157 – Just an Everyday Birthday

Suddenly Paqui began to sing. The room fell silent, and even the aggressive guy in the corner, who had been talking to himself and shouting randomly, looked up and listened quietly as she sang a saeta. It was Mercedes’ birthday and twenty of us gathered to celebrate with her. She received her gifts with gratitude as enormous as her smile, and she closed her eyes tightly to make a wish as she blew out the candles. People laughing and chatting – smiles that could light up the darkest of spaces, the darkest of lives. Paqui finished her song and received applause, shouts of “¡Óle!” and a hug from Mercedes. Continue reading

156 – Just being There

 

Lorenzo picked a red plastic tricycle wheel off the cushion and lowered his not inconsiderable frame into the armchair nearest the fire.  He’s a man of few words;  he settled himself down, and gazed around.  His wife, their seven children, half a dozen of the children’s partners, eleven grandchildren, and a couple of young boyfriends of the teenage granddaughters, plus a random cousin or three, were variously clambering on the backs of the sofas, curling their hair in the bathroom, stirring huge pots on the stove, wiping down plastic chairs, and counting out 32 sets of cutlery. Continue reading

155 – Christmas in Bethlehem

Christmas in Palestine.  It’s something that calls to many people, whether Jew, Christian, Muslim, or even agnostic.  Birthplace of the alphabet, of Judaism, and of Christianity.  With a million years of human settlement, it was one of the earliest places in the world to see organised human habitation and agricultural development.  Continue reading

151 – Spanish Portraits

“We’re just the same, you and me” said A.  I take it as a compliment, happily glossing over her thirty additional years on the planet.  She has the most piercing look, she’d have been a great interrogator.  Instead she is a campesina, a countrywoman.  Timeless.  Sturdy.  Hard hands.  Sitting on a stool she scoops handfuls of almonds into her apron, and shells them on a tree-trunk in front of her with a small hammer.  Continue reading