By Chiara Ambrosio

(Published in a french translation as part of  “Le Terrain Comme Mise En Scene”, Presses Universitaires De Lyon, 2017

Edited by Bernard Muller, Caterina Pasqualino and Arnd Schneider)

I. To the orchard

It was not yet dawn when we got to the orchard in Caseria de Montijo.

At this hour of the night the ravine looked like a huge black hole, dense and impenetrable. An inverted universe, all-encompassing in its downward fugue.

To get here we had been walking the whole day and into the night, carrying the water we had taken from the Fuente de las Lagrimas through Viznar and Alfacar, walking steadily over the unquiet earth, past the scarred pale walls of the cemetery, over bridges and steep cobbled streets and out to the edges of Granada, where we now stood, tired and sleepless. At some point during the night we had separated and made plans to reconvene at dawn for the final descent, to deliver the murmuring water to the orchard, which was thirsty after a particularly scorching summer that had dried its river right up.

It was not yet dawn when we stood at the end of the city, at the frontier beyond which a new horizon had been dug out of the earth by humble hands and boundless imaginations. The earth, at least here, had been turned, and out of it new life had sprung.

The sky had not yet started to show its colour but rather lingered in a black instant that seemed eternal. But we knew we were at the end of night.

Yesterday we had traveled far: Santiago wore a white t-shirt with ripples that looked like water, Antonio's eyes had turned red in Viznar, and Oscar's thoughts wondered, as usual, somewhere between Mars and the stars.

When we had met them for the first time, they had been already on the road for some time.

Santiago had been busy resisting, standing up against the dense inertia that had been forced on him and his fellow countrymen by unemployment. He had been busy carving a horizon out of nothingness, creating the Asociacion de Parados (an unemployed men’s union), growing his beard and going on hunger strikes as an act of defiance against the broken promises of the church (the vicar had agreed to allow them to cultivate their neglected lands nearby, but had yet to deliver on his promise). He was trying to gain a clearer view through his broken spectacles, picked up from a pile of donated clothes and held together with tape- with ill-adjusted lenses through which he could not see properly. He had been busy painting psychedelic gardens on his four walls, to surround the empty table around which his loving family sat patiently.

Antonio had been busy fighting against the silence that seemed to have settled over his land of light like a toxic cloud. Blessed by the now unthinkable gold of a small pension, he had been busy remembering all the things that history tried daily to forget : the unspeakable horrors of the Civil War that had left his family so deeply wounded. His weathered skin and bright eyes wore the burning vision and fury of a man of principle and imagination, pained but undeterred.

Oscar, who worked as a cook in the local nursery school, had been busy hammering through the walls and through the roof of his council flat, to eliminate hiding places and create a window through which he could look at the night sky with his telescope. His two teenage children had looked on as he erased their intimacy in one single strike, opening up impossible landscapes.

One day Santiago had looked out of the window of his apartment, on the last floor of a council building in Caseria de Montijo, at the very edge of the city of Granada. No horizon in his unemployed days, trickling by densely through hunger and frustration. No horizon in his idle thumbs. No horizon. His gaze crashed against the side of the hill and collapsed into the ravine, a gaping hole filled with rubbish that marked the perimeter of his neighbourhood. It was then that he had decided to clean it all up, an act of will against the entropic trajectory of his life.

Naked hands and spades had transgressed the supreme Spanish taboo and dug, turning the earth, planting seeds within its moist warmth.

A flourishing orchard grew where before was only rotting waste.

II. The Water Procession

Now we stood above the black orchard at night, waiting for Antonio, Santiago and Oscar to appear again with the dawn, searching the darkness for signs of their arrival. A lick of light suddenly caught our eye in the middle of the darkness below us. It was a bonfire, and from it we could hear the voices of the men rising out into the night.

Oscar arrived, just as the cockrel marked the hour- 7 :30- and the light of dawn was indeed beginning to percolate through the dense night. Santiago pointed to the pale shade of grey now visible in the sky, that kept us hostages, as ever, between the darkness and the light.

Standing on the edge of the ravine, still a vast pool of black under the paling sky, we prepared for the final descent. Antonio, Santiago and Oscar held their glass bowls, and inside them the water now looked faintly red, as if they carried dawn itself.

They walked slowly, solemnly, once again leaving behind them the multi-coloured tower blocks of Caseria de Montijo- the « Favela of Granada », as Antonio had once called it.

Gone were the cramped rooms painted over with flowers and a rising moon, in which Santiago’s family sat around an empty table; gone Oscar’s demolished walls and the hole he had smashed through his roof, so he could watch the stars, gone Antonio’s loneliness and anger. As they followed the path that they themselves had carved on the edge of the cliff, into the heart of the ravine, into the heart of their orchard, into the heart of their freedom, the city with its compromise and its mute history slowly disappeared above them. We thought we could hear the dry earth quiver as they reached further into the darkness of the ravine, as they walked past gigantic tobacco plants and drooping sunflowers, heavy with seeds for next year’s crop.

We had walked across the entire reach of the city, from the Fuente de las Lagrimas, where the water gurgled out of the earth in exotic and miraculous bursts, saturated with the colours of haemorrhaging life- luminous green of the breathing algae, bright blue of the reflected sky, blinding golden sunlight skimming the surface- to the all-encompassing silence of the mass-graves and the cemetery, where the pale rose walls crumbled softly to reveal their unhealed wounds- the bullet-holes that refused to be filled by cement or eroded by time.

We crossed roads and bridges, stepped across boundaries and transgressed the order of a city that prepared to celebrate yet again its greatest child and export, poet Federico Garcia Lorca, killed by Franco’s brutal regime, buried in a mass grave to this date untouched, now rehabilitated as national hero. We walked past the new centre dedicated to him, just as it was being inaugurated: a huge building of sleek concrete and glass, and completely empty (as a bureaucratic blunder meant that the written documents it was meant to house were eventually denied until further notice). A building of smoke, fit to illuminate all the contradiction, hypocrisy and blindness that to this day misguides power, politics and human matters in general in this city and far beyond it.

We had stopped for a cool beer in a penumbral little bar, a halfway house sitting on the side of a loud motorway, in which bug-eyed Domingo and his white dog lived and worked alone, welcoming all the outsiders and lonely travellers seeking shelter from the overwhelming bleached whiteness of the Albaycin and its alienating conventions.

We had walked the entire length of the day, carrying water back to the dry earth of the orchard on the edge of the city. And now it was time.

Antonio, Santiago and Oscar stepped onto the earth they have been patiently and lovingly turning for years now. They reached the centre of the field, and stopped there, standing in a circle. They knelt down and delivered the water into the parched ground.

And the earth drank. And they knew that, at least for now, they were saved.