'The city builds its glass skyscrapers...
as the conquerors built their castles'
Written whilst on residency at Joya, Spain. The writing weaves a narrative between Velez Blanco, Spain, and Manchester, falling fluidly through both fact and fiction, real lives and imagined realities. The piece was shown as a booklet as part of 'Unquiet Landscapes', Plant NOMA, Manchester.
'The city builds its glass skyscrapers... as the conquerors built their castles'
The people of Velez Blanco live under two shadows.
The first is cast by the flat topped mountain. Every street looks onto it. Every husband must see it as he walks to the pharmacy. Every wife as they crowd to the cafe, laughing and talking rapidly. Every child glances it as they run to the park, too preoccupied to give its presence much thought. There are games to play.
The second shadow is darker, its creator closer. The Spanish castle looms over Velez Blanco, rising upwards from the sand coloured stone. Its presence is as intrusive yet unnoticed as the mountain opposite. It rarely crosses the minds of the people living their lives below, around, across from it.
To see, to be seen.
It does both so well.
The desert wind has worn the castle, but it stands insolent even as it verges on ruin.
One after the other;
Blanked out windows
between barred up doors
To stand on the street, and face off empty shop fronts from horizon to horizon.
I meet the eye of a waitress,
Busy in the last café left*
I wonder what it’s like? To face destruction, to watch the rest leave and know, soon you must follow…
There are sections of this city that grow, bustle, swarm,
gleam with a currency that hasn’t trickled-down to here. A mirage of a city that doesn’t exist. Whilst here they are working and working to keep the dust from settling once again. What more can they do?
Hundreds of them, a mirage repeated over, as I stand with bitter air hurtling around me. They duplicate as my vision fails against the frozen onslaught,
folding outwards, nauseous.
The waitress remains singular, though. She remains alone in my mind, in blurred sight, isolated in the solitary reality she inhabits.
*There’s a few souls inside, others
walking slowly across the hazardous ice...
It’s quieter than it used to be, and it’s
only getting worse.
An affluent city in Italy
had to ban towers and turrets.
Over the many centuries
they’d become a symbol of influence,
power, wealth, a status for all to see.
But soon the people of the city
were building faster and higher.
Towers and turrets soaring in their dozens
into the warm blue Mediterranean sky.
Higher they rose, more rapidly with each decade.
An intrusive plant suffocating the forest of the city.
A vine that no person seemed willing to confront.
Over and over and over they were born.
Soon it was a city of spiralling towers,
latticeworks of turrets blanketing the air,
the streets becoming stale and warm and oppressive.
But the faster they were built,
the sooner they fell down,
crumbling onto the people roaming the city below.
More fell, in cascades of yellow stone
crashing down. Avalanches every morning.
Rebuilding every night.
But they couldn’t keep up
and it was the people below that suffered.
[Perhaps there’s something in that.]
As I pass the road’s end again
I wonder who now begins their day
with the walk out that door,
down the steps and towards the city
[I wonder if the loose slab still trips them]
What do they think about as they walk
down that long straight road
with the glass columns always in sight,
till you reach their base
and they become almost invisible.
Invisible yet crowding around you
as you become part of the rush in the streets of the city.
I wonder where they work and where they walk.
In the many valleys spiralling from this point,
Not even the glint of a car on the dust roads.
Further still, from this great height
the surrounding almond groves and coarse wilderness
is surveyed, studied.
Yet still, silence.
Just wind on rock, through trees,
The occasional bee, early to awaken.
The white Mediterranean sunlight beats down,
not having shaken the harshness of winter.
Possibly a plane then,
the murmur soaring above the wind.
But it soon fades to insignificance.
Then the sound of a wagon,
far away over the valleys,
rises once more.
The towering mountains,
devoid of softness, reflect every sound.
It rises above the cafes and shisha bars
Over the flat rooftops of mid-century terraces
Above the bustling streets, litter strewn
People darting across cycle lanes for buses
And between stopped cars to the shops.
It rises a great glass column, into the sky
To watch over the miles of city around it
To be seen by those living below.
As the conquerors built their high castles,
The city builds its glass skyscrapers
Iridescent blue in the aerial perspective.