A Spanish Christmas and New Year

“Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart…”
Victor Hugo

befana canile-2Fascinated by the customs of other countries, I was involved in some research recently and discovered several odd facts about Christmas. Unless you happen to be Italian, did you know, for instance, that in Italy an “old woman” named Befana delivers presents on the night of January 5th and even “goes down chimneys!” I bet all the octogenarians are queuing up, poor dears…

In Iceland, the Jólakötturinn (the Yule Cat) dominates the scene. Good children are given new clothes, but woe betide the bad ones, as they are eaten by gigantic felines. Oh dear!

Christmas-catIn Spain, things are much more to everyone’s liking, especially the sometimes naughty children…
Being a mainly Catholic country, religious Spanish attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve – also known as the “Mass of the Rooster” – as one was said to crow when Jesus was born, while the non-religious celebrate it in a traditional manner without the religious connection. Parks, and other green areas, are planted with hundreds of glowing Poinsettias, and outside many town halls and churches, creative “Beléns” are erected. A Belén is usually a religious scene, or a ‘cameo’ showing how people lived at the time of Christ’s birth. Some are beautifully constructed and lit, and often different villages and towns compete. They are also evident in many shop widows.

BelénChristmas Eve sees most revellers partaking of generous feasts of festive fare when family and friends get together, continuing on the 25th… The streets and houses are decorated- often in lavish fashion – with festooned trees, coloured lights and bright decorations, as in many parts of the world. And, I can assure you, the Spanish know how to welcome and party!! Can you feel a BUT coming? For it doesn’t end on Boxing Day… Oh no! Apart from New Year’s Eve celebrations to welcome in the New Year (Wowie…) when the magical 5th of January arrives, children in particular get very excited, for it is the night of the Three Kings. And anyone who has seen the extravagant, colourful, procession of the beautifully dressed figures, will always 46191107442_1da1b1b0c3_wremember it! I certainly will. We saw ours on the 5th night of the new century 2000, snuggled in our warm coats against the cold, and ducking to escape the showers of sweets being generously thrown to the children from the elaborate floats passing by. As custom decrees, most children put their shoes outside their bedroom doors which are magically filled with small gifts in the night. (Glasses of cognac, a Satsuma and walnuts are left for each King.) Then more festive food on the 6th! In the Basque country of Spain, gifts are distributed by a ‘magical man’ called Olentzero, and in Catalonia country, gifts are left in or near a hollow log in the image of a ‘funny man.‘

2959233463_d8c68098b0_wHeralding in a new century, the lavish firework display was another memory for the diary. It was the most extravagant I had seen since the end of World War 2…Oddly enough, nevertheless, the New Year’s eve of 2001 beat it hollow.

Living in a new country in the midst of people of many nationalities, was a newish and heady experience and no less than fifty people of our acquaintance – from two urbanizations – got together and booked tables at an excellent fish restaurant in Torrevieja. You could have cut the ambience and electric atmosphere with a knife! The fact that my middle brother and his dear wife were present, plus a Scottish couple who had a holiday home near us, was also of significance. My brother had brought some ‘flying balloons’ over and the poor waiters – so good-humoured – had the devil of a time serving our food while being ‘attacked.’ The Scots: Katrine and Gordon, were more than ‘up for it,’ and Gordon, in particular, was the life and soul of the party. Possessing an infectious humour and warm personality, he was ‘flavour of the month.’ He later … wearing a red wig and Scottish hat, sang us ballads and strummed his guitar until the wee hours. We all remained good friends…

25627865030_97a4752618_wThe rest of that January seemed very quiet…until a Dutch couple moved in nearby. While they behaved impeccably and were very pleasant, we noticed pungent odours drifting from their casa and, in fact, the wife of our President – who had stayed chatting to them too long – admitted she felt ‘squiffy’ when she arrived home…The Dutch couple had a romantic story to tell – told to yours truly – in that ‘he’ who had been in the British Navy, wrote his name and phone number on a slip of paper, sealed it in a bottle and threw it overboard (fortunately still at sea). It bobbed gaily along in the ocean, until it was washed up on a Dutch beach weeks later. A young lady, out walking, picked it up, read the contents and phoned ‘said guy.’ Footloose and fancy-free, he travelled to Holland and claimed the maiden as his own. You couldn’t make it up! They duly married, had children, and lived near us for several years.

Meanwhile, there was a Boules match to organize – on cleared waste ground nearby – planted and treed with seats and suitable pitch – and a holiday in the UK to arrange.

Before I wish you Adios, I must admit to a weakness for good quotations, and noted a few worth quoting, by no less a person than Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of the acclaimed “Don Quixote.” He said: “Wit and humour do not reside in slow minds.” Comforting words. And another I’m fond of “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams – this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness, but maddest of all, is to see life as it is, and not as it should be.”

3154478032_ea58011fc8_cWishing everyone a healthy Christmas, with no socks… (well, not under the tree) lots of noshy things to eat, maybe a few gifts AND an abundance of peace, fun and love.

Feliz Navidad

Joy xx


Important PS
I would like to express my heart-felt appreciation for the inspiration and assistance freely given by so many writers on the internet. You are stars in the earthly firmament. X

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

Pic links: Befana  Yule cat  Belen  Street lights   Fireworks & Valencia tree   Bottle

Letters from Spain – numero tres

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” – Blaise Pascal

Mum and Dad editedHola folks…I believe I left you back in 2005, when there was excitement in the air due to the imminent short story competition being run by the Cultural Department of the Ayuntamienta (Town Hall) There was a natural, keen interest among members of our Torrevieja Writing group to enter and everyone was busy scribbling away like mad, me included. Being fairly new to the town, compared to several others, I needed to do more research, which is something I always enjoy, so set to reading up on its history.

salt lake tour editedI soon discovered that Torrevieja and environs was home to a valuable substance, once known as “white gold,” now a common or garden product – sal (salt!). Roman soldiers in the area way back were paid salt in lieu of wages it was so precious, and put the town and countless acres firmly on the map of the world. In fact, Torrevieja was such a tiny pueblo, it depended on the product for its economic survival. The famous salt lagoons of La Mata and Torrevieja are now designated as National Parks and are home to a huge variety of bird species, with over 200 sighted on the lakes.

Delving further back into history, I was fascinated to learn that via 15th C Roman Chronicles – in fact – local salt funded the travels of Christopher Columbus! As it also preserved fish, salt was found to be invaluable when travelling long distances, and who could eat a boiled egg without it!

Flamingoes editedMeanwhile, just how was I going to handle writing a riveting story about such a place?! I’d already written a few, modest tales but never entered one in a competition before…Umm. An idea then struck which sounded a reasonable ‘peg’ on which to hang my story. I’d become a TIME TRAVELLER. I knew nada about such a mode of travel (Who does… ), but what the heck, I’d give it a go and it worked out a treat. I mentally travelled backwards and forwards at will, incorporating actual history, linking it neatly to fiction. Of course annoying doubts gathered along the way; they often do. But at least/last it was finished and the dreaded judging time arrived. The Palacio de la Musica was packed, fingers were nearly nibbled to the elbows, etc., and I thought I heard my name called out. It was! Wow and eek… I’d won first prize. Being something of an introvert when it comes to crowds and public speaking, AND being interviewed in Spanish, twice, was a bit disconcerting, while sweetened by a generous cheque and a most friendly reception. The international competition was held for two further years, when I was one of the judges, which was great fun and a privilege.

Before moving on, I’ll just share a few excerpts from my story:

“…Spain – after much barbarism (via) the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans – finally emerges as the most advanced of the provinces under the Romans. I became a Time Traveller before the Visigothic Kings succeeded Rome’s domination and witnessed too many tragedies… and did much century hopping when the Vandals were around…”

Moorish edited“Spain attained her most triumphant success – that of expelling the Moors at the end of the 15th century. Although bloodthirsty, that period was exciting and the Moors left behind an admirable legacy of wonderful architecture, intricate wood carvings, (and) exquisite textile designs…”

“Men seem to have a penchant for war but, although the colour red dominates time, I choose to look to the sky.”

“It is March 2lst, 1829 – the beginning of the Spring equinox. Earlier, the sky was calm, the atmosphere clear. Around lunch-time, there is a slight tremor and I again feel a great sense of foreboding, for there have been over 70 worrying days and nights of seismic activity in the area of late. Suddenly, the wind drops, the sky becomes overcast, and there is an uneasy calm over all. My palms are damp; my throat dry. I do not want to re-experience the inevitable … I am fearful as the earth begins to tremble and, inside Carlos’s villa, plates fall and smash on the filed floor. Then, a huge tremor wreaks havoc where it strikes: in Torrevieja and all the towns and villages in the Vega Baja. In a little over five seconds, 32 people perish, along with 36 animals and 67 people are injured. As in many other households, tragedy descends on the Rodriguez family, for Carlos’s wife Maria is making paella in the kitchen when the roof collapses on her. Fortunately, Carlos is out in the open with his two sons. All three survive. Uncle Jose – now a bent, old gentleman – is still asleep when the earthquake strikes; a sleep from which he will never awake. I am again overcome with sadness as Maria was so full of life. The reconstruction of the decimated town is ordered by King Fernando VII.”

***

Treasure Island Ship editedTorrevieja slowly grew into a town buzzing with activity and industry and 250 ships were built in sight of the Casino. Two of the ships became famous in later TV and films: one in ‘The Onedin Line’ the other ‘Treasure Island.’

Today, it is a modern-leaning, fascinating and cosmopolitan town of 100,000 people, with beckoning, clean beaches and green parks aplenty, eager to cater to the curious traveller.

Adios until next time.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

Pics via: Euromarina.com, servigroup.com, Michael C Snell. Treasure Island painting by Geoff Hunt

Another letter from Spain

“In each human heart is a tiger, a pig, an ass, and a nightingale. Diversity of character is due to their unequal activity!”
Ambrose Bierce

Mum and Dad sml 2

Now, where was I… Not ‘the bravest girl on the block,’ I nevertheless had a handy store of optimism and surprised myself by my determination to beat the pesky, would-be burglars I was aware of lurking like wary wolves. No exaggeration! OK there was no snowstorm, north wind blowing or eerie howling, but we (the seven or so couples residing on the site) knew that cigarettes glowing in the darkness of half-built houses, meant itinerants camping out and keeping watch. We quickly formed a “Neighbourhood Watch” after the window frame and intricate metal grille of the house behind us was removed and electrical goods stolen, and I disturbed a guy using a pole as a battering ram to break in the font door, three houses down. I never thought I could yell so loud… but three male saviours came running and the guy quickly disappeared. Although my brother: a building surveyor in the UK, had examined and put his “Seal of approval” on the standard and quality of our property, there was a small design fault in that the Spanish had a liking for a miniscule, additional, walled enclosure at the side of the house, in which they housed their washing machines, which was open to the elements, and – you guessed it – a burglar’s dream come true. We covered ours up pronto. Not so our neighbour, who unwisely left everything of value in one bag, available, along with his pin number… You couldn’t believe it! Perhaps, having lived through W.W. II, we were more stoic than we thought. You know… “Can’t let the buggers win…” sort of attitude. Fortunately, after that, the police made regular, visible appearances and the villainy was more contained and gradually lessened and more or less disappeared.

Torre smlOur nearest, lively, town: Torrevieja – just three miles away – has a buzz, even in the cooler days of winter. There are ample shops, a Salt Museum (the area famous for its generous salt lakes), an Art Gallery and two theatres, plus a multitude of cafes and restaurants. And I mustn’t forget our fascinating old Casino of Moorish design. It is a most pleasant place to sit and watch the world pass by while sipping a Café con leche or something stronger. (Although the Casino wasn’t completely destroyed in the serious 1829 earthquake, it was rebuilt in 1896 in the “Fin de Siecle” style by the architect Aznar. It became the “Sociedad Cultural Casino de Torevieja” and many Concerts, Balls; Art and Photographic exhibitions have been held there).

Despite the original, most annoying hiccups, there were so many distractions and the weather was so glorious, our enthusiasm was only slightly dampened. The fact that we could see that cobalt-blue Mediterranean sea lapping the shore in the near distance from our large solarium, was a huge plus and there were so many places to explore and friends to be made… Ever since living in a small, friendly community on a mountain-side in Wales during the last war, I had unconsciously hankered after a repeat of the rewarding experience. We all seemed to need each other for one reason or another. My husband made furniture and was a dab hand at DIY, and being a practical and helpful man, found himself, at 73, much sought after. In fact, during the first five years there, our house was a bit like Piccadilly Circus with human traffic requesting help of one form or another. In between the graft, we had many, jolly parties on solariums to celebrate everyone’s birthdays, new life, or their dog’s arrival in their household!

House smlWith not enough hours in the day, we continued to make our new house a home, and set about titivating it further, until satisfied. Meanwhile, there were acres of beach-side and countryside to explore and our car’s wheels were ever turning. Between Torrevieja nearby and Moraira: a favourite destination, further along the coast, were many attractive coastal towns to visit, one in particular called Altea. Chosen as a ‘seat of learning,’ the town houses a University and is justly proud of its cultural standing and artistic bent. Answering a call of nature, I soon realised the bohemian side of Altea by the shape of the handles in the loo; (“Shield your eyes, Mabel!”) and the ‘his’ and ‘her’ paintings on the doors were an amusing surprise… Many concerts are held in Altea, and the Cathedral at the summit is an impressive building. The day we were there, we were blessed by the impromptu, soulful, guitar playing of a visiting musician. Optimism was in the air! I wish I’d had my camera with me as the view from a high balcony across the ocean to Benidorm, was memorable with sea and sky competing and the ‘white horses’ playing by the hem of the rocks.

It’s a strange phenomenon, retirement, because every now and then, I was aware of not working – or going out to work – and felt a tad guilty just swanning around so much… (I didn’t know what was around the corner then) but I at least joined a Pilates class to save my ageing body from wrack and ruin. One other, equally important, issue was bothering me. I wasn’t writing!! How could that be… I set about writing a monthly “Donkey Oti” (think about it…) Urbanisation Newsletter” with the competent assistance of an aptly-named Ron Merry (always obliging) to distribute among our ever-growing urbanisation (eventually 172 properties). And, yes, our swimming pool was finished, and a large, handy supermarket built in walking distance, so lucky us. Things were looking up

2019-10-22_145613 (2)As studying human beings and what makes them tick (from a lay person’s viewpoint) colours some of my time, I must introduce several characters who gradually peopled our “Urb.” The first – she could not be ignored – was a former, just retired, ex Fleet Street journalist, clutching a very RED pen… A Miss with a capital M, she showed much interest in my Newsletter, so I asked if she’d like to help. ‘In what capacity?’ she asked. ‘Assistant Editor?’ I suggested, for our Newsletter was growing as more and more casas rose to greet the sky and tenants filled them. For obvious reasons, I shall refer to my new assistant as Loretta. She proved to be a hard-hitting, down to earth, masculine-woman, who preferred dogs to most people; disliked children and smoked her living-room (who needed a brush?!) to a dull shade of yellow. BUT what tales she told of her travels around the world! Sadly, she is no longer with us, but we will long remember her acerbic tongue and strong presence.

Two other, male tenants rented a villa nearby and raised a few, conservative eyebrows. The older man of the two – well tanned – sometimes popped in for coffee of a morning wearing nought but a satin – G-string and a smile, and his partner, Marlon, was a sweet, most likeable guy. We hit it off straight away and he now and then asked my husband’s “permission” to whisk me off to shop… They were the source of great fun and we had a few, beautifully catered for, parties on their patio. They planned buying and running a small hotel and we inspected several likely properties further afield with them, but they were too fussy and ended up buying a house instead, and – being fidgety souls – ended up returning to the UK and opening a café there.

house and flowers smlWith gardens gradually blooming – with the ubiquitous, colourful Lantana, Bougainvillea and Hibiscus popular, plus the more reasonable cost of living when compared to the UK/Ireland and Sweden, and the more settled climate, the majority of newcomers in our maturing “village” seemed happy enough. And, although I wasn’t actively looking for more work, IT found ME! As many of the householders were part-time, we were asked to “Please look after our spare keys/switch on the electrics/buy a few groceries for visitors,”etc. With me being a bit of a soft touch, my husband held up his hand and said “Stop” and I became a paid “Home Service Operative” alias cleaner. Eventually, on a part-time basis, I looked after four/five villas for a few years. It kept the corpuscles working and me in trim. Although then in my 70s, I still had plenty of energy. Thereafter, I had a few minor health issues, so decided to cut back the work and concentrate on my writing.

Joining the Torrevieja Writing Group was a wise and desirable move, and I – along with my husband – also joined The U3A (University of Learning). I became a group leader of the latter, which led to a lot of fun and meeting more interesting, talented people. I then learned that the Cultural Department of the Torrevieja Town Hall were running their first International Short Story Competition…

More “Spanish shenanigans” soon…

Hasta la próxima

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

A letter from Spain, olé!

Spain is the soul-searing Concerto de Aranjuez for guitar by composer Joaquin Rodrigo, the Flamenco danced by Sara Pereyra Baras or Antonio Canales; palm trees swaying by the Mediterranean sea; tapas or a glass of chilled Sangria. Spain is the aroma from the orange and lemon groves; the salt lakes and flamingos, the joyful fiestas, and so, so much more…

The Year was 2,000 – a new century and an auspicious date to start our new and final chapter together. With both sets of parents sadly deceased and no grand-children to fret over… we finally, having experienced the joys of life in Spain on holiday on several occasions, decided to retire there. Ah, but which part?

Windmills in Spain

We had explored La Mancha country: the patch-worked and windmill-dotted plains where Don Quixote roamed with his side-kick, where the mauve saffron crocus grows in abundance, and walked the castle ramparts where “El Sid” was filmed… Also, the slightly suspect delights of Marbella and environs (spot the fugitive?) and various other regions but were undecided. And then, my adventurous husband read an article which clinched the destination. “Hear, listen to this…” he said, excited. So I listened.

Oranges

No less a body than The World Health Organization declared that one of the best regions, weather-wise and health-wise in Spain was The Costa Blanca, so that’s where we ‘stuck our pin.’ The weather in the United Kingdom was/is? world-wide notorious for having ‘four seasons in one day,’ and as his last job involved much driving, he would often nearly pull out his white hair in frustration, and one could hardly blame the government for that. For the weather, that is.

Our eldest son, Jason, had decided to, eventually, move to Denmark, as his partner, Ann was born there, which meant leaving our other two sons to live in our house in Essex. All three were mature and house-trained so no problems there.

Torrevieja Spain

The month of May saw us exploring Torrevieja (Alicante province) and environs. Our guide, a most pleasant Israeli guy, booked us into a comfortable hotel for three nights, took us to excellent, reasonably-priced watering holes and restaurants and showed us some tempting apartments and casas (houses). Decisions, decisions. On the last afternoon, we inspected a modest but pleasing two-bed-roomed casa in the Los Altos (the heights) area, a few miles from Torrevieja, and put down a deposit. ‘It will be ready in October – around the 2nd…’ we were told, and it WAS! (This last fact was a surprise as building was going on at a phenomenal rate but rarely finished to date.)

Glossing over the upheaval of re-organising our old home for our lads (phew) and having my flight cancelled by the airline at the last minute, with no choice about a replacement date (husband had driven our packed to the rafters car over with a friend) I finally walked once more on Spanish soil. Time for a gulp and a ‘pinch me’ moment…

Torrevieja Spain

We rented an apartment with my middle brother and his wife, and set about furnishing and equipping our new home, which was an absolute revelation. We were open-mouthed on choosing the basic furniture, to be asked ‘Would you like it delivered this afternoon?’ We plumped for the next day. Ordered curtains and light fitments were also brought, with the curtains hung and lights fitted with bulbs by the delivery men!! Wow and wow. Where was the famous mañana we had heard about? A most welcome introduction to Spain to be sure.

Our communal pool wasn’t finished, there was no supermarket nearby; we were using the builder’s electricity – so no bills – and had no TV for a year, so listened to more music, hardly a ‘Mayflower’ situation! (Doubtful Home-stickers had said ‘Aren’t you brave!’ which we found amusing.)

Then came the determined burglars, doubtless sent to test our resolve, but it only strengthened our determination to beat them! How did we do it? More soon…

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

Photo credits

Windmills: Javier Alamo pixabay.com

Torrevieja: Jason Lennick

Orange grove: Tyler Shaw unsplash.com