Monday, 27 September 2010

Magpie 33 Diego Luca Paolo di Parma


a small perfume factory



three Italian businessmen




The original scent

hand-distilled in

cylindrical bottles

for perfumed handkerchiefs

of stylish and elegant Italian men

in rounded boxes







to the rescue

Colonia Intensa

a unisex celebrity scent

for high society devotees


bright yellow packaging.


Leather goods,




terrycloth bathrobes in

luxury hotels on

cruise ship liners in

cylindrical bottles and

rounded boxes

not to forget

Blu Mediterraneo

in bright yellow packaging.

Refined alchemy.

(thanks to Wikipedia)

.For more writing in response to this prompt click on the Magpie.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Niguelas - quest for the Spanish Ibex

An account of my final day in the small village of Niguelas in southern Spain.

I had one final quest. I needed to hike into the hills behind Niguelas to experience the wildness of the Sierras.

This was partly due to my need to discover what lay beyond the village and partly to prove to an old friend in Brisbane with a Spanish connection that I was more than a lazy tourist, more than a town tourist. She was a seeker of the wild and had also spent time in Niguelas where her ex husband now lived. I could hear her voice in my head asking incredulously ‘you didn’t even walk up the gorge?’ I would have no adequate response and her next statement would sting me. ‘That’s the best part’ I could hear her adding disapprovingly.

We had met her ex by chance in the village earlier in the week. He had fled England twenty one years earlier to create his fantasy life in isolation in the Sierra Nevada. Three wives later he was still here and after twenty years of labour had almost accomplished his dream He had created a monster palace at the farthest point in the valley on the very edge of the National Park.

He was a man full of contradictions railing against the Britain he had abandoned, criticizing its social structures, its shallowness, its failed multicultural experiment. In turn he praised every aspect of Spanish culture, their sense of identity, their connection to their history, and their commitment to the extended family. He praised their connection to their food sources, their simple lifestyle and their care for the elderly.

In his own life he had built an expensive monument to himself, was somewhat estranged from his own progeny and lived a life of isolation behind high fences with trained guard dogs and a fabulous garden tended by paid gardeners and not an edible crop in sight.

Having inadvertently made contact we were invited for a grand tour and received rough instructions as to how to access the wild area immediately above his palace. There was a chance of sighting an ibex or a minx in this immediate and somewhat remote area.

So, late on the final afternoon of our stay I announced that I was heading inland and would be back in two hours – I had promised to cook on this, our final night. Fifteen minutes later I stood on the edge of the watercourse with a choice. A dirt road forked left and followed the river. Another, to the right, climbed steeply up the mountainside and this one was signed. An image of a hiker with a walking stick pointed the way to a village seventeen kilometers distant, high in the Sierras. I made an instinctive decision to follow the hiker sensing that it would lead me to the promised plateau teeming with ibex.

Full of energy and driven by high expectations I strode out and up checking my watch to time my ascent - fifteen to twenty minutes to the high country was the estimate.
The first five minutes were steep but as I was fresh posed no challenge. The road looped back on itself as it climbed, each time moving further up the gorge with the sound of the tumbling stream below.

Five pm in Spain in July is like Two pm on an Australian summer's day and I’d come with no water. At the ten minute mark and still climbing steeply my mouth and throat felt like pieces of cardboard. The sun seemed to increase in intensity with each step and my thoughts turned to collapse and death in the desert. I had a mouthful of dust and there was no sign of the aquifers which seemed to feed every other square metre of the valleys of the Sierra. I could still hear the sound of water now well below me.

Where I stood all was silent. Not a breath of air rustled the brown heath covering the hillside. I was beginning to doubt my choice of path. I concluded that I’d made the wrong choice at the earlier crossroads. I should have been following the water course. A fifteen minute scramble would have taken me up and over the cascades which teased me in the distance. I would have arrived at a lower plateau where I would have had the opportunity to eyeball an ibex or wild cat.

Resigned to disappointment I slowed my pace and trudged on, first looping right, then left and with no end in sight. Each switchback revealed another stretch of dusty road. I looked at my watch and decided to give myself another five minutes. That would take me to twenty-five - five beyond my original estimate.

I was thirsty. Here I was in the highest mountain range in Spain where the peaks sport snow nine months of the year and which supply a year round flow of high quality water. Over five hundred years previously, the Moors, who were the dominant force on the Iberian Peninsula developed a network of channels which divide and merge thousands of times ensuring every village and every orchard receives its share of this essential life force.

I had chosen the one road where the Moors had decided there was no need for irrigation or water flow. I was feeling a little disenchanted in my adventure. Despite every arable site within my view being planted with almond groves I felt as if I was in the desert.

I turned another corner and, up ahead, spied what appeared to be the remains of ruined cottage. At that moment I also heard the cool gurgle of water. There shooting across under the road was a small waterfall from heaven. I bent down without thought or concern for its quality and splashed handful after handful over my head and face.

I made the ruin ahead my target and decided that come what may I’d be turning back no matter what I found. As I approached the pile of rocks I sensed that perhaps the promised plateau might lie another one hundred metres ahead and so I trudged past.

It wasn’t majestic, it wasn’t the plain I had expected, but the road did level out and there was a sort of valley in front of me where the road hugged the hill following its curves before disappearing into the next chasm. On my left was a series of rocky outcrops at the foot of which was half a mountain’s worth of large shale pieces which had collapsed over the centuries and covered the steep hillside in a mosaic of gray.

I was looking for shade and a place to sit and relax for five minutes. Even at this hour, by now after six pm, the sun was still bearing down at an acute angle. There were patches of shade in the lee of some rocky outcrops nearby but by far the best spot was about thirty metres off the roadat the base of a sheer narrow cliff which ran north south. There the shade was a bit deeper and faced the valley below.

I stepped off the dusty road and began rock-hopping towards my chosen spot. I was concentrating on my feet as I stumbled over the unstable shale and at the halfway point a loud rumble stopped me. I looked up to see a scatter of pebbles tumbling from the ledge above. One large rock followed and crashed precisely on my intended resting place.

Immediately following this near death moment two ibex appeared, a mother and her kid. These two native goats stood nonchalantly atop the cliff surveying their domain. After all the dust and heat, the gods or the laws if yin and yang had rewarded me. I stared at them and they stood and stared a me. We were, all three, transfixed.

The scene wasn’t lush and romantic – on the contrary it was harsh and raw, but the moment was surprising and exquisite. I felt a quiet satisfaction with my poor choice making.

I fumbled for my camera and pointed it in the direction of the twin ibex and shot off one, two, three shots in quick succession. As if they wanted me to think that they were mere figments of my imagination each time I found them in my digital viewfinder and focused, they had moved. To add to my difficulties the overhead sun caused my screen to become unreadable so at best I was guessing. The whole sequence lasted only a few minutes as mother and offspring navigated the shale down into the valley.

I sat still and quiet in the full sun for another fifteen minutes, my need for shade forgotten. Not a thing stirred in the view before me. I had that wonderful feeling of being the only person in the universe to have witnessed such a moment and only towards the end of my reverie did I notice the pile of almond shells sitting at my feet. I had not after all been the first.

My walk back seemed much shorter and instead of focusing on the heat, the dust and my feetI enjoyed a short cut through the almond grove hugging the slope on the eastern side of the ibex pinnacles where I discovered a set of brass climbing pegs snaking up the cliff face. Nearby some abandoned ropes and a disintegrating satchel adorned the crumbling wall of the abandoned shepherd’s hut. Evidence of rock climbers of the human kind.

Closer to home raucous voices called playfully from the gorge below. The sound of people frolicking in cool flowing water. Smugly I walked along content with the knowledge that no self respecting ibex would be seen anywhere near such a noisy scene.

As I approached my starting point the final element of the ibex adventure fell into place. There daubed on the back wall of the self congratulatory mansion was piece of graffiti. Only visible to those who ventured beyond the head of the valley it read: ‘es tu oportunida acaba el muro cojera’. Roughly translated I think it says ‘fuck your wall’. So much for loving and caring.

At seven pm on schedule, out of character and much to my wife’s surprise I appeared at the door of our cottage to share my story. And there, to my relief, on two of my fourteen photos, were the fabled ibex. Proof.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Magpie 32 Some Days

some days are difficult
a tiny hole
separates present from future past
from present.
my dreams just don't fit
some days.
each grain of sand drops
some days
my dreams are clusters
some days
the grains get
out of order
I try my best
but keeping them is line is near impossible
some days.

and it's such a long drop

For more writing based on this prompt click here on on the Magpie Tales stamp

Mary and Marialy

I was reading one of my favourite blogs, Realia, the other day and Jennifer was speaking about a special friend, Debbie, who was one of those people who make her feel totally comfortable. We all have them. Soul mates. Special friends. People who are there for us with us. They're not always friends from way back but they are the ones we cherish. Sometimes they are even our spouses.

A night out with 'my Debbie'.

Mary and I met in the late seventies. She was barely 17. I was thirteen years older. She lived in Toowoomba on the Darling Downs - the "Garden City". We had both enrolled in a mask and movement summer school led by a woman who had just returned from Europe after being trained at the Le Coq school of physical theatre in Paris. Judith was fantastic. She inspired us and unleashed some aspects of our creative selves we did not know we possessed. I have vivid memories of my improvisation as the element of air. I pummelled the fields below me with my thunderstorm, I floated softly through dreamy still days and playfully picked up pieces of rubbish and whirled them into the corners of the room. I was ferocious, I was gentle. I WAS AIR. None of the other elements posessed me as this one did. All this with just me and my mask.

Mary loved it too. We bonded. We were a strange combination, a strange innocent combination. I still don't quite understand. It was a knowing that was never doubted. A mutual admiration society. A need fulfilled?

Through thirty years we've had our separate families; she's lived in London and worked in a physical theatre company; I helped set up a community theatre company in Australia and have gone on to work in local government running youth programs; she now works for a large visual arts production company in Brisbane, the city we both call home. We've never worked together. We have very different lives. We often disagree. But for thirty years this 'thing' has endured.

Brisbane has an annual festival. Mary and I always look out for something different to share. Often its an edgy dance company. This time it was jazz. Marialy Pacheco is Cuban. She was trained as a classical pianist and then at age twenty she discovered jazz. She went to Germany, lived there for five years, met an Australian who is an outstanding young choral conductor (Australian Voices), and arrived in Brisbane in 2009 to experience life far removed from Berlin, Havana, even Melbourne.

So there we were in the main square of Brisbane, backwater capital of Queensland, listening to a beautiful young Cuban woman recently arrived from Germany play like Keith Jarrett in a Belgian Spiegeltent. Marialy held us spellbound. At age twenty seven, she had the technique of a master combined with the beauty and innocence of youth. When she smiled the tent lit up. When she laughed she apologised. When she told her story it was infectiously awkward. And then she played.

Mary and I shared a table at the edge of the tent with some mutual friends but soon agreed that in the presence of such talent proximity was essential. At the end of each piece we crept closer, first sitting under the table perched on the edge of a ledge, next we crossed the walkway to take up a position beside one of the poles fringing the general seating and eventually ended up sitting in the second front row watching her fantastic hands effortlessly travel the keys of her borrowed grand piano. She wore incomprehensibly tall black stilletos which matched the ebony piano and played, eyes closed, in a state of bliss. Which is exactly where we were.

An hour and a half later it was all over. Mary and I had listened, laughed, swapped family updates and shared something which didn't seem to need words. We didn't go on for drinks. We didn't take up the opportunity to follow Marialy to her next gig. We just went home. Some things are simple.

I don't try and figure our friendship any more. It's just there.

If you want to here Marialy play click this link: Marialy Pacheco

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Giraween Connections

Giraween National Park sits on the highlands behind the coastal plains. It's granite country with a series of impressive exposed outcrops which just beg to be climbed. My son and I headed there for a weekend in the bush. Strangely it was the first time we've managed to do this. He's in his mid twenties. We walked, talked, shared some mutually ill-informed versions of history, lit a fire, cooked a pudding in a tin and slept well despite our inflatable matresses both deciding to expire. It was cold. Seven degrees overnight, so sleeping on bedrock was a challenge. The stars made up for it. We both sat agog, a sky full of incomprehensible beauty above us and we understood how insignificant we were. And then we realised that we had nothing to drink with our meal that evening. We were in wine country so off we went at 3:30 in the afternoon in search of a local drop of nectar.

Giraween Connections.

Adrian Tobin is a wine maker outside Stanthorpe in Queensland, three hours outside the capital city Brisbane. His small boutique establishment caught my eye as my son and I did a late afternoon trawl of local vineyards sampling local produce and looking for a bottle of something to drink over our campfire meal.

Perhaps it was the hundreds of metres of hand built rock walls that lined his property which impressed me. Here was someone who was intent on leaving his mark. His scribbly brand was almost unintelligible. Something whirred inside my head. Something said 'that's unusual'. 'why would you be so flamboyant? 'would that squiggle sell wine to the passers-by?' That and the Tobin name. Irish. Hadn't I heard that before?

Only a week ago I'd been at a big country funeral in Warwick nearby where the Brosnan and Booth clans had gathered in big bodied, ruddy complexioned numbers to farewell one of the town matriarchs. Marie, the wife of the late local national party member; Marie the owner of the cake decorating shop in the main street where everyone invariably ended up for a chat; Marie the dairy farmer's wife and related to half the district. Surely there was a Tobin in the mix.

This was our third winery and I had already bought one more bottle of wine than I needed. The sun was getting low in the perfect sky but three seemed to be a good number of vignerons to visit with your twenty something son on a bonding weekend. So I made a sudden swerve off the bitument and headed towards a shiny corugated iron shed. As we alighted from the car we passed a seven foot tall figure of a woman cast in steel. She was guarding the entrance; her skin was textured giving her a sense of other-worldlyness; a seven foot mermaid without her tail.

Adrian Tobin stood behind his neat as a pin tasting table, wine glasses set out meticulously and casks lined up perfectly to the right. He was a man in his 60's I'd have guessed. A very athletic 60's. A man who worked more than he drank. In an instant, in the way things happen when your intuition is alive and alight, I knew this tasting was going to be more than a barmaid trying to sell me a bottle of anything she could convince me was exactly what my taste buds were salivating for.

We talked. About everything but wine for two or three minutes. He was a man with a passion for more than wine. He knew the landscape, the history of his block, the geology of the nearby Sundown National Park. "You can walk in faster than you can get a four wheel drive through."

That calligraphy whispered to me. "This man is an artist of some sort." "You're not related to the Tobin boys in Brisbane are you?" My brain was starting to piece a few bits of information together. It wasn't the Warwick connection. No, it had to be the Tobin brothers.

"Yes, as a matter of fact. I'm their father." And at that he proffered his gnarled working man's hand and introduced himself: "Adrain Tobin." "Matthew and Daniel are my sons." "So you'd know my good friend Mary" I offered. "A great mate" he said and so the story rolled on.
"I helped them set up their business" he went on. "I'm a third shareholder, but I got tired of the contracts and the administrative business. I needed to be an artist again. So this is my art. Wine. I knew I had at least one more project in me so I bought this vineyard 10 years ago."

Now the seven foot "magic woman" made sense. Matthew and Dan run a foundry and art business in Brisbane (UAP - Urban Art Projects) which has grown to become a force internationally with some wild and seriously large commissions from Dubai, China, the US and their home country, Australia.

"Open that before you stoke up the campfire" Adrian advised as we turned for our car having bought one of his premium wines - "Jacob Tempranillo". Let it air for a bit."

"Nah" said my son. "No point. I don't drink red wine."

UAP Blog

Magpie 31 Haiku for a blissful weekend

My son and i went camping for the weekend. My wife was overjoyed. How beautiful - father and son bonding; how even more beautiful - no husband, no son for a whole weekend. For an expanded story of the weekend and some photos see Giraween Connections.

Haiku for a blissful weekend I

mother's tears of joy
flowing behind drawn curtains
boys gone a-camping

Haiku for a blissful weekend II

A wife's guilty smile
beaming behind sad drapes
husband and son gone

Haiku for a blissful weekend III

dad and son bereft
a weekend without mother
forgot to say goodby

For more takes on this Magpie tales prompt click here or on the stamp.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Magpie 30 What Eve Knew.

eve knew
what she was looking for
eve understood
how dangerous apples really are
forbidden fruit

she weighed that apple with her fingertips
caressed it with her kissing lips
licked it with her reptilian tongue
rolled it between her breasts
crushed it under her armpit
measured it against her pubis
massaged her thighs
rolled it under each foot
saw it for what it was
took a bite
exposed its luminous flesh
its streaming juices
and took a sugar hit

entered the world of
fully formed
a new planet
orbiting an old sun

adam watched
his jaw unhinged
his mouth an ocean of saliva
his body at attention
circuitry crackling
as an electrical storm
swept through his body

he understood little
only saw that
life would never again be the same

For more writing inspired by this theme click here for the Magpie Tales website or click on the image.