PHOTO ART FOR THE LIGHTER SIDE OF DARKNESS

Aniseto's Broom

 

Aniseto’s Broom

 

Written at the Castillo San

Rafael de Valderrama, La

Herradura, Granada, Spain,

August 18th, 1993

 

(c) 1993 by Gerhard Charles Rump

 

The Marquis of St Cyr stood before the revolutionary

tribunal. The sansculotte asked his name. “Le

Marquis de Saint Cyr”. “There aren’t any Marquis any

more.” “De Saint Cyr”. “There aren’t any “de” any

more.” “Saint Cyr, then”. “There aren’t any saints

any more.” “Cyr”. “There aren’t any “Sire” any

more...”

 

 

 

His stroke was not powerful. He floated in the pool like a limp cloth left from last Tuesday’s cleaning. Which would express how he felt. Only a week ago he had said good bye to the steel and glass towers of international business back in Germany’s banking metropolis of Frankfurt. Now he stayed at Helga and Michael’s guest house at San Rafael to spend four weeks of sun-drenched holidays in the tropical valley of La Herradura. The Castillo San Rafael de Valderrama was an almost unreal and extremely beautiful place, half hidden between jacaranda, avocado, papaya and other trees in the midst of terraced mountains burnt brown, grey and yellow by the Andalusian sun and the drought, spotted dark green by the irrigated olive and almond trees lining the hills like a strange sort of giant corals. And it had started out like he had imagined it would: heat, sunshine, good food, some wine, plenty of time to pump up new powers from deep inside in order to be able to face another eleven months of huffing and puffing for the money to keep one going.

 

He did not take part in the painting and pottery courses offered to the other guests. He would have been interested, though, in some lessons to brush up his playing skills of the flamenco guitar. But he had found time, nevertheless, to make a little drawing of the whitewalled house, the oldest parts of which dated back to the time of the Phenicians. He had given a lot of attention to details, the assorted flowerpots, the ancient rural tools and even the broom of Aniseto the caretaker, leaning against the wall, giving an immensely picturesque flavour to the scene. Michael, the landlord and painter, had looked at it for a long time, patted him on the back and said: “Well, St. Cyr, it’s a nice illustration. Even Aniseto’s broom is there. But what a long story you tell...” So St. Cyr knew that Michael didn’t like it too much, although he appreciated his drawing skills. Well, he had never pretended to be an artist - he only had been given a number of drawing lessons in the course of his education. Like any English Gentleman of the 19th Century. Sometimes there are very few differences between the Grand Tourist and the advertising director of the latter half of the 20th Century.

 

But the day after he had made the drawing he had seen her for the first time. Since then, his tranquillity was gone and his recreation at risk. She was not too tall, maybe 5’6”, but she had a wonderfully shaped body clad in a rather tightly fitting black dress. Her face was not beautiful in the usual sense, but he found it extremely attractive it its thrilling and disturbing combination of girlish sweetness and haughty gitano severity. He melted, following the flow of her shiny black hair with his eyes and, on first looking into the fathomless depth of her black eyes, he had felt something crack in him and instantly known that this crack would never be mended again. Much to his surprise he had made fast progress in establishing contact with her, although it would, from a Frankfurt disco point of view, have been interpreted as a complete standstill. Her name was Carmen - he did not care too much about that, but he was somehow glad she was not called “Maria”. Carmen did some work around the finca, although it wasn’t clear what her responsibilities were and how regularly she went about them. One day she seemed to be the cook, only to change the bedclothes in the guest rooms the next day, and to water the bananas and the multitude of flowers on the third.

 

She wasn’t what you expected from an Andalusian peasant daughter. But what she was, was difficult to understand. Michael showed himself to be unwilling to tell much about her, and Helga didn’t really want to touch the subject either. Helga said that Carmen helped her a lot in her artistic pottery work, but that was about all she was willing to disclose about her. St Cyr, curious as he was, however, didn’t have the strength to ask her directly what he was dying to know. He had felt, from the very beginning, an air of mysterious vulnerability about her, and he didn’t want to probe to deeply into that, in order not to hurt her. From fragments of information he learned that Carmen seemed to have been given a good education, sponsored by a rich uncle who ran a few boats between the mainland and Morocco, their hulls concealing cargo not to be found on any official list. She must have spent some years in Madrid to become an architect, but St Cyr had not yet found out yet whether any structure erected on the earth’s surface so far was of her design.

 

He tried to spend as much time with her - or near her - as possible, propelled by his raging desire to see her face, feel her soft touch, smell her naturally perfumed hair, hear her mellow voice which reverberated through him almost as if he stood right next to the ringing main bell of Granada cathedral, and taste her smooth skin, when, in an overtly ironic and basically ungentlemanly manner, he bowed and kissed her hand in greeting her, touching her lightly with his parted lips so full of wanting. When she was away on an errand, or preparing clay in Helga’s studio or in the kitchen cooking some Andalusian dish, he cooled his passion floating in the cool waters of the pool, slowly gliding past some musacea and very pretty lemon trees like a lounge lizard who had turned into an everglade alligator. Although the pool was just about 70 feet long, it seemed to him more than a mile and when he dived down at the deep end to submerge his sun-heated head, he thought how wonderful it would be to drown in Carmen’s caresses.

 

St Cyr was a kind of Fabianus Cunctator in love matters and rather had it the way that women actively showed their interest in him, but he felt that it wouldn’t work at all with Carmen. So from day to day his courtship became more and more obvious, and even a Frankfurt disco Romeo would have conceded that some progress was made. It wasn’t much, though, and by the end of his second week he sensed that he was running out of time. He knew dead sure that there was no chance of accomplishing his plans in coming back after even just a short business break. He found himself trapped in a perfect “now-or-never” situation, and he felt all the more miserable as he knew that all he was was of his own making.

 

On Saturday he came up walking the stony track leading down to La Herradura, sweating in the tropical valley’s damp heat and looking forward to a refreshing sangr¡a at San Rafael. The white towers of the finca were slowly drawing nearer. Suddenly St Cyr was startled by a small black strip across the entrance arch he had never seen there before. It had a butt end and a thin line. He couldn’t imagine at all what it was, and he paced up, strangely attracted by the black mark, a mesmerizing spot of disturbance in the tower’s lily-white surface. When he was near enough to see what the dark object was, he halted, caught in uncomprehending amazement: Someone had pinned Aniseto’s broom over the entrance arch, just as if to signify something which was not meant to be understood by everybody, only by those initiated to whatever strange rites still followed in the deserted valleys of the Sierra Bética. He decided to ask Carmen about it, but found no occasion and then, somehow, he forgot. When he asked her on Sunday she gazed at him, her face a strange mixture of fear and joy. “No me preguntas” – don’t ask, she said and turned away. Later she acted as if there had never been anything to disturb her.

 

After the evening treat of queso manchego, tomatoes, white bread and red wine, he sat on the little terrace at the far end of the finca’s court, trying to play some flamenco airs on Michael’s cedarwood guitar. At first his fingers were ill at ease with the instrument and the chords seemed flat and impure. But it didn’t take too long for his hands to nimbly work the strings and the valley filled with music, almost unearthly, as it didn’t seem to have a distinctive source. His flamenco was just there. Starting with a suffering Ayee-ya-eeh, he sang a moorish melody to his playing, the words speaking about his painful courtship of Carmen, addressing the olive and almond trees on the barren terraced mountains, and it was as if they lowered their branches to listen. He told them that he saw himself as a dead cat in the street, his trail of blood a shining path to hell, and he sang that his love was a stillborn cry which had never seen the mountains - mi amor es la eclipse de un grito que nunca a visto las montañas. When he had finished and started to adjust the instrument’s tuning, he heard footsteps coming towards him from the dark beneath the palm trees. It must be Carmen. And there she was, the fiery apparition of a mystical woman, conjured up from the unknown by the sound of his music and “duende”, the charm and charisma of his performance. Carmen must have already been to bed as she did not wear her usual dress. She had only slipped into a pair of black shoes braced by a golden band and had thrown a black, richly embroidered mantón de Manila around her body - nothing more.

 

Carmen walked up to him, stopping a few steps short. She looked at him with eyes of black fire, threw her head back and put on the haughtiest face a man had ever seen. St Cyr sank beneath her power like a stone, but he pressed “baila, baila mi” from his lips and started to play. Killing him softly with a look no one had ever seen before, Carmen reluctantly began to move, with a tense grace, commanding and dominating empires with the faint movement of her little finger. She moved herself into stomping out a flamenco, drumming the power of passion from the tiled floor, her body in transports twirling, twisting as if seized by lustful longing, and her hands swiftly flying around her, writing all tales of love and death into the warm air of the Andalusian summer night. St Cyr’s eyes were stabbed by short glimpses of her perfect and tanned body which he caught when the mantón was too slow to follow Carmen’s movements and left her beauty exposed for the fraction of a second. Long enough, however, to work on the crack inside him, more forceful than frost and water or the powerful thrust of a stonecutter’s wedge. He lost all sense of time and only stopped when he felt that he was unable to strum out one more chord.

 

Carmen stood before him, panting, piercing him with her eyes, expressing a perfectly balanced mixture of love and hate. St Cyr put the guitar down, got up cautiously and gently moved towards her, slowly walking the four steps necessary to zero the distance between them. His eyes still fixed to hers he put his arms around her, lowered his head, and closing his eyes he kissed her slightly parted lips. He was electrifed, a slashing sensation of red heat shot through his head. A deep blackness fell around him, which was only lightened by and by through streams of shining plasma, which re-energized his body. When he let her go, finally, she enforced the parting by gently pushing his arms away from her. She beamed a short smile, flashed her black diamond eyes and whispered “buenas noches”, put on her haughty air again and was almost instantly swallowed by the dark mountain night.

 

The next week saw some sweet moments of tenderness and growing intimacy between the two. He fed her bananas from the local crop, oranges and cherries. There was laughter, there were kisses and caresses. He told her many times “te quiero” and she laughed, obviously in serious doubt whether to believe him or not. As the week draw to a close, Carmen became noticeably more tense. Not that she pushed him away, she simply was not in the light mood she had been in the days before. There was a kind of gloom about her. Only sometimes she would toss her head back and smile at him as if there had never been anything bad in this world.

 

Saturday morning saw Aniseto’s broom up above the arch again. Carmen came up the courtyard, and St Cyr stopped in her way at the door of the jacaranda room, looked her straight into her eyes, held her by the shoulders. “What is it, with Aniseto’s broom up the arch? Tell me, and no lies, please!” She looked scornfully at him, hissed “El alimón!”, tore away from him and was gone. “El alimón?” wondered St Cyr. He had heard about this strange kind of amusement, but he would never have thought that it would still be practiced at the end of the 20th Century. He couldn’t make much sense of it because it usually took place in a fully-fledged plaza de toros. The plaza de toros of nearby Almunecar was long gone, the nearest was at Motril, quite a few miles away. And there was no “alimón” for sure. Any place in the mountains wouldn’t be big enough. “El alimón” - that used to be a corrida, but a special one. No picadores. No banderilleros. Only two toreros, but without a muleta, the crimson cloth. The two toreros face the unweakened bull together, one of the two serving as a living muleta. They have to be harmony in perfection, understand each other without words - otherwise it could be the death of both. The last real alimón had probably taken place some time before the last war. So it struck St Cyr as strange that Carmen should mention it. His senses heightened, he noticed that the people of the finca vanished. They did not leave as they did on the other days, the just disappeared. Except of course for the guests - they didn’t notice anything and kept on moulding their clay and splashing watercolour on to rough surfaced white paper in mournful caricature of the natural beauty of the surroundings. When it had become almost dark, St Cyr decided to look for the possible mountain alimón. He passed through the pink door at the north end of the garden, followed a narrow footpath up a steep and terraced hill which had not been cultivated for at least five years, the partly walled terraces being in the first stage of decay. He climbed up to the half derelict, deserted finca on the top of the nearest hill, imperfectly protected by a circle of fruit-bearing opuntias. Behind the one-room deep building he looked over the mountain landscape slowly sinking into the night’s soothing blackness. And when a slight and tender movement of a somewhat cooler air gingerly stroked a lock on his forehead, he imagined it was the touch of the tip of the wing of mother night flying by - and he realized he would never know which of her two children he would meet.

 

Looking over the nightly landscape of the southern Sierra Bética he noticed the shine of fire a few hills further north. He hesitated for a moment, but then set forth towards it, stumbling over stones and occasionally stinging his legs on a cactus he had not seen in the dark. Sometimes he lost sight of the fiery shine, when he was in the deep bottom of the many little criss-crossing valleys. Then, after having reached another hilltop, he saw it bright and clear. He even thought he heard voices crying ­Hóla! or ­Olé! or some local expression unknown to him. There wasn’t any music to be heard, however. It was pitch dark when he was halfway up the last hill hiding the source of the fiery light from his eyes. He renewed his efforts and made it to the top of the hill only to find that there wasn’t any light anymore. He stood upon the highest hill of the area, pumping cool mountain air into his panting lungs, looked around in full circle and all he could see was the darkest black, so deep and fathomless even the stars in the clear sky were unable to light it. There he stood, the veritable emperor of nothing, king of the void, the lord of emptiness. He remained motionless for a while, then sat down on the ground, resting from disillusionment and labour, making the hill the very throne of the realm of failure. He had no wish of going back down to the finca. He was bent to spend the night on the barren mountain. Only half cosy on his bed of dry grass, dirt and gravel, looking into the starriest of nights, his thoughts circled around Carmen, but were disturbed by the distant sound of many feet marching downhill, some hushed voices. He even thought he recognized Carmen’s voice, but at the same time he realized that it was more likely that his senses and his imagination had conspired to fool him. The faint sounds dwindled into silence. He did not notice that his thoughts had long turned into dreams.

 

The chill of the morning woke him early. The world around him was grey and misty. He stretched himself, like a cat will do sometimes, then began his way back to San Rafael. Carmen came running towards him as he appeared in the frame of the pink door. “¨De onde vienes? - Where have you been?” He told her. She shook her head in disbelief, took him by the hand an lead him to the little terrace where she had danced for him. Yes, she confessed. There had been an “alimón” last night. But of a different kind. She wouldn’t tell, however, what it exactly was. He would find out in time. Or maybe better not. It had been held quite near where he had been. He would have reached the place had he not climbed up and down the hills but taken the old cart-road instead, which lead away from the finca only to hit the ancient road to Granada after a few miles. Before that, it took a turn into a small flat area - that was the place. It would , however, be dangerous for him to watch the “alimón” - it was an illegal practice and those involved in it preferred to keep the circle of aficionados under control. “But how do you get a bull up there?” Carmen laughed, and her laughter rang with the silky seam of precious pearls. She told him that it was not an alimón with bulls but with hombres - men. St Cyr was shocked. She described it, as she felt she had to, his desire to know more about it was too strong to be neglected. She told him that there was a ring marked by four fires. Four people would stand in the middle  - two against two. Two with a long knife, the other two their living shields, unarmed, unprotected. The only protection they had was their intuitive understanding of each other, the oneness of the two - and, of course, that the knife bearers were not allowed to stab them - or they would lose money or the fight. Bets would be placed on the fighting pairs, high amounts of pesetas - the winning pair could, on occasions, take more money than a year’s honest wages. More she would not disclose. “Come and see, but at your own risk. Don’t let yourself be seen.” The rest of week was fresh love’s bliss for St Cyr, only occasionally disturbed by thoughts of what Carmen would do at “el alimón” and why she would want to go there.

 

The last week of his stay at San Rafael drew to a close. Carmen had her occasional instants of gloom and a slight but noticeable uneasiness about her. He had asked her to make love together, and that he was willing to try to put their two fates together. “Maybe tomorrow” had been her answer. Carmen had disappeared on Friday, even before Aniseto’s broom had found its traditional Saturday place above the entrance arch. St Cyr was nervous the whole time. When the awaited evening came at last, he hurried out of the pink door and scrambled up the hill to the deserted finca. Night fell as he reached the turn of the cart-road. He set his steps more carefully, anxious not to make a sound. He began to hear voices, shouts of excitement came floating through the space between the hills. There was the flickering shine of fire on the rocky wall of a big hill on the right. He approached slowly, in perfect silence. The suddenly the view opened and showed him the scene he had hoped to see: A flat area, a square patch marked by lines of stones and brightly burning fires at each corner. Maybe a hundred people gathering around the ramshackle arena, their faces shining in ghostly hues in the light of the fires. There were four people in the middle of the pit, young men, in their late twenties or early thirties, so it seemed to him. Their bodies in full tension, moving about circularly in pairs, around each other, eyeing each other with painful concentration, a wild and untamed glow in their faces. The man walking behind the other held a long, shiny knife in his hand, switching it from right to left, jabbing it and jerking it forward in order to stab the other one. They could not run away, as their bodies were bound together by a strong leather rope at the hips. The unarmed men served as living shields, indeed, protecting the knife-bearer from the stabs of the other, which he had to stop short of the protector - if not, he was in danger of losing, either money or the whole game. It was a hallucinating scene. The deadly tension between the fighters and the occasional shouts of excitement, the tangible presence of bloodshed and death, the night and the dramatic illumination of the fires all added up to a formidable experience of extreme existence.

 

The lightning jabs with the shiny knife of the fighters became more frequent, but seemed less controlled. One of the knife-bearers wore a pair of white trousers, the other man’s were grey. The grey-trousered fighter suddenly jerked himself forward to stab the other, but the protector threw himself in the way, but too fast, or too late, for the stabber to stop the jab short. A painful distortion disfigured the stabbed protector’s face. A red spot appeared on the shirt on his chest, there were moans of disappointment among the spectators. But the fight went on. An old man, obviously some kind of umpire, shouted something St Cyr did not understand, and, making some equally incomprehensible gestures, showed a white stone in his hand, holding it up into the air for everybody to see. A few jabs later, the protector of the white-trousered fighter was stabbed a second time - his once white shirt gradually becoming more and more of a wet-coloured red one. But still the fight went on. The grey fighter had become nervous, it seemed, as nervous were his tries to get at the other. The white fighter almost touched the grey’s protector a few times, but every time he had managed to stay a fraction of an inch away from the man’s skin, rewarded by appreciative murmurs from the ghostly crowd. St Cyr noticed that he could only see men, although he was convinced that he had heard female voices. There didn’t seem to be any women near the pit, let alone Carmen. He looked around several times, safely hidden in the deep dark between the rocks. When he turned his eyes to the fight again, he saw the grey fighter making a nervous move and stab the white fighter’s protector a third time. A cry of angry disappointment filled the air, the umpire tossed up a third stone and the fighters left the arena, the wounded protector was lead a few yards away and his wounds seemed to be treated, but St Cyr was unable to make out whether by men or by women.

 

Four more men entered the square. A red and a brown fighter, two protectors in white. The red fighter’s face showed a long scar on the left cheek - starting almost under the ear and stretching up to the forehead. It had probably been a small wonder that the jab of the knife in that fight in the past had spared his eye. The four went about their business furiously, their faces gleaming with power and energy, hatred and disgust. It was quite obvious that this was not just a fight for money, there definitely was more to it than met the eye. The brown fighter threw his knife into his left hand behind the back of his shiny white protector and thrust it forward in a flash, catching the red one and his protector unawares. The silvery steel vanished full length in the red fighter’s chest. A cry of excitement rose like a giant wave, also St Cyr had cried out loud in terror and excitement. All of a sudden there were torches all around him and he found himself detected - surrounded by men with dark faces grimly staring at him, the intruder, unwanted witness to their vicious entertainment. They held him with strong arms. The excitement of the discovery of an intruder had completely superseded the excitement of death. The cries dwindled to murmurs, and St Cyr did not know what was going on. After what seemed to him an eternity, the old umpire came up to him and explained something to him in Andalusian Spanish. He did not understand all the old man said, but he understood as much as that he had to fight for his life. He was led into the ring and tied to the brown-clad winner of the last fight with the strong leather rope at the end of the red loser, the leather still wet with the dead fighter’s blood. The white protector took his place in front of the brown fighter, St Cyr faced the two alone. Looking around he only saw darkness and fire, the spectators blending with the surroundings to form four impenetrable walls holding him captive in this Spanish mountain nightmare. The umpire asked, in a hoarse and high-pitched voice if there was anybody wanting to act as the protector of the intruder. Obviously nobody pitied him and wanted to risk his health for the stranger. The umpire asked again - and got an answer. Carmen appeared out of the darkness, raising a tide of unbelieving murmur around the arena she stepped towards him. She gave him an uninterpretable look - it seemed her eyes were more piercing than ever, yet covered with a crystal lid like a dangerously deep well. She took her position in front of him, almost touching him with her back. The umpire walked towards them and placed a long knife into St Cyr’s right hand. He knew that this was the unexpected moment of truth.

                                                

 

 

 

 

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