Friday, 30 November 2007

Daily life in Antequera

We've now been here for almost two months, and have spent the last month or so (since my mother left after a three-week visit) getting to grips with living in this town. The way of life here is very much to our liking; the weather, the culture, and the general 'vibe' are relaxed, attractive, kindly and very alluring.

And yes, it's different to home. For a start this town is very 'churched'. Apparently one of the first places to despatch the Moors back over the Straits of Gibralter to Africa, Antequera responded by building churches a plenty to reinforce the point. We have around 24 I think, plus seven convents. This leads into the next famed activity - Antequeran sweets (or dulces). The nuns have made them for centuries as a way of earning money, and now the town is littered with shops selling mollettes, bienmesabe, and all kinds of delicious and ultimately fattening goodies.

A local panaderia with a window full of turron, mantecadas and other things on the top of the food pyramid.

Cuesta Real has a church (and a bar) at each end. San Juan is first off the mark with its church bells, which start chiming at 8am and then half-hourly till midnight. Shortly afterwards, though not in sync, is Santa Maria at the top of the hill. It's particularly noisy on Sundays, and I'm just wondering how Easter (or Semana Santa, literally 'holy week') in this part of the world will be - the event is apparently huge here.

Looking down the hill to San Juan's - one of our bell ringing neighbourhood churches. The silver car is parked outside our place.

There has already been one procession, honouring Nuestra Senora del Rosario, where a statue from one of the churches is paraded around the streets (no mean feat given the hills and cobblestones), accompanied by a band and the congregation. All very picturesque, colourful, and again, quite unlike you'll see in Wellington.

The faithful carrying around this beautiful statue one Sunday morning.

There are many things the Spanish do very well - I like the way the roundabouts are planted with olive trees, and the public gardens and streets have rows of orange trees, currently in full fruit. We get home-delivered bread from a local baker every day or two, potatoes and newspapers come direct and our empty gas bottles (which we rely on for cooking and heating the water) are picked up and replaced with full ones by a man who drives around the streets looking for bright orange bottles left on front door steps. On a more mundane note, collecting the rubbish is an art form. There are two bins across the road from our house, one for recycling and the other for general rubbish. The service is brilliant; they are emptied every evening, at midnight! It means that rubbish is easy to dispose of and never gets manky in the bin outside the back door, but the midnight collection - a noisy affair, which takes place just outside our bedroom window - took a bit to get used to. We have decided that if we just do things two hours later than we would have at home, we will be just about right. So that's breakfast at 10, lunch at 3, and dinner at 9; we're still on the early side for most things, but it's a start.

Orange trees line the main street of town, sadly the fruit seems to be ruined by bird poo, rather than eaten.

There are a few chicas in the street who find it amusing to chat with us. My offer to give free English lessons at the local community centre has yet to be formalised, but in the meantime they gather on the wall across the road most evenings for a few words. I'm sure I'll learn a lot from them if nothing else.

Our daily routines are slowly coming together. Not having a car means most days we go into the town (a few minutes walk from the house) to buy groceries and have coffee. Mercadona has become our favourite supermarket, and Cafe del Centro one of our favourite cafes.

Mercadona, on Antequera's main street, Infante Don Fernando, stocks a good range of beers and other life staples, and also has nifty trolley/baskets on wheels.

Max expertly ordering a couple of cafe con leches, in Cafe del Centro, one of Antequera's oldest cafes which not only boasts 34 varieties of hot chocolate, but also free wifi.

We have Spanish classes three evenings a week - on Mondays Paco teaches us at the immigrants centre, and on Wednesday and Thursdays it's down to the Red Cross where Belen & Jose Antonio take turns with us. We are joined in these classes by people from France, Brazil, Romania, Morocco and Sao Tome and Principe. An international group indeed - and on Friday morning we go to the Evangelical Church where Paco takes us again, together with some other English-speakers who are church attendees. Along with our own studies, and some help from a great internet site called (a tip for those of you contemplating a visit), and of course our deep immersion, we are both making progress. But it is not easy - some days I understand nearly everything, and others almost nothing. Even our teachers don't always agree about how to pronounce things, and there's the speed, the dropping off of endings and colloquialisms to cope with too. Not for the first time, I find myself admiring greatly anyone who can converse easily and effectively in more than one language. These classes are all free, part of the local council's eforts to integrate migrants into the community (on the premise I suspect that we are all here legally!).

We have taken to going to Casa Diego to watch the European football; even though we're in the heart of Andalucia, Sevilla is not the team of choice. Real Madrid has a strong following here, and Barcelona would be the next favoured team. The bar is small, homely and family-run, and also very reasonably priced! We stumbled upon it when we were staying at the Reyes, and Diego is so kind we have made it one of our regulars. It's a great place to drop into for a glass of wine and a bowl of olives after Spanish class, and the tapas are really good there too. Diego is very encouraging of our efforts to speak the language, talking slowly and loudly for us, much to the amusement of his other more authentic locals.

Diego, Senora Diego, and Dani, their son - the place is lovely, but everything is done at a very Spanish pace so it's best not to be in a hurry.

Thursday nights we head to Manolo Bar. It's been around since 1950 and on Thursdays they have live music, or, disconcertingly, stand up comedy, which we haven't dared go to. Things hot up around 11pm, so to fill in some time between Spanish class (for Max) and yoga class (for me) we usually go to Diego's for tapas. Yoga classes are relatively new, another activity organised by the very busy Antequera council. It's amazing how similar they are to classes at home - the same sorts of people, the same sorts of asanas, except that our venue is a dance hall which means there are a large number of mirrors, something I'm not used to. Maria is also a bit of a worry - she comes to class with her text book, which she studies and reads out bits of to us. I've learned lots of body parts going to these classes, and after a couple of weeks am starting to chat to a few people which is nice. Meditating has never been my strong point, and it's even more challenging with Maria murmuring soothing mantras to us, which I of course am furiously trying to translate while 'thinking of nothing', yeah right!

We don't know Manolo's barman/owner's name, but his brother runs the Cafe del Centro, and last time we were there he shouted our coffees, so we like him a lot. Again, his wife works in the kitchen, you can just see her in the background, and another brother works alongside him in the bar.

There are lots of small family-run businesses here in town, the likes of which have long since disappeared in cities at home. We use a small electrical shop to buy batteries, bulbs and various cables, a small computer shop where the owner insists on taking turns to speak to us in English or Spanish so we can all learn, and the town is full of little haberdashery, stationery, textile and furnishing shops, not to mention jewellers, bakeries, cafes and bars. The small business model is alive and well here in Antequera.

Max has joined one of the local cycle clubs, and now spends hours a week out on his road bike, training for the Tour de France etape which he'll be riding next July. We found the club as they put up notices around town about a talk a couple of Friday nights ago - the talk, to be given by a doctor on the topic of "Cycling and sex: myth and reality" attracted a large crowd of middle aged cyclistas (all men), and me - acting as translator for Max. It was really quite odd, I was trying to be a grown up and not giggle, but it was hard, specially as I was having to repeat what I was listening to for Max's benefit. The doctor went on for at least 20 minutes about psychological problems, the importance of physical and mental wellbeing, benefits of having a good relationship, etc, etc, before finally getting to the point, which was "will sitting on a cycle wearing tight lycra shorts for hours a week mean I may have problems with impotency??" Finally someone stood up, hand on crotch, and asked the question on everyone's mind. Not quite sure whether the answer was "si" or "no", it didn't seem that straightforward.
Afterwards, it was explained to us that there are younger members of the club, but they hadn't turned up to the talk as this stuff didn't apply to them...We'll see if he was just pulling my leg as we are off to the end of season prizegiving this Saturday. In a typically relaxed Spanish way, you can only buy tickets on Thursday or Friday for a function on Saturday. How they know how many will turn up and how they will have time to arrange catering I don't know. Max reckons the same people go every year, and we will probably throw them out terribly. I'm looking forward to it as it will be our first formal function, for quite a while really!

Monday, 26 November 2007

The first few weeks in Spain

Somehow or other, we quickly shook off the trials and tribulations of Africa on the Egyptair flight to Madrid. Easy to do among the crowd of Spanish holidaymakers returning home after their fortnight´s break. As arranged, Max´s brother Brian met us at the airport and drove us to their apartment in the township of Majadahonda, less than 20km from downtown Madrid. It was great to catch up with the family and we spent the weekend enjoying the company of our nephews, and sister-in-law Sally. Brian and the boys raced various options in the Majadahonda fiesta miles, Brian getting third place and a sparkling new trophy to add to the family collection. If we hadn´t realised living in Spain was going to mean a different kind of life, we did after these events. Brian´s race was run at a more or less reasonable 7pm on Saturday evening. Reece, who is 8, got to run around 8pm and Aidan who is only 6 had to wait till 8.30pm for his event. Somehow I can´t see harrier races at such times being a hit in NZ. But it was a lovely evening, and nice to enjoy a tapas supper outside afterwards. Sunday lunchtime we rejoined the festivities, and sampled paella and a bottle of local wine in the town square while taking turns to queue with the boys at various jumping castles. A very gentle and pleasant introduction to our new home.

Monday morning we were up early and off on the local train to Madrid´s rail hub Atocha and then to Antequera - our Andalucian town of choice. We arrived incident free and on time round noon, and taxied into town and into the pension we´d booked online. They met us with "estamos completo", but no matter, they´d rebooked us across the road at the Hotel Castilla - all fine with us. The Castilla was a nice place and very friendly. But better than that Antequera, even at first glance, seemed to meet all our requirements. Firstly, it was gorgeous. Lovely buildings, squares,, fountains, statues, churches and even a castle on the hill. Secondly, there were lots of eating and drinking options. Thirdly, we saw a few joggers and cyclists out and about in the nearby olive-clad country lanes. Fourthly, the shopping looked really really good (this could be because I´ve been away from shops for a bit too long...). And finally there were lots of real estate agents. We strolled into Carlos´office to see what he had available. There were a couple of likely options and we arranged to meet him again at 11am the next morning. Meanwhile, we popped into another agency we´d found online - run by a family originally from Woolangong! In spite of that, we checked out the flat upstairs they were trying to let. It was interesting to see, and in a brilliant location, but not really a very good set up and a bit dark and dingy - in a classic European kind of way you understand.

Near the Plaza San Sebastian, with a view of the castle on the hill, and a nearby fountain (there are lots of these here).

Typical Antequeran streets - narrow, steep, with old folks and scooters (we have plenty of both here).

One of the town's 20+ churches.

The Plaza Castille, with town gate and bullring in the background.

A view of the Anjelote, a windvane on the spire of San Sebastian - apparently with a vial containing the bones of Santa Euphemia (one of Antequera's several saints) somewhere on him.

A church that's been converted into a museum (we can spare a couple) - the Roman baths are just beneath El Colegio, and it's recently hosted a baroque exhibition, which is now touring the province.

On Tuesday morning Carlos took us out to the ´burbs of Antequera to a four storey but small-roomed townhouse, unfurnished - which over here translates as no light fittings, no stove, no hot water heating and no kitchen benches. A bit too bare for our liking. He then took us to meet an English couple who had registered their house just after we´d been in to see him yesterday. It was perfect, well better than that really. I mean, I´d hoped to get two bedrooms so we could easily host guests (and secretly I´d hoped to have either Diego Ponce or Bastardos as an address - two of Antequera´s better named streets), but I never thought that I´d end up with two kitchens, one being a full ´summer´ kitchen outdoors, and a ¨Royal¨street. The house is fully furnished too as it´s been a holiday home, and has three bedrooms, two small living rooms and a large one, three bathrooms, a lovely courtyard garden and a garage also. And it´s quite affordable too - only 500€ a month. They are leaving TVs, DVD players, furniture, kitchen equipment, linen and lamps and the outdoor furniture for us. Lucky, lucky, lucky. We had hoped to sign the contract on Wednesday, but they need a couple of days to do the inventory, so we agreed to sign it on Monday, when we are back in town.

Our home for the next few months, Cuesta Real 38, complete with Spanish-style electric wiring across the front, redeemed by the castle reflected in the window.

A couple of shots of the back garden, or patio.

We decided to check out a little bit of Spain, and made our way to Cadiz on Thursday, a lovely old town on the Atlantic coast, and just a couple of bus rides away from Antequera. It´s a lot bigger than Antequera and we enjoyed a couple of days wandering the city streets, swimming in the bay and learning a little of the history of this town which has Roman and Moorish roots and the usual stunning array of charming squares, narrow picturesque streets and churches whenever you turn around.

We found a good bookshop on our first day here (something that so far we haven´t discovered in Antequera), and also picked up a programme for Cadiz´s film festival. I´ve been hearing from those of you in Wellington about this year´s festival there, but here we caught Jonathon Demme´s production of Neil Young´s ´Heart of Gold´. The organisers were only charging 2€ a ticket, and had optimistically laid out a few hundred plastic chairs for the outdoor screening. At least half of them were filled with latter day hippies and film buffs by 9.30 and we really enjoyed the movie for around an hour before the thunder and lightning storm that had been theatrically rolling around turned into a downpour. There was room for us all to shelter under an awning and continue watching till the end, but I felt a bit sorry for the follow up act. Felix Slim (who Max christened Happy Skinny) was a local blues guitarist who could really play but whose singing was a kind of whiney half Spanish half English. Robbed of the atmospheric outdoors by the rain, he struggled a little in the bland indoor venue and after a few minutes we quietly left and wandered back to our pension slipping and sliding on wet cobblestones.

After a few more days in Antequera, this time at the somewhat more budget-oriented Hostal Reyes, and with a signed 10 month lease in our hands, we headed back to the coast thinking to enjoy it while the weather is so good. Malaga was our destination this time, and in spite of its dreadful reputation, we had a good time. Have to admit that we spent quite a bit of time shopping. Our Africa travel clothes are looking a little worn, and our shipped goods won´t be with us till next week so we have splashed out on a couple of new outfits each and, wonder of wonders, some new underwear. We feel a million Euros now!

So it was back to Antequera, and into Cuesta Real. It's going to be lovely living here, and you'll see why when you see the pics of the house. We moved in on 2 October, and on the fourth my mother and sister arrived. Unfortunately our shipped goods weren't released from Customs until about October 15, and weren't delivered to us until the 22nd, after going astray for a few days. In the meantime though, we visited Ronda, Granada and Cordoba with Mum - saw all the sights including our first flamenco show. I took Mum back to London, and spent a few days there before arriving back here at the end of October. Finally it felt like we were settling in, after months of constantly being on the move.

The living room - we get BBC and ITV plus a few news channels on the tele, and have yet to work out how to get the local Spanish channels. We have been given the name of a neighbour, Pepe Huertes, who apparently can help.

The office, relocated hub of O'Kane enterprises, and working well now we have broadband, a printer/scanner and the laptop all humming.

The view from the upstairs terrace - olive groves, ponies and the countryside.

Andalucia feels like 'real' Spain, full of flamenco, football and bullfighting - hence the fridge theme. Incidentally, the fridge is full of jamon Iberico, cheese made with a mixture of cow, sheep and goat milk, and Cruzcampo beer.