The Art, the Poetry, and the Donkeys of Mijas Pueblo
What’s around the corner? I wonder as Selma and I walk up the street steps of Mijas Pueblo, Spain. At each turn a hidden art gallery, an artesania, a poetry inscription on the wall, beyond that a panoramic view of the Mediterranean. And in a designated stretch, in the center the main plaza a line of decorated burro taxis.
Along the way, whitewashed walls are tastefully decorated with jewel colored plant pots overflowing with jasmine, hibiscus, geraniums, and marigolds.
Earlier that morning, we drove up a windy road away from the freeway and park outside the town. As we walk into town, we realize we could have parked in the one-Euro-a-day parking lot in the city center. But the extra walk is worth it.
We’re not inclined to burden the donkeys that look more like photo props. We won’t take the burro taxi, rather, we’ll stroll around town. This whitewashed hillside Pueblo founded in prehistoric times is small enough to enjoy each corner and have latte at the end in three hours. This hill-top town was ruled by Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, and Moors, like most of this region of Andalusia.
Evidence of this past is apparent in the street names, Calle Muro, Calle Algarrobo, and Calle San Sebastián.
Poetry in the Streets of Mijas Pueblo
In the summer of 2021 twenty two verses of classic poets such as Miguel Hernandez, Federico Garcia Lorca, Gloria Fuertes, Rafael Alberti or Antonio Machado or Malaga as Lorenzo Salval, Alvaro Garcia, Isabel Bono or Maria Jose Coronado Luque coming to Mijas to promote reading and writing poetry. The Mayor of the city hopes to bring poetry to the streets and set a trend in other towns.
In a similar vein of slowing down in Mijas, artist, Michèle Lehman began a series of drawings after being inspired by a woman dressed in black whom she noticed every day – her shawl, head scarf, skirt, blouse and shoes – all in different tones of black inspired the artist. But instead of drawing her face, she decided to draw her as she departed.
“The ‘back views’ can be a symbol of depersonalization but they also possess a meaning commonly rooted or related with work, physical strength, kindness, sincerity and nobility,” according to Susana G. Romanos.
To view more of her Lehman’s work, click here.
A Pension for Donkeys
And that brings me to my childhood story of donkeys.
The donkeys lined up on the roadside remind me of a story of my childhood that I have only heard but cannot remember. In this story, I am three years old, and according to mummy can speak fluently. I’ve arrived from England a year after having being evacuated because of the 1965 Indo-pak war. It’s 1968.
The Pakistan in which I was born three years before, is new to me. I’m returning from England after a year and am adapting to a different culture. In England, we rarely see animals on the road, maybe police mounted on horses, or the cavalry during the changing of the guards at Buckingham palace.
Somewhere, maybe from my grandmother, Lily, who cared for me when Mummy went to teach, I have learned that after a life time of hard work, money in the form of pension is a general expectation.
In Pakistan, I see horses pulling tongas, camel carrying heavy loads. I see donkeys on the roads in Pakistan pulling heavy carts of bails of cotton, loads of sugar cane, barrels filled with oil. These loads are backbreaking but the donkeys prevail.
I see one suspended in the air because it’s load is heavier than itself.
For a three year old, the image is painful. There must be some respite when the donkeys have aged. There must be, I tell mummy, a pension for donkeys like there is for old people who have been working all their life.
Mummy doesn’t know that I have been observing the donkeys that I have seen carrying their load in the heat of the afternoon sun in Karachi.
She laughs at my assumption, and shaking her head tells me that there are no funds set aside for the donkeys.
Traumatized by this thought I burst into tears and it takes mummy and Abu hours to find a way to distract me from this realization of the harshness of life.
Today, as I see the donkeys in Mijas, they look like a well cared group of donkeys. And even if they will not receive a pension, I am confident that the regulations of the local government for such donkeys will provide them with whatever an aging donkey will need.
Create Cultural Memories through Literature and Art
In The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World, Andy Merrifield walks with a donkey through southern France. I wasn’t the only one thinking of “donkey exploitation”.