A month ago I gazed into the predawn sky and saw Venus burning bright.
Jet-lagged eyes took in the outline of Andalusian hills.
Travel weary body felt the warm, late summer breeze waft through the open window, fluttering my white cotton gown.
It was the beginning of an adventure to collect new impressions.
A writing retreat the pretense to come to Spain. A week at Finca Buenvino, a beautiful shuttered and pink stuccoed villa in the hills of the Aracena National Park, an hour or so northwest of Sevilla. The owners, long time British expats with their hearts firmly planted in Spanish soil. An elegant hodgepodge of inherited English antiques and acquired Moorish textiles, Spanish ceramics and Waterford crystal. Terraces and balconies, salons and reading rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms.
A kitchen outfitted for skillful chefs, fresh and local ingredients, and cooking school guests eager to measure and stir and taste Jeannie’s flare for concocting. I took my turn for an afternoon, tossing ground pork and orange zested patties in the coarse flour, soon to be fried and then braised in valencian orange flavoured tomato sauce. Sauteeing shrimp in smoked paprika butter. Polishing wine glasses. Setting the communal table with silver and linen, its place solid under the wisteria laden pergola. (Eating here was a “pinch me” moment, evoking memories of those quintessential photo ads promoting Tuscany.)
Floating on the surface of the infinity pool, thoughts dip and dive like swallows in the sky between the chestnut groves. (These nuts feed the Iberian pigs, giving fat and flavor to Spain’s famous jamon.)
Lazing on chaises, umbrellas shield skin from blazing siesta sun.
Six women gathered from Britain, Canada, America and France to write in little red notebooks prompted by sights and sounds and tastes as we hiked into local villages – Aracena, Los Marines, Linares – and sipped “coppas” of chilled, pale golden manzanilla sherry, a refreshing pairing with the myriad of tapas flavours. Red radishes as big as fat thumbs laying in a platter of golden olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt. Emerald green chiles fried whole in olive oil, then salted. Toast with seasoned tomato sauce, Spain’s take on bruschetta. Smokey olives. Tangy, hard manchego cheese. Lightly battered fresh fried sardines. Pink-shelled shrimp with heads intact, eagerly peeled and swallowed, releasing their sea salty-sweet juice.
Sitting together, ensconced in the stone walls and cushions of the Moorish terrace, or the shaded studio overlooking the pool, we quickly capture musings in bigger black journals from prompts offered by our host – memories of our mothers’ cooking, how to be a writer, what a line of proffered poetry or name evokes.
I can see nuggets of story, but for now they rest deep inside, needing time, like the sherry aged in wooden casks, to bring out their full flavour. An alchemical process required by any act of creation.
This morning I gazed into the predawn sky and saw Venus burning bright.
Now home. Alchemy at work.