As my mind travels back over the landscape of my life
And I consider its future direction
There are so many special people I hold within,
There is no need for careful reflection.
I look to the future with a positive glow
As I realise I am truly blessed.
Surrounded by all the people I love.
All I can ask is – ‘what next?’
It all started with a phone call from my brother first thing on February 3rd 2011 – my 50th birthday. He set me the challenge to swim in the freezing cold water of our pool which is not usually open this time of year, due to the temperature. Now always one for a challenge I thought about it and as the sun shone, hopefully, I thought the temperature of the water might have increased a degree or two and decided to take the plunge ……………
It was freezing, but invigorating. I quickly jumped into a warm bath and wondered what might happen next. My 50th birthday celebrations had been a big secret and with Jamie, Chloe, Bianca and Teegan all arriving later, a big smile and a tingle ran through my body as I decadently sipped my champagne in the bath.
I rang our large bell rather overzealously as the Spanish 7 arrived, although today it was only the Spanish 6. They drove their cars through the archway and parked up, we jumped around excitedly saying our hellos as Picasso watched on in his aloof way as we hugged and kissed. Irish pulled a small cage out of the car and unlocked it to present us with her new pet puppy, Mia. Now Mia is a very excitable abandoned dog and found the whole episode more exciting than we did and began to run around like a headless chicken taking our excitement to another level. Picasso watched on thinking we were all mad. When the excitement of seeing each other had calmed, Mia spotted Picasso, and went to investigate her new friend at top speed. Picasso, not one for high antics, being more the sophisticated Lord of the Manor type of cat, made a few hissing sounds thinking the young pup would get the message. Oh no, Mia became even more excitable and thought it was a game. More hissing from Picasso only made things more fun for Mia, and he fluffed up his body and tail to make himself look very macho, only for Mia to find him more attractive and not scary at all. A lot of dog and cat noises took place and within seconds Picasso made his escape through the big wooden doors at top speed, followed by the long legs of Mia. I ran after them to make sure no blood was spilled but they had already vanished and with concern on my face, I walked back to join the others. I need not have worried as there was Picasso, sitting safely at the highest point of the house, on top of the bell I had been ringing rather overzealously only 5 minutes before. We left Picasso sitting on the bell tower and set off to find treasure and an old ruin, with Mia still running around with the untamed energy of a toddler.
Fina had a map, so finding treasure and an old ruin should be easy, or so we thought, and she pulled out a sparsely detailed pen and ink drawing of our destination. Still, cant go wrong really, up the hill, turn right, walk a bit, find the river, walk some more up the mountain vertically, stop and look around a lot, check the map, walk some more, have a discussion, send the men on ahead, take some photos, walk some more up the mountain even higher, stop and look at how high we were, walk even higher and pretend to be a mountain goat, find an old ruin in bits, decide it was too far from the river and couldn’t possibly be the cortijo we were looking for so sit and have picnic lunch. We needed lunch !
During our picnic lunch Fina told us about the legend of Cortijo Carillo and the treasure.
‘When my grandmother Maria married Antoñolin they went to live at Cortijo Carrillo. For three nights they dreamed that a little beyond the farmhouse under a huge oak tree, underneath the earth there was something like a tomb. About three steps down to the right hand side there was a gap with a cantarera filled with some gold coins and a small bowl with jewels, plus two bottles of green glass with candles alight….
She had this dream three times and was very frightened so she told Antoñolin and some of the family and friends who spent some time there with them.
For 8 months some employees who worked on the on the farm searched and searched, and one day as they were digging in the ground they stumbled upon something … they dug and they dug until eventually they found the tomb, exactly as my grandmother had dreamed of…
They called and called to Maria and she came running, she was at the farm Carrillo at least 200 meters from the oak tree where they had found the find. Everyone gasped when descending stairs they found bottles, the cantarera, and the bowl…, but instead of being full with gold and jewels it full full of ash…’
When we had finished lunch, we packed up our bags and set off for more searching for Cortijo Carrillo, this time it was all down hill, due to the fact we couldn’t climb much higher. We kept checking the river and our position in relation to the river but there was no cortijo anywhere to be seen and we walked back gently to Cortijo Las Salinas, still in good spirits but sad not to have succeeded in finding the old cortijo of Fina’s past.
The strange thing in this whole event is this, it has come to light that the pile of stones we sat on for lunch happens to be Cortijo Carillo and we never even knew at the time. So we did find Cortijo Carillo afterall, it was as if someone had guided us there, and as for the treasure, well that must be the friendship we share with the Spanish 7.
I found these mushrooms growing outside my studio.
As I pulled one from the ground to take a closer look, the deep brown pigment sang to me as it floated into the air and disappeared. As I watched the spores float away I knew I wanted to capture them forever.
I noticed the sienna powder was rich and as I applied it to my blank canvas a series of work unfolded using the mushroom pigment as the main media combined with oil paint, glazes and gold.
A quote came to me …..
‘Without inspiration an artist is nothing . . .Without this mushroom I am nothing . . . Without this mushroom, these would never exist.’
On the 8th October 1944 a wedding was held at Cortijo Las Salinas. This was to be the last wedding held there for 66 years until on the 15th May 2010 our very good friends, Francesca Rajewski and Jerome Duquene were married at the cortijo, starting the tradition over once again.
It was the first wedding we had organised here at the cortijo, and it didn’t happen without a generous helping of stresses and strains. However the year fast forwarded to May 15thand all our worries about the possibility of rain were disregarded as it turned out to be a beautiful sunny day with everything going to plan.
Vibrantly dressed in a dynamic red long skirt and jacket, the bride walked out through the old wooden doors arm in arm with her father Claude, the bells rang in time with her footsteps, whilst the acoustic guitarist simultaneously serenaded playing ‘Love Is All’. The crowd cheered and clapped as she stepped into the sculpture garden and took her place between the palm trees under a cobalt blue sky. A coincidence maybe that the 1944 wedding and the 2010 wedding – both brides had the same Christian name.
The ceremony followed full of laughter and tears, and everyone made their way into the patio to drink Spanish champagne around the cascading fountain, as it had been drunk in the same place 66 years before. A feast and fiesta followed. The 1944 feast comprised of turkey in gravy with a morcilla or black pudding made from the blood of turkeys, the 2010 feast was traditional Spanish paella, Moroccan tagines, salads and a huge chocolate cake. The 1944 fiesta comprised of three villagers who played the guitar, an accordion and a mandarin and the 2010 fiesta embraced a DJ from the Island of Ibiza – complete with all his music kit and very large, loud speakers. Dancing continued until 4 o’clock in the morning on both occasions.
An historic occasion had taken place, with the ghosts of Las Salinas watching approvingly as the tradition for love and laughter had begun once again.
The two large garages at the far left of Las Salinas looked very menacing with their large regulation ‘Spanish green’ metal doors. As we turned the rusty key in the very small padlock a feeling of trepidation welled up inside as I wondered what might sit behind them. The doors were on rusty runners and were filled with soil suggesting their use to be infrequent. We had to remove the debris before we could pull the doors open just enough for us to squeeze through and into the darkness we went. Trying to adjust our eyesight from the bright sunshine outside, the darkness made it impossible to see anything clearly. As our vision improved we could see a large tractor and various other olive farming implements.
When we became the owners of Las Salinas we discovered that one of the two large garages was used by Anqel, our local farmer, who kept his tractor and other olive picking equipment in there. Being a large space with a high ceiling I knew it would be perfect for me to paint in and hang my work and very early on in our plans this became the Art Studio.
Fina had told me at our first lunch that the body of a still-born baby had been buried under a stone in my art studio many years ago, before it was an art studio and she wondered if anything had ever happened in the room while I was painting. Fina told me the baby was one of the last sons of Nativity and José Maria, her great grand parents, and was still born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. The only way to get to the cemetery in Alcaudete was by donkey, carrying on his back the coffin of the dead baby for maybe 2 days over the mountains and through the roads. It had to remain a secret because if the policemen discovered this, then Nativity and José Maria would have to go to jail.
Well actually, something had happened.
It was a warm day in September and I was in the studio, on the floor, working on a large canvas of the landscape, lost in the creative process. The purple and the yellow of the sky called together as the sunset slowly exploded colour onto my canvas. I sat watching the paint meld together, wishing for the yellow and purple not to argue and become brown, when I was aware, and then out of the corner of my eye could see, a man in my studio. I removed my eyes from the colourful liaison in front of me and looked up, and there, dressed in black with a large hat was a man I did not know. He walked through my studio, looking me in the eye as he went, and within a few seconds had disappeared. My heart raced, although I was not scared, and time froze as I tried to organise my thoughts and distinguish what I had seen. Could this have been José Maria from 100 years or more ago?
I looked back at my canvas, the colours had not argued, but sat happily waiting for me to continue working with them. And as I continued to paint the words of Fina came back to me as she had previously told me a medium who had visited Las Salinas had divulged that the baby was not dead when it had been buried.
Its always nice to walk down to the river and sketch what I see, things are always changing and after a big storm the debris had collected into a pile at the bend in the river taking on a form of its own.
Back at the studio I painted a rather large canvas using the same theme, it’s difficult to say which one I like the best ……………………………
Night had fallen on the farm, Cortijo Las Salinas, and a stormy grey sky was overhead.
Candles were burning by the large stone fireplace and in a large clay pot cooked the hare that José Maria had hunted for dinner that afternoon. Natividad poked the fire and stirred the pot constantly to avoid the meat with almond sauce sticking to the pan, whilst watching the glow of the light that cast strange threatening shadows around her.
A strong wind blew, strong enough to shake the candlelight. Everyone was restless, tired and looking forward to dinner together. The nine children, Joseph, Maria, Pilar, Nicholas, Gumersinda, Peter, Nati, Victorian, and Doroteo, the smallest, just two years old, patiently waiting with a piece of bread in hand for the desired hare meat to be ready. Once ready everyone was quick to devour the food greedily with the small slices of bread scraping the soup pot and licking fingers. Victorian looked strange sitting in his father’s lap while he used the utility knife to cut small pieces of meat for himself to eat. When they had finished dinner the children went to bed reluctantly to the sound of their father’s stern voice, just like every night, after fighting amongst themselves for some trifle.
Natividad again in late pregnancy, was finally able to sit down and rest awhile in front of the fireplace with her husband but he was preoccupied, thinking of another child he would have to feed. They heard a loud clap of thunder overhead and a little scared, went to the window where a hinge had come loose and the shutters flapped threateningly. The raging wind struck the window that had swung open and a gust of wind and rain whipped in as José Maria held his breath with a surprised expression as suddenly a piece of wall broke off the left side of the chimney. They were surprised that the gap had been exposed and José Maria began to carefully remove the rock and earth to discover the gap in its entirety. They discovered a decayed wood cupboard, and inside two small jars badly damaged by the passing of time. Some chunks of mud remained in their hands and fell before the eyes of Natividad, who looked stunned as she looked at her hands. They completely forgot about the rain and thunder as they looked at their discovery. This finding had left them stunned as the objects were filled with ancient scrolls littered with phrases that are repeated over and over again.
They read “In the year of the lights and crosses” but did not understand what it meant but they were farmers and had a strong inclination towards superstition. It was as if José Maria had uncovered a secret that should remain sealed forever as since that night the dreams and premonitions started. It was as if an evil darkness had been exposed through the gap in the fireplace.
It had been just a few days since that night when Natividad was alone in the farmhouse. José Maria had left with the donkey to go to Sabariego to buy some furniture. It was a cold night as Natividad lit the fire and was pleasant to feel the crackle of the fire while preparing dinner.
Through the small window the full moon loomed. An urgent knock on the door startled her thoughts. She left the clay pot on the table, while a bad omen comes to mind as she walks towards the door, smoothing the wrinkles from her apron with one hand and with the other she picks up a candle that stood in that great soot-stained stone fireplace.
Not without caution, she removed the large piece of wood that barred the door, and opened the door without asking who it is. In the dark doorway the candlelight projected strange shadows that surround a dense, dark mist. Waiting expectantly she looked back and forth, she spun around to hear her name called behind her but saw there was nobody there. She stayed holding the candle in hand anxious and frightened. The sigh of the wind whistled around again as she thought she heard her name once again. Struggling to control this primitive fear trapped in her throat, she went to the horse corral. The door creaked loudly as it opened and further increased her fear.
She went quietly to see the oxen, mules, goats, hens and the donkey sleeping … everything seemed to be in order, nothing seemed troubled and all was quiet. In the hall were some plows and farming implements and on a pile of hay the dogs dozed and being startled by the intrusion looked up restlessly.
A sound barely audible behind Natividad left her almost breathless and she could feel an invisible hand touch her as cold as steel. A shiver of dread almost paralyzed her. The candle suddenly went out and she could see the face of fear in that black darkness.
Hurriedly, she turned around and ran out of the pen, not turning her head as if the devil himself was in pursuit. It seemed an endless distance to the safety of the farm, when there she hurriedly bolted the door, trembling with terror. She cursed a thousand times to José Maria for not being there with her!
She went straight to the stove with the fire burning and to her astonishment saw that the clay pot in which she was making the food was not on the table where she had left it when she heard a knock on the door. She looked to either side of the room and suddenly her eyes are riveted on the window sill that is to the right of the fireplace in disbelief. She could see the gazpacho was now on the table, she jumped back and almost fell to the ground, just missing the black and white cat. His tail bristled as he meowed piteously.
‘Nati, open the door to me!’ José Maria’s voice rang in her ears like a godsend. Stumbling to open the door with trembling hands and crying like a baby she threw herself into his arms, and quickly tried to explain what had happened. He told Nati, that she spent too much time alone and has many fantasies …! She looked at him in disbelief, hurt … as he did not believe her.
But this was only the beginning of the many legends to be told from Cortijo Las Salinas.
Many thanks to Fina Larom for the original writing of this legend. Translated from Spanish to English.
We aptly named a group of old, worn out buildings in the centre of the Cortijo as ‘The Ruin’ which later became Villa Romana when the restoration of this section had been completed.
The Ruin was the original and oldest part of the cortijo, possibly with Roman origins, and had been made from the large stones and the clay like soil which covered the ground around the cortijo. The walls had suffered decay due to many years of very hard winter rains and neglect and like many of the old ruins around us, was starting to crumble and fall down in places.
This part of the collection of buildings we now owned would have been where the workers of the olive groves lived, alongside the livestock. It was normal for the animals to reside upstairs and the people downstairs in this melange of rooms and worn out walls. Cows and sheep find it easy to climb up the stairs but cannot come down them with the same dexterity. The farmer knew that for this reason they couldn’t escape therefore providing a safe place for them to live. The upstairs roof and ceiling was very low with large exposed wooden beams, the floor was uneven and raw and there were toughs for animal feed around the side of the rooms.
The room on the left hand side upstairs had a special importance as it was kept for the annual slaughter of the pig, the ritual known as the ‘Matanza’. The Matanza is of capital importance in the social and culinary history of Spain, for a rural population living permanently on the cusp of poverty, the pig killing had an importance difficult to overestimate. This was where people found the proteins and fats their bodies needed for their lives of hard physical labour working the olives and the land. One pig slaughtered would feed a family for a year and is still an annual event today in rural Spain. The blood from the pig would be hand mixed by the women to make ‘Morcilla’ which is equivalent to black pudding and this room had pieces of olive wood sticking out of the yeso plastered wall ready for the morcilla and chorizo to hang. Straw and animal faeces covered the floor, and the only heating was from the fire downstairs. The fireplace downstairs was of great importance as it kept everyone warm and was a place where the workers would eat food and sleep together when the bitter cold of the winter became too much. There was little light as the windows were very small and sections had been cut out of the walls where candles would have been placed for light.
As we walked around he ruin, investigating the rooms, history oozed out of the walls and into the atmosphere. We soaked it up. The Ruin had a presence and a personality all of its own, and it spoke to us through the carcass of the structure almost totally destroyed through neglect and time. I loved the Ruin, but could feel it had a past which could be dangerous to investigate. The walls echoed our voices, watching us every time we entered its vibrations. Although majestic in its neglect, it was like an elderly person who knew things; things about life, about people, about the past.
Today it is completely restored and has been renamed Villa Romana, although we always refer to it as ‘The Ruin’. The personality still belongs to the Ruin, with the stories and legends remaining intact and these are still being told to future generations by Nati and Fina. I have personally witnessed strange happenings in the Ruin, it is as if the house talks to me, trying to communicate something of the past it wants me to know.
Photographs taken in the Fireplace Room always come out blurred or have a red glow to them, and Picasso takes a great deal of interest in everything that happens there, afterall the Log Store is a part of the Ruin and where he first appeared to us 5 years ago when, according to the locals, he was sent to protect us.
Photo of Picasso in the Fireplace Room in the Ruin – complete with ‘red glow’
The local area around us has many towers. They were used as look out posts when villages were under attack and are strategically placed to get the best view possible of the enemy coming from any direction, also to send messages to each other via the towers. Today most of them are falling apart and now considered ruins.
We discussed the towers with Fina and Agustin and one in particular was mentioned. A derelict tower close to us in Sabariego has a lot of local history with many stories, and interestingly it is said to be haunted. It was a tower where Franco and his henchmen would take objectors or protestors and kill them, and the locals tell you that at night you can hear chains and the voices of the dead coming from the tower. This both intrigued and scared me as I had seen the remains of a tower high up in the pine forest on the road out of Sabariego and had wondered about it many times as we had driven past.
We studied Google Earth and found many small tracks up to the various towers and discovered another tower a bit further out of Sabariego which looked interesting and was possible it was the tower Fina and Agustin had talked about, so we decided to take a drive up to the tower with the aid of the Google Earth map. We drove up a very windy, bumpy track which only a 4×4 could cope with and had to get out of the car to walk the last bit up to the tower which was quite steep but manageable.
I was slightly disappointed as the tower was too neat, it was too intact and as I walked around it, pressing my hands to the walls, there were no vibrations surrounding the tower that I could ‘feel’. I looked trough a tiny window into a room and was shocked to see a small bed. Someone clearly slept there and regularly by the look of it. However we went in and climbed up the narrow wall ladders, through two floors to the top. Standing at the top of the tower in the sunshine the 360 degree view was amazing, we could see for miles and miles all around us.
But it wasn’t ‘the’ tower and I was very disappointed as it was not the tower we were looking for. On the way back I told Steven that I thought I knew where the actual tower was and showed him on the way home as we passed it.
Back home we were straight on to Google Earth and found the track leading up to the other tower. It looked like there may be a driveable track part of the way up to it and planned to go up to the tower the next day. The track didn’t go nearly as far up to the tower as we thought it would and we had to abandon the car and make the rest of the journey on foot. The hill was quite a challenge and I am unsure how Franco ascended the hill with prisoners in tow, but the terrain may have been different back then and they may have used donkeys to help them.
After a very difficult ascent we finally we made it to the top and I just knew it had to be the tower we were looking for. As we approached the tower we could see that much of it had fallen away and it was now derelict and broken and an excitement ran through my body. Reaching the pinnacle, I put my hands on the wall, it felt cold and eerie, the vibrations were strong and I knew then that it was ‘the’ tower.
We walked around the remains looking and feeling, taking many photos of the tower as we did so. I walked around to the back side of the tower and found a deep recess that looked interesting. Although a boiling hot day, about 90 degrees, it was freezing cold in the recess. I stood inside and stretched my arms so I could put my hands on both sides of the tower. As I did so a huge vibration went through my body and made me shudder. I called to Steven to take some photos of me in the tower’s recess. He focussed the camera on me to take a photo and a black line appeared across the centre of the image. He moved the lens to another view away from me in the recess and the black line disappeared, however every time he returned to the point of the recess the black line appeared again. He called me to show me what was happening and as he pointed the lens at the recess the black line appeared and when he moved it away, it disappeared. It was very strange, has never happened before and has never happened since. Another eerie and unexplainable experience.
The photos came out without a large black line across the middle
Back home we uploaded the photos and they were perfect, nothing unusual could be seen, no black line through any of them and they were all clear. Steven had to once again agree this was very bizarre and something his logical mind could not explain. I, on the other hand, was becoming more interested in the ethereal happenings and wondered what would be next.
It felt like we were having royalty come to visit. It was mid October 2009, although still warm and sunny the weather could change at any moment, so eating inside was the best idea. We cleaned the house from top to bottom, the outside patios, driveway and most importantly, the cocinon, our entertaining room where were planned to eat. Our menu had been planned days in advance along with all the shopping and on the day of the lunch we got out our best award winning wine from the vineyard of our local vintner Marcellino Serrano, put out flowers and lit candles and pretended we were always this tidy and organised. Exhausted, we anticipated their arrival and opened a bottle of Cava just as Fran and Jerome arrived, our very good friends and necessary translators.
Fina, Agust and Irish arrived soon after armed with bagfuls of presents, veggies from their huerta, chocolates, different wines, and a very old oil lamp which came from Las Salinas originally. Excitement levels grew as we all conversed and I walked Fina around the main casa pointing out different things and explaining how the house was configured before we started to reorganise the inside. Fina recalled that the small downstairs bedroom was where Dona Enriqueta had slept many years before and it felt quite strange discovering things about the life of the occupants before us. Dona Enriqueta was the bastard child of the master of the house, and as the owners and their children died, she inherited Cortijo Las Salinas and became the lady of the house. Fina told me she was feared by the olive workers because when it was olive picking season, if they missed even two olives, Dona Enriqueta would make the worker responsible leave what they were doing to go and pick up the two missed olives even if they were miles away and working on other olive trees.
Fina and I left the house and walked past the ‘Fireplace Room’. A room which makes up part of the original and oldest section of the house where Fina’s great grandmother had passed on stories of strange happenings.
‘One day my great-grandmother was making some gazpacho when someone knocked at the door. She put the gazpacho down to go answer the door but there was no one there, only mist, although she could hear someone calling her name. When she went back to the soup it had been moved and was not where she had left it. This was not the only thing that moved in that room as when she took her slippers off they would also move and usually end up on top of the window, in fact many things would find themselves on top of the window!’ Fina told me.
This room always felt cold and quite strange to me and I began to wonder what else may have happened there. A photograph taken on that day of myself, Fina, and the two grandmothers was sent to me by Irish. This photo was blurred and out of focus and looked very strange. In fact every photograph ever taken in the Fireplace Room with myself or Fina in has never been in focus.
We left the Fireplace Room and went to the cocinon to join the others who were already drinking and talking animatedly. We served our well chosen English meal of a Sunday roast including amazing roast potatoes, followed by a fully loaded Summer Pudding. I had printed off the sepia toned photograph and mentioned it during dinner and Irish told us all that the people in the photograph were Fina’s mother Nati, aged 12, her older sister Araceli, and mother and father, who would be Fina’s grandparents, or Irish’s great grandparents called Antonio and Maria.
Irish noticed the black and white cat in Nati’s arms and recognised the likeness to Picasso. As always Picasso was sitting only a few feet away listening to everything that was being said. We took the photo over to him to make a comparison. There could be no mistaking the markings were identical. ‘If I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it’ said Irish ‘The reincarnation of my great grandmothers cat!’