I remember sitting on the balcony with a view overlooking the Mediterranean, filled with dolphins, with our little pet goldfinch singing in a cage near me, trying to decide when to dash downstairs to steal a stalk of sugarcane from the fields waving below. Or when to go for a swim, lying on the rocks under the gaze of the white village of Salobreña. That was back when I was twelve and we were on sabbatical in Andalucia. A few decades later now, arriving in the village I am faced with a mosaic that depicts Salobreña’s history, an image with donkeys loaded with sugar cane and I realize I too am someone returning from history. The rum factory closed a long time ago.
Granada is now only a hop and skip away on wide, smooth highways overlooking dry mountains filled with unsightly greenhouses. But that city is as beautiful as ever and could it be that the food has even improved? The tapas are still free with a drink, plentiful and now there’s also flawless presentation. The flamenco played high in the hills is just as timeless as ever. And so even though some parts of history are now gone, and others remain the same, there is still much to discover in Spain and many things that are new, at least to me. We’d never spent time along the Costa Brava before, with the beaches of soft golden sand, rolling waves and warm, delicious water. We hadn’t passed through all the rice fields of Valencia and tasted all the variations on paella which delight us now.
These discoveries came to us thanks to our stay at the Vilarchangel artist residency, directed by the multi-media performance artist Ulises Pistolo Eliza, in his finca filled with the furniture of the original orange plantation from the 1930’s. Among the many bedrooms, balconies and large, shared spaces, we gathered our thoughts, ideas and met with fellow artists who were also discovering the region.
Michel gathered inspiration for his visual scores from the varied vegetation of the plantation, while I settled in with the large volumes of poems by Federico Garcia Lorca in the library as the flamenco singing of Kiko Cortes wafted up from the front patio. Michel and I recorded music around poems I wrote on site using instruments from the artist workshop even as Sun Ho Kim, visiting from Boston, made small sculptures from tissue paper and oranges nearby. As luck would have it, this was an ideal setting for a family residency, again so vital for keeping life and art in balance, especially for a female artist and mother like myself. Multi-generational too, so my father was free to forage as he loves to do among the apricots, figs, walnuts, artichokes, oranges, plums and more. The kids made drawings with ink borrowed from Aki Hoshihara, visiting from LA, and played basketball under the bougainvilleas. They watched a few soccer matches on a t.v. that had been purchased at the request of monks that had once visited with the Dalai Lama, so that was another kind of blessing.
After the residency we discovered the villages near Castellon and stayed Mas del Gat a wonderful artistic retreat created by our great friend and best guide in Spain, Carol Charlton. She introduced us to more artists and toured us around the beautiful, inspiring countryside and perched villages. It’s a lush place, surrounded by olive and almond trees, figs and apricots, off-grid yet with a large swimming pool overlooking the valley below.
Before heading home we returned to Barcelona where we played a few wild sets of improvised music with some wonderfully inventive musicians at El Pricto’s long-running Discordia concert series in Gracia.
So now I am back home, harvesting the grapes from our balcony here as the starlings pass by, gathering all the music from this trip, the new songs, the old songs, the half-remembered poems. Many will be included in my new project, a mixtape of inventions where I sing to or with the spirit of place, the Genius Loci (working title). I’m hoping for a quiet, peaceful winter that will allow to me bring all these thoughts and ideas together so that I can share them here with you. We have replenished our stores of music so that Michel and I can be found in different parts of the house, each working on editing large amounts of freshly recorded music, while our sons and their friends take over the backyard studio and record their own new tracks. It has proven to be a productive time of creative renewal, just in time for harvest season.
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the hours of powerful music making in France before we headed to Spain, with Barre Phillips and many of the musicians from his EMIR collective, above the clouds on Barre and Mary’s magical mountain. It’s all there, ripe for the picking, to be continued …
Special thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts and the Conseil des arts et des lettres for their contributions to our many and varied projects.