The drive from the airport in Malaga to the villa took 1.5 hours, the last third was up a succession of tortuous mountain hairpins with humungous drops on the right hand side going up – the side of course nearest the car. There were barriers of various kinds but some of us were not convinced of their reliability. The villa at a height of about 700m had stunning views all round even with the villas, including ours of course, which sprinkled the hillsides. Why are houses in the countryside so often painted white? Those painted grey or off-white blended in so much better. One sees the same but worse in Cornwall where (second home) owners want to believe they really are in the Riviera. Houses in rural locations and painted white only work, I think, in real sun-scorched coastal towns.
It was no holiday for me because I went to get some work done; no hardship because to do what one most wants is what others call ‘fun’. Here was an opportunity to familiarise myself with a technique I’d never seriously used before: watercolour. I found manipulating it frustrating at first because I was trying to make it do something it didn’t want to do. I tried what I thought were traditional methods but this old dog was finding new tricks very tricky. Some might be thinking, “Why didn’t the idiot learn before he went. He’s got enough books.” You’re joking, start doing something I’ve never done in my life before – follow instructions? No way to my credit for it’s made life hard for me at times but there are many well-trained dogs which in the training seem to have lost their natural character.
I’ll admit to uncertainty about the validity of what I ended up doing. Whether they were 100% watercolours, but does it matter? I think towards the end – about Day 12 – I was using pure watercolour. The first Sunday morning some locals were beating almond branches to bring down the nuts, and this dull thwack echoed round the otherwise silent hills at other times too. Otherwise the silence was occasionally only broken by motocross bikes (I was a little envious because there were some great rough tracks hereabouts with no mud).
It was that Sunday the cat turned up. Thereafter he stayed with us. Apparently people come for a while, get cats then leave abandoning them. This one was black, and the caretaker told us that black cats are more often abandoned than others because they don’t show up well in ‘selfies’. This surely can’t be right? I’m not rreaslly a cat person, but one day, when I was abandoned, I enjoyed ‘Blackie’s’ company. Unlike a dog, he didn’t demand entertainment, walks or any other such nonsense; neither did he follow me about in that irritating way that some dogs do. Content just to be there stretched out in the shade, blissfully happy.
As mentioned, there were other habitations but many were unoccupied; second-homers and residents often go to cooler northern climes in high summer. Nevertheless I felt inhibited from wandering about; everywhere was evidently owned by somebody and I found no ‘public footpaths’ as such. To find wilderness one day Mij and I went to the Parque Natural. After being dropped off we set off to explore and climb high. The footpath quickly degenerated into a rough steep goat track. It was good to be in wild Andalucia.
We climbed and climbed, scrambling up scree until we reached a small solar powered pumping station where we again hit regular footpaths following contours thus making much easier walking just below the tree line…
For me this was best part and I could have happily camped and worked here. It was not without its dangers however, for leading off in the other direction from the pumping station there was a promising footpath overlooking a stunning gorge.
However, just ‘round the bend’ the path had collapsed and was suspended only by the twisted “safety rails”.
The pipe, suspended by a rope and old car tyre, is an aqueduct. A smashed concrete culvert had been replaced by ceramic pipes buried (but not deep enough) beside the footpath. This too had been broken by walkers’ feet and finally replaced with the ugly alkathene pipe which trailed alongside the footpath and was just dying to trip you up. The whole thing appealed to my sense of danger but the absence of warning signs was surprising to say the least; it is inconceivable that in the UK this would be allowed. Not only was there no barriers, there was not even any warning tape.
This was the wildest bit of Andalucia we saw; it lived up to all my old romantic expectations (at least those to do with landscape). Elsewhere, round the villa, I felt as though I was trespassing but this was probably due to not knowing local customs, but there aren’t public footpaths as we know them in the UK – or if there are, I didn’t find any but since all the groves of Olives and Almonds were deserted it was not a problem for me. In fact I met nobody except an elderly Scottish gentleman (we chatted about Glasgow) who told me that his son-in-law owned lots of the hillside near his villa and I was free to wander about as I wished. So I spent some time drawing here but didn’t see him again or his family.
One day I walked some distance from the road until finding a place which felt right and where the trees afforded some shade from the scorching sun, and where olive trees looked like olive trees should.
My main company was ants, which appear as from nowhere. There are tiny little red-headed ones which have quite a bite so the girls said, but I think my skin must have been too tough for them. Even so, ants in general were quite distracting; they seemed particularly to like my sketching bag. Wasps were among the insects you would expect but were not in the least aggressive.
Actually , there were enough motifs near the villa to keep me busy and I didn’t often feel the need to wander farther. And before I got to this grove of olives I practised a lot around the villa, making copious notes…
These were my first impressions, and feeling my way with difficulty into the use of a completely new medium for me.
Not good but as someone wiser than me once said, “Every day’s a school day” so I learn and carry on. Unlike school, no-one is telling me what to do or how to do it. This has good and bad consequences of course but I will take the good. I hope I never stop learning, not just about technique but about my responses to the world out there.
I’m left with the uncomfortable feeling that I could have done so much more. Perhaps that is always the way. In the next episode, I’ll try and show some progress but it might only be me who is possible to see it.!
Before leaving I’d rashly promised to send out some hand-drawn postcards. This didn’t work out the way I’d intended but after some abysmal efforts solved the problem by concentrating on just one motif and doing a series of twelve postcards from this sketch…
These were the first twelve postcards I did from it (later doing a few more)…
The next instalment will deal with watercolour progress (I’m sure you can’t wait for that) and some wildlife (other than ants) murmurations. An account of our hilarious (and somewhat rapid) descent of the mountain (which is what really caused the goats merriment) I’ll leave till next time.