I dragged myself back to the site of my obsession. The hole was done, the ‘special’ stones selected. Juan had lent me a drill so I could make holes through the rocks. I drilled.

Juan’s machine was efficient. I drilled into twilight and then decided to return to the house for a glass of wine, before retiring.

Martin, a thin man in his mid-fifties with a very sparse wispy beard and Anne, plump but possessed of a beautiful face that was made to calm troubled water, were enjoying a bottle of the red. They had no hesitation in inviting me to join them. I sat down.

woven stacks

Inspired by a tepee

Who are these people? They had already passed three nights in the main house, and had spent all their days walking the land. They were impressed, not only with the potential of their specialist interest but by places they had seen. They described their passage across a suspension bridge over a deep ravine; being a sufferer of vertigo, I was pleased not to have been there discovering a forest home formed of grafted trees in a distorted dome. Someone had made it some years before, they deduced, on account of the size of the trees. Not only was the living structure beautiful and naturally shaded, but a small allotment of vegetables was nourished in part by human waste from the straw drop box lavatory. A substantial pool supplied a place to wallow in water. On entering the ‘home’ they discovered a bed together with a hand-carved table, chairs, shelves —all of which were on wheels. Someone was occupying the place. They continued their ramble. In another natural amphitheatre, they had found an incredible wedge of smooth rock containing a piano. Anne had played a little and Martin described how her somewhat stuttered rendition of Gymnopedies sounded incredible as the sound was thrown from the wedge filling the landscape. Martin had lain there absorbing the place, not thinking ecological thoughts.

On and on they went, weaving a tale full of Las Heras of intrigues. As I listened, I realised that my worries about writing a novel (still not started), combined with my obsession with creating a home had kept me from exploration. This place is large enough to contain many things and I felt ashamed. I was surrounded by shadows that I had allowed to obscure my natural curiosity. I suspect my infatuation with Claudia had not helped. I liked Martin and Anne, and as we consumed more of the local wine I like them even more.

They began to tell me of their most exciting discovery. They were near the northern part of the domain when they had happened upon what they took to be a quarry; on closer investigation it was much more. Although minerals had been extracted, the remaining hole was more carefully crafted than normal. Anne had descended to the greatest depth, all the while singing quietly. Martin, who was still near the rim, could hear her words perfectly although she was not projecting her voice; this place held all the acoustic qualities of Ephesus. Even Anne’s not-so-perfect singing sounded beautiful. The sides were terraced and within the terraces were holes at regular intervals. Why?

This extraordinary place, with the sky as its roof, had clearly been carefully crafted as a place for opera; Martin, who loved opera, had no eyes or ears for anything else. The holes were there to slot in umbrellas for shade, so that people could sit on the terraces, consuming picnics.

The couple were ecstatic, and though they talked beyond my capacity, it captured my imagination. I resolved to walk to the place in the morning. I was also unsettled that, as newcomers, they had found this place while my obsession with my hut, my novel (I wish), and Claudia had rendered me unadventurous.

sound sandwich

In the woods is a piano in a structure to project the music out

Obsessions get in the way of adventures sometimes. I was guilty. I staggered back to my unfinished abode and slept badly.

A new day and a new beginning. Today I would eat eggs for breakfast, fortify myself and begin my walk to the ‘Place of Opera’. I felt good —a distraction from my inadequacies was exactly what was required. I strode, mainly uphill. The day was warm, but I had packed a plentiful supply of drinks and food (I was particularly fond of the blood sausage with tomato). On route I found three or four new ‘huts’ that I did not know. Who had built these? Perhaps people who were still here. Or were they long gone? One caught my imagination as it was not quite a hut, consisting instead of a high-level platform which raised a sleeping place above the tree canopy to afford 360 degree views from the bed. Under this was a showerhead that could deliver rain to the ground level. I fantasised about showering in this place deep in the woods.

I continued my trek. I had not gone far when I came across Georgina. I had assumed she had left after a short recce, but here she was deep in the woodland working with a saw, cutting up timber. She did not notice me, but I stopped and looked at her through a small aperture through bush as she worked. I felt a little intrusive, but I was compelled, fascinated by the fact that she had stayed and was clearly focussed on making a place to sleep and live, engaging in an activity that was totally antithetical to her demeanour. I rested and observed her for five minutes and decided to press on towards the old quarry.

As I walked I kept thinking of Georgina. I discovered other objects and works en route. One such place was a perfectly square garden, maybe twenty metres by twenty, full of bright flowers. This walled garden had a two-and-a-half metre high wall around it made of woven saplings. A garden in a basket.

As I continued I began to recall some of the history of this ancient place. María Heras, the last person to live here, used to have the run of the whole estate as a young girl. A life of adventure, imagination and perhaps most important of all, a life of her own. It was in this place that she learnt to recognise an independence that would later make her both stoic and self-contained. What she noticed as a young girl were subtleties within a seasonally changing landscape that kept her sense of enquiry alive, and kept her amused by phenomena that many may not notice. What would she think now if she was here? I realised that this landscape was littered with secrets. She would have been amazed, but her spirit, and love of this place inspired people to express their passions in passionate ways. My own ‘hut’, which was now progressing quite well, was the product of Las Heras’ rich history and I realised that this is the definition of luxury.

High bed + shower

Sleep above the forest

The word rang loudly in my brain. I had been so conditioned to think of it as having something to do with opulence and therefore wealth, that I had not realised that in parallel existed value in doing things well and learning, from both a place, and other people. Time was the luxury; my investment was in learning by spending time here. I had thought my novel, still not started, would be the investment; I now understand that my unrealised dream was merely the device that brought me here.

I continued to the quarry.

Geometry in the Woods

Clearings were cut out in the wild woods to give vistas

The quarry is not a quarry. It is a huge place for things to happen in. It is a stage, a gathering place, a temple, all in one extraordinary structure. It was Ephasus, La Scala and Glastonbury in one. Here are plains of activity, ramps and small enclosures all lying under a huge retractable roof used for shade or simply as an umbrella. The scale is such that it could easily contain 2000 people. Equally it has provided a spot for one person. As now.

I sit down in awe and look. I move.

I find myself beginning to feel what I am missing, feeling the essence of my novel, which I had cast to the back of my mind for too long. I see a world devoid of all dehumanising elements: like venture capitalists, hr departments, health & safety executives et al. A freedom to act and take responsibility for all that you do. Success and failure are both allowed. This large arena, for want of a better word, is an invitation to do things. The world is full of edifices that exist as a result of a perceived need or function. This place is functionless and full of potential.

A huge curtained canopy filters light into this place, casting delicate shadows that produce a theatre of movement as the sun progresses to the west. I am spellbound.

As I absorb the magic of this place, I realise that there are an array of stones slotted into the rocky floor, too geometric to be natural. At the top of each piece are two holes the size of fingers. I insert my forefinger and thumb and find I can lift it quite easily. I discover a poem.

‘I was disturbed back to life
I attend everything
I have time
To be a rock.’

I move more pieces and before long I am reading the quarry; this place is also a library —at once a place to share a performance with hundreds of people and a place to be alone in the presence of thoughts concealed under your bottom.

 

the quarry

A carefully sculpted performance space

I sit there still as one of the rocks, content, alone and with no thoughts of any significance. Normally I am worried about something (the nonexistent book, the unfinished ‘hut’, the emptiness of being alone); here, I am at rest.

I walk back to the kitchen very slowly, observing the sun descend behind the western hills. A light fresh salad —a glass or two of red wine with two lumps of ice and a slice of bread. A more complex meal would destroy my constructive emptiness.

I could see my Dutch friends across the garden chatting enthusiastically with some new arrivals. They are now part of the furniture and obviously enjoy sharing their experiences of Las Heras with virgin ears. I am not in the mood for chatting.

I retire to bed in my hut and resolve to finish it quickly. As I lie looking at the moon, waiting for sleep, I realise that when I was at the quarry I had actually heard an aria being sung quietly. It was remote and probably, on reflection, auto-suggestive as a result of Anne and Martin’s story. Here in my bed I realise it was real, though distant. No resolution or conclusion arrives before sleep.

A shower in the woods. A thought in my head. Today I would fill the roof with a flower garden. I did not go to the house for breakfast and simply made coffee at what was now home.

I line the roof with a membrane that Juan had recommended and laboriously carry buckets of topsoil up the ladder and spread it over my aerial garden.

Finally, the hut is finished and I sit back and look in from the outside, proud. The edifice looks slightly high as the tapered walls lead the eye up to the roof garden. A garden that would acquire flowers and weeds in equal quantity. Through the door, which is open, I can see the low afternoon sun project shafts of light onto my raised bed and my rough timber table. The table that I am to sit at and write a novel. The bed is higher so that when I attend to my writing I do not see it; there is nothing worse than trying to work within sight of a bed.

It looks beautiful. Simple, but elegant, with a good scale and proportion. In here, I will write.

Even as I am thinking this, I am aware that the construction of the home was simply an act of avoiding the beginning of my task. I am prone to procrastination but never before had I used my excuses so productively. I had to start.

a cloud in the forest

A camouflaged house gives anonymity

A small and very brightly coloured bird alights on my plantless garden. I recognise it as a Mrs Gould’s Sunbird, which s not only rare, but customarily lives in north-east India. It seems to be happy here, and as I observe it scratching around for food I am transported back to the sub-continent where I had spent some time a few years ago. It was there that I developed an interest in ornithology. As the sunbird flies, it seems an apposite time for wine and company. I would sleep well tonight and begin writing after breakfast tomorrow.

The garden at the home is full of a cacophony of sound, suggestive of people having been there for a while. I select a cheese, bread, a little salad and a bottle of rosé and join a group I had not seen before at the table.

A family from Bologna, they had just arrived, here for ten days of simpicity, of walking, eating, drinking and a little work in the 365-day Garden. They had been told about this by their cousin, who had spent time at Las Heras. Her name was Claudia. Could it be?

I use all of my conversational diplomacy to bring our conversation round to this cousin. There are pieces of bait untaken, but it quickly became clear that Claudia is Claudia. The woman who had, in part, been responsible for me not starting my novel. She has, it trasnpires, gone to England and is living near Basingstoke, a town of near-total banality. They seemed unaware of what she might be doing there. For my part, I was delighted she now lives one hour’s drive from my London home.

I drift back to my finished home and glance at the moon. Sleep comes quickly.

In the morning, I resolve to write. I have no idea, no plan and no energy to really start.

I start. I become aware of the sound of someone digging and I need scant excuse to leave my paper to investigate. I walk towards a clearing where I discover George frantically digging. “I am digging a maze!”, he tells me.

A maze to get lost in. A maze to contrast with the interwoven trades of Las Heras. A maze to dig for a long time. For me, this summoned a memory of an early Glastonbury when I once saw a man digging a maze. I questioned George a little further; it was the same man. In the intervening years he had dug mazes all over the world in different soils and cultures. He was here because he had never dug one in Spain, which he perceived as the ‘dark’ country of Europe, full of mystery, customs, secrets and religious myths. He had been saving Spain as the act of digging bacame closer to the act of making one’s grave. He believed this would be his final work and equally, his most beautiful. It would be a culmination of everything he had learnt. This maze would be fit for a Minotaur.He intended to dig until he died.

a point of wiew

An illusion of a hovering rock emanating light

George was unfazed by the idea of incompletion; this maze, he told me solemnly, would never be finished. The notion of the incomplete was the pinnacle of his conclusion and here at Las Heras he would do it. There was food to be yielded from the land and a procession of itinerants with whom to talk. It was George’s nirvana.

I walked back to my writing hut contemplating George’s final task, which it struck me, was not bound by the temporal. I sat at my desk and wrote one word:

Ceramic House

Bands of bright tiles wrap around the home

‘TIME’

Time for lunch. A fine lunch, followed by a fine sleep. I dreamt of time, humanity’s common denominator, dominating and dictating everything we do, and yet reassuring us, in our endless clocking in and clocking out.

Before time there was only experience. The sun rose and set. Winter time was different to summer time. Days were measured by human perception, not by time-dictated norms of accepted behaviour. Here at Las Heras, I had not worn a wrist watch for weeks yet I knew when it was time to do things. We venerate ‘Father Time’. We embrace phrases as ‘time waits for no one’. It’s high time, the wrong time and over time. The burden of time and the binding notion of a finite period made me dwell on George’s idea of never finishing.

I seized the moment and wrote a second word:

‘IS’

I could write my novel at the pace of two words per day. I was at last free of the deadline, after all a false horizon. I felt liberated from my own ambition. What now? I had time.

Liberated, I thought of Claudia’s passion for ceramics, and I imagined a ceramic hut that would give some colour to the forest. I envisaged this as an opportunity to combine my hut-making passion with something newly learnt. My ceramics, even though I am a complete amateur, will be a serious indulgence with which Juan, apparently an expert in everything, would help me.

I was excited about the prospect. I sat down and wrote another word in my novel:

‘WAITING’

Juan is waiting for me.

The act of wedging clay is mindless hard work. There is a satisfaction in manual activity, particularly when it is necessary, a part of a process in arriving somewhere else. I recall the gathering of stones for my hut —arduous but satisfying—and wedging clay is akin to this. It reminds me of the American artist Robert Morris who made one piece about counting cows.

I decided to make large slabs or tiles that I could glaze, which would later become building blocks for my new hut. I will glaze them in terracotta and deep umbra speckled with white. My edifice would glow like a beacon of warmth in the dark forest.

I had started a new hut —a hut to not write in. I returned to my writing hut to scribble one word:

Ceramic House II

A house of mud with applied ceramics which decorate it

‘FOR’

The scribe sated, I set out to find a location for my ceramic reverie.

My tour of observation took me to a new tree house that had been made by children. A simple but pure expression of a retreat from adults complete with a hoist for hauling up food to be consumed in a manner without manners away from the prying eyes of adults. It was a cartoon of a house. A simple ladder gave access to a world of cushions and thumb-sucking security. I discovered it had been built by a young girl called Dulcie, with some help from her brother Jacob, and much more help from Juan. Its innocence provided a cue card, a reminder to enjoy the simplicity of the necessary.

I continued.

 

my tree House

As dreamt by Dulcie

I am 57 years-old and still searching. Here at Las Heras I think I learnt that searching is the essence of what we do. As with George, the maze digger, there is no conclusion.

I had been resident for three months. Within that time, I have built a hut, learnt how to make rudimentary ceramics, made a few friends, developed my cooking and eating skills, fallen in love and started a novel.

My new word today is:

‘SOMEONE’

At one word a day, I would be dead before I had a 65,000 word novel. I retreated into my reverie about a ceramic house.

A man arrived with a mission to make a football pitch. The idea of sport had never occurred to anyone at Las Heras. The man was determined and cleverly convinced me and many others that a beautiful pitch would not only be aesthetically odd, but that the activity that such an arena would encourage would be spectacular, varied and unpredictable – as well as permitting football which, after all, was a pursuit and interest that many artists and others pursued in a form of inverted cultural snobbishness.

The man chose a spot near the house, by virtue of it being almost level. We enlisted new enthusiasts, and with Juan, were first put to work to level the ground.

The man gave us spades. Juan brought a tractor with a scraper. Scraping was a wonderful spectacle. We watched Juan go back-and-forth creating mounds of topsoil at each end of the pitch, the perfect tribune for a small bunch of spectators.

Juan finished.

Now it was our turn to follow the man’s instructions. We walked in a line up-and-down, as a non-mechanical device, picking up every stone until there were none. This took hours. The man was fierce yet compelling.

On completion of stone clearance, the man appeared with a sod of turf and placed it in the middle of the brown earth pitch. His was the centre point he had stolen from the ground of Real Madrid.

Time for more grass.

The scattering of grass seed felt biblical, followed, as it was, by an anointment of water. This would be repeated every day; after ten days there emerged an incipient shadow of bright green across the former field. The transformation that could be observed daily was therapeutic.

the vaster the vista

A growing wall to direct the view

The man was very proud. I had the feeling that football would never be allowed on this pristine green and if it never saw physical action it would not matter. It was an evidence of man’s presence. Those of us left are happy to watch.

In one of the rooms in the house I found a sketch book. I opened it and found an essay. I do not know who wrote it but as, I read the faded photocopy I resolved that it was maybe an architect. here was no clue to the building referred to, but I felt that in microcosm, I could relate to the experience of creation. I like the idea of learning by doing and by allowing that to override intellectual predetermination. I returned to my hut exhausted and wrote one more word of my novel before sleep:

‘TO’

As I made the fifteen minute walk to the pottery, which today took twenty, I began to think about what I was doing. I could be accused of being a late disciple of the ‘whole earth catalogue’ of hippy-dom. But for me who was too young to remember them, the 60s were a romantic burden, a memory received, like the image of the thirties was to thirty year olds in the fifties. History has a habit of placing a colourful gloss on the recent past, which makes those who were not a part of it feel they are lacking.

I am lacking, but not for those reasons.

The ceramics studio was busy that morning. I saw Martin struggling with a wobbly, asymmetric creation on the wheel. No doubt, whatever the outcome, it would somehow be intended.

I had already completed one hundred large irregular tiles for my new construction. There is no consistency in the colours; they are a crazy pairing of azure blue, terracotta, pink and magenta splashes, whites and creams. I needed to produce at least one hundred more to make my second home.

Wedging/Cutting/Glazing/Cooking.

My choice of product was repetitive and perhaps some would say boring. I found security in the process. If I carried out each element properly it would produce a result that pleased me. Because it was mindless, I had the freedom to dream.

In this reverie, Halifax came to mind, a city I had visited a few times but did know well. I remembered arriving and seeing a sign on the boundary:

Welcome to Halifax, friend of the car

This was obviously a strapline from the sixties, when the city was attempting to present itself as a forward-looking community by embracing traffic. In fact it is a beautiful city with some extraordinary buildings, which had showed off its wealth from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. The city displayed itself to the world but everything changed with a shrinking industry and a redrawing of the world energy map and cheaper labour elsewhere. The nature of modernism is not reliant on technology alone; there has to be an embrace of the past alongside an embrace of the future. Halifax has devoted too much time living in a heritage and the protection of its glory days. In the city there is an edifice called the Piece Hall which is empty but beautiful. It draws people towards it, who then discover that it is only the façade. If they had allowed it to evolve with high quality additions, it may be thriving. The new architecture in the town is poor because it is cheap. Evolution is the essence of modernity, where each step is made with confidence, and useful uncertainty. A luxury indeed, but mainly a necessity.

I realised that Las Heras was a good example of evolution. Each addition can only be made because of what has already been done. There was no plan for an ultimate future; there is though, an enthusiasm and a respect for the place. It’s like a painting that is made solely by augmenting what has already been painted. There is no art in a pre-planned work. A planned painting is an illustration.

I had not decided where to build my new hut. I knew the Las Heras estate quite well by now, but the area to the east of the main house was relatively untraversed by me; nearly all the most inviting paths led in other directions.

I headed east. The garden had changed a lot since I had arrived, when it had been full of spring flowers whose colours were moderated in surprising ways by the rays of light from above. Now it was replete with Jasmin and perhaps should be called the Perfume Garden. I observed the ubiquitous Juan working away. There was nothing he could not do, and he never ceased in doing it. As he moved across the view through the north eastern gate, I noticed a line of blue spots on the ground. They caught the light today, but had hitherto been invisible to me. I walked towards them. Each was made up of blue glass which had been ground down to a smooth finish like a pebble. These glistening ‘stones’ were approximately two metres apart and probably originated as a water bottle, smashed and ground. One led to another and then another. I followed. My walk had started.

My fate today would be determined by someone else. Who put them here?

I walked past a group of students from Bergen, all building. It was intriguing to see these people from the north working in the sun on a wonderful construction of mud and grass. There were eight of them, completely covered in mud as they daubed the mixture onto a substructure of sticks and stones. I have always enjoyed the fact that the name of our planet is also the constituent part of our construction material. They clodded on! I gleaned, from a brief chat, that it would be large enough to sleep all of them, and that they would enjoy a beer with me in the main house tonight. And that they had nothing to do with the blue pebble path.

I followed the path through a narrow gorge evidently maintained by someone; the vegetation was cut back either side to a perfectly vertical wall of dense greens, which gave off a pungent odour that woke me up. I felt alive as I followed the blue spots. I passed through a glade containing a dressed stone edifice which seemingly hovered above the ground. No one was ‘home’ so I did not enter, but there were shoes lined up by the door. What a door!

the slatted hut

This woven work is a labour of love

It made up one whole side of the house, allowing the interior to become a stage to an audience in the clearing. The door was wood covered in zinc, fixed on with a wide collection of bolts, which I imagined to have been found incrementally. Who lived in this place?

I walked on by to a rock face which had been cut flat, a little like the plants in the gorge. In a slot in the rock someone had fitted a cantilevered table top and in a hole above, a florescent tube. Carved into the rock was an inscription:

singing rock

People stand and sing to themselves
A PLACE TO WRITE AT NIGHT

Of course I took this as a personal message; a cruel taunt that reminded me how far I was not working on my novel. Perhaps it had been written by a real author, amongst whose number I knew I could not count myself. I was, I knew, someone who loved the idea of writing more than the act itself.

I found myself intoxicated by this place I had found, or rather that someone else had found; though I would like to construct my ceramic hut here, it would go against the spirit of Las Heras.

The blue pebbles continued, and so did I. After a short walk along a woodland track, I came to a large plywood wall, fifteen meters long and three meters high. A large canvas was stapled to the sturdy structure and painted, unfinished, was a huge portrait of me. I was shocked; it was a work in progress and from all the paint droppings and drips, it was clear that someone visited this place every day. Etched into the wood were the words:

A PLACE TO PAINT BY DAY

Who was painting this? Where were they? It was day and no one was around. The pebbles continued.

After 500 metres I came across a view that I could not have imagined. From this place I could see to infinity; the sky dissolved into the land, obliterating all sense of normality —there was no horizon. The lack of focus accentuated the colour, at this time of day, a violent turquoise. There was no movement or estimation of distance possible. All other things were forgotten, superseded absolutely by the sensory experience. This had to be the place for my ceramic masterpiece, even though I knew the giant tiles I had been making would not do justice. As I retraced the blue pebbles back to the Garden of Shadows, I began to think that the slabs I had made should simply constitute the floor. A floor of many colours. The enclosure needed to be created in another way. Would it be possible to make the whole enclosure out of clay, firing it in one piece by creating a huge fire around it and inside? I could use timber to create a form, cover it in clay and in turn cover that with an enormous fire. The act would be a celebration at which the estate’s finest wine would be served to the sounds of a flamenco guitar. People would dance until sunrise and fall asleep in front of the infinite view. I would seek advice from Juan.

I was so excited I forgot to discover to where the blue pebbles led. I retreated to my stone hut to write another word of my novel:

‘REWIND’

I fell asleep dreaming of clay. Juan, as ever, was helpful. He told me where to get the vast quantities of clay I would need and also told me of a stock of blankets he had that, if soaked, would keep the clay moist while I was working the exterior of the new pottery home. He was so calm that I began to get the feeling that he had done it before.

Two days later a truck arrived with the clay. I had already nearly completed the internal form from wood I had gathered from the forest. I began to lay on the clay.

Externally it looked as a pile of mud. I cut holes for light in the skin; in long, thin shapes that both aerate the interior as well as casting moving shadows across the inside of this large ceramic bowl. I glazed the structure in a mixture of white, azure blue and ultramarine; it would be like living in a piece of Mysor.

I still found myself slipping into categories of style, a limitation I was trying to escape. It was this worry that had stopped me writing my novel until I discovered the ‘one word at a time’ policy. I did not know where it was going and that allowed me to work. In my foray into architecture I must remember the same principle.

I then buried everything under a huge pile of wood making it into a very large bonfire. I had to do this quickly, before the heat of the Spanish September sun dried out the clay.

I lit the pyre on four sides and stood back as it took hold, waiting for it to generate enough heat, which I would then have to hold in by covering it with earth; I had made the whole construction into a slow burning charcoal oven. The pile exuded smoke slowly from the top. Exhausted, I walked back to the stone lodge and wrote another single word before sleep. No wine, no food —only a fear of failure combined with an excitement of something that might be extraordinary.

I set out my table, unscrewed the top of my pen, and added one word to my text:

‘DREAMS’

the framed view

This place is defined only by a framed view

I slept deeply and had no idea where I was when I woke. I love this feeling. Warm and secure in bed and forced to evaluate your current location. I was in Las Heras and I had three projects:
a) a stone hut —complete
b) a ceramic house —?
c) a novel —incomplete

After a shower in my woodland bathroom I was ready to face a potential disaster, but not before breakfast.

I had not counted on company but sitting opposite me was Joshua. He had returned. It was good to see him. Where had he been? And why had he left with no goodbye? He was evasive, saying only that I should look forward to another stash of extraordinary objects to be discovered in the trees.

high tea

This tall timber structure is made to drink tea and look over the canopy of forest

I decided against telling him about my new extraordinary project, as some things, when they are in formation, lose their magic if spoken about. We drained the coffee pot and departed along the blue glass path in fear and excitement.

Back at my place, I found the mound of earth quietly smoking. It reminded me of the view of Mount Etna from the garden of the San Dominico Hotel, and I quietly smoked in the garden; I found I had a partner in the volcano. I placed my hand on the earth and was very happy to find it very warm. Twenty-four hours had elapsed and by all advice my structure should be cooked. I took a spade and began to remove the outer layer. The smell of the whole process was wonderful, a mixture of a wood smoke with sweet overtones of honey. I began to expose the ceramic —no cracks or collapse so far—and to excavate the whole; it was perfect. The glazes were not what I expected —they were brighter. Violent cadmium oranges mixed with Naples yellow; dark ultramarine slashes and black squares. It was better than I could have planned.

The interior of the structure, formerly a solid mass of timber, had been reduced to ashes revealing a beautiful cave-like space, charred but illuminated by the sunlight, casting patterns, through the apertures I had created. The roughness of the interior contrasted with the brightly coloured exterior, and was beautiful. I was elated. I then began to lay the large tiles I had made onto the floor. I could not finish today, so I ambled towards the mother ship and prepared a meal, not only for me but for Joshua, his students and others. Tonight there would be a feast. Tom, one of the students, played Schubert as we ate. Conversation flowed, oiled by the local wine, and I was happy. Having returned to my stone home I wrote:

‘TOWARDS’

My journey back to site Pot, as it had become known, once again found me racked with nerves. Would I still feel excited? I arrived at the Pot and was relieved of the beauty. The sunlight reflected off the glaze and onto the woodland, which created a space in which I imagined fairies would meet.

Every time I visited, I had to pass the large painting wall. My portrait was still evolving, but I had no idea who was doing this.

Its evolution unnerved me because it was full length and precise in the mannerisms it depicted. Whoever was painting this, on a large canvas stapled to the plywood wall, knew me, and had observed me carefully. I must know this person; I could not imagine any of the current Las Heras visitors doing it, somehow.

However, engaged on the perfection of my second hut, the portrait conundrum receded, and I began to consider how to occupy my creation. I would make everything and absorb myself in making everything for this, my second home. How different would it be to my stone dwelling?

the nest

A ladder to a retreat with the birds

I had always been fascinated by Brancusi who lived in his studio amongst all his work, who made all his furniture and clothes. He occupied a world of himself. I began to see my new ceramic home as a total environment that would help me to fully understand my novel, a world so self-referential that there would be no distraction. I decided this and immediately went looking for Juan who would help me. I walked back, past my portrait, which seemed to have acquired a little cadmium orange and more of my body in the last two hours.

I found Juan in the workshop and he agreed to help construct the items of furniture I would design as well as a substantial fireplace; it was important to have a large fire within this space made by fire. Besides, I had already decided to extend my stay at Las Heras which would take me into the colder months when a fire would be necessary. I also arranged for my stone house to be available for visitors in two weeks time.

 

the sawn tree

The trees are cut to the same level. The result is commodified nature

After supper I returned to the stone home and settled down to make drawings for my interior and to also write another word of my book:

‘THE SKY’. Two words today.

Exhausted I washed, undressed and slipped into bed.

I had almost finished my interior world with Juan’s help. I realised that by now I was the person who had been the longest remaining guest at Las Heras and with that realisation came the sensation that I was head boy at school; I found that I spent some considerable time explaining the joys and delights of this place to new-comers.

First I fell in love with Claudia; now I had fallen in love with the place. The ceramic house was cosy and on the inside it possessed a warmth from which emanated a pervading calm. I found it possible to sit for extended lengths of time doing nothing —a good sign. The space contained me and my thoughts. It was reflected back to me, which intensified my knowledge, mainly of myself. I spent time thinking about design and why designers become slaves to fashion and how they succeed in creating spaces with no soul. Why don’t they ever refer to the concept of cosiness?

I thought about the mystery of the large evolving painting of me. It had progressed, but I never saw anyone doing it. What struck me was the accuracy of likeness, the detail that revealed a conscientiously observant eye and a skillful hand. But the question loomed heavy in my mind: who was this person? And why paint me?

Troubled, I decided to secret myself in some undergrowth and lie in wait. I sat inside a clump of bushes from where I could see the enormous, unfinished painting of me. I had hours to observe it. It was intimate and combined anguish with warmth. The more I looked, the more I saw. I waited.

Midday passed and no one arrived. By 2 o’clock I was feeling drowsy, which might have had something to do with the wine I had brought with me. I fell asleep until I became aware of a hand gently stroking my cheek; as I gained consciousness I realised that the smiling face I was gazing at was Claudia’s. She slowly kissed me back into the world. A world of wonder and disbelief.

I saw a vision of someone I loved. A difficult person who had appeared an independent spirit. A person full of confidence and uncertainty. An elusive lady who had always been with me. Claudia.

She returned because she loved the place. And hopefully me.

a bunch of sticks overhead

A person constructing their own cloud as shade

Over a glass of Las Heras wine, we decided to stay here, to help Juan and to go nowhere. This was the place. I remember an elderly lady in Norfolk who was very sophisticated and who lived in a house on the edge of the woods with a wonderful view. In the second of half of her life she never left the home. It was her place. She would say “I love it here —why do I need to go anywhere else?”.

Somewhere on the earth’s surface, there is a place for everyone. Very few are lucky enough to find it.

I never did write a book in Spain.

house of rain

A clever non-home. The water defined a space
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