The village church was packed to bursting on Sunday. The occasion was Las Comuniones, the first communion for around a dozen boys and girls, who have been preparing for this day for the past twelve months at least. And so they presented themselves, the little girls in their brand new (and even in these harsh economic times), expensive dresses, the little boys in their naval officers’ uniforms, complete with lashings of gold braid. I have not yet been able to establish why it should be, but the naval uniform appears to be de rigueur for boys making their first communion. And of course, with them not just mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, but also grandmas and grandads, aunts and uncles, cousins and close family friends, each and every one in their finery. This being Spain, the mass proceeded to the accompaniment of an underlying hubbub of chatter as people caught up with news of what had happened since last they met, how wonderful the children looked, how much it reminded people of their own first communion, and doubtless a host of other topics, until the priest had to ask for silence and respect, at which point the church fell quiet for a couple of minutes until the chat started all over again. I’ve written previously of the importance of nicknames (apodos) in the village in view of the focus on the names of Frigiliana’s patron saints and virgin, indeed with the preference for different manifestations of the Virgin Mary (Nuestra Señora de la:) Concepción, Purificación, Encarnación, Anunciación, Asunción, Rosario, Pilar, Carmen, Victoria etc, popular saints - José, Francisco, Pablo, Felipe, Juan, Santiago, Marco and the like, or other biblical figures; Miguel Ángel, Gabriel, Moisés and the like. Things are changing though. On Sunday, not a single one of these names featured in the roll call of new full members of the church. Instead we had names like, Gema, Vanesa, Laura, Lucrecia, Ricardo, Roberto, Damian. It reminds me of the remark made many years ago by a friend who was a social worker with the elderly; “I shall know that the time has come to retire when I find a Wayne and a Tracy in my caseload.
Two of my many passions are politics and food. They don’t usually collide but last week they did when the EU decided in its wisdom that henceforth the olive oil which routinely appears on Spanish bar tables (along with its invariable companions, vinegar, salt and pepper), would have to be served in single-trip, tamper-proof bottles. That was to be the subject of this posting, but whilst I was slowly counting to ten and allowing the impending rant to mellow to a reasoned argument, someone in Brussels saw how stupid this was and rescinded the directive. So, what to write about instead? Well as regular readers know, I am awaiting treatment for a tumour on my prostate. Being a churchgoing Christian - or “a happy Catholic” as I tell Jehovah’s Witnesses when they come to the door - and having been greatly heartened by the election of a Jesuit to be Pope, and moved and encouraged by the number of people who have come forward to tell me that they are praying for me, my faith has been more cenral to my life these past few months than it probably otherwise would have been. This morning one of my favourite modern hymns popped into my head; “Be still for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here....” I’ve sung it a lot in church over the years, and so I’ve always taken “here” to refer to the church I’m singing it in. But this morning, the thought that also came into my mind was that the words apply wherever you are - at home, as I was; in the car, as I was later; in the waiting room and consulting room at the hospital, as I shall be tomorrow; in the radiotherapy room, which is likely to be my next destination. That’s a pretty big thought. I shall have to ponder it carefully. If you don’t believe in God, I hope you don’t find these thoughts uncomfortable. Console yourself with this: God believes in you.
The Tourism department at the Town Hall has a website,
which contains a wealth of information about the village and what it has to offer the visitor, culturally and historically. Unfortunately, it has only been available in Spanish, but recently a German lady resident in Frigiliana has been preparing a German language text, and I have been toiling away on an English version. I emailed the final section to the town hall on Friday afternoon. I had a sense of satisfaction that I had (I believe) been able to do justice to the task, but also a sense of relief that a twenty thousand word opus had been completed. What will I do with my time now? Well, for a start, I can hopefully get back to working on Islamic geometric designs, a topic which was given a boost by my recent visit to Morocco. The natural pigments, which determine the colors that are used are more varied in North Africa than they were in Spain, and so the result is brighter, more vivid patterns, as the photo shows.
I met up with a friend this week who has just returned from having radiotherapy in the UK, and was able to chat briefly with him about the process and about the impact on one’s general well-being. This led me to ponder on the fact that being able to draw on the experiences of people who have had my problem is an enormous source of strength, and one that is probably not available to expats living out in the campo, or isolated from fellow-Brits in some other way. Also, I have gleaned a lot of useful knowledge from the internet, so putting all of this together, another thing I have achieved this week is to set up an online “community” on Google+ with the title, “Prostate Support Andalucía”, and I’ve added a link from this blog. So far the community boasts but a single member - me - but at least it’s there.
Quite a busy week, then. And a fulfilling one.
May 3rd is the Day of the Cross, or The May Crosses as it is called here in the village. This is an old tradition that had fallen out of use, but was revived about twenty years ago, since when it has gone from strength to strength. People get together in their local neighbourhood or barrio and build a cross colourfully decked with flowers. This year the village boasted a total of seventeen crosses, all of which are put in place on May 3rd, then in the evening the village turns out onto the streets to inspect the various crosses, and to partake of the refreshment offered at each - local wine, and mouthfuls of chorizo sausage, black pudding, Spanish omelette, and cakes. In addition, the town band turns out and visits each cross to play a couple of tunes, and enjoy the hospitality, along with two local folk music and dance groups following not long after. It looks as if this year someone has been over to England and seen Morris dancers in action; I have never seen flower-decked hats in previous years. The significance of the fiesta is uncertain. Perhaps it is intended to herald the start of (in the Roman Catholic Church) the month of Mary; perhaps the victory of Christ over the Cross; or perhaps simply to celebrate the return of spring and an abundance of flowers.