i n v i e r n o

[ 11:21 Thursday 24 March – Villa Catalaneta, Pollença ]

As I sit here on the terrace bathed in birdsong, two thousand kilometres away Russian tanks are pounding Ukraine’s Black Sea ports into rubble. Life goes on but the shadow of war lurks always in the background. It is hard not to wonder what pandora’s box has been opened, and what will emerge from it in the months and years ahead.

Yesterday marked five years since Alejandro and I met, following a talk on fine-art curation in the digital sphere organised by Elaine. It still feels like yesterday that I spotted this handsome fellow grinning and gesticulating across the room. How can it be five years? The probability of meeting someone who shares my most obscure musical tastes, whose social values run close to mine and who enjoys so many of the same pursuits as me, must be infinitesimally small. How far we’ve come together in these years, how much richer my life is and how much I’ve learned from him.

Five years making trouble

This morning it rained. Now as the clouds lift, water drips from trees and bushes around the garden, creating an irregular counterpoint to the birds’ polyphony. Alejandro and I chose this house to spend six months over the winter. It’s located in the plain that spreads from the town of Pollença, in the foothills of the Tramuntana mountains, to the sheltered arc of the Bay of Pollença. It’s a spacious house with a big garden and a row of eleven tall palm trees, signalling its location across the landscape.

Our house for six months over the winter, Pollença

We arrived here at the start of November during a cataclysmic thunderstorm, which set the tone for our first two months here. A freakish chain of storm systems passed through the western Mediterranean, bringing two months of almost unbroken gales and torrential rain.

Fields and roads were flooded. Sporadic electricity outages became familiar occurrences. Gusts were recorded close by at 120 kilometres an hour. A yacht broke its mooring and washed up on the beach. I went to the coast in one of the strongest gales and the force of the wind was such that I could barely open my eyes.

A yacht broke its mooring in the storms & ran aground, Port de Pollença

Initially the dramatic weather was exciting, but as it continued week after week the experience became gruelling. With no central heating and poorly-fitted windows the house was dark, damp and cold. We had half a ton of holm oak and olive wood delivered, and became experts at managing the open fire in the sitting room. We also learned to fling open doors and windows whenever the rain stopped, to air the house and keep it dry.

When Christmas came we joined our respective families in Cornwall and Almeria. Returning to Mallorca on New Year’s Eve, it was as if we’d come back to a different place. The sun was shining, the sky was azure and the temperature was nudging 20 degrees. Elaine arrived from Los Angeles, Arthur arrived from Paris, we celebrated the last day of the year with Alejandro DJing on a tiny portable speaker.

At 4am on New Year’s Day we went out into the garden to discover a thick fog had settled over the plain, cloaking the landscape in swirling dampness. In the motionless air we could hear music from half a dozen other parties, spanning a range of several miles in each direction. The music was mingled with the sound of hundreds of cockerels crowing, near and far across the plain, as if adding their voices to the celebration. It was a magical way to begin the year.

January and February were sublime months. Day after day we awoke to clear skies, sunshine and birdsong. I spent the days working on a table in the garden, retreating inside only when the sun set behind Puig Maria and the temperature started to fall. A couple of times each week I took my laptop to a local beach, went for a swim in the chill, crystal-clear water, then sat on a rock in the sun and did my work.

The post-swim office

We’ve been getting a lot of exercise. We hike at the weekends, exploring remote places in the mountains and coast. At twilight when we finish work we often do a circuit to the sea and back on our bikes. We’ve started weekly tennis lessons, a sport that Alejandro already plays well but which is new to me. Finally, inspired by Alejandro’s example, I’ve started going to a couple of yoga classes each week.

Between 1995 and 2015 I studied yoga devotedly, starting with Alaric Newcombe at the Iyengar Centre in Maida Vale, then continuing with a series of wonderful teachers. Having suffered knee problems as a child, I grew up with a terribly hunched posture and little confidence in my physical ability. Alaric was a demanding teacher and at first I found the classes a struggle. But with perseverance, yoga restored my posture, changed how I breathe, and gave me a new sense of myself as a physical entity. After twenty years of devoted study, I gradually drifted into other activities and allowed it to lapse. Picking it up again now is like being reunited with an old friend, and I realise how large a gap it left in my life.

Our trusty wheels

The one sad note from these months is the death of Viola Nettle, my beloved piano teacher from Cornwall, aged 90. I studied with her from the age of 7 to 17. Along the way she became as much a friend as a teacher and we always remained close. Viola is the person who gave shape to my love of music, and instilled in me a curiosity for new sounds that will be with me all my life.

For the last decade, tragically, she suffered from alzheimer’s which progressively stripped away her memory and personality. The last time I saw her was February 2020 when I visited the care home where she was living. By this stage conversation was impossible, so I spent an hour playing the piano for her, including the whole of JS Bach’s Italian Variations, some Ravel I was working on, and a couple of pieces she’d taught me as a child. When the time came to say goodbye I kissed her on the cheek. She grinned and said “You naughty boy!”

: c :

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