Monday, July 30, 2012

A strange adventure

Another week has been and gone, marked only by an outing we had last Tuesday. This was our first ever trip to IKEA. What an experience!! Our boys are always going on about how great it is, but I wasn't convinced, and expected just another furniture store. I imagine Ikea Es. is little different from Ikea UK, except for the language on the tickets. 
Chris has had a bad back off and on for some time now, and we put this down mainly to the many hours he sits in front of his computer on an unsuitable chair, so he wanted to invest in a good, comfy, office chair. Asking around where we might find one out here, everyone told me, "Go to Ikea". The nearest one is in Murcia, an hour and a half drive from us, but on Tuesday we decided to bite the bullet and go. Neither of us are really up for days of shopping, but when there is something we really want, then there does seem to be some point to it.

Fortunately the store was easy to find, with it's sign high above the surrounding buildings, and having circled a roundabout with a somewhat strange but colourful sculpture on it, our trusty sat.nav. helped us  to negotiate the winding side streets that led to the Ikea parking lot. 

Once in the shop, you simply follow the arrows around the store, so everyone is travelling in the same direction which made life a lot easier. 
A clear map told us where to find what we wanted, and sure enough, we were able to buy a lovely office chair for Chris. If it turns out to be as comfortable as it promises, and he is pleased with it so far, he has promised to buy one the same for me at Christmas. 
We also picked up a long, low unit to go under our new flat screen TV which is wall mounted, so we needed somewhere to store the digi-box, nintendo wii, and our hi-fi system. We are pleased with that too. It will, of course, look a lot better when we have finished sorting out the cables and boxed them in.
We had left home around 10.00 in the morning, and I was getting hungry, so we stopped at a bar/restaurant on the way home for a lovely meal, and I was surprised to find that it was nearly 5.00 when we got home. We promptly both fell asleep! It is tiring work all this shopping, (and driving for Chris of course).

This is the time of year when it is never quiet outside. The green zone behind the house, is constantly alive to the sound of cicadas. It is rather like an incredibly loud electric buzz. To see the creatures, you would never think they were capable of making so much noise. They mostly sit in the trees, and if you approach one, it immediately goes quiet, so you can't spot where they are, and as you walk away they are off again. 
On Wednesday evening, I had given the dogs their tea and gone back to my room, when Chris called me in an 'urgent way'. When I got back down to the sitting room he said, "You may want your camera. There are three of those cricket-things on the net of the fly-free area". (He knows me so well!) It turned out to be three cicadas, so I took a quick photo from inside, (so it shows their underside) before trying to get outside without disturbing them. Of course, two of them flew away but the third crept up onto the framework and I managed to get this shot with my zoom lens. I blew it up on the computer and was amazed at the intricate design of its markings. I have seen the odd one before, but never three so close together. They are quite big, around 3-4 cm long, and more like a fly than a cricket, and they use a different mechanism from crickets to make their sound as well. It is a noise I always associate with camping holidays in Spain when the boys were small. Now I can almost ignore it, but sometimes it penetrates even my foggy brain, and competes with the music I am playing.

I will finish with this glorious photo that could almost be a table at a harvest festival service. It is in fact what I unpacked onto the kitchen table after my weekly trip to Turre market on Friday. I did just arrange it bit, but doesn't it look beautiful?
The day before this, I had cleaned out the fridge (again!), so I had almost empty fruit and veg. drawers and wanted to stock up. None of this keeps everso well while it is hot, so it can be bought quite cheaply, and while I am keeping cooking to a minimum, we eat a lot more fresh fruit and vegetables too. There are so many different types of tomatoes available here, but we like the big plum ones, which slice and cook so well. I bought a bag of red peppers that had five huge ones in it, for 1€. We can't eat that many quickly enough so I shall lightly fry some and chop them up with tomatoes and onion, to freeze as a base for mince meals later in the year. The honey melons were two for 1€, as were the sandias (the pale green stripey ones that are almost seedless water melons). I chop those up and store them in a box in the fridge. It is so refreshing to grab a few chunks when you are thirsty. The big yellow peaches are 1€ for a Kg and I poach these in lemonade which gives them just enough sweetness, and they taste just like the ones we buy in tins. They are lovely with ice-cream, or in a crumble. I even got black seedless grapes which we don't see very often out here. They are top of my no-go list of fruits because of the amount of sugar in them, but Chris likes them, and I have a few at a time, instead of the bowlful which I would like. Notice I had to put the heart-shaped potato at the front of my display! It is true that our food bill is getting higher and higher. Anything with wheat in it is very costly, but with an abundance of such lovely fresh foods, we can keep our consumption of other things to a minimum, and keep fit and healthy at the same time. So it is a win-win situation. Aren't we lucky!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Memories are made of this!

I am having a nostalgic week. While rummaging through my desk one day, I found this cloth bound book that I bought from a street vendor in Bangkok. I used it to write a fairly detailed dairy each day during our three months of roving in E. Asia during 2008. I started to read it and the memories came flooding back. We had such an amazing adventure, and did many things we had never dreamed of doing, so it was a very special time. I couldn't put it down until I had read right to the end. Poor Chris had to wait for his dinner until nearly tea-time, but fortunately he is used to my erratic meal times. On my computer I have a file of around four thousand photos that we took on that trip, and it really is my intention to make them into a series of scrapbooks, probably one each for Thailand and Vietnam, and perhaps one for Cambodia and Laos together. I shall put a typed transcript of the relevant part of my diary inside the cover of each one, and then I will have an illustrated account to keep the memories alive. I just need a lot of time to organise it all, but reading my diary has made me want to get stuck in to the project.

In the meantime I have added some more pages to my project 365 album, where I print a photo for every day of the year. We are passed the half-way mark now and I am still in there, so hopefully I will make it to the end. I have actually added an extra page for May as one photo a day was not enough to show all the happy times we packed into our one week in UK. It was so good to have all the boys together again, along with their families. We stayed with three of them, and we saw all our grand children and our dear little great-grandson. Then we drove to nearby Chester and delivered my first consignment of jumpers and hats for Africa, spent time with old friends, and even fitted in a few trips to the shops in Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury, and, of course our home town of Oswestry. So I have taken photos of each of those events and randomly arranged them on an extra page, as well as the one each day on the 'proper May page'. I will put a picture of each double page here, (Click on them for a larger image),  but if you are interested in the actual making of the pages, please pop across to my craft blog by clicking here, where I have gone into more detail.

Our village fiesta has come to an end, so at least we can have the bedroom window open again tonight. I much prefer an open window and the fan on, to the aircon, but we were grateful for it the last few nights when the music was blasting out full volume until 7.00 each morning  and the windows had to stay firmy shut! We spent some time over on the plaza in the thick of it each evening except for Sunday, when we decided to have a night off. The 16th July is the actual patron saint's day of the village, so that is the last day of the celebrations.
 The final, main event is the open air mass at around 8.00 in the evening. The statue of Virgen del Carmen is carried to the plaza, the village choir provide the music, and the local priest takes the mass. I like to listen to his sermon to see how much I can understand. As part of the mass, all the villagers are invited to bring a floral offering and they all line up with anything from a single rose or a small posy, to a huge bouquet, and lay them around the statue and on a trestle set up along side her.
 At the end of the mass they take them away again, but I think many of them are then taken to the church and laid around the statue again. I think the priest said that the flowers might be in memory of someone, or to give thanks for something, or just a gift to 'the mother of heaven'. 
Many of the people who offer flowers, are dressed in traditional clothes, striped trousers, white shirt, red cumma-band and black hat for the men, and multi-coloured, many layered, frilled dresses for the women.The children are similarly dressed. Even baby girls in prams are lost in a mass of frills and lace.  I have made a new folder in my picasa gallery of the first night of the fiesta, which you can see by clicking here, but it may not be accessible for part of this evening as I am going to add a few photos from the other days after this.

Each evening of the fiesta there is a half hour demonstration of some kind of dancing. I always go across to watch the little school girls doing their flamenco. My friend's grand-daughter is one of the dancers. One night it was 'batuka' which turned out to be a sort of modern dance done by the teenagers. This was on the Sunday night so I didn't see it. But last night the programme said it would be traditional style from Equador so I had to go over for that. There are quite a few Equadorian families in the village, and although they are friendly, they tend to stay in their own group, and of course they have their own traditions. 
For their dancing I was expecting girls in black skirts with bands of bright colours on, white, embroidered 'gypsy' blouses and black hats. I couldn't have been more wrong! It turned out to be a dozen or so people, (they could have been a mixed group but we have a sneaky feeling that they were all men despite the buxom figures and 'tarty clothes' of some!), wearing rather grotesque masks that completely covered their heads, and a very odd mixture of clothing, just skipping up and down in lines a bit like a basic British country dance. They were ugly and in some cases quite scary for the children who were watching. During the second half, which was almost identical to the first half, they threw handfuls of sweets into the crowd and the children were torn between wanting to run and get some, but being afraid to get too close! It was quite bizarre, and I think most people were a bit non-plussed by it - the British certainly were. Standing behind them there were two of their children holding a Spanish flag and the flag of Equador, and one little tot dressed as a clown. I guess the South Americans are very into all things 'carnival' and their costumes reflected that. It was just so opposed to what we had been expecting, that it was a bit of a shock.

The one part of the fiesta which was rather fun to watch was the cintas and cinteras. This took place every afternoon, starting with the tiny tots the first day, up to the adults at the end. The girls and women, again dressed in lots of frills, with high combs and flowers in their hair, meet up at the town hall and all walk down to the plaza accompanied by the village band. Here they take their places on rows of seat provided. There is an adjustable wire fixed across the road holding a set of rollers, (short lengths of pipe). Round these, officers from the town hall wrap strips of coloured ribbon with a metal loop at the end.
The boys/men ride down the road on their bikes, little trikes for the tots, to motor bikes for the men, and they carry a stick which they use to try to catch one of the ribbons so it unfurls behind them. I only went to the youngest group this year but I saw the older ones last year and I think they had someone riding pillion to do the hooking of the ribbon. There are plenty of helpers on hand to make sure the little ones are successful, and once a boy has got his ribbon, a little girl who has been assigned to him, comes out and ties the ribbon around him like a sash. 
They then have their photo taken together, she gives him a present (provided by his mother at the town hall when she registered for him to take part), and he is supposed to give her a kiss! Needless to say not all the boys are up for this, and some of the tiny girls are not keen to hand over their gift either. i was talking to a Spanish friend while we were watching and she said 'This is all about the girls. It is very important for them'. It seemed to me the boys got the best bit - but maybe that was a lesson in life for Spanish girls!!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My, my. How time flies!

I can't believe it is nearly two weeks since my last post. I seem to be busy doing not very much, but the days fly past.

Barney, our extra dog, went home this afternoon. The girls will miss him for a bit, but they will soon settle into their usual routine. They are in for a difficult week now as, from tomorrow, we have our annual village fiesta. The dogs don't like this as at random times throughout the day and evening, there are loud rockets fired into the sky. Sometimes they signify the start of a race or a procession, but often there is no apparent reason. The dogs are terrified of loud noises, and nearly break the door down in an attempt to get inside, (even when we are sitting outside with them!).
For us, the fiesta is a time of mixed blessings. The music is very loud and goes on until around six or seven in the morning. We are especially affected by the youngsters' disco that is immediately behind us, across the green zone. But fortunately we have aircon in the bedroom, so when we have had enough for the night, we put it on, close the windows, and usually manage to get a good night's sleep.

We actually love the atmosphere on fiesta days. For many of the village folk, this is their only holiday, so they dress up, and wander the streets, buying bits and pieces from the market stalls, and in particular they like to dance. The main plaza has bars set up all around it, and from early evening until the next morning, they have a steady stream of customers buying wines and beers, and enjoying a free tapa with each one. Despite the continuous sale of alcohol, you rarely see anyone the worse for drink, and it is just lovely to see them all having such a good time. There is a big stage built in the centre of the plaza, and every evening there is a succession of singers and dancers from local schools and dance troupes. They do everything from modern disco dancing, to the most traditional flamenco, and we usually sit around and watch them each evening. They finish around 11.00 and then the modern 'pop' orchestra and dancers start, and they just keep going all night.
On the last day, there is a big open air mass for the Virgen del Carmen, our village patron saint in whose honour the fiesta is held.

The first fair ground ride to arrive is the bumper cars. We knew they were on their way when a digger spent hours leveling out the land behind our house. Then we had a day of hammering and clanging, and soon the stand was up. They opened for business last weekend, but fortunately they only operate from 9.30 in the evening and stop dead at midnight. For the fiesta, they too will operate at least until the early hours of the next morning. Several other fair ground rides were being erected as I drove out of the village this morning, so from now until next Tuesday, many of the roads will be closed to vehicles, and we will have to drive up to the top of the village if we want to escape! No doubt I will be posting more about the fiesta after the event.

On Wednesday evening of last week, we went up to our friends, John and Eileen's house, to help celebrate John's birthday. As usual, they had invited a few English, but mainly Spanish friends, so I had a good chance to practice speaking in Spanish. I am getting a bit better at it, but I still need to improve my range of vocabulary. But I didn't find myself asking Eileen to translate for me as often as I used to. 
Their house is at the top of the village. It has no real garden, but there is a small courtyard on the ground floor, and several small roof terraces. These are often too hot to make use of in the summer, but in the evening they are lovely, and there is a wide view all along the side of the village to Mojacar in the distance. Of course I took a photo or two. We had a lovely time with them, and I am pleased to feel that we are beginning to  make some Spanish friends in the village.

Last weekend I drove up to my friend Donna's house and together we packed a big box full of jumpers and hats for our 'Fish and chip babies of Africa' project. I am still overwhelmed by the response I have had to my initial request for some help, and this time we packed up two hundred and three sets of jumpers and beanie hats. We spread them out on a table in Donna's garden and they looked so bright and colourful. We were quite sad to see them go. 
A kind man from Arboleas offered to take them to UK for us free of charge, and as he was making a delivery in Birmingham, I arranged for him to hand them over to Ben. Ben will then drive over to Chester with them to give them to the same lady that I hand-delivered the first sixty sets to when I was over there in May. She will pass them on to the group who are dispatching them to Africa. Unfortunately they are taking the last consignment in September, but I have lots of folk out here who want to continue knitting, so I am busy trying to find a new outlet for them. I already have another dozen sets ready to go. Aren't people amazingly generous and kind?!

Yesterday we had fun sitting watching the birds at the back of us. Each morning we wake up to the chattering of the sparrows who nest all along the eaves of the house next door. Their second brood of babies are just fledged, and they make quite a noise between them. Often they are joined by the swifts who duck and dive, and screech as they fly, but by mid morning they have usually all gone to seek shade and a restful perch. But yesterday, at around lunch time, there was a load of commotion and we saw a huge flock of swifts getting very excited. We couldn't see what it was all about, but usually it means that a nest of flying ants have risen all together, and the swifts see this as a mobile feast. They stayed around for about half an hour and then disappeared again. I guess that is keeping the balance of nature right!

I told you recently that some relatives of Chris' who he hadn't met for fifty years, came to spend a couple of days with us. This week Tony posted this photo to us. What do you think? We took one look and said 'Steptoe (Chris' dad, Sam) and Aurthur Dayley (Sam's mate Harry)'! I have actually got very few photos of the Perry side of the family, so this is a welcome addition to my little collection. I am glad I have a photo of their Grandad to show the boys. They were around two, four and six years old when he died, so have few memories of him.