Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Monday, 25 June 2012

The burning of witches

Midsummer falls around the same time as the fiesta of San Juan here in Spain - or is it the other way around? So many festivals - pagan and sacred - share similar dates or times of the year. La Fiesta de San Juan - or St. John's Eve - is celebrated all over Spain by the lighting of bonfires, particularly on beaches and famously in Alicante and Valencia. As we might expect, the fiesta-rich little town of Alcala la Real would not like to miss the opportunity to observe this particular tradition.

Having watched the football match earlier in the evening, in which Spain beat France 2-0, our menfolk were far too exhausted to join Romy and I, so we two set off up the steep hill, in temperatures still over 30 degrees to see what fun we might find. We had heard tales of witch burning and couldn't possibly miss seeing it.

At first, the streets seemed very quiet and we wondered whether we'd got it wrong - it happens! However, as we staggered up the last, almost vertical, hill, we were hit by a real blast of heat and crowds of people moving into the Plazeta outside the church of San Juan.

With little subtlety, I followed Romy as she weaved her way to the front of the crowd - she was really keen to see a witch being burned...

This is the lovely little church. I have never been inside as yet but have been told that it has a little museum - must make sure we go to visit that one day.

However, it was from the bell tower that all the fun was to begin.

And even better than a front line view would be a view from the terrace of a house that overlooks the square.

And we were lucky enough to know some people who lived in such a house and we were able to escape from the crowds and get a bird's eye view - and a drink and some nibbles - from our friends' house! Good to have friends in high places...

At the stroke of midnight, things started to happen...

And after a little teasing, the witch appeared on her broomstick. (She flew fast, so some of pictures are rather blurred...)

She flew around, teasing the crowd.

She started to fly dangerously close to the fire...
Very near though for a little while, we thought she might get safely to the other side.

Then her foot seemed to be alight...

But no, she had escaped again.

Oh no, this time she won't escape.

And as she caught fire and started to burn, the moment was celebrated with an unexpected burst of fireworks and we were so close that the ashes and little bits were falling right on top of us.

And she went on to completely disappear - not exactly in a puff of smoke - but not before she got stuck on a neighbour's fence. I did have a moment's concern for both the house and the man trying to free her - there was absolutely no way the fire brigade would have got to the scene but there was no harm done.
(If you watch the video, suggest you turn down the volume a bit to avoid being deafened...I found out that it's quite loud the hard way.)

After the witch had disappeared, the tradition is for people to throw papers into the fire, on which should be written up to three 'wishes'. The wishes can be positive or negative - i.e. things you want or want to happen or vice versa. We duly wrote down our wishes and threw them into the fire. I noted that Romy didn't want any more ants.

Not sure that will be completely fulfilled, though we don't seem to have any at all in the house today...

My wishes... well, not wanting to be too specific, they all involved houses. I can't afford to miss any opportunity to ask for a little luck. Especially as the one we had our eye on is now OFF the list.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Proud Padres

Friday 22 June was the last day of term for the children of Alcala la Real, Jaen, Andalucia and probably the whole of Spain. Despite it being at least a month earlier than schools in the UK, we were all feeling ready for the summer break - especially as temperatures are reaching 36 degrees most days.

The children (and school staff) have been working hard to prepare a spectacular for parents to enjoy and we had a real treat last night. I am proud to say I did my parental duties quite well, spending a couple of mornings earlier in the month to make some rather sweet little straw huts to act as 'scenery' to the dances of Year 2 - Romy's year.  

Each year group wore matching costumes. I was rather partisan and only photographed the year groups that my own children were in and also Year 1 because my friends daughters are both in that group. However Years 1 and 2 were the best costumes by far!

Year 1 was dressed as the main characters in Lazy Town. Sorry Sam and Caroline - I could not identify Izzy and Natalia specifically - they all looked the same from where I was sitting! All gorgeous.

The children in year 2 were dressed as an African tribe. There were some really stunning shields and they looked fantastic all together. I am going to resist describing the hours of work that went into making Romy's costume because I discovered on the night that I could have made it much easier for myself - but hey, next time I have to make one, I shall know the best way!

Romy has spotted me in the crowd!

I took lots of photos of the African tribe - I though they all looked wonderful. Judge for yourselves!

Don't tell him I told you, but see the man in the audience with his arms in the air? FR!

Turquoise, Pink and Green Angels
Ruy's year group all wore a pair of white wings for a very touching and heartbreaking reason. 

Earlier in the year, a lovely boy called Andres, lost his battle with cancer at the age of just 11. We saw him at school most days, despite his illness and he was always so very cheerful and enthusiastic, though some days, he couldn't even walk to the car and his father had to bring a wheelchair for him. 

The children were all devastated when they heard he had died and there were some very genuine and lovely tributes to him in the end of term bulletin that his classmates had written. 
The whole evening was dedicated to him.

You also need to know that I made Ruy's wings. You need to know this for two reasons. 

1. He could easily be taken for the real thing and so why would I need to make him wings out of cardboard?

2. Most of the other children's parents went to the local bazaar and bought the wings from there. By the time I found out this was an option (having been too busy making straw skirts and shields) I had already made him a pair from cardboard and lots of crepe paper.

I was quite pleased with the final result and Ruy was pleased to have the biggest pair of wings in his class!

Angels in conversation

Despite the heat and the fact that they had all performed during the day for each other, by way of a whole school practice, the children put their hearts into their dances and it was a real pleasure to watch them.

Well done Alonso de Alcala. Thank you teachers. We'll see you next week for the real truth about our little savages and angels when we go and collect their end of term reports!

Romy and Ruy - ready to go and dance

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Cherry on the top

Following a telephone tip-off around 7pm yesterday, we piled into our car and drove to the top of a hill just outside Alcala la Real, where we found - just as promised - trees laden with cherries.

We picked and picked and hardly lightened the poor trees' loads - branches laden with ruby-red berries - most of our pickings went into a big bucket that we'd brought for the purpose, but rather a few went directly into our mouths. These were not just cherries. These were plump, juiciful, mouthwateringly delicious cherries - there was much 'mmmmm'ing and head-throwing back in pure pleasure at the taste.

After about an hour, with a bucket overflowing with fruit, we jumped back into the car and headed home.
We had picked more than 10 kilos of cherries!

Which is...

quite a lot of cherries

whichever way you look at them

FR and I set to to make some jam to ensure that none would go to waste. However, it was not a smooth operation at all. Problem number one came when we realised that all recipes insisted on using jam sugar, which is high in pectin but we couldn't find any here at our local supermarket - and as it was already after 9pm, there was no time to look elsewhere. Problem number two was that all the same recipes said to stone the cherries first using a cherry stoner as stoning cherries any other way can be extremely messy. We didn't have a cherry stoner. So, with a bit of casual logic, I thought we could cook the cherries first with their stones in, as the stones contained pectin (well, I think they do) and then we could strain the stones out when the cherries had softened. 

FR spent about an hour picking all the stones out - it was messy. Horribly messy. I didn't dare enter the kitchen and take a photograph or it could have been even messier. It was, of course, all my fault.

That bit done, we added sugar and lemon juice and set to boiling. One hour passed and no sign of setting. An hour and a half and still no thickening. We definitely lacked pectin. At 2 in the morning, we called it a day and bottled our cherry compote and went to bed. 

But I'm so glad we persevered because breakfast this morning......

was d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Reflection and anticipation

Thanks to Image of the Day for this beautiful phot

There is a sense of  déjà vu -  of completing a full circle of life - as we find ourselves in Alcala la Real for a second summer. Last week, the fair came to town for four days of noise, unnecessary extravagance and fun - depending on your point of view - and I was reminded of our first visit last year and how it, and not the weather, marked the beginning of summer here.

And now it continues as we arrive at the last week of term. Ruy and Romy have finished all their course work and the emphasis at school seems to be on fun. They are practising their dances for the end of term extravaganza, playing games, eating bread spread with olive oil and chocolate (I haven't tried it but they are complete converts.) No homework until September. At secondary level, it's a little different. Mateo has had a lot of tests in the last term, which he has found quite exhausting and tedious at times but he was pleased to discover he has passed all he needs to pass and doesn't have any retakes this year - well done, Mateo - he got good marks in his sciences and a huge improvement in Maths and Spanish too. We have decided to move him to another school in the town from the next school year for a number of academic reasons (it's a more interactive school, with young teachers, additional language support, more hands-on science teaching....and so on.) Mateo will miss his friends but living in a close community like Alcala means he can continue to see them out of school and may already know some of the students in his new school. There are four secondary schools in the town and I teach students from all four and have seen no rivalry or segregation in my classroom between the different schools. When I think back to my own school days, I have very different memories. There was an unpleasant intolerance, mistrust and real barriers between the kids in my school and the one down the road from us. We finished our school day 15 minutes after the other school and once, we came out to find a big gang waiting for us -  an all-out battle ensued. Obviously I scuttled home very quickly and took no part but as I lived just across the road, I was able to watch and witness everything until such time as the police arrived.... I think this resulted in changing the final bell to the same time at both schools. It is most definitely not the same here. Thank goodness!

I too am coming to my last week of teaching at the Academy after doing a full academic year. Teaching has its frustrations but also its great pleasures. I have a number of classes that are such a joy to teach, where the enthusiasm and engagement of the children is reward enough in itself. I also have a couple of classes - young teenagers - who are more interested in catching up on gossip with those at a different school, skipping the class or simply not engaging in the lesson. I try my best with them and have thought of all sorts of different educational games to try and encourage them and sometimes it works a bit and I have to be satisfied with that. And whilst they don't always concentrate in my class, if I see them in the street, they always give me a warm and respectful greeting - in English - which pleases me greatly.

FR is continuing his work with Escenica in Granada after his excellent month-long course in November. The work he is doing now is not exactly lucrative but we hope that it will pay dividends in the future - not necessarily in financial terms but in terms of establishing a group of people who believe in something and use theatre as the medium to share these beliefs. I do hope so as he has put such a lot of effort and time into it.

It has, on reflection, been a good year.

I'm working on the 'patience' bubble...
And in just a few weeks, we will have been in this house for a whole year - how fast the time has gone! I will tell you know that for the past month or so, we have been involved in a protracted discussion with an estate agent and a buyer about a property we have seen.

And yes, it's here in Alcala la Real!!

However, it is too small for us as it stands and the kitchen is in the garden but not joined to the main house.

It has damp walls in a couple of rooms and the staircase is showing signs of a problem and it needs a new roof and it only has a tiny's not perfect. And the owner wants more money than we can sensibly pay him, considering it will need almost as much again spending on it once we get it. IF we get it.

The property is empty, so obviously it's not someone's home, it's a second (or even third) property and I suppose there is no pressure on the owner to sell. It's a buyer's market at the moment but in this town, there are very few properties for sale and what is available are the old, empty and, quite frankly, ruined houses in the historic centre. It is a lovely town, no doubt about it, but I have come to discover that its original houses are not of a very high quality or standard. There are some very well made new ones, but they are either for a standard family with two children (and no dog) or in a price bracket well beyond ours.

So, we are working on the owner and hope he will drop his price a little bit more - just a bit more - and if he does...well, I think I might be celebrating just a little! But let's not rush things - patience, patience, patience. Give me!!

Thanks Doug!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Braving the cold...

OK - it might not seem brave to you but believe me, this water was very chilly. Exceedingly.

Going under

But my children - two of my children - are made of resilient stuff and spend the day on Saturday, defying the cold, braving the waves and having an absolutely whale of a time.

Breaking waves

The less daring faction of the family...

We didn't build these ourselves

but we wish we had

Our first summer day on the beach this year. We visited two beaches, both in Almuñecar. The first one was  busy and wide, with the town at our backs. We were surrounded by incredibly noisy, boisterous and uninhibited local Spanish people - it is their beach, after all.  The other, which we found later in the day,  was at the furthest end of the town and we hadn't been there before but we loved it. There were three little bays backed by high cliffs. Designated a nudist beach, it seemed as though most of the town's people shunned it and it was wonderfully peaceful. There were a few naked bodies, which is fine by me, some quieter and more peaceful families and a few foreigners, reading books or just chilling - not yelling into mobile phones, having Fanta fights or shouting at their children... 

I hope by the next time we go, the water will have warmed up just a tad...I went in but my, was it cold! 

How are your summer plans shaping up - water, pool or somewhere else?

Monday, 4 June 2012

Say cheese.. or patata!

Are you smiling? I'm not!

Why would a photographer ask us to say 'cheese' to make us smile? I have tried this several times and on several occasions but when I say 'cheese' my mouth puckers up and my lips move forward to say the 'ch' sound. Only afterwards do my lips widen a little to say the 'ee' part - and into nothing remotely like a smile. Unless of course, there is a camera pointing at me - and then, the instruction is enough for me to smile automatically. In Spain, apparently, the photographer will ask people to 'mirad la pajarita' (look at the birdie) or  to say 'patata' (potato) and that seems to work.

None of this has much to do with this post, other than FR and I went on Saturday into the town centre to sample the wares at the Cheese Festival.

Set in the square of the ayuntamiento (town hall)

Prize-winning cheeses were laid out

with plenty of samples to try

The town hall - home to a team of dedicated, professional rubber-stampers 

As well as cheese, there was alcohol on offer -
obviously not the youth of Alcala  la Real who were tempted.

A goodly crowd on a hot day, we really enjoyed our samples and made a couple of goaty cheese purchases

I said 'Cheese'  - say Cheese!

Actually, FR and I rarely venture out on our own and so, feeling rather daring and liberated, we drank some beer, which, together with the aperitif we had before we left home, and the little samples of fizz, made us rather light-headed and giddy. We were asking these two in the photo above about buying a box of wine which I wanted to give to my sister if we see her in the summer and as we left, I winked at one of them. I don't know why - it just happened and I was mortified and amused at the same time. Goodness knows what he must have thought! I am not to be trusted with a single drop of alcohol, obviously.

We then spent another hour wandering around the streets looking for houses for sale that we hadn't already seen and taking the phone numbers. We're going to see one of them this afternoon. And one day, we'll find one!

Now...lunch today - some toasted goats cheese with my salad, I think!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

When the weather is hot

play games in the water!

This was the last day of the football season for Ruy and a letter came home to say that instead of practice, there would be organised games, including the possibility of a water fight. What fun lay ahead?

Well, lots as it happens. And not just for the footballers - all were welcome.

It's not just
the taking part that's fun..
winning's good too!

Action shot

Ready, Steady 

The winners get ... a soaking!

Go Ruy!

Go Romy!

Go kids, go!

They had a great time. Slept well last night too!