Christmas Greetings from Frigiliana

¡Feliz Navidad! a todos mis leyentes. Os deseo un Próspero Año Nuevo.


Navidad, El Gordo, Los Reyes and everything

Today is the final Sunday in Advent, and so tomorrow Spanish minds turn properly to Christmas. The week starts with a momentous event which will have the majority of Spaniards glued to their TV sets from early morning. The 22nd December is the day when El Gordo (The Big One) lottery is drawn. Over one billion euros will be paid out in prizes, with the top prize well over one hundred million euros. The draw starts at eight am, and as each number is drawn it is sung out by one of a team of children; ticket holders check each number against their ticket. In fact, most people don't have a whole ticket but a share, usually a 'decimo' or tenth of a ticket. Many people will club together to buy a decimo. This is because each full ticket costs €200, hence the huge sum in the prize fund which means that even holding just one tenth of a decimo will bring you a fortune if that number wins the top prize.

Next comes La Noche Buena, as Christmas Eve is called. This is when the big family get together and meal takes place. From round six o'clock families and friends gather in the local bars to begin the celebration with a few drinks, before heading to the home where the meal is served - langoustines to start the meal, then either suckling pig, baby lamb or baby goat. At midnight the family is to be found in their local church for La Misa del Gallo - midnight mass - after which the party resumes until three or four in the morning; Christmas Day by comparison is a very quiet affair. These days the children will receive a present from Papa Noel, but the main present-giving time is not for another twelve days.

Before that we have to celebrate La Noche Vieja (the old night, or New Year's Eve). It is a time to secure your luck for the coming year. To do this you must eat twelve grapes at midnight, one grape with each stroke of the clock; or you can wear red underwear; or to be on the safe side you can do both!

Los Reyes ( the Feast of the Epiphany; 6th January) is when children receive their main presents, brought by the Kings/Wise Men who brought gifts for the baby Jesus. The night before (the 5th) they arrive in the village on their mules (camels being in very short supply in these parts!), tossing sweets to the children. Actually 'tossing' is the wrong word; boiled sweets are hurled by the handful into the crowd, so that for faint hearts like me, the route becomes a hard hat area. That night the children leave their shoes on the doorstep like British children hang up their stockings.

After that it's all quiet until Carneval, Shrove Tuesday, also celebrated with gusto, but that's another story and another posting!

In the meantime, os deseo un Feliz Navidad y un Próspero Año Nuevo.


Christmas in Malaga

Yesterday we caught the bus into Malaga and booked into a hotel for the night. This gave us the opportunity to spend some time enjoying the Christmas lights and the Beléns which are a feature of Spanish Christmases. The main area of lighting and decoration ran from the bridge over the Guadalmina, along the Alameda, up Avenida Larios and into Plaza de la Constitución. First we strolled the route in daylight and then returned after dark. At night the effect was stunning.
We also went to see two of the Beléns, one built by one of the cofradias (the penitent brotherhoods who process through the streets during Holy Week, and the other the official Málaga Belén in the town hall. I've posted some photos here to give you a flavour of the season.



Yesterday the jacuzzi arrived. It was craned in from the car park behind us and deposited gently on the roof terrace extension that we had had reinforced to accommodate it. It's been heating up the water overnight and this afternoon my wife inaugurated it with a twenty minute session of blasting jets and blowers, luxuriating in the warm water on a sunny December afternoon. What's more, she tells me that it even has a sea view! What more could you ask for - oh yes, it has a little shelf that will accept four wine glasses!


Sunny Days

The cold snap ended yesterday just as quickly as it had begun. From daytime temperatures around 11 or 12 degrres with overnight lows of 2 or 3 degrees, yesterday we had a high of 19 with an overnight low of 11; today we reached 20 degrees. So once again we were able to sit out on our side terrace for breakfast and for lunch, and my sweater is back in the drawer. Friends came over for lunch, and we all sat out in the sun until they left just before 5 o'clock.


Nativity Scenes

The beginning of Advent, and the beginning of December are the signal to Spaniards to start thinking about Christmas. The traditional flower is the poinsettia and they are used in huge numbers. The central reservations of dual carriageways, and roundabouts are suddenly carpeted in brilliant red. They appear on balconies, in shops and restaurants, just about everywhere.
Now also heralds the appearance of Belens, as nativity scenes are called here. Belen translates into English as Bethlehem, and when you see your first Belen you realise why. Where in England you are treated to a stable, Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus and assorrted farm animals, in Spain you are presented with the town of Bethlehem, complete with local shops, workshops, parks, farms, Roman soldiers manning the local fort, shepherds out on the hills with their sheep... just about everything you could imagine. Not just static; the blacksmith is hammering out a horseshoe, the weaver is weaving, the baker is kneading his dough. One was featured on the local television channel last night, which involved 9,000 separate items and covers thirtyfive square metres.
I'll be keeping my camera with me for when I come across some Belens, and then hopefully I'll be able to post some photos here.


Costa del Sol - Yes, but

Before we moved over here I was often asked, "Yes, but won't you get tired of all that sun?" The short answer is "No". Partly because I will take all the sun that's going and partly because, even though we're only 6km from the shores of the Mediterranean, it isn't always warm and sunny. This was the view from our roof terrace this morning.
We do have winter, and this year it has arrived early. We have had gale force winds, howl;ing down from northern Europe for the past few days. They have been accompanied by rain down at our level (35mm on Friday night and another 25mm last night. All four of our aircon units are swiched on to blow hot from sundown until bedtime. Don't get me wrong. I am not complaining, just setting the record straight. And there are still lots of pluses, not least the fact that at the beginning of December it stays light until around 6.30 in the evening. That's a good two and a half hours later than we experienced this time of year back in Lancashire.


UN Day Against Violence To Women

An all-too-frequent item in the day's court list, when I was a magistrate in the UK, was offences of domestic violence. The situation seems to be no different here in Spain. The problem is the main focus of much of today's news in the light of this UN day. For those who can read Spanish, this item in the online version of Sur reports 37 cases so far this year in our very small area of Malaga Province, let alone Andalucia, let alone the whole of Spain. At a national level, an average of two women a week are killed by a current or ex-partner, not to mention thousands of women who routinely suffer violence which does not result in death. Back in the summer, we had a case in Nerja, the town down on the coast, 6km away. An Argentinian woman, 25 years old, was stabbed to death at around 9am one Sunday morning on the Balcon de Europa, right in the centre of town. She was killed outside the cafe where she worked, and where she was setting out the tables ready for the day's business. Her Morroccan ex-boyfriend, who had threatened her that if she wanted to return to Argentina, he would make sure she went in a wooden box, was subject to a restraining order that forbade him to approach within 300 metres of her. She had been accompanied from her apartment to the cafe by two members of the Policia Local, because of her fear. They left her in what they judged to be the safe company of her work colleagues. Fifteen minutes later her ex-partner struck.


At Last!

Finally I have my new broadband connection set up. This means that I can post on a more regular basis now that I don't have to rely on the internet office in the village. Everything is finally coming together. Today we ahd the electrician round fixing some wiring problems and installing some new light fittings. Saturday the fitter comes to instal the air conditioning units in the bedrooms, and then next week - the painter arrives! A significant moment because the painter only works his magic when everyone else has finished. So by the end of next week our new home will finally be as we want it - except for the shower creen which has still to be fitted. It's patterned glass and should have been delivered just over a week ago. Unfortunately, they dropped it getting it out of the van. So now we're waiting for a new one to be made. There's always something.


We Are In At Last!

10th November was a great day! We finally moved into the new home we bought at the end of July. In the end quite a lot of work was needed, and things were not helped when, twelve hours after the old tiles on the roof terrace had been ripped up on October 31st, along with the bitumen layer, the heavens opened at three in the morning and the five year drought was over.
Saturday morning, my birthday, was spent mopping furiously to clear all the water which had come through the roof. The builder turned out with several acres of plastic sheeting, which kept out most of Saturday night's rain, but still left us with a fair bit of mopping up again on Sunday. Then the sun came out and dried the outer surface of the roof, so that the new bitumen could be laid.
Then to my horror, out came the hose and the roof terrace was ceremoniously filled up with several centimetres depth of water to make sure that the roofers had got a proper seal! The plan was - if nothing came through in a week's time, the bed and tiles could be laid. Nothing did come through but it gave a whole new meaning to the term 'water torture'.
Eventually a couple of thousand litres of water cascaded off our roof terrace, down the steps, into the main street, and work recommenced. It's still going on; we have two thirds of the terrace tiled now, and the aircon units have been delivered but not yet installed, after which the pinter can come and work his magic.
But we are in.We are comfortable. And we smugly beleive that we have just about the best views in the village from our roof terrace. Now the dream gets going in earnest!


The Dream Was Never This Hectic!

At the end of July we went to the notario and completed the purchase of our new home. Nothing happens in August, but come the beginning of September everything started up for the "reformas" we wanted and has been going steadily ever since. Of course, as soon as you start to rip things out you find other things that need attention - and then others..... Our builder speaks no English, but I wasn´t put off by that as I reckoned my Spanish was pretty good. That was general, conversational Spanish though, and this job has involved a great deal of "construction" Spanish. Talk of reinforced beams, sewage pipes, syphons, to mention but a few, usually as the result of a call on my mobile just when I´m doing something else, like standing at the checkout in Ikea with four trolleys full of flat pack furniture. I´m sure it´s all good for my learning curve, but right now I´m well out of my comfort zone. The consolation is that everything seems to be coming right at the right time. Our builder is confident that he will have the house ready for us to move into this weekend. We´re packing but, yo tengo mis dudas!
All this is by way of an excuse for taking so long to sit down and update this blog. Thank you Ana for your kind comment which hit my guilty nerve and spurred me into action.


El Pozo del Lizar

Now that the summer heat has passed and we are into temperatures in the mid twenties, serious walking is back on the agenda. This morning I walked up to the reservoir which feeds the irrigation system for the village. It´s more of a tank than a reservoir, smaller than your local swimming pool, but it´s a walk I love to do as part of a daily exercise routine. Apart from being a wonderful viewpoint, it feels like a walk back in time. I start from the apartment we are renting which is on the extreme southern edge of the village, which is the newest part. Climbing steadily to begin with, I then drop down into the centre of the village, which as recently as forty years ago was the edge of the village. Then I leave the 21st century behind and enter Moorish Spain as I climb up the stepped streets of the old village, from the historically more affluent barrio along the main street, up to the "Barribarto" or upper barrio where the poorest houses were (Now they have all been restored by and for expats), emerging eventually above the village and climbing on again until I reach the summit, which used to be graced by a castle. Here in 1567 the Battle of Frigiliana was fought, and after much bloodshed the Morisco inhabitants (Muslims who had been forced to convert to Christianity after the Reconquest) were defeated. Three years later the last Moriscos had been expelled from Spain and 800 years of history was at an end.
From this viewpoint, with the reservoir at my side, I can look over my shoulder to the terraces and villas that lie to the west of the village. Or I can look ahead of me up into the mountains, accessible these days only by half-abandoned footpaths. They are an impressive sight, and the whole area has been declared a natural park. Often, as I sit on a low wall soaking up the view and the stillness, an eagle or two will sail into sight from the high sierra, today only a group of pigeons flying busily around.
And today I also noticed something that I hadn´t registered before; there is still a small section of the castle wall visible above me.


Wise After The Event

Ever since we arrived here, we have been promising ourselves that we would schedule time to visit other cities and other parts of Spain. Having to sort out the house and other things meant that we never quite got around to it. However, a friend came over to stay this month and we took the opportunity to head off with him to Cordoba and Granada. This way we got to visit two of the iconic Islamic sites in Andalucia.

The Mezquita was even larger than I had imagined, and more impressive, too. I was sad, though, that all but one of the arches leading from the Patio de los Naranjos into the mosque itself were closed off with doors and windows many years ago. So the interior is not flooded with light as it would have been originally. Of course, it´s not a mosque anymore. At the Reconquista it was turned into a Christian cathedral. For almost three hundred years this simply involved ´change of use´, but eventually the cathedral chapter managed to persuade the king - Carlos V - to allow them to build a coro in the centre of the building. I found myself in agreement with what Carlos said after they had finished; "You have constructed what you could have constructed anywhere. And you have destroyed something that exists nowehere else in the world".
Shame he didn´t think of that before he gave the go-ahead!


The Eco-friendly Carwash

About 15 minutes along the coast is the town of La Herradurra. It has a drive through carwash, common in the UK, but rare over here. For three euros it shampoos and washes the car then waxes it and blows it dry.
Unfortunately, at this time of the year our weather comes from North Africa, and with it a lot of windborne dust and sand which gets all over the car. So a new trip to La Herradurra was called for (It´s just too hot to go out with a bucket and sponge.). Right now though we´re busy getting the house ready to move into, so it got left and then it got left a bit longer. Bad enough for someone to write "Limpiarme" (clean me) in the dust.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning I was awakened by a terrific clap of thunder, followed by the patter of rain, which just got heavier and heavier. It rained for about five hours. And when I went out at 9 o´clock, there was my shiny clean car sitting at the kerb waiting for me!
Now I have a newfound respect for procrastination.


The Festival Is Over

But what a festival! This is a new blog and so far has very few readers. Well then, I can share this with you. But please, this is strictly between ourselves, OK? I don´t want the village swamped next year. For four days (Thursday to Sunday) over the last weekend in August, the place to be is Frigiliana. That means actually staying in the village, because the best bits happen in the evening and at night. We had a tapas route with 12 bars each serving up a separate tapa. We had gastronomic days with a christian, a muslim and a jewish lunch. We had around 50 market stalls with food and crafts from all over Spain as well as local stalls. We had open-air concerts every night at 11pm, followed on two nights by open-air disco. Plus art exhibitions, workshops, seminars. Plus activities for the children. We went to three of the concerts by Klezmatica, by a Rajahstan gypsy group and by a leading collector of traditional folk music and dance, Eliseo Parra.
Soon I should have my own broadband connection up and running. Then I´ll post some photos.


III Festival de las Tres Culturas

We fly back to Spain next Tuesday, just in time for the Festival of Three Cultures which starts in the village on 28th August. Frigiliana is a village which dates back to Moorish times, and which was the site of the final battle in 1569 between the Morisco population (Muslims who had - often forcibly - converted to Christianity after the Reconquest) and the Christian armies reinforced by troops sent by the pope from Italy. Before this date, Muslims, Jews and Christians had lived harmoniously together in this region for several hundred years. The festival, inaugurated three years ago, celebrates this fact and argues that what happened here in centuries gone by could happen again worldwide today.

Culture and tradition are very important to the people of Frigiliana as a visit to its website will show. Although the year-round population is only about two and a half thousand people, each fiesta sees the streets crowded with eager participants.

I've not managed to be here for the previous Three Cultures Festivals, so I'll save comments on what happens until I've actually experienced it for myself.


Broadening the scope

For some time I had a blog relating to my work as a magistrate on a metropolitan bench in the North West of England, and for a while after arriving in Spain I continued to post the odd item on that blog. However, very quickly I began to realise that now I have retired I was getting left behind as more changes came along, and that any thoughts I had about legislation and court procedural changes was increasingly based on ignorance and prejudice. Time to bow out gracefully; that blog has now closed.

On the other hand, I enjoy blogging and I remain interested in what is happening around me and commenting upon it, so this new blog is designed to permit me to post on any topic under the (mainly Spanish) sun. Having said that, the irony is that this initial post is being written whilst staying with my daughter, son-in-law, and two granddaughters in Surrey - a planned trip, but one which has allowed us to escape the high summer heat and humidity of the Costa del Sol. The past three or four weeks we have had temperatures consistently in the high thirties teamed with humidity over 70%. I never thought I would find the modest efforts of an English summer so congenial. My wife is particularly enjoying snuggling under a duvet! Of course, it's attractive because we know that in a couple of weeks we'll be back in the sun and back to the mainly outdoor life - some of which I hope to share with you!