#aWaterStory: The Artist in Residence Project Begins

…but more importantly, I became another person to them when I used their language. I stepped through the veil to be closer to them.

For the first time in a while, I didn’t feel like I was on my own striving to make something happen. I’d become pretty down – probably lacking energy and faith, which periodically happens.

A group of teachers had met with me to be informed about the Artist in Residence and multi media/lingual project I will be spearheading at the school next week. We ran the meeting in Spanish which was fun because a number fo the teachers had never heard me speak their language (we usually ran our classes in English as that’s the langauge we’re working on). They were impressed with my level, which was nice, but more importantly, I became another person to them when I used their language. I stepped through the veil to be closer to them.

I found myself watching as the idea I had proposed was being taken on. I was looking for the first time at companions and co-makers. What made it easier was tht I was presenting a story and a project of investigation about themselves – a great flood that had covered most of the city and ruined part of it in 1961.

I watched as the group began to discuss their recollections and knowledge, one whatsapped her mother to see what she knew and was feeding us with information. We discovered that an elderly nun of the college was here at the time and the school itself was flooded with a metre of water. The history teacher was getting enthused at the prospect of oral history collecting and the cultural value of the exercise.

I insisted too that the project is about the process – I will be documenting as much as I can, so that teachers can reflect on how it goes, where learning happened, where it didn’t, how they teach, how langauge is dealt with, how learners are supported, or not. As an artist I’ll be reflecting on how we communicate, how we connect with community, the content itself adn our responses in video and in my own visual work.

Identity Series Part IV: I am a Disconnect

Identity Series Part IV: I am a Disconnect: The verbous and eloquent person that I might be at the dinner table in my own community has become a less talkative one, well practiced at nodding, ohhing and ahhing in agreement with conversations, so deftly covering up the fact that I haven’t actually understood 100% of it, I hardly notice. My habit of filling in the gaps with soft gauze is refined, as an illiterate person is at hiding their disability. Defaulting into the state of disconnect .

Image: “The Disconnect” mixed media on linen, by Emma Louise Pratt. Reuse by permission of the artist.

A few days ago I watched a short video on a news feed of women in the UK reacting to David Cameron’s insistance that immigrants should “learn English or leave”.

I particularly liked one reaction of an immigrant, which was to state that the English had never made much effort to learn the languages of the countries they had colonised. It was my default reaction to “like” this, given my New Zealand experience of what colonisation does.

In the late nineteenth century, Māori children were told to leave their language at the door of the classroom and only speak in English at school. It was reinforced with admonishments and corporal punishment in some schools. Parents wanted them to have the economic and social advantages of being educated in and through English. It came with a cultural price.

As a language teacher, we still insist that learners try only to use the language they are learning in the classroom and not fall back on their mother tongues – luckily for most, corporal punishment is a thing of the past!

Learning the language of the host country, the invaders or the economically dominant

Being forced or coerced into learning the language of the host country, the invaders or the economically dominant is nothing new. Two thousand years ago, Romans who could, were having their children educated in Greek. It gave their children access to superior education and the economic benefits that trading with the Greeks and any greek influenced area afforded.

My own Great Great Grandfather learnt his lessons in another language -French. He would have spoken his indigenous Jèrriais tongue in everyday life on the island of Jersey outside the classroom. Jèrriais*** is an ancient form of Norman language which falls under the umbrella of Romance Languages. He also studied German, and was at home in Hebrew and Ancient Greek. As his father was English, he could speak English fluently too which wasn’t so common. Lucky for him though, as he was going to need it. Native Gaelic speakers of the Hebrides even into the 1970s were instructed in English as the vehicular language. Children were expected to know English by the time they started school.

After eleven years spent in a country where the main language spoken is not my mother tongue, speaking from my personal experience, failing to try to learn that dominant language, politics aside, only leads to cultural and social isolation. And very importantly, it severely restricts your liberties.

I am an immigrant. Living on the edges of a society at times it seems. When local friends ask me about how I get on, I liken not being fluent, to living with a level of hearing loss. I am lucky to have reached a sufficient level to manage daily life without trouble now. It’s taken time, and I can see that the edges of this host community where I live, ebb and flow like a tide. Sometimes I feel fully integrated, other days like a complete outsider.

Not fully understanding a language limits how you can function in a new community. It makes dealing with a bank, the tax department, buying a home, a car, getting a licence, studying, all harder. Here, I’m more likely to be cheated. And imagine not knowing your rights? Your rights and those of your children to health care, to safety? Often, because you can’t engage, other people end up doing things for you. Your personal sovereignty is handed over.

You become so accustomed to the loss, you stop noticing it.

This daily helplessness with dealing with a world outside your own community grows and takes you over. Even after all these years, and with a good command of the language, I still cannot function at the level of my native tongue in terms of wit and quickness, nuance and shades of meaning. The verbous and eloquent person that I might be at the dinner table in my own native language has become a less talkative one, well practiced at nodding, ohhing and ahhing in agreement with conversations, so deftly covering up the fact that I haven’t actually understood 100% of it, I hardly notice. My habit of filling in the gaps with soft gauze is refined, as an illiterate person is at hiding their disability. Defaulting into the state of disconnect .

A much loved mentor of mine once said, and I often remind myself of it, that a body of water that is fed by no stream and goes nowhere, becomes stagnant.

How can I reach out and know another world or point of view if I haven’t got the language skills to engage? We may find the language to be the language of the occupiers, but if it is the only vehicle to freedom, what choice have we?

The problem, when I see people being forced into learning a language, is that they won’t learn it well, and certainly won’t love it. I’ve experienced it as a teacher first hand. It’s heart-breaking. Language is a taonga**. I side with immigrant woman against David Cameron in this. How many languages do you speak David?

In Spain, young children, my four year old daughter’s age, are attending English language classes after school. Much like their ancestors of the Roman Empire, parents hope to give their children an advantage in the competitive job market, and it’s obligatory to have an upper intermediate level of a foreign language to be able to graduate from university in the European Union. The wheels of history turn.

My Great Great Grandfather left his island at age fifteen to go to the Australian gold fields with his parents. He continued to study languages and became a teacher, moving to New Zealand. The final language he became fluent in and loved was Te  Reo Māori*. He died in 1913.


*A national census undertaken in 2013 suggests there were approximately 125,000 speakers of Māori (around 21 % of all Māori and around 3 % of all people living in NZ). However, the survery Te Kupenga undertaken by Statistics NZ in 2013 suggests there were approximately 50,000 (11 %) Māori adults who could speak Māori well or very well. Many of the very fluent speakers of Māori were likely to be over 65 years old.

Moriori, an earlier indigenous language is now extinct and has not had any native speakers since the 1930s (though the language has been recorded reasonably extensively in written form).


**taonga – treasure

***The latest figures come from the Jersey Annual Social Survey issued on 5 December 2012.- 18% of the population could speak some Jèrriais words and phrases with more than 7% of those over 65 being fluent or able to speak a lot of Jèrriais. Two-thirds of adults said that they could not understand spoken Jèrriais, but more than a quarter are able to understand some, and 5% more can usually or fully understand someone speaking Jèrriais. 4% of people said that they could write some Jèrriais, although under 1% could write fluently. Just under a third (32%) said that they could understand something written in Jèrriais.




My local art supplies shop, Puerto Osario, Sevilla.


I just found this old article that I wrote back in 2006 for Art All Magazine. Today I popped in to Drogueria Osario to buy some brushes. Big painting plans are afoot and I’ll be going back to talk about linen being cut and stretched to order.

Over time, Julio and his wife Refugio have become part of my world here as this world has become more a part of me than I could ever imagine. Julio and I have chatted while my child and his grandchild played in the local park and they have always taken an interest in my work. Last year Julio sadly passed away and I post this article again in memory of him.


February 2006

PATIENCE: Outside, the shop is a kind of faded surgeon gown green with a dusty window display of various goods including domestic cleaning products, deoderant, a very faded tampax box and an assortment of painting brushes. Working out where necessary items can be found was one of the first hurdles I encountered (and still do) when I first arrived in Seville. I mean, tampons and paint brushes? Despite its faded looks and odd window display, the little “Drogueria Osario” as it calls itself, is doing a roaring trade.

There is barely enough room for three people to stand inside in front of the shop-length wooden counter, so on Mondays when students from the Fine Art Faculty are fresh from the weekend home and with money in their pockets, there is a queue outside. The existence of the queue is further explained by the fact that 100% of the merchandise is stored behind the counter and about 25 % of it in view of the customer. The proprietors, a man and his wife, wear light brown overcoats and deal patiently with each customer as they request, inspect, discuss each product’s benefits and select. All is put down on a scrap of paper and in honour of the large counter upon which all transactions are made, everything is then counted up by hand. The cash register being tucked out of the way and difficult to get to, the final tally is put in at the end.

Now this all may sound quaint and amusing to you. An anecdote of life for a New Zealander living overseas in an old Andalucian city, the whole senario coloured with a faint sepia warmth and the sounds of Cinema Paradiso flowing over you, or perhaps a little out-dated Franco-esque Flamenco (we are in Spain please) but I spent an hour and a half in there last week buying art supplies desperate to get moving and frankly I’m over it.

Having queued for almost everything else that morning, perhaps it was a bad day, but really, why aren’t these people thinking of moving somewhere bigger? Why can’t I just browse and pick up what I want supermarket style? Must I ask for every bloody thing and discuss it then be interupted and wait while she attends another person (cheeky little queue jumper!). It was one of those “comparing” moments I promised I wouldn’t do. Comparing your home country with the new one never does anyone any good and you just sound like a whinger.

In Seville at least, “paciencia” (patience) is an often quoted word, meant to soothe in the face of things you cannot change and usually uttered with a shrug. But “paciencia” isn’t what I have, because time isn’t what I have. We have been waiting for weeks for the boxes to finally get here from New Zealand (delays), I am living out of a suitcase making do with summer clothes in the late Sevillian winter (yes it does get cold) and I can’t help this feeling at times that I am moving through molasses. I’m worried about not getting my work done.

Now, I don’t want to conjure up the typical ideas of everyone living a life of lazy siestas over here. Seville is full of cars racing to get someone somewhere or caught in a traffic jam, horns a-tooting. People are working longer hours to keep up with increasingly competitive markets, for less income while house prices and rents rise beyond anyone’s reach (it all sounds very familiar).

The orange blossom, known as the azahar is starting to come out in the orange trees that famously line the streets of this city. It is the herald of spring, a small triumphant budded branch that people often walk about with in their hand. But in my quick walk from A to B, I look up at them and smell nothing but exhaust fumes. (Pause to think) Having observed that, perhaps I ought to see that suspended world of Drogueria Osario and its faded window display in another light.

Feria and a Visitor

I really can’t recommend Christian Dior red nail polish enough. It’s lasting pretty well, though requiring a second coat after a few hours of painting and clanging things and digging for old tubes of paint. I try to be more careful. I try to clean the pots without touching anything with them. Just want them to last a little longer. It’s my birthday and you shouldn’t really have to clean pots on your birthday.

To celebrate the reign of red nail polish, I watched the entire 1984 mini series of Lace on Sunday morning, while everyone else was asleep (“Incidentally, which one of you bitches is my mother?”). Fantastic. Glorious. Wouldn’t recommend Lace II though.

So, why the red nail polish?

Well, because the La Feria de Sevilla took place last week, and you can’t wear a flouncy, polka dot dress with frills on the sleeves so wide you have to have your hands permanently on your hip, without serious nail polish. It goes with the oversized hoop earrings and massive red rose in your hair. Why else would I be wearing it? And come to think of it, where else would I be wearing such get up? At the A& P show? Not bloody likely.

Actually, Feria is more like the A&P show than you would imagine. I adored the A&P Show. I used to get entry tickets from granddad, A&P Show member and sheep judge (naturally). I’d agree to meet up with friends and wander around in a group of giggling girls, eating deep fried sausages, looking at which rides to go on and which boys were there.

Feria has its roots in the annual sale of cattle and horses, mixed in with socialising and spring festivals that date back thousands of years. Everyone would set up tents, talk shop and drink Manzanilla, a very dry white sherry and acquired taste. The ladies decked themselves out in their best dresses, no two were the same with embroidered shawls, frills, tassels, hair combs, flowers and lace. Spain ‘s finest equine culture would be on display in the city and the bull fighters would torear in the Maestranza. Fairground attractions and even a circus set up on the edge of the city and the party would go on 24 hours a day for a week.

The only thing that has changed is that the sale has gone. The party remains. Seville forgets its economic woes for a week. The lights go on, the dresses come out and music starts. And there are serious economic woes. Unemployment is now 21% of the working population. The local Andalusian government can’t pay its bills and the banks won’t loan them money. Now that can’t be good. There will be an election next year and regardless of the outcome, life in Spain is set to get a lot harder. If tougher economic measures don’t come in soon, the country will go down the tubes.

Ah, but forget the woes, distract yourself! You should have seen me. It’s a rite of passage to get your first flamenco dress. The day Clara and I got dressed up, the three of us went to visit La Tata, Javier’s old nanny. She is too old to go to Feria, so we popped in to her house.

“Ah Emma, ya no eres de por allí, no eres de por allí.”

Emma, you’re no longer from there, you’re not from there.

Well, not entirely Tata. I had the pleasure of a visit from an old friend just a couple of weeks ago. While she finally got to see my Andalusian world, I relished long talks about another place. She brought wetlands, and rivers. I smelt the salt and walked on grass. I went to inspect some cows. I felt the rain, the cold easterly wind on my face and saw it shape the trees leaning into the coastal hills. Then as soon as she arrived, we were hugging each other goodbye at the airport, Clara grinning at her Auntie Huhana.

“You should hug people for at least 8 seconds to get the full effect” She said.

I could hang on much longer than that my friend. Haere ra e hoa.

Back out in the Andaluz light, in another time and place, I climb up with some kids onto a horse drawn cart to go to Feria. A tourist asks to take photos of us. I think of many years ago, when, as a tourist, I took photos of people doing exactly this, never realising that I would be sitting here many years later with my Spanish nephew on my lap.

Emma you’re no longer from there.

Little does Tata know that while the outside may be covered in polka dots and red nail polish, my pounamu, my ahi kaa is ablaze on the inside.


My mother was born with the Pacific stretching out around her in all directions. She lived her childhood looking out over the sea from a bungalow on a hill. When the north wind blew, it rattled the windows and howled down the nook between the house and the hill. The sea would constantly change colour as the clouds raced over it and the wind whipped it.

When she got married she left the coast and went to live in a little house as far inland and far away from her home as she had ever been. The drive was long, the roads windy. Letters and infrequent toll calls were all that kept her in touch with home. This was where I was born. I remember this when I feel isolated here on a peninsular of a continent far, far away. My mother had travelled as far away as I had.

Perhaps because it’s where I was born and my first memories are there, I’ve always been drawn to the centre of the North Island. I’ve explored so much of it, on foot, by river and car. I feel such excitement to be able to pass through it whenever I return home as if it were a pilgrimage necessary for my soul. I’ve spilt my blood there, shed tears. I’ve laughed and felt pure joy. I’ve seen the most glorious sights of my life and beheld the silence that causes the sensation that you’ve physically disappeared and joined it. In the hinterland, the spirits have passed over my head and lifted me in their wake and gently dropped me down with the heavy sadness of people’s passing.

Quick anecdote: My Great-Great Grandfather passed by there in the 1880’s trying to find a village in order to discuss a school. He was a rather large man apparently and no spring chicken, so one can’t quite imagine how he managed through such rugged country on a horse. He never found that village, getting himself quite lost and unable to cross a river, so had to turn around and go back to the coast.

In Spain , the first time I entered Extremadura, in the Spanish hinterland, I felt almost at home. It was the first time that a Spanish landscape spoke to me as if I had come from it. This vast expanse of isolated, stony, barren cattle country, is hot in summer, freezing in winter and its name means what it is: extremely hard . It can simultaneously uplift and oppress.

“Annihilation is an existential fear: the common – and sharply overdrawn –fear that some part of you dies when you stop making art. And it’s true. Non-artists may not understand that, but artists themselves (especially artists who are stuck) understand it too well.” *

As I said, the hinterland can lift you up or oppress. I’m stuck. I’m blocked, distracted. I can’t make work. I can’t find a thread. The more that happens, the more I read, the more knowledge I have, the more I live, the more life lives ME, the more I feel weighed down in the immensity of everything. I’m lost in vast a hinterland, lost in the chaos and calculation of life. It’s too hard and too much and leaves me en blanco (in white). It’s a white that roars in my head and stops me making art.

So here I am, lost. With a hinterland that calls and challenges me to go on into the bareness, get scrapped by the rocks and feel the hardness. It is a long solitary passing under an unending sky, thinking all those thoughts, countering all that weight. And while I’m in there, when I can, in the very brief spells of seeing sense in that thunderous whiteness, I try and make art, any art, anything, just to keep me going.

Though sometimes , I prefer to turn back on the inland and face the other way. I forget “art” and enjoy how my two year old daughter jumps on the bed. My life isn’t about “art”. No, art is about my life, which needs to be lived as interestingly as I can, and not alone.

Clara is re-enacting for me with expressions, toddler talk and gestures, how she waited for the waves to come in to her feet before she jumped over them at the beach on the weekend. It was the world’s greatest, most joyful discovery – we had driven to the coast to see the sea.

*Art and Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) or artmaking. David Bayles and Ted Orland

Post Note: I have since discovered that “Extremamdura” actually comes from the land at the extreme end of the river Duero, but I like my ill-founded translation anyway.

Blanca's View in the Community Garden

Blanca’s View

La Tata is ninety and has a very full, straight set of knashers. Her lips stretch over them, as if she is trying to keep them in. She speaks in her low gravely voice to eight week old Blanca. Blanca looks back at her, smiling over my shoulder. When La Tata first saw her at one week old, she clasped her hands together mumbled benedictions and then waved her hand in a vague sign of the cross over the pram. She had told me then of how the mystery of life transfixed her -how could a child come from our bellies?

La Tata speaks of the wonderful things that Blanca will see and of the little that she knows, of the smartness of her big sister and most of all, that she is Andaluza, a Sevillana, and not to forget it. She told Clara the same when she was born. I think she finds the idea that part of them is not, and that they could disappear off to that very foreign, distant land and forget their roots, of great concern. Soon the chatter from over my shoulder ceases and I turn to see that La Tata has fallen asleep, her head tilted forward and her hands, that have washed and ironed countless amounts of clothes for three generations and soothed many crying babies are clasped together in the lap of her dark green wool skirt. Blanca looks on in a wide eyed baby stare. The telly blares in front of us with some midday South American soap opera.

Blanca hears sirens. She watches her mobile turn in the top of her pram. Innocent little bugs and butterflies swirl and bob around above her as we rattle through the cobbled streets. We pass a spray painted sign calling for Andalusians to rise up and strike. We heard from a friend, whose brother is a policeman, that they’re receiving special riot training. He may be just talking it up, but people are certainly getting angry. Laws are passed every day to cut spending, increase taxes, increase costs, reduce salaries…there are two million people out of the almost five million unemployed who receive no benefit and depend on their families. 350,000 people have lost their jobs since January. Corruption is everywhere among the rich who remain rich and even richer -we all know how untouchable they are. People are getting very angry.

Blanca is looking at the branches above us, thick with new spring leaves and blossoms. The vacant lot is full of children raising dust with their running games, climbing in the ancient fig, swinging on the swings and jumping along the old car tyres laid on the ground. I’ve never seen the place so full of people. People are sitting under the trees having afternoon tea, celebrating birthdays, studying or…a distinct smell wafts over my way… sharing a joint. Various raised garden plots have gardeners there weeding, planting, cutting back or harvesting. A man is pushing a wheelbarrow of dirt to continue caking the old children’s playhouse with a mixture of mud and straw. He’s creating a series of sculptures made of raw recycled materials. A giant snake’s head is forming at the end of the tyres, made of sticks, branches and straw, bent in to shape with eyes made of glass jars that used to contain olives. It kind of reminds me of the playground by the river in Wanganui, only this is all formed from the earth on which it stands. Next Saturday there will be a party here to celebrate eight years since the community gardens started.

Blanca is looking over my shoulder at the rain falling outside. It’s much needed. Extremadura is in a drought and the summer hasn’t arrived yet. Tomorrow my parents arrive, so I want to finish this postcard even if I have to type with one hand and hold her with the other. It’s been two years since I was home and this will be the first time that Blanca will meet her New Zealand Grandparents. She has faced the computer and wobbled her head at some pixelated people as her sister Clara has given the screen sloppy kisses, one for Nan, one for Poppa.

Finally Blanca looks at me.
It always takes a while to register
She looks at the outline of my face,
Then finds my eyes,
And cracks a smile.


The days are getting shorter and darker. Leaves are falling, leaving skeleton trees, black and wet. Halloween has become quite a presence in the last few years here in Spain. The big kids come in all dressed up as ghosts and zombie to give out sweets in Clara’s infant’s room. The radio hosts joke about Spain’s zombie economy run by banker ghouls (really no joke there). Everyone has a Halloween party to go to. Jokes and commercialism aside, being on this side of the world gives the festival sense. The 31st of October heralds the oncoming of the night, the withering of things, the preparation for winter and of our own mortality.

The 1st of November is the Day of the Dead, or All Saints Day, which, unlike Halloween, has been celebrated here since the dawn of Christian times. It’s the day when you go to the cemetery to visit those who have passed on. Cemeteries in Andalusia are always white walled, out of town and flanked by Cypruses, so you can’t miss them. The cemetery in Seville is like another city, an airily beautiful and solemn necropolis, as the Romans called it, weighted with stories and local history, full of white mausoleums, walls with boxes and plastic flowers, crypts and headstones. I haven’t been there since we interred Javier’s grandmother many years ago –perhaps next year we’ll make the trip out there.
Javier’s mother dutifully made the trip despite her recently operated foot. She walked too far and now I have her swollen foot and ankle up on my knee and I’m giving it a gentle rub. You’ll need to sit still this afternoon with that foot up, I say. It’s very hard for this mother of six and grandmother of ten to sit still.
I get to thinking of the little trips I like to make when we come home to NZ. Out to the cemetery at Apiti is a constant, but the Thorndon and Karori cemeteries are due their visits too. My Step Grandmother always said Karori was far too cold and damp to be buried in. There she is, however, along with many generations of my mother’s family.
But it’s not just in cemeteries where we remember. We like to visit trees we’ve planted, drive down certain roads and stop in certain places for a cuppa. I like to crouch by the Rangitikei a while and throw some pebbles in. Or stop the car on the Desert Road to gaze about the volcanic plateau. In 2006 we carried water toSpain that we had collected from a certain stream on Taranaki. We’ve still got it, though I think it’s time to be sprinkled about and remember the loved ones we were with that day, some passed on, others with us still. I just haven’t been able to let it go yet.
In August this year while we were on our yearly escape from Andalusian heat, we visited some remote hill villages up north in the forested hill regions of Castílla y León. Coming from a river swim, we came into a village by chance and noticed the houses had large portraits of what appeared to be locals hung on the outside walls. The encaustic on scrap metal portraits had a dated look about them due to the sitters’ dress and the hanging of the portraits had it’s own special order, some hung by windows, some on odd walls. Stop the car!
I got out to investigate further and soon found the meaning of it all. One day back in 1967 a government photographer named Alejandro Martín Criado had come to the village to photograph all the villagers of age for their new ID cards – 388 people in all. Later the photos became part of an archive in his name. The Spanish artist Florencio Maíllo had come across the photo archive and put the proposal called “Retrata” (to make/take a portrait) forward to the local Council. His idea was to draw from the archive and situate the resulting painted portraits on the outside of the homes where the people had been living in 1967. All the paintings were then given to the descendants of the portrait sitters. In most cases, for the time being, the portraits were remaining on the walls of the village dwellings. I didn’t get a chance to walk further around the village due to the two tired children I had in the back of our car, so I will never know exactly how many works the artist made in his village wide installation.
I found the idea so simple, the works beautiful and refreshing. This was an act of creative generosity to enrich the village’s fabric of memory and sense of place. The project stayed with me all day.
I continued to ponder it into the evening while I sat in the village church where we were staying and stared at the family of bats nestled into the faded 500 year old painted wooden rafters high above my head. The rafters had been once covered in mystical beasts and flora, brightly painted in a style that had been brought to this region from Mesopotamia with Jewish and Muslim migrations. Once Islamic Spain had been conquered, and in order to show Spain’s loyalty to Christian Europe, conversions to Christianity were enforced on the Jewish and Muslim populations or expulsion ensued. Some of the converted had often made their way to remote hill villages to get away from the eyes of the Spanish Inquisition. Often the most pious crosses etched in the stone lintels of doorways belonged to the houses of the converted population. I thought of the Sabbath candles burning in secret behind shuttered windows and prayer mats hidden, traditional motifs in embroidery worn in secret acts of remembering.
Winter approaches. We look into the gathering night and remember. Clara and I collect yellow leaves in the park for a school project. They’re having a chestnut roasting party on Monday. I dig into the cupboard for blankets for the  beds and put carpets down on the cold stone floors.
Images: Various works from “Retrata2/388” by Florencio Maíllo in the village ofMogarraz, Peñas de Francia in the Salamanca Region of Castílla y León, Spain.

Fixing What’s Broken

Lucy is about to do something very brave. She is going to renovate. She is willing to take on the notorious Spanish plasterers, plumbers, bricklayers and electricians single handed, dealing with delays, builder language, materials, methods and madness in order to make her little home in a small hill village near Ronda liveable by the time her second child arrives in May.
Lucy always greets me with an enthusiastic “Alo poppet!”. She has a DIY heart –  a rare and refreshing find around here. We have discussed the tools we own and our love of pottering around hardware stores. Talking with her about her house plans reminded me of my father’s yellow chest of drawers that sat in at least three garages of different addresses of my childhood. It possibly began it’s life in Taihape, collecting screws, nuts, bolts, and old glass bottles that had been found under houses. It moved to Pauatahanui, then Wellington, then back up the the island again to Palmerston North, gathering interesting things, dings, saw marks, paint and glue spills and still more tools.
When I first saw Lucy’s cottage in high summer, it was like a sleepy white cat lying lazily against the hill in the sun. Situated at the highest end of the village, it was made of thick stone walls, plastered and painted white with the front door opening directly onto the cobbled village lane. The windows were like little eyelets, letting in little light – to keep summer heat out and winter warmth in (theoretically). Inside was a simple lounge and kitchen with a bathroom sitting slightly uncomfortably at one end, as the original house would never have had such a luxury. A small steep staircase went up to three rooms snuggled under a low ceiling. It was built heaven knows when, stone by stone, directly against the hill.
And that is the problem. Water is seeping through the downstairs stone wall which is set against the dirt with no seal. Being winter, it’s currently covered in mould. The roof is being held down by a tarpaulin and ropes and there is nothing between you and the wintery night sky but ancient old cracked tiles sitting on old beams. In times past, the dwellers of this cottage must have kept the fire going all winter to fight the damp and cold.
The damp, the broken, leaking roof and probably the questionable wiring, is all forgotten in summer when you go up the steps at the side of the house to the terrace built out on a levelled part of the hill. I remember that late summer afternoon still. For a while, I forgot the sad state of this country. No one mentioned it all afternoon. I sat on a long cushion on a seat under a tree in the summer heat, listening to the buzz of bees, smelling dry summer hills and Lucy’s terrace garden, looking out over the sloping tiled rooftops of the tiny village and watching Blanca, asleep star fish style, in the shade under the vines. Clara and Lucy’s daughter Ana Dhara, pottered about naked, playing with a baby bath and a hose. We ate lunch and listened to Lucy’s classical guitarist husband go through a few pieces. Needless to say, it was hard to leave.
Fast forward, back in the city and now in the final weeks of winter. We’ve just endured a rubbish strike. You could probably imagine the state of a densely populated city after ten days without a rubbish collection. It was incredibly depressing on many levels. The workers were facing a pay cut just like every other civil servant, though not as much as other sectors, but further evidence of the “trouble” nevertheless. The amount of rubbish we create was evident and that was depressing. The signs that people put on the rubbish piles, saying “This pile of shit represents our politicians”, portrayed the complete and utter loss of confidence most people currently have in the Spanish political system. Now even the President himself has been found to have received substantial amounts of undeclared cash over the years. And finally the stench, the litter flying everywhere and streets blocked by bags of rubbish, ripped apart, their rotting content strewn across what was left of walkable pavement by stray cats, rats and people who pick through the refuse every day looking for anything to sell at the informal second hand markets at the edge of town. It was an all time low.
Lucy is fortunate that there are solutions to her quaint but flawed cottage. Hopefully by May, mould will be a thing of the past – “it’s rainbow coloured Em”. There will be a new, insulated kitchen, bathroom and lounge and short term solution in place to seal the roof. We’ll go out again, enjoy a meal on the terrace and a walk down to the village swimming pool where the entire village will be, feeling incredibly priviledged to enjoy for a while the sleepy summer life of a hill village in a beautiful but seriously flawed Spain.
-Also found in Art All Magazine
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