Today we have the first fire of the season, and it looks like a big one. It's a long way from us and is travelling away from us. The area is sparsely populated and any villages are downwind, so although a couple of small planes are buzzing around, there are no helicopters which are the weapon of choice.I suspect the main effort will be to control the direction of spread, but otherwise let it burn itself out in its own time.
There is much talk these days about the benefits of what is referred to as The Mediterranean Diet, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, pulses and oil, especially olive oil; by contrast it is a diet low in dairy products and low in meat. It is broadly the diet which we follow here, not out of any particular health concerns, though I have my Type 2 Diabetes to bear in mind, and I had my little run-in with cancer last year, but because it tastes so good. In this we are helped by the fact that there are many things we can get here that either would not be available in England, or would be prohibitively expensive. Here, for instance, we can easily pop artichokes, avocados and a whole variety of different types of tomatoes into the trolley, not to mention large, gnarled and beautifully tasty red and green bell peppers which would be rejected by British supermarkets. In the summer we can add to the list Pimientos de Padrón, small peppers that look like green chillies, but are actually mild (apart from the odd one that catches you unawares and rocks you back on your heels, but that’s part of the fun) and are shallow fried in oil until the skins are charred, then tipped out into a dish and sprinkled with a generous dose of coarse sea salt. You then sit around and eat them chatting with friends with good fresh bread to accompany them and mop up the juices. Fruit, too, has its novelties - chirimoyas and paraguayos being two. The chirimoya is a strange fruit which looks as if it is covered in scales, a bit like an artichoke and the skin is the same colour. In fact the skin is faceted with brown lines. To eat it, you simply slice it in half vertically and eat it with a spoon, discreeetlyy spitting out the large black stones that are the only drawback. In English they are often called custard apples because their flavour tastes a bit like both. The paraguayo looks just like a small peach squashed down into a hopeless doughnut, and indeed it belongs to the peach family. These fruits, along with apricots, nectarines and several varieties of peach, are seasonal and one of the pleasures is seeing them reappear on the supermarket shelves each year. Mangos are also grown locally, but are also imported and so are available all year round, but the price is a fraction of what we used to pay in the UK, so a typical weeks shopping would include at least a couple. Of course, there are also apples, pears, bananas, strawberries and raspberries, but we tend to favour the more tropical fruits. Spain is also a major producer of citrus fruits, which are both plentiful and cheap, so much so that each week we pick up a couple of 2kg nets of oranges for juicing each morning as part of breakfast, and there are always limes and lemons on hand at home for adding to a G & T, or juicing into a salsa or tagine. As I read this back, I realise that actually there is an awful lot to be said about the Mediterranean diet. I allowed myself several posts to introduce you to the world of Spanish wine. I shall now do the same for the food of the Mediterranean. It is so much more than just Spanish, Italian or Greek!
June 13th is the feast day of San Antonio de Padua, patron of Frigiliana, and so for four days the fairground is in town, a marquee goes up in the main plaza and the merriment begins. All well and good, but our home is only 200 metres maximum from all of this, and so we are particularly conscious of the the thump, thump, thump of the bass beat on the fairground rides, and of the disco music and live group music issuing from the marque. The fairground stops at about 1am, but the disco carries on until 5 or even 6 o'clock in the morning. So this year we decided to go away. We chose Priego de Córdoba, a town about two hours drive away in the Sierra Subbética of Córdoba Province. It is a town of around 20,000 people renowned for its collection of churches in the Baroque style. Following the Reconquest of 1492, and the expulsion of the Arabs - especially the silk farmers, weavers and merchants, Priego became the Christian centre of the silk industry and until the arrival of artificial silk in the nineteenth century, it was a prosperous city. This is reflected in some superb architecture along the length of Calle Rio, then the homes of the merchants, and now housing the professional district of lawyers and architects. The whole area of interest to the visitor is contained within a fairly compact space that calls for no more than ten or fifteen minutes to walk it from end to end, which we did for two days. The hotel I flagged up in my previous posting, and I can thoroughly recommend it for a short stay. It is a typical Córdoban style house, built around a central patio, and the ground floor houses a modern Arab hammam or bathhouse with steam room, and cold, tepid and hot pools; you can also book a massage by the pool side. The restaurants worth visiting are all within a five minute walk of the hotel, and all serve typical, Córdoban dishes. Menus are similar wherever you choose, whether in content or in quality, so you can choose on the basis of the people-watching potential of the terrace. Then on Sunday, my satnav led us across country on a very scenic country road back to Málaga and then to Frigiliana in plenty of time for the midnight firework display that closed the feria.
I'll have more to say when we get home, but just to say that we have found a fantastic little hotel - complete with Arab baths and massage - in the heart of the old quarter of Priego de Córdoba. Also made the acquaintance of some genuine north-eastern friendliness to add a human touch.
Watch this space.
It has been an interesting couple of weeks to me. People, and things to do with people have always fascinated me and there are few pleasures greater than sitting in the sun with a coffee, a beer or maybe a glass of wine and watching people going about their daily lives. And then there are what I might describe as the set pieces, an important group of which is politics; people expressing their hopes, desires, frustrations and converting that into voting - or not. So first we had the European elections, where the major parties in the UK and here in Spain had an uncomfortable ride. And then King Juan Carlos announced that he was stepping down in favour of his son, Felipe. My first thought, shared by many Spaniards that I know was, “Why now?” The previous king, Alfonso XIII, the present king’s grandfather, also abdicated in 19331 and went into exile, being replaced by the Second Republic, which in turn was overthrown by a military coup followed by the Civil War from 1936 to 1939, from which Franco emerged as the dictator, holding power until his death in 1975. At that point, Juan Carlos who had been groomed by Franco to succeed him ascended to the throne. To everyone’s surprise - and no doubt to Franco’s also if he was watching from another place - he rejected the role envisaged for him by Franco and declared his intention to introduce a democratic constitution to Spain, with his own role reduced to that of constitutional head of state, outside politics and with no powers of his own. When, two years later, a Civil Guard colonel led his men into the chamber of the House of Deputies during a debate and began firing shots into the air, the King donned his military uniform and as head of the armed forces went onto television and ordered all armed forces to remain in their barracks, or if they had left the barracks to return there immediately. The attempted coup collapsed and Juan Carlos’s acceptance by the Spanish people was cemented. Sadly, of late the Spanish have become increasingly disillusioned with their king. He has not become any less of a democrat, but he has been less sensitive than was wise to the hardships suffered by his people in the recent economic crisis. His reputation was not improved when he fell and broke his hip at the height of the crisis. You might expect this to generate sympathy; unfortunately, he fell in Botswana during a luxury holiday, shooting elephants. More recently, his son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarín, has become embroiled in a fraud and money-laundering scandal which at one point threatened to incriminate the Infanta Cristina, the king’s younger daughter. Add to this the fact that he is now 76 and not in the best of health, and abdication seems quite a sensible move. Even so, why now? Well, that may not be entirely unconnected to the shock suffered by the two main political parties in the European elections. Both suffered a significant loss of share of the vote to smaller parties, and for the first time Partido Popular and Partido Socialista Obrera Espannol failed to secure 50% of the vote between them. Most striking of all, Podemos (We Can), a party formed only three months ago, secured five of the Spanish seats in Brussels. Mariano Rajoy, Prime Minister and Leader of PP, has survived, but his opposite number at PSOE, Alfredo Rubalcaba, has resigned. Am I being cynical when I suggest that maybe a distraction was needed? Whatever, despite murmurings from republicans, it looks as if we shall have a new king and queen on June 19th, Felipe and Letizia. Interestingly, they have a similar image to William and Kate in Britain. Each royal heir has met and married a woman from outside the realms of European royalty or aristocracy, and each wife brings not just fresh blood but also fresh insights and understandings to their future role.
The 1st June heralds the effective start of the long, dry Andalusian summer, even though the official start of summer is 21st June. This year we welcome the new month with a procession of thunderstorms and periods of heavy rain, some accompanied by hail. I now have to wait apprehensively to see how my seedling chilis have fared; the tubs are waterlogged and several leaves have been stripped off by the hail. If the worst comes to the worst, I shall have to head for the garden centre and buy some plants, but usually there is little or no choice of variety, nor are the plants that are on sale identified.So for a day or two, it's going to be a matter of keeping my fingers crossed.