Starcat 1 by my favourite artist

Sunday, 7 September 2014

From El Puerto de Santa María to Cádiz and A Bit of French for Good Measure

El Puerto de Santa María, bathed by the Guadalete, is another Sherry town, approximately 5 miles across the bay of Cádiz from the eponymous city. Today El Puerto, like Jerez and Sanlúcar de Barrameda, is full of mouldering wineries waiting for the next property boom to be turned into des. res. flats for upper-class tourists and bijou shops idem. 

It is also famous for two 20th-century poets, Rafael Alberti[1] and Jose Luis Tejada. As well as a poet, Alberti was quite a gifted painter, but unfortunately his oratory left quite a lot to be desired – let’s just say that when reading his own oeuvre he sounded like Leonard Cohen babbling through a particularly monotonous dirge - but without the ebullient Canadian’s burning passion and joie de vivre.

El Vaporcito in happier days, chuntering up the
Guadalete. Courtesy of
Anyhow, let’s cut to the chase. El Puerto has a regular ferry service to Cádiz, for more information click here. For a satellite image of the Bay of Cádiz, click here. This weekend, my Dark Lady who knows that I’m addicted to boat rides (there is nothing to beat a bracing ferry ride across the Mersey on a blustery winter’s day), treated me to a ferry ride to Cádiz. It was almost a decade since we had last made the journey on the Vaporcito, or Little Steamer, that used to ply the route.

And thereby hangs a rather sad and sorry tale. Launched in 1955, the wooden-hulled
El Vaporcito, afer its encounter with
a breakwater. Courtesy of El

 Vaporcito merrily transported passengers across the bay until August 2011 when it hit a breakwater, struggled pluckily into the port of Cádiz and sank – fortunately without loss of life or injury. A few days later it was raised and taken to a shipyard for repairs. The shipyard promptly went belly-up and the boat was seized by the yard’s creditors. Since then several attempts have been made to rebuild it, but Byzantine court cases among shareholders, the Regional Government and anyone else who cares to join in has left the Vaporcito literally high, if not completely dry.
El vaporcito, awaiting the decision of the courts.
Courtesy of Vanesa de la Cruz.

So today we went on one of the four catamarans that cross the bay (€5.30 return). All of them are modern, fibreglass vessels and are not of any real aesthetic interest. The interest lies in the crossing, not the medium. We wanted to do a Kate Winslet à la Titanic, but unfortunately the prow is permanently roped off.

Once out of the Guadalete, we got a magnificent view of the new cable-stayed bridge, La Pepa,  so called after the 1812 Spanish Constitution signed in  in Cádiz on March 19th, Saint Joseph’s day, Pepa being
View of La Pepa. Courtesy of Vanesa de la Cruz.
the nickname for
Josephine. In its time, La Pepa was the most progressive constitution in Europe. It even, gulp, gave women the vote! 

Cádiz was the only provincial capital not to fall into the hands of the French during the Peninsular War. As such, it became the temporary capital city of Spain. Under siege from the French on the landward side, the jolly Jack Tars of the Royal Navy kept maritime communications open. This is the historical backdrop to winner of the Crime Writers' Association's International Dagger, 
Arturo Pérez Reverte's best-selling and highly absorbing thriller El Asedio, in English The Siege

When finished, La Pepa will be the second bridge connecting the isthmus of Cádiz to the mainland. Immediately in front of us we could see the Muelle Pesquero de Cádiz basin which gives onto the lively Plaza San Juan de Dios presided over by Cádiz Town Hall.

This basin is also the port of call for cruise liners, as mentioned in a previous post and today we were lucky enough to see a sailing cruise ship, the Sea Cloud II from Valetta.

Sea Cloud II from Plaza San Juan de Dios
After coffee in the plaza and a walk around the city we wended our way back to the dock to get the boat back to El Puerto and thence home to Sanlúcar by car. Today, the views across the bay had been stunning – we could even see inland across the bay, past Rota, home to the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet, as far as the town of Trebujena[2], some 24 miles distant, and the wind turbines outside Sanlúcar. All in all, it was a most enjoyable day in the best of company. We hope to repeat the experience this winter when the crossing will be rougher. What could be more invigorating? 

[1] Alberti was an intimate friend of Dalí, Luis Buñuel and Lorca. This latter (when not dressing up as a nun and riding around the Barcelona trams with his aforementioned chums) would probably have faded into obscure mediocrity had he not been murdered in a rather savage manner by the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War, thus becoming  a martyr for left-wing trendies and a reliable cash cow for certain tousle-headed Irish academics. 
BTW, when making meatballs, Lorca's family cook would press the patties of meat in her armpits to give them that extra little je ne sais quoi.

[2] Trebujena's rice paddies were made famous in Spielberg’s film Empire of the Sun. What the viewer sees as a sunrise was, in fact, a sunset played backwards. It has to be said, though, that the town definitely looks better when there’s a good 24 miles' distance between it and yourself.


  1. I wrote my MA thesis on Lorca, specifically the dramas, and I can therefore say that his fame as a poet and playwright would have been safe even without his political assassination and - who knows? - even enhanced by the works the extra lifespan would have enabled.

    Later, during my teaching career, I found to my dismay that I had to teach Alberti to an A Level Spanish class. Finding him quite opaque, I was cheered up by a student, who happened to be Catholic, telling me that there was a visiting Spanish priest at his church who "knew everything about Alberti" and would be happy to communicate his knowledge. We would, however, have to elicit his wisdom by asking questions in writing. How do you formulate questions about something you do not understand? We cobbled something together and sent it off. In return we received a single sheet of trivialities that were no help at all.

    My days of teaching Spanish literature are, happily, well behind me. Alberti remains a closed book to me (both figuratively and literally) but I still have the handsome leather-bound Aguilar Obras Completas of Lorca on my bookshelf though it has lain for many a year unopened.

  2. As my post shows, Lorca is not saint of my devotion as they say in Spanish. As for Alberti, I can't stand his readings, yet when read (or sung) by others with a feeling for sound and rhythm, I find the rolling alliteration and rhythm of his poetry quite moving - although it is very easy to parody. If you can fibd them, I strongly recommend the works of Jose Luis Tejada. I have updated the post with a live link to the (now-defunct) Fundación Jose Luis Tejada which you can also find below: