Easter Week in Posadas (Cordova, Spain)

It’s an intense week here in Spain being Easter week. Unfortunately the numerous processions which take place every day in almost every city, town and village have been cancelled for the second year running due to Covid. However, there is a lot that the church has organised that you can take part in, in a controlled, safe way, complying with all the regulations — meditations, contemplation, talks, prayers, retreats, expositions, just to name a few.

So for now I would just like to share with you some photos of the statues and floats that are usually paraded along the streets; these are typically accompanied by the brass band and rows of hooded penitents that quietly shuffle along. To see more photos and read about the processions you can visit my previous blog which I wrote last Easter Sunday.

The above statues are housed in the 18th century chapel, La Ermita del Niño Jesús in my local village of Posadas. The chapel has an interesting past which I mentioned in the last illustrated paras of one of my previous blogs.

This huge poster hangs from the façade of the parish church, Santa María de las Flores in Posadas. It reads:

Padre en tus manos enconmiendo mi espiritú…Yo soy la resurrección, la vida: el que cree en mi aunque haya muerto, vivirá… El que quiera siguirme, que se niegue a sí mismo, tome su cruz y me siga…

which translates as:

‘Father into your hands I commend my spirit… I am the resurrection and the life: he who believes in me although having died, will live again… Whoever wants to follow me, let him renounce himself, carry his cross and follow me…’

The above photo is a representation of the Last Supper table. This is inside the parish church, Santa María de Las Flores in Posadas.

The above is housed in the chapel, La Capilla de la Vera Cruz which is close to the Ermita mentioned previously

The following impressive statue of Mary, La Virgen de la Misericordia is in San Pedro church of Cordova.

I understand that all this might not be your cup of tea, but one just can’t help but appreciate the amount of artistic work and total devotion and dedication that these processions involve — take, for example, Mary’s cloak which is richly hand-embroidered — and that’s nothing to say about the woodwork, flower arrangements and craftsmanship in precious metals. Nor does it involve just this outward expression: it is accompanied by a quiet strength of faith, prayer, reflection and interiorism. It is a week of living and breathing the Word — a poignant and emotive time which culminates and comes to fruition on Easter Sunday.

Well, this just leaves me to early wish you all a Happy Easter and to wish you well.

Bye for now! xxx

Quince jelly (sort of…)

Hello all! I hope you are well.

I’m back with another recipe: this time it’s a bit of an experiment (surprise, surprise!) because it’s my first attempt. Quince jelly. This is different from the Spanish equivalent ‘dulce de membrillo’, which is quite thick and granular, easy to cut and often served as an accompaniment to fresh cheese.

(Wikipedia)

Photo of the Spanish ‘dulce de membrillo’ (quince jelly). As you can see, it’s quite thick, compact and granular in texture.

I prefer the finer ‘jelly’, so as quinces are in the plenty now (and at 1 euro per kilo) I thought I’d give it a bash.

So here’s what I did:

Some quinces

These furry fruits are locally produced and though they might look a bit manky, in reality they’re not. They are sweetly perfumed. You don’t need to weight the fruit because it is the juice that is extracted from them that needs to be measured.

I washed the fruit, removed any bugs and put them out to graze, then I chopped the quinces into 2 cm-sized pieces (more or less — I didn’t use a ruler!). No need to core or peel the fruit, as it is the juice that we’re interested in.

I placed the ‘cubes’ into a thick, tall pan, just covered them with well water (which has quite a lot of calcium in — good for the teeth but not for the gallstones), and brought it to the boil.

The pan’s quite deep. I boiled the fruit gently for about an hour until it was soft. I then mashed it all up — should’ve used a potato masher, but as I don’t have one (sacrilege! — guess what’s on my Santa’s list, or rather the Three Kings since I am in Spain), so I used a metal ladle instead.

When mashed, I turned out the contents into a cloth turned over a bowl, allowing the juice to strain through. It was a bit thick so I added some water, which apparently you are allowed to do. I should’ve used a jelly bag strainer, but since I don’t have one of these either, nor a good-enough piece of muslin, I used a clean, cotton pillowcase instead. (Guess what my second pressie from Santa will be…) Now although this mash might look a bit pukey and cacky, it was by now smelling really fragrant and exotic.

The next stage involved suspending the pillowcase and mash via a string over a big bowl for a few hours so that all the juice can drip through. After about four hours I did have to help things along and give the pillowcase a good couple of squeezes (which left my hands and apron damp, sticky and perfumed). Unfortunately, because I was also making a banana cake at the same time, I forgot to take a photo of the hanging pillowcase mash.

The next step was to return the liquid to the pan measuring out how many cups worth there was, then adding half that amount in sugar. (Next time I will add a little less sugar.) I also added a good squeeze of lemon juice for pectin. If you happen to have any leaves of lemon geranium, then you can add these to enhance the flavour and perfume. (Next time I make this jelly, I will ‘borrow’ some of these leaves from a lemon geranium I have seen growing in the flowerbeds in the communal gardens in Posadas village. I might also ‘borrow’ one of the lemons from the lemon trees that also grow there.)

Bring to the boil, let it boil rapidly until the setting point is reached (I used the wrinkle method and a saucer). Since I forgot to take photos of this step, it is similar to the apricot jam and chutney that I made in an earlier blogs.

When the setting point was reached, I poured the jelly into sterilised jars and sealed them with a waxed disc. (If you don’t have any waxed discs like I didn’t — surprise, surprise — then you can use the bag that holds your cereal. I haven’t actually tried this, but I did read it somewhere…)

Voilá! The final product! Delicious! As you can see, I didn’t wait long to try it out!

Duduk.jpg

Aside: I did mention my apricot jam earlier, which reminds me that I should soon prune my apricot tree, the leaves of which are fast turning a luminescent yellow, which also reminds me of an interesting fact: that the duduk instrument, originating from Armenia, is made from apricot wood. I love the mournful, melancholic, spiritual sound of this instrument — it is well-worth listening to if you haven’t heard already. You could listen to Dzhiván Gasparián (Armenian), a master of this instrument. For me this music is bewitching…

Well, that’s all for now. Thank you for visiting — take care! xxx

PS. Comments or questions are always welcome!

My walk to the haunted Convent Santa María de Los Ángeles (in Hornachuelos, province of Cordova)

Hello folks — I hope you are keeping well and safe!

The other day it was grey, dull, cold, wet and windy, so I thought to myself ‘What a lovely day for a walk!’

And that’s just what I did!

But instead of going to my local Sierrezuela hilly range, close to Posadas, I went a little further afield to the National Park of Hornachuelos. (This was a few weeks ago before the municipal lockdown I might add! I am a very law-abiding person…)

Hornachuelos also has a village and lies some 10 miles (16 km) northwest of Posadas. The park is famous for its diversity of fauna and flora (but more about that in a later blog) and the whole area has a lot of historical hermitages and sanctuaries, as well as an 8th century castle and a gothic church with the ghost of the flying monk. It also has a dilapidated convent-monastery Santa María de los Ángeles— one which boasts its own peculiar history and where my walk took me close to, as you will see in the following photos.

There is a shrine built in honour of Our Lady of Crowned Angels
Hornachuelos National Park is home to many varied species of plants and animals. There are lots of eagles too
There is a lake and dam which contains the water from the Bembézar River. You can fish and canoe on the lake, but not swim
Looking down from the wall of the dam (note the wild fig tree in the forefront)
The starting point of the walk (next to the ‘Bathing Forbidden’ sign
Up and along it goes, skirting the flank of the reservoir
Looking across to the top part of the village which is perched high on a craggy cliff, with a school to the right. Towards the left you can just make out the rusted metal tower of the zip lines that stretch across the lake
You can see the while-washed school better now atop the hill (the rain didn’t do my photography any good!)
After walking for about 50 minutes I reached the point opposite the derelict, ‘haunted’ monastery
And here it is a little closer. Now it is forbidden to enter the building because it is deemed unsafe, but there are YouTube videos of the inside. On the outside, fourteen huge stone crosses on the path leading to the monastery mark the Stations of the Cross

The convent-monastery Santa María de los Ángeles gained more fame after being featured in Iker Jiménez’s Spanish television programme, ‘Cuarto Milenio’ (Fourth Millennium). In this production numerous facts and data supporting the convent’s paranormal history were revealed. These facts were backed up by exhaustive research and quantitative tests, while ample qualitative evidence was provided by witnesses. The evidence included eerie sounds and other psychophonic phenomena that were recorded on a tape, the cause of which has been put down to spiritism and psychic energy. The conclusion was that the strange sounds that hoot, whimper and cry out at night, accompanied by noises of certain ‘things’ moving about (as the experienced locals and some visitors will testify) are phantasmal voices from the past.

As well as these spooky sounds, there have also been sightings. One of the common spectral visions is that of a nun. She is dressed in such a way that is has been concluded (on the basis of other evidence too) that she was the first nun who inhabited the place some five hundred and twenty years ago, and (as the story goes) loathe to leave the convent when it changed ownership and underwent subsequent alterations, she stayed living there in secret for many years, until eventually she gave up the ghost. 

The story behind the Santa María de los Angeles convent-monastery goes something like the following. The hallowed site, originally a Franciscan convent, was founded in April of 1490 by Fray Juan de la Puebla (born 1453, nephew of Catholic Queen Isabelle, and nicknamed by the Italians as El Gran Español for his spiritual devotion and the exemplary life he led). As a result of his divine calling, he entered a Hieronymite convent when he was eighteen and then later, under the orders of Pope Sixtus IV, the convent of San Francisco in Rome. (It is reported, by the way, that this popeunder whose orders the Sistine Chapel was builtalso aided the Spanish Inquisition, though unhappy with its in-house abuse.)

Fray Juan then returned to Spain when his brother, Don Alfonso de Sotomayordied. (The latter was a great paladin of the Catholic Monarchs, Isabel and Ferdinand, fighting their cause during the Reconquest of Spain.)

Subsequently, Queen Isabel asked the then-acting pope (Innocence VIII) to grant her nephew, Fray Juan, permission to live definitely in Spain, and she herself would see to his spiritual education. Once agreed, he returned for good and devoted himself to establishing many new convents and monasteries in the provinces of Cordova, Seville and Extremadura. One of the monasteries was the aforementioned Santa María de los Angeles in Hornachuelos. This was erected upon the steep and craggy cliffs of the Bembézar Lake, far from any hamlet and village.

In 1494 the convent was visited by the Catholic Monarchs who, recognising and applauding Fray Juan’s famed heroic virtues, wished to give their thanks for the help they had received from God and indirectly, via Fray Juan’s spiritual intercession. This apparently had been instrumental in their victorious outcome of the Reconquest.

However, these were not the first and last monarchs to visit the blessed site, and some seventy-six years later, in 1570, Felipe II graced the monastery with his presence. Over the time there arose the legend that if this holy site were to be bought and altered then it would ‘rain fire’. Contrary to such warnings though, the site changed hands several times, each time undergoing various reforms. True to prediction, the monastery burnt down three times: in 1498, 1543 and 1655.

To rub salt into the wound, after the latter date of 1655 the convent was bought by somebody or other from the nearby town of Ecija and then sold to the Marquises of Peñaflor in 1884. They rather irreverently used the hallowed ground and edifices as a hunting centre. Subsequently though, the Marchioness (perhaps suffering qualms of conscience) donated the property to the church, and in 1957 it was opened as a seminary.

However, as is often the case when some good ideas fail, the new seminary was abandoned some fourteen years later when the upcoming seminarians chose to study in the newly-opened and more central, holy-training institution, San Pelagio in Cordova town. Since then, Santa María de los Angeles—which at last count consisted of seven buildings containing a chapel, various classrooms, dressing rooms, bathrooms, kitchen, toilets galore, patios and even a cave for meditationhas fallen into disrepair.

Now this sacred skeleton stands alone, balanced upon the vertical cliffs of the Bembézar Lake, inhabited only by ghostly nuns that glide about, accompanied by the phantasmal noises from former spectral devotees. The building (and its invisible inhabitants) is also visited by numerous hikers, nature lovers, history enthusiasts and psychophonic investigators, all of who must keep the spirits well-occupied.

Well, that’s all for now…

Thank you for visiting — as usual I welcome any comments or questions.

Take care! xxx

A misty walk and things were out…

Hello all — I hope you are keeping well.

This morning was very misty and damp, just the right weather to go for a walk especially after having sat all day yesterday hunched up at the computer, teaching then illustrating my book.

The damp and humidity always remind me of Richmond Park, the area near where I grew up before moving to Cordova in southern Spain. (Why and how I made this move is explained in this illustrated summary!)

A misty day by Adams Pond in Richmond Park near the Sheen Gates entrance. This was taken in November last year when I was there visiting my mother and brother and I am longing to return as soon as this Covid rubbish is beaten! There are some lovely photos of the park in their Facebook page
Anyway, the morning here in the countryside of Posadas (Cordova) was fresh, dewy and the mist was out
as was the verdigris lichen
and dew on the prickly, wild asparagus bush.
The cows were also out, some sheltering under the olive trees…
…and the flowers on the wild rosemary that was growing between the cracks in the schist were also out
…as were the small, wild ‘acebuche’ olives…
…and myrtle berries…
…on their fragrant bushes.
The coppers were out too…
…and the humble acorns on the holly oaks.
The wild boar’s out as well and the earth next to my vegetable patch is all hoofed up again! And not too far away, as the mist lifts…
…the lads are out picking the young arbequina olives by hand (‘milking’ the trees)

So these were some of the things that were out early this morning, as well as me!

But to end on a literary note, and with reference to the myrtle in the above photos, I’ve included a poem about this bush. It was written by Mary Robinson, a very fascinating lady.

To the Myrtle by Mary Darby Robinson (1758-1800, England)

UNFADING branch of verdant hue,
In modest sweetness drest,
Shake off thy pearly tears of dew,
And decorate my breast.

Dear emblem of the constant mind,
Truth’s consecrated tree,
Still shall thy trembling blossoms find
A faithful friend in me.

Nor chilling breeze, nor drizzling rain
Thy glossy leaves can spoil,
Their sober beauties fresh remain
In every varying soil.

If e’er this aching heart of mine
A wand’ring thought should prove;
O, let thy branches round it twine,
And bind it fast to Love.

For ah ! the little fluttering thing,
Amidst LIFE’S tempest rude;
Has felt Affliction’s sharpest sting,
YET TRIUMPHS UNSUBDUED.

Like THEE it braves the wintry wind,
And mocks the storm’s fierce pow’r,
Tho’ from its HOPES the blast unkind,
Has torn each promis’d flow’r.

Tho’ round its fibres barb’rous fate
Has twin’d an icy spell;
Still in its central fires elate,
The purest passions dwell.

When LIFE’S disast’rous scene is fled,
This humble boon I crave;
Oh! bind your branches round my head,
AND BLOSSOM ON MY GRAVE.

Well, that’s all for now — thank you for visiting me. As usual I welcome any comments of questions.

Take care! xxx

And to finish with, last year’s misty, autumnal trees in Richmond Park

A beautiful evening sky and Ode to the Sunset!

Greetings!

The sunset over Posadas (Cordova) last night was inspiring…

The Sunset, Woven of Soft Lights — Katharine Lee Bates (1895-1929, Massachusetts)

The sunset, woven of soft lights
And tender colors, lingers late,
As looking back on all day’s dreary plights,
Compassionate;

— The foolish day of hopes so high,
Who counts her hours by blunders now,
Yet wears at last this jewel-crown of sky
Upon her brow.

Out to eternity she goes,
Not for her failure scorned, but see!
Our poor day flushed with beauty, one more rose
On God’s rose-tree

xxx

My 40-minute stretch after editing all day, here in the countryside of Posadas (Cordova)!

Hi folks — I hope you are all well and managing okay in these difficult times.

I just wanted to share with you a few photos of how I restraightened my back, neck and legs after sitting all day cooped up in front of the computer editing and illustrating my book

Firstly I decided to go and visit those cows down there in yonder field (after all, socialising is pretty limited these days in Cordova, especially with the 6 o’ clock curfew!)
I was careful not to tread on those pretty ‘snowflake’ flowers that herald the coming of spring. (I mentioned them in a previous post.)
As you can see they are growing under the ‘encina’ holly oak tree (a protected species here in this neck of the woods)
Needless to say, I was well accompanied (though only two of my ten cats came — the others were lazing around in the sun!)
The toadstools are also just beginning to poke their heads above the fallen leaves and twigs of the olive trees…
and the geraniums are still flourishing in between the olives
I was waylaid by the vegetable patch and stopped to collect a few tomatoes which I conveniently collected in my cap!
Some creatures waited patiently for me…
…while others rolled around in the weedy manure heap!
Furry Zeus looked on from a distance making me feel that I was hindering the ‘walkies’ process
Then I got further distracted by checking how many ‘arberquina’ olives had been picked so far and deposited in the trailer
Then I noticed that the sun was already dipping low and I wouldn’t be able to make it to the cows and back before it got dark nor before the wild boars come out to play…
So unfortunately I had to beat a hasty retreat back up the hill as it soon started to get dark. Dingo, my other dog, wasn’t all happy about that!

Tomorrow we’ll start our back-stretching, leg-flexing, cow-visiting earlier!

And thank you for visiting me. As usual, comments and questions always welcome…

Take care!  xxx

Ode to Olives — and a marinated olives recipe from Posadas (Cordova)

Hello, I hope this finds you all in good health and spirits.

A few blogs ago I put up photos of the olives I had picked and was scoring them before putting them in water to remove the bitterness so later I could pickle them.

Olive picking is underway, even on these young alberquina olive trees from my son’s finca
And here are some ‘manzanilla’ olives from our finca, as yet uncut because I just picked them today

Well, a couple of weeks have passed since scoring the first set of olives, and after having changed the water daily they are less bitter (or ‘sweeter’ as they would say in Spanish), so today was the pickling day. And here is what I did:

The olives in soak produce murky, oily water…
…so I drained and rinsed them.
I prepared my marinating ingredients which were (this time) fennel, oregano, thyme, garlic, a little chilli, bitter orange rind, bay leaf, salt and vinegar.
I sterilised my jars by putting them in boiling water…
…but I cracked one by adding water to it before letting it cool sufficiently!
After filling the jars with the ingredients and adding the olives, I placed them back into the semi-boiling water for about 10 minutes to produce a vacuum so they would be tightly sealed.
I did place a cloth on the base of the saucepan so that the glass wouldn’t crack (again!)
And here’s the final result! I will wait a good couple of weeks before opening a jar, so that they have sufficient time to marinate. For my next set of marinated olives I will be varying the ingredients, probably making some spicy with cumin and paprika …

And to finish, I’d like to include a beautiful poem by Pablo Nerudo (1904-1973, Chile, poet and politician:

Ode to Olive Oil

Near the murmuring
In the grain fields, of the waves
Of wind in the oat-stalks,

The olive tree

With its silver-covered mass
Severe in its lines
In its twisted
Heart in the earth:
The graceful
Olives
Polished
By the hands
Which made
The dove
And the oceanic
Snail:
Green,
Innumerable,
Immaculate
Nipples
Of nature
And there
In
The dry
Olive groves
Where
So alone
The sky, blue with cicadas
And the hard earth
Exist, 
There
The prodigy
The perfect
Capsules
Of the olives
Filling
With their constellations, the foliage: 
Then later,
The bowls,
The miracle,
The olive oil.

I love
The homelands of olive oil, 
The olive groves
Of Chacabuco, in Chile, 
In the morning
Feathers of platinum
Forests of them
Against the wrinkled
Mountain ranges.
In Anacapri, up above,
Over the light of the Italian sea
Is the despair of olive trees, 
And on the map of Europe, 
Spain
A black basketful of olives 
Dusted off by orange blossoms
As if by a sea breeze.

Olive oil,
The internal supreme

Condition for the cooking pot, 
Pedestal for game birds, 
Heavenly key to mayonnaise, 
Smooth and tasty
Over lettuce
And supernatural in the hell
Of king mackerels like archbishops.
Olive oil, in our voice, in
Our chorus

With
Intimate
Powerful smoothness
You sing:
You are the Spanish language; 
There are syllables of olive oil
There are words
Useful and rich-smelling
Like your fragrant material. 
It’s not only wine that sings
Olive oil sings too, 
It lives in us with its ripe light
And among the good things of the earth
I set apart
Olive oil,
Your ever-flowing peace, your green essence, 
Your heaped-up treasure 
Which descends
In streams from the olive tree.

A golden end to an olivey day!

Thank you for reading, I hope you have enjoyed this blog. As usual, comments and questions always welcome.

Take care! xxx

My Ode to Autumn (here in the countryside of Posadas, Cordova)

Hi folks — I hope you are all in good health and spirits.

I love the warm hues of autumn and also the season, because of the richness of colours, the softening sun diluted by mists, the contrasting weather and the maturity of the ending year. Then there is Christmas with its brightness and promise just round the corner — as well as my birthday!

Well, I just wanted to share with you a few photos that reflect this season here in Posadas countryside (Cordova):

The leaves of the pistacia lentiscus (lentisco) or mastic gum bush are already turning to copper
The snowflakes (campanilla de primavera) and the buttercups (ranúnculo) are early because of the mild weather
Here are the snowflakes again, and they are in fact, as delicate as snowflakes
Vibrant-coloured leaves from the mulberry and plane tree (morera and platanero de sombra)
And the earth shines under warm skies
The evening gave way to a lovely sunset…
…with the moon rising to the east of the haunted castle of Almodóvar del Río
But the clouds quickly stole in overnight and by midday the heavens opened…
I watched the scene from my window…
and decided it was time to light a warming fire!

To finish, here is my favourite Ode to Autumn, by the romantic poet, John Keats (1795-1821):

Joseph Severn’s miniature of Keats, 1819

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
  Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
  With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
  And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
    To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel
shells
  With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
    For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
  Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
  Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
  Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
    Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
  Steady thy laden head across a brook;
  Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
    Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
  Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
  And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
  Among the river sallows, borne aloft
    Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
  Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
  The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
    And gathering swallows twitter in the skies

Well, that’s all for now. If you’d like to see some more of my work, then you can visit this site.

Thank you for reading — as usual, comments and questions always welcome.

Take care! xxx

Me and that old, clapped-out, pre-war Land Rover of mine (aargh!) A short story from Posadas, Cordova — Part 2

Hi folks — I hope this finds you all in good health and spirits.

Well, as you might remember from my penultimate blog (if you read it) I was relating the story about the first car I was bought (note the passive tense, meaning that I didn’t buy it, but it was bought for me!). To recap, it was a really old battered Land Rover, void of all mods and cons, impossible for me to drive and just looking at it and contemplating how on earth I would manage to drive it from my country abode to our neighbouring village of Posadas, brought me out in a nervous sweat! Call me chicken if you like, but I don’t care!

My all-purpose machine

Anyway, not being able to put it off any longer, the day finally dawned when I felt a little bit ready (or rather I fooled myself in to feeling ready) to take on Posadas with my new old Land Rover: I had to take the kids to the nursery otherwise I probably would have stayed a recluse in my country abode for a little while longer. Also, I needed to get back to painting furniture, ceramics and glassware in the workshop that we had set up in the village.

So here’s what happened:

The Sierra Nevada in the background (the Alhambra Palace in the foreround)

I loaded the kids in the back seats and then carefully fastened their seat belts. I hoisted myself on the ripped driver’s seat (on which I had placed a small jaraparug that I had previously bought on one of our trips to the Alpujarras in the Sierra Nevada near Granada, along with quite a lot of the young, local costawine – the one that should be drunk fresh and preferably at high, local altitudes).

I turned the key to the first point in the ignition, waited for the red light to go out, pushed the black rubber button to prime the engine and then turned the key fully. The engine coughed into life, then settled down to a noisy ticking rhythm that sounded similar to a loud, unoiled sewing machine; this was accompanied by a juddering and jolting that kept time with the ticking and which was, I soon discovered, an innate characteristic of the car. The three of us on the inside also swayed and rocked with the rhythm, which had the effect of lulling the kids to sleep — (better for them, I thought!).

When I felt that the engine had warmed up sufficiently, I made the sign of the cross over my forehead, breast and shoulders, then manoeuvred the lever into first gear. It was stiff and made a protesting sound, so I released and pressed the muddy clutch again and pushed the gear-lever harder into first position: this definitely provoked a grating, throaty protestation from the engine. However, as I steadily let the clutch out (which was heavy), the car responded and leapt forward. I continued squeezing the accelerator, let the clutch out fully and hey presto! we were off, with the car jumping and jolting forward in an awkward, irregular manner. No problem though – at least the first stage of the operation had been achieved!

No — this isn’t really me, but that first day was similar, especially as it had rained loads!

I drove off slowly, dodging the potholes and rattling and swaying over the ruts. I reached the junction with the A-431 Córdoba-Palma del Río road, which wasn’t too much of a test because I didn’t bother stopping and just stuck to first gear, applying and reducing the pressure on the accelerator, but making sure that the slowing wouldn’t be so slow as to need a left-foot response on the unyielding clutch. Luckily there were no other cars that I had to give way to, so I successfully joined the main road, where I stayed slow for the remaining three miles to the village.

My country track on a good day — there’s a steep gradient down to the house

(I didn’t have much option but to go slow, because as this was my first trip I only dared move up to second gear, despite the protesting whine from the engine. Needless to say, by now there was a whole queue of cars trailing behind me which I pretended not to notice, and which in fact were difficult to notice given the minuscule, scratched rear window and equally miniscule wing mirrors that had rusted with time into the wrong position, so that instead on focusing on the cars behind, they reflected the rather delightful image of the passing scenery that lay at a quarter to three.)

However, when I did eventually reach Posadas, I entered it by way of the roundabout that lies near the olive oil factory Covidesa Virgen de la Salud – (Our Lady of Health). The Arabic name for Posadas, Al-Fanadiq, is on the roundabout and clearly bears testament to Posadas’ Al-Andalus past, as does the Roman name for the village, Detumo.

The roundabout entering into Posadas — you can just spy the olive oil factory to the left in the background and the roof of the sports centre to the right

I then made sure just to stick to the straight (and then non-trafficked) road of Avenida Soldevilla Vazquez. There I dropped off my daughter (who I had to wake up) and placed her in the caring arms of Rosario and Maria Angeles in the nursery (leaving a trail of muddy footprints from my boots after me). So far so good.

Street map of Posadas which has a population of approx. 7,400. As you can see, there are quite a lot of churches and chapels in this historic village

I had left my car running so I could easily start off again, then made a left turn which took me across Calle Gaitan road, up past the friendly chemist, to a T-junction, which I nervously stuttered around, keeping my hand on the hand brake as it was up a slight incline, and watching carefully the narrowing sides of the street I was entering. Luckily there were no cars coming, and it was one-way only, so I let out a sigh and coaxed the car into turning a left at El Casino bar, turning on to Calle Fernandez de Santiago street (which is close to the town hall — and decorated with a large stork’s nest on the bell tower!).

The town hall — or ‘ayuntamiento’ in Spanish is situated in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, which at one time was a hive of activity, especially during the times of the Civil War when people gathered there during the fiestas of the patron saint, Nuestra Señora de la Salud, and delighted in watching the bulls come running down Blas Infante Street, during the encierro, before being enclosed in the bullpen which was located in the Ayuntamiento square.

The Town Hall with stork’s nest on the turret!

Anyway, I slowly drove past the Manuel Rumí Cortés theatre — (slowly, because this is quite a narrow street, especially if it is double-parked) — and on past Urbasa supermarket and café Soler. At this point, I slowed down even more because the street continued to narrow.

The local theatre holds lots of events. Posadas is a bustling village

However, I was making good progress so on I drove, even though the street continued to taper, and now there were cars parked on either side. I just managed to squeeze through the constricted gap, but then I came to the point, just approaching the photographer Domingo’s shop, where the canopy was pulled out low and where the cars were definitely double-parked. By this time I was gaining confidence with my first gear and clever manoeuvring, because generally, my judgement of distances and widths has always been quite good.

Due to the double-parked car just opposite, I was forced to climb the pavement on Domingo’s side and had to move within just a few inches of his cheerful-yellow, diamond-patterned canopy. I carefully calculated how close I could actually get to this problematic feature. So, with a certain amount of self-belief (which is really quite atypical of me when all said and done), I slowly drove straight ahead, parallel with Domingo’s façade. I took the conscientious precaution of flicking the hazard warning switch to warn all and sundry of my slow progress (including those buzzing mopeds that had their silencers removed, in case any were about to snarl past me on the other side).

However, despite my thorough calculations, I had forgotten about the four (or was it eight?) little hooks that protruded out from the open-ribbed, rusted roof rack. Two on the right side, two on the left (and goodness knows what they were for anyway!).

I cautiously inched forward, keeping well within my calculations of the width between Domingo’s canopy and the car that was double-parked opposite Evaristo ironmonger’s.

Soon, to my surprise, I heard the rather unnerving sound of creaking, squeaking and groaning – the sort of sound that one usually associates with metal failure. I gaped about me in bewildered innocence, but as I didn’t notice anything unusual I just kept on gently squeezing the accelerator with my right foot to continue moving on — slowly of course!

The sound of metal failure continued, increasing in intensity, reaching a higher, more screechy pitch – rather like the amplified sound of scraping your fingers down a blackboard. But I wasn’t to be deterred: I just presumed it was the workmen on the nearby building site using their metal grinders to cut steel — (there were a lot of building projects going on here in Spain at that time, when José María Aznar of the Popular Party was the president of Spain, and when the country’s economy was booming rather than crashing).

So on I continued, bit by bit and always careful not to come into close contact with the double-parked car on the other side, even though the accelerator offered some resistance: I just put that down to the fact that I was climbing the kerb.

It was only then that I spotted through the miniscule rear window, Domingo standing outside his shop window amid the wreckage and debris of the highly distorted aluminium frame with a ripped and torn, sunshine-yellow canopy. His face was flushed, his arms stretched above his head, flapping about agitatedly, and he was moving from one leg to another, which, in direct contrast to the gravity of the situation, immediately reminded me of Rumpelstiltskin. His face was aglow, his eyes reduced by anger to the size of two small, dark dots (this time reminding me of a boar’s), and now he was shaking a clenched fist in my direction.

Realisation dawned on me. It was I who had caused such destruction — the almost total annihilation of his sunshine-yellow awning. I panicked, my heart knocking against my rib cage, magnifying in my ears. I hesitated a minute, rapidly weighing up the pros and cons of making a run for it, or whether I should stay and pay the full consequences. I realised it would be useless to scarper, since a) I was wedged in by the car that was double parked, and b) there was only one Land Rover in the village like mine.

So, fearing the worse, I came to an abrupt, juddering halt a few inches ahead, as my foot let out the clutch too sharply. I opened my tinny door, levered myself down onto the pavement with the help of the ceiling handle, went to the back passenger door where I then gathered my son into my arms. I took a deep breath and walked towards Domingo with a mix of bewilderment and fright registered on my face and the odd tear or two.

Now I don’t know whether it was either one of the above three, or the maternal stance of babe-in-arms (Spaniards are generally speaking, very children-oriented, especially in the villages) that sparked the following reaction from Domingo.

As I hesitatingly approached him, he slowly relaxed his raised arms as he lowered them to his side; the tinto-colour in his cheeks faded to rosé and the pitch in his voice recovered its usual bass tonality. The angry grimace gradually transformed itself to one more forgiving and understanding — almost of pity. After all, he must have had some relatives and friends who were female, and therefore he was well rehearsed.

¡Lo siento mucho! ¡Lo siento mucho, de verdad! ¡Cúanto lo siento!’ (‘I’m sorry! I’m truly sorry! Oh, how sorry I am!’)

It worked! His earlier Rumpelstiltskin attitude now became tamer, and his eyes returned to their larger origins, melting into a dark ‘café solo’. Even the waxed extremes of his 70’s handlebar moustache seemed to unfurl slightly. This positive change was confirmed by reassuring tones as he uttered:

‘¡No pasa nada! ¡Tranquila — no pasa nada, mujer! Todo tiene arreglo…’  (‘It’s okay — don’t worry — it doesn’t matter, woman! It can all be fixed…’)

(Where, once again – ‘woman’ was being used in the most respectful of terms.)

So luckily for me it turned out that he was a genuinely nice man — he was also a good friend of Álvaro, our insurance broker, who is the village’s funeral director too — (as well as being an accomplished pianist and having honed his skills in the music conservatory, Conservatorio de Música Rafael Orozco, in Cordova – named so in honour of Rafael Orozco, a skilled pianist, born in 1946 but died in 1996 from AIDS). Anyway, Domingo’s shop was insured with Álvaro.

So after checking that my culpable, war-worthy Land Rover was safely parked (it hadn’t, needless to say, suffered any consequences from this little incident), we both proceeded to Alvaro’s office — (me still with babe in arms). But now, being close to eleven o’clock, Álvaro was of course absent. In other words, gone for his second breakfast, as is the tradition here in Andalusia. However, it wasn’t long before we managed to root him out of the nearby upmarket café, Soler (known for their home-made, delicious cakes and pastries).

After exchanging the usual Spanish kisses which were accompanied by the all-purpose expression ‘¡Hombre!’ (‘Man!’) — followed by enquiring after each other’s families and what each member was up to now, and ‘What about the neighbours?’ etc., we completed all the necessary insurance protocols over ‘cafe con leche y tostada con aceite, ajo, tomate, jamon, zurrapa, manteca colora’, pate, churros etc., etc., etc.’ — (coffee with milk, and toast with olive oil, garlic, tomato, Serrano ham, rustic pork pâté in dripping, orange-coloured lard containing bits of pork and flavoured with paprika, fried dough rounds etc., etc., etc.). The true Andalusian way of doing business!

Once these all-important breakfast negotiations were finalised, we got up, and before leaving, Domingo and I exchanged the heartiest of handshakes, a kiss on the cheek and a reassuring pat on the shoulder. He even invited me to drop in and visit himself and his family next time I was doing the rounds.

I then returned relieved, though still a bit shaky, to my infamous war machine. I fumbled for the key, turned it, and the car started without any problems, once again juddering and shuddering into life. I then headed off to Andalusia Primary School (in Calle Andalusia road) where I accompanied my son to his nursery classroom, apologising for his lateness to Sonsoles, his gentle, affable teacher.

The morning turned out well, I got back safe and sound even if a little shaken, but there were no other incidences on that day. I say that, because on other days, there were. Plenty!

The view from the plain outside my house

Well, that’s it for now — but if you like what you’ve read and would like to know more, you can always check out my humorous, illustrated book, An English Lady in Cordova — the Alternative Guide.

Thank you for bearing with me — and as usual, comments and questions always welcome!

Take care! xxx

Me and my pre-war Land Rover (yikes!) A short story from Posadas, Cordova (Part 1)

When we first came to live in the countryside of Posadas, I needed a car. I never drove in Cordova, though I did help drive down to Andalusia from London in an open-top Alfa Romeo Spider, which was very classic, very old, very draughty and rather unreliable. It was also automatic, crunching back and forward into gears. It was the one I passed my driving test in even though the tax disc was way out of date and the open top roof was flung all the way back. How I drove in it to Spain I don’t know (though I was young and brave all those many years ago!).

Here’s an old, faded photo of the Spider I drove down part of the way to Andalusia 30 years ago. I can’t think for the life of me though what it was doing here in front of olive trees and on top of a load of freshly-picked olives…

However, due to Cordova being a small-sized provincial town and therefore easy to negotiate on foot, we soon sold the English reg. car to some expats who were living on the Malaga coast (and who as yet didn’t realise the complications and costs of legally importing a car, which, needless to say, involved a lot in order to deal with all the bureaucratic red tape and greasing of palms—a process helped by the presenting of gifts such as a wheel of queso curado cheese, a leg of jamón, litres of the best-quality aceite oil etc., etc., etc.). In those days it was much simpler and cheaper to do things illegally (and still is in certain cases, such as declaring, or rather not declaring yourself as a self-employed entity etc.).

Once we moved to the country though, we did need a car—not a delicate Italian vehicle, but one that was solid and sturdy and able to sustain the effects caused by a country track full of grooves and potholes. This track was also flanked by a river-filled gorge on one side and a steep cliff rising on the other, and so in times of rain turned into a perilous, muddy rink due to the set of streams, rivulets and rivers that formed on the surface. This was definitely a track which only hunting aficionados and other incensed country enthusiasts would use in time of hunting! In other words, one that was totally unsuitable for the Alfa Romeo!

No, this isn’t actually me and my Land Rover, though the track was very similar on rainy days the car’s much better than mine — as you are about to see…

So it wasn’t long before we sold it.

As a replacement, I was ‘presented with’ a khaki-coloured, clapped-out, pre-war Land Rover that jittered and shook like a jitterbug. It was also void of modern luxuries, such as power steering, heating, air conditioning, good visibility etc., and although it hadn’t done too many miles, the ones that it had done were certainly off-road, over very rough terrain—something that had definitely taken its toll of the suspension. It also boasted an open-ribbed, rusted-steel roof rack as its crowning glory. After all, it was only the family’s second car, just for me and therefore didn’t need to be so good…(Poor overworked, underrated, full-time, round-the-clock, stay-at-home mothers! I’d be a millionaire by now if I had charged for services rendered!)

Well, the seats were ripped and there were still knots of wool from the sheep that had previously been transported in the car. We had bought it in Castro del Río (another town famous for olives, in the province of Cordova) and considering the way that it jittered and shook, and the amount of play in the almost unresponsive steering wheel and brake pedal, I had been too frightened to test drive it. Also, noticing the dubious looks directed at me from the two pre-Civil War brothers who were selling it not only didn’t help, but were positively unnerving, and so I made the initial mistake of relying on my husband (an enthusiast of off-roading!) to test drive it.

As you can see, it was also useful for hauling things about (when the solid roof was taken off)
The roof of the Land Rover lying listlessly in the shade of an olive tree — but at least my ten cats use it for their shelter!

That was definitely an error, because after doing a couple of rounds in their stony field, during which he had to dodge the sheep (and where the driver’s seat lurched backwards every time the brakes were applied), he seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. So when he got out of the car, the sentence was delivered, deeming this relic very suitable for me:

‘Just needs a little getting used to, that’s all!’

Famous last words!

By the way, Castro del Río, where we did eventually buy the jeep, does have some interesting history attached to it, as do most of the towns and villages that lie within the province of Cordova. This village forms part of the ‘ruta califal’Caliphal Route—which traces the history of Islam in Spain and links Cordova with Granada. It also dates back to the Metal Ages, encompassing the Neolithic, Iberian, Greek, Roman, Visigoth to the more recent Napoleonic French invasion (War of Independence, 1808) etc. It has one of the oldest and current cockfighting pits in Spain—the excuse that pardons the cockfighting is that this ‘sport’ is beneficial for the breed, while improving the stock!—and the previous ground-floor prison in the town hall was a temporary home for Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616), the famous novelist, playwright and soldier. It is claimed by the locals that it was here that he started writing his famous Don Quixote.

The town is also linked to former president John F. Kennedy. It was from this very town (well-known for its furniture made from olive wood) that the he ordered two wooden rocking chairs to be shipped home to him. (This added to his collection of rockers that he regularly used in order to alleviate his back problems.)

Anyway, getting back to my Land Rover… So we were on the verge of accepting or rejecting the deal, (I secretly wished for the latter), and all my hopes were dashed when I heard my ‘better-knowing’ husband pronounce the words:

‘¡Vale! ¡Trato hecho! Lo cogeremos por 400.000 pelas, nada más, nada menos.’ (‘Great! We’ll buy it for 400,000 pesetas, nothing more, nothing less!) — roughly equivalent to £2,140.

(‘What a waste for that clapped-out, old piece of junk’, I thought to myself!)

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the deal was signed and sealed and paid for in those very pesetas (though from the look of the car, it should have been paid in reales or maravadises). The aged brothers drove and delivered it to our country abode (only because they were going to look at some sheep that Mateo was selling in one of the fincas just off the Cañada Real Soriana).

I dutifully dedicated the next few weeks to driving round and round the only flat plain that there is outside our house, and getting used to gear-crunching, unresponsive steering and the lurching seat.

However, the day finally dawned when I felt ready (or rather I fooled myself in to feeling ready) to take on Posadas with my new old Land Rover: I had to take the kids to the nursery otherwise I probably would have stayed a recluse in my country abode for a little while longer. Also, I needed to get back to painting furniture, ceramics and glassware in the workshop that we had set up in the village.

So how did it go? Well, in order not to make this blog too long, I will continue with the following part in my next post…

(I am not purposefully making this a teaser, I just know that time is precious to all of us and I do not want to ask too much of your time…)

So next time I will describe with all the embarrassing details of how I got down to Posadas and what fate waited for me once there!

One of the roundabouts leading into Posadas — you can just make out the lettering, ‘al Fanadiq’ in white, which was the Arabic name for Posadas, during the time of the moorish occupation of al-Andalus

Thank you for reading — comments and questions always welcome.

Hope you are well — take care! xxx