A Long Weekend


The older residents of the pueblo are going about their business as normal, but each keeping one eye on the skies. Although the statistics say that rain is unlikely for the Easter parades, once seen through the distorting mirror of folk memory it looks all the more probable; the images of wailing hysteria among the rained-off costaleros tend to stick in the memory.

These elder generations could, themselves, cope admirably with such setbacks. A ruined ceremony is hardly the worst thing they’ve ever experienced, after all. Their current fears of bad weather are instead for their children and grandchildren, nephews and nieces, who have spent all of their free time in recent months making costumes, rehearsing the carrying of the religious icons, and performing the drum beats and slow march of the penitents. The cancellation of the big day due to a bad spell of weather is something they can barely stand. That the cause could be interpreted as an act of God doesn’t seem to provide any comfort. ... read more

Compensating for Drift


The animated chart on the television screen by the cafeteria is a little disconcerting; according to the flickering arrow, the bow of our ferry will run aground on the north Brittany coast, somewhere around Plouguerneau. Watching for a moment, though, makes it clear that our actual path is a little way off from the ship’s heading, the Captain accurately following an imaginary line that will see us slide past Ushant and south into the Bay of Biscay and, ultimately, to Bilbao.

The discrepancy in our direction is, of course, to compensate for the motion of the wind and water, which have their own ideas about where we should be headed. Navigating on the sea is not like driving along a road. Were the engines to stop, we wouldn’t coast gently to a halt, but instead would be carried who-knows-where by the tides, winds and currents. ... read more

El Pitarra


I’m all right really.

Yes, my feet ache and my hands hurt from my endeavours in the garden, and my back’s playing up a bit, but the evening’s warm enough to sit on the terrace with a glass or three of pitarra, so yes, I’m all right.

Just about every Spanish region has its local drink of which it’s fiercely proud. In Asturias it’s cider, and very good it is too, especially in the heat of summer. The Catalans are proud of their Cava, and very nice too. The Basque Country and Cantabria have a sparkling wine called txakolí which I’m sure is excellent, but since I refuse to drink anything I can’t pronounce even when sober, you’ll have to try that for yourself. ... read more

The Language Of Loaf


I’m not sitting here doing absolutely nothing, even if that’s how it looks. I’m drinking coffee, listening to the mimosa trees buzz with bees, and watching the ants.

Our garden seems to be home to millions of them every year. Most people count them as a pest – as I’m sure they are – but they make fascinating viewing. A two-lane ant highway is currently marching resolutely across the back terrace, the outbound ones empty, those returning each carrying a seed, a husk, or a piece of twig. I’m sure none of them know why they’re doing it, but they do it just the same. I love work – as the saying goes – I could watch it all day. ... read more

The Infection


Sue has some new students arriving today for a session of English speaking practice, so I’ve done the enlightened, supportive, modern-man thing and buggered off in case I’m given a job. That’s why I find myself in my usual cafetería but at the wrong time of day; instead of half-asleep workmen exchanging their grunts and nods over breakfast, this time those around me are the younger, noisier, late-lunch clientèle, each with one eye on his or her conversation partner, and the other on the incoming SMS or email messages on their now indispensible “es-mart-fonn”. ... read more

High Society


I’ve just passed El Miralrio, a gated community of opulent and somewhat vulgar modern mansions on a hillside overlooking the river Guadiana as it flows lazily into Mérida. I can imagine the great and the good – the politicians, financiers, and heads of administration – looking down on us all from this walled citadel as we scurry around trying to find a way to sustain all of their excesses. Just a kilometre or so down the road, though, I find myself gazed down upon from an altogether different high society. ... read more

Lots Of Things Not To Do


The road to hell may indeed be paved with good intentions, but at least it got paved, so I reckon it’s about time my own ‘good intentions’ were placed into some sort of order. That’s why today finds me wandering around the property with a ballpoint and a notepad, diligently documenting what the locals would call desperfecciones. (The rural Spanish are not as easily intimidated as I am. A collapsed roof, a stone wall reduced to rubble, or a half-acre field flooded by a blocked culvert will be casually dismissed by them as a desperfección). ... read more

Desayuno Ergo Sum


As a gesture toward progress, the ayuntamiento has painted lines and numbers along the gutters of Calle Pilar, dividing the site of the weekly market into designated plots. As a gesture of complete indifference, the merchants have ignored all of this and once again erected their stands exactly as they’ve seen fit. The ensuing riotous assembly marks each Tuesday morning in our neighbouring village.

Of course, there’s a lot of shopping done at these events; above all, though, something is happening, and for many that in itself is an excuse to turn out. There are enthusiastic and rapid-fire conversations over the parked pushchairs and shopping trolleys; despite the chilly weather, various firing squads have assembled on the benches by the fountain; the lottery merchant is doing good trade as he wanders through the throng, greeting familiar faces with a word or a nod. I’m hungry, having left the house without any breakfast, and intent on correcting this as soon as possible. ... read more

Las Lluvias


I try to lower my wide-brimmed hat and pull up my coat collar even further, but I know I’m wasting my time. Not only is the rain now persistent enough to find a way through any undone fastener or poorly-waxed seam, but I’m already sufficiently wet through for it not to really matter.

Wet winter days can be tough here in the Spanish campo. Back in the UK, cold, wet weather was pretty much expected from around September to April (though as this replaced the slightly less cold, wet weather of May to August, the exact moment of switch-over could be hard to spot). Here, in contrast, the climate has geared our life much more toward outdoors, and these days of dismal deluge that seem to appear from nowhere often leave me, as has happened today, pacing bored around the finca, finally deciding – or being told by Sue, somewhere around my twentieth lap – to go out for a walk. Or, in fact, anywhere. ... read more

Terms Of Surrender


I want to make it clear that this is not, in any way, a defeat.

It’s simply a tactical withdrawal, after which we’ll regroup and return stronger, better prepared, and with a winning strategy. Sometimes you have to arrive at a negotiation; lose a little to gain a little more. Now the charts and diagrams have all been pored over, strengths and weaknesses assessed, what-if scenarios played out in grim detail. Now it’s time for feet on the ground. So with boots on, radio activated and earphones in, the moment has come to enter the arena. ... read more