flittered about. A sweet little grey bird with a pale orange chest chirped away above me as I sat on one of the many shady benches. It sounded like a little metal hammer tip tip tapping on a tiny fragile stained glass window. Or a miniature suitcase, wheeled along tiny cobblestones, tirruping along. The parrots came alive later as the sun rayed into the tops of the trees. I couldn’t see them but I thought they would have red heads and green bodies like the ones I’d seen earlier flying around the Palace. Strange how some of the flats face away from the gardens. And in this Botanic Gardens there are many cats!

cats listen to 'Imagine' by John Lennon sung lustily by a school of English learners

cats listen to ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon sung lustily by a school of English learners in the school nearby

Finally I came upon an exhibition building where I found:

poster for La Memória dels arbres

Suddenly the world was coloured by layers of music and the smell of freshly sawn timber. The building itself has a beamed ceiling of heavy wood but it was the languorous guitar that took me down through the circles of time into this extraordinary exhibition.

Silhouette of tree in Valencia, Jardī Botanic

Created by two men who apparently went into the forest, hewed, carried by backpack and arranged the pieces:

Miguel Ortega & Jesús Julio Camarero, the men responsible for the memories of wood

Miguel Ortega & Jesús Julio Camarero, the men responsible for the memories of wood

I tried to think why I was so greatly affected by this selection of lumber CAT scans. Partly because I am recently from Prague, where I learned to carve wooden marionettes with Mirek Trejtnar of Puppets in Prague. Often Mirek would encourage us to respect the wood, respect the grain, feel the timber.

Pieces of Puppets carved by Mirek Trejtnar from Puppets in Prague

Pieces of Puppets carved by Mirek Trejtnar from Puppets in Prague

The wood memories selected showed the rings of ages. Clearly some were very old indeed and, given the changes and torments wrought over the land of Spain, had stood while many human lives had fallen. The slices showed the effects of insects, cold, drought and fire. They looked soft and so like medical specimens that once again I was reminded how human beings have much in common with other species. Even plants!

Slice of sabina

Slice of sabina-negra

Although this looks bumpy it is in fact as smooth as silk

Although this looks bumpy it is in fact as smooth as silk

Almond wood

Almond wood

Heart wood

The Signature of All Things – big story, big picture, big biggness

http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/books/the-signature-of-all-things/

http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/books/the-signature-of-all-things/

The Signature of All Things strides across centuries, across science and across the face of God. It details (and I mean, really details) the life of the father, the daughter and the Holy Angel. It looks at our relationship to nature in a learned, scientific light. It’s a book, it’s big and it’s by Elizabeth Gilbert.

http://content.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1733748_1733752_1735978,00.html

http://content.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1733748_1733752_1735978,00.html

But I wasn’t paying attention to the writer when I began because I was drawn to the reader. I listened to this behemoth on Audible books read by the delectable tones of Juliet Stevenson. Ah.

http://www.imdb.com/media/rm1579914752/nm0828980

http://www.imdb.com/media/rm1579914752/nm0828980

If you have never had the pleasure of being read to by Ms Stevenson, may I recommend you rush to Audible for your introductory book and plug your ears into anything at all, say for instance, Middlemarch or Persuasion. I could listen to Juliet read the phone book and herein lies the problem, because I began to wonder if indeed The Signature of All Things might not in fact be a bit of a phone book. Juliet’s mellifluous golden tones seeped into my mind like a pleasant dream but once in a while I would be jumped out of the loveliness and mentally exclaim, ‘What is this stuff?’

Like Joyce, Gilbert is heavy on the lists. It sometimes feels as though she’s deliberately setting out to write an enormous masterpiece, covering a great sprawling canvas, and therefore she must conjure all the things that pertain to the thought she has in mind at that moment, that circumstance, that idea, that shade, that currency, that minutiae, that detail, that nuance, that secondary motif, that other thing that just might resonate with some reader somewhere because of something a second cousin once said at a wedding where she wore a beautiful dark dress with a large floral print in pinks and leaves but her shoes were too tight and she got a blister on her heel that took days to fade away and MEANWHILE back in the real world you’re starting to wish Ms Gilbert had found a slightly sterner editor and that maybe Juliet is reading the phone book after all.

There’s no doubting Gilbert’s steady and erudite construction of sentences and, apart from slight Americanisms like ‘pinky’ and ‘route’ most notable toward the end of the book, the prose is indeed suggestive of Elliot. In fact, and this reveals more about my lack of current popular knowledge than anything about Gilbert, I didn’t know who she was. It wasn’t until some way into the work that I looked the woman up. Der. She’s quite wise really.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eat,_Pray,_Love#/media/File:Eat,_Pray,_Love_%E2%80%93_Elizabeth_Gilbert,_2007.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eat,_Pray,_Love#/media/File:Eat,_Pray,_Love_%E2%80%93_Elizabeth_Gilbert,_2007.jpg

So I went and borrowed Eat Pray Love (in that order) from my local library. The strands of this memoir are the concerns of the main character, Alma, in Signature. The corporeal, the spiritual and the emotional. That is to say, All Things. A lot of people really like it, apparently, and you might want to watch the movie. I shan’t dwell on ELP except to say it is based on Gilbert’s private journals and acts as a kind of miasma or swamp of the mind from which might grow a mighty lotus blossom. That blossom might well be The Signature of All Things.

Signature is an extraordinary vision and it features many real life characters like Captain Cook, Joseph Banks and Darwin. It could be that the story is based on a real person. The idea is not so far-fetched after all. A female scientist joins Darwin and Wallace in examining the world and seeking answers. There’s nothing preposterous in that. Female thinkers have been, like Alma’s moss, quietly gathering science ever since records began. Many have disappeared. Perhaps Gilbert found an account or diary somewhere that kicked this giant opus off?

There is much to ponder in Signature. There is much, full stop, much of everything really. It’s big, I tell you. An amazing feat. Alma is big, her father is a titan, her husband is an angel. Her view of God is not singular. Ms Gilbert really likes numbers and the basic trinity is always present (as are other numerological games in both ELP and Signature). Gilbert is an intellectual, after all. However, God is not in the moss. Heaven is not within. Heaven is somewhere else.

You might like Gilbert’s TED talk on creativity. She describes the need to separate artists from their muse – genius comes from outside. (Like God!)

Humans are part of nature – and her discussion of the development of the theory of evolution is even-handed and I welcome her embrace of Wallace. Although Bill Bailey on the subject is probably slightly more amusing.

I’m sorry I can’t be more conclusive about The Signature of All Things. I do love hearing big books, especially read by Juliet. I did enjoy many parts of this enormous blossom, this mossy roll, but in the end it did feel unsatisfying. Did it go on too long? Did it start too early?

It is amazing. That is all. It is about All Things. That said, I do wonder if Gilbert has been in communication with George Elliot’s muse?