Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A smoky adventure

Last Friday I was shaking whilst sitting on a cold iron bench at the bus stop, waiting for my bus to my ceramic class. It wasn’t an earthquake but an elegantly dressed Spanish lady. Her leg was nervously making rapid movements which made the bench vibrate. My fantasy took her along on a journey of possibilities. From a dentist visit to an appointment with her lover to tell him that she was going to leave him. I was soon distracted from my thoughts by the spring bird song in the tall trees on the small roundabout in front of the bus stop. It was 22 January and rather worrying to hear these migrating birds singing their beautiful song. A far too mild winter, with far too little rain is confusing the local flora and fauna. I didn’t get much time to think about that as the bus arrived and I had to prepare myself for my weekly discussion with the bus driver. I have to get off at a bus stop that is not very familiar to most drivers and for some reason I have seen a different bus driver every week, which means I have to explain, plead and put my foot down to be allowed on the bus. This day was no exception. When I mentioned my destination the initial reaction from the bus driver, like most weeks, was “I don’t stop there”. I then insisted and explained where it was and mentioned some landmarks. This usually does the trick, but this time it didn’t. The bus driver wasn’t having it and told me there was no such bus stop. The queue behind me was growing but I remained calm and friendly telling him that I was taken there every week and that he could check the existence of the bus stop on his digital ticket machine. Reluctantly he did and I was allowed on the bus. I sat down on one of the faded chairs and looked at the chair in front of me which said “fasten seat belt” a reminder of the long-distance international trips of these now local buses. The seat belts had been taken out and nobody, apart from me, seemed to think that this half an hour journey, for some even longer, along a bendy road and often next to sheer drops down to the sea, with, it has to be said, breathtaking views, is a good enough reason to fasten a seat belt. I said a little prayer and sent some white light to the grumpy driver to get me safely to my destination. It worked, and I walked into the ceramic studio all in one piece. It was a special day and I was nervous. I have done ceramics for many years but I had not experimented much with glazing and had never done Raku. This was my main reason to join the ceramics class with a nice mixed group of people, (English and Spanish, me being the only Dutch person) both beginners and professional artists.
It was my very first Raku firing experience and I came prepared with a mask as I was told it would be a smoky event. Our teacher is an interesting, very knowledgeable, sweet bodybuilder, usually scarcely dressed in shorts and a vest, both summer and winter, and most nights delighting us with the smell of his four boiled egg whites that he brings along in a Tupperware box and consumes during the ceramic class. For the occasion he wore some highly flammable sports trousers, which I found rather worrying. He had been firing up a kiln earlier that day, filled with the statues that had been painted with special Raku glaze. After the class, when most of my classmates had left, the kiln was opened. It was an amazing spectacle. The red-hot statues were taken out with a special tool and then dropped into an old oil barrel filled with sawdust. Every time the teacher had dropped a ceramic object into the barrel we rapidly added a few handfuls of sawdust, which of course took fire immediately. As soon as all the statues were in the barrel it was topped up with even more of the stuff. Then the lid was quickly put on the barrel and subsequently covered with a wet cloth. There was smoke, a lot of smoke, so we made sure to wait at a safe distance.
Approximately 15 minutes later the statues were taken out of the barrel and put into a big basin filled with cold water, to then be cleaned with a hard brush under a running tap, revealing the end result. The colours were stunning, a mixture of purple, blue and copper with silver and turquoise touches, reminding me of the colours of an oil leak on a puddle of water. They were better than I could have hoped for, it was a magic moment.
My hair, my skin and clothes were smelling like a wood log burned in an open fire, but I didn’t care. With my statues safely wrapped up for the journey back, I returned home. It had been a great and satisfying adventure. Three days later I was lying in bed and shaking. There was no Spanish lady to be seen. It was an earthquake, 6.5 on the Richter scale, which had woken up the entire Malaga and Granada coast region!

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The final chapter…a new chapter!

The final chapter has been approved and this means the end of a year of interviewing, writing and revising stories for my book ‘La Herradura Reflections’. A book that I wanted to write without really knowing why. Curious as this may seem, there was a strong urge within me, an urge born out of curiosity and irritation. I was curious and irritated about the fact that so many interesting cultural things happened in the village where I live, La Herradura, and that I always seemed to hear about it after the event had taken place. Why did I not know about the great flamenco spectacle on the village square, why did I miss the opening of that interesting exhibition? Why did I not know about the live Jazz music in a local café or about the Blues festival? For a part it had to do with my own ignorance of course as most events were publicised on A3 size posters put up on information boards on the sea front and some even mentioned on a big banner waving in the wind between two palm trees on the beach. I have to admit, I am usually busy imagining a story, remembering an adventure, repeating a worrying thought or thinking about my shopping list whilst I make my way through the village, unaware of posters, information boards and banners. But who were these artists that had found their way to this village, why were they here and what inspired them? I knew my own artistic story of coincidence or destiny, depending on one’s view on life, but what about their stories? I decided that I wanted to find out and the idea was born. I was going to write a book. I first created a questionnaire with 24 questions and approached some artist friends. The ball started rolling and every time I interviewed an artist, they gave me the name of several others. My list of artists like writers, dancers, musicians, singers and painters was so long that I had to create some conditions. I decided that all foreign artists had to live in La Herradura for longer periods every year and be more or less full-time artists with no other job on the side and that the Spanish artists had to either live in the village or have a house or studio in La Herradura. Whilst I was interviewing the format of the book took shape. I wanted to share the fascinating village history and evolution and give voice to some interesting characters and organisers of cultural events as well. Each story would have a description of the village, taking the reader on a journey through its streets and nearby mountains and giving a peek into the minds of the artists. Little did I know what I had taken on. It wasn’t the first time I had written a book in a similar format, interviewing people to then write their experiences in a story-telling way in the first or third person. For my book Cheers I interviewed partners, children and friends of people with an alcohol addiction and also alcoholics and healthcare workers, to show the human side of this world-wide problem and to help those affected by it to find a way out of their situation of isolation and despair. All interviewees read and approved their story before publishing, but remained anonymous. I wrote and published the book within a period of five months. My La Herradura book is a different story, possibly because it isn’t anonymous, but it has been an amazing journey. Most interviews took place in the privacy of my living room. No doubt the coming and going of predominantly men of all sizes, shapes and ages, entering our front door whilst my Spanish husband was out working, raised some eye brows and gave the housewives in the neighbourhood some interesting gossip material. I met most of the artists for the first time at my front door and it was fascinating to hear their reasons for coming to La Herradura. They explained how they found it, why they decided to stay and how the village inspired them. I felt inspired by their stories and amazed about the interesting facts that I learned on the way about flamenco, archaeology and much more. The stories almost wrote themselves and apart from a few minor tweaks most interviewees were happy to approve their stories. I felt it was all flowing really well. I always write in English but I had decided that this book also needed a Spanish version since it is taking place in and talking about a Spanish village, so every time I finished a story it went to my translator. I feel lucky to have found someone bilingual who was willing to do the translation in exchange for one of my larger paintings. During my year working on this book I had no other income and no budget for translators or proof readers so I feel blessed and grateful that they love my artwork so much that they are happy to do the work, and it is a lot of work, for a painting instead of money. After the translation and a quick proof by one of my Spanish family members the story went to the Spanish language artists in question. The word mañana suddenly showed its full potential. I am Dutch but not having lived in my country of birth for over sixteen years means that I do not consider myself very Dutch anymore, however, punctuality and sticking to appointments and promises are pretty much ingrained into my system. In those cases that I have become a bit negligent and fail to do as I said I feel bad and ashamed. I also don’t like to bother people and the fact that I had to remind some of the artists numerous times to read and possibly tweak and approve their stories made me feel hugely uncomfortable. It was very obvious to me that they were unaware of this as most of them were ever so sweet and complimentary about my representation of their experience, but there were also moments I felt I had to tiptoe through a mind-field and keep my Dutch direct to an absolute minimum in order to keep some egos happy. This chapter is now closed and I can relax. It feels great that the last story has been checked and approved and now in the hands of my Spanish and English proof readers who are taking care of the final grammar checks before it can be prepared for print and the launch in this coming spring. A new chapter in my life is about to start. One of spreading the word, getting it to the reader and most of all, let it go, as my next book is already taking shape in my head when I walk through the streets of my home village of La Herradura, totally unaware of the posters and banners announcing yet another interesting cultural event.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Happy New Year

And now it is 2016 and I survived the Spanish festivities. I managed to stuff the 12 grapes in my mouth on every last second of the year, twelve in total, which made it rather hard to give my husband a romantic Happy New Year’s kiss with both our cheeks full of grapes, looking like a pair of happy hamsters, but they were soon washed down with former grapes better known as ‘bubbles’. The first of January was a day of laziness which included not wanting to prepare our lunch. In Andalusia most people have their main meal at lunch time, which is usually somewhere between two and three o’clock. I have happily adapted to this habit and as an artist I can decide on my own timetable so that is not a problem. My Spanish husband is absolutely perfect as he is a near obsessive cleaning disorder gentleman with the emphasis on gentleman. He says that I am not good at cleaning and he is probably right, my disorder is being disorderly. I am not allowed to clean, he does that, but I take care of the laundry, setting up and taking down the Christmas tree, and cooking, lots of cooking, two times a day. Well the main meal at lunch and the evening usually an egg variety, a salad and fruit or some bread with an orange with a tiny bit of salt and extra virgin olive oil for example. Don’t laugh, try it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Good thing I love cooking and he loves eating it. But this first of January I felt like a day off as far as my cooking duties were concerned and I also decided to postpone my healthy eating, no carbs, and no sugar New Year’s resolution for a few days. So off we went for a Chinese meal in the village. Unfortunately I forgot to take a stomach protector which I do need when eating fried food. Delicious as it was I nearly choked that night on my own acid reflux with a strong spring roll flavour and had to sleep sitting up the rest of the night out of fear the acid would come up again during my stay in dreamland. Not good. Luckily my time had not yet come and today is the last day of a rather long winter festivities period, Three Kings Day, a national holiday and very much celebrated in Spain. Last night, on the 5th of January we went out to marvel at the spectacle. The relatively small village of La Herradura is suddenly heaving with life. Mostly villagers and their families. Several beautifully dressed up carnival type wagons are slowly rolling along the sea-front, filled with people in colourful costumes. Three wagons carry the three Kings and their wives. Plastic footballs and lots of unhealthy, brightly coloured sweets wrapped in plastic are thrown into the crowd, creating a buzz amongst the children who collect as many as they can. In between the wagons there are groups of local children, from the very small to teenagers, dressed up in a specific theme and dancing to very loud music to the amusement of the spectators. Three Kings Day is the most important children’s ‘fiesta’ in this Mediterranean country. Although Father Christmas is now also commercially very much present in Spain, no doubt to the kid’s content as this means double ‘pressies’, Three Kings Day is the main event where children get their gifts. Around 19.30, the parade arrives at the main square and the Kings and their wives sit down on chairs on the stage. Gifts wrapped in shiny paper with big bows, previously handed in by the parents, are stacked in the background of the stage. One packet at a time is handed to one of the Kings and the name on the present is called out, the happy child comes up to the stage, receives the gift, gives the King a kiss to then rush off again into the save arms of mum or dad, all beaming with pride and happiness. Today is just a relaxed Day, all the shops are closed and children are playing with their new gifts. Tomorrow normal school life starts again. The New Year can truly begin. Mine as well. I am full of positive plans and with great hopes for this exciting upcoming year. Spring rolls are not on the menu anymore, but, drumroll, there is a spring in my step now that I have overcome the last hurdles in the process of writing my latest book, La Herradura Reflections. That’s it … you’ve heard it here first. 2015 was a year filled with interviews, investigation, writing stories, getting them translated, proofread and approved. The final result is a unique combination of guide book, history book and biography rolled into one in which you get a privileged, ‘behind the scenes’ look at life in La Herradura, and a fascinating glimpse into the minds of its artists and visionaries who live or work in this seaside village I now call my home. The book will be published in spring both in English and in Spanish. As usual the cover will be one of my paintings. Actually, this one!
Bring it on 2016 as I have every intention to make this a very happy New Year! Would you like to be kept informed about my books and my art news? Send me an email to and I will add you to the list. All my books are for sale on Amazon!