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 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

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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.

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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.

End of 2018 – Beginning of 2019

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The Garden in Winter

I have been gearing up to get an early start on growing veg and bought seed packets. These indicate sowing times, but for what region in Spain? The climate varies widely so I also ask the shopkeeper and watched the plants on sale for a clue. We bought some strawberry plants that are doing really well, the first strawberries are already blushing in the warm midday sun. However, I sowed tomatoes and put them under the cold-frame until they were big enough for planting out. Everything went ok until the frost eventually killed them. And honestly, they were struggling through the cold nights. The spinach is doing well and even the pepper plants are still alive and producing. The cauliflower and broccoli are growing well and last year’s broccoli is also still producing. Last year’s fennel has come back and looks pretty even if it doesn’t have big bulbs, the leaves are tasty.

 

January and February are the main winter months, even as day light and sunshine hours are increasing. The frosty nights hamper real growth. I tried to buy a fleece to cover tender plants but all they have here is protection against the sun, heavy shading fabric. So I will need to look online.

My other experiment is a home-made weed-killer from strong vinegar (Mercadona has an 8% cleaning vinegar), salt and washing up liquid. I sprayed that onto the ‘non-welcome’ plants in the stone circle and within 2 hours the leaves were dead! Success! I am not sure how long this will last as I doubt it kills the roots, but even though, it still helps.

The garden is now also fenced against scratching hens and digging dogs. We are now proud owners of a giant Mastin, Sofie, and a tiny terrier stray, Drops. She dropped by one day, all skin and bones and wary but devoured all food that we gave her and disappeared again. About a week later she was back, doing the same and stayed for the day, to Sofie’s delight. Sofie, being only a little over a year old, wants to play and run around, but Drops did not have the energy. She was gone again but eventually came back to our delight. She has got stronger, more confident in herself, found her bark and now plays with Sofie. I never was a dog person but she stole my heart and is very happy to see me. She seems also more obedient than Sofie, who still has the habit of trying to get out the gate and disappear for a few hours at a time. It is impossible to catch her as she knows full well she will be tied up, at least for a day.

We still have plenty of guests, from Germany to Sweden to Switzerland and Canada. Some bring motorbikes, some bikes, some dogs and some both.

The night before my children arrived we celebrated New Years Eve with a bunch of really nice Spanish, that came all the way from Jaen-Ubeda direction. This was the family of our house angel Sara. The tradition is to eat 12 grapes when the clock chimes 12 times; one grape for each month of the New Year. I tried but couldn’t get them all down so quickly, so I must practice for the next time.

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January 2019

 

2019 started wonderful. My two children, Elaine and Frank, were here for the first time and needed some TLC, because they brought with them colds and sniffles. And the sunshine did them the world good.

We only had two full days together, but better than no time.

Forget Christmas –

It’s the Three Kings where it’s at. This turns out to be a bigger deal then Santa because there are three of them bringing presents and literally tonnes of sweets.

Epiphany is the coming of the three wise kings, mages or whatever they were to welcome Jesus and bring him presents of myrrh, gold and incense.  Nappies and a hot soup for Mary would have been more useful. But for the children in Spain this is when they receive their presents at home and on the streets. We were invited to come along to our neighbour farmer’s family and witness the carnival-like atmosphere in our small town of Almonte. The streets were full of people, old and young, lining up to watch the procession of tractor-drawn floats of colourful dressed-up people, throwing sweets and toys. So that’s why some came equipped with plastic bags to bring home their stash of sweets.

 

Family, Friends & Guests

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It seems now we have ticked off visits from friends and family so far.

We had Nigel’s sister and hubby, Nigel’s brother from Canada with his son, Nigel’s brother from Ireland with his daughter and as yet nobody from my small family. I am awaiting eagerly my two kids, 20 and 25, to make room in their busy lives for their crazy mum. I guess I have to wait till Christmas.

Instead I had my friends, which I count as my family, here. In March Jani from Germany/Ireland, in April Fiona from Ireland, in July Sabine plus kids from Berlin and Angelika and Elaine also from Germany (yes, we are namesakes and her daughter has the same name as my daughter! They are Ireland fans and have visited there many times).

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But now we have turned our casa into a B&B and receive paying guests through booking.com and Airbnb. This enriches our lives (and pockets) through different minded people. So far we had a Spanish photographer, a Spanish lifeguard, a Spanish fire-fighter is booked to arrive tomorrow. We had a Spanish lawyer-doctor couple and two cyclists, one from Germany and one Dutch. Another Dutch couple is staying with us for a few days and then it’s back to the Spanish. Soon we soon need a third bedroom!

We also discovered a new visitor attraction: Christopher Columbuses ships!

Together with my friend Sabine and kids we had a good look how he managed to first secure money and ships from the Spanish king and set about his many voyages. The Santa Maria, Niña and Piña have been rebuild and actually set to sea and are now ankered just outside Huelva at la Muelle de las Carabelas. His first expedition took place between 1492 and 1493 and his ships were astonishing small considering his ambition to discover East-Asia but landed in the Bahamas instead [see https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Maria_(Schiff) ]. Columbus, or Cristobal Colon, as the Spanish call him, was not even Spanish, he was born either on Corsica or in Genua, nobody really knows and therefore Italian. First he asked the Portugese king, but he wasn’t keen to give him the money necessary for his expedition so he went begging to the Spanish king and queen, Ferdinand II. of Aragón und Isabella I. of Castillia, who adopted him subsequently as their Spanish explorer. He is partly buried in the Cathedral of Seville. His bones were transferred back and forth to Cuba, probably a few getting lost on the way or sold off, who knows.[https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Kolumbus ].

French Dresser Project

The last piece of restoration here was the ‘French’ ‘antic’ dresser we obtained from our scrap merchant for €110. It was completely black and still had evidence of previous use in a restaurant or pension, as I found six pepper and salt dispensers in it and a few napkins. So I went about painstakingly stripping the paint off. This was a madness-inspired task as the wood is deeply grooved. So I used a spatula and screwdriver to get the paint off in those grooves. And of course it has insets and two handles missing. But I took my time and the result is pleasing to the eye (at least mine). It now looks a bit multi-dimensionally, as the paint has three layers and a bit of black from previous use of the brush. I chose the colour to pick out the slight green centre of the tiles and it looks alright in our bedroom.