Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Anticipation and reflection.

Tomorrow evening we go to England - the children and I.

New Year with my family.
We are excited.

Christmas has been wonderful - 'quiet' is the wrong word as mis suegros, my in-laws, are lively people. They talk incessantly, to each other, to everyone else, to themselves and always with the television or the radio on - loudly because mi suegro, also mi padrino (godfather) is rather deaf.

And when we're not all talking, we're laughing.Or shouting.

No, our Christmas has not been quiet - it's been fun. Remarkably relaxed and easy-going too - we haven't dressed up or worried for a moment about what to eat or when. Or at least I haven't - it's a Spanish tradition to consider what to eat at all times of the day. In Amelia's house, when she's at home and in charge, it often drives me nuts to be asked on arising - que vamos a comer hoy? - what are we going to eat today? Before I've even had breakfast! But here, where I'm 'in charge' (ha!), I know what there is and what I'm going to make - more or less - and I also know that Amelia will do or make just what she likes too because they arrived from Valladolid with the car packed with food.

So we always have plenty to eat. And I thank them for their generosity in providing us with so much.

I have loved my tree in the corner and I've loved the sunshine we've had every single day. I've loved playing Beetle and Scrabble and Pictionary with the children. I've loved going for long walks with Cesar and Darwin - up to La Mota and looking out over Alcala la Real to the Sierra Nevada. (And pinching myself to make sure I'm not dreaming!) Yes, I've loved my Andalucian Christmas.

But it's been most interesting to note how little it's changed the rhythm of life around us. With the exception of Christmas Day itself, most of our neighbours have been up and off to the olive groves in their tractors, land rovers or any other type of sturdy vehicle as this is harvest time. And with clear bright days, not a moment can be lost because at any moment, the rain could come and put an end to the collecting. Most of the olive groves are on steep hillsides and if the weather is damp or wet, the ground becomes a dangerous, cloying mudbath where neither foot nor tractor can maintain a grip. So to work, to work.

Things I've missed...I have missed the festive spirit that I shared with so many friends when we lived in England. The meals with office friends, mince pies, christmas crackers, cards from friends and neighbours - carols and singing. Here, we have had very little build up other than the streets around being beautifully lit and La Mota sporting a very fetching star. The children were at school until Friday - and of course, the sunshine has been deceptive all along. The children were quite stunned to realise it really was Christmas Eve the day after they finished school.
I guess I did miss the build up to a certain extent - I enjoy the anticipation of events - though I appreciated the lack of the usual huge commercial push.

I will remember in future years to maybe put my tree up a tad earlier; to dig out my Kings College Carols CD from the barn in Leon; to make some mince pies and send more cards. That should do it.

Yes, there are always ways to do things better but I have so enjoyed our 'stumble-though' Christmas this year.

And now, I can get really excited about having a family get together English-style as we've decided to have a second Christmas 'day' instead of - or as well as - New Year's Eve. And more silly games - my mother is an expert at preparing games for us all and I love playing. And singing - we might not attempt Messiah this year but as William has got a new piano for Christmas, I'm sure we can persuade him to play for us. Can't wait. Must go pack!!

Wishing everyone a Very Happy New Year. I think we may expect quite a lot of change in 2012 - I do so hope we all get our priorities right about what change is made.

Sunday 25 December 2011

It took us until Christmas Eve to put up our tree. It was worth the wait to refind all our favourite baubles and decorations.

Let me help!

Darwin's view

Table laid for supper on Noche Buena

Oh look! They must have been good - Santa's been

Ruy happy - with everything, not just (another) gun!

How lovely - a houseful of little pieces
Hope Christmas morning brought you all you wanted. I think ours has been one of the best ever.
Merry Christmas.

Saturday 24 December 2011

Just to say...

I wish you all a Very Happy Christmas!

And a special mention to Jo, Scarlet and Harriet (love you!) who haven't been reading so have no idea what we've been up to. Hope to catch up very soon!

Much love Axxxxx

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Just lovely - share the moment

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook today to wish her friends a Happy Christmas and I have stopped many times during this busy day, preparing for my in-laws arrival, just to watch it again and feel the peace descend.

Enjoy and share a moment of chill and simplicity (OK - I have NO idea how they do it!) at Christmas time with me. I suspect that once my in-laws arrive, there will be few moments of calm but plenty of chaotic fun!

Sunday 18 December 2011

Packing a lot in..

Diary entry.
9.00 : Packed picnic, washed hair, nagged Mateo to have a shower; wondered why he didn't look much better afterwards and discovered he'd inadvertently washed his hair in conditioner. May need to nag tomorrow too.

10.30: Left home to go see a house - for me the second time; for FR the third and for the children, the first. Hmmm. Loved it the first time but today...not sure. No more on this subject for now - no decisions 'til after Christmas.

12.00: Set off from said house to go to beach. Forgot camera - so annoying!  Weather stunning - warm and sunny. Hard to believe it's the middle of December!

2.00: Kids and Darwin going crazy on deserted beach, south of Malaga airport. Children playing some strange, undisclosed game that involves wearing jumpers on heads and collapsing into the sand every so often. FR and I wandering up and down collecting interesting shells, following tracks left by seagulls in the near pristine sand (why did I forget my camera!) and feeding a tiny little sparrow that joined our picnic.

5.00: Braved IKEA. Had expected a heaving mass, this being last Saturday before Christmas Eve, but was relatively peaceful. Spent more than intended but at least found a potato peeler that works! (How do the Spanish manage to peel their potatoes with the truly crappy selection of peelers they have in the local shops??)

6.30: After hotdogs (for the kids only - why do they like them?) headed home feeling sleepy and slightly sunburnt!

8.00: Arrived home. Made more rice pudding as the one I made earlier in the week went down very well.

9.30: Went to catch the last part of the Messiah performed by the local choir and a small orchestra from Granada, in the wonderful setting of the Iglesia de Consolacion in Alcala la Real.Church was full to overflowing. So glad I went. Came out most uplifted - and nice to stop for a drink with a friend on the way home.

11.30: Came home to a peaceful, lamp and candlelit house with all children tucked up in bed, tummies full of rice pudding and toes still full of sand (probably!)

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Pudding - ho, ho, ho!

It's not only Christmas Pudding that brings about a 'Ho, ho, ho'.
Mention the word 'pudding' to any of my Spanish students studying English and they fall about laughing.
So much so I became suspicious that it had some very rude double meaning.
But no - they assured me -  it's just a funny word. Usually pronounced 'poodin'. Isn't that lovely!

And here is the lovely rice pudding (hysterical laughter) with plump raisins and vanilla that I made this evening as a result of talking about pudding (oooh, that word!) with my English students studying Spanish. I think their favourite funny word in Spanish is probably 'W' certainly always makes them laugh - and me too - as it's usually pronounced     'oobee dooblee'. Not strictly accurate but so much funnier that way.

My photograph is a bit fuzzy as I had to act quickly - the slight delay in delivery to the mouth was not appreciated by one person in the family!

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Chocolate Christmas Forest!

I have been making one of my little specialities - Chocolate Christmas Trees. One for each of my students plus a few possibly for my own children. I think they are so cute! (The trees are rather sweet too.)

Friday 9 December 2011

{this moment}

A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savour and remember.  :: Idea from :SouleMama:   If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Nativity, Belen and Chocolate

The trial of Father Christmas - 1686

Sadly, Spain has now capitulated to Santa Claus and the commercially-driven Christmas of other European and Western World cultures despite having no historic background for this.
And as I say this, I do realise that Santa Claus's past is not exactly a clear-cut and murk-free story for those of us who have known him all our lives! 

However, I really hate the purely materialistic portrayal here, demonstrated in the life-size plastic Santas that can be seen climbing up a ladder (I ask you!) onto balconies of the many apartments around here and the rest of Spain - more in Valladolid than I've seen around here.
No sense of 'Ho, Ho, Ho' or the kindly, twinkling-eyed old man who watches at all times the behaviour of (us and) our children.
And as Christmas Eve is the most important family time here in Spain and the eating and drinking goes on til the early hours, there is no way that children would be tucked up in bed when Santa made his secret visit down the chimney - so not sure how the magic can possibly be created such as that I remember as a child myself.

But a tradition that is prevalent in both the north and the south of Spain, (as well as in many other European countries,) is the Belén. I had a very precious Christmas ornament myself that came out every year, of a small stable with a high, pointed roof, above which was balanced a star; inside there was a tiny Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus in a mini manger. I expect my mother still has this - I hope so. But the nativity scene here is often on an altogether larger scale.

Belén is the Spanish word for Bethlehem though I do suspect that many people here will not make that connection as the Belén is synonymous in their minds with the often very elaborate and beautiful nativity scenes that adorn most houses, many shop fronts, town halls and often whole villages during the Christmas period. I haven't visited a life recreation of the Belén though I saw one on the television last year based in the beautiful, mediaeval village of Santillana del Mar in Cantabria. The whole village was involved and it was most impressive though I suspect they must have been feeling rather chilly. There are similar scenes set in various villages across the country.

Here in Andalucia, a famous Belén is created every year by a biscuit factory in the village of Rute - about an hour's drive from our home, just across the border into Cordoba. It is made entirely of chocolate - mere 1450kg of it - and takes a number of chocolatiers around four months to create.

Of course we went to see it! The photos do not do it justice and neither could I capture the smell!


Stunning work. I found myself hugely impressed at the workmanship and attention to detail.

But then found myself thinking 'WHY'??? Bizarrely, the setting was Malaga, which sort of backs up my point about the word 'belen'. To me, the scene would have worked much better if it was delivered as such - an historical recreation of the town of Malaga in chocolate. It seemed a bit pointless having the little stable, with its important visitor, down by the old fishing port. But maybe I'm missing the point.....or expecting one where there is none.

Obviously, the whole point was to draw huge crowds to the biscuit factory. However, the attached shop had none of the skilled artesan work available - frankly, what they sold in the shops was most unappetising and unappealing. I had hoped for something different but it was just more of the same - the stuff you can buy in a supermarket only more expensive. Shame.

But an experience.

What hit the spot for me was the Hansel and Gretel 'gingerbread' house that had been made last year - with a mere 450kgs of chocolate - and which seemed a more appropriate subject!

And I think it was this that inspired me to come home and make some chocolates myself. I made a delicious rocky road with marshmallows, cranberries, raisins, some crunched up digestive biscuits and a little real orange for more depth of flavour, topped off with a sprinkling of icing sugar.

For the charming Belen created by my mother-in-law and my children, take a look at Mateo's photos from last Christmas.

Sunday 4 December 2011

Feathers, breath and voices

I've just read 'Strong Words' on a fellow blogger's post and had the pleasure of listening to an excerpt from the Messiah which has sent me spiralling back into nostalgia and thoughts of 'when I was young'.

I had a Methodist upbringing in the loosest sense - meaning I went with my grandparents to a Methodist Chapel every Sunday, where I thought the Vicar was the most wonderful man and whose words I hung on every week. I would be about 9 or 10 and when I hear his voice in my head, he has a strong Welsh accent, though at the time, I had no idea why he sounded different from everyone else around in our little Yorkshire village.

The chapel was quite small and the congregation sat facing the Vicar, the organ and the choir. My grandpa was in the choir and he had a very loud penetrating  tenor voice. I cannot for the life of me remember how many people were in the choir altogether - not that many - but I remember an equally penetrating soprano called Mrs Francis. To the congregation, particularly to me and my sister, it seemed as though my grandpa and Mrs Francis were engaged in a weekly battle as to who could sing the loudest. My grandpa's singing style - whilst in tune and note perfect - was comical to watch as he was a head back, adam's apple-wobbling tenor. He also sniffed quite a lot, occasionally pulling out a large, clean white hanky to mop as well. He was totally oblivious to everything apart from his singing and he did enjoy himself.

My granny didn't sing, though she did play the piano - famously as the pianist at the local cinema when the movies were silent. She didn't sing in the choir because she was very deaf. Which also meant she didn't hear my grandpa's singing. Small mercies.

My mum sings and plays and singing with an excellent choir, The Tatton Singers, in Knutsford is one of her greatest pleasure. At Christmas and family get-togethers we would always sing, attempting the Messiah most years - with a glut of altos, my grandpa holding his own on tenor and various others delivering the 'tune'. We never had a reliable bass but we managed without. It was Perpetua's post that reminded me of all this. It also reminded me of a lovely period in my life after I'd finished my degree.

I was living in London and looking for a temporary job over the summer. A friend ran a music shop in Soho and promised to try and help. I was delighted to get a phone call from Ted Perry, who had a record company called Hyperion - then a family-run business with a growing reputation for quality productions. It was just after they had produced the now very famous 'A Feather on the Breath of God' album with the voices of Emma Kirkby and the Gothic Singers. If you have never heard it, it's worth having a little moment with these beautiful, pure, clear voices which reach back over the centuries to when Hildegard of Bingen wrote this down

I was invited to join the team to provide page-turning duties for recording pianists as and when required and in the months that followed, I can lay claim to having made around eight records (I don't know if they were CDs) - including working with Roger Vignoles and The Songmaker's Almanac.
My nostalgia kicked in when I heard the first few notes of 'Comfort Ye' (or 'Come for Tea' as we used to say) from the Messiah. Anthony Rolfe Johnson, who used to sing with The Songmaker's Almanac and was on a couple of 'my' records (or should that be the other way round?) had possibly the most wonderful tenor voice in my opinion. Not for the big Pavarotti-type arias, but for the things I love, like Handel, Bach - oh, and Britten. He sang 'Les Illuminations' one year at the Proms and I was in heaven. He died sadly of Alzheimer's disease last year. Anyway, I have a recording of the Messiah with Anthony singing which is my all time favourite. I could only find a couple of recordings on YouTube but this one captures the quality I like so much about his voice - to me, it's very intimate and personal, though I'm not sure if that's because I was lucky to be so close to him during the recordings made by the Songmaker's Almanac all those years ago.

In addition to this being one of the best little part time jobs anyone who loves music could possibly have, we made the recordings in a fantastic place - the Art Worker's Guild, in Queen's Square, London - AND I was invited to the company's Christmas party that year - probably 1983 - held in this wonderful Georgian building. I was terribly nervous about going as it was full of the famous musical names of the era but the champagne flowed very freely and rather a lot of it was going into me so by the end of the evening, I was accosting people and telling them I was the page-turner, who were they?  I'm not going to drop names here...sadly I guess many will be dead now. But it was a wonderful evening even though I remember it with a touch of embarrassment and certainly don't remember getting home afterwards!

I haven't taken the time in recent years to listen to the Messiah but you can bet your life that I will be doing this year - probably more than once. I'm grateful to Perpetua for yet another lovely post and especially one that has taken me on my own little trip down memory lane.

Friday 2 December 2011

{this moment}

A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savour and remember.  :: Idea from :SouleMama:   If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Wednesday 30 November 2011

The tearing of hair...

I have just almost completed - twice - a blog post about FR, his month-long project in Granada, the importance of this project and how good it has felt and how proud I am and all sorts of other things. And both times, Mozilla Firefox crashed out on me and didn't save what I'd written!

I give up on that one for today.

And as tomorrow is December, I'll leave my hair alone and continue on a more cheerful note. As all our Christmas decorations are still in Leon, Romy and I have spent the afternoon making an advent 'calendar' - a family must - the countdown to Christmas. I don't want to buy more - this year, less will be more. So we have diligently been saving up empty toilet rolls, which we've painted white and gold, sparkled and glittered, cut in half and stapled up one end and put numbers on from 1 to 24 - though to be honest, we've only saved enough to get to 20 thus far. (However, the nature of the thing means we'll have more empty rolls before the 21st, so I'm not worried.) We bought little wooden pegs and painted them gold and have strung some silver ribbon across a dark blue card, sprinkled with stars and the odd cloud - and the whole thing is now hanging by the door, each little painted holder containing a small chocolate each for the children. FR has the camera so I can't show you. I'll try and remember to capture it - it's so wonderfully homemade-looking that it makes me smile every time I pass it! Now posted as a {this moment}

There, I'll go and look at it again now and forget my irritation at the previous failed attempts to post. I have now finished this one and it's saved....Welcome to December!

Sunday 27 November 2011

La Sierra Nevada at last

Since first visiting Granada, we've said, "We MUST go to the snow in the Sierra Nevada".
Well, during the earlier part of the year, the snow came and went and we never got there.

But this weekend - a beautiful, crisp, clear time - and we had a snow-capped golden opportunity.

What a wonderful experience it was! Now we keep saying, "We MUST go again!"

This is where we only paused in our search for snow - a ski resort called Pradollano

Very nice; very expensive; full of skis, snowboards and cafes. Not quite our scene...

So we went a little higher up the mountain and found this little place, renting sledges from ramshackle huts.
Where we rented a couple of sledges......
and pausing only occasionally to enjoy the view...
or to take a breather and look after Darwin...
we sledged all afternoon..
and had a (snow)ball of a time!

It was quite a trek up the hill each time.

But with views all around worth the effort.

There was the odd collision and the occasional 'dismount' .....and very nearly a serious altercation between father and son. (Deserved, as father very nearly ran Mateo and Darwin into the ground when he made a very amateur descent with Romy!)

But mostly, our downhill technique improved as we practiced. Ruy preferred to go solo - and no, in case you were wondering, he doesn't have huge feet - he has his father's wellies on! He's outgrown all other boots that we had at home.

Big feet are good for stopping though!

The walk up was tough but the ride down was worth it!
Definitely the winning team of the day - no accidents, super fast and just great fun!

We came home pink-cheeked and sleepy but it won't be long before we go again!

Sunday 20 November 2011

Time out

Now and then it’s good to pause
in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.
(Guillaume Apollinaire)
And now and then, I find I have said all I want to say. 
(Annie Taylor)

Monday 14 November 2011

Where to go on Sunday

... if you live in Jaen, it's a little overcast and you've already put a chicken in the oven for lunch...

A simple decision like - let's just pop into Jaen for an hour or so this morning - is an option only because just about one year ago, we came and spent a week in the province of Granada. We came to investigate whether it was an area we wanted to live having spent six months planning (and three months looking) for our dream home in northern Spain. It just didn't happen, so we came south. We all absolutely fell in love with the place and although we have ended up only almost in Granada, we're near enough to have the sense of satisfaction that our decision-making week has paid dividends. It was a glorious week twelve months ago too.

We have passed the Sierra Nevada many, many times whilst it had its icy covering between January and late June but never went close enough to step in the snow - the pull of the sea and the tides was stronger. And then, from July onwards, the glory of the snow literally melted away and left - well, mountains; unsnowy mountains. Nice enough but not as majestic, not as stunning, not as appealing - not to me at least.

On Monday, I took Darwin for our usual walk up through the pines towards La Mota and when I was almost at the top, paused to rest take in the view - and had my breath taken away when I saw the snow had returned and my mountains were once again back to their dramatic selves.

Go on, look carefully...there they are

A glorious view


We've had several days of mild, clear and sunny weather which has made us all feel good about autumn in Andalucia. So blasé we were about the good weather, we decided to stay at home on Saturday and 'do chores' like cleaning up the house and getting homework out of the way, so that we could set off early on Sunday morning and spend the daylight hours in the Sierra Nevada, with our sunglasses on to avoid the glare of the bright sun on the new, white snow.

Except Sunday was not sunny. It was overcast, grey and rather windy. We poddled about - this is a real word, used rather excessively in my family as we do it a lot, meaning to amble around without any real purpose and we do it until someone thinks of something more sensible to do - it helps. We poddled about until FR said, let's go to Jaen instead of Granada. So we piled into the car with a bottle of water and the ubiquitous bag of crisps and the dog and headed off to Jaen, capital of the province in which we live.

Many years ago, on a journey between Valladolid and Malaga where we were living at the time; long before there was a motorway, FR and I had stopped in Jaen for a picnic lunch. FR has contested my memory and has many times said that the occasion I was thinking of took place in Jerez. We both agree that we stopped outside a parador* at the top of a big hill and ate the best chorizo ever and drank a very powerful bottle of tinto which catapulted us into a very deep sleep in the car. Much to the disgust of the parador management who felt we were making their car park untidy. As we drove through the streets of Jaen up towards the parador, my ability to remember every relevant detail of the scenery convinced FR that it was indeed here where we had drifted off. This time, the car park was so full we couldn't stop but we found a space at the bottom of the hill and enjoyed a lovely - very bracing - walk around the castle walls of what was once an impressive hilltop fortress in the time of the Moors.

Ancient walls

These places always bring out the archer in Ruy...

And after scrambling about for an hour or so, we drove back down the hill to the town centre because no one can go to Jaen without visiting its stunning cathedral. Started in the late 16th century, but not completed until the late 18th century, it is Renaissance in style with much visible symmetry and classical columns. It has relatively little of the Gothic about it - no flying buttresses anywhere! Very different from many of the other cathedrals in Spain and a style apparently much copied in South American countries.

 And a detail from over one of the entrances.

Romy was fascinated by this one, which shows a heavenly warrior fighting off the "baddies trying to get in", in her words. 

And then, resigned to the fact that our chicken would be more than well cooked by this time, we called in to a bar for a tapa, where I swear I had just one San Miguel but which had such an effect on me that I barely remember staggering walking back to the car (must remember to eat more breakfast!) and had me dozing all the way home, though I do remember noticing that the clouds had cleared and the Sierra looked particularly beautiful in the distance...!

We ate our chicken - thanks to the fact that our oven never reaches the temperature it should - and then I fell immediately into a deep siesta - even though a siesta should be more of a post-prandial nap, but hey, I have a busy life - and didn't awake until it was already dark.

And that was our Sunday - one year on after making the decision to live in this gorgeous corner of the world and where I still feel the need to pinch myself from time to time to make sure it's real.