2003-08-01

Concurso de Vejer

The concurso started at 9 in the morning like most but I didnt arrive until nearly eleven because thats when the earliest bus arrives there. My plan was to paint something outside of town with the hilltop white village as a backdrop. I hiked up the hill from the bus stop to check in and the officials approved and stamped my blank white canvas. Afterwards, I headed to the other side of town, passing and chatting with several other artists whom had already begun to paint, where I found a seemingly abandoned road out the other side of town from where I came. I hoped the road would offer me some splendid view of the city along the way. It travelled down, alongside a hill which appeared as if it would have the view I wanted so I looked for ways to cut across but found nothing. I ended up back in the bottom of the valley where it looked as if I could hike past the back side of the hill and then ascend from the other side. I followed the highway, carrying my duffel and a small backpack full of my paints, palette, jars, brushes, easel, water, lunch etc. and my canvas measuring nearly one meter square. I learned in my first concurso that the canvases need to be large or they are too easily passed over by the judges. I reached a break in the brush along the highway where I cut through and started to climb up. The reddish dirt was soft and dry and the dried thorny brush scratched fiercely at my legs and it seemed that for each step up, I slid back a half step. As the hill steepened my progress slowed. Finally, I was grasping tree trunks and shrubs to keep from sliding back down the hill. After a half hour of zig zagging and numerous falls, I had only made climbed about 50meters of elevation, the dry dirt gluing itself to the sweat dripping from my arms and face. I took a break to ponder my progress and realized that to reach the top was impossible. I headed back down, at one point tossing my canvas and my bags rolling down in front of me to keep from falling myself. Back on the highway, I headed back past where I started. I stopped to chat with two motorcycle cops hiding from the heat in the shade along the road and they agreed that it was impossible to climb the mountains in the area, but that maybe I‘d find something further down the road. Further down the road, I came across a field with an abandoned stone house in ruins in the middle. The picturesque town of Vejer looked down from high on the hill behind. It was a private property but I didn?t see anyone so I jumped the chain link fence. The ground at the bottom of the property was wet and turned to sludge as I crossed it, sinking in past my ankles. Around that time, I realized how badly the sludge smelled and decided not to imagine why the ground here was soaking wet on the middle of a blistering hot day. I made it through and headed up the hill to the stone house. As I neared the roofless house, I realized it was occupied - by goats! Some 20 or more goats stopped what they were doing and looked out at me and I at them. They were more than I, so I conceded the house to them and I headed across to the far side of the field under an olive tree. I did a few sketches and started painting at half past noon, knowing that I had lost nearly two hours of painting time to the other artists. It was so hot that my brushes nearly burned my hands and they were in the shade. After a few hours, the goats left the house and walked in a line about half way to where I was painting and stared at me as if I was occupying their favorite afternoon spot. I didn‘t retreat this time, and after staring at me for 20 minutes or so, they returned to the house and left me alone the rest of the day except for glaring at me occasionally. I won this battle but the real battle was on the canvas. Around 3:30 I finished the last of my liter and a half of water and I knew I had to finish painting quick. I did. I packed up my things and started to hike the remaining 3 kilometers up the steep road back into Vejer. I had to stop several times - feeling faint from the heat and the lack of water. Around 4:30 I walked into town my arms covered with dirt and my feet covered in mud and hardly able to breath or talk because my mouth was so dry. But I had made it and I gulped down nearly half a liter of water and sat in the shade of a palm next to a grand fountain. Some workers came by looking at the painting and chatting about the ola de calor (heat wave). It was something like 42 (107 F)degrees with high humidity and it was the worst they?d seen in perhaps ten years or so. After recovering a bit and cleaning up a bit with water from the fountain, I made my way back to a bar and had a beer in a bar with no air conditioning. I would have had another too, if I hadn‘t been sweating so badly. Instead I found a place to wait in the shade outside and at 5:30 when the office opened after siesta, I submitted my painting. Skipping the judging which was to occur at 8pm, I caught a ride back to Cadiz with an artist whom I had met in another concurso a month earlier. Too tired to eat, I showered and passed out on my bed only to be woken by my phone around ten oclock. It was the officials from the concurso and they wanted to know if I could come the next night to pick up my prize because I had received a special mention, something along the lines of second or third place since in this concurso, there only was one other prize. After four concursos and a lot of travelling, I had something to write home about.