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Open Book

Author Jessie Burton explores Andalucía, the Spanish region that not only inspired her new novel, but the creativity of countless other writers and artists, from Picasso to Hemingway

@jesskatbee

IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ALAMEDA APODACA in Cádiz Old Town, a stately promenade where bougainvillea glows against the sky and the floor tiles span like a game of chess, a poet’s plinth stands bare. The statue – one Carlos Edmundo de Ory, local man, international post-modernist – has jumped down towards the sea, an act of irreverence that encapsulates this city perfectly. Deep in his bronze jacket are carved these words: the poet is a rooster of the dusk.

Fishing boats bob in the water close to Cádiz Old Town
PHOTOGRAPHS PHILIP LEE HARVEY @philipleeharvey

As a region, Andalucía is just as paradoxical as the poetry it creates; a place of both hot coasts and cold mountains, with a spirit that has always attracted artistic pilgrims, or birthed them – Picasso and Lorca to name two more. Its rhythm of life is topsy-turvy and anarchic; the effect of its landscapes upon the imagination insidious and cumulative. Such was the powerful relationship Picasso had with it, that even after years of self-imposed exile in France, he returned to its images near the time of his death. I used to live here too, absorbing so much from its scenes that it became the backdrop for my second novel. But what is it about Andalucía that makes it so alluring?

Students from the music school in Cádiz enjoy a lunchtime break.

Often overlooked and a hair’s breadth from the Moroccan coast, turn down any street in Cádiz and the sea is everywhere. The English writer, Laurie Lee, wrote how it is ‘a city of sharp incandescence, a scribble of white on a sheet of blue glass, sparkling with African light.’ The glittering waters have constructed Cádiz, literally and figuratively – sea trading with the Americas and Indies once made it the wealthiest city in Spain. Practically an island, it is only attached to the peninsula by the narrowest of natural roads; any minute it might float from your grasp. It is also the birthplace of the country’s notion of liberty. Here, in 1812, the first Constitution was signed, and the flow of foreigners to the port gave it both a cosmopolitan air and a legacy of socialist activism that survives. Seville might be grander, Granada still shows its Arabic roots, but Cádiz is the home of carnaval and salted, satiric joy.

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