Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Sunday 29 May 2011

Flamenco Flamingo

I'd really like to state that Spanish Flamenco comes directly from the observations of flamingoes - those wonderful pink/red/white/black long-legged birds that stamp about in shallow lakes to stir up their lunch from the briny bottom - but the only references I find will only suggest that it is a possibility.
However, I like the idea - in Spanish, flamingo is flamenco. I definitely think there is some link.

And our lovely, impromptu day out yesterday took us to a large lake - the natural reserve of the Laguna de Fuente de Piedra - home to the largest colony of breeding flamingoes in Spain. And sights, sounds and sensations that went far beyond any expectations.

Entrance to the excellent information centre

Credit to Mateo for capturing this one with wings outspread

A natural salt lake, there used to be a salt refinery out in the middle
Now home to a wide variety of birdlife - including these amazing flamingoes

View from the visitor centre

We had a wonderful day

Getting close to the flamingoes

Look closely and you'll see...
Mateo in his element
Mateo discovered turtles in the shallows, snapping at flies that skimmed on the top of the water.
There were lots of them, but try as I might, I couldn't manage to get a good photo of them.

This is my best attempt...
(I confess I didn't like to get too close because of all the flies - so was trying to use my zoom without enough support to keep the lens steady.)

The information centre and our picnic spot

A gorgeous vantage point

The Laguna is in the province of Malaga and only about half an hour from the Costa Del Sol but it was like being in a different world. We drove there via a big chunk of Cordoba province which I have grown to love very much - La Subbetica - which, as you will see from the map in the link, is quite close to where we are at the moment. It took us just under two hours - on really wonderful roads - to get there and the journey was in integral part of our very pleasant day. (OK, apart from the half an hour or so on the way there when Ruy felt carsick and had to sit in the front.) We came back on a slightly different route (hurray for being the map reader and not having to listen to a SatNav!) and that was even better than the outward one - plus Ruy was fine. 

As we sat on our noisy fifth floor balcony, both FR and I noted, with some surprise, how happy we were to be back in Alcala la Real - our home.

PS - did you notice I've cut FR's hair! From ponytail to short back and sides - all my own work and very nice he looks too! I'll get a better picture next time.

Thursday 26 May 2011

Just a little observation..

I noticed a strange thing about two months ago as I was walking around Alcala la Real. On one day, I saw several people with broken forearms or wrists. One or two might be considered normal...mightn't it? But three, possibly four...
Was it a coincidence?
Or a phenomenon?

Or something more sinister?

Impossible to tell - too little data.

Since that day, I have been deliberately seeking more evidence. And I have it in spades - just this morning I have seen another two as I took the children to school, PLUS two children, (I can understand that better as children run about, trip and risk damaging their arms more than adults.)

In total, over the past six weeks or so, I have seen more than 20 people with bandages on an arm. (I haven't counted legs, though I have noticed damaged legs too!)

I think that is plenty evidence that something out of the ordinary is happening here in Alcala with people and their arms.

Or is it just that I have never had time to notice these things before - what is the bandaged-arm situation where you are? Do have a look and let me know!

Saturday 21 May 2011

Sensory overload on Saturday

Today we went walking around Alcala again.

Mateo insisted we revisited a place he'd gone to with his school a few weeks ago.

And he was right to insist.

A feast for all the senses.

Friday 20 May 2011

Surviving the savage sea

I will be above board about this: It's almost a week since I last blogged and I'm struggling to find my blogging 'legs'. I guess I really need to pump out my blogging bilge and refocus.
You see, I can't quite get my bearings; I feel a bit adrift from what's gone before.
But now I've started, I'll let go and haul.

About five years ago, Cesar heard of a book that he fancied reading, called 'The Last Voyage of the Lucette', about a family who had been shipwrecked. He duly read it and spent some time urging both Mateo and me to read it too. Mateo made a start but left off reading without really getting into it. I wasn't 'hooked' at all and didn't even read the blurb.

Somehow, it's one of the books that has found it's way to the apartment here. We'd picked a couple of boxes at random, from the many that contained books, as we came down from Valladolid to Alcala. Most of the books belong to Mateo, from the bookcase in his bedroom in England. This particular book must have still been on the shelves from when he last looked at it.

Having read all my Christmas books and the books I picked up in Oxfam when I last visited England, looking around the house, I found my choice was between 'The Lucette' or one of the 'Artemis Fowl' series, which is (apparently) about a genius teenager who doesn't always behave very well.... the author, Eoin Colfer, has described the series as 'Die Hard with fairies'. I just didn't fancy this as my bedtime reading material.

So, 'The Last Voyage of the Lucette' it was.

Without giving away too much of the story - clearly you understand that at least one member of the family of six that set out on the voyage around the world did make it back - otherwise there would be no book at all. Well actually, two members had to have made it back, because two books have been written - 'Survive the Savage Sea' was the first one, written by Dougal Robertson, the father. His son, Douglas, wrote the book I've just read.

I'm not writing a book review here - but I have to say that I understand why Mateo didn't persevere with it a few years ago - it's not easy reading. Written by a sailor, there is a more than a scattering of nautical expressions, details about boats that would only interest the most avid of seafarers and a lot of compass co-ordinates. The literary style is unusual and I found I was struggling to trust the narrator - essential in a story such as this. But then I worked out why. The story is told in the first person - and it is the father, Dougal, we think we are listening to. However, the book is a reworking of Dougal's original version, and so what we have here is the strange and sometimes uncomfortable combination of two voices - of both the father and the son. A relationship that had some very strained and difficult moments; two very different men.

Once I'd established this, I skimmed along through the book, tacking nicely between the occasionally conflicting styles, disliking Dougal and admiring Douglas in equal measures. The voyage was fraught from the outset - the family very nearly drowned on their first night out from Portsmouth. They didn't though - and continued on their way to have over a year of the most amazing adventures, opportunities and relative freedom from worldy trappings. And I was getting into the style.

And then, the disaster struck. Not one of the usual - frightful storm, whirlwind tornado, about to be run over by a tanker - sort of disaster that the family had faced thus far.
No. The Lucette was sunk in the middle of the Pacific Ocean by a herd? of killer whales. The family - or those still onboard - included Dougal, his wife Lyn, Douglas and the twins, Neil and Sandy. Also onboard was Robin, a young man who had joined them recently and who was a most unseaworthy sort of chap and with whom I had all the sympathy in the world. All of them managed to get into the life-raft - which they had with them by a miracle - and also managed to salvage their little 9 foot dinghy. This dinghy eventually carried all six people to the end of the story as the raft also succumbed to the sea and sank.

I sat up one night reading until after 3am, nibbling on a half a digestive biscuit and sipping tiny sips of water. (I was really hungry, but in deference to the awful situation the family were in, I couldn't indulge in anything more filling.)

And now, I've finished the book.

If you're interested in the story, take a look at the website about the family. And the Sunday Herald also published an interesting and sympathetic interview with Douglas in 2005.

The book has made me think about a lot of things - family, dealing with difficult situations, faith, society, people, death and life. And about the act of thoughtfulness, concern and generosity, shown by the Icelanders, - because whilst the Robertsons had given little enough thought for their own safety, someone else had considered it very seriously. And although most things in my life are not 'life-and-death' issues,  I think perhaps in a small way, I will stop and think that from time to time, I don't always know what is best for me and my family and will pay a little more attention to the opinions of others. They might be handing me a life-saver.

Well, that's what I'm taking from all my reading!
Something a little more light-hearted next, methinks!!

Saturday 14 May 2011

The post moved!

Blogger has been down. I've had  a jittery few days wondering what has happened. Withdrawal symptoms, I suspect.
Now it's back, but I've lost my last post... not 'the last post', which I wrote when we left Valladolid, but my latest post about the earthquake here in Spain on Wednesday evening.

Shaken off the page..

Wednesday 11 May 2011

The earth moved today

An earthquake just hit southern Spain, Lorca in Murcia to be specific, bringing down an old church tower and littering the streets with stones and rubble.

Cesar, Ruy and I were out (looking at a house) and were probably in the car at the time the shock hit Alcala so we didn't feel it at all. But when we returned home, Mateo and Romy were very excited to relate how the apartment and the things in it had moved and wobbled about. And now the news is full of images from Lorca, showing debris scattered around and a big bell on the ground. It is possible that some people may have been killed but no details as yet.

Interestingly, an Italian scientist from the 1920s, Raffaele Bendandi, allegedly predicted that on this day, Rome would be struck by an earthquake. Despite it being scientifically impossible to predict earthquakes, many Romans are aware of this 'prediction' and have stayed away from the city. I had heard this information on the radio but a little further investigation reveals that Bendandi never actually said the 11th May at all.

But he did think he could predict earthquakes.

Which no one can, or they would have done so two months ago.

Sunday 8 May 2011

Over the border

Ver mapa más grande

Alcala la Real is located in the southern tip of the province of Jaen. A little bit further south and you are in Granada. A bit to the west and it's Cordoba province you enter. Today has been the first sunny day for some time and so we promised ourselves a trip out.
Everyone around here says that Priego de Cordoba - about 35kms west - is a lovely place and we should go and see it and that's where we headed.

Everyone was right! It is a gorgeous place and after we'd parked up in a beautiful plaza, we took a stroll through a labyrinth of geranium-lined, white-housed streets.

Looking one way..

Looking the other..

Round the corner..

And round another.

I love geraniums - so I really loved this place!
Running around the east side of the town was a high 'balcon/mirador' - a balcony from which there was a view out across the countryside - and whilst a single camera shot cannot do justice to the sight, I took a snap anyway!

Deep in conversation!

 This is a sculpture showing a famous Spanish child actor and singer called Joselito. One of his most famous films,‘Saeta del Ruiseñor', was filmed in Priego de Cordoba. Whilst strange to my ears - and probably yours - it's worth spending a minute or so listening to the voice of this little boy. It's pure Andaluz. The saeta is a religious song sung during Semana Santa - in this case, Joselito is asking Christ to give sight to the blind girl who stands at his side - but the sound created is rooted in flamenco. Love it or hate it, it will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up!

And a photo of me, Romy and Ruy.
Romy eating - as usual - an ice-cream and Ruy trying to walk on the 'pavement' - and me in my new outfit, bought by my mum last time I was at home. Thanks mum!

From Priego de Cordoba, we headed back to Alcala la Real. About halfway between the two towns, you come to a smaller village called's taken me a bit of practice to say that right but I've got it now. Which is good because I'd really like to live there!
It has a lot of Roman history to it and is rather clean and well-heeled - unlike some villages around here.

We didn't expect the museum to be open but it seemed like a nice walk to go and look at it, so we set off, walking past a gorgeous rushing stream.

And when we reached the museum, there was a table set up with food - slices of pork, freshly barbecued, in crunchy bread, olives, crisps and drinks - for a group of walkers and cyclists. There was plenty left and we were invited to help ourselves! Guess who dived straight in...

And whilst we guessed right that the museum would be closed, the surroundings were absolutely stunning - full of herbs, poppies, orange trees, little streams and thyme-lined paths. We'll come back soon to see the inside.

Cypress-lined avenue

Romy really enjoyed her sandwich.
(They were very good!)

And poppies.   

(And we're back in time for the tennis final between Nadal and Djokovic - live from Madrid! )

Friday 6 May 2011

Reading Material

Most of our many books are packed away in boxes and in storage in a barn in Leon, Northern Spain.

But as we are all avid readers some reading material has had to find it's way here with us.

I was rather amused to see the selection that I picked up from floor, table and chair this morning as I did a cursory tidy around our flat.

What are you reading?

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Karate Kids

When not at school, our children spend a lot of time playing together - a thing I am truly grateful for and which I encourage as much as I can. Often their games are imaginative or verbal games but often they involve plenty of running around, play fighting or other physical activity. Put it this way, they are rarely bored and don't need to be given things to do.

I have occasionally felt just a tad guilty to see other parents delivering their children to dancing classes, horse-riding lessons, football training sessions, language classes, music lessons....but then looked at my busy, cheerful, unbored children and thought they are fine as they are. We have always encouraged them to try lots of things - and they have - but I know from my own experience that pushing them to do something when they don't want to could turn them off completely.

When we were in England, we were very happy for them to take advantage of after-school activities. They all did enjoyed football, gardening, art or other multi-skills classes but never wanted to take anything any further. Even Ruy, who loves football and was keen to go on a Saturday morning to a training session, soon got bored when it was clear that there was more training than football.  Mateo did a few months of Judo, but he showed no real interest and I had to drag him there in the end - so eventually, we stopped going there.

The only class I insisted they went to was a swimming class - which we went to until they were all competent swimmers but it was clear they were not interested in improving their style. They were glad they had learned because they really enjoyed swimming in the pool in La Flecha last summer but they are not competitive and just want to play in the water. They didn't enjoy the classes and were very happy to stop going. And because the aim was achieved, that was fine with me.

But I do have a nagging thought that perhaps they should get involved with a group. It would be good for their continued integration with Spanish children; good for them to start doing things outside the house; good to learn more independence; good to take responsibility for their actions and their own development.

So I was delighted when Romy came home last week with an invitation to a Karate exhibition at the sports centre on Saturday. Her friend Ismail had asked her to come and watch him and she was thrilled. On Saturday morning, Romy and I got up and walked down to the big sports centre here in Alcala  and we were both very impressed by what we saw.

There must have been around 150 children of all ages, in their white Karate suits with different coloured belts. Those who weren't actually performing, on one of the three areas set out, were busy practicing with each other or going through their movements.

Individual performances

I was deeply impressed by the focus and concentration of all the children and the control and balance their little bodies displayed. Romy said she wanted to join a class and we both agreed that Ruy would love it too. So we hurried home again to tell the others to come down and watch and then we enrolled our two youngest onto the next term's course.

Proper kicking performances!

And the first lesson, yesterday, went down really well. They both came home pink and sweaty and spent the rest of the evening practicing their moves - together with grunts and shouts, which are apparently required - though fortunately not on each other! The classes are twice a week so quite some commitment.

I find myself hoping that they go beyond the novelty of the first few weeks, of learning some moves and pretending to be karate kids. I hope they start to learn the deeper philosophy behind the moves. It should stand them in good stead throughout their lives.

  1. Seek perfection of character
  2. Be faithful
  3. Put maximum effort into everything you do
  4. Respect others
  5. Refrain from violent behaviour

Sunday 1 May 2011

Weddings - Royal and (un)Common

I was taken by surprise earlier this week when someone told me that the Royal Wedding was on Friday. Not living in England can have so many advantages. No big build up, no planning of street parties, no TV and tabloid excesses here.... well, unless you count the Real Madrid vs. Barcelona games that have been played for the past two Wednesday evenings. (Madrid won the first game, Barca the second - from the enthusiastic response on the streets on the first Wednesday, I'd take a guess that the people around here are Madrid fans...I had no strong feelings either way.)

Nor have I ever been enthusiastic about the royal family - I find them a comical bunch and if we are all accidents of birth, I don't believe that to be born 'royal' is a blessing. In this age of 'celebrity' and people watching, there is little difference between being royal or being Elton John, Victoria Beckham or Tara Palmer-Tomkinsons...a few names I pick not at random, but because they were all at the wedding...WHY!!??

How do I know? Well, I had assumed that it wouldn't be on Spanish TV and so gave the matter no further thought, but on the Thursday evening, a TV programme we were watching announced that coverage of the wedding would start the next morning at 10.15. I thought I might give it a quick glance if I got time.

And next day, after I'd taken the children to school, done a bit of shopping and collected a parcel from the Correos (Post Office) I sat down with a coffee and put the television on.

I watched it all. I watched until I had to go and fetch my children from school. Three and a half hours. And at the end, I was quite exhausted and emotional. How could that be?

A friend and fellow blogger, Andy, wrote about his 'confused relationship with royalty' following the wedding. He's a reflective sort who thinks about things and likes to understand what makes him, and others, tick. I started to leave a comment but found I was writing rather a lot - aha, blog material of my own, I thought. So I cut my reply short and said that I'd write more here on my own blog. And it's made me do a little reflecting - very different in style to Andy's thoughts - I haven't tried to understand my feelings about the Royal Family but I have thought a bit about what made the wedding so emotional for me and the choices we make.

What moved me to tears (and would have done whether I was watching a wedding or not) was the wonderful, truly heavenly music that was sung and played throughout the ceremony - from Parry's 'I was glad' - an inspired choice to walk up the aisle to - to modern pieces written by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and John Rutter; and the lovely hymns, 'Love Divine All Loves Excelling' and 'Jerusalem'. I can't say too much more or I'll become too emotional to write. Music does that to me and always has - and to hear it in such a setting with such wonderful voices - well, I was a blubbering wreck. I was so glad I was alone because I know that very few people would understand that it was not - absolutely not - anything to do with the young couple who were getting married. I guess there was too much going on in their heads to really hear the music properly. There was such an overwhelming Englishness to it too, which brought out a relatively dormant patriotic streak in me unexpected emotion.

I did think about William's parents - Charles and Diana - as he and Kate were saying their vows and I hoped that this wedding would not turn out to be such a sham. What we have learned from the press, their own words and subsequent actions about the relationships between Charles, Diana and Camilla casts such a cynical shadow over that particular occasion. I thought about it and it made me rather sad and a bit cross.

And who wouldn't think about their own wedding? I did. Cesar and I married in a beautiful little romanic (and romantic) church in a village near where his parents live. We already had our two boys and had intended to have civil ceremony in Santander the summer of 2002, but it proved too bureaucratic to organise in time. Enter Don Mariano - priest in said village and good friend of Cesar's mother - who waived all complications aside, cut red and purple tape and performed the ceremony with relish and minimal fuss. The only proviso was that I had to be baptised a Catholic as I came into the church, which meant my little walk up the aisle left a dripping trail of holy water behind me (and a less than elegant hair-do!)

Our wedding took place during our summer holiday and to take full advantage of this, we'd driven down from England, through the Channel Tunnel and camped a couple of times overnight in France before arriving in Spain. I brought the wedding cake made by my mum, in a tupperware box, with us which I had to monitor for ant invasion at all times; it must have been giving out a very tempting scent! We sat on a beach one afternoon - I remember it had been overcast but I'd slathered the boys in factor 40 suncream, wiping the excess on my hands casually down each of my own arms. By the following morning, it was clear that the sun had been rather strong after all and I had burnt quite badly including blisters on my shoulders, although I did have rather fetching 'go-faster' white stripes down each arm, where the factor 40 had worked very effectively. The wedding was two days away!

But as usual, I am digressing more than I intended.

Ours was a wedding that was small and intimate and without any music at all - there was no organ in the church, no time to organise an alternative so we had none. Don Mariano sang a bit, I think. And everyone applauded at the end. Which was nice.

Afterwards, we had just the best party ever and I cherish those memories - of my dad dancing in the garden, of Cesar's father singing flamenco-style at the restaurant and how the wedding cake survived and looked wonderful in spite of its long and unusual journey!

So my reflections were not about royalty after all but about the 'personalness' of weddings . Very few people go into marriage lightly - most of us consider it a serious step; most of us want our wedding day to go perfectly. This 'Royal Wedding' was without fault in its timing, its presentation, its organisation and its visual and aural impact. Ours was a lovely,comical, rather impromptu and unaccompanied affair. But the focus of the bride and groom on each other - and the lovely trust and confidence they showed in each other - gave the whole thing an intimacy that struck the chords for me. It really did seem as though there was no one else there - never mind 2 billion pairs of eyes - just them. And that's how I felt at our wedding. I was 'aware' of everyone else; I remember Mateo falling off the pew with a bang on his head; I remember seeing Ruy (just 8 months old) in a different pair of arms every few minutes as he was passed around from one relative to the next but it didn't really matter. Mostly, I remember Cesar and I getting married.
Nothing common about our wedding - we felt like royalty. (Strange, that.)

I am sure that the royalty-loving British public would have made a far bigger outcry if William and Kate had (somehow) married in secret, or away from the public eye than the anti-royalists seem to have done at the public event.

And did they have a choice? Apparently, they made a lot of choices about their wedding. And if they did, then I applaud their choice of music more than their choice of guests.

So, on reflection, I was very emotionally moved by the Royal Wedding. But, it was, without doubt, for the chords that touched me personally  - and not any romantic notion of fairy tale weddings.

I don't know if I speak for anyone else on this one.