An off-grid writing residency in Spain? Dipika Mukherjee has an inspiring adventure
|Sunsets behind the El Gabar|
I didn’t quite know what to expect from a Joya residency; the description sounded so different from the usual residencies that I applied for an adventure. Joya: AiR is an artist run not-for-profit arts organisation and--most importantly--an off-grid residency in rural Andalucía, Spain.
“Off-grid, eh?” said my son, the only member of the family who had been to Andalusia. “If it's all solar panels and water harvesting, they’ll hand you a lota and tell you to go about your business in the fields. Water harvesting sounds like unwashed people to me, and we didn’t shower for days when we camped in Malaga.”
I quickly checked that the email said individual rooms had attached bathrooms, and reassured myself that young men camping at seventeen were not the best ambassadors for personal hygiene, whether in Malaga or elsewhere.
|Almonds within easy reach|
Getting to off-grid Cortijada Los Gázquez looked challenging through the dirt roads lined with prickly shrubbery, but there were pretty villages and a stunning Moorish castle along the way. Low almond orchards beckoned, with trees bursting with ripe fruit within reach. I started to relax. When we reached, the rooms were beautifully spacious with modern bathrooms attached, all lime-washed in pristine white.
And indeed, the landscape and walking paths surrounding Cortijada Los Gázquez are truly magical...the very second day I wrote out a poem which had been marinating in my head for a month. The day after that -- after watching a resident present a very different kind of performance photography -- I wrote an entire short story in a single sitting in a fit of inspiration.
Simon and Donna and the twins, along with Max the dog, Fufu the goat, and all seven cats, provide the sweet chaos of a happy home where artists of all nationalities can forge symbiotic friendships which seem to last the residency. During my time here, I met a group of dynamic and phenomenally talented people –the evening presentations are truly amazing!—and as the fabulous dinners were served Spanish style at 9.30 at night or later, the conversation would spill over into the next day. Wine in hand, we would stroll over to sit under brilliantly lit skies, where the only movement above us were falling stars. One night, I watched fascinated as a thin crescent moon rapidly disappeared behind the Andalusian range.
|A dog and a goat and all the creative people!|
The residency extends over 20 hectares of land in the heart of a natural park; there is time for long contemplative walks and writing followed by a siesta. I felt my mindspace unravel from the distressing breaking news circuit and reacted to the soothing sounds of winds whistling through tall poplars. It felt like freedom to not have phone coverage and a limited internet connection. I woke up to stunning views every morning and as my breath slowed down, I continued to create new work.
Joya uses solar panels for energy and rain water harvesting, so the don't’s on the first day seemed a daunting: don't leave the water running while brushing teeth; switch lights off or use torches; dishes should not be washed under running water; bathe when you are really hot so you don’t need hot water; don’t flush the toilet after every use.
But very soon, in this amazing place where Simon and Donna are trying to reverse the damages of land abandonment while resurrecting sustainable water supplies and irrigation, these ecologically sound habits became second nature. In New Delhi, in summer, we have no choice but to conserve water and electricity in similar ways, and it would be a really smart idea for the world to adopt more sustainable personal habits before we ruin the only planet in which we make our homes.
|An evening presentation|
Tomorrow morning I leave. I will miss the conversations. The curators Donna and Simon are global nomads who have a treasure trove of fascinating travel tales, but there was also the artistes: Andree whose lens spoke of edgy stories and power differentials; Alicia who wove beauty through unlikely objects; Gwenda whose graphic designs are changing how modern theatre posters are presented; Simon (the younger!) with his witty stories of the London art world and his creative use of different media in his work; Mark (a true young ecological warrior) who is an artist first but has travelled to an Indian village to build 24 toilets where there were none; Nellie whose stunning pencil drawings will take her far in her current art school and later in the world. The range of international English around the dinner table sounded like music to my ears and I will miss the easy companionship of these committed artistes.
Dipika Mukherjee's second novel, Shambala Junction, won the UK Virginia Prize for Fiction (Aurora Metro, 2016). Her debut novel was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize and republished as Ode to Broken Things (Repeater, 2016). She is a Juror on the the Neustadt International Prize for Literature 2018 and founded the D.K Dutt Award for Literary Excellence in Malaysia. More here