7 signs of Spanish springtime

For the rest of the world, springtime and the definition of any season is officially marked by  the Astronomical or Meteorological seasons.

The science behind the seasons

What’s the difference?  Astronomical seasons refer to the position of Earth’s orbit in relation to the sun (taking into account equinoxes and solstices). Meteorological seasons are based on the yearly temperature cycle and calculate the meteorological state as well as timing with the calendar to determine a clear and definitive transition between the seasons.

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Spain is different

Got that? No, nor me. It’s far simpler in Spain – and as we all know: Spain is Different. 😉

There are 7 clear signs that Spring and warmer weather have arrived – Spanish style. It’s like the flick of a giant imaginary switch. Perhaps you recognise these signs, or perhaps you know a few more? Let’s see…

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Changes afoot

The floor tiles INSIDE the house change from icy polar old to reasonably warm overnight. You’re no longer in danger of losing your toes from severe frostbite for misplacing your slippers. Hey, bring on the flip-flops. Ah, I see, you never took them off… Time to paint those toenails.

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Raising the Parasols

Parasol – the clue is in the name of course. Into storage go the patio heaters, up go the parasols. Bars look alive with busy terraces. Yes, hold that comment,  I know they have outside terraces all year round down there on the coast, but we’re at the top of a mountain 🙂

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Hearty stews be-gone

Bowls of spicy, tasty Callos and pig’s innards are whisked away, and tapas is replaced by little mounds of Russian Salad (which incidentally can be either a soft and creamy delight or a splendid saucer of cat vomit).

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You ate THAT?!

Wash that down

Red wine? No Camarero, mine is a Tinto Verano – ropey red over ice topped up with lemonade and splash of Martini if you’re lucky. Very refreshing it is too…

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The smiling Cura

Ah yes, the Vatican’s best envoy, the Parish Priest, has a noticeable spring in his step, and he’s wearing a slightly creepy benign smile. Why? It’s the start of fiesta season – which means a substantial leap in the number of congregates, and a louder jangle of coins in the collection basket.

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Step talk

A better gathering than Mass. The scrubbing of front steps and the scraping of chairs means the start of ‘doorstepping’ season. From the plaza to our front door is a 3 minute walk but it can take 3 hours with a delicious stop or twenty to sip the proffered wine and (literally) chew the fat. . politics, religion, football, farming and family are discussed at length.

Besides, how on earth would anyone know anything without the front step gossip? Sheesh. Yep, that’s my step. 🙂

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The Birds and the Bees

Big blue carpenter bees, chatty and fat Swallows, busy Housemartins, they all back, and they’re all keen to start a new family. Sit back, pour another Tinto Verano (don’t wait for summer) and just enjoy springtime, in fact ANY time, in Spain.

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Going hunting in Spain (No shootin’, no fishin’)

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Blinking against the intense white light, made even more effulgent by the snowy frame of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, I curse the fact I have yet again forgotten my sunglasses. Looking down instead, where the already dried out wild herbs of thyme and mountain sage crackle and snap satisfyingly underfoot, I begin my hunt, the search for orchids. Watching my step too, the uneven ground needs no help to send me flying, I am increasingly awkward with age, and do not welcome another ankle impairment.

I note where the wild boar have already visited this morning, a sounder of swine in party mode, turning over earth, rummaging through the herbs and grasses with vigour. I wonder what they found? Some edible root delectable to swine taste? Who knows? Perhaps a yet to be discovered Michelin-worthy wild ingredient.

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A gunshot bangs closely – too close – and I shudder.  I have no entanglement with the local love affair of blasting the wildlife from this land. I hope the trophy is not our tusked friends. Probably.

I look across the valley, my corner of Spain.  North to snow-capped Mulhacen, south to the Mediterranean, the white villages like handfuls of sugar cubes in between , folded in to the mountain sides. The stretches of pollutant plastic down below the line of smog that is the Costa Almería. No sign of the great white hunter at least from where I survey, and I continue my own pursuit for the first, early orchids.

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I’m rewarded with a coterie of Giant Orchid, with many promising yet to unfold from their shining, stocky green leaves. A very early Mirror Ophrys –  Ophrys s.Speculum – makes this type of hunt completely worthwhile, looking like an ancient Chinese swordsman in full warrior costume. Well, that’s what I see!

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Woodcock or Sawfly (can never tell which) make up the day’s discoveries, as I walk back to the quiet mountain road, passing Grape Hyacinth and treading the perfumed prickly carpet of herbs.

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A deep breath, a good look around, a lungful of pure air. The best remedy for scrunched-up shoulders, tired eyes and a mind that tends to lean to despondency for no reason at all.

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If you’re exploring the Alpujarra, contact me and I’ll happily show you/send you guides to the best local spots for orchids – as long as you’re careful to respect the area, watch where you tread, and unlike some half-baked guests we once hosted – don’t pick them!

 

Walk this way. If you’re Jewish.

Fences at Ceuta and Melilla may be impenetrable to fleeing immigrants, but the Spanish borders there and on the mainland look set to come down for the once-banished Sephardic communities from around the world.

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Unwanted guests

Kicked out by Ferdinand and Isabel back in 1492, it looks as though the host country is having a re-think of the guest list.

The option of converting to Catholicism, leaving their homeland, or dying wasn’t much of a choice for the Jewish community in Spain back then, and most left, eventually scattering all around the world.

A time of great importance,  as the expulsion of the Jews also became a turning point in the history of Spain.

So, what’s changed?

On October 2nd, tomorrow, Spain begins reviewing citizenship rights to the relatives of those who lost their homes and homeland back in the 15th century.  It’s all thanks to the passing of LAW 12/2015 earlier this year, which grants citizenship to relatives of Sephardic Jews.  Under this law, the relatives of the formerly displaced Jews will not have to actually visit a sun, sand, or Sangria Costa to take advantage of the changes.  All they need to do is hire a notary, and pass a couple of tests on language and history.  We can presume they’re well versed in the latter.

Where are they now?

The majority of new citizenship titles are expected to come from Morocco, Venzuela, and Turkey. Perhaps a gate and a welcome sign will have to be inserted in some of those fences, after all.  It’s a funny old world.

Spanish Dreams? Reality Bites

“Are you mad?  Ah – go for it – lucky ba$tar*s.  Can we have your furniture?”

I admit most of our friends took the realistic approach when we shared the fact we were decamping from our very normal life to a leaking shack/money pit 1115 metres up a Spanish mountain.

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But, wait, stay right there.  This is not a “Hey look at us, didn’t we do well” lifestyle post.

It’s been, well, great – and almost 10 years on we are happy enough with our lot – although it has not always been easy.

Especially the cold and hard winters we have endured since we arrived with boxes of linen and cotton clothes, and a selection of flip-flops – our woolies and 15 tog quilts gaily abandoned in a Newport skip.

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But –  this is the middle of summer.  Spanish summer.  The sun has got his sombrero on. Woop – right?

The expectation

Calls from home – wet and windy Ireland calling…

“You must have a great colour”

“How blue is the sky?” (This last one usually asked through gritted teeth, as in Ireland we wear the sky as a grey bobble hat)

“You’re off for dinner? Oh imagine, sitting OUT”

“Saw your area on A Place In The Sun – it looked FABULOUS.”   Er, no, you didn’t.  Just Christopher Columbus and us made it this far up a blasted mountain.  Maybe Mallory if he was lost.

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The reality

Actually no.  I’m a faded brown, sort of sludge colour.

Why? Well, since our day (note the singular) on the beach this year, when we overdid the idea of a day off and turned deep Gamba pink, we haven’t sunbathed.

I did buy a relaxer-lounger garden chair, but haven’t managed to sink my bum in it once.

Why?

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It’s too bloody hot.

So, envy-filled friends and family, imagine a different picture.

Closed shutters, drawn curtains.

The fan whirring and pushing hot air around.  Re-runs of A Place In The Sun on TV.

Flies.  Big flies.  Flies that might normally be indicative of a dead body in close proximity.

Little flies.  No-Sees.  They salsa through the mozzie nets, laughing at us, and with needle precision torment us all night.

We eat out – sure we do.  At 11 or 12 in the darkness when it’s cool enough, the mosquitoes have us for postre as we sit there sweating and heavy breathing.

Entertainment is mostly checking the dogs for ticks.  And then checking us for ticks. *Shudder*

So, dear friends and family, look fondly at that ‘soft weather’ – and be bloody grateful.

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Young guns, old rock stars, and a movie set in Spain

Straight to Hell – what’s that?

It’s all about a comedy of errors really! A tall tale of hardened punk and rock stars, big name actors, a Hollywood script – and too much time on their hands! Straight to Hell is a farcical Spaghetti Western, set in the heat of the desert – in Almeria, Spain. Not quite Clint Eastwood, but a stellar cast all the same.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly…

The cast is made up of some familiar names in the music industry, who banded together in 1986, to make a movie. The director was Alex Cox, the actor and director best known for his work on the likes of hit movies ‘The Repo Man’ and ‘Sid and Nancy’.

The actors? Joe Strummer – The Clash front-man, Shane MacGowan of The Pogues, Dennis Hopper, Grace Jones, Elvis Costello – not to mention Hollywood A-listers Tim Robbins and John Cusack. A stellar cast indeed…so far, so good.

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What was the idea behind the movie?

Like most big ideas in the 80’s, it all started in London. Strummer, The Pogues, Costello and others had just completed a sell-out concert in aid of The Sandinistas of Nicaragua. The concert was such a roaring success, it was decided to do a tour with all the artists in Nicaragua as a show of solidarity. The idea was touted around all of the record companies and bigwigs of the music industry  – but unfortunately none of them were interested.

At this stage, all of the artists that WERE interested, had cleared a month completely free of commitments – and wondered what they could do instead?

A story, and ideas were required. Fresh from the success of Sid and Nancy, the film producer Alex Cox was quickly drafted in, and jetted off to LA to write up a script, and the film Straight to Hell was born. Ideas were bandied about, but Joe Strummer was determined to get his own way. He wanted to make a serious, all guns blazing Western, and there was only one place for that…

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Destination: Spain

Strummer was already in love with Spain. Andalucia, and in particular San José in the Cabo de Gata, which had been his holiday destination of choice for many years. He knew both Almería and Granada well, having had a sabbatical in the latter city during the death throes of his band The Clash.

Courtney Love, Eddie Tenpole Tudor and others joined the gang and off they set for sunny Spain.

Island Records decided to have a change of heart on the money front and put up roughly a million pounds to fund the project, and it was decided that filming would take place at locations in the old Wild West sets of Tabernas, using the infamous desert landscapes.

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Stars sleeping under stars

Joe Strummer took the role very seriously and in true grit style he decided to sleep out in the desert, wearing his gun holster underneath his jacket, invoking memories of his video for the hit single Love Kills, which was also filmed in Almería.

Strummer might have happily roughed it but the rest of the cast and crew luxuriated in the comfort of the Grand Hotel in Almería city, where the opening scenes were also filmed.

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No rest for the wicked

Then it all went wrong. Comfort ended abruptly when shooting over-ran, and the stars found themselves plunged into the middle of a real-life Fiesta. During the 1980’s the city Fería took place right outside the hotel, situated on the main plaza and thoroughfare. After long arduous, and tedious days of filming under the baking hot desert sun, the cast and crew would return to the hotel to find themselves in the middle of an all night party – too much even for hardened rock stars! The Spanish party mentality almost finished them off, and the only ones to actually enjoy the fiesta were John Cusack and Tim Robbins who had already been kicked off set as they wouldn’t have haircuts due to later filming commitments. They stayed on anyway and simply partied.

The Pogues popular song Fiesta immortalises the nightmare felt by the jobbing actors, and the lyrics perfectly sum up the mood of the time.

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It didn’t end well. Despite the fact that big names such as Grace Jones and Dennis Hopper were flown in for cameos, the relative inexperience of the other actors, the rotten script and rushed time scale meant that the film was, well, a flop.

As rock and roll films go, it’s still worth a watch though – but probably best viewed with your tongue firmly in your cheek. Classic Hollywood it’s definitely NOT!

It’s all summed up really, when Cox once said “Well, it did only take three days to write”.

And the retort? “What took you so long?”!!

The legend lives on

And Joe Strummer?. He continued to return regularly to San José with his family and friends for long holidays.  His untimely death at the age of just 50 (too, too young) didn’t stop the legend living on. Strummer’s legacy is still very much alive and well in Almería. Every year in August to commemorate his birthday, the San Joe Strummer Music Festival takes place. There’s a Facebook page dedicated to just that.

Should you find yourself on holiday in Granada city, make time to find the recently inaugurated Joe Strummer Plaza, as well as the more famous sights on your Granada holiday list.