June, 2020, 4th months of Covid- Madness

He is handsome, strong and Italian. And I just love him. He is called Polti.

I love to handle him, plug him in and hear him roar.

Is it a sign of Corona-Madness or just a sign of over-domestication since the lock-up and lack of meeting people?

I have started talking to my new vacuum cleaner. I have heard myself introducing him to our downstairs bathroom and telling him to clean those corners well. And look, there is Imelda in the shower, the palm house plant. She needed a bit of de-dusting and some freshening up ….

I am reading a book called ‘The Shaman’ by Noah Gordon and its having me in its thrall, I think about the people and the storyline incessantly. I love historical fiction, as not only is it entertaining, I also learn a bit about how people lived in bygone eras. This one is about a Scottish doctor putting down his roots as one of the first settlers in Illinois. There are still the last remaining native Indians, which are moved by force and threat to the reservations and also still slaves. It is a very emotional story, with interesting medical and agricultural details thrown in. I was surprised to see that I am not even half way through and so much has happened already. It just shows, the more change and drama a story has, the more it keeps the reader engaged.

Maybe I should be a bit more inventive in my blog, and not keep strictly to reality and truth?

Early June, Phase Three of the Corona Opening

The beach season has finally returned and with it the siesta. We don’t usually go to the beach before 16.00 because it is just too hot. Swimming in the warm Atlantic and splashing with the waves is the ultimate stress buster. I just feel myself de-tense, and I get a whole body work-out too.

We did that from Monday till Wednesday, when we finally realised that the beach was actually not open, not at all. The red flag on the main beach in Matalascanas was still up and police was patrolling the promenade.

A man beside us on our normal spot at Heidi Bananas chiringito told us, to fold up our sun umbrella, as it would attract the police and they can fine us. What?  Really?

Well, we weren’t the only oblivious or ignorant people, for there were more umbrellas to be seen flouting the law. But we folded it up and pretended we weren’t sunbathing at all…

It was going to get worse…

They nearly got us, €600 euro each for breaching the order to stay in our province. On Sunday evening we took a drive to Villamanrique with our guest Andres. We decided to take a road we didn’t know yet to El Rocio through the National Park. Half way a police patrol with three cars and six officers stopped us.

Oh no, I left all the papers, passports and NIEs in the other bag, Nigel’s driving licence was in the jeep, how stupid. Now what?

So the officer asked us where do we live, where did we come from, where do we go to and how did we get here. Turns out, we left our province on the way and were in Sevilla province, by maybe six kilometers. There was no sign or indication that pointed this out to us. Our guest explained that that he was here to find a job, stayed with us and we wanted to show him around a bit.

I don’t know what did it in the end, but we got off, puuh! But next time we would be fined, up to €600 each. Maybe it was the car, steering wheel on the wrong side or the fact that we are extranjeros, not speaking much Spanish, or our obvious stupidity, going around without identification. At least the car had a valid NCT (ITV) and new tires, so that was in our favour.

And then there was BERLIN….

On the bus to Sevilla

Impressions of an unusual journey:

I ended up spending the rest of the months in Berlin, three weeks to be precise. On Sunday I got a phone call from the carers that look after my mother. She had just been out a week from one of her more frequently-getting hospital stays and they were getting concerned about her condition. So by Thursday I was en route via Sevilla – Madrid- Frankfurt. The train from Sevilla to Madrid was full and so were the flights, Corona or not. But the airports were eerily empty, devoid of food, drink, noise and bustle. What a very relaxing and strange experience.

My mother was 96 years old, born in 1924 and witnessed the second world war as a young woman. She had to become part of the war machinery by working wherever she was sent; farms, an ammunition factory, do secretarial work and never got to carry out her chosen profession, hat making. She nearly died of diphtheria, had typhus and chill blains.

After the war she got married and moved from her native Havelberg to Berlin. There the young couple shared the bombed out city by lodging in cramped conditions, several families to an apartment until my father took over the upholstery business of his father. My brother was born, then I, 11 ½ years later. The marriage was not a happy one, my brother left when I was five, my father died when I was nine. Then my mother started to blossom and enjoy life again. She needed to look after me and became a shop assistant with a family friend, who had three fashion shops to her name. The work was varied, brought my mother into different parts of Berlin and she enjoyed earning her own money. She was good at her job and was eventually taken on by the big fashion store ‘Kuehl’ who owned a store Am Ku’Damm and another in Steglitz. She worked there nearly up to 70 years of age.

Her twin brother had already died in 2002, she mourned him deeply for two years, even though they had little actual contact, his family living in West-Germany.

Any time in the last few years after I visited her, I thought that this could have been the last time I saw her alive. Her death did not come unexpected at her age and we had time to say Good-bye.

She was the lucky one in this crazy time of Covid-19. Would it have happened earlier, I would not have been able to be with her, or my children. We feel privileged to have had the chance to share these last days with her, even if her dementia meant there was very little real conversation.

She died on the 19th of June 2020 and we were so very lucky to be there with her, my two children, her grand-children, and I. I stayed with her in her apartment where she died, as was her wish. I can only express my deepest thanks to the dedicated carers, who looked after her with compassion and love and did not let me out of their thoughts, even when she was gone, sending messages on Whatsapp how I was keeping.

I had time to sift through all her paperwork; every postcard she ever got, all her bills, shopping lists, even my father’s documents from when he was released as a POW (prisoner of war) in France; all my letters to her she never threw away, which are my innermost thoughts and my life story, she was always a part of that.

For her funeral we were fifteen, as most of the surviving relatives were too old to make the journey and by then my brother was also out of hospital. She has found a resting place in a quiet, intimate graveyard with old trees and an old village church nearby, and this in the heart of Berlin, not far from where she lived for 70 years.

Considering it all, I have to say that this was a good experience. Everything came together wonderfully. And most important of all my mum did not have to suffer long. It was the second time I have accompanied a person in his/her last days, every time is different, every time is special and every time it is painful to let go.

Impressions of Berlin:

The Madness continues…

I have been busy at the sewing machine as the wearing of face masks is here to stay and I hate disposable anything. Too much throw-away items like gloves, masks, bags, wipes, paper towels and gowns are being used to combat the spread of this ominous corona virus.

I looked on YouTube to find a good tutorial for a comfortable face mask [ see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fySsaOojEVM or http://www.fabricpatch.net/face-masks-for-covid-19-relief.htm with full instructions, excellent] and have now made four. Another two will go to Ireland to my kids. I am taking orders ;0)

Food Worries

(or rather shape shame)

I am in trouble, again. Not in the criminal sense but in the food way. Since my teens I have been interested in and looking for information on healthy eating and slowly developed my own way of cooking and creating dishes that are based on lots of vegetables. I don’t have a sweet tooth, so sweets, chocolate, deserts and unfortunately fruit don’t feature in my diet a lot.

The other important part I believed in is whole wheat and sour dough breads. I am aware that white sugar and white flour are bad for you and should be minimised. However, now that I am gluten-intolerant I have to cut out the wholemeal and am left with the gluten free white, starchy alternatives like maize, rice and potato starch. They don’t fill me up since the gluten is a hard to digest part and makes you feel full.

I have now mastered to bake nice, fluffy toast bread with egg, sesame, poppy, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. I have also baked lovely gluten-free muffins, cakes and cookies.

Only now to realise that, as I had the suspicion, these starchy baked goods will play havoc with my midriff. Yes, it’s the dreaded spare tire. And it won’t budge, even though I have embarked on a strenuous daily 45-minutes dance-fitness routine and all my legs and arms are strong and toned and my heart gets a good work out too. I have done this now six weeks. It’s great fun and makes me feel – every muscle in my body.

I have never been on a diet as I eat healthy enough and my weight has been stable. I did some fasting when younger, and would prefer this as a renewal and clean-out.

But the bulge has to go!! This means to avoid the majority of all cereals, starches and carbohydrates; which brings me to the Keto-diet. I have read up on it and dismissed it at first. It would mean eating a lot of protein, so more meat and cheese and milk products. Now, I am also lactose-intolerant and cream and butter is a pure terror on my digestion. So I am pretty much limited if I also want to be more vegetarian then not.

I needed to do a lot more research on this one and maybe adjust my attitude. Here is where I looked:

http://www.eatingwell.com/article/291245/complete-keto-diet-food-list-what-you-can-and-cannot-eat-if-youre-on-a-ketogenic-diet/

This is the blurb:

‘The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate-protein and very low-carbohydrate diet. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy, but on a strict ketogenic diet, less than 5 percent of energy intake is from carbohydrates. The reduction of carbohydrates puts the body into a metabolic state called ketosis. Ketosis is when the body starts breaking down stored fat into molecules called ketone bodies to use for energy, in the absence of circulating blood sugar from food. Once the body reaches ketosis, most cells will use ketone bodies to generate energy until you start eating carbohydrates again.’

Thank goodness for our hens which produce wholesome eggs every day. At least here is something I can eat without guilt or pain. I also rather like feta cheese (and other cheeses), Greek yoghurt, avocado, fish, chicken or turkey, nuts and seeds. Dark chocolate, tea and coffee are allowed for some reason, of course unsweetened and only berries when it comes to fruit. Luckily courgettes or zucchini features heavily as a vegetable and at the moment I have so much that they get pickled, frozen and turned into chutney.

Keto means no baked goods or even muesli, no honey or juices, no starchy, sweet fruit like bananas, apples, canned fruit. No potatoes, not even sweet potato or rice. This is tough, I don’t think this is for me since I don’t suffer from a disease and am not overweight and also this disclaimer worries me a bit: “Like most highly restrictive diets, it is difficult to meet nutritional needs while doing keto,” says Stone. “It often comes with uncomfortable side effects like constipation and the ‘keto flu.’ Also, the long-term health consequences are not well understood.”

 There are also side-effects like bad breath. So I will take the middle road by cutting out most carbs and see what happens. We are now into the hot summer, with temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius, so naturally we won’t be eating the starchy comfort food popular in Germany and Ireland. A smoothy or salad for lunch will do nicely, and for dinner it will be even more veg, meat or fish and some carbs for Nigel, as he burns a lot more calories per day and needs them.

Here is another website with common sense approach to lose that belly fat and this seems to make a lot more sense: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/20-tips-to-lose-belly-fat#The-bottom-line .

The recommendations include a 24-hour fast once a week, which has always been a great way to boost the body’s defense system, clear out the intestines and give the tummy a rest,  clear the fog in the mind. Most religions have fasting in-build into their believe system, like Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, Jainism, and Hinduism. Go to https://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/11524808/The-history-of-fasting.html to get a rundown of the history and benefits of fasting.

Now, this is a real challenge. Because I love harvesting delicious fresh produce from the garden, I love cooking and eating I am not sure if I have the willpower to do without those pleasurable things…..

End of May – full on summer

            I had my first success with carrots, which is funny as I had given up on growing carrots. I actually only threw the remaining carrot seeds from last year’s debacle together with the chamomile seeds into one half of our high growing container, thinking that as the chamomile grows up the carrots grow down and also this companion planting will deter the carrot fly. Lo and behold, the carrots actually grew!

We actually had one guest in May, a Spanish single traveler that got stuck in Huelva during the quarantine and stayed with us for one week. Angel was very kind, he brought back food for the dogs and cats and introduced us to typical Andalusian dishes, including snails, caracoles. They are seasonal and are collected in the vineyards (or gardens). We ate them, Nigel liked them , I only ate them as revenge for their cousins eating my plants, but won’t repeat the experience.

First day allowed in the water

            Andalucia has now entered phase two of the de-escalation, as the government calls it here, and we are finally allowed into the water and not just looking at it. We only go in the late afternoon, as the heat is dangerous, it is over 34 degrees Celsius.

Kitchen and Garden Magic – Still in part-quarantine

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(and not another word of the ‘virus’ in this blog)

There are quite a few very lovely, strong leeks in the garden that started their lives last September. Now they have reached full height and are going to start to push up flower stems inside. We obviously can’t eat them all at once, so they need to be preserved. I am freezing these four leeks.

Step 1: stick knife into the ground to loosen the leek from its roots by cutting around it. I keep the roots in the ground as organic matter which is very needed here as the soil is very loamy and sticky, and gets hard like concrete when dry.

Step 2: shake the leek vigorously upside down to dislodge any snails!

Step 3: discard any old, dried and discoloured outer leaves and cut the upper green leaves off from the lighter coloured stalk. I use the entire leek, why waste it?

Step 4: wash the dark leaves; it’s easier when cutting off the part that was attached to the main trunk. Wash also the trunk or stalk part.

Step 5: Cut all in equal big chunks, but keep dark and white parts separate.

Step 6: Blanch cut bits for 2-3 minutes (depending on the size) in boiling water; drain, splash with cold water to cool down and bag up. I blanched the outer green leaves, which tend to be tougher separately and then bag them up together with the white parts.

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stuffed baked courgette

The other vegetable that starts producing now at an alarming rate is the courgette or zucchini. Last year I just could not get them going, but this year I successfully raised four plants from seed. They are lovely just sautéed with butter (or oil) and garlic, and I add them to almost everything, from soups to Bolognese sauce, curries and chutneys. And the stuffed courgettes were not bad either.

This year I have started to pickle them sweet-sour together with some pumpkin and onions and they turned out very yummy. The next batch will go into chutney.

 

Let me explain why I enthuse so much about my garden and its successes and failures. I was born and reared in Berlin, when it was still divided by a wall and fenced all around. I grew up in a street with tall old buildings and big old trees, in a district considered fairly good, where we were not allowed to speak slang. My mother is from a town 70 kms to the north-east, my father was from Berlin, but his parents hailed from Vienna.

My mother instilled a love for the outdoors and nature in me. She would take me to the parks, the lakes, the forests and the amazing sandy beach, all in West-Berlin. We took the pleasure steam boats across the chain of lakes, visit the island of peacocks with the mock castle, went swimming in summer and sleighing and ice-skating in the snow in winter. She was once very sporty and loved being active, she never drove a car and so all shopping was done by foot, which kept her active until only two years ago, at the age of ninety-four she finally had to admit to needing help, as she lives alone, still at ninety-six.

I have always dreamt of green fields behind the grey walls of the houses. I always cried when returning from a holiday away from the city. I was always stressed by the people, the traffic and not being able to see the horizon. So it was only a question of time when I would leave the big city behind and venture forth, to lonely places, blue horizons and endless sky.

My first escape out of the city, other than a holiday, was a six month stint on an organic farm in north Germany near Flensburg. I then studied agriculture and that brought me to Ireland, another six months to learn the ways of farming and proper English. Ireland has long been the escapism dream of Germans. Many have bought a small holding there and settled away from the maddening crowd.

There I met my husband to be, eventually got married, lived and worked on his dairy farm, had two children, worked as an agricultural consultant, divorced and finally continued my life with Nigel in Spain. I would not like to live again in a city or even a town. So here I am, trying my hand at gardening in the hot climate. Now you know why I am so filled with wonder, excitement and awe when a little seed grows into a big plant to give us food and pleasure as flower or herb.

More Gluten-free Cake

This time I tried ‘Karina’s Jewish Apple Cake Recipe with Sour Cream’ I found here: https://glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com/2007/03/flourless-apple-cake.html

It came out juicy, lovely, more-ish. As usual I adapted the recipe to what I have available. I believe recipes are not to be taken too serious; they serve me more as an inspiration to try out something new. Here is the recipe:

Ingredients:

5 medium apples, room temperature, peeled, cored (I used a mix of both and pears)

A little lemon juice for spritzing the apples

Wet ingredients:

3 large organic free-range eggs

1 cup packed organic light brown sugar & 1/2 cup organic cane sugar (this sounded way too sweet, considering that my strawberry yoghurt already had sugar in it, so I only used a ¾ cup of sugar, which was just right)

2 teaspoons bourbon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons extra light olive oil

1/4 cup sour cream (I used strawberry yoghurt)

Dry ingredients:

2 cups almond flour aka almond meal

1/4 cup rice (this confused me, does it mean cooked rice or rice flour or actual uncooked rice? I went with the latter and it gives the cake a surprising crunch as the rice did not fully cook. It’s not bad but maybe milled coarse rice would achieve a nicer result)

1/2 cup potato starch or tapioca starch (I used Maizena, maize starch)

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon McCormick Apple Pie Spice ( I used ground cloves)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350ºF/180 C. Line a 10-inch springform pan with greased parchment paper. Springform pans are deeper than average cake pans. (Mine is a silicone form).

Chop the apples/pears and toss them into a bowl; spritz with a little fresh lemon juice. Toss to coat.

In a separate bowl beat the eggs with the sugar until smooth. Add the vanilla, oil and sour cream/yoghurt; beat to combine.

Stir together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Slowly add them into the wet mixture and combine well. Drain the apples, if necessary (you don’t need any extra lemon juice). Toss them in a light sprinkle of cane sugar.

Pour half of the cake batter into the prepared pan. Add the drained sugared apples into the batter. Shake the pan a bit. Add half of the nuts.

Pour the remaining batter on top of the apples; shake the pan again to distribute the batter around the apple pieces. Add the rest of the nuts to the top and lightly press in.

Bake in the center of a preheated oven for ~ 1 hour. The cake should be done in about 60 to 70 minutes. Test for doneness with a wooden skewer. If the cake begins to over-brown before it is done, cover the edges loosely with pieces of foil.

Cool on a rack for ten to fifteen minutes. Loosen the cake gently from the sides of the pan with a thin spatula. Release the clasp and remove the pan ring. Allow the cake to cool completely on a wire rack. Serve warm or room temperature. Obviously best eaten with whipped cream or custard …………….

Karina's Jewish Apple Cake Recipe with Sour Cream’

Corona-Virus Quarantine Blog 2

sign for the roadside

So what happens if you are in week five of the Corona-Virus lock-down?

Not much. Just some mundane things like your hair getting longer and greyer, your patience slowly running thin and you are trying to occupy yourself with keeping somewhat from shape-shifting into a doughnut with several methods. One of them is an iron-strong will not to snack after dinner; to cut out the chocolate bar after lunch; not to bake another delicious cake.

Although saying that, we are of course lucky as there is always some hard-core work do be done on a finca and in the garden.

Even painting the entrance can be counted as this, as holding a brush to painstakingly trace around and inside the lettering can be quiet strenuous.

We were just getting into the groove of cycling around the finca, Nigel even clocking up to 15 kms, when our first pony arrived on loan from our neighbour to eat the greenery.

Everything is now lush and quite overgrown, so cycling actually got a bit hairy. There is a riot of colour displayed, particularly after all the rain we have been getting.

The daily work-out for Nigel is either handling the chainsaw to prune the trees or now expanding on the width and length of the future swimming-pool, which involves only hand-digging and bringing buckets full of clay, which is as hard as concrete, to the surface and depositing them along the fence line as barrier for the dogs.

I do some weeding, light digging if needs be and have taken up the Figure8 dance fitness (see https://bodyfx.tv/jaana-rhythms/), an online course to get me sweating and rediscovering my waistline, some day. The daily 45 minute workout leaves me aching and tired, so it must be doing something. It’s based on mostly Latin dance moves, which I am familiar with, and some high-octane Jive or Charleston.

We also harvested our first potatoes. The stalks got hit by blight, a fungal disease and so Nigel dug them up to rescue the spuds underneath. They are nice, some very small but edible. He has planted some more now.

Nigel also built a rocket burner, an emergency stove for outside, and it works a treat. Within 20 minutes we had a lentil stew bubbling away on it.

How do we feel about the increasing length of this quarantine?

Nigel’s life really hasn’t changed that much, as he prefers to be at home on the finca and keeping himself busy. It has more an impact on me as so far I don’t have to handle phone calls and online inquiries from potential guests. It makes me feel a bit surplus to requirements even though I have no problem keeping occupied. There is always the blog, the website development, continuous Spanish learning, gardening, baking, cooking, etc.

And yet I object to the curtailment of the freedom of movement, I think it goes too far. By all means protect the vulnerable and make protective gear available to all that come in contact with the elderly and already sick persons. Maybe I underestimate the dangerousness of this virus, but since we are not given the comparative figures of ‘normal’ death rates and a correlation between real Corona victims and percentage of population, the reported figures are skewed. And any scientist or doctor who says so is not given credit or newsworthiness. I have heard of such physicians that have been bullied and threatened. We are as a populous governed by fear. Only fear will really keep us in check, this has always been the best method of controlling citizens. Look to any dictatorship, the third Reich under Hitler or the Mafia stranglehold on life in Italy and other countries. What happens now, in the whole world, without questions asked, is without precedence. It makes me wonder.

Anyway, we just have to get on with it and I say this again, we are one of the privileged, as we have an income and very few bills to pay. Like all owners of supermarkets, tobacconists, pharmacies, food stores, veterinarians, farmers and field workers our life keeps going on much as it was before, minus the guests and their money.

So this virus is selective in its impact on the livelihood of people. Some will receive government help; others will fall through the cracks. A lot of businesses will close for good and we don’t know the economic outfall of it all yet.

When all this overwhelms me I try to concentrate on the positive side, because every evil has some good, nothing is black & white. So the reporting of wild things coming out to play, like goats in a town in Wales, an Orca whale in the harbour in Mazagon (only 45 minutes from here), a wild boar in Barcelona, a panda in Hong Kong Zoo finally falling pregnant as a result of no Zoo visitors, and less traffic on the roads is good news for hedgehogs and badgers.

Not to forget that air pollution has reduced dramatically, for the first time people in China’s metropolis can see blue skies, even seismologists report lower vibrations from “cultural noise” than before the pandemic. And little or no airplanes in the skies, even Gretta Thunberg couldn’t foresee that her wish would come true so soon.

We added to our family, as our cat Shadow gave birth to five kittens, three of them male. She was originally given to me as a male, but when our Jack became interested in him/her, we realised it is a she. Life happens.

On the olive pruning side of things, we tried the grafting method which our neighbours employ to rejuvenate a branch that was cut as it lost the vigour to produce olives. When an old arm is cut off, new growth will sprout as in photo 1. Too many sprigs and you have then to select which ones to keep. Instead you can take a sprig from a strong, vigorous olive tree, another type even, and slip the prepared sprig into the outer layer, where it will take root. To keep the site moist and prevent other suckers forming, damp clay is used to close off the cut and an old bag wrapped around the outside to keep it in place.

I have been trying out more no-gluten recipes.

One of them from Glutenfree-on-a-shoestring is called Japanese Milk Bread and came out very well; so well in fact, that the yeast dough flowed all over the bed, where I had it sitting in the warm sunshine for an hour. I had so much dough that I also made a bap that was delicious eaten warm. It’s light, fluffy yellow bread, good for jam and sweet spreads. I added sesame seed to the recipe.

See the recipe at:

https://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/gluten-free-japanese-milk-bread-the-softest-bread-ever/

I substituted the cream of tartar with more vinegar, the butter with sunflower oil and left out the xanthan gum. The flour mix was from a supermarket, it still worked well.

The other new item on the menu is a tortillita, made with equal amount of rice and chickpea flour mixed with cold water and any nice additions like onion, prawns or anchovies or anything you like, even parmesan or cauliflower.

Here is the basic recipe for 2 pers:

100g Rice flour

100 g Chickpea flour

½ cup of water, mix well until sticky, add salt to taste

½ finely chopped onion, ¼ cup chopped parsley

possible addition:    1 tin chopped anchovies, pinch of chili pepper.

The Apple Cake, also glutenfree, transformed into a Birthday cake for my daughter Elaine. Unfortunately we had to eat it ourselves as she could not be with us as planned thanks to the dam*!?x/&#  virus.

Corona-Virus Quarantine Blog 1

We have been in nearly perfect isolation for now three weeks. Just the Saturday before the state of alarm on the 15th of March was called out we went to look at the new boardwalk at Cuesta Maneli, which was burned down in 2017 during the wildfires that raged in the National Park. On the way we met our last guests, that came the previous week with a big motorhome and stayed two days with us and then moved to Matalascañas. Now they are stranded in Portugal until the borders open again. We showed them our favourite part of the beach and had great fun.

We also added to our flock of hens in time and have now eight hens roaming our finca. They will soon give us eggs. We now have 3 white, 2 grey, 3 red hens.

We are aware that we are privileged in this time of quarantine. We have a beautiful house and five hectares of olives, through which Nigel now pedals every day on his new mountain bike. One lap is 1 ½ km. So we don’t suffer of this confinement, in fact we enjoy the tranquillity and having time to ourselves.

Now we have time to do things, which we don’t usually get around to when we have to look after guests.

All the olives that have been sitting in brine since November/December are now in different marinades, with herbs or garlic, lemon, chili etc. I received a bagful of lemons from our neighbours across the road and proceeded to pickle them in salt. Apparently they add a zesty lemony flavour to lots of Moroccan dishes. It’s really easy, just cut off the tops and bottoms, nearly quarter them, fill coarse salt into the gaps and layer tight into a jar, always with salt between. Fill the jar with squeezed lemon juice and wait for a month at least.

I have taken up baking, a necessity if I want to eat some decent gluten-free bread and cake. My bread is now a staple and I have added scrumptious muffins to my repertoire.

Here are the recipes, taken from the internet:

Blueberry & Banana Quinoa Flour Muffins

  • SERVINGS 12 people              PREP TIME 15 minutes          COOK TIME 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups  Quinoa Flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp Sea Salt
  • 3 Tbsp Unsalted Butter (I replaced it with coconut oil)
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 cup Milk (lactose-free or rice milk)
  • 1/2 cup Maple Syrup (I substituted with honey)
  • 1 Banana smashed
  • 1 cup Blueberries (I had none, so used frozen fruit instead).

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Line a muffin tin with paper liners or grease well with butter or oil.
  2. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Melt butter/coconut oil in a saucepan on low heat.
  3. In a large bowl add eggs and beat together. Add milk, melted butter, maple syrup/honey and smashed banana to eggs and mix well. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and gently fold in blueberries.
  4. Bake for 25 minutes until the tops spring back when lightly touched.

These cookies turned out a bit on the dry side, maybe because I used very little peanut butter that I had left in the jar and added some rice flour to make the mix less sticky. I only used the peanut butter up this way because the quality was not great. There you go, if you don’t use first class ingredients you won’t get great results.

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies

from  https://www.food.com/recipe/flourless-peanut-butter-cookies-17943#activity-feed

Soft, chewy, Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies make the perfect pick-me-up cookie, or snack. These easy flour-free peanut butter cookies are loaded with healthy fats and protein and are quite scrumptious.

READY IN: 20mins            YIELD: 24 cookies

DIRECTIONS

  • Preheat oven to 180°C and grease cookie sheets.
  • Beat together peanut butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until smooth.
  • Add beaten egg and baking soda to peanut butter mixture and beat until well combined.
  • Roll 1 teaspoon of dough into a ball and place on cookie sheet.
  • Place dough balls one inch apart on cookie sheet and flatten with tines of fork making a cross pattern.
  • Bake until puffed and a golden pale, about 10 minutes.
  • Cool cookies on baking sheet about 2 minutes and then transfer with spatula to rack to cool.
  • May be kept in air tight container at room temperature for 5 days.
  • Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

These muffins are a real treat, full of flavour and moist.

Spiced Apple Carrot Muffins

from  https://www.theroastedroot.net/spiced-apple-carrot-muffins/

Prep Time: 8 minutes     Cook Time: 20 minutes                  Total Time: 28 minutes Servings: 9 muffins

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and lightly oil a 9-hole muffin pan
  2. Whisk together the eggs, coconut milk, maple syrup, and ginger.
  3. Add in the grated carrot and apple and stir to combine.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining (dry) ingredients.
  5. Pour the dry ingredients into the bowl with the wet ingredients and mix until combined.
  6. Fill the muffin holes 3/4 of the way up and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until muffins test clean.

At this stage in my gluten~ and lactose free journey I am not looking back. Meals and baked goods can be just as delicious as the wheat flour and milk variety. It’s just a matter of trying out new recipes and to be adventurous. The ingredients can now be purchased in the supermarket, from maize flour to quinoa flour, special bread mixes etc. Nigel is well adjusted to my style of cooking and has no complaints.

Early summer in February

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Fresh grass in Vila Nova

We had some time on our hands, a few days with no guests booked and decided to go on our second trip to Vila Nova de Milfontes on the Portuguese West coast to collect our new lawn. This time it was gorgeously sunny and warm. The hotel HS Milfontes Beach, Duna Parque hotel Group, sits right at the beach with a breathtaking view from the restaurant. In the winter it hosts Olympic rowing athletes from Russia, Poland, France, Germany and other countries training for the next competitions.

We booked the ‘Romantic Break’ just after Valentine’s day and so were greeted by a chilled bottle of bubbly and towels shaped into swans with lots of red hearts dotted everywhere. The price was a steal for €82 for one night including dinner buffet and breakfast buffet.

Because we had traveled with jeep and trailer and not stopped on the way we were hungry and made the most of the buffet, so much so that bed was the only option after eating our way through all that was on offer and since they were used to hungry young sportsmen and ~women there was plenty of good food: freshly baked pizzas, sushi made on-site, salads, fish and meats cooked to your liking and anything else.

The breakfast buffet was good and I had per-ordered gluten-free bread which came with two gluten-free muffins.

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We had a stroll through the charming cobble-paved streets and drove up to the other side of the river Rio Mira before collecting our tonne of freshly cut and rolled up lawn. Camposol does not only grow grass/turf for football pitches, golf courses and amenity sites, it also grows root vegetables for the Spanish and French market.

On our way home we were stopped to let about a thousand racing cyclists pass, also from all over Europe.

News from the Garden

We have a few newbies, apart from another fountain at the front we purchased a set of garden furniture on-line through Mano-Mano. The set includes 6 pieces and came in boxes. Unlabelled. The instructions author should take a leaf from the Ikea book, but  I put them together eventually.

Nigel has fulfilled his dream to do away with the plain brown tiles around the base of the house and replaced them with decorative tiles.

Our garden, which has lovely fresh peas, leeks and cabbage available at the moment (in February!) is being extended into the old potato plot. We installed a fiberglass container as a Hochbeet (high plot), filled it with layers of twigs, home-made compost and soil and it has now chamomile, carrots, beans and maize coming on. The carrots and chamomile were direct sown and covered with fleece, which speeded up germination and the maize and beans were raised in my little hotframe.

This must have been the hottest February on record. We had 24 degrees on at least 3 days and the beach and restaurants in Matalascañas were packed on the Sunday.

Out the Window…..

On the second last day of February we had our brush with a suspected case of corona virus.

A mother and daughter had booked to stay for 3 nights and on arrival the mother felt really ill and went to the local health center. She received antibiotics and was told it was just an infection. In reality there are no testing kits for the Covid-19 virus available, so nobody knows what she had. Her symptoms were headaches, fever, lethargy, no appetite while her daughter was coughing across the table. We took it upon ourselves to entertain her 8-year old daughter, who was full of energy, loved our cat Jack, enjoyed the hammock, and played cards with us and with the soap bubbles for a while.

Unfortunately we had a full house and the guests downstairs overheard the conversation and slipped out the back window in the morning to avoid contact with the sick lady.

They did however explain themselves to Nigel, when he was out feeding the hens. This lady had asthma and so was alarmed and afraid to contract the virus. They still loved it here and promised to be back.

In the meantime I proceeded to contact the as-yet-to-arrive guests, what I thought was my duty under the circumstances, as the sick guest worked at the Madrid Airport and we received one cancellation. At this stage we weren’t feeling too well ourselves with a tension headache. I proceeded to close all our rooms for three days, just in case.

In the end the sick lady decided it was best to return home, even though it meant to drive to Sevilla, return the hired car and take the train to Madrid, meanwhile spreading whatever made her sick.

Today we feel better and are much relieved to have a full house of healthy guests…

 Out the window, the second

As you are not allowed to smoke in the rooms, the guests in our downstairs bedroom seem to make a habit out of opening the tall window and stepping outside to smoke, leaving their stubs behind.

As for the other st of guests, which also smoked and booked for two, arrived with three (bringing the teenage daughter also), and then complained the bed wasn’t comfortable enough and stating that there were clearly three windows and no bars, they gave us a 6.3 score.

I feel like commenting in my reply to their review, if you want bars go to prison…

 

A lot can happen in a small space of time……

Gibraltar

 

As a treat for the New Year, seeing that it is the big 2020, we wanted to celebrate in style the incoming new decade, or at least that was my wish.

After considering Seville, Huelva or even Almonte, we agreed to check out Gibraltar, as we had omitted this English enclave on our Grand Tour in 2017. We booked the very nice four-star Rock Hotel for two nights, which would bring us nicely into the new year maybe with a bit of a party. The line up on the Casemates Square wasn’t exciting but at least some fireworks were promised, which turned out to be lovely. It’s been a long time since I, a Berliner, have seen fireworks. And we Berliners always put on a stunning amount of exploding stars, sparks in all colours and fire showers and going on for an hour all over the city, with thousands of parties and live music events. I miss that, being out in the sticks on a farm in the middle of Ireland for 25 years and now living in the Pampa near the National Park. My wish was fulfilled in Gibraltar, we had fireworks, music and I did a bit of dancing, too, just me. Gibraltarians don’t seem very enthusiastic when it comes to abandonment, must be the stiff upper lip syndrome.

 

I can recommend ‘The Rock Hotel’, the lounge and food are really enjoyable, but don’t expect too much of the bar. There was only one draught beer. They also could not mix me an Aperol Spritz, which is Aperol, Prosecco and orange (they did not have Aperol), I took a Martini instead of the Aperol, which also worked well; but their Gin selection is very good! The service was rather slow and reminded us a bit of ‘Faulty Towers’, the bar man equally as enjoyable as Manuel. The staff is mainly Moroccan, but very friendly and obliging. Breakfast is a steep £17.95 per person, of course it is good quality and they even cater for gluten-intolerant guests, which is a bonus. One excellent breakfast at that price was enough for us, so after check-out the next morning we wandered into town for a pub breakfast in ‘The Horseshoe’, which was a third of the price and also good and quick.

 

So what is Gibraltar like? It’s basically just a rock with a skirt of land, where all the houses sit and then further up is the Gibraltar Nature Reserve with a lot of historical military batteries and the monkeys of course! In fact they belong to the species of apes, which means they do not have tails and a bigger brain. On Gibraltar live the Barbary Macaques, which were introduced to the area of Gibraltar by the Moors from the Atlas Mountains who lived there between 700 and 1492, Wikipedia tells us. There are about 300 of them in groups and you can watch their antics, especially lousing each other. They ignore people, as you are not allowed to feed them. They are fed peanuts from what we could see.

 

The views from up the rock are stunning, the mainland of Spain, the strait of Gibraltar and of course Morocco, especially Ceuta, which is a Spanish enclave and ferry go there daily, and another trip to make on our list.

Apart from that it hasn’t got a lot going for it, we think. It is, no surprise, very British, all the shops are your usual stores you find in England. Unfortunately the architecture is not very appealing, a mix of Spanish, military and utilitarian. It misses the cute English cottage style. Even though there is no tax, we don’t think it makes that much difference, as prices are steep lending to its place as tourist destination. Of course cigarettes and booze, alcohol, are really cheaper. So we got cigarettes for friends and I stocked up on Gin, it is still even cheaper than in Spain.

On the way to Gibraltar we dropped off a guest with his bicycle at he bike shop in Cadiz, our last good deed in 2019. On the way home we looked at the surfing capitol Tavira.

CADIZ IMPRESSIONS

TAVIRA

 

Getting Your Car through the NCT Spanish Style

Our little Toyota Auris has done a good many journeys to and from Ireland and brought us around Spain, reliable and economic, packed to the hilt and bicycles on top. So we cherish her. That’s why we went through the procedure to import her to Spain. We engaged a ‘gestor’, an agent that knew about the complicated way to do that and all went well, eventually. Two years on the Spanish NCT, the ITV (Inspección Técnica de Vehículos), now tells us on the retest date, that we need to replace the entire back lights as the fog light and pilot light are on the wrong side. Why only now? More expenses we grumbled and hoped through our good mechanic to maybe get second-hand lights. But alas, no, they had to be purchased new. So it was done and we went back. Only to be told now we also had to do the entire set of front lights.

This whole episode reminded us of the first private doctor we visited for the annual check-up. It took three visits to finally get a referral for the blood test to be done by a specialised laboratory. Anywhere a professional is involved means several repeat visits so they can get the most out of it.

Glass window for stove

Our cast-iron chimney insert has done us one year of good service. The guests love to come home at night to a blazing fire and a nice warm house. Unfortunately one of the windows cracked when Nigel tightened the screw and we needed a replacement quickly. So I thought the correct way to achieve full satisfaction would be to order one from the very company that manufactures them and we bought it off, Bronpi. So I sent an email with our customer details and photo of both the stove and the catalogue picture, to make sure it would be an exact match. No reply. A week later I phoned them and ordered one window, giving them our customer number, so they had our previous purchase details on file. We actually went the 2 ½ hours drive to their shop in Lucena to collect the pane of glass, only to realise on our return – it didn’t fit, it is too small. This was a week before Christmas, no way would there be one available before the new year. In the end I went to a specialist glass shop 5 minutes from us in the industrial estate, it took 5 minutes to cut the right size. Now, why didn’t we do that before?

My friend Teresa then helped me, in fact she wrote it, to fire off a sharp email to Bronpi complaining about the wrong glass. And lo and behold, the next day I got a phone call from them apologising and asking what I wanted, my money back, of course. Their solution is to send a courier to collect the wrong glass and refund us the money. Right that seems complicated as in fact there is a hardware store in Almonte that sells Bronpi products. That was two weeks ago and I have not heard from them since.

But this is Spain where things seem to take a few turns before coming to an end, satisfactorily or otherwise.

Neighbour Trouble

So you would think, that moving to Spain to the countryside, to a spot that nobody has heard of back home, including ourselves, would make life simpler and less eventful because we have only one direct neighbour, who is Spanish, and further up the road another couple, happen to be German and English.

Apart from the trials and tribulations to set up home, renovate and grow roots, of course a constant stream of strangers, that give us money to stay in our house, gives us enough entertainment and reasons to throw our arms to heaven.

Last week however the drama really came to our doorstep. On the way to the NCT (ITV) our Spanish neighbour called us into his house to view his security camera footage. It showed a guy seemingly dancing, shouting, and taking his shirt off, knocking at the door and acting otherwise quite strange. He wasn’t supposed to be there, the property is fenced, the gate locked and has a bundle of big dogs apart from the cameras, and nobody was at home.

It turned out to be the English guy, in a state of mental confusion. He run away from home, believing his wife wants to kill him. We met her later on and she told us that indeed he has a psychosis brought on by years of drug use and now being on withdrawal, and she was trying to find him. He appeared again in the afternoon on the camino, shouting and calling for Nigel. He briefly came inside the gate, Nigel trying to calm him down. A short while later the police arrived being called by our neighbour, and all went very still. In their presence he took his prescribed medication and everybody went home eventually. We helped out over the next couple of days by letting the wife have our jeep, as theirs was gone and they have no transport other than a bicycle, to be able to attend the clinic, the police station and the court; a long story, a sad story, a common story. He is now in a mental intuition after spending two nights on the streets and she wants to get a divorce, as after 15 years she has enough of trying to keep him out of trouble, always looking after him and realising that it has sapped all her strength and energy.

THE STORKS ARE BACK

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For the past two weeks already the storks are making themselves at home and comfortable in their nests around here. In La Palma de Condado the pair on top of the church were busy repairing the storm damage by adjusting and adding twigs to their nest.

 

Any days we have no guests we use to explore our area. We still know very little about the town of Huelva and its beaches. So one Sunday we drove to Punta Umbria, which is another summer escape for town people with hotels, villas, apartments and restaurants. It also has a sports boat harbour. In the winter of course it’s quiet and not many places are open but there will always be people at the weekends and fiesta days to enjoy the sand, sea and stunning views.

 

The other good news is that WE NOW HAVE A GENERATOR IN PLACE. There is no solar system in place, as far as i know and have researched, that has not got a back-up system in place. Most dwellings are connected to the net, if they are not, they have a generator. Ours took a while to arrive because it will run automatically once the solar battery bank reaches a low level. It is such a relief and it got us already over one week of rain and the period of shortest day length. For the past three weeks we have spent about €30 on diesel to recharge our batteries. Which is essential for pumping water for showers and toilets, wash machine and generally all appliances and lights.

 

 

The Private Health Saga

There are two health systems in Spain; the public one, where 95% of the population are looked after, everybody that is employed here, and the private system, where you voluntarily pay a health insurer, that’s us. We are unfortunately not eligible for the public system because we arrived here after 2012, when eligibility changed and excludes immigrants, which are not employed. Even though we work, we are self-employed and pay taxes, which do not entitle us for free health care. It’s complicated. In order to qualify we would need to pay monthly contribution of at least €280 per person, rising with age. The public system is good, one of the best in Europe, but there are also waiting times for surgery etc. Anyway, so we pay a little less than €200 for two per month, which pays for a range of essential health care, i.e. consultations, x-ray, biopsy, annual check up plus blood test and others we haven’t yet needed. It does not pay for medication or dentistry, although a yearly check-up and cleaning is included.

This is a rural area, Huelva with ca. 100,000 inhabitants being the next biggest town. So there is not much choice in private clinics or doctors. We are currently on No. 2, which is a lady doctor in La Palma de Condado, hence the photos. We needed to change as the previous doctor, a heavily overweight guy who practices only on Wednesday afternoons in Almonte and sits otherwise in Pilas, was very inefficient. It took three visits until he finally gave us a referral for blood tests and his prescription for Nigel turned out to give him increasingly painful muscle cramps. Every time we go, he swipes the insurance card and cashes in.

For my annual check-up I have teamed up with Teresa and we go to the private hospital ‘Costa de la Luz’ in Huelva together. It has all the specialists and equipment to do all sorts of investigations and surgery. I am only exploring at this stage and am very lucky to have Teresa to explain the ins and outs to me and even make the appointments. This is actually quite normal here in Spain, usually all the family goes together to any doctor and gathers daily around the hospital bed.

In the public system all is happening streamlined as you would expect it from Germany, Ireland or England. In the private system here however it seems you are punished for your choice and money. Everything has to be done by the patient, the doctor basically only writes referrals and prescriptions. So for the blood test we have to go to another location, a laboratory that specialises just in taken and analysing bloods. For x-ray it’s another special unit, or the hospital. For any tests you have to get them done, collect the results in person another day and bring them to your GP who will interpret them and write a prescription. Luckily in the Costa De La Luz Hospital all specialists are in the same location. But that doesn’t mean you get all the investigations done in one day, or the results. That’s as far as we have figured it out.

Christmas – Navidad at Casa Halcon

sdr

 

We had pre-Christmas visitors, Dylan, Nigel’s son and his girlfriend Kaycee from Hongkong.

It was nice to have youngsters around and I really enjoyed this bit of family-time. Of course we showed them the usual places, El Rocio, the beach in Matalascanas, Mazagon and Christopher Columbus’s ships by Huelva. One day they took the bus to Sevilla.

 

We included a trip to the western side of Portugal, to Vila Nova de Milfontes, because there is a company, Camposol, that grows roll-out grass, which Nigel wants to use for our front lawn. This place has a lovely beach, with a river outlet and even though it was rainy, windy and dull it looked stunning. I am already looking forward staying there again, this time without the rain, when we go back in March to collect our piece of ready-made lawn.

Kaycee gave an impromptu concert on the piano in the restaurant where we had a few drinks. She is a gifted musician and it was a really uplifting, wonderful experience listening to her. Unfortunately it rained all the time during their few days with us, so not many photos were taken. These photos below are taken from the web to show the location.

But honestly, this cute town should be kept as a secret, because it kept its charme  by not being build-up with hotels and is mainly enjoyed by locals and Portugese, see https://algarve-south-portugal.com/vila-nova-de-milfontes-portugal.html for more information.

Vila-Novade-Milfontes.8

 

 

Manzanillas, Gordals, Verdials, Picuals and Cornicabras

Church in Almonte

I have broadcasted it probably already 4 times: we are now finished our olive harvest. But this time for real, the last load amounted to only 19 kgs, which are about six euros. We are really harvesting three times: first the green olives for eating, Manzanillas, Gordals and Verdials, but only if they are deemed big enough. Small ones stay on the trees. Then we collect the left over olives that have turned deep red and black or are blemished, have fallen to the ground, are small or have evidence of insect attack. So one olive tree can be visited 3-4 times, as some have a split personality, they can be half Manzanilla and Verdial or part Gordal, small and big olives.

Sometimes I feel like a truffle pig, crawling beneath the trees, picking up fallen olives, because to us, everyone is precious, as they are so few. We still have to do heavy pruning, correcting years of neglect.

After writing this paragraph in Mid November we still had another two days of olive harvesting going on in the first week of December, this time at our friend’s finca near Bollullos. They have four hectares of oil olives, mainly Picual and Cornicabra and one hectare of wine, the Zalema variety. A few trees were left after their son and Nigel did the main harvest and they offered us the remaining olives to make olive oil for our own consumption as payment in kind. So we went and worked another two half days and brought the olives to the Olionuba factory in Bollullos. This olive oil will be enough for us for year and would cost us about €300 to buy.

 

FOOD:  AGONIES & JOYS

So at this stage I have figured out, that I cannot eat animal fats, including butter and cream. Also I am lactose intolerant, which is not so bad, considering all the lactose-free products on the supermarket shelves. Additionally I now have to exclude all wheat, barley, rye and mostly oat products thanks to the gluten in those cereals, which means ordinary cakes, biscuits, pizzas, pastas, crackers, bread, bread rolls are also off the menu. I am not moaning here, just being astonished about my body changing and reacting so badly to food, which I used to take for granted and loved. I can live without ice-cream and biscuits and cake, no problem, as I prefer the savoury taste anyway. Switching from butter to olive oil is quite acceptable in a country that produces the majority of the world’s olive oil. The lactose-intolerance happened suddenly about four years ago. The gluten thing has been brewing in the background as I always found too much bread would make me feel bloated and sluggish. This culminated finally in a lot of stomach cramps and rushed trips to the toilet.

Now that I have reached peri-menopause a lot of the symptoms that most women grapple with have to do with changing hormone levels and the body’s adjusting to that, so why should the digestive tract and the diet stay the same? Also being over fifty means the body starts showing that it has had enough of one or the other food or abuse and lets us know it needs a change or a break to stay vibrant and healthy.

Luckily I always like experimenting with food and rise to a challenge. Any guests with vegan, vegetarian or other food requests will receive a custom-made meal, no problem. Therefore on the menu are now gluten-free bread, wheat flour is replaced by rice and chickpea flour which in turn leads to new recipes. I now bake my own bread with a special no-gluten mix and add seeds to make it real yummy.

As long as I can eat potatoes in all its delicious reincarnations like chips, crisps, mash, baked and boiled, I am alright. Vegetables and salads are my other mainstay. And not to forget eggs, particular our own from our free-ranging happy hens. There is so much you can do with eggs; you’ll never run out of a good meal.

SPRINGTIME IN OCTOBER

'Shadow'

The rain has finally arrived and given the trees and the car a welcome wash-down, and refreshed everything. The starlings are noisy in the trees and the buzzards and falcons are circling above.

The temperature has briefly dipped to below ten degrees at night but is up again to a balmy fifteen. We had a fire in our stove lit to keep the cold at bay, but now it is not necessary.

I have planted five types of spring bulbs today: Daffodils, Tulips, Iris, Fresias and Anemones.

Because of the severe lack of water, farmers have to feed their livestock mainly bought-in straw. Joaquin, a farmer not far from us, feeds his sheep and cows all sorts of fruit that are otherwise dumped. Lately, we saw his cattle tucking into a heap of limes. Yes, the small citrus fruit.

I know, there is citrus pulp included in cattle feed, but these were real, juicy fruit. Now, I am not sure about that. Last year he fed a load of sweet potatoes to his sheep and some died of bloating. Hopefully more rain will mean some fresh growth soon.

Gardening Olives

What we are doing at the moment I call gardening rather than olive harvesting.

Let me explain.

When people are gardening, they are doing it usually for pleasure and no monetary return is involved. It is an activity born purely out of the enjoyment to be outdoors, listening to the birds, the hens scratching, bees buzzing and feeling and smelling the earth, the end result being a lovely flower display or vegetables and fruits for the table. Nobody would ask you what you earn from this labour of love.

At this point in our olive harvest we are gathering left-over olives, which have turned black. These were deemed to small to be picked green, as the bigger the size, the higher the price. So now they are only few of these on the trees or up high and for 30 cents a kilo nobody would bother to take them down. We are however, and it is also like housekeeping, cleaning up. So the return is minuscule and we are laughed at. But I can think of a lot worse things to be doing then cherry-picking olives under the blue sky and getting a good work out at the same time. Believe me, dear reader, it is strenuous exercise. You stretch up high with or without a long-handled plastic fork, pulling the last olives down and then bend down to collect them from the ground. It does come for free, so no need to enroll in a yoga class or pay a monthly fee for the gym.

When we have done the black olives that are used for making olive oil, we will start the next round of green eating olives at a minimum of 60 cents a kilo, these are the Verdial. They are slightly longish, bumpy and spotted, rather than the plump, round Manzanilla.

Minus One

We started out originally with eight hens, which got decimated for different reasons to four. We then bought three more but are again down to five.

From our four dogs for keeps, little cutie Bonny vanished. So Clyde has lost her sibling. Apparently a number of dogs have disappeared in the neighbourhood and a white van has been seen driving about. We can only assume she has been kidnapped, so we are left with three dogs: our giant Mastin Sofie, Drops our stray and her daughter Clyde.

We also had three cats. Sadly we found Sam, our red one, dead on the road the other day and are left with Jack and Shadow.

dav

Traslado del Virgen continued – The Outfall

On one of our exploration evening drives we took the route that the pilgrims take from El Rocio to Almonte out of pure curiosity. It is hard to believe that a throng of people marched this camino in the middle of the night, with no lighting and through pine woods and pure sand, carrying a statue as if that wasn’t hard enough. There are Stations of the Cross, decorated arches along the whole way but also an enormous amount of litter. It is an utter shame to see plastic bottles strewn all over the camino and blown into the forest even after a week passed. Obviously religious fervour does not include taking responsibility for the environment. A wooden statue is celebrated like the famous golden calf, venerated and huge amount of tax payers money is spent on organising this event, for security, catering, decorations and what not. According to the online edition of Sevilla ABC news stated 1,4 million people took part, calculated by the amount of cars parked in the specially opened spaces, the amount of water bottles sold, buses used and toilets flushed. And again, Mother Earth has to suffer even as a Virgin is carried on hands…

Eclectic mix of guests

Most weekends we are completely booked out. We had a booking for the downstairs bedroom with private bathroom which turned out to be a gay couple when they finally came in the door. An hour previously they had phoned as they were lost, even though I always sent the location and a description how to get to us via Whatsapp to every guest. After trying to guide them here I finally handed the phone over to another guest, thinking that my bad Spanish might be the reason of their lostness. These boys needed devine guidance to get them to our place; they were near, yet so far and I handed the phone to the priest, who also stayed the night in our casa and luckily had returned just in time to save the lost sheep. These gentlemen came with a sports Audi coupe and gave us one of the worst reviews, a   3.5 out of 10. All was wrong, obviously they would have been better off with a five-star hotel in the middle of town.

Other guesting gripes are phone bookings with the result that the people don’t turn up. I take phone bookings midweek to fill rooms but not at the weekends. This Saturday I had three bookings for one room, with one immediate cancellation and one no reply, which is rather rude, but eventually a booking came through via booking.com and we had all rooms full. It is a bit exasperating because each time I send a personalised whatsapp message with directions after saving the number into the mobile phone.

It is true, I do get blue, and sometimes I think of the green, lush fields of Ireland. The familiarity that 25 years of living on a relatively small island instills, the ease of conversing in a language which I picked up from primary school but only mastered after a few years of practical application in County Westmeath.

I thought a warm climate supports the growing of plants. Alas, the heat is just as bad as frost, both burns the leaves and shrivels up the poor things. Granted, it’s too hot for slugs but instead we have burrowing furry things attacking plants from underneath. They felled most of the aubergine plants. On the upside I am proud of the lovely kohlrabi and beetroot, these are yummy.

Now in the first week of September, it is time for autumn sowing, and more kohlrabi and beetroot, fennel, beans, peas, herbs, brussel sprouts and later salad are on the way. The hot soil temperature has seeds germinating within 2-4 days, but it is important to keep them shaded and moist or they’ll get burned.

Which they did. Now we are already well into October and temperatures reached above thirty degrees and killed off my lovely pea seedlings. Fennel, Brussel sprouts and Kohlrabi did not germinate at all but the beans are fairly happy, as long as they can enjoy some shade. So for next year the garden will definitely need to get proper shading   installed over all parts.

BERLIN

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We spent three nights in Berlin to visit my mum, who is now 95 years old. This time it was on my birthday so she got a lovely bunch of roses. Unfortunately and understandably she has slowed down a lot and a two hour visit is all she can take.

 

As a treat we watched the VIVID show in the Friedrich-Stadt-Palast. I always wanted to see this iconic building from the inside. I studied not far from there Agriculture Sciences at the Humboldt University. The Palace has kept his old style feel and art deco interior. It is supposed to be Europe’s biggest stage, in depth. The orchestra sits right at the back of the stage and we could glimpse it between the actors and dancers. It was a spectacular show with headgear designed by Philip Treacy, the Irish hat designer and custom-made music, dance and decorations for this place.

We also watched the winning runners of the Berlin Marathon pass us at the Fehrbelliner Platz, just around the corner, where my mother lives. The drizzly rain felt refreshing to us since we had no rain here in Almonte since April.

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Berlin Marathon

In the meantime we had our house angel Sara and her mother and sister mind our finca and look after our furry and feathery friends. They had a lovely weekend at the beach and we were all happy.

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Olive Season 2019

This year the olive harvest started already in the first week of September. This coincided with the wine harvest, so the area was a flurry of activity. The reason of the early date is the lack of water. The olives are starting to turn black and so need to be taken down as the green ones are used for eating at the table, not for oil. This year the yield is down by 50-60% so we don’t need help this year. We have finished the Manzanilla variety and are close to 2 t and Nigel has started on the pruning until we harvest the Verdial olives.

The Virgen Comes to Almonte

dav
La Paloma Blanca

Our town Almonte has worked itself into a fever pitch preparing for the arrival of the Virgen of El Rocio,  La Paloma Blanca, the White Dove how she is called among many other names. And so the decorations include millions of white paper flowers strung over the streets and around poles, at windows and archways. The Virgin herself is a small, 12th century statue of Mary and the baby Jesus, but here in El Rocio she is the Virgin of the Dew (= Rocio), or the Mother of the Marshes (of the Doñana National Park). A small nugget of useless information: her statuary vestment was designed by no other than Yves Saint Laurent in 1985.

This is a very important occasion which only occurs every seven years and of which the Almonteñas are very proud of.  For nine months the much loved statue will reside in the church in Almonte until she is returned to her home in El Rocio.

As with all religious or historical festivities the Spanish put in an enormous amount of work and effort to make this a fiesta to remember.

The whole way along which the Virgen is carried is sumptuously festooned, archways and domes are constructed and decorated by hand with rosemary sprigs and palm fronds, white crepe paper and gold lamé.

But the hardest part is the midnight pilgrimage from the shrine in El Rocio to the church in Almonte.  The Virgin is carried in her sedan on the shoulders of the parishioners on a 15 km long fairly rough camino, with no lighting and any amount of dust.

The plan was apparently to leave El Rocio at 20.00 in the evening on the 19th of August, but excitement and sheer exuberance eroded the patience of the participants and so they started moving at half past four in the afternoon.  That meant the main road between Matalascanas and Almonte and further to Sevilla was closed;  which meant a detour of two hours for us, as I saw fit to spend a few hours at the beach on that very day, knowing full well that the next day that this road would be a no-go because of the returning traffic from El Rocio and Almonte. So we had to divert along a camino that cuts across the National Park from Mazagon to Almonte. A scenic but rather rough drive with about a hundred speed bumps scattered along the way.

To us this fanatical veneration of a statue seems strange, particular when most people we ask answer that they are not really religious. The Spanish just like a reason to arrange a fiesta and then be in the midst of it, seen and be seen, they love being part of a crowd.  This of course is another reason why Spain is the party destination per se.

Of course having a holy statue also helps to generate income from visitors and a lot of new shops have sprung up selling everything from holy pictures, to plates, t-shirts, bags, medals and other religious paraphernalia. A few new bars and restaurants have opened and every building got a makeover.

For some reason, the virgin seems to be particular poplar with the gay community. We frequently have gay couples staying that plan to go to the shrine in El Rocio. Mind you, there is also a fiesta with food, drink and marihuana to be had in El Rocio. So one goes with the other I presume.

[see also the blog describing the Pentecost pilgrimage:   http://christophotto.com/andalucia-the-miracles-of-el-rocio  and more  http://www.andalucia.com/festival/rocio.htm ]

We were told that up to a million visitors were expected, so we thought we could make a killing. Initially I had my rooms booked out for those three days, only to have all of the reservations cancelled in advance. So I raised the price for the last-minute bookers, only to end up with a nearly empty house. I can only assume that people decided to save the money as they would not have needed a bed being on the camino all night and then afterwards, tanked up on coffee, headed home or to a nearby couch in a friends house. Our experience with renting our rooms now is that up to a certain price people are willing to pay, beyond that they will just find other accommodation, even though we are on the lower price bracket. Of course other providers in El Rocio or Matalascañas are flexible and adjust their prices downwards to attract guests, and if I am not on the ball, I miss out.

Saying that, having the house a few days to ourselves is a welcome break and gives my head peace. It’s not easy for a rather introvert person like myself to continuously welcome strangers into our home, worse when they also want to use my very own sacrosanct kitchen, even if it is only to make coffee, constantly. After all, I want to supplement our income by providing home-cooked meals and hearty breakfasts to our guests.

BEACH BEACH, BABY

 

When the temperature hits 33 degrees plus, it’s time to head to the beach, where it is mostly six degrees less hot and a nice breeze caresses your body as you judiciously space out the time between swims with lounging around, reading and people watching. We go to a place that is near the chiringuito ‘Heidi Bananas’, a gay haunt and a left-over from the heydays from thirty years ago, when Matalascanas was ‘hip’ and visited by the Germans and English, before they discovered the Costa Blanca, Ibiza and Mallorca. Then the huge camping place with all mod-cons was also in use, but is now completely deserted.

This beach lays to the right of the town, at the end of a winding sand camino, which ends close to the light house. There the beach is fringed with cliffs and stretches endless. It is never full, as there is so much space. There is also a tractor to watch that pulls boats from the water or leaves them down to the surf. The next restaurant is about a km further on and this whole side of beach until the yacht harbour in Mazagon stretches over 25 kms. The other side, in the direction of Matalascanas to the Gualdalquivir river stretches over 30 kms, with a dune landscape. So the total length of the beach here is over 55 kms! On both sides of Matalascanas is the Donana National park, which means no buildings are allowed and there a very few places, where you can actually access the beach. All this area belongs to the Golf of Cadiz and the Costa de la Luz.

But not only can you use the beach to relax, no, Nigel uses it to whip himself into shape with varies circuit exercises while running up and down the beach. Recently two fifteen-year old boys stopped to ask him how many press ups he could do. So they joined him in crunches, planks and press-ups; and that after he had already done his set of 100. There really is no glory to challenge an over 60-year old when you are fifteen and can’t keep up…

Tomato Chutney

A good use for ugly, discoloured or green tomatoes is to make some chutney. The green tomatoes were harvested accidentally; the others just didn’t look nice on a plate so in they went together with two onions, one tired apple and a handful of raisins. Chutney also needs brown sugar, vinegar and some spices, here I used ground ginger and three small dried chillies and a pinch of salt. I have made chutney before so I am not too concerned about quantities, as long as the flavour is good. I had about a pound of tomatoes and half a cup of brown sugar left and added vinegar by taste. Don’t be tempted to add water, the apple, onions and tomatoes have enough juice themselves.

An hour later all was nicely soft and golden brown and ready to put into jars, hey presto.

 

Blessed Are Thou Amongst Women

It just so happens that we now have an (nearly) all female house, with 5 female guests and I Nigel is vastly outnumbered. Not that he minds…..

We have two mothers and daughters, Italian and Peruvian, and a lady from San Sebastian, all holidaying here for more than a few days.

We do have one of the best beaches, have I mentioned this before? And lots of horse riding opportunities as well as cultural attractions like three of Cristoph Columbuses carabelas, a huge ancient and still working open-cast mine, a venerated Virgin, a vast National Park and in the not so far mountainous region of the Sierra Morena also caves.

Our other star attraction is Jack, the cat, loved by all.

The best guests…

… love animals

…. enjoy the food, the time to read or even swap breakfast for a haircut

 

My First Bull Fight

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Corrida in Almonte

So I went to a bullfight, corrida de toros. Does that make me a bad person?

I was full of trepidation but also excited. I expected to be repulsed and to leave early, maybe after the first bull was killed. But I didn’t, I stayed till the end.

Every year, at the end of the Feria de San Pedro in Almonte the bull ring is erected in the Recinto Ganadero, just out of town, this is the place where a week before the horses from the Doñana National Park have been corralled. So the bull fight is the finale of the very important tradition starting with the ‘Saca de las Yeguas’, followed by the fiesta in the chaparral and culminating with the annual bull fight and the last day of the festivities. We could hear the noise from the feria and its many attractions and rides still at 4am.

I make it my business to explore the country I live in and try to understand how the people tick. What has shaped them, what circumstances have brought them to this point in time? This includes the history of the country, which is very colourful and rich in Spain, religion, but also the climate, the influence of neighbouring cultures and how everything weaves together to generate the people and their specific culture and traditions.

So I gain an understanding and a love for these people that I have chosen to live with. That includes learning and experiencing customs, which may seem alien and illogical and are completely new to me.

The Spaniards are known worldwide for their joy in celebrating fiestas for any reason. Whole families or villages will group together to enjoy food, drink, song and customary dressing up. Every village has their own patron saint and their very own date to celebrate him or her, so if you want, you can attend a fiesta every day of the year. A lot of them are based on the catholic holy days, and if there are not enough, a few other ones are added. Even though few people attend church, veneration of saints is still a big thing and we have one of the major ones beside us in El Rocio, La Paloma Blanca. So we kind of are getting used to the hype around the statue and her importance in the yearly calendar and profit from it, as a lot of Spaniards will stay at Casa Halcon for the night to attend a meeting or celebration in El Rocio, which happens nearly every month.

Every town in Andalucia also has or had a bull ring. And if this edifice is not suitable anymore, then a temporary structure will be installed for the day as it is in Almonte. This seems to be the only fiesta where children are, fortunately, not brought along, it is an adults only event. Nevertheless is it a family day out, with big cooler boxes, picnic baskets, drinks and cushions brought along. I can only speak for Almonte, which is a small agricultural town, so these corridas in Sevilla or Madrid are probably a different affair. I was worried about the dress code, but here is was more relaxed, people not so much dressed up. We brought along our Spanish friend Teresa, but since her last corrida was ten years ago, she didn’t really know what to expect either.

I was just looking up the calendar of toro (=bull) events, corridas, and there are two bull fights on every day in Pamplona! So the tradition of bull fights is well and truly alive in most of Spain. However, in Catalonia bull fighting is banned since 2011, but the Spanish court overruled this decision, deeming it to be more anti-spanish than pro-animal rights [see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/20/spanish-court-overturns-catalonia-bullfighting-ban ].

In fact, bull fighting has already been practiced in pre-historic times, then the Greeks and Romans were at it and so it is still ongoing, also in Portugal, France and parts of South America.

We went an hour early to get good seats as the seats are not numbered, but still ended up, inexperienced as we are, with the sun shining fully at us, which made photo-taking a bit difficult. We should have known, as the rungs opposite us were already quite full, and they had the sun in their backs. Outside the ring the participating horses were warmed up and exercised. Beverages and snack and seat cushions were sold; it was a rather calm atmosphere.

On the programme it stated six bulls and six bull fighters were involved. All participants in the ring are toreros, but only the matador will kill the bull, or that is the hope. It does seem a bit unfair, as there are at least five toreros involved, including the banderilleros, which assist the matador in the ring. They have pink capes, with which they attract the attention of the bull. The matador has two capes, both in red, one smaller than the other. The banderilleros start the performance, getting the bulls attention, then a picador arrived on horseback, the horse heavily cushioned against injury from the bulls horns, to apply a lance into the bull, but not piercing him too deep.  Then the banderillero will stick six banderillas, barbed darts, into the bulls back. I have not made myself knowledgeable about all aspects of the bull fight, but I suspect it has to do with bloodletting and aggravating the bull. So he is already weakened and mad. Then the ‘dance of death’ begins, with the banderilleros stepping in when the matador needs a break to change the cape or the sword. The bull just seems to concentrate on attacking the biggest target, the cape. But the matador or banderillero needs to read the bull, assess his strength, his next move because they are only inches away from his horns and hooves. So it is a skilled dance for life or death, only the bull having the disadvantage of being on his own with his instincts and the ever increasing blood loss. At some stage the matador will move to kill him with sword between his shoulders, puncturing the heart, as clean and swift as possible. To do that he needs to confront the animal, which is as dangerous and he needs to be able to assess if the toro is in an enough exhausted stage to not suddenly attack him. Sometimes this does not happen quite as it should, and the banderillero will deliver a coup de grâce, cutting the spinal cord of the bull with a broad bladed dagger, once the bull has gone to its knees.

http://www.aficionados-international.com/general-information/the-bullfighter

We also got to see the spectacular performance of a picador, a matador on horseback. The awe-inspiring skill of the rider to keep the horse just an inch away from the bulls’ horns was unbelievable. The horse was unprotected, and if it goes down, the rider will go with it. The horse was agile and stepped backwards, sideways, danced his way around the bull. It is such an intense performance, that the horse was changed every ten minutes.

The matador will be rewarded for his skill and performance with one or two of the bull’s ears, which are cut off in the ring when he is dead. The picador, being such a skilled horse man, also received the tail of the bull. It is the spectators that decide by waving white kerchiefs what the matador will receive or if the bull is given pardon and can live.

The dead bull is removed by the ‘death squad’, a team of mules that drag the dead bull out of the ring. The bull is slaughtered in a mobile slaughterhouse on-site, and the meat sold to restaurants and butcher shops.

Then helpers rake the arena, covering over the blood.

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the dead bull outside of the arena

Despite being born and reared in Berlin (West), the now capitol of Germany, I have worked and lived on a dairy farm for 13 years, I also lived and worked with sheep, I have been to slaughter factories (only once or maybe twice) and I eat meat. And I think anybody that eats meat should not be ignorant of the final journey an animal makes to become the meat on the plate. Death is part of life, but what I do not condone is ongoing suffering, the needless suffering of animals kept in conditions that are far removed from their natural habitat or confined to an extent that they cannot carry out their natural behaviours. And this is factory farming, where pigs and chickens are kept in cages all their lives indoors, pumped full of antibiotics to control disease, which will spread rapidly if living conditions are crowded and prevent the animal’s natural movements.

In a bull fight the animal, beast against man, is respected. And it had a very good life up to that point, pampered and pastured, fed with the best of grain, exercised and trained to become the star of a seemingly barbaric custom.

I have now experienced all of the fiestas that the Doñana area has to offer, and this was the final baptism, in blood. I won’t go again, but I will not judge or condemn the people that enjoy this spectacle, it is their tradition and culture, and as a blow-in I have to respect that.

 

 

Saca de las Yeguas 2019

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Almonte has not just the Romeria and the Virgin of El Rocio, it also has one of Andalucia’s most important horse events, the Saca de Las Yeguas, the Running of the Mares. There is a unique race of horses here in the Doñana National Park, the Marismeña race. These horses are the original American mustangs. They were imported to America on ships from Huelva, starting with Christoph Columbus in the 16th century.

For the past 500 years on the 26th of June, the mares and their foals, born in the marismas of the Doñana National Park, are brought by the Yegüerizos, the local horse men and women, first to the church in El Rocio to be blessed. Then they proceed through the streets of Almonte to the Recinto Ganadero, the livestock corral, where they are cleaned, vaccinated, reshod, their manes are cut, the foals are branded and some horses sold. After three days they return to their grazing grounds in the Doñana, passing by our gate. This year there were 1,500 horses being herded to and from their grazing areas.

The horse men and women have had a few very tough days finding and gathering up the semi-wild horses in the over 150,000 ha large National park. They arrive there 3-4 days in advance of the drive to camp out and follow a tradition that has no rules or standards, only instinct and the deep understanding and love of the mind of the horse.

It is breath-taking to see groups of riders bringing groups of 300-400 horses, that have not seen a human being for much of the year, into the towns of El Rocio and Almonte. The horse dominates the life for a lot of people here: from the townhouses in El Rocio, that have poles in front of every house to tie the horses and at the back the stables, to the carriage manufacturers, saddle and reins makers and the gorgeous riding boots, hand-made with traditional decor. Alone on our camino are two riding schools and further the other direction is ‘Doñana Horse Adventure’, owned by a french girl, Sandrine, you can book an adventure on horseback through the national Park or the dunes along the beach. [ see https://www.inspirock.com/spain/el-rocio/donana-horse-adventure-a1399490733 ].

There is a monument to the Yegüerizos in Almonte which says: “For he who has never won a horse in the swamp, does not know what it means to ride.”

[ see more at https://www.spain-holiday.com/Almonte/articles/the-saca-de-las-yeguas-almonte-huelva]

The Saca de las Yeguas is followed by the Feria de San Pedro, the patron saint of Almonte, which seamlessly continues the fiesta-athmosphere and celebrations, of which the Spanish are famous.

Romeria and Puppy Love

Puppy Love

Drops, our little terrier-mix, thanked us for taking care of her with a clutch of puppies. We kept two of them, Bonnie and Clyde. So we now have four dogs in total and that is enough.

As cute as their antics are, the animal instinct drives the mother to give them lessons in survival hunting and they turned suddenly on our two white hens. Ordinarily the hens forage around the dogs, happily clucking away and even eating out of the same bowls. One hen did not survive the attack, the other is rather ruffled looking, missing all feathers on her back, but is feeding away. So we are down to three eggs a day. With guests enjoying the odd fry-up, we need a bigger supply of fresh farm eggs and so are buying three more hens. The red breed seems to be more resilient as we still have the two original hens, Ruby and Rita.

Jack

Another addition to the family is Jack, our tiny kitten. He is only four weeks old and is the sole surviver of a batch. The others apparently got under the hooves of horses or were molested by dogs, so it was decided to farm him out. He now lives on the upper terrace until he is a bit bigger and able to stand his ground. I am however keen to give him some playmates….

Romeria 2019

As every year, The Romeria, the biggest religious pilgrimage in Andalucia, has taken place in El Rocio, only 15 kms from us [ http://www.andalucia.com/festival/pilgrimages.htm ]. The town itself is solely built on the sandy soils, with no paved roads, which is just as well as there are as many horses as people in this cowboy-feel like town, and every house has rails to tie your horse up at the front door and stables at the back. You can even drink your beer or eat on horseback with extra high planks to put your glass or plate down. [ http://www.andalucia.com/festival/rocio.htm ]

The Romeria is a colourful spectacle, with up to one million (1,000 000) poeple taking place and decending upon this small dusty town. The devotion to the ‘Virgin de El Rocio’ is amazing, but real religious fervour is rare and it#s all about the to-be-seen. Around nine months later apparently a lot of babies are born, not always conceived by husband and wife. The Spanish just like to celebrate and socialise, any reason is good enough. For us it means that Almonte closes down for nearly two weeks around pentecost, with no work or orders being taken three weeks in advance of the big festival. We just have to get used to that.

We originally thought to rent out the whole finca, but we have been adviced against it, as damage might occur and countless number of people would invade the house in an inebriated state. So we rented our rooms as usual, upping the price and …. ended up with only one full day booked and one room free. Who would have thought? Well, anybody that really has some business or involvement in the Romeria is of course in El Rocio, be it in one of the houses the various ‘Hermandades’ own, or other houses for rent, pensions, hotels, camping place or part of the gipsy bowtop caravans. Because from all towns of Andalucia families and groups diverge in several daylong pilgrimages towards El Rocio, on foot, on horse back, in carriages, carts or wagons, trailers and tractors. And all are decked out with flowers, pretty curtains, the ladies in flamenco dresses, flowers in hair or on top of their heads. The caballeros look very fetching in tight riding outfits, smart straw hats and bolero jackets.

We usually keep away from crowds and religious events, but this year I went with our German friends Claudia and Gerd to have a look on the Saturday evening. There was a lull in the celebrations and only when we left at nine in the evening, the streets started to fill up again. The real event, the blessing of the ox drawn carts with a flower-bedecked image of the Virgin in the main square, takes place around midday and is televised. So we watch from the cool of our sitting room on Canal Sur, the Andalucian regional TV station, how this religious cult unfolds.

Friendship, Fun and Festivals

At Casa Halcon in May

The month is already over – it went so fast, so much has happened. Apart from guests coming and going and our little dog family growing, we also had friends staying here and I went to Madrid and Segovia for four days, to meet my friend Fiona there.

The weather has brought us already temperatures over 30 degrees with night time temperatures also above 23 degrees, too much for a comfortable night’s sleep.

The strawberry tunnels in the area have been mostly taken down and the land is ready for ploughing. We have seen buses lining up to take the Romanian and Moroccan workers back home. This is a month earlier than last year. The strawberry originated in shady woodland of the northern hemisphere and so do not tolerate the intense heat that has descended upon us. My four plants have stopped producing and are shriveling up. I am not sure the plants will survive the heat of the summer like they would do in the winter, hibernating. I fear, I will have to replant as they have not produced runners and then also keep them under cover, against frost in the winter and the sun in the summer.

Our potatoes have produced a good enough crop, but again also have not flowered before the stalks died off. Obviously plants do behave differently when subjected to heat. My sunflowers and sweetcorn are growing and forming flowers but are stunted in growth. Again, it is the heat doing that. With courgettes I had absolutely no luck this year, even though In Ireland they never gave me trouble. You live and learn. I try to use mulch, died pulled weeds, to cover tender young plants to give them some ‘sunscreen’.

To my surprise the home-sown leeks and kohlrabi do not seem mind the heat.

Segovia & Madrid

Spain has much to offer and we have not seen the half of it yet. So I arranged to meet my friend Fiona in Segovia. I am proud to say this trip was solely conducted with public transport, which is really well organised and not pricey. The trip enfolded thus:

Car to bus terminal in Almonte – Bus to Sevilla Plaza de Armas Bus terminal (1.15 hr, €5.05) – Bus to Sevilla train station Santa Justa (€1.75) – high-speed Train to Madrid-Atocha (2.30 hr) – Metro to Madrid-Charlemartin Station – Train to Segovia (27 min., whole train journey (€55.65). Finally Bus into Segovia centre (30 min., €2.00).

Security on the high-speed train is tighter than when crossing the borders between France and Spain, or Spain and Portugal, which is nil, nada, zilch. My ticket was checked three times and all bags had to go through a scanner.

By car this would have taken 5.30-6.00 hours and up to 600 kms, depending on the route. But why bother, if trains and buses get you there in time, with great connections and air conditioning?

SEGOVIA…

…IS BEAUTIFUL AND COLD and lies in city in the autonomous region of Castile and León. Well, to me it was cold anyway. I left Almonte in 26 degrees and sunshine and arrived in Segovia with 18 degrees, going down to six degrees at night, additionally it was overcast and grey. It is a lot farther north and is at 1,000m altitude, it is also close to several sky resorts, which explains a lot.

We had two nights booked and intended to do the full circle walking around the town to pick up on all the monuments. We did visit the castle and many many boutiques….

Between the first and second century A.D. the Romans built an impressive aqueduct (http://www.romanaqueducts.info/aquasite/segovia/index.html) which can be admired in the old town, which is also full of ornate churches, pretty medieval townhouses and at the other end of town the castle, or Alcazar, is situated that apparently inspired the Disney logo castle.

The castle is a gothic style jewel from the 12th century [see https://www.spain.info/en/que-quieres/arte/monumentos/segovia/alcazar_de_segovia.html] and sumptuously decorated. We’d walked around with craned necks to admire the ornately carved ceilings. The architecture that has been handed down from the Moorish occupiers concerns itself a lot with ceilings. Also walls are top to bottom decorated with stucco and tiles, often incorporating Islamic script, praising Allah. This style is, in my eyes, so much more uplifting and celebrating the gifts and talents that god-allah bestows on humans than the Christian churches could ever come near.

some of the gorgeous ceilings of the castle:

The castle, or fortress, was also a military school, which explains the tiny knight’s amours and different sized weaponry:

There is so much to feast the eyes on, that one castle a day is quite enough.

It was rather cool and shopping makes you warm, all this trying on of lovely frocks. It’s a nice town for that, as not overrun with people and we had peace and quiet selecting our rich rags.  We employed restraint and came away with a nice long black lacy dress for Fiona and I obtained white jeans adorned at the bottom, a colourful silky skirt, a t-shirt and some much needed undergarments.

The other cultural thing we did was visit an exhibition in the Torreón de Lozoya, at the Plaza de San Martín. Simply because we had time and everything else was closed. The tower itself was unfortunately closed. One exhibition was about the Orden Espanola de Carlos III, with the portraits of members of the Orden and their costumes, the other was below and a modern photographic exhibition with black and white portraits and a video show of men’s faces, just coming from a shift from the mines. No words, no subtitles, no names, just dirty, dusty, tired honest faces. It was amazing what deep impression they made on us, how we were moved by the humanity shown. It was nearly voyeuristic just looking at their faces looking at us. The attending nice young man at the table upstairs filled us in on the background afterwards.

That night we had a horrible dinner consisting of deep-fat fried chopped up suckling pigs trotters….

I would be ashamed of serving such cremated bits of bone, grizzle and microscopic amounts of meat. But apparently this is a delicacy in this region, and warrants the €22 euro. I hoovered up the over-priced patatas bravas instead. To aid Fiona’s digestion we went in search of a decent glass of brandy, which she got. Port they didn’t know, so I had a sherry instead.

After breakfast the next day we took the bus back to the train station to go to Madrid; a much warmer place indeed, and a great city, if you happen to like city life. Fiona had already spent a night there and had a handle on where to go. We had booked an arty Airbnb apartment at the back of the artist’s exhibition and working space, an interesting set-up. I had booked us a session at the Hammam, the Arabic baths, which we were in need of after exploring the area. I hadn’t walked so much in a long time.

We visited the grand Prado museum [https://www.museodelprado.es/en/visit-the-museum ], where we came eye to eye with Mona Lisa’s twin, painted simultaneously with the other original one, by a pupil of Da Vinci. And of course Hieronymus Bosch’s fantastical works and other old masters, too many to take in on one afternoon.

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Mona Lisa II

El Retiro is a big lush park, complete with man-made lake and boats. So we hired a boat and took to rowing a while.

Somehow I didn’t get to see the Palace, even though we were as far as Plaza Mayor, next time. Instead we went to a street full of tapas bars and finally found a place with a really good selection of reasonably priced titbits. Every single bar was full of people and more waiting to come in. The metro system brings you anywhere in Madrid at any time of day or night, as is to be expected of the capitol of a major country. For me, being from Berlin, it is another city, full of people, traffic and noise and I yearned to go back to our quiet finca after these four days.

We then did the touristy thing for Barney, Nigel’s friend who came to stay with us for 5 days which includes our usual tour: El Rocio, Matalascanas and the beach, Mazagon and the yacht harbour with the little bar, the Donana National Park and Cristopher Columbuses ships. The same we did with Cordula, who came by bicycle from Malaga and went on to Sevilla.

IMG_20190602_084508_resized_20190605_110841536

In between we had some revellers from the ‘Transition’ festival, a week-long psychedelic and trance music festival [https://www.festicket.com/festivals/transition-festival/2019/] near Almonte. This has been going on for the past ten years already and young, and not-so-young descend on Almonte and disappear into the woods. From there they emerged in search of a good nights, or days, sleep away from the constant music. We hosted two DJ’s and other participants. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAYPMyb7Zpk].

 

April brings April showers, puppies and a riot of colour

 

 

 

Demise of a pool – Creation of a new pool

We bought the round, overground pool relatively cheaply last summer in Carrefour, complete with ladder, pump and cover. It lasted one season. The wind blew it over twice when it was empty and bent the frame frightfully. Also the bottom was leaky in many places, bad quality and wrong use of chemicals being the reasons for that. At least a few guests and my friend’s kids got daily pleasure from it while they were here and I learned how to monitor and measure pH and apply chemicals.

 

It was always to be a transitory solution, until we could effort a decent underground pool. So now we have no choice but to start the new ‘pool’ project, to that end Nigel has started digging. Yes, by hand, shovel and pick. We envision a 6m long x 3m wide x 2m deep. This will take some time, but we will use it in between, we hope. Hole in the ground, liner and hey presto, we have a pool….

‘Wonky Paws’

‘Drops’ came to us last autumn, a stray terrier mix, in need of food and love. We thought she was only a puppy because she looked so skinny and small, but she was only starved. In reality she is probably 3-4 years old. I cooked pasta and rice with sardines and egg additionally to ad-lib dog food. She soon looked more perky, started running and jumping and took up night shift duties with Sofie. She even developed dark spots on her back that were not there before. She now adores me, the head feeder. As a thank you she gave us a clutch of puppies. Well, it was really the neighbour’s dog that came visiting and romancing her. We are now left with three puppies of which we will keep one. After a month they are now starting to explore cautiously, still sleeping lots and keeping to their barrel home and surrounding bushes. One was born with a deformity, his left paw was crippled and very small and the right one was not quite right either, so I called him ‘wonky paws’. I brought him to the vet and came home with a bag full of supplements to help his development. But sadly, something happened and he died. Drops is now a working mother, doing her job as mice catcher and security guard.

A Whale of a Time

Summer has arrived with the last day of April and we took off to the beach. So wonderful to see the glistening ocean again, the endless blue sky and lovely long, golden sandy beach. It could tempt you to immerse yourself in the cool water, but just not yet. Instead we took a walk along the beach to view the stranded whale.

About two weeks ago a huge whale got stranded along the beach, a sperm whale I think, because another one got dragged in front of a ferry from the Canary islands to the port in Valencia, nobody any the wiser for this stowaway passenger.  This one is well on its way to decomposition, some bones are already loose and the skin is off, you can see the blubber layer. It is 12 m long and was probably longer when intact and alive. Thankfully it is about 2 kms from our preferred beach spot, so when it starts to stink offensively it will only assault us when the wind blows east. We wondered why it hadn’t been disposed off, but how do you deal with a monumental corpse like that? Nigel googled and the options are: stuff it full of explosives and blast it, with bits and pieces flying all over the place. If you move it at this stage, it will probably explode anyway due to the gasses inside, not an appetising vision. Dragging it back out to sea is probably too late as well, it will just disintegrate. The only option left is to bury it. As it seems it is left there to its own devices, a ready banquet for birds of prey, seagulls and other scavengers.

(We went to the beach again a week later, and the whale was gone, buried apparently, as at the site was evidence of movement of sand and machinery tracks. It’s stinking though.)

Pergola Project

To ease the summer heat on the upper terrace and in our bedroom I came up with the idea of a pergola and Nigel (of course) put it up with scrap iron and timber from our friendly scrap merchant. In time it will hopefully be overgrown with vine, jasmine and other creepers.

 

The Prince

At the entrance to Mercadona stands a man on one leg. He begs. In fact, there are two such one-legged men, maybe taking turns. Both are very unobtrusive, not in-your-face. Just the fact that they are balancing on one leg and one crutch is enough to take notice.

They are different to the loud, whining, coming-at-you Romanian women, some with a baby at their breast, begging. There is a cunning one at Lidl in Bollullos. She will get you when you come out with your trolley full of goods and walk up right to your car. She wants to take the trolley back, hoping to get the euro or fifty cent out of it. Tough luck when it is a token. Once she accosted me when I entered the supermarket, asking for food. I of course pretended not to understand, but she is cleverer than that. She somehow knew I am a softy. So she followed me in and again asked for some piece of food, explaining bread would do and somebody else might get her something else. So I relented and told her to get one item. She went off and got a packet of sliced pork to the value of two euro, fair enough.

Other Gypsy-women at the Alhambra in Granada will stop you in your tracks with a bunch of Rosmary in their hand and tell you the future, it’s near impossible to stop them. But you must walk on or else there’ll be a price to pay at the end of their wonderful story of your future life, complete with ‘a stranger will call you’,  ‘a new love will enter your life’, ‘you will meet a man…blablabla.’

Near the Mezquita in Cordoba a woman nursed a baby at her breast and whined on  in Romanian to get our attention.

Back to Almonte. So these two men are obviously unable to get work with their disability. And I don’t mind giving them a coin when I happen to pass by, which happens very seldom, as I usually take the car to the car park at the back. One day I parked nearby, because I only needed a few items and took the front entrance. The younger of the two was there and held out a very, very small bowl, more like an egg cup. I walked on but then stopped, put down my heavy bag and rummaged around to get a coin out, went back and gave it to him. He is very handsome, with dark, liquid soulful eyes and the loveliest smile. He thanked me profusely in what I think is Moroccan. The gentleness of his voice and his cared-for appearance would have me rather think of a prince. A prince without wants and hardship, so is his smile.

He is not always there, but today I drove past the entrance and our eyes met in my rear-view mirror. I am not sure if he recognised me, since I wore glasses and was in the car. But there is something very compelling about this human being. Surely there must be great hardship behind the fact that he lost one of his legs, and yet he smiles.

Maybe at was a land-mine, maybe a work accident, maybe a motorcycle crash, that took the power of his leg and his bright future away, who knows. Maybe there never was a bright future to begin with.

I would love to invite him for a cup of coffee and let him tell me his story.

I don’t know if I ever will. I am not usually in the habit of talking to strangers.

dav