Moon Mountain, Fire Mountain

Anna Rubio. Photo: Quelic Berga

Anna Rubio. Photo: Quelic Berga

Watched two of Anna Rubio’s beautiful and moving dance films, one made during her Frontiers in Retreat residency in Latvia. She is working with sites – the valley and mountains here, or old neglected stone steps in Latvia, and with natural materials – sheeps fleece, leaves, water, and her dance has a quality of antiquity in the way it relates to the surrounding natural environment. She uses her moving body as a way to sensuously explore environments and uses ephemeral sculptural elements such as a wool web strung in trees that she danced within in one film.

Anna Rubio, Clarobscur. Violin: Christian Risgaard. Film: Quelic Berga.

Quelic Berga was working late nights to send material for his Frontiers in Retreat exhibition in Serbia which opened yesterday with work on dwindling bee populations and the spiralling patterns of nature. I walked round to Alendo with Quelic to help take pictures of his God/Google installation. Between the artists and curators that are coming into contact in the Frontiers in Retreat project, and the artworks being made and in process, we are starting to describe what the project is.

A large herd of cream-coloured cows ambled through the village yesterday, with their white calves running to keep up besides them, and their herder behind with a long stick and the odd whistle. I guess they are moving to lower winter pastures. It’s good to see them when you hear their bells all the time and can’t always find them in the landscape. I heard that this place was known a long, long time ago as Moon Mountain. There is a story that the mountains are called the Pyrenees because of Hercules’ rape of Pyrene and her horrible death here, but I like to think it might be instead because of the fire of the sunsets, or the autumn blush.

20 sunset

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Wind, Water, Bees

Tuula Narhinen, Cometa

Tuula Narhinen, Cometa

The three artists in residence at Centre d’Art i Natura in Farrera, including myself, gave presentations on our work in progress to a local audience on Friday 24 Oct. The room was crowded and there was a very good dialogue with the people who came along. We are doing quite different things. Tuula Narhinen from Finland is flying a home-made kite camera rig to find a way to image the wind, and she has been creating a watercolour palette of the colours around us in the environment. Quelic Berga from Spain has been working on an installation about the environmental threat to the honeybee and a project using spirals for data visualisation of ecological information. I am working on a forthcoming book addressing art and geography called Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture and on two new novels – one historical set partly here in Farrera, and one future fiction concerning rising sea levels and drowned coastal settlements and infrastructure.

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Birds and bees

Centre d'Art i Natura, Farrera, Catalan Pyrenees

Centre d’Art i Natura, Farrera, Catalan Pyrenees

Woken this morning by a bird – a Great Tit – that had flown into the window and was panicking. Last week I had a Redstart in my bedroom in France. Living inside out or outside in. Listened to Arnau Obiols’ CD Projecte Pirene, making music with nature, which Quelic Berga lent to me. Another beautiful blue skies day. At the market in Sort, we talked with a man selling honey about the environmental problems being experienced now by bees. Planning to make a trip next week to the small church of Sant Pere del Burgal in Pallars Sobira, one hour away, where there are 11th century frescos of Llucia de la Marca, who was the Countess of Pallars Sobira and the sister of the heroine of my first novel, Almodis. I am trying to find out about mining iron, farming, food, medicine, here in the Pyrenees in the early middle ages. Writing requires immersion, continuity over some time, free from distraction, so it is very good to be here. This is all possible here.

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Fishing in the Library

The Prince of Monaco and retainers on a trout fishing expedition in the Pyrenees in 1918

The Prince of Monaco and retainers on a trout fishing expedition in the Pyrenees in 1918

A fabulous day in the library reading about Farrera – birds and wildlife, plants and landscape, people. I read about barking deer, boars with their striped piglets, wild cats and tufty eared red squirrels, fields of white Narcissus Poeticus, Tengleman’s Owl, Black Woodpeckers, the Capercaillie and the Lammergeir or Bearded Vulture. I feel like I have arrived now with a better sense of where I am. A smoky sunset on the mountain peaks.


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The future and the past

I am working on two new novels. One is set in the late 11th century and features a female troubadour from this village, Farrera. Most of the action takes place in Toulouse and Poitiers, but there will also be some scenes set here and in Aragon.

The second new novel I am working on is set in the future, in the 23rd century, and engages with climate change and accompanying change on all levels: social, economic, technological. I am especially interested in what the old technologies, lifestyles and means of survival from the past can teach us about the future. At dinner I talk with Ceske about the food that she and Arnau and many Catalans are used to foraging from their environments: mushrooms, fruit, nuts, herbs, and how many city people in the UK and probably many rural ones too no longer have this knowledge for living with the seasonal rhythms.

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Writing eyrie

Dag Peterson's watercolour of the Cockerel on Farrera's Bell Tower

Dag Peterson’s watercolour of the Cockerel on Farrera’s Bell Tower

Tuula Narhinen, Quelic Berga and I spent the first few days here in Casa Ramon and I grew quite fond of my attic writing eyrie but tomorrow we are moving into the newer, purpose built rooms in the Centre which face out across the spectacular view of the valley and mountains. The skylight in my attic room in Casa Ramon has a view straight to the weather vane and bell tower of the church. Quelic is working on an installation combining notions of Google and God. Tuula is flying a camera with a kite but is having trouble finding enough wind or, when there is wind, controlling it in the unpredictable turbulence around the mountains. Every day she climbs to Coll de So, the Pass of Sound, seeking wind and has met with plenty of cows. She is painting the colours of Farrera. I am looking forward to finding out more about their work.

At dinner Lluis and Quelic talk about Catalan independence and history. There has been iron mining in this area for centuries and hence the name of this village. Each night Arnau Llobet cooks an amazing meal for us and his artistry extends beyond the delicious food too. Tonight he has scattered pomegranates and red autumn leaves on the table so that it is like picknicking in a forest glade. He was up early climbing above 2000 feet to gather the mushrooms that make part of our meal this evening. He tells us about seeing the shy chamois deer up there.

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Hippies, Fire Festivals, Obby Oss

Farrera with the Centre d'Art i Natura in the centre with diagonal beams

Farrera with the Centre d’Art i Natura in the centre with diagonal beams

I have the synopsis of my novel more or less in shape now. It unfolds from that one line of poetry – A morsel of love’s bread, and its knife.

The Centre d’Art i Natura is an interesting building. Above ground it looks like a small outhouse with a large slate roof nearly touching the ground, but then it climbs down the mountainside for five storeys and has a library and class room. It was converted from an old building that once belonged to the Manresa family. I read that back in the 1970s, Senor Manresa, irritated by the drunken japes of the incomers, threatened to shoot all the hippies in the village. Perhaps he wouldn’t be impressed with the 400 or so artists who have stayed in the Centre by now.

Tuula Narhinen and Quelic Berga, my fellow artists in residence, tell me about last weekend’s conference – presentations on the mountain environment and its changes, a wonderful music performance by Arnau Obiols using elements of nature as his instruments and drawing on traditional Catalan and especially Pyrenean song. At dinner Lluis and Quelic talk about the local fire fiestas and I describe Tar Barrel Running in Allendale in Northumberland and the May Day Obby Oss festival in Padstow.

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