Unlike the usual August silly season when there is nothing much of importance in the news, this summer we have been saturated with daily horror. The delay in adding a new post to my blog is partly because it seemed almost offensive to be writing my usual routine stuff about life with the donkeys while the lives of so many thousands of people are disrupted by the evil psychotic death cult of Islamic terror in the Middle East. We must never cease praying for the innocents.
Yet life must go on, and in a strange way I have accidentally found that my current summer holiday painting project brings me face-to-face with the more civilised history of Islamic life and technology. I am working on a huge – and rather intimidating – two metre square canvas, constructed two years ago by my art teacher colleague Sarah, in exchange for a Land Rover full of donkey manure. (No, there is no better way to explain that, so I won’t try.) Until now I had been so nervous about starting the project – in case I ruined the canvas – that I have just looked at it and let it gather dust.
My original idea for the painting – when I first decided to paint a large canvas two years ago – was to paint a valley. Everyone seems to paint the mountains around here, so I thought it was time to reduce the amount of blue sky and look at the valleys. Besides, in between Finestrat where I live and Sella ten kilometres away, there is a valley where the terraces and water channels still follow the original landscaping of the Islamic farmers and engineers who carved out this land for farming hundreds of years ago. The patterns of the hillside terraces are beautiful, delineated by dry stone walls that snake around the valleys, with terraces watered by gently trickling water channels whose gravity drop over great distances is worked out by extraordinary engineering skill.
Teaching GCSE and A-level geography locally, I have also become fascinated with the theme of local domestic and agricultural water supply, and have co-opted the help of Francisco Amillo, author of the wonderful Histobenidorm blog and retired principal of the Benidorm Instituto, who has inspired my students with the geology and topography of the local aquiferous rocks, water channels and Islamic engineering methods.
The work on the painting coincided with the start of the Finestrat fiestas, which involves the consumption of vast quantities of beer, so the first day’s work had to be done at a very fast pace before fiesta fireworks and drinking began. The end of Day 1 produced a rather pleasant ground coat and I was satisfied that I had not ruined the canvas. There’s nothing harder to return to and repair than a ruined oil painting.
I’ve put one Spanish farm house into the painting and I’m still thinking about where to put the donkeys: all four of my donkeys will be in the painting (Morris doing something very norty, as usual.) Now I’m at the end of the third session on the painting and taking a break to return to the village fiestas.