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London, Rediscovering My City: Into the Wimbledon Wilderness

It’s been well over a year since I first discovered Wimbledon Common, despite its location but a few tube stops down from my humble abode. But even then, our walk straight through the wilderness did not betray the full extent of rurality (is that a word?!) which is retained in this mid-urban idyll. A recent revisit changed all that. Dragging my visiting mother in turn, we wandered back into Wimbledon Common to discover anew a bucolic enclave mere miles from one of the world’s most developed capital cities.

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Taking random turnings off the horse-beaten paths, we found ourselves delving deeper into denser forest, whose clearings became scarcer as bounteous ferns filled the forest floor, and nettles and wild berries crept up in between them. It was one of those late summer days that dreams are made of… The sun was tempered by a honeycomb filter and tree trunks were spattered intermittently with the resultant golden light.

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We got ourselves lost quite successfully and could have imagined that London was another country away were it not for our sudden emergence onto a neatly trimmed golf course in the middle of all this beauty. While not exactly detracting from the aesthetics, angry pompous golf fanatics did not take kindly to our pausing on their path to take photos and admire the scenery. The photos in this post are thus a fingers-up to their absurd pomposity, and a nod to the nature which, after all, dominates their frolics and makes them a mere oddity, secondary to the glory of the landscape.

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Eventually we found our way out and back into Wimbledon Village where afternoon tea awaited. We may have loved the hours we spent disconnected from all civilisation, but were nonetheless grateful that urbanity never lay too far from reach… were it not for mobile phone connectivity, we may well have never found our way out of that forest jungle!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

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My Travel Sketchbook: Ancient Rubble in Jerez Cathedral

Having dusted off the pages of my travel sketchbook twice now this summer, once in Crete and again in Cadiz, I was on a roll, and it felt only natural that I would get drawing again once we had arrived in Jerez. However, while a natural choice for a sketch might have been the impressive baroque dome of the city’s Cathedral, rising over the skyline, or perhaps a barrel or three at one of Jerez’s famous bodegas, my attention was caught by a pile of ancient rubble looking rather abandoned in a corner of some sunny cloisters, hidden at the back of the Cathedral.

I can’t tell you how the rubble came to be in the Cathedral, nor exactly how ancient it is, but the splendid mix of lines and angles, dimensions and textures was a real temptation for me, and I set to work almost immediately, taking great care over the shadows cast and the rough texture remaining from these once fine architectural elements.

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Ancient Rubble, Jerez de la Frontera (©2018 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

The result is a sketch which shows very little of Jerez itself, but certainly captures something of the historically rich, often dilapidated fabric of this beautiful Andalucian city. And for that reason alone, it seems like an appropriate note on which to end this series on Cadiz and Jerez… until Southern Spain beckons again. It won’t be long in coming.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

Compendium // Jerez > Temples of Faith

Never far from Jerez’s Temples of Sherry are places of worship of a different kind. Despite being characterised by a very definite Islamic influence, Jerez’s skyline is  dominated by the many majestic Catholic buildings which have come to define the city. Chief amongst them is the monumental Cathedral, reached via a large sweeping staircase and combining both Baroque and Renaissance features. The interior is extravagantly decorated akin to many such cathedrals all over Spain, and its mighty Dome, centered over the main transept, is embellished with glorious bas-reliefs of the Evangelists and can be seen for miles around.

Jerez Cathedral

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But Jerez’s Cathedral is chief amongst many Catholic masterpieces peppered throughout the city, and had we not spent such a disproportionate time lolling joyfully in sherry bodegas and accompanying wine bars, we might have been able to visit extravagant church aplenty.

One highlight we did get to, and well worth the mention, were the serene Cloisters of Santo Domingo. With their perfectly balanced gothic arches framing a courtyard garden today used for events and performances, the cloisters offered a peaceful and cool retreat from the heat and bustle of Jerez and were, in many ways, more beautiful to behold than the Cathedral. While recent events meant that the central garden was full of piles of plastic chairs, for me and my camera, these chairs became a feature of artistic interest in themselves, adding interest to my snapshots of this most harmonious of catholic buildings.

The Cloisters of Santo Domingo

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And with free entrance to boot, what better retreat for an aching head once the sherry tastings are over and out? 

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Folio // Jerez > Sherry Streets and Shady Squares

My second Folio presents Jerez, city of squares and fountains, cobbled streets and cosy quaint cafes. Few visitors to the city would deny that it is perfectly picturesque. Jerez conveys so much of what we tourists have come to think of as the archetype Spanish city that I wonder how it came to be that Jerez falls under the shadow of Seville, Cordoba and Granada. Such is the result of a region whose cities are each, in their own way, a spectacle. It’s like when you have an art gallery with walls crammed floor to ceiling with gems – there are so many masterpieces there, that you miss out on most in order to concentrate on just one or two.

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Determined that Jerez would be our focus on this occasion, we lost no time in exploring its consistently beautiful alleys and avenues. Cluttered with sherry-barrel bar tables, cafe umbrellas seeking in vain to keep out the heat, souvenir shops spilling onto sidewalks exhibiting polka dots aplenty, Jerez is nevertheless a city whose every facet appears to be perfectly ordered and camera ready. Building facades do not just crack – they age gracefully like a fading Hollywood star, while alongside them, sprawling palm tree leaves fan languidly and frame each image with their tropical elegance. In wide avenues, shops give way to wrought iron benches and potted flowers, while lamp posts twist and curve with avant garde excellence, and fountains compete with one another, sploshing and splashing their way across the city’s grandest squares.

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Jerez is a city built largely in beige. It is not terribly green, but instead its attraction translates from the sunny disposition of its golden facades and ancient marble finishings. Wandering from one square to the next, you will stumble across colonnades befitting the Florentine Renaissance, and extravagant Catholic iconography worthy of Rome. All this will run alongside the simplest of neighbourhood tapas bars, where flamenco guitarists play emotionally in the corner over lunch. Tired, lazy, but elegant in its languor, Jerez in the summer is a city which reflects its own sunshine; a place whose excesses of daytime heat are transmitted into the passion of its dance and music by night, and in the deep amber sparkle of its Sherry at all hours.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Folio // Jerez > El Alcázar y su entorno

In putting together something of a Folio of images which capture the spirit of Jerez de la Frontera – the city of our current focus of The Daily Norm – I struggled to limit these to a single post. For lovers of Spain (like me), and in particular the visceral, emotionally impactful region of Andalucia (especially me), Jerez is a true exemplar. With its sherry bars, flamenco tablas, white washed houses and cobbled streets filled with barrel bar tables, grand fountains and grander women fanning themselves in the balmy shadows, a single shot from Jerez could be a postcard image for the whole region. So with the need to split my Folio in two, this first selection focuses in on the Alcázar and its surroundings. 

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Any Andalucian city worth its salt will have an Alcázar or similar memorial to the region’s spectacular Moorish past. Rising in the 11th century, the Alcázar of Jerez bears all of the hallmarks of the time of Al Andaluz, with its horseshoe arches, trickling floor-level fountains, and a garden shaded with citrus trees and perfumed by jasmine. As per the intention of its Moorish creators, the gardens of these Arabic palaces are always the highlight of any visit, inviting the visitor into a slice of paradise on earth. Yet even this garden could not entice us in the 40+ degrees heat which coincided with our visit. No comfort could be found in the shade of those poor burning orange trees. We sought solace instead in the cavernous ancient baths with their blissfully darkened interiors and cool stone walls. 

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Heat aside, there is no doubting the beauty of Jerez’s Alcázar. Being relatively simple in design and largely rebuilt, it is no match for the glories of Granada’s Alhambra, but it resonates with a similar atmosphere of tranquility and meticulous balance. Beyond its fortress walls, the ancient city unfolds, and intoned in the same butterscotch colours, Jerez’s great gothic Cathedral rises spectacularly into ever-blue skies, while just beyond, against a landscape of patchwork fields and windmills, the great weather vane of the nearby Gonzalez Byass bodegas tells of another fortress for the modern age, built of row upon row of French and American oak barrels, containing that priceless nectar: sherry. 

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Jerez > Temples of Sherry

From Cádiz, we move (not so swiftly) on to Jerez de la Frontera, a city a mere 30 minute drive from Cádiz, yet falling under no shadow but its own in the notoriety stakes. For Jerez is a city with its own story to tell, not least in respect of the alcoholic beverage which very much put the city on the map and which is named after an Anglicisation of Jerez itself – Sherry. While inherently synonymous with its deeply authentic Andalucian feel, by its flamenco tablas and its famous dancing horses, few can deny the starring role which the city’s globally-recognised fortified wine has to play. Indeed, upon alighting at Jerez’s decorative blue and white tiled station, the first thing we saw beyond the train platforms was a large pile of sherry barrels, while in the air, every so often, we were greeted by the unmistakable waft of wine-soaked oak.

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Our visit to Jerez coincided with searing, desperately intense heat. It was like an inferno, and no shade nor fountain could provide relief from the roasting thrust of temperatures in the mid-40s. Yet relief was to be had, in the dark shady vaults and cellars of the sherry houses and ancient bodegas peppered all over town, providing additional temptation to spend several hours indulging in the city’s favourite nectar. While our first taste of the amber wine was the homemade brand – Bodega Casa del Marques – whose bodega adjoined our hotel (the Casa Palacio Jerezana) and where we had a very special one-to-one tasting with the proprietor on the night of our arrival, the second encounter was with easily the most recognisable sherry brands of them all – Tio Pepe.

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With its charismatic logo, a bottle decked in red sombrero, matching jacket and guitar, Tio Pepe is just as common on a supermarket shelf in London as it is in Jerez. But in the Bodegas of Gonzales Byass (proprietors of the brand), we were able to appreciate like never before the scale of this global operation. Stretching across acres of land in the very centre of the city, the bodega tour (which owing to distance covered included a ride on a Tio Pepe-red trenino) was an education for even the most familiar of sherry connoisseurs. From mammoth vaults storing countless hundreds of wine-stained barrels, to shady courtyards covered with vines, the Bodega exhibited something of the unreal in its atmosphere of calm but industrious production imbued with a winey perfume and a debonnair flair. There was also plenty of proof that we were not alone in visiting this flagship bodega – barrels signed by countless celebrity visitors were in evidence across the site, including the signature of Margaret Thatcher, Prince Philip and Jean Cocteau.

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A sherry connoisseur I cannot claim to be, so the tasting at the tour’s climax, with its introduction to the different grades of dry Finos and Manzanilla, complex Amontillado and Oloroso, rounded and nutty Palo Cortado and sweet Cream and Pedro Ximénez, was a true highlight. Dangerous though. Intoxicated by the heady mix of sherry varieties, the passage through the gift shop to the exit proved to be a taxing experience, something which had no doubt been planned by the tour organisers. But now that I am back in London, that swiftly purchased bottle of Palo Cortado has the immediate and tangible power to transform us back to those delightfully cool, intoxicating bodegas. The must-do destination of any visitor to Jerez. 

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Cádiz > Ascending Santa Cruz Cathedral

We continue our little tour of Cádiz, Spain’s maritime bastion, with something of a bird’s eye view, or as close as you can come to one in a city which, unusually for Spain, is pretty flat. This leavened geography is of course the result of the city’s seaside location, which is never more obvious than when seen from above – the deep blues of the ocean marking an omnipresent collaboration with Cádiz’s own sea of white washed houses and earthy beige rooftops. Affording us this view was one of two towers either side of the mighty facade of Cádiz’s iconic cathedral – the Catedral de Santa Cruz de Cádiz, whose ascent was happily assisted by the presence of a gently spiraling slope, rather than the usual steep staircase of hell characteristic of most bell towers.  This meant a relatively easy rise to the heady heights of the Cathedral rooftops, even in temperatures of 35c+.

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Built in the city’s golden age of the 18th century with money resulting from the thriving new trade between Spain and the Americas, the Cathedral is an impressive focal point of the city. Presenting a mix of neoclassical and baroque elements, the Cathedral is nonetheless characterised by the simpler tiled domes which complete the edifice, and which seem more attuned to a Greek Orthodox church than a magnificent Catholic Cathedral. From the top of the bell tower, those domes were more visible than ever, and the child within me was thrilled as ever to be enjoying this unique perspective of the Cathedral, cracks, moss and all, and to be up where the birds nest, and where the small details of rooftop decoration became larger than life before our very eyes.

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Visiting the Cathedral is a must of Cádiz, but those expecting a spectacular interior may be disappointed to find much of the inside given over to a museum, and the huge vaulting ceilings slowly deteriorating, falling plaster being caught by a web of unsightly nets. My tip is therefore to stay on the outside and ascend the bell towers for the city’s most unbeatable views. It’s the best way to appreciate the scale and magnificence of this iconic building, but likewise to take in Cadiz as a unified landscape, sprawling out beneath you, a city collective bustling with people… for whom the bell tolls.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Folio // Cádiz > Idiosyncratic sea-ringed city

Every Spanish city has something unique in its character. In Seville, the essence of Andalucian vivacity pervades the air along with the sweet perfume of bitter oranges. In Barcelona, the hard lines of a modern city are massaged by the curves of art nouveau and the mosaics of Gaudi. Madrid is the regal, historical heart of a truly Spanish peninsula, while Bilbao feels altogether colder, more industrial but uniquely avant-garde. Cádiz is another of those highly individual urban spaces. It is at once truly Andaluz, with bursts of flamenco music sporadically enchanting the airwaves, and dry heat wafting up from pavements of hard stone and marble, but at the same time it feels different, hardened by an important maritime history, isolated by its solitary geography at the end of a narrow sand isthmus, eroded by winds, battered by foreign invasions.

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There is a definite laziness about the city, especially in the summer. Squares sheltered by trees and attracting cafes alongside fountains are vital resting places for a population baked by soaring temperatures and battered by winds meeting from the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. But there is a defiance too – long narrow streets, with houses almost touching across the road, crowd in upon one another as though protecting the population from yet another invasion. Sometimes walking there it seemed like the streets would go on, unceasingly, for hundreds of metres, before they finally broke out into a pleasant leafy square or opened up onto the impressive facade of a church or historical mansion. 

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Cádiz for me did not feel truly Spanish. Of course it exhibited elements of Andalucia, sharing characteristics of nearby Malaga, and other coastal towns. But Cadiz also exhibited a certain aloofness, an unwillingness to embrace, but to greet with a colder yet still welcome smile, as visitors are invited to unpeel the multiple layers of history in one of Europe’s longest occupied cities in order to find the true spirit of Cádiz beneath them all. 

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

My Travel Sketchbook: The Parque Genovés

The curves, the twirls, the uninhibited wonder of the topiary of the Parque Genovés could not help but sew the seeds of creation in my head. From one creator to another, the spirit of free and unhindered artistry traversed the air like pollen flying on a Summer’s breeze. Within minutes of entering this verdant wonderland I put pen to paper, and this was the result.

Sat on a bench in this hallway of manicured box-hedge, it was difficult to feel totally at ease. Somehow those twisted and tailored trees took on an anthropomorphic quality; like statesman gathering for a discussion of grave national import. Yet at the same time, the quality of the air, filtered through a haze of botanical layering, and the sound of nearby birds fluttering from one crafted bush to another, induced a somniferous sense of tranquility which pervaded the moment, and this sketch.

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The Parque Genovés, Cadiz (©2018, Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

Lucky I had my trusty travel sketchbook with me to capture this scene. As gardens go, the Parque Genovés is a true mark of humankind getting creative with nature, and nature seemingly condescending to the mark of beauty which ensnares it.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

Compendium // Cádiz > Bounteous Botany: Alice’s new Wonderland

What was I expecting of Cádiz, Andalucia’s strange, almost island city, set within ancient fortress walls on the Westernmost end of Spain’s Southern coast? Not this. I imagined a tough, worn-out yellow city, battered by the waves of the sea and of history; hardened edges, hardened people. I never even considered the softness that may lie within.

Yet  after a 3 hour bus journey, which took us through a landscape peppered with new power-generating windmills exhibiting something strangely melancholy, yet unique in the surrounding landscape, we arrived into a city which was very different from the Cádiz of my imaginings.  Yes, the city is substantially fortified, a facet of strength exhibited by its mighty domed Cathedral and tight narrow streets, large merchant palacios each built topped with solid stone towers. But what I wasn’t expecting was the greenery: the softening of those fortress edges with a bounteous outpouring of tropical botany and verdant greenery.

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Almost all along the old fortress walls that encase the city you can stroll within the shelter and under the sun-dappled canopy of a multitude of trees set within gardens paved in a checkerboard effect of black and white. In the Jardines de Alameda Apodaca, there is a real sense of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland as you stride between the squares of black and white, pondering whether you are in fact part of an enigmatic chess game, the various sculptures and busts peppering the space providing the pieces… or are they the players? For the victor, what worthier prize than gardens abundant with flamingo pink bougainvillea, or those tree-framed views over the volatile ocean – a heady mix of blue punctuating the jungle of greens.

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Make it safely through the garden’s game of chess, and the next space steps up the surreality of the experience one notch further. For in the Parque Genovés, you will truly start to wonder whether you have entered another Cádiz park, or into the warped imaginings of a garden genius. Possibly both. For here, a botanical garden is spruced up as though for a masquerade ball, with long pathways bordered by topiary plucked, trimmed and trained to form impressive twists, twirls and curving figures which take the ephemeral magic of this garden space to new levels. Alice had surely reached her Wonderland with this one.

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A morning or an afternoon spent strolling through Cádiz’s gardens is an utterly fulfilling experience. Cádiz does not feel like a particularly fast-paced city, but in its gardens, things grind to a somniferous halt as the surreal shapes and near-claustrophobic intensity of the planting opens up another world of the imaginings. For something a little more bustling, head for the Plaza de Mina – a delightful shady park/square lined with little cafes and containing little antique kiosks which have been transformed variously into sweet shops and bookstores. Then there’s the Plaza Candelaria – another leafy plaza, where some of the city’s best restaurants can be found. But more about that another time.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.