When you leave a place behind

I watch swans fight on the canal. It’s grey, people walk with pace, hoods up, handbags clutched close. In the library an older man taps his pen on the desk. He holds a calculator with numbers large enough for the Mother to read without her glasses and talks on the phone often, they’re all transactional conversations interspersed with incisions of politeness, as if he believes that the participants have more than a cursory sense of care about each other. I try not to stare, but I’m fascinated. I think I had the same phone when I was twelve years old. I want to tell the man that the library has computers with calculators and email and online complaints forms but looking at him, and looking at me, I’m left questioning which of us is doing better.

I feel small, fragile, insignificant. I’m just another woman sitting in one of many libraries. I once had a card for this place and would be allowed to access the Wi-Fi and take out books, but it’s lost now. I no longer live here, I’m just abiding my time, hiding from the grey drizzle, in between homes, at crossroads in my life. I make do with the warmth and electricity, the desk and reading a few chapters of a book I’ll likely never finish. I no longer belong here. I’m not sure I ever did.

The book is The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. I flick through to the section on love and learn that love is little more than the allocation of importance. ‘I love you’ becomes ‘You are of significant importance to me’. The rest of romantic love is classed cynically as fantasy, infatuation and lust.

This town used to be important to me, I used to run along the canal and look forward to hearing the saxophone player on the high street during my lunch break. I knew the fields where you’d see the cows, the garden which had piglets and the bookshop close to work, where I could ground my emotions and find myself before going back to my desk and the hovering question of what’s next.

I moved on.

The town is just a town now, a place that I used to know. I am just a woman sitting in another library. I’ve lost my love for this place. It’s no longer equated to my freedom, it’s no longer an important piece of my life. Instead, it’s just a junction on my road.

The cathedral with only one arm

Malaga Cathedral
Malaga, March 2016

I took a long time to see the cathedral was lop-sided, even if at one point I lived opposite. I have some excuses. For most hours of the day, the winding streets of the old city are closed to cars. These streets disobey any expectation of straight, parallel or perpendicular planning. Surrounding apartment blocks stand close to each other, so it’s easy to lose sense of which direction you’re facing. There’s a lot going on at street level. Tourists and locals weave between the other sketchers, almond roasters or craftspeople, twisting insects and trees out of wire to sell. There’s the guy who plays the Pink Panther theme on the saxophone and the guitarist who strums out Eric Clapton songs.

So I admit, it’s still kind of embarrassing that it took me so long to work out where the front of the cathedral was. The visitor entrance was large, decorative and surrounded by the cathedral garden. I just assumed it was THE entrance. Here, women sat on the ground, wrapped in shawls holding out an empty paper cup for a couple of coins. This wasn’t however the main entrance. That’s around the corner, fenced off. If the great gates were to open, people would walk out onto a large square where I sat and drank a café con leche and ate salty popcorn which failed to persuade this stingy sketcher to buy more drinks.

Malaga Cathedral

When you climb up to the top walls of the Alcazaba, the Moorish palace, there’s an excellent view of the city, this includes the odd, single cathedral tower. Like all normal cathedrals the architectural plans ask for symmetry. In the case of the Malaga cathedral this would mean a second tower. The architect planned it, but nobody ever built it.

Unlike the Sagrada Familia, here in Barcelona, which is moving towards completion, the cathedral in Malaga is an unfinished project. There’s little hope of continuation. The citizens of the city, and the tourist industry’s marketing people, affectionately call the cathedral ‘La Manquita’ or ‘the one-armed one’.

Building a cathedral is an expensive undertaking. The sort of project that historically took lifetimes. Sometimes when it comes to such big projects people become distracted and spend their money elsewhere. The Malaga people donated the money for the second tower to the British colonies in America. They supported the fight for independence (according to the sign in the cathedral). And possibly, less excitingly, also on building a road (according to Wikipedia).

Maybe, if it had been completed, I might have forgotten visiting. It would be easy the blend it with all the other cathedrals and churches I’ve visited. There needs to be something striking about the experience to make it memorable.

Yet in March when I was living beside it, I felt a strange fondness for the building. Can you empathise with a building? I don’t know. I can’t forget it. Its asymmetry and story make me smile because it’s imperfect, just like all of us.

Malaga Cathedral

Skipping across the zebra crossing and other realities

Probably Malaga 2016

Whenever my parents and grandparents get together, and I’m trapped, they ask for more blog posts.

This is highly encouraging.

As is my father still talking about the painting I did for him and the mother for Christmas, which has finally been framed and mounted on the wall in our Yorkshire home. Encouragement that we’re making the right choices is always important, and I might look a little embarrassed, but I do appreciate it.

The painting is of my sister’s face, which as the human mind is particularly well programmed for the recognition of faces, was quite an intimidating thing to undertake. The combination of subject, medium and timescale meant that as a painting project it was the hardest thing I’d tried to paint by a long shot. What’s more, I did the entire painting in the Midget’s well-used, student infested living room. There were people passing in and out, music on and off and the regular whining about heating and washing-up that comes with being surrounded by students.

Ok, the whining was mostly me.

And yet, fear turned down its invitation to join the party and stayed away. Instead I had focus.

Focus is the big difference that’s happening to me right now. I’ve gone from just being terrified, to knowing I can do what I want, but being terrified to do it, to finally believing if I just get on doing what I want everything is going to be splendid.

I still have days of doubts, but they’re the maligned few.

It’s working.

Years ago now, when I first went off on my explorations to Italy, I had no idea what I was doing. Half my energy was spent justifying my choices to myself. When you start talking about what it is you do, the language you choose makes a huge difference. When I went to Italy, I spoke of the trip as if I knew it was an excuse for not having the courage or belief I could do what I wanted. The first time I considered that I was mistaken in how I spoke was a few weeks before I left England. I went to visit Lady Patricia, my companion in modelling solar flares and a woman with a proper graduate job using her skills in fluid mechanics. Her father inquired as to my plans and told me straight: You’re doing what you need to do. Do it. It will be great.

I still have difficulties explaining my vision to my family and friends. Sometimes it’s met with a mix of horror, jealousy and confusion and I’m left speechless and bewildered wondering how to word what it is I feel into something comprehensible. The Mother’s worried I’m going to shave my hair off. How am I meant to put such an unfounded fear at rest? I feel that when I talk I often sound unsteady, but this is contrary to how I actually feel.

I feel powerful.

In a few weeks I’m moving to northern Spain for a couple of months. I’m taking my sketchbook, my paints, my camera and my means of putting money in the bank account, i.e. this computer.

I love the freedom I’ve opened in my life. I’ve never been lazy and the liberty to do what I want – like paint a picture of my sister or work on the projects I like – is paying off its dividends. I’m refining my skills, filling out the sketchbook and having to order notebooks in bulk. No longer is how much energy and attention I’ve got considered through a fog of excuses. No, now it’s information from which I’m actively learning.

It’s hard work trying to live life so completely. I find myself smiling as I walk down the street and getting beeped at for skipping across zebra crossings. I must remember that this energy needs to be posted here and shared. This blog is not only an output of my confusions and insecurities (of which I still hold many), but also the strong self-belief that’s carrying me forward into the unknown. When I look back at what I was feeling even just six-months ago and compare it to what I feel today, the difference is drastic.

To quote the Mother at the dinner table last night, just imagine what another six-months could bring.

The not-so-new Puente Nuevo, Ronda, Spain

The New Bridge, Ronda, Spain
Puente Nuevo, Ronda 2016.

A deep canyon, that runs like a scar through the city.

The sun is warm on my back. I sit on the edge, cross-legged with one knee overhanging the gorge listening to the music. The strings are held across electricity pylons, like a low metallic double base. Water smashes down onto the river below, the constant rhythmic percussion. Dogs bark, out of time. Birds chirp. The smartphone taking a photograph of the bridge does so with a fake shutter snap. The selfie stick is held out again. Lips are peeled back. Snap pretends the phone.

The New Bridge, Ronda, Spain
Sketchbook, Ronda 2016.

The leaves and grasses dance, whilst the cacti, who despite wearing daring pink flowers, pretend not to want to be involved. Everyone has their role. The stray wisps of my hair, having made their escape from my ponytail want to join in. The bright Spanish flag doesn’t hold back. It’s flying high above all else, yellow against a bright blue sky.

It’s a powerful sight. I lean back as I write, terrified of tipping over the edge, gripping my notebook and keep my feet grounded in my impractical dolly shoes. I’d look a fool walking back across town with only one shoe.

People in red, brown and grey jumpers, or coats (I cannot tell), up on the bridge, stare into the distance behind me. They see the layers of green. The white farm houses in the foreground. The low mountains on the horizon. I imagine for many of them the broad open landscape is rather different to the cities and towns they normally frequent. I imagine they feel touched by this stunning site. The simple nature. The evidence of a steady history of human existence.

I worry about the overweight woman already struggling back up the winding path. Her arms flail. I wonder what the man being gripped by his lover in four-inch heeled boots thinks of her footwear choice. The cobbles poke through my thin soled shoes, next time I’d be better with my boots.

Minor problems.

Conversation around me is quiet, steady, calm. There’s no anxiety here. No anger, no raised voices. No roaring traffic. No urgency, no tantrums.

Such a landscape has a way of shifting perspectives.

Sketching at the Teatro Romano Malaga

Teatro Romano Malaga
Teatro Romano, Malaga 2016.

There’s a spot  where you can sit on a wall at the edge of a vibrant plaza, overlooking the remains of the Teatro Romano Malaga. The towers of Alcazaba look down at the commotion on the ground. Small children run giddy as their parents natter unconcerned. Quite often from the far side of the plaza you can hear the street sellers laugh. They’re working with their hands, making jewellery or bending and snapping wire into the shapes of trees and small animals.

Teatro Romano Malaga
Sketchbook. Malaga 2016.

Sometimes there’s a man whose Michael Jackson puppet dances to Billy Jean, amusing the people pouring out of the narrow alley that leads away from the Picasso museum. Or other times a group of musicians playing, including a rich saxophone which makes me smile every time I hear it. They laugh at each other, not worrying when one stops playing to talk to a passer-by. The music flows.

I sketch. The sun is warm. I have strawberries (which I share with a passing homeless chap), a carton of orange juice and just perhaps a handful of chocolate digestive biscuits.

In the evening, slightly further down the street another man plays the saxophone alone. When I’m walking (or running) home from the port or the beach, he’s always there, always playing the Pink Panther as I pass.

The restaurants overflow. It’s February, but people huddle together outside, comfortable in the glow of the electric heaters. Large, round wine glasses kiss with a chime. Hours slip by unnoticed.

It’s the sort of place where it’s easy to practice living in the moment.

Street Life written by Jamie, Manchester

On the streets I have no home,

In a doorway all alone,

At night it gets so cold,

No one for warmth to cuddle or hold,

Day after day it’s always the same,

People rushin’ past they’re in the fast lane,

Somewhere to go, somethin’ to do,

Oh why can’t I have a life like you?

Instead am sat at the bank on my pitch,

Waiting and praying to get that hit,

I have my regulars who give me change and a smile,

That makes gettin’ cold and wet worth the while,

Rush hours comin’ there’s people thick and fast,

They’re making me dizzy, how long will it last,

Sat out here it’s like Groundhog Day,

So until my break, that’s just the way…