Santiago Sketches

Quintana de Vivos

The white wolf dog stalks lozenges of sunlight travelling the convent wall. Two well-dressed ladies go down the steps where I’m sitting: “pues, fíjate María,” “mind you, the way these students behave…”—their journey of careful stepping between lounging beggars and self-conscious bohemians takes them out of my hearing.

Quintana dos vivos

This photo is of the upper part of the Quintana square, the "Quintana de Vivos": of the living. The lower part of the square, "Quintana dos Mortos" (of the dead) was a cemetery in medieval times.

Other blog posts from the book that you might enjoy:

This poem is from my second book, Santiago Sketches, which is entirely set in the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. You can read more poems here, in Spanish and in English. You can buy the book on Amazon here, or if you’d rather buy local, order from your bookshop. More information is available on my website.

This post gives the background on the editing of Santiago Sketches, which was distilled from perhaps 100 little pocket notebooks, which were shaped from being carried around in my trouser pocket.

 

Astringent Pines

Astringent pines by the Auditorio.

Mist drifting across the houses on the hill

like wood smoke. A smell of damp grass,

or the perennial berries

of suburban fir trees at the end of back gardens

in Dublin. My dead grandfather.

Auditorio_de_Galicia_-_Santiago_de_Compostela

When I wrote this poem in 1994, my grandfather was alive; the relevant adjective had to be added later, when the book was published 24 years later. The Auditorio de Galicia, where I saw one of the Three Tenors, José Carreras perform for the subsidised price of 1,000 pesetas (around five Euros), is on the way to the South Campus of Santiago's university. (Incidentally, I also saw Nina Simone in a large tent in the Alameda.) By the Auditorio, there's a small park with ducks and geese, where pleasant hours were spent. 1026The fowl tend to stray from the water, and wander among the students sitting on the banks, and have been even known to process along the pathways in single file. In 1993, and as late as my last visit to Compostela in 2007, this park and environs were a  pleasing area of the city. What was enjoyable was the humdrum, pleasant nondescriptness. In Spain, the traveller can at times suffer from beauty overload. I can imagine that it happens even more in Italy. I enjoyed these suburbs, where the city was beginning to trail off into countryside. It was good to spend some hours there resting one's eyes, before returning to the baroque old city.

_______________________________

This poem is from my second book, Santiago Sketches, which is entirely set in the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. You can read more poems here, in Spanish and in English. You can buy the book on Amazon here, or if you’d rather buy local, order from your bookshop. More information is available on my website.

This post gives the background on the editing of Santiago Sketches, which was distilled from perhaps 100 little pocket notebooks, which were shaped from being carried around in my trouser pocket.

 

 

 

The Blind Lottery Ticket Seller

ONCE Logo

Plaintive cry of the blind

lottery ticket seller

under the arches of Correos

—tickets pinned to his chest—

“¡ONCE para hoy!”

Correos Building, Santiago de Compostela.jpg

"ONCE para hoy!" essentially means "lottery tickets for today!" As I mentioned in a recent post, “ONCE” is the “National Organization of Spanish Blind People”, which uses its lottery system to raise funds to employ and give benefits to the blind. Their plaintive call, and the tickets pinned to their chests, twinned with their blindness, gave them a lugubrious, almost medieval quality that I touch on in this poem, "Lamed".

My friend Tony Shiplee wrote a creepy horror story about the blind lottery ticket seller who used to stand under those arches. In the story, the main character - Samuel, let's call him - is passing, when the blind man hisses at him: "Samuel!"

Rua Nova

The arches, or "soportales", are very good protection from the Galician rain, and I suspect that is why they were incorporated into the design of the Rúa do Vilar and Rúa Nova, which are exceptionally beautiful, and allow you to walk umbrella free most of the length of the street. On certain nights, you could walk these streets, with the street lights reflecting rainbow-like in the puddles, and feel that they would never end.

Soportales, Santiago de Compostela

Other blog posts from the book that you might enjoy:

This poem is from my second book, Santiago Sketches, which is entirely set in the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. You can read more poems here, in Spanish and in English. You can buy the book on Amazon here, or if you'd rather buy local, order from your bookshop. More information is available on my website.

This post gives the background on the editing of Santiago Sketches, which was distilled from perhaps 100 little pocket notebooks, which were shaped from being carried around in my trouser pocket.

 

 

Diary

  santiago-lluvia-top-ten--644x362

No letters today.

The lottery ticket seller

in the glass booth with venetian blinds

braille-counts a roll of 5,000-pesetas notes.

My lungs’ harsh residue.

*

“¡Vamos, hombre!” an old man says

to the rheumatic Alsatian straying behind,

as if to a friend.

*

Four o’clock. Waiters in white jackets and Brilliantine

in El Paradiso nod to old women

as they incline, pouring Earl Grey.

*

Two female students link arms

under their umbrella.

A street sweeper in navy overalls,

luminous white stripes at her ankles and sleeves,

a witch’s broom sweeping trajectories.

*

The junkies shelter

under the arches in the Toural.

Old men stand beside the police.

The police ignore them, the old men

keep nodding as if they were included.

(21st February)

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Like many regional Spanish cities in the 1990s, Santiago de Compostela was startling for the way in which the poor and the destitute were cheek-and-jowl with the middle class and the affluent. Back then, Galicia was one of the poorest regions in Spain, and probably the most overlooked. Certainly, it was off the beaten path. Santiago itself, as the regional capital, was and is still is a city of students, government bureaucrats and functionaries, and now more than ever it survives on revenue from pilgrims and tourists. (The number of guest houses and "digs" was startling, and the landlords and restaurant and bar owners were "great characters", as we say in Ireland.) What was a trickle in 1993 and 1994 has now built to a roar. 1993 was one of the first Holy Years - when St. James's Day falls on a Sunday - where a big government-sponsored campaign got behind advertising the Camino de Santiago and was exceptionally successful. Tourism in Santiago during my year there followed the way of most smaller European cities in the 1990s: in the autumn, you still saw tourists; in the winter, less and less. And in January and February, none. These short pieces are from one of those days when the city's residents went about their normal day, whether shivering under the arches, or drinking a cup of exotic Earl Grey in a lady's suit, with bouffant hairstyle, served by posh waiters. (Tea in Spain back then was associated with "English style" - it was exceedingly difficult to get a good cuppa, and it may still be.) The residents went about their day, observed by the Erasmus students, one of them writing feverishly in a notebook. Finally, the lottery ticket seller referred to above was part of, “ONCE” , the “National Organization of Spanish Blind People”. ONCE uses its lottery system to raise funds to employ and give benefits to the blind. The ONCE ticket sellers who sold tickets on the street, and not in booths, were the foot soldiers, and their plaintive call, "ONCE para hoy", and their tickets pinned to their chests, twinned with their blindness, gave them a lugubrious, almost medieval quality that I touch on in this poem, "Lamed".

Other blog posts that you might enjoy:

This poem is from my second book, Santiago Sketches, which is entirely set in the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. You can read more poems here, in Spanish and in English. You can buy the book on Amazon here, or if you'd rather buy local, order from your bookshop. More information is available on my website.

This post gives the background on the editing of Santiago Sketches, which was distilled from perhaps 100 little pocket notebooks, which were shaped from being carried around in my trouser pocket.

Carnival in Santiago de Compostela (Microcosm)

 

Parents drink coffee, their kids in costume.

We’re playing pool. Wild music from the street

where a troupe of clowns in red and green

carries a coffin. As if on holiday from cranky,

the old men in the back room burst out singing:

“¡Carnaval! ¡Te quiero!”

(15th February, 1993)

 

Carnival, Santiago de Compostela

1328273692_MG_9795

Note: I never saw this Carnival in 1993. The poem records a glimpse. Who knows? Perhaps the clowns with their coffin were a tributary on their way to a bigger river of revelry of excellent nonsense. "Hey Nonny, Non!" (Shakespeare, Mucho Ado About Nothing.)

Other poems from the book that you might enjoy:

This poem is from my second book, Santiago Sketches, which is entirely set in the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. You can read more poems here, in Spanish and in English. You can buy the book on Amazon here, or if you'd rather buy local, your bookshop would love to hear from you. More information is on my website.