Las Navidades

The Christmas season is in full swing now that the Day of the Constitution and the Immaculate Conception are behind us. So on Friday evening we settled down in the parish church for a concert of villancicos, the Spanish equivalent of Christmas carols, performed by Frigiliana's own choir and by five visiting choirs from surrounding villages. Spanish folk singing has a very nasal quality, like flamenco, and enthusiasm seems to count for more than musicality, so that the church reverberated to the sound of strident voices, rattling tambourines, energetic drumming and guitars.
On Saturday evening our local Polish restaurant put on a special Polish Christmas menu, and ten of us went together to enjoy it. I even won a T-shirt in the free draw!
Yesterday, my wife's Anglican church down in Nerja held their annual service of lessons and carols at four o'clock, after which we were back to the parish church here in the village at eight o'clock for a concert of Christmas music by the Banda Música de Frigiliana, the village band, accompanying the students of the village music school, which develops the next generation of band members.
After a deafening opening medley of Christmas music (the band usually plays in the open air, accompanying processions around the village, and thus has never heard the term 'pianissimo', we were treated to a stream of children coming forward to demonstrate their prowess to fond parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, - everyone, really. The oldest, I guess, would be 11 or 12, and the youngest probably 6 or 7. We listened attentively to clarinets, flutes, saxophones, keyboards, and each performer received enthusiastic and prolonged applause, even the keyboard player who hesitantly tapped out a one-finger verse of Jingle Bells; next year he'll be much more accomplished! What delights me about the Spanish attitude to children is that they are brought up to believe in themselves, and are given all available credit for whatever they have been able to achieve so far.
Tomorrow will be one of the most important days of the run-up to Christmas; every Spaniard who is able to do so, will be glued to the TV tomorrow morning for the draw, over a period of several hours, of the Christmas lottery, also known as El Gordo, though in fact that name properly belongs only to the massive first prize. Tickets cost €200 each, but are usually sold as decimos (tenths) at €20. By tradition, scholars from the school of San Ildefenso in Madrid operate in relays to sing out the winning numbers as they are drawn. The total prize fund this year is a mind-blowing €2.3billion, and El Gordo will doubtless change the life of some village or barrio for ever. We have our ticket, and we too shall be glued to the TV!


In Britain It's Holly........

..... but in Spain it's poinsettias! These colourful plants, originally from Mexico I believe, are the classic accompaniment to Christmas decorations; in flowerbeds, on roundabouts, along the central reservations of roads, on balconies, everywhere.
In Britain, it's the crib... in Spain, it's the Belén. The word Belén is the Spanish word for Bethlehem, and that is the scope of the Spanish 'crib'; an elaborate construction which encompasses the whole of the town of Bethlehem, and often too, the whole course of Jesus's life. Churches display them, obviously, but so also do town halls, shopping centres and even airports where you may find one in pride of place in the Check-In Hall.
There's a street market in Malaga every night at this time of year specialising in everything you want for your Christmas decorations.
Yesterday we went to Malaga on the lunchtime bus, checked into a hotel near the cathedral, and then spent the afternoon and evening wandering with the crowds, enjoying all the sites, pausing a couple of times to sit at a table on the pavement to drink a glass of wine and do a bit of people-watching, before finding a restaurant where we could get a table outside for a late dinner.
We did the same last year, and I think it is going to turn into a Christmas tradition. I had forgotten that last year we were delighted to find the pavement chestnut sellers with their braziers and the heady smell of roasting chestnuts; they were there again this year, so another pleasure was the paper cone filled with @2-worth of hot chestnuts to be eaten as we stood gazing at the lights disappearing into the distance in the Alameda. I think that's going to be a new tradition as well.
I've put my photos here so that you can see what I'm talking about.


Could Do better!

I was saddened to learn last night, whilst watching Panorama on UK television, that Britain is so far down the league when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, that only Malta and Luxembourg have a poorer record in the EU. By contrast, my electricity bill here in Spain shows that just over 40% of generation is from non-fossil sources (20.7% renewables; 19.7% nuclear). Of course, Spain has the benefit of copious amounts of sun to draw on, but it is also one of the leading countries in rolling out wind power, and as you drive across Spain it seems that everywhere that has the potential to capture the wind is either already doing so, or is well on the way. Despite the low rainfall, hydroelectricity is also an important part of the mix.
The photo has nothing to do with any of this really (unless you take into account the daily dose of solar required to get this lizard up and running); I just like the picture.



This is the quietest time of the year here in Frigiliana, and indeed in the whole area. The autumn half-term visitors have gone, many of the 'second home' residents have headed back to the UK or wherever to prepare for Christmas with their families, and of course, the people who will spend Christmas here won't arrive for another three or four weeks.
As a result of all this, those businesses that rely on the tourist and hospitality trade are really struggling, especially as the economic downturn hit their high-season business. Two of our village restaurants have taken the opportunity to close for major refits ready for next year, and two others have simply closed until the end of January.
For those of us foreigners who live here permanently, however,life continues to be pretty good. Temperatures obviously are lower now, but even so we still have afternoon highs of 21 or 22 degrees, and the nights are not yet cold. Also, the November rains have not materialised. I have Accuweather on my iPod, and it frequently indicates rain due in ten days time or so. However, before we get there the rain disappears off the forecast or gets moved back, so it always seems to be ten days away. Great if you're holidaying, but we rely on the rain that comes now and then around February to refill all the reservoirs which have been depleted across the summer. Apart from the odd day now and then, we have not had any real rain since May.


November Contrast

Just back from a week in England. We went over to celebrate our youngest daughter's 40th birthday, which we thoroughly enjoyed. It was also an opportunity to see our granddaughters who are noticeably more grown up (though still only 6 and 3) each time we see them.
The contrast between here and the UK was quite dramatic. At 9 am on the day we left for England, the temperature at Malaga Airport was 21 degrees. At 1.15 at Gatwick it was 12 degrees! We had a week of grey, cold and often wet weather. Then when we flew back, we landed at Malaga in the early evening to 24 degrees. And the weather has continued in that vein every day. I subscribe to Accuweather for online forecasts, and that suggests that although we will see increasing cloud over the next couple of weeks, there should be no rain and daytime maximum temperatures should not fall below 18 degrees.So no sign of winter yet.


All Saints' Day

November 1st is an important day in the Spanish calendar. It is Todos Los Santos or All Saints' Day. Throughout the day, people head for the village cemetery armed with flowers and candles to decorate the graves of loved ones. Then, as night falls, people return to the cemetery as family groups, spending time around the various family graves, exchanging fond memories of those they have lost down the years, and sharing the time with other families. Everything takes place by the light of the candles on the graves. Although the air is full of chatter and laughter, there is an overriding air of reverence. In days gone by the whole village would have passed the entire night in this way in the cemetery, but it is more usual nowadays to drop in for and hour or so, and then return home.
The continuance of this observance is greatly helped by the fact that Spaniards generally stay close to the place of their birth throughout their lives; those who do go away to work, returning at regular intervals. Added to this is the fact that cremation is still relatively uncommon in Spain, although it is gaining in popularity.
I lost my youngest brother earlier this year. He was cremated and his ashes scattered in France. It was brought home to me last night how important it is to have a specific place where you can feel a continuing contact with a lost loved one.


Freak Weather Condition

For most of yesterday a bank of low cloud lay over Nerja, what in my part of the UK would have been called a sea fret, whilst we continued to bask in hot sun. There's nothing particularly unusual in that, but then as sunset approached, the cloud suddenly started to build and roll inland until it was filling the valley between us and the coast. This is something I haven't seen before, as we are some 6km inland, and the village lies at rather more than 300m. It looked absolutely beautiful, as I hope you agree.


We Have A Lodger!

The weather here continues unseasonably warm, to such a degree that the local English-language newspaper this week offered its readers a useful phrase with which to greet one's Spanish neighbours: Parece si todavía está verano (It feels as if it's still summer). But the end of the year is in sight. Last weekend the clocks went back, and so sunset is now just after 6 o'clock. Because it is still warm, we sit out on our balcony enjoying the symphony of colours from full sun to nightime.
That was how we came to discover that we have a house guest. A couple of nights ago, we heard a flutter and a bird took up a perch on the rail of our toldo. It took not the slightest notice of us, but just settled down to roost for the night. And it comes back each night and occupies almost precisely the same spot each time. When the sun comes up, it's off again for the day.
Last night I got my camera out and managed to get this shot. The flash didn't appear to disturb it in any way. Combing through my Larousse Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe, I'm pretty certain it's a black redstart with its winter plumage, but to any ornithologists looking at this, I'd be grateful for your more knowledgable opinion.


Lazy Days

It's days like today that really bring home to me what it was that made me so determined to come and live here. Tonight, the clocks go back, so it will be dark early tomorrow. But that won't matter because it will still be warm in the evening, so people will still be out and about. And during the daytime? Well, what more could I ask - an afternoon spent lying in the sun up on my roof terrace, followed by a dip in the jacuzzi.
The very first time I came to Frigiliana in 1983, it was this time of year and I swam in the sea on my birthday. 26 years later, the years have taken their toll on my resilience, so that won't happen this year. We'll sit outside a restaurant instead and enjoy an al fresco dinner.


A Long Day, But Worth It.

The local Anglican church to which my wife belongs, organises trips out across the autumn and winter. Last Thursday we joined the visit to the towns of Baeza and Ubeda in the far northeast of Andalucia. This involved a total of nine hours of travelling in order to spend a couple of hours in each town.
Both of these towns reached their peak in the sixteenth century. As a result, they are considered to be gems of Renaissance architecture, a verdict that is especially justified in the case of Ubeda, the larger of the two, which has a much more extensive old quarter than Baeza. There were many palaces, churches and municipal buildings from this era, but I have chosen to show La Iglesia de San Pablo in Ubeda, built like so many others on the site of a mosque, and dating in part from the thirteenth century.
Ubeda's other distinction lies in it being the first town in Andalucia to be reconquered by the Christians in 1212. Interestingly, instead of pressing south from Ubeda towards the Nasrid seat of power in Granada, the Christian armies travelled west along the Guadalquivir, taking Jaen (1212), Córdoba (1236) and eventually Sevilla (1248). The Kingdom of Granada which stretched south from the Guadalquivir to the coast, and from Alemria in the east to Tarifa in the west survived, and indeed flourished, for some 250 years until the defeat of Boabdil by the armies of Ferninand and Isabel in 1492 - the 2nd of January, to be precise.


A Little Trip Out

Several years ago, the old municipal market in the centre of Nerja closed down. It stood empty for many years, then eventually it was restored to its former architectural glory and reopened - as an art gallery! Since then we have lacked that essential of Spanish living, the daily fresh food market. And so I have been having to make do with the fish counter at the hypermarket 20km down the road where we do the bulk of our shopping. More and more, though, the choice has been reduced to a few farmed species of 'wet' fish, avariety of different types of prawn, and an array of molluscs.
Recently I was talking to the chef in one of our local restaurants and praising his fish. "I buy it all from the market in Almuñecar," he told me. So today we took a drive down the motorway and went browsing around the meat, fish, greengrocery and bread stalls. I shall be back, and soon, with my cool box! Wonderful locally caught fish, vegetables brought in from la huerta (the local horticultural area), splendid carcasses of beef, lamb, rabbit, pork, as well as fat, free range chickens. A different kind of art gallery, but a feast for my eyes just the same.


Indian Summer

The holidaymakers departed a month ago now, but summer is still with us. We had a short, gentle wet spell just over a week ago, but today and for the rest of this week, Frigiliana temperatures are forecast to hit highs of 33 or 34, with lots of sun. Great weather for lounging on a half-empty beach and gazing at the sea. Not so good for sea swimming, however. From the highest water temperatures for 25 years in August, the water has now fallen back to a shivering 22 degrees!

Of course, there are still visitors around - empty nesters flying out to take advantage of lower prices; 'swallows' returning to their winter villas and apartments after a summer spent in northern Europe, and some longhaul exotic species blown in from the Americas or Japan.

And then there are all the feathered birds to watch! I'm promising myself a trip down to the southern tip of Spain one autumn or spring to witness the migrations between Europe and Africa. From what I've been told, they are spectacular, especially the sight of the big birds like eagles, vultures and storks endlessly circling on the thermals inland until they gain sufficient height to glide across the Straits of Gibraltar. Ah well, perhaps next year!


Sad Days For Justice

I started up this blog when I came to live in Spain early last year. Before that I had blogged for some time as a magistrate, something I intended to keep on when I arrived. Sadly, I found that I was quickly becoming detached from the day-to-day changes that were taking place, and so it seemed sensible to fold that blog; it still sits there, no doubt, it's just that I don't post to it. So reading the UK press recently left me in a quandary; whether to awaken that dormant blog, or whether to write today's posting here on my current blog. I decided that this blog is about me here in Spain, and that that will sometimes involve me having thoughts about the country I left. That is my excuse!

In my magistrate days, I had the good fortune to meet and work with a fine Circuit Judge, sitting in the local Crown Court. He was what is called our "liaison judge", and in that capacity was happy to write a regular column for the bench journal which I edited. Twice a year, he would produce an article which took an area of concern to magistrates and would deal with it with a clarity, authority and detail which made it a joy to publish, and to read. In addition, I was able to have him as a guest speaker at the local Magistrates' Association branch a couple of times, where he led us through a series of sentencing exercises in that grey area which is cases that might stay with the magistrates, or could be sent to judge and jury at the crown court. Our ability to make those often difficult decisions on 'venue' benefited enormously from his input. Final I was privileged to sit with him in the crown court on a number of occasions, hearing appeals from the magistrates courts in the area; from those occasions I learned much about how to conduct cases in my own court.

You would be forgiven for anticipating that I am about to report his death; that this is an obituary. You would be wrong. HHJ Bruce Macmillan has not died. He has resigned his position as a circuit judge with immediate effect. Why? Because recently he was stopped by police, breathalysed, arrested and subsequently charged with driving with excess alcohol. His case is not due in court until September 30th, but he has bowed out ahead of that, and the judicial system has lost an extremely talented judge. He recognised that you cannot break the law and also enforce it. It is highly unlikely that he would have had to deal with similar cases himself; they are heard in the magistrates court. That is not the point. It is the principle that matters, and living up to that principle has cost him his career, his reputation and a not inconsiderable salary.

And then, a day or two later, I read that the Attorney General, the most senior lawyer in the government, has admitted employing an illegal immigrant, has accepted a £5,000 penalty for failing to abide by the very requirements that she herself helped to draft, but does not feel that she should resign, because - according to a press report I heard today - she sees the transgression as being no more serious than failing to pay the London congestion charge; which, of course, would also be an offence! Whether Baroness Scotland is a good, bad or indifferent Attorney General, I do not know. I just wish she had the same sense of public duty and responsibility as Bruce Macmillan!


Las Dos En Punto

We have just returned from four days in Santiago de Compostela, where we were absolutely enchanted by the historic heart of the city centred around the cathedral, shrine to Santiago, or St James, the apostle and brother of St John; he who wrote the fourth gospel. For several hundred years, beginning in the 11th century, this shrine was the third most important place of pilgrimage in Christendom, after Jerusalem and Rome. More recently, the main pilgrim route has been revived and promoted with huge numbers walking, cycling or riding all or at least 100km of the 800km 'Camino' from France.
But my attention was also caught by these two splendid ladies who are to be found in the Parque de la Alameda, which lies between the old city and the southern campus of the university for which Santiago is also famous. Back in the 1920s, three teenage sisters used to go for a walk each afternoon, along the Rua do Franco, past the Porta de Faxeira and through the Alameda, paying pointed compliments to the male students they passed, and giggling to each other at the compliments directed back at them. The years passed, but still Las Marias, as they became known, continued to take their daily walk at two o'clock sharp (Dos en punto). In their seventies, the three of them were still out every day. One sister died, but in their eighties and nineties the two remaining sisters kept up their tradition, by now also known as "Las Dos en Punto".
When eventually they died, the city of Santiago honoured them by placing this polychrome bronze statue in the Paseo de la Alameda, where they continue to attract the attention of passing students (and others).


The Season's Over....

Last Sunday the 3 Cultures Festival came to an end. Monday morning, the transformation was amazing. The stallholders mostly slept either in their vans or under the stalls, so when everyone went home, they set straight into packing up and headed out of the village in the small hours or the madrugada, as we call it here.
At the same time, being the end of August, all the holidaying Spanish and French set off for home and the start of work with September. Plus the Brits all left with their kids to get them ready for a new school year, and I guess the other nationalities did the same. So it's mainly just the resident population again. Bar owners, restaurateurs and shop keepers can all draw breath, although only because business now drops dramatically.
Only the weather remains in high-summer mood, though even that wobbled yesterday evening, and overnight we had the first rain since May (apart from a ten minute shower during the feria in June). Today is cloudy and cooler, but more humid.


Three Cultures Festival

So now we have come to the final day of this year's festival. Once again, the day has dawned hot and sunny, and tonight we have tickets for the final concert - Pasión Vega, one of Spain's top female vocalists and also one of my favourites. The other paying concerts I've listened to for free from my roof terrace about 200 metres from the stage, as the crow flies.
This year's festival has been bigger and better than ever. In addition to the 'paid-for' concerts, each evening there has been a one hour, free concert, each one in a different part of the village. The Festival is centred on the area you can see in the view of the village which adorns the masthead of this blog, but this year there have been more events taking place in other .
Official estimates are that last year's festival was attended by 60,000 people over the 4 days (This, in a village of around 2,500 people!). My own, unofficial, unscientific impression is that this year we have already passed that figure with a full day still to go. In its fourth year, Las Tres Culturas continues to grow. Can't wait to see what next year's brings - You, perhaps; its well worth the effort!


A Long Overdue Visit

In March 1989, we sailed into Santander and drove across Spain for the first time. For no particular reason we decided to take the route to the west of Madrid, rather than the more direct eastern route. So it was that quite by chance we found ourselves in Salamanca around five in the evening, feeling that we had driven about far enough (The roads were much more basic in those days!). The back seats of the car were down and the car was filled with a mountain of very visible baggage, so I wanted a hotel with its own carpark, and settled on the Parador, just outside the city. This was the view that faced us from our hotel room window!
The following morning, we set off again south, having just popped into the edge of the city to get some money from a bank, and headed for Frigiliana. Only then did I get around to reading the guide book entry for Salamanca, and discover that we had rushed striaght past one of the most beautiful cities in Spain. For years, we promised ourselves that we would go back, but never did.
So this year we decided that our route south from Santander should take us to Salamanca, and booked ourselves two nights in a hotel right in the heart of the old city. What an eye-opener. The twin cathedrals (photo) are as impressive inside as they are from the outside. The Romanesque 'old' cathedral dates from the 13th century, whilst the 'new', Gothic cathedral was started in 1512. The Plaza Mayor is considered by many to be the most attractive in Spain; I can well imagine that it is. It is an amazing example of Churrigueresque Baroque, built in the 18th century, and frequently hosting bullfights until 1863.
Having also one of the oldest and most important universities in Spain, means that there is no shortage of places to eat and drink at sensible prices. We had a wonderful couple of days, and Salamanca comes close to displacing Barcelona as my favourite Spanish city.


Back on Spanish Soil

We sailed over from Portsmouth yesterday with Brittany Ferries to Santander.A magical trip! I love their Pont Aven ferry which does the 24 hour crossing and has a fabulous restaurant where we ate last night. Then, this morning in the Bay of Biscay, I went out on deck around 9 o'clock. Looking out to sea, I suddenly saw dolphins heading through the swell towards the boat. Over the course of the next ten minutes, I saw more dolphins than you could reasonably hope to see in a lifetime. Then. just after twelve we saw three fin whales heading north past the boat about a quarter of a mile away, Magic!


Cultural Differences

On our way to Cherbourg to catch the ferry to England, we stopped with friends in Normandy for a couple of days. The first day we spent with them, but on the second day we decided to head for the D-Day landing beaches. Our first stop was at Grand Camp Maisy between Utah and Omaha beaches, and from there we went to the American cemetery behind Omaha Beach. The second two photographs were taken there. Next we went inland to Ryes, where there is a British cemetery where the first two were taken. (I know it would have made more sense to display them the other way round, and that is what I thought I had doen!) What struck me most was the difference between the two. There is only the one American cemetery, whereas the British and other Allied dead were buried in small cemeteries close to where they died. But the difference, it seems to me, is greater than that. Despite the thousands of white headstones, mainly crosses with occasional Stars of David, this is a monument rather than a cemetery. The precisely laid out blocks of graves have a terrible uniformity. Bare details record the name, rank, unit and date of death of the soldier buried there. The grass is immaculately manicured, paths, lawns, shrubs, trees as well as headstones have been designed to present the visitor with a unified whole. Indeed, as I think the second photo shows, the graves have become almost an incidental element in this monument to a massive army which came ashore here and liberated Europe.

The British cemetery, by contrast, has no visitor centre, no crowds, no monumental topiary. It is a simple, country graveyard where each occupant is identified as an individual. Name, insignia of his unit, date of death, yes. But also, age - and oh, how many were boys of 19 or 20! - an inscription which had been put forward by the family, a few flowers (even on those graves which bore the simple statement "A sailor of the Royal Navy known unto God".

Is it just because I, too, am British that I feel that here lie individuals, grieved for by their loved ones; whilst above Omaha Beach are buried the expendable units of an invading army, significant only for being a part of that army, though not a part that fought on to final victory?

We had intended to carry on to Gold, Juno and Sword beaches, but we felt that our stop at Ryes was a fitting place to end this visit to the battlefield.


Mind The Stereotype!

The picture most people have of Spain is really only of one part - Andalucía. This is the home of Carmen, of toreros, tapas, flamenco, "sun, sand, sangria (and sex)". It's a pretty accurate summary of the South, and it's where I live, but we've driven north, across the hot dry meseta, of which Madrileños say "Nueve meses de invierno y tres de infierno" (Nine months of winter and three of hell), and on up towards the French border.

I took this photo, and many others, in Hondarribia a seaside town in the Basque Country. If I hadn't told you that, I guess most of yoy would not have suspected it was taken anywhere in Spain.



No postings for a while. We're off travelling, having arranged a couple of house swaps. Time to see how England is getting on. Actually, and whisper this, I'm quite looking forward to snuggling under a duvet for a week or two instead of lying on a damp sheet. Hopefully by the time we get back the 40+s will be behind us. Enjoy your summer. We will certainly enjoy ours.


A Magic Moment

Although we call it the hot tub, this time of year we use the jacuzzi very much as a cool tub. Which is what we were doing yesterday evening just before 8 o'clock, after a hot and sweaty day of rushing from one place to another to sort out finances for a new car. Lying back in the cool water, massaged by the jets and blowers was enjoyable enough in itself. But then I looked up. Circling not very far above us, lit up by the evening sun, was a Bonelli's eagle, just lazily rising on a thermal. It was there for probably two or three minutes, clearly visible, but gradually looking smaller as it rose higher. Eventually, it tilted its wings and glided off across the river valley and on into the sierra. Sadly, I don't have a photo of the eagle, but this shot shows the territory it headed back into.


Home Again - nearly

Great news. Yesterday morning I got call from the garage where my car is to be repaired, to tell me that that it had finally been delivered to them by my insurance company. I went straight round to get the various things out of the boot - including 36 bottles of St Chinian wine that we had bought - gave it a big hug, and now wait to hear what needs doing and when it can be done.

Then, last night, we were sitting up on the roof terrace with a bottle of celebratory fizz and witnessed this fantastic sunset.

The dream seems to be back on track!!


Some things just don't quite work.

On May 23rd, following an urgent phone call from my sister-in-law to say that my youngest brother was nearing the very end of his life. naturally we set off immediately for southern France, arriving there the following afternoon and I was able to see my brother twice before he died on the Monday.
The funeral followed on Saturday afternoon and so we set off for home early on Sunday morning. Fifteen minutes down the road, the car broke down and clearly could not be repaired at the roadside, so I rang our Spanish insurers. The guy who picked up our call was absolutely fantastic. Within an hour and a half a breakdown truck arrived and delivered us to a garage in Beziers. From there, he organised a taxi to the local railway station where he had arranged a train journey to Figueres in northern Spain. During the train journey, he rang back to say that a taxi would be waiting at Figueres to take us 70km to Girona airport, where a hire car had been booked with Hertz. The outcome was that we drove into the village just after 7 pm on the Monday, just about the time I had expected to get home had we not broken down.
If only the same could be said for the car! The company commits itself to picking up a vehicle from anywhere in mainland Spain and delivering it to the garage of your choice within a maximum of five days. If you break down outside Spain, they make no promises at all other than to get your car to your repairer 'some time'. Which in our case means that three and a half weeks later the car has still not arrived and the company is unable or unwilling to tell us when it will arrive. And when I demand to know why this state of affairs arises, cutting through all the polite obfuscations, the message is "Because it does."
So I continue to wait in the diminishing hope that the car will be repaired and available to us in early July when we are setting off for the UK as part of a house swap with each of our daughters. If we don't know by Friday (the day after tomorrow) whether we will have the car or not, we shall have to cancel hotels and ferry crossings, and buy - at very short notice, in high season - air tickets to the UK and car hire in the UK.
Thus, this is not paradise, whatever my previous postings may have suggested. But it's pretty close to it, and I'm sure that in the fullness of time, I shall look back on this episode with a much more relaxed attitude.


Romería de San Antonio de Padua

Just a selection of photos from yesterday's romería in Frigiliana.


Sleepless Nights!!!

The fairground people have arrived in the village. The rides are being constructed on the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, and on the Coach Park. Some of the stalls have also arrived and everything is in full swing to be ready for the start of Feria on Thursday of this week. That's when the music starts. Every ride blasting out its music at maximum decibels from early evening until la madrugada, for which read so close to morning that it's no longer worth trying to get off to sleep. Our home in the centre of the village is a little too close for comfort to the fairground. But then you don't come to live in Spain if you can't put up with a bit of noise now and then, and this is the annual shindig to celebrate San Antonio de Padua, our patron, and to head off into the river gorge for a romeríawhich is a highly alcoholic pilgrimage, picnic, dance fest, singalong and anything else enjoyable.


For my brother, Pete, who died recently at his home in France

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
that is forever England. There shall be
in that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
a dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
a body of England's breathing English air,
washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
a pulse in the eternal mind, no less
gives back somewhere the thoughts by England given;
her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
and laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
in hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

--Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)


"You couldn't make it up", as the spokesperson said.

This has absolutely nothing to do with living in Spain, but I couldn't resist sharing it with you. Enjoy!


San Isidro

Last weekend we had the Día de la Cruz and next weekend will be the Romería (or pilgrimage) de San Isidro. San Isidro is actually the patron saint of Nerja, and I would probably have given it a miss, having been down to watch it go by last year, but I have started Spanish classes again and my language school will have a carreta or ox cart behind which, as a student, I am entitled to walk, bottle or glass in hand all the way from the centre of Nerja to the picnic area beside the Caves some three miles away. Once at the picnic ground, the real celebration begins with huge amounts of alcohol consumed, music, dancing, singing into the early hours of the day after. Given that the romería leaves the centre of Nerja in the late morning, this means its a marathon event, so I'm not sure yet whether I'll be there.......but it's tempting!


El Día de la Cruz - Frigiliana

Yesterday was the Day of the Cross. All around the village groups of neighbours or shopkeepers got together to construct floral crosses which are then displayed in the streets. Everyone wanders around the village, admiring the various efforts - and talking the opportunity to snack on free tapas - morcilla, chorizo, nuts, olives and the like, as well as a small glass of the local village wine (at each cross). These goodies are provided gratis by the makers of the crosses. The village band goes from one cross to the next and plays enthusiastically, to be followed by a group of local folk musicians, and another group of local dancers. It all starts around 6.30 and goes on as long as you want, really.


Moving In Elevated Circles

I had an excited telephone call from my five and a half year old granddaughter on Sunday evening. "Granddad," she shouted down the phone," We've seen Queen Elizabeth the Second. She was wearing a yellow coat and a yellow hat, and she stopped to talk to the man next to Mummy!" And fortunately Daddy had his camera handy to record events for posterity. They had gone to Smith's Lawn in Windsor Great Park to have a picnic while watching the polo. It turned out to be the day when the Queen was due to officially open the new clubhouse for the Guards' Polo Club. A clear case of 'the right place at the right time'.


Easter Sunday

I have placed a selection of photos taken today, at
Roll 59

A New Trono For Mary

This is the new trono or throne which today, Easter Sunday will be used to carry the statue of Nuestra Señora de la Aurora, Our Lady of the (New) Dawn, in procession around the village.


Domingo de los Ramos - Palm Sunday

The firat procession of Holy Week proper took place on Sunday. These are a couple of photos to give you the flavour.


Semana Santa - Holy Week

Last night the first procession of Holy Week took place in the village. The week doesn't really start until tomorrow, but this year there is a new trono for the Virgin's statue, bought at a cost of some €25,000. I didn't see the procession myself, so have yet to see this new throne. It will be on display in the church, so I will see it tomorrow at Mass.
Tomorrow at 12 noon, we have the blessing of palms and olive branches outside the chapel by the side of the cemetery, after which we all go in procession through the village to the parish church for the Mass. After that, from a spectator point of view, the programme is:
Weds 8th at 6.30pm The small statue of el Santo Cristo de la Caña is carried from Plaza del Ingenio to the church.
Thurs 9th at 10.00pm is the procession of Ntro Padre Jesús Nazareno (Jesus of Nazareth)and Our Lady of the Sorrows around the village leaving from and returning to the church.
Good Friday, 10th The Way of the Cross takes place through the village at noon.
Later in the day, at10.00pm the now crucified Christ is carried through the village in procession, followed by Our lady of the Sorrows; then at midnight - to me the most moving of the processions - the women of the village the Virgin in her grief through the village. All the street lights are switched off, as well as lights in homes overlooking the procession route, and the procession is lit only by the candles carried by the women (all dressed in black) as they sing in typical Andalucian style. At least once on each of tonight's processions, a saeta (flamenco lament) to the Virgin will be sung from one of the balconies.
The final procession takes place on Easter Sunday when after the Easter Mass, at 1.00pm the doors of the church are thrown open and the statues of the Risen Christ and Our Lady of the Dawn are carried out to vigorous clapping from the assembled crowd, and stirring music from the town band. The two then go inprocession through the village taking the good news of the Resurrection to those interred in the cemetery.
And that's Semana Santa over for another year.
The photo at the top of this posting is from last year; photos of this year's celebrations when I have them.

One word of warning! All times in Spain are strictly approximate. Don't expect any of these processions to start at the advertised time. While you're waiting - if you are here - just enjoy the atmosphere.


Getting There....

Well, I've been back to the UK for a couple of weeks and took my dead Macbook with me. I took it into a company in Riseley, between Reading and Basingstoke, called VIS, whom I have used before and can thoroughly recommend. They fitted me a new, bigger hard drive and uprated my RAM to the maximum possible, all within the space of a week. For this they deserve a plug. You'll find their website at and if you're in the UK, their phone number is 01189 886633. Friendly, helpful guys who know their business; what more could you ask!
I lost a whole load of recent photos when my hard disk fried (When will I ever learn to back up frequently?), so here's an old one until I take some more.


A Glutton For Punishment?

Well, it really looks as if we have left the winter weather behind, which is welcome because like so much of Europe, we have had it fairly cold, wet and windy. Now though the temperatures have shifted markedly upwards, the wind has died away and the clouds have disappeared.
However, Wednesday we are off to England for spot of babysitting duty - where right now the weather seems to be....cold, wet and windy! Ah well, it will be great to see our granddaughters, and with luck I'll be able to get my MacBook fixed so I can add photos to my posts again. Fingers crossed!


Short And To The Point

Last night my Macbook died. Until I can resurrect it or replace it, I'm going to have to rely on visits to our local Internet outfit (open evenings only


Carnaval in Nerja

This afternoon we went down to Nerja for the last day of Carnaval, el entierro del chanquete (the anchovy's funeral). Carnaval is a three day festival which ushers in La Cuaresma or Lent as we know it in English. Friday saw the children's fancy dress parade through the streets of the town, followed in the evening by the selection of Carnaval princesses, a Carnaval Queen and a Carnaval Prince.This is also the evening when various groups of singers, ranging from quartets to full-blown choirs compete in the singing of satirical songs about local characters, politicians and issues.
Saturday is the day of the main parade of adults in fancy dress accompanied by more music. The participants are judged in different categories with prizes for the winners. However, to claim their prizes the winners have to take part in the funeral ceremony. A marquee had been set up in the new Plaza Nueva, and the chanquete - in reality a tiny fish, but here about six feet long and constructed out of papier maché - rests on its bier awaiting the start of the procession. The widow and her retinue, prostrate with grief, receive the condolences of all before setting off through the streets on the chanquete's final journey. The town band follows the bier playing, alternately, funeral dirges and bouncy, popular tunes, the mourners by turns desolate and exultant. Finally the cortege arrives at the beach by the Balcon de Europa, where to the accompaniment of fireworks, fuses concealed within the chaquete are lit and the poor departed fish is blown to smithereens. Then it's into the serious time of Lent.
Except up the hill in Frigiliana, where our carnaval doesn't happen until next weekend when Lent has already started


Wonderful Walking Country

A warm, springlike day with the temperature up to around 20C, and an almost cloudless sky, so we set off by car and parked up by the Nerja caves. From there we walked about three kilometers along a dirt road through pine forests into the mountains before turning back on ourselves and dropping down into the Barranco (gorge) de la Coladilla. Two weeks ago we couldn't have done this walk as the river would have been in full spate. Today though, as the photo shows, it is once again a dry riverbed which makes for easy walking. About two and a half hours in total to cover a distance of seven and a half kilometers, and we were back home in time for lunch.


Seeing Is Believing.......Or is it?

I love the fact that there is never a part of the year when we don't have flowers in bloom. Recently I noticed this prickly pear beside the road from Frigiliana down to Nerja on the coast. It was surprising to see it flowering so early in the year, but what really hit me was that it was producing two different colours of bloom. Now that is unusual, so I had to have a photo (several actually). However, once I got close enough to take the photos I realised that all was not what it seemed. A prickly pear producing red and blue roses? They turned out to be silk, planted by someone with either a sense of humour or of beauty. Never mind, they still brightened up my day!


The Drought Is Over - I Hope!

No sooner had we bought our jacuzzi and installed it in its special corner of the roof terrace than notices went up all over the village informing us that the water company for the region had finally managed to get us included in the drought order (the village that is; not the two of us as a couple.) which applies to the rest of this area, the Axarquía. One consequence is that mains water cannot be used to fill pools. For other towns and villages it's understandable as the rains have never properly arrived for about five years and so local reservoirs were perilously low. Lake Viñuela, from which Frigiliana draws a little of its water had fallen to only 16% of capacity.

That shouldn't be a problem for our village, however. The bulk of our water comes from the mountains behind us. These start out in life as the Sierra Nevada, with Mulhacén being the highest peak in the Iberian Peninsula. The Sierra is a huge lump of dolomite limestone topped off with a thick coating of snow for around eight months of the year, snow which slowly percolates down into this giant sponge, emerging as numerous springs when it finally reaches the clay base. So many of the springs arise around the village that for centuries the people of Frigiliana were known as "Los aguanosos", the watery ones, by the rest of the Axarquía.

Finally, though, the proper seasonal rains would appear to have arrived. We've had substantial rainfalls on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday night, yesterday evening and today. It's not a scientifically accurate measure, but the bucket out on the terrace, which was empty at the weekend, now has 5 inches of water in it. On that basis Lake Viñuela should be filling up nicely, and when the water in the jacuzzi needs changing in April, we should be free to get on with it. Fingers crossed!


IV Festival de las Tres Culturas 2009

In one of my early postings (22.08.08) I sang the praises of Frigiliana's festival of three cultures. Online a few minutes ago I came across a reference to Fitur, the major annual Spanish tourism convention in Madrid. Frigiliana is promoting this year's festival at the convention, from which I learn that the dates are 27th to 30th August. If you're free that (long) weekend, it's a great event to head for. If you read Spanish, you will find more details here .


A Taste Of Things To Come

Wednesday night the wind finally blew itself out taking the clouds with it. Thursday morning thus dawned with a clear blue sky and not a breath of wind. We sat outside on our small side terrace for breakfast in the sun. Jackets, jumpers and sweaters were put aside when we went out and the few holiday makers wearing shorts did not seem quite so mad as for the past couple of months. By the afternoon, the temperature had climbed to 21 degrees and we spent half an hour in the hot tub up on the roof terrace and afterwards sat there soaking up the late afternoon sun. The weather today was very similar, and we were over in a neighbouring village having lunch with friends on their terrace, which only ten days ago had two inches of snow cover.

The weather will soon change again, I've no doubt. We still face at least another three or four weeks of winter, but this was a very welcome interlude that we enjoyed to the full..... and will again tomorrow if the weather holds.


La Cruz del Pinto

One of the things I promised myself back in England was that once in Spain I would get properly back into my stride - forgive the pun - so far as walking is concerned. At a very simple level, if going somewhere within the village I always go on foot, never in the car. But I also wanted to take advantage of the fantastic mountain country that we have literally on our doorstep. This first year has demanded so much time with builders and bureaucrats that up to now very little time had been left to do anything about the walking. Today though I finally went off on a walk into the mountains.

It was only a short walk, four miles, and my wife and a friend of ours in the village who was also keen to do more came with me. We went to the top of a hill on the other side of the valley that I have looked at with intent for several years. In local terms it is simply a little hill, but at 2,000 feet above sea level, it impresses this Englishman. You begin by dropping steeply down into the river gorge and then climbing all the way up the other side before setting off along the ridge, skirting round the eastern side of another hill on the way and then climbing steeply up to the summit from where you have magnificent views up into the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, and down to Nerja and all along the coast.

There is a cross cum shrine on the summit, and the name of the hill recalls a sailor of (I think) the sixteenth century whose ship ran into ferocious storms on its way from Motril to Malaga, and the whole ship's company were convinced they were going to die. The captain, whose surname was Pinto, reportedly went down on his knees and prayed for deliverance, promising that if they safely reached land he would climb to the nearest summit and build a cross in thanksgiving. Well the boat ran aground on Burriana beach in Nerja, the whole crew got safely ashore, and true to his word, Captain Pinto built his cross on the hill which now bears the name of La Cruz del Pinto. Down the centuries, the cross has been replaced several times, but I thought that if Pinto took so much trouble, it was not too much to ask for me to venture up to see it one day. It was all well worth the effort.

Oh, and my new boots behaved impeccably so I didn't need to change into the pair of trainers I took with me, "por si las moscas"


San Sebastian

Yesterday was the Fiesta de San Sebastian, original patron saint of the village. The day provided a clear illustration of why he was later superseded by San Antonio de Padua. The day dawned sunnily enough, but with a vicious wind coming down from the mountains to the north, and with a sharp drop in temperature from around 16 or 17 to a high yesterday of 10 degree. Before long the cloud swept in too. Even so around 2.30 - only an hour later than scheduled: we have learned that all times in Spain are strictly approximate - the compere took to the stage which had been set up in the plaza, and the dancing began. Teams of girls and women from Frigiliana and surrounding villages took part dancing 'verdiales', a style of fandango peculiar to Malaga province. Sadly this was interrupted by rain and everyone, dancers included, had to run for cover.
Fortunately the statue of San Sebastian is one of the smaller ones and so the procession through the village went ahead as planned. We then discovered another advantage of our large roof terrace. From it we were treated to a grandstand view of the fireworks that closed the day.


Hats Off To The Man Who Invented The Walking Pole!

We awoke this morning to clear blue skies and sunshine. It was warm enough to sit out on our side terrace for breakfast, and we had nothing demanding our attention all day. So with breakfast out of the way we set off out of the house and down the steps to the main street. Two hundred metres along the main street a quick right turn beside the Guardia Civil put us onto the steep track down into the gorge that runs behind the village. We have often been this way before, but previously we have always turned upstream when we got to the river and worked our way on up into the mountains. Today we turned downstream and followed the river bed down to the town of Nerja 6km away. At this time of the year there is always water in the river - that might sound obvious, but through most of spring, all of summer and part of the autumn, the river will be dry this far from its source - but not too much, though a considerable amount of stream hopping was involved, and at one stage the town hall have thoughtfully provided a precipitous, vertigo-inducing flight of steps to negotiate the waterfalls in the narrow gorge encountered just before the river emerges into a broad, flat valley which took us the rest of the way. That was the point where I was particularly grateful to my pair of shock-absorbing walking poles.

Just over two hours of walking at a sensible pace and we arrived in Nerja where we just had time for a leisurely coffee in the sun outside a local bar before climbing onto the half past one bus for a ten minute drive back up to Frigiliana.


The Main Topic of Conversation

The British are renowned for their obsession with the weather, what it is doing, what it's going to do and what it should be doing. Well I've got news for you. The Spanish are equally obsessed. All through July and August people greeted each other with "Uff, qué calor!" (How hot it is!). this gave way in September to "Less hot today!!", then when the October rains came the greeting became "Agua!", which basically translates as "Thank God. At last we're getting some water". And right now the phrase on everyone's lips is "Qué frío!" as the January cold weather kicks in; it actually arrived in early December to be punctuated by a few days of milder weather every ten days or so. Whether it's because winter arrived early or not, I don't know, but the consensus is that we have never had it this cold. Which is rather strange because we spent six months here from October 2004 to April 2005 'test driving' the idea of moving here permanently. And THAT winter the press variously reported it as being the coldest for fifty years or even eighty years; take your pick. All I know is that iot's not the kind of temperature that was in my mind when the dream of living in Spain was first born. Even so, it's a nicer place to endure cold weather than the grey, wet, windy North West of England where we used to live!!
And as I write this at ten to six in the evening the sun is still shining just above the ridge to the west of us.


The Year Ahead

After New Year's Eve, New Year's Day was a pretty quiet occasion here in the village. Nor was there a rush to the January Sales. They don't start until after our next fiesta, Los Reyes Magos or the Magi who mark Epiphany. On the evening before (5th), Los Reyes arrive in the village - in our case, riding mules - and process through the crowded streets hurling boiled sweets in all directions until they arrive at the public hall where, Santa-like, they take their seats and distribute gifts to the children. That night before going to bed, the children put a shoe outside the front door so that on the following day they will find their big present awaiting them. The day is a national holiday throughout Spain.
Then we have to wait until the 20th before we get another chance to let our hair down on the Feast of San Sebastian, the original patron saint of the village who has the bad grace to celebrate his anniversary at the wrong time of the year; even so the event will be marked with a day off!
February sees two holidays, the 21st which is Andalucia Day, swiftly followed on the 24th by Carneval or Shrove Tuesday. In fact everyone from Frigiliana will be in Nerja down on the coast, because their Carneval is much bigger than ours. Ours - I'm not sure about the theology! - will have to wait until the following Saturday.
March this year offers no opportunities at all for a knees-up, because Semana Santa or Holy Week comes at the beginning of April. This is one of the big observances of the Spanish year and is of spectacular proportions in the major cities, especially Sevilla.
May brings Labour Day on the 1st, and Cruz de Mayo on the 3rd. The latter is marked by the building and display of floral crosses around the village. Everyone makes the rounds to view them and pass judgement, and to receive the gifts of food and drink that the proud originators of each cross provide.
Things go swingingly in June. First, Corpus Christi on the 11th, a week-long Feria to celebrate the feast of Saint Anthony de Padua, the village's present patron saint who was pragmatically chosen to usurp San Sebastian on the unarguable basis that he offered much better weather for a week's carousel than his predecessor. Then, as if a week of fun was insufficient, there's another day off on the 24th to celebrate the Feast of San Juan Bautista (St John the Baptist) who is King Juan Carlos' name saint.
On 25th July Santiago Matamoros (St James the Greater, who appeared on the battle field during one of the Christian/Moorish wars), patron saint of Spain, whose cathedral in Santiago de Compostela is the final destination of those who walk the ancient Camino de Santiago.
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated with a national holiday on August 15th, whilst on the last weekend of the month there is the now traditional Festival of Three Cultures (Christian, Muslim and Jewish) in the village, a four day affair.
In September we arrive at the fiesta of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores (Our Lady of the Sorrows) on the 15th.
El Dîa de la Hispanidad,also known as El Pilar, is on the 12th October and demands yet another day off. It is Spain and the Spanish-speaking world's national day and commemorates the date in 1492 when Columbus first set foot ashore in the New World.
1st November is Todos los Santos, when each family takes flowers and candles to the cemetery and the village gathers there to remember its dead.
And so, in no time at all it seems, we are back to December with days off for the Day of the Constitution (6th), the Immaculate Conception (8th), Noche Buena (24th), Navidad (25th) and Noche Vieja (31st), after which it's time to start all over again.
It's a hard life, and I haven't mentioned La Puente; if one of the above days falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday, then many people will make a bridge (una puente) to the nearest weekend and take either the Monday or the Friday off as well.


Wishing You a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year From Frigiliana

It's been a whirl of activity since Christmas Eve, with our granddaughters over here for a few days to see where grandma and granddad now live - and splash around in the hot tub, which was a good excuse for mummy and daddy to clamber in, too; to supervise them, of course.

They all flew back to England yesterday, leaving us to experience New Year in the village for the first time. The Spanish have a similar attitude to the Scots when it comes to celebrating the occasion. New Year's Eve is a time for family and friends to get together for a meal - at someone's home or in a restaurant, but the real celebration is of the arrival of the new year itself. Tradition demands that everyone gathers in the main square in front of the church armed with twelve grapes (seedless is the safest option). On the first stroke of midnight you eat a grape; on the second stroke a second, and so on until the twelfth stroke sees the last grape popped into the mouth.

The last grape has scarcely gone down before the first rocket goes up, followed another, and a whole stream of rockets of different varieties - colourful ones, white ones, but all very loud - in no particular order. While this is going on, the music starts, a local group take the stage, the open-air bar gets into its stride, people snap up bottles of cava and the party begins with much cheek kissing, and cries of "Happy New Year" from the expats and "Próspero Año Nuevo" from the Spanish, as everyone mills around the square greeting friends old and new, pausing frequently to dance to the music.

We finally drank the last of our cava bottle and headed off for home around two thirty, happy and proud to be among the stragglers..... though there were plenty of people still partying in the square, and the local bars were crowded.

A great start to a new, exciting year in our new home. Between you and me, I think we made the right decision coming here in March!