31/12/2010

Resolution


In November I celebrated my 70th birthday - and pretty well, too, actually. As the New Year looms on the horizon, I have decided that it will be the opportunity to demonstrate that 70 is simply a number, not a landmark nor a rite of passage.
I'll sort out the details as the year unfolds, but I think I might manage to stay with this year's resolution.

29/12/2010

A Picture Tells A Thousand Words

 In which case, this album of photos submitted for the 2010 competition organised by the website of Noticias Frigiliana, should save several hours of reading - a pictorial guide to Frigiliana!


http://www.flickr.com/photos/35344998@N02/

25/12/2010

Happy Christmas

I wish a very Happy Christmas to anyone reading this post.

22/12/2010

Lucky For Some

Photo from MSN.com site
Today is the first day of Christmas here in Spain. It is the day of El Gordo, the huge Christmas lottery. All over Spain television sets were switched on at 8 am as a succession of children from a Madrid school called out the winning numbers and the value of the prize. Wherever you find yourself within earshot of a set, the chant "Cincuenta y uno, tres cientos, cuarenta y ocho", "Miiiiil eeuurooos!" continues for the best part of five hours until some 1800 numbers have been drawn and an early Christmas present has been conjured up for many times that number of people. A 'bote' or full ticket costs 200€, but most tickets are sold as 'decimos' (one tenth of a ticket) at 20€ each. Often friends will club together to share a decimo.
A ticket bears a five digit number, yielding a possible 99,999 combinations, but each number is sold many times over. In Málaga, for instance, ticket number 15548 had been sold forty times. It drew one of eight fifth prizes, delivering some 2 million euros into the Perchel district of the city. The same number had been sold elsewhere in Spain as well of course, so that set of five digits brought joy to many more people. Each 'bote' receives the full, fifth prize of 5,000€ which is then shared between the holders of decimos of that ticket.
The winning ticket this year - El Gordo - (79250) was worth 3,000,000€ and thirteen of these tickets were sold, giving a first prize total of 39,000,000€. You can see how it mounts up, and why this is a day when not very much gets done - except by the TV crews rushing to interview winners in pueblos or barrios where the big tickets have been sold.
Oh, and Christmas draws to a close on 6th January which is not only the Feast of the Three Kings, but also the occasion of the other Christmas mega-lottery, El Niño; must remember to get my decimo!

21/12/2010

Into Each Life.........


........... a little rain must fall. And right now, it's our turn. Coming back from coffee in a local bar a few minutes ago, I encountered a particularly large and heavy lump of rain which promptly converted the stepped alleyway from the main street up to our front door into a very creditable imitation of a waterfall. Fortunately, I had gone out suitably dressed in my African bush hat which kept the downpour off my glasses (rain is usually not accompanied by wind, and so falls vertically.), my waterproof jacket, waterproof trousers and - most importantly - my wellies. So I just climbed nonchalantly through it and am now sitting warm and dry in my living room.

10/12/2010

Crack-down Approaches

Five years ago the Spanish government introduced a ban on smoking in public places - as did many other countries around that time. Of course, being Spain it wasn't quite so clear cut. Although smoking was banned in all indoor workplaces, places of entertainment, shops, hotels, bars and restaurants, and other enclosed places, not to mention public transport, owners of bars and restaurants with a floor area of 100 sq metres or less were permitted a discretion; they could decide along with their customers whether to apply the ban or not. This is why you could be forgiven for thinking that there is no such ban in Spain. The great majority of bars/restaurants were, or considered themselves to be, less than 100 sq metres, and the owners quite correctly presumed that their smoking customers would prefer to carry on as usual.

 Not, however, for very much longer. A revised law has now passed all its hurdles and will come into effect on January 2nd 2011. Smoking will then be completely prohibited in all enclosed public spaces - defined as "all places accessible to the public or for common usage, whether publicly or privately owned." The only concessions are that hotels may set apart 30% of their rooms for smokers, as long as they are completely separated from the remaining rooms (probably, 'smoking floors'), and the outdoor areas of prisons, psychiatric clinics and centres for the elderly or disabled.

 It will be interesting to see how it goes.

01/12/2010

The Joys Of Technology

First thing this morning I booted up my laptop and opened my satnav software. I then removed a new map set which had steadfastly refused to install on Monday after I had downloaded it, and then began the download all over again. Spain does not have the fastest broadband connections and my maps cover the whole of Europe, so I kicked my heels throughout the mroning, occasionally returning to the machine to ensure that the download was still going smoothly. In the meantime I made a batch of dough, put it to prove and then baked a loaf - yes, the download took all that time and more. Eventually, at 1.30pm, I removed the loaf from the oven, and returned to the laptop where the download had just completed.
A few seconds elapsed and then a box appeared on=screen: Error. Cannot install maps. That's what happened the first time! So that's now nine hours in total trying, unsuccessfully, to update my maps. It's particularly galling because I have a subscription which entitles me to four major updates a year.
I can't help recalling that in the days before satnav, I used to buy a new road atlas every three or four years. I still seemed to reach my destination the vast majority of times.

20/11/2010

The Nights Draw In

Today a long-sleeved shirt has come out of the wardrobe. Trousers, shoes and socks replaced shorts and sandals about a month ago. And a few minutes ago, I pulled on a sweater as well. Spanish houses fall down quite badly on thermal insulation. Outside, if you sit in the sun, out of the breeze, then it"s still lovely and warm for most of the daylight hours, but indoors the temperature is down to around 17°. Back in England that was enjoyably mild; here in Spain an acclimatised ex-pat finds it distinctly chilly.
It"s a lot cloudier recently, too and my web-based weather forecasts indicate that over the next couple of weeks we can expect rain on between half and two thirds of the days. This is not surprising; this is one of our 'rainy seasons' in the run-up to Christmas. Hopefully, we won't see the protracted, heavy rains that we endured last winter, but neither do we want to embark on another drought! Time will tell!

16/11/2010

A Second Bite Of The Cherry

We returned from Cabo de Gata on the Tuesday, giving us just enough time to empty the suitcases, repack them and head for the airport on Thursday morning to catch a flight to Gatwick. We had booked three nights in a hotel in Ripley, just around the corner from our elder daughter and her family, followed by two nights staying with them for a spot of babysitting duty, before returning to Frigiliana the following Tuesday.
The purpose of this trip was to celebrate my birthday with the family, which we did with a lunch on the Saturday at a local pub with en excellent menu. In addition to our daughter and son-in-law and our two granddaughters, we were joined by our other daughter who lives about an hour away, my youngest brother’s ex-wife, her partner and one of her sons - sadly Peter died last year, and her other son was on rotation working out in Khazakstan - and my other brother. We had a similar get-together in the summer of last year, shortly after Peter died; this, a much more cheerful occasion, was another really enjoyable day, and I’m sure people are already wondering how we can meet up again next year.
In addition to my birthday lunch we had the treat of attending our eldest granddaughter’s school fireworks display on the Thursday evening; she only started at the school in September, so took great pride in showing us around, and of joining our younger daughter again on the Monday for her birthday lunch.
So, here I am back in Frigiliana with the completion of my three score years and ten behind me. I am banking on my genetic inheritance (both my paternal grandparents were in their mid-eighties when they died) to give me a good few more years of active enjoyment of living this dream.
¡Hasta la próxima!, as my Spanish neighbours would say.

03/11/2010

A Weekend To Remember.

This past weekend, we went to the Cabo de Gata Natural Park in Almería for two nights, to celebrate my birthday. It’s only about two and a half hours away by car and we have often thought of visiting it but never got round to it. However, 70 seemed to call for a bit more of a celebration than your run of the mill birthday, so that prompted action.
On the internet I found a likely-looking hotel in the coastal village of Las Negras and booked us in for Sunday and Monday nights. It turned out to be a wonderful hotel in a magic spot, and I’ve no doubt that we shall be going there again.
Although Cabo de Gata is so near to us, the province of Almería is very different to our own Málaga Province. The area gets very little rainfall most years, and indeed from the mid-1940s to the mid-80s it experienced a forty year drought! The climate is reflected in the barren, desert landscape, and even today it remains sparsely populated, although centuries ago the rich deposits of lead, gold and iron made it a major mining area. The mountainous terrain betrays its volcanic history.
The four star Hotel Cala Grande, a recently built modern building is all cool whites and greys in a minimalist style which contrasts with the landscape, but is in harmony with the typical architecture of Almería, squat, cuboid, white houses with flat roofs. In the basement it boasts a spa, gymnasium and both outdoor and indoor pools. Forty five minutes being pummelled and pulled on the massage table was the icing on the cake.
For some reason Blogger is refusing to upload a photo for this post, so I’ve put a selection of photos on Flikr if you wish to have a look (http://www.flickr.com/photos/53210313@N06/).
One note of caution, there is a town of Cabo de Gata just outside the park. It is a fairly pedestrian Spanish working town. Better to stay in Las Negras, La Isleta del Moro, or San José.

24/10/2010

Statistics Can Be Misleading

Apparently, the Málaga province is the third worst in Spain when it comes to providing residential care places for the elderly, managing only 2.2 places per 100 elderly citizens. Clearly, action is needed urgently to remedy the situation.
Except that......... there is no shortage of such places in the province. There persists in the south of Spain much more than in the rest of the Peninsula, and especially in Málaga Province, a tradition of commitment to and care of elderly relatives within the family. The norm is for the old to live at home for as long as they can, and in residential care only when the need for professional medical and nursing intervention requires it.
I think my neighbours got to the Big Society well ahead of David Cameron!

16/10/2010

Another Dose of History!

I was writing recently about the ‘reconquest’ of Spain by the Catholic Monarchs, suggesting that after 800 years of Moorish rule, it was stretching things quite considerably to add the prefix ‘re’ to conquest. Out of interest, I have been looking back into the early history of the Iberian Peninsula (both the names Spain and Portugal refer to a relatively recent political state of affairs), and what I found quite surprised me.
A simple glance at a map of Europe shows clearly that the peninsula is an integral part of the continent; indeed it accounts for quite a significant proportion of the landmass. Seen from a 21st century perspective, the Iberian Peninsula belongs in (to?) Europe. So it is strange that the first Europeans didn’t arrive in the area until somewhere between 900 and 400 BC. The earliest settlers were stone age people crossing over from North Africa around 4,000BC. Then, around 1,100BC we have the arrival of the Phoenicians who travelled the Mediterranean from what is now Lebanon, founding colonies and trading posts. It was the Phoenicians who founded Gadir (today, Cádiz), a thousand years before the birth of Christ, making Cádiz far and away the oldest city in Europe. Over the next four to five hundred years, the Greeks also set up trading posts along the east coast of the Peninsula, and then in 500BC the Carthaginians settled the southern part of the peninsula from present-day Tunisia.
Meanwhile, ‘Europeans’ had settled the northern coastal regions of the peninsula between 900 and 400BC, but were inhibited from spreading very far south by the range of coastal mountains running broadly east to west across the land.
Next to arrive were the Romans, who began to colonise from 210BC, spreading across the peninsula over the next 200 years, in 27BC dividing Hesperides, as they named it, into three bands, northern, central and southern; the southern province (from Mérida in Extramadura down to the coast at the straits and across to Adra in eastern Andalucia, in today’s terms).
As the Roman Empire disintegrated, first the Vandals invaded from Germany in 409AD, followed by the Visigoths from Gaul, who took control of most of the peninsula. They controlled the land from the 5th to the 7th century AD.
Then in 711, the Visigoths were defeated by Berbers from North Africa, who advanced right through the peninsula over the next seven years, suffering their first defeat in 718 at the hands of Pelayo in the battle of Covadonga in Asturias. This is usually recognised by historians as the start of the Reconquest. The victory resulted in the Christian kingdom of Asturias, a tiny area of approximately 65km by 50km.
So for the first 4,500 years of the known history of the Iberian Peninsula, culturally it was overwhelmingly North African and Mediterranean. The only European settlements were along the northern coast. Which makes sense. Until well into the twentieth century, Spain and Portugal, as they had by now become were cut off from the rest of Europe by the wall of the Pyrenees, stretching from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Access was mainly by sea; and the Mediterranean was a much more accomodating place than the Bay of Biscay!
If we accept the Vandals and Visigoths as the first serious attempt to colinise the peninsula from northern, Christian Europe, then their tenure can be seen to have lasted just three hundred years before being pushed back by the Berbers under Tariq. If we are going to talk about a reconquest, maybe we should bestow that title on the year 711.

09/10/2010

¡Agua!

The year rolls on and with it the change from one season to the next. So today we had our first proper rain day of the autumn. It began around ten o'clock this morning and continued to rain heavily until around eight o'clock this evening. The steps from our street down to the main street underwent their customary transformation into a waterfall, although the drainage works carried out earlier in the year meant that the main street itself didn't become a stream.
We're fortunate this year that last year's rains were heavy and prolonged and so there is no shortage of water, but we rely on the rains to ensure that that remains true for next year as well. So it's good to see the rain; we're likely to have it with us for the next three or four weeks, not constant but quite common. Then there is usually a second rainy period around February and March.
The Spanish word for rain is lluvia, but that is not a word you hear much of in Andalucía; here it is referred to simply as agua (water). Indeed, the word agua almost becomes a greeting. As you pass people in the street, instead of the usual ¡Hola! you are likely to hear ¡Agua! to which the reply is Si ¡agua!.

05/10/2010

History Is Written By The Victors

Moorish Spain, we are told, began with the invasion and rapid occupation by ‘the Moors’ of a large part of the Iberian Peninsula in the year 711, and ended with the Reconquest in 1492, resulting in the expulsion of the Moors from the Peninsula. For ‘Moors’ we might be inclined to substitute ‘Arabs’; we would be wrong.

We would be wrong in a number of respects. Firstly, the people arriving in Hispania, as it was then known, were Berbers from the Atlas Mountains and Rif area of North Africa, just across the straits. Secondly, the so-called invasion was only one of a series of waves of immigration from this area which had been happening ever since the collapse of Roman rule around 410AD, Thirdly, although many Jews and Muslims were indeed expelled in 1492, the majority of Muslims remained and became forcible converts to Christianity - moriscos. All of which goes to show that reality is usually much more untidy than history.

But then history only tells one part of the story. Being written by the victors, it tells the story as they would have it known; which is not necessarily how it happened. Let’s take that evocative term, ‘Reconquest’, for example. The Roman rule of Hispania began around 211BC and lasted for six hundred years to about 410AD. It was then superseded by the collapse of the Roman empire, the departure of the Romans from what had been their most important territory after Italy, and their replacement by Visigoths moving in from Gaul to fill the vacuum. Daily life, however, continued pretty much as usual in the Roman manner; the local population had developed its political, commercial and social structures over the course of some 600 years.

Al-Ándalus, the name given to that large area of the peninsula (roughly the southern half, from the Meseta to the Mediterranean), lasted officially from 711 to 1492 - virtually 800 years, or one third longer than Roman Hispania. How, under those circumstances, can you properly attach the term ‘reconquest’ to the military campaigns of Ferdinand and Isabella (Los Reyes Católicos)? It’s as if the Welsh and the Irish were to join forces today to evict the Normans from England and Scotland and reclaim the British Isles for the Celts. And how would they identify them?

There’s much more to the story, but that will do for today.

23/09/2010

A Chance Encounter

I was just checking something online when I noticedthis website and clicked on it. Hey Presto! Walking holidays being offered here in the village.
I've opened a 'links' section and this is the first entry. As I come across other sites of local interest I'll add them in. Hope you find them helpful!

21/09/2010

Raising the Profile.

Frigiliana features alongside the Alhambra and Nerja in the video for Sharon Corr's debut single.

18/09/2010

Autumn

Thursday and Friday we had the first real rain since May, a clear indication that we have moved out of summer and into the beginnings of autumn. But we were on the southern edge of the weather system and avoided the much heavier rain that fell in much of the rest of the Peninsula. Now the weather has cleared again, and it is warm and sunny once more, but there will be other isolated days of rain over the next month to six weeks; then we can expect - or at least, hope for - the proper autumn rains. Then the rain should be heavy and prolonged over the course of around a fortnight to three weeks.

This year new drains have been laid along c/ San Sebastian, the main street of the new village. At the same time, culverts have been installed so that the water cascading down the stepped streets (callejones) climbing up to the ridge from the main street is diverted into the new drains before reaching San Sebastian. So the water running down the street should be simply from the rain that falls on it. The callejones, however, will doubtless perform their customary trick of transforming themselves into rushing torrents, water up to 10cm deep tumbling down the steps. OK if you left home prepared, wearing the wellingtons you brought from England, but otherwise drenching your trousers as you plod valiantly up the waterfall to the safety of your own front door. Still, at least the streets are beautifully clean after a few days of this rain and your trousers soon dry out; shoes take longer, though.

Lest you misunderstand me, our rains are so well-dispersed in the year, that they have their own attraction and appeal. And of course, plenty of rain in autumn and again in spring ensures well-filled reservoirs and aquifers to carry us through all those hot, sunny, dry days that characterise this region.

13/09/2010

It's That Time Of Year Again

It's the middle of September. The summer holidays are over. The children are back at school. The heat, such as it was, has gone out of the British sun. The days are getting shorter. Hopes of a good summer this year have finally evaporated. In another six weeks the clocks will go back; it will be dark when you travel home from work. Shortly after that, it will be dark when you go to work too.

So it's the time of year when you ask yourself whether there isn't a better life you could opt for. I guess this year that feeling will be even stronger in the UK as people look forward with apprehension to George Osborne's autumn spending cuts; it looks like being a long, hard, miserable winter.

You remember the sun, the fun, the stress-free time on the Spanish costas. And you may be tempted to up sticks and head for a new start and a better life in Spain - like the one I enjoy! If, like me, you are retired and have a secured pension income, (moderate will do), then I wouldn't seek to discourage you. How could I, when my entries in this blog paint such an attractive picture of life out here?

If, on the other hand, you have dependent children and you need to work in order to provide yourself with an income, then you should think very long and very hard; and you should probably conclude that it's better to keep it as a dream.

Younger Brits coming to Spain either have a trade, often to do with the building industry if male, or to do with hairdressing, beauty if female, or expect to find a job which demands their fluent grasp of English. This latter category usually means either estate agency, or running a bar/restaurant aimed at the British residents/holiday-makers.

The Spanish construction industry, and with it estate agency, has collapsed almost completely; a host of estate agencies have closed down over the past couple of years. Nothing is selling. The tower crane has become a rare sight, where once they despoiled the skyline. Spain is awash with Spanish construction workers - bricklayers, plumbers, electricians, roofers, tilers, plasterers, painters, etc - desperately looking for work. As a foreigner, you might as well not even try. Tourism numbers are down, so there is a glut of hairdressers and beauticians.

To give you an idea of the situation, here in Frigiliana, a village of 3,000 people, there are 258 people 'en paro' (on the dole), that's just over 8.5%. But, of course that 3,000 includes retired people no longer looking for work, mothers choosing to stay at home to care for children, and those children themselves. So - and I'm guessing now - probably only half of the population is in the 'working' group. In which case, 258 unemployed represents 17% of the working population or one in six. That's how bad things are right now.

There are also more bars and restaurants than the present state of the tourist industry can support; residents are eating out less frequently than they used to, so they can't make up the gap. You could, of course, offer 'something different' - import British beer, offer a full English breakfast, a roast Sunday lunch. Except that that isn't different; it's what most struggling British-owned bars are doing; and it doesn't work.

So I hate to be a killjoy, but if you dream of a new start for you and your children in a better climate, forget it. For those who have to work it will turn out to be a nightmare.

08/09/2010

Miscellany

Every now and then I pick up a copy of a free, English-language newspaper. There's not usually that much in it to interest me, but the latest edition is something of an exception. To share a little of the content with you:
"Almost five cars per resident in Colmenar"
Colmenar has approximately 3,600 residents, but 17,407 cars are registered there. Municipal Vehicle Tax (the Spanish equivalent of the vehicle excise licence) is operated at a local government level with each authority permitted to set its own level of tax. The Axarquia region, which includes Frigiliana and Colmenar, sets a particularly low level of tax. As a consequence, Madrileños with second homes in the Axarquia, and car hire companies register their vehicles here, even though they are rarely if ever to be found in the towns.
"Happy expats want to stay"
I'm sure you, like me, have been exposed to much UK media coverage detailing the misery being experienced by us expats "trapped" in retirement hell. Well a recent large-scale survey found that on the contrary, 77.3% of expats are 'happy' and a further 16.5% are 'relatively happy' living in Spain. Only 3.5% wish they could leave and only 2.7% are planning to do so.
"Alfarnatejo earthquake is virtually unnoticed" - Well, that says it all, really.
"Hottest August"
It appears this year gave us the hottest August since 1942, with an average temperature of 27.6 degrees, and night-time temperatures rarely lower than 22 degrees. Now, though it's September, the wind has swung from the south-east to the west, and the daily maximum is around 29 degrees; normality returns!

04/09/2010

A Taste of the Three Cultures



Well yet another Three Cultures Festival is behind us. This year's was a bit draining; not the content, which to my mind was better than ever, but the heatwave that hit a couple of days before and lasted through until the Sunday. There's just so much going on. This year I took advantage of my much improved Spanish and attended the three lectures on different aspects of the local culture which can be traced back to islamic, jewish and christian roots. Fascinating. In fact I've ordered a book by one of the speakers. When I've had a chance to read it, and check that I understood correctly what was being said, I'll return to the subject and share some of it with you.
In the meantime, here's a snatch of the percussion group who signed off the festival on Sunday night. ¡ Buen aproveche !

29/08/2010

(Absolute) Beginners' Spanish - Lesson 1

Perhaps it was the kind of pub I frequented, but I became used in England to hearing someone complaining bitterly about people who 'come over here and don't bother to learn English'. I had a certain sympathy with that point of view.
Maybe that is why today, walking through the old part of the village, I experienced a bout of the red mist on seeing a 3 word sign which managed to accommodate no fewer than five separate mistakes! It was hanging outside a British-run bar; the proprietors have been in occupation for more than enough time to pick up the basics - after all, they have to deal with the town hall over business licensing matters, providers of utilities, wholesalers; all of them Spanish - but appear to have chosen not to bother. Maybe they think that it's not important, as the bulk of their clientele either is British or speaks English. A similar argument by a Bangladeshi cornershop keeper in Yorkshire would cut no ice.

The notice said: "Grande mojito's €5"
Error 1: Even in English, a simple plural does not take an apostrophe.
Error 2: The 'apostrophe s' does not exist at all in Spanish.
Error 3: In Spanish the adjective (grande) follows the noun.
Error 4: Spanish adjectives agree with the noun in both gender and number.
Error 5: In English, the £ sign comes in front of the number, but in Spanish the € follows the number.
Not a bad total out of three words; I suppose it even deserves a little (very) grudging respect.

The notice should read: "Mojitos grandes 5€"

25/08/2010

"Home Is Where The Heart Is"


I don't know who it was who said this, but it came to mind when a friend suggested that I have two homes now; the UK the home of my birth and Spain the home of my retirement. I was in the UK on holiday when he said it, so it seemed wise to wait until I was back in Frigiliana, and had pondered his words for a while, before commenting.

The photo that accompanies this posting depicts a childhood holiday destination which awakened in me a lifelong (so far!) love of the English Lake District. It shows "Seldom Seen" an extremely aptly named row of lead miners' cottages in a hanging valley above Ullswater. It's at the end of a rough lane, about a kilometre from the road. No more clues; those of us who have seen it are keeping the secret. I took the photo two weeks ago, but it looks exactly as it did in the 1950's when we used to go there each summer for a two week holiday. I moved on to youth hostelling and subsequently walked pretty much all of the Lake District, including siting on all three of the highest summits, which I have to admit were modest by comparison with La Sierra Tejeda behind me.

So, is my friend right? The appeal of England nowadays is linked to the presence of my family and a small number of close friends. To that may be added one place - the aforementioned Lake District. Beyond this? Nothing, I'm afraid. I'm not going to indulge the ex-pat's litany of complaints about the country I was born and grew up in.

But I am sitting here at my computer in Frigiliana - and I'm home. This is it. Just the one! Sorry, Jaan.

12/08/2010

Late Christmas Present

My wife and I are over in the UK at the moment, escaping from the hottest of the Frigiliana weather. It may seem strange that we came here for the sun (among many, many other things) and now run away from it. But that is not to appreciate August. Nothing happens in August. Two years ago on 31st July, we went to the notario to complete the purchase of our new home. The following day our lawyer and all her staff went on holiday for a month; so did the builder we had lined up for the renovation work. So did just about everyone. Workwise, nothing happens in August; it's just too hot. So we are in the UK enjoying weather which to permanent residents represents yet another disappointing summer.

It also gave us the opportunity to enjoy our Christmas present from our youngest daughter - a forty minute floatation session, followed by a light meal, followed by a one hour, whole body massage. It was fantastic! Drifting on a very slow current around a large circular pool in a dimly-lit room with twinkling 'stars' set into the ceiling. Then after supper, a systematic massage of one muscle group after another. I remember thinking at one point: "There's a leg being massaged over there.... it could be one of mine."

If you are reading this from somewhere in reach of the Wokingham/Reading area, then I can thoroughly recommend a day or an evening at the Nirvana Spa in Sindlesham (http://www.nirvanaspa.co.uk).

So, fully destresed we'll be back home next week in good time for the next high spot of the year; the Festival of 3 Cultures. Can hardly wait!

25/07/2010

The World In A Word

If I speak of el pueblo de Frigiliana, I may be referring to the village of Frigiliana; or I may be speaking of the people of Frigiliana. The Spanish word pueblo has both meanings, and other, wider meanings too.
At first that seemed unhelpful to me. An ambiguity that could have been avoided by having a separate word for each - township and population, for instance. But with time and experience comes understanding. To the rural Spaniard especially, the two concepts are inseparable. His or her pueblo is at one and the same time his/her geographical and human source. Mi pueblo is the place I belong to and it is also the people I belong to.
In Spain people still tend by preference, to remain in the place where they were born and grew up; where they married and had their children; where, perhaps, today their spouse rests in the cemetery. If they can find work and a life's partner, that it how it has always been and that is how it still is today.
Of course, necessity has always driven young people to leave their pueblo in search of opportunity, and that is increasingly true today.In many, non-coastal provinces the villages are literally dying as the young head for the city and the old for the campo santo. On the Costas, it is easier for people to stay in the pueblo and travel just a few kilometres to thier work in tourism, hospitality and (to a lesser degree just now) in construction. And so Frigiliana is a vigorous and thriving community. And on all the major fiestas, the motorways of Spain are crammed with people heading, no matter how briefly, to spend precious time in and among their pueblo.
Some years ago during my Spanish studies, I reached for my dictionary to look up the Spanish word for 'commuter'; it wasn't there. Very simply, if your place of work is more than a very few kilometres from your home, you move to live near your work. And in the city your barrio fulfils many of the functions of the pueblo.
That led me on to another observation. Many people leave the village for work. Very few come into the village to their job. Professionals - teachers, bank managers, doctors, lawyers and the like; or expats offering their skills locally to fund a life in the sun.
It's another contrast with the country I left; it's another thing that makes Spain, Spain.

18/07/2010

The Single Life

Three weeks ago I drove my wife to the airport and she boarded a plane back to England to play the role of nanny to our grandchildren, their actual nanny having resigned with effect from the end of June. In another week and a half I shall join her over there for a holiday which we had already planned. In the meantime I am living as a bachelor un soltero forzoso, as my Spanish neighbours would put it.
This temporary status appears to conjure up a degree of envy among my expat contacts, who interpret it as a few weeks 'off the hook'. Well, I have to agree that there are certain benefits; I have sole and exclusive use of a bed measuring 160cm x 200cm, no bad thing these hot and sticky nights of summer! I could come and go more or less as I please, were it not too hot right now to come and go anywhere between noon and 9pm. I have been able to be incredibly messy, leaving my papers, pencils, paints, brushes etc, scattered all over the dining table, and so have been able to complete three paintings in as many weeks.
Mainly, though, I have to disillusion my friends. The true benefits of the bachelor life are 1) I now know exactly how the washing machine works, 2) there are progressively fewer creases in my newly-ironed shirts (though not yet a complete absence) and 3) the trip to the recycling bins is less arduous because I only have one person's garbage to take. It's not much, but I'm making the most of it!

10/07/2010

Magical Moments

I was sitting out on the balcony overlooking the street the other day,when I became aware of a little boy approaching out for a walk with his daddy. As they passed below the balcony, he suddenly stopped dead in his tracks and pointed at the door of the house opposite.
"Look," he shouted, " a FOUR."
"Yes' replied Daddy, "Well done. that is a four."
"I'm four in august!" he exclaimed, and went happily on his way.

03/07/2010

You Get Better Pictures On Radio.

It's 10.25 on Saturday evening and Spain have just beaten Paraguay 3 - 0. I didn't watch the match; I'm really not that interested in football. So I sat out on the balcony, enjoying a lovely summer evening and a glass of wine.

For the first hour it was pretty much a standard village evening, quiet and peaceful apart from the soft burble of voices - neighbours chatting, children playing, people out for a stroll and a few words with people you meet. In other words, nothing to shout about (literally) in the first half.

This is the time of year of open doors and windows, so as the game finally picked up in the second half, suddenly the village BELLOWED; twice, in quick succession and each time, a rocket shot skyward and exploded with an ear-splitting bang. Then fifteen or twenty minutes later, another bellow and more rockets. Goal number three; pretty much home and dry. Then, around twenty past ten, a more subdued wave of cheering, horn blowing, and rocket firing. Game over; Spain through; 3-0.
Am I right?

21/06/2010

Making The Most Of The Sun


This was my view of a neighbour's clothes line a couple of days ago!

18/06/2010

Excitement For The Kids


As we enter the final few days of the school year, the timetable was set aside at the village school (7 - 13 year olds) on Tuesday of this week, so that the children could learn about various aspects of safety and first aid. No boring classroom lectures, though. Instead, all the various emergency services turned up, ambulance service paramedics, firemen, 'civil protection' volunteers, the Traffic division of the Guardia Civil and the local police. There were sessions covering first aid and resuscitation, mountain rescue, safe use of the internet, and firefighting.
Late morning a breakdown truck arrived in the centre of the village and dumped two elderly cars on the coach park. Those of us enjoying a coffee outside Bar Virtudes just above the scene, were then treated to the sight of our larger local policemen, aided by firefighters, jumping up and down on the roofs of the cars, whilst swinging sledge hammers through all available windows. Once the roofs had dropped considerably lower, the 'injured drivers' and 'passengers' crawled inside and settled down to wait.

The kids were assembled, the accident was spotted, 112 was dialled and shortly the sound of sirens could be heard as Guardia, paramedics and firefighters rushed to the scene from Nerja 6km away. On arrival, they secured the scene and began a major rescue operation, by the end of which the injured had been extricated and transferred by ambulance to hospital. All except one, whose injuries were of such concern that rapid transit was called for. And, lo and behold, round the mountain clattered the air ambulance which landed on the road. The final casualty was loaded safely aboard and whisked away 'to Malaga'.

They never dished up days like that at my school!

07/06/2010

A Date For Your Diary


At last the dates and programme for the Festival of Three Cultures have been. I've raved about this festival before, and this year it looks even more packed with dance, music, art and crafts drawn from the rich heritage of the muslim, jewish and christian traditions of Andalucia, not to mention exhibitions, film, lectures and conferences, and, of course everything you need for a fiesta - sun, street theatre, food, drink.

You've got to get here if you can. And, if you're coming, let me know!

Once again, my attempts to embed a link have failed, so paste this in your browser:
http://www.festivalfrigiliana3culturas.net/

06/06/2010

A Day Out In The Country


Several years ago I came across a language exchange website through which I made contact with two people giving me the opportunity to work on improving my Spanish in a real communication context. One lives in Peru, the other, Isabel, in Sevilla. Isabel also has a village house in the Contraviesa de Granada, a range of mountains between the Mediterranean and Las Alpujarras. I knew Gualchos, the village where she has her house, from visiting there briefly many years ago when we thought prices in Frigiliana might escalate beyond our reach. So we were delighted to accept Isabel's invitation to drive over to Gualchos and finally meet up face to face, instead of communicating solely by email.
It was a drive of about an hour. Or rather it would have been had not my satnav been convinced that the autovia is open all the way through to Motril. It isn't. It should have been, but delays are endemic in road-building and so the misplaced optimism results in a major glitch in the database. Not to bore you with the details, I eventually got fed up with following one narrow, pot-holed road after another through hectare after hectare of plastic hothouses, and seeing a sign back to the coast, switched off the satnav and followed the longer, coastal route that I was familiar with via the town of Castell del Ferro.
From the coast the road then climbs steeply up the mountain for some 6km to reach Gualchos at about 400m above sea level. It's not the best of roads at the best of times, but yesterday was quite alarming as we encountered the aftermath of the winter rains. Great chunks of tarmac had simply split off from the main carriageway and headed off down the mountain, to such an extent that at one point the bare mountain had been bulldozed above the road to provide a way through. Fortunately my car has raised suspension and a sump guard, but I was down in first gear and still pitching and tossing like a small boat in choppy seas, while my wife turned an appropriate shade of sea green; partly motion sickness and partly rank fear! It made me realise just how lightly we had got off in Frigiliana, despite our moans about the volume of rain. We suffered hardly any damage to the road system by comparison.
In the village, we met up with Isabel and her friend, Paqui,who gave us a conducted tour, pointing out on the way a couple of houses which had collapsed under the volume of rain.
Gualchos is a much more 'Spanish' village than Frigiliana. It is sufficiently far from either Málaga or Almería airports to be protected from the mass influx of expats (Yes, including me!) that has changed the character of so many towns and villages along the Costas of Spain. There is, finally, some new development on the edge of the village, and a few of the old village houses have been bought and done up by Brits and Germans, but in essence it remains an arab village of the muslim era in Spain. The village church seems very large for the size of the population. That is because back in the days of Al-Andalus - like so many churches in these villages - it was the mosque for what was then a much larger community farming the sierras.
After a rare opportunity to spend several hours immersing myself in Spanish chat and conversation, most of which my wife could follow although she is not yet able to speak as well as she understands, we drove back to Motril by the old road along the high ground of the Contraviesa with wonderful views of the sierras and the sea, the slope of the land hiding the appalling sea of plastic from our view.

04/06/2010

Some Interesting Background.

If you go to http://www.soltalk.com/Features/March%2009/Frigiliana.htm , you'll find an interesting article by Dave Jameson which appeared in the magazine, Soltalk last year, and which gives a fascinating insight into the street names you will encounter around the village.

I tried embedding it as a direct link, but for some reason that would not work.

25/05/2010

An Odd Day.


I woke this morning as usual, made a couple of cups of coffee and brought them back to bed. After the coffee we got up, showered, dressed, had breakfast and then, as every Tuesday, I got ready for the arrival of the group of friends who come round every Tuesday morning for help with their Spanish.
Then this afternoon, it was Sunday. I did the usual Sunday afternoon things, which in reality are no different to all the other afternoons of the week. I had to remind myself that it was Tuesday, but I was soon back in Sunday.
This evening we sat out on the balcony to eat, and looking across the village I noticed that Rafael had left the large parasol unfurled on his restaurant roof terrace. Mentally I hoped that the wind wouldn't get up tonight, because he doesn't open on a Wednesday evening. Except of course, it isn't Wednesday evening; it's Tuesday and the parasol is open because the restaurant is open.
Why can I not get it into my head, I thought, that today is TUESDAY!
Then the penny dropped. If it's Tuesday, then it's a year to the day since my brother Peter died. I will be in Tuesday, Peter, and I will think of you, even though it hurts.

17/05/2010

From A Distance....

From here in Spain I have been able to follow the recent UK general election with (a degree of) detachment. As a non-resident, I have no UK address from which to apply to register and therefore have no say in the election. However, until I left the UK permanently two years ago I was a member of the Liberal Democrat party, and I have found that politically an umbilicus still attaches me tenuously to the UK.
It seems ironic that after waiting and hoping for so many years, no sooner have I left the country than up comes an election that puts my erstwhile party into government. In the protracted negotiations that followed the result, I experienced highly ambivalent feelings. It is true that as a centre left party we would expect to have more in common with Labour than with the Tories; at the same time, collectively the electorate - in a gratifyingly higher turnout than for some time - had rejected the idea of a further period of of Labour government. Difficult as I might find it to accept, the Tories, with most seats and the highest share of the vote, were preferred by the voters if not actually trusted with an outright majority, and so the only honest way to let the voters be the king makers in Nick Clegg’s words, was to negotiate a coalition programme with the Tories.

The consequences of this have greatly amused me. The reaction of the right-wing press and the Tory right-wing makes me think of an eldest son who, following the death of his father, attends the reading of the will, fully expecting to move straight into the family pile and get stuck into some long overdue changes around the estate, only to be told that his father’s will stipulates that in order to inherit he has to go out and find a bride. One is found at short notice, a wedding is quickly cobbled together and the couple move into the big house.
Almost immediately, the groom’s family and their hangers-on begin the loud lament. It will never last. He has married beneath him. She needn’t think she has any say in the running of the estate. His father’s stipulation was quite outrageous. They will have none of it. They will scrutinise events for signs of discord and broadcast them to all and sundry with an air of self-righteous relish.

Lorca could have had a field day turning this into a drama to rival Blood Wedding!

07/05/2010

On A Lighter Note



I've been a bit serious lately, so let's get back to the joys of retiring here, which of course includes the fiestas that liberally punctuate the year. May 3rd was El Día de la Cruz, the Day of the Cross. With the support of the ayuntamiento, groups of neighbours construct and decorate a cross with flowers and set it up in the street. A table alongside offers titbits of sausage, cheese, olives and the like, and a tiny glass of the village wine (there are many opportunities to build those little tots into quite a large amount over the course of the evening!). From seven o'clock in the evening onwards the perambulation from cross to cross begins. Also in attendance are - the town band which plays at each, as do the local folk musicians, then come folk dancers, more folk dancers and the children's groups from the village dancing class, all showing off their prowess. The whole village moves with these groups, nibbling, sipping and above all chatting with friends and neighbours, a real community event; or a bonding exercise, as modern day management development would no doubt describe it.

02/05/2010

Conspiracy of Silence



Utter the word, ‘Guernica’ and it will probably be familiar to most people, if only as the title of one of Picasso’s more famous paintings. Many will also be aware that the painting was Picasso’s response to an atrocity of the Spanish Civil War. On 26th April 1937, the Condor Legion of the German Luftwaffe together with planes from the Italian air force bombed the Basque city of Guernica for over two hours, killing an estimated 1,600 people. It was market day and so the town centre was crowded. The attack took place at the invitation of Franco’s nationalist forces, and served as an opportunity for the Nazis to put into practice their theory of blitzkrieg. It is often considered to be the first occasion on which the indiscriminate bombing of the civilian population was carried out as an act of war. It was not the first.

Just over two months earlier, nationalist forces under General Queipo de Llano, and including Franco’s much (and rightly) feared Moroccan Brigade, were advancing on Malaga. The city was already crowded with refugees from Ronda, Cadiz, the Gibraltar region, and all the coastal towns west of Malaga; about 100,000 people in all according to the most reliable estimates. With nationalist forces in Marbella, the flight of the civilian population of Malaga began on 6th February, on the only road available, the coastal road (it was too basic to be considered a highway) to Almeria, the next large city some 200km away. Estimates of the numbers involved vary from 60,000 to 200,000 people. Bearing in mind the number of refugees already in the city and adding the resident population at that time of some 300,000, and even the higher estimate, though more likely, may understate the true size of the refugee column of women, children and old people; all,of course, were civilians. Their sense of panic was increased by the fact that Queipo de Llano had been using propaganda broadcasts to intimidate the local population, and leaflet drops from aircraft were also used on the column.

The more affluent (or enterprising) set off by car but soon had to abandon the vehicles when they were unable to refuel them. Young children and the elderly were carried by mules so far as possible, but the great majority travelled on foot. The road they took was still the coastal road in use when I first came to this area in 1983, and so I know just how narrow, winding and exposed it was with many steep ascents and descents along the way. Progress would have been slow. The refugees were reduced to eating the sugar cane which was the predominant crop of this region; many soon succumbed to a combination of exhaustion and hunger and died by the roadside. However, worse was to come. Three ships of the Spanish navy, under nationalist control arrived close inshore and began shelling the column, soon to be joined by Italian fighter planes strafing the column from above.

Offshore were warships of both the British and German navies, attending in the role of observers on behalf of the “Non-Intervention Committee” of European nations. The British studiedly looked the other way; the Germans, it is said, joined in the shelling. The coast road was left littered with the bodies of the dead and wounded. Estimates give the total number of dead as being between 5,000 and 15,000 people - women, children, old people, and all, bear in mind, civilians.

So why was it Guernica that was remembered and not the Malaga/Almeria road? The sad truth is that it was in no one’s interests to remember it. The Republican forces in Malaga (Communists, anarchists, syndicalists, socialists and others) had been at each other’s throats on doctrinal matters rather than uniting in a common effort to stop the Nationalist advance or to protect their civilian population. The Republican high command feared a catastrophic loss of morale if news got out (and anyway, they had their own shame; they have decided not to reinforce the forces in Malaga). The Nationalists had no wish to make known what they were doing. The international community would have had to confront the shame of having at the very least turned their backs on the victims, and in some part had colluded in the massacre. The local population along the route feared for its own survival, and so it too had done nothing to help. The only help came from a Canadian doctor, Norman Bethune; Google his name for one cheering facet to the whole business.

Finally, these things are coming into the open with a growing movement here in 21st century Spain for the recovery of historic memory. Hence Baltazar Garzon’s investigation, and hence, too, the efforts of the old franquistas to silence him. On the 14th February this year the people of Motril, a town more or less midway between Malaga and Almeria, unveiled a commemorative plaque. The photo is taken from www.alifa.org/blog, on the website of Alifa TV.

The other photo is from La Desbanda website: http://ladesbanda.lespana.es/lahuida.html

25/04/2010

EL Mirador de la Concordia


Friday evening saw an important occasion in the village. I wrote a little while ago about the guerrilla campaign in the mountains behind Frigiliana and how it affected the village in the 1940s and 1950s. Shortly, I shall return to the theme to write about an atrocity committed in this area during the civil war, and which perhaps will explain why, on the one hand, Judge Baltasar Garzón was concerned to investigate war crimes of the period, and on the other hand, why certain right-wing groups are so keen that he should not.
But back to Friday. Three parties are represented on our ayuntamiento or council, and very rarely do they see eye to eye. Recently, however, all were in agreement for a resolution that those people of Frigiliana who lost their lives or disappeared during the civil war and the Franco dictatorship should be remembered officially. It was also agreed that all the dead and all the disappeared should be commemorated, irrespective of which side they supported or which side was responsible for their death or disappearance.
Near the centre of the village, just by the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, is a mirador or viewpoint. At seven o'clock last Friday evening the mayor and councillors, along with many of the villagers and the town band assembled at the mirador. A short, simple ceremony inaugurated it under its new identity, El Mirador de la Concordia, and the plaque shown above was unveiled. A simple but sigificant act of reconciliation.

20/04/2010

What A Wonderful World....

....... for some of us! I guess it's the same throughout Europe, but the main concern for people over here right now is friends and family stranded by the volcanic ash. We have local friends who can't get back from the UK, and friends who have family with them who can't get back to the UK. Our own youngest daughter is wondering how on earth and when she will get back to the UK from Gambia after attending a friend;s weding there last week. Tonight I was watching BBC news on satellite and was struck by the heroic efforts made by so many people to get to Calais from quite unbelievable distances - Singapore being the most distant origin.
But something else struck me powerfully; something first raised by my brother last year when we all rushed to France to be with our youngest brother when he died after a terribly short illness. "What would our parents have thought about the fact that we just came to France at a moment's notice!" What for that matter, would they have thought of the fact that Pete had retired to France and that I and my wife had retired to Spain!
In their lifetime a holiday wa something which you took for one or two weeks in July or August each year, and that in the British Isles. The popular mode of transport was the train, and I still remember the vast crowds thronging the platform at Manchester's Exchange Station, waiting for the train to North Wales or the Lake District. Now we jet away for Easter, Christmas or New Year, a summer holiday, maybe even a city break or two.
And travellers arriving in Calais today were talking of the financial cost of getting there - often €2000 or more. OK, it's probably on a credit card and will take some time to pay off, but the line of credit was instantly there.
Despite the disruption caused by the closure of European airspace, it really is a wonderful world for the citizens of the developed world.

17/04/2010

¿Enchufe?


The Spanish word enchufe can mean either an electric plug or an electric socket. By association, it also means a connection, especially a useful personal connection which can get things done which might otherwise be tricky.
It's 35 years now since the death of Franco and there have been enormous changes, not least the successful transformation of Spain from a dictatorship to a modern, functioning democracy.But traces of the old regime still survive. And they were not happy when Spanish judge, Baltazar Garzón (the same judge who came to international attention with his indictment of Augusto Pinochet for war crimes), decided to launch an investigation into the disappearances and summary executions that occurred during the civil war and the post-war period that I wrote about recently.
In England, the Crown Prosecution Service exists to consider evidence gathered by the police and to decide whether there are grounds for a prosecution to be brought; in Spain that process is carried out by an examining judge, and is why Garzón was able to begin collecting evidence. It is also why right-wing groups who prefer to let sleeping dogs lie were able to lay charges against Garzón in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has now decided that the charges have substance, and so he has been charged with abuse of power.
The case is based on a law which was brought in in the early post-Franco days granting amnesty to those on both sides of the civil war who might otherwise face charges. Whereas South Africa set up its Truth and Reconciliation Council to bring past wrongs into the open and then move on, Spain adopted a policy of official amnesia. The civil war had pitted family members and neighbours against each other, and to probe too far into what had happened could be explosive. Thus, in opening his investigation Baltasar Garzón, it is argued, put himself in breach of this law.
In his defence, the judge argues that war crimes are specifically excluded from the possibility of amnesty under international law; this he believes overrides the relevant Spanish law, since his concern is to investigate and bring to justice those shown to have committed war crimes in the period under investigation.
If his right-wing opponents succeed with their case, then he faces up to 20 years suspension, effectively ending his judicial career and ridding Franco sympathisers of a substantial thorn in their side.

Acknowledgement: The photo above was downloaded from Google Images, and is the property of the BBC.

04/04/2010

Out of the mouths..........




Easter Sunday or Domingo de la Resurrección, a beautiful, warm, sunny day and our eldest daughter and her family with us for the festival. Towards mid-day we set off for the square in front of the church to watch the beginning of the final procession of Holy Week, always an occasion to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Then back to our own roof terrace, as this year the procession is finishing in the yard of the old school, which is directly across from us and on the same level as the roof terrace - hence the chain-link fencing adorning the photos!
Our 4 year old granddaughter watched the whole procession, entranced like her older sister, but ever practical came up with her own suggestion for improvement! Having watched the approximately twenty men carrying the statue of Mary through the village, she commented, "They should put wheels on her. Then they wouldn't have to lift her up in their hands. They could just push her." You have to admit, she has a point.

28/03/2010

The Battle of Frigiliana


In a recent post, I mentioned in passing the Battle of Frigiliana. Today I’m coming back to it in some detail, as it was a key part of the history of this region, La Axarquía, which lies roughly between Velez Málaga in the west and the Granada province boundary in the east, and from the coast up into the sierras to the north.
In the closing years of the Reconquest, the two most important fortress towns in La Axarquía were Bentomíz (now disappeared) in the western part and Frigiliana in the eastern section. There was a thriving industry exporting fine silk to Britain, Flanders, Germany and Norway.
I suppose that we tend to think of the Reconquest as a matter of the christian forces driving back the invading muslim forces from North Africa, a bit like the first Gulf War to drive Saddam Hussain out of Kuwait. It was, in reality, more like a genocide or ‘ethnic cleansing’. The people of Al Andalus (the muslim kingdom of Spain) at the end of the 15th century, could trace their their heritage back through more than thirty generations of continuous settlement in Spain; they were, if you like, as ‘Spanish’ as the christian populations in the rest of Spain.
The Reconquest was a long and bloody civil war, culminating but not finishing in 1492 with the fall of Granada and the expulsion of the Boabdil. Very many muslims left Spain at that time, but many remained, and converted to christianity, not always willingly. These are the people whom we refer to as los moriscos. Nominally christian, they continued to follow their traditional ways, speak their own language and wear their traditional form of dress. However, they suffered recurrent persecution and lived life very much as second class citizens. This could not continue indefinitely and everything came to a head at Christmas 1568 when the moriscos of Granada rose up in rebellion, shortly followed by those of La Axarquía.
Initial skirmishes took place around Bentomíz, but the land was judged too difficult to defend and so the villagers began to trek across the mountains from all parts of La Axarquía to the village of Frigiliana on the slopes of the mountain of El Fuente. They had all arrived in Frigiliana by the end of April 1569.
On June 11th, the christian forces attacked, reinforced by a section of the Spanish fleet which had been called back from Italy and landed at Nerja. The people retreated up onto the ridge above the castle from where they rolled rocks and millstones down at the advancing forces, but they were heavily outnumbered and it was clear that defeat was unavoidable. Realising this, many - men, women and children - threw themselves off the ridge, preferring death to servitude; the survivors were marched off to a life of slavery, leaving the surrounding countryside emptied of all people. Only slowly was the region repopulated with christian Spanish from the north.
If you visit Frigiliana and go up into the old morisco quarter you will find a series of 12 ceramic wall plaques which retell this story of another bloody time in the village’s history.

27/03/2010

A Significant Date In The Calendar

Tonight the clocks go forward, but that's not what I mean. No, today I gathered up all my winter, long-sleeved shirts, and took them up to the cupboard upstairs; and I brought down my short-sleeved, summer shirts. The next step will be substituting sandals for shoes and socks, and shorts for trousers - not long now!!

15/03/2010

La Gente de la Sierra


Visitors to the Costa del Sol often find themselves seduced by the contribution made to modern day Spain by its Islamic past. Architecture, food, place names, music - all show strong links with the Moorish period of Al Andalus. Highlights include the great Mezquita in Córdoba and the Alhambra palaces in Granada, but the links are there to be seen in even the smallest villages.
In many ways Frigiliana epitomises this heritage, having been the site of just about the last battle between Christian and Muslim, when in May 1569 Moriscos from across the Axarquía were defeated in the Battle of Frigiliana; the full story is told in panels of ceramic tiles mounted on walls around the village, the idea of a past alcalde (mayor), Antonio Navas Acosta. He was also responsible for the restoration of cobbles throughout the streets of the old part of the village, inset with their traditional patterns. Indeed, in 1983 Frigiliana was declared the prettiest village in Spain.
It was only after I came to live here permanently two years ago, that I learned of another, darker side to the history of Frigiliana, one which even today is very rarely spoken of. In November 1947, eight years after the end of the civil war, the area bounded by Frigiliana, Torrox and Cómpeta was declared a war zone by the government in Madrid. Earlier that year, 12 men from Frigiliana had gone up into the mountains to join the communist guerrillas under the leadership of José Muñoz Lozano (known by the code name, Roberto). Eventually, a total of 21 local men would become part of the guerrilla group fighting to overthrow the Franco government.
In response, the area was reinforced by large numbers of soldiers and Guardia Civil officers, tasked with wiping out the guerrillas. The conflict lasted for five years until the last of the guerrillas still in the mountains, Antonio Sanchez Martín, was shot dead. By the time it was all over, eleven guerrillas had been shot dead in skirmishes, ambushes, or summary executions; three had been executed after trial, one had committed suicide, and two had been killed by their comrades suspected of spying for the authorities.
I learned all of this, and more from a book* by local author, David Baird, published just after my arrival. I would unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone interested to see just how different life in this region was only 60 years ago.
The photograph that heads this posting is one of my favourites, showing the ridge La Loma de las Vacas surrounded by mist. It is a chastening thought that it was on that ridge on April 22nd 1950 that Civil Guard officers shot dead three village men whom they had arrested earlier in the day; their bodies were later delivered to the cemetery.

* "Between Two Fires", Baird,D, Maroma Press, 2008, Frigiliana
ISBN: 978-84-612-2053-3

08/03/2010

My New Interest


For many years now I've enjoyed painting in watercolours, mainly scenes from around Frigiliana. Whenever we were here on holiday my camera would be with me yielding a rich source of inspiration for paintings once back in the UK. Having moved here permanently, though, I found it harder and harder to find new subjects, so this year I decided to switch to another subject - portraits. So armed with photos of family members I began trying my hand (literally) at the subject; it was one of the reasons I had my recent Lake District holiday, the chance just to focus on my painting for a few days. That seems to have successfully kick-started my interest, and already I can see improvements. I've a long way to go yet, but I'm really very pleased with this painting of my youngest granddaughter.

03/03/2010

The Rain In Spain.....

..... falls mainly on the plain, if we are to believe Professor Higgins. This year, however, a not inconsiderable amount has fallen on the Costa. In view of the absolutely horrendous storm that blew its way across Portugal, northern Spain and western France at the weekend, let me make it quite clear that I am not complaining; I am simply reporting.
There are a number of English-language monthly magazines which are published free each month. One of them publishes an occasional feature examining our weather over the year, and this time around it makes fascinating reading.
Over the course of the year Nerja, our nearest town received 529mm of rain, or just 0ver 21 inches. However, half of this total fell between and end of December 2008 and the middle of December 2009. The other half fell between the 18th and the 26th December 2009! The wet weather continued into 2010 with January receiving a further 103mm or 4 inches of rain, with rain falling on half the days in the month.
This is an area where the arrival or absence of rain is always an issue, and so we should be thankful for such an abundant supply. Unfortunately in the quantities which this winter brought it causes problems of its own. Apart from several landslips, one of which left a house in the campo resting five metres further down the hill than it should be, and leaning at an angle of 5 degrees, the sheer volume of water has threatened the reservoirs that collect it. The sluice gates had to be opened at all seven reservoirs in the Malaga province, in two days discharging water equivalent to a whole month's consumption.

24/02/2010

La Semana Blanca

The kids are on holiday from school this week here in the Axarquía. On enquiring, I discovered that the occasion is La Semana Blanca. Which left me no wiser until I went agoogling. Every village, town and city in Spain has its annual feria, a week's holiday when the fairground comes to town. These weeks are spread across the entire year, of course, with the result that in many places they occur during the three-month summer holiday. Now that is downright unfair in Spanish eyes, so the schools affected can elect a Semana Blanca, when the schools will close so that the kids get the week's holiday they would otherwise have missed. Frigiliana celebrated Carnaval last weekend and this coming weekend brings El Día de Andalucía, so the intervening week makes a natural choice for the Semana Blanca.
It's little touches like this that I love about Spain.

23/02/2010

The Bullpen


The cottage I rented in the Lake District used to be the bull pen for the farm. Very tastefully converted! A selection of the photos I took are on my Picasa site. Just click on the photo below.
17/02/2010

21/02/2010

Carnaval




I got back from the UK yesterday to be met by bright sunshine and a temperature of around 17 degrees. Sadly, my daughter and granddaughters had had to suffer almost incessant rain during their visit. And today it's raining again. So yesterday was most fortuitous as it was the day that Frigiliana was celebrating Carnaval. Little things like Lent ( or La Cuaresma, as it's called in Spanish) started three days previously. Anyway, we met up with friends to watch the huge fancy dress parade take shapoe and set off around the village a mere one hour later than advertised. Here are a couple of photos to give you a flavour of the occasion.

12/02/2010

Off On Holiday

It seemed like a good idea when I booked it all, back in sunny September; a week in the English Lakes in February. Do some walking. Have some 'me' time. And my wife fancied the idea of week here in Frigiliana without me under her feet. Then the family decided she shouldn't be abandoned so our granddaughters arrive with Mummy on Sunday. Well, it looks like being wet here while I'm away, so they may feel England would have been better for half-term. And it looks like being really cold in the Lakes, so perhaps I'll finish up thinking I'd have been better off staying here.
But the die is cast. It's off to the airport in the morning, pick up a hire car at Manchester airport, and then off up the M6 to a cottage just outside Penrith. I've packed my pencils, watercolours, paper and other odd bits of paraphernalia, and so I hope to come back with something creative to show for my break - oh, and I'm told I have to bring a proper pork pie back, as well as some traditional English farmhouse cheese. So that calls for a visit to the farm shop at Tebay Services on the M6, and maybe a trip to Booth's supermarket in Keswick.

06/02/2010

A Foretaste of Things to Come

We awoke today to a clear blue sky, with not a breath of wind. It stayed that way all day with the result that by lunchtime we were enjoying a real spring-like day. So this afternoon I stretched out on a lounger on the roof terrace and for an hour reveled in my first sunbathe of the year.
It just makes me wonder why I've decided to head off to England next weekend for a week in the Lake District. Actually, I do know why I'm going; I'll be packing paints, pencils, paper and a selection of photos of family members so I can spend some quiet time on my own working on my new project, developing portraiture skills.
And in between times there's some fantastic countryside to pass time in.

27/01/2010

A Quiet Time of Year

I'm conscious of not blogging very frequently just at the moment. This is the quietest time of the year. The Three Kings is behind us, so too is San Sebastian our (secondary) patron saint's day. The first visitors aren't expected for another two or three weeks yet - our eldest daughter is coming over for half term with her two children. They're going to keep grandma company while granddad goes to England for a week. I think, quietly, grandma was looking forward to a bit of time on her own, but she's more than happy to swap that for a visit from her grand daughters!
Life is quiet around the village, too. The time of year is combining with continuing rainy and cold weather to discourage day visitors and so the shops, bars and restaurants are struggling to cover their overhead costs. It'll be pretty much like this now until Holy Week when the village will fill up to overflowing and another year will properly get under way.
One positive change, my Spanish classes have finally started again! The college requires a minimum of four students to run a class, and so three of us who are all at an advanced level have been twiddling our thumbs since September. Now, a fourth member of last year's class has returned to the area, plus we've picked up a new student, so we are a pretty safe 5 right now. Of course, that also means I've got homework to do again. Ah well, all in a good cause.

15/01/2010

It is the Mediterranean after all

Well, the rain has stopped, the wind has dropped, the clouds have dispersed and suddenly you realise just how much power there is in the sun down here even in mid-January, so today we sat out on our side terrace to eat lunch, the first al-fresco meal since mid-November. Lovely!

04/01/2010

Happy New Year

Well Christmas is behind us and so is New Year, but that still leaves Los Reyes, the feast of the Epiphany which is when traditionally Spanish children get their presents, although it has to be said that they nowadays get two bites at the cherry with a delivery by Papa Noel as well.
The Kings are due in the village tomorrow evening when they will ride to the public hall where they will listen to gift requests. I fear this year the procession may well be a literal wash-out. According to Sur, the Spanish newspaper for Andalucia, we have just enjoyed our wettest December for 60 years. Given that the rains didn't start until the 18th, that's quite some going. And of course the weather is unaware of the fact that December is over and so continues pouring rain onto us into January. The forecast is not good for tomorrow and pretty bleak for the next two weeks.
However, on the positive side of the coin, it is the right kind of rain this year - steady without ever being too torrential, so the reservoirs and aquifers have benefitted hugely; the same edition of Sur also reported that we now have enough water to meet all requirements for at least the next two years. Plus, it is after all the Costa del Sol, so we can be confident that before too long the skies will be bright blue once more.