Blanca Spain: Here and then


Barcelona, pacing back and forth in dark and vast Sants Estaciò for the train that should have arrived two hours ago. Managed to get preference seating that got me into a cabin where a small TV in the corner, far from sight, simply refused to work. Doesn’t matter, in my last trip had to watch a black and white version of something that 30 seats away seemed like The Ten Commandments. Half and hour on the rails and appears a short middle aged man dressed in an impeccable 50’s green and black butler suit. He offers drinks and the day’s menu for lunch.

Love a train ride, takes you through the landscape and into towns you would otherwise never have visited. By the seaside, through Valencia, outskirts of the city, gray obelisks spitting out dark smoke, monumental African queens stand waiting for clients, sunset, and finally Murcia at night. Surprise surprise, a friend has come out all the way from Madrid to pick me up. Did not expect to ride in the back of a motorcycle when I packed my Samsonite roller. Somehow manage to hold on to him and my suitcase at the same time. Ride into the old part of the city through Calatrava’s delicate bridge. Quick, out to walk the small winding streets swarming with friendly people. We come to an imposing Baroque façade, the Cathedrals’ it seems, then into the unique nouveau-mudéjar style of the Casino – about to close-, then a gigantic ficcus hovering over terrace cafes. People everywhere strolling in the warm evening, refusing to end the day.

Morning highway ride and still holding onto my suitcase. Plan is to drop it off in Blanca and then go into Valle de Ricote. Out of the fast lane into a small winding road going down down down into the riverside. Is this Blanca? We stop at a small circle (redondel) right before crossing the metal bridge that crosses the Rio Segura. We walk into a bar with air-condition at full, bartender smoking, music booming away, old man at the bar sipping a beer away. “Dos cañas y aceitunas”. Seems we are here. Noon sun is hot and beaming outside. Few people on the streets, and two or three in the shade.

We are given directions on how to get to the lodge where the artists attending the “Landscape Workshop” will be staying. It all starts tomorrow Monday but people will be arriving throughout the day. “Take the road by the river” they said, we do and get lost. We stop a bulky man with a hairy moustache riding a small red bike. “You’ll never find it” he said, “follow me”. Takes off in the opposite direction and defying gravity and my friends powerful BMW he takes off. River down and winding road into nowhere we arrive at the cabins, drop the suitcase and take off again into the mountains.

Pine trees and dry land, as we come back down again we get a glimpse of the beauty of the valley: a river of green lemon and orange trees flows between the scarped mountains. On the verge of running water, colored houses and jasmines, towns like Ojos, Ricote and Archena where we end up spending the night. The hostel owner, a smiling white haired man admires my friends’ bike. He speaks proudly on how he used to work as a mechanic on the motorcycles that accompanied Franco on the road. It seems everywhere in Spain there are small time warps, like a here and then.

Monday arrives and we take off to the Casa de Don Carlos where we will meet for our first day of workshop. A whole week awaits us with a huge interrogation mark.

There will be two groups at work, one guided by Mireya Maso, an artist from Barcelona who works mostly with photography. From a catalogue she brought along one of the pictures I remember: a close-up of the back of a horse against an English blue summer sky, a plane flies by like a small insect on the horse’s back. She’s titled her workshop “Reality adjustments” and defined it as “a real experience of living in the context of Blanca and the specific analysis of this town as a significant organization to study human structure and its projection on landscape”. The other workshop, by Lara Almarcegui, a Spanish artist who lives in Rotterdam, titled “Guided visits through Blanca”.

The group meets, new faces, talk begins. Mireya suggests we focus on a part of town that interests us, and work from there. A box is opened with our catalogues and curriculums so we can get to “know” each other’s work. Then lunch in a restaurant: long table, lots of fresh salad and food. Afterwards, we set off with a mixture of sightseeing desire and lingering curiosity for why we are here and what awaits us in Blanca.

Blanca sits by the river. It used to live directly off the river for water, crops, and also reeves for handcrafts. Now people work in construction or go off to work in industries in the outskirts of Murcia city. I became interested in walking the riverside on the edge of town and writing down the sounds at each stop along the way in a small accordion Chinese sketch book I had brought along. Each line of “sounds” registered automatically throughout the book. Several days and one bottle of sun block later, the end result: as the accordion book spreads out a flow of text lines opens a world of sounds. Good I think, but need to turn it into something complete. I was also interested in working photographs at night. Had done a few shots one night out on the road, working with an open lens and playing with the beam of light of a small lamp. So I thought I could tie both things: the sounds of Blanca by the river and the “nocturnals”. I imagined writing some of the “sounds”/words with light on to the surface of the river running which I would then register with my camera. A couple of hours later, after struggling with time lapses and tripod went back to the cabins. Good idea bad realization.



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