We arrived back once more in Mojacar and rediscovered a social life. Rather exhausting, a social life. We went to a closing party and belly dancing display which all sounded rather exciting. Luckily, we managed to get a table which was reserved, but not for us! Fortunately, they didn’t turn up.
It was on the beach and for me sitting right next to the sea eating and drinking something yummy seemed just about right. We were all hungry, but food needed to be pre ordered, yesterday, so crisps had to do, but looked longingly at the curry and rice and feasted on the smell.
A Moroccan looking girl arrived with her hair piled on top, she was very pretty and slim. A bit later on she came out with a gold cloak, which she threw off and started to belly dance. Her hair was now loose and she looked splendid. She had a few props, and the finale was a candelabra on her head with lit candles. Luckily, she kept her head still as no one was following her around with a fire extinguisher, or a wet towel. We followed her outside. There was a rather large man jumping next to me. Unfortunately, he jumped into me, knocked me over and instead of everyone being interested in the belly dancer, they were all looking at ME, and luckily my belly wasn’t on view. Got up quick and said I was fine. Somehow, G got me into the car. We looked at the damage, cut knee and damaged toes, all already starting to bruise. Lesson to be learned. Stay away from drunk jumpy men on holiday.
Knee on the mend now with no lasting damage, other than to my dignity. Quite like having a black knee and foot. Quite stylish. Am sure people who saw me fall over thought I was drunk though.
Sorry to have been so dilatory about adding to the blog over the past two or three weeks. We’ve been busy, travelling, meeting old friends, etc, but that’s no excuse for tardiness. Even so, we’re back now. Less than four weeks ago our blog passed the ten thousand ‘unique readers’ milestone and yesterday it passed the eleven thousand mark! Still no news regarding that prestigious blog of the year nomination, but over 11,000 readers, so far, is quite some achievement on its own.
Browsing magazines in a hotel lobby, I came across this passage recently when we were travelling through France on our way to Spain : ‘A paradigm is a gestalt constellation of beliefs, values and techniques shared by a community which creates preconceived assumptions.’
Leaving aside my (very considerable) irritation at the convoluted phrasing and a doomed to be unrequited urge to throw the remains of my drink over the writer of this pretentious twaddle, it served to remind me of a man we met on our travels, some years ago now, in Australia.
Jean-Pierre, or JP as he liked to be called, was a middle aged ‘surfer dude’ – his description, not mine – who somehow attached himself to us almost as soon as we reached Sydney. We’d decided we’d see more of Australia if we flew into different cities, stayed in hotels and hired cars to tour around than if we went down the camper van route. New Zealand would be explored in a van, but Australia is dauntingly big.
Sydney is not the capital of Australia, but acts as if it is. It’s big, brash and exciting, but Marigold took against it from the very start so that was Sydney marked down for no more than a week’s stay, at most! Not sure now what it was in particular, but Marigold doesn’t take long making up her mind whether she likes a place or not and Sydney was doomed after the second day. Unknowingly, we arrived there in the middle of the Gay Pride festivities and our hotel was in Oxford Street, the epicentre of Sydney’s gay scene. JP was wearing a wedding dress, a substantial beard and bright red Doc Martin boots when we met him in the hotel lift and turned out to be staying in the room next to our own. It was quite late, our first night in the city, and we probably looked a little weary. JP looked in imminent need of an undertaker! He assured us he was fine and, somehow, staggered into his room.
The next morning, at breakfast, JP arrived at our table, sat down and introduced himself. He told us he was 33, (he looked at least 45), had left his wife in Quebec five years ago – after telling her he was going away for a week or two - and had been travelling the world ever since. He had exchanged the wedding dress for a belly dancer costume, bright red, and the boots had now been replaced by flip flops. Only in Oxford Street, Sydney, does the appearance in a dining room of a large bearded man wearing a skimpy belly dancing costume pass almost unnoticed.
It proved impossible to have a conversation with JP without it denigrating into chaos due to his predilection for rambling off at inappropriate and seemingly random tangents. He used the word ‘gestalt’ frequently, each time saying it was a word without a direct equivalent in English, which is true. Gestalt is one of those words I’d occasionally written, but until then never heard spoken. It describes an organised entity that adds up to more than its constituent parts and I said something along these lines when JP badgered me for a description. A football team, for example, I said, playing as a collective unit will usually beat opponents with individual talents, even when the individuals concerned are better players.
JP threw a tantrum and proceeded to supply his own, almost identical, definition of the word. When he finished speaking Marigold said, ‘isn’t that the same?’
‘Mine is better,’ he said. ‘We will go to Manley, on the ferry today. Don’t bother going to Bondi Beach. Manley is better.’
An hour later, worn down by our new ‘friend’s persistence, we were on the ferry to Manley, still listening to JP spouting nonsense. In fairness, he was right about Manley. Much ‘better’ than Bondi Beach. He followed us around for three days. In the end, at Marigold’s insistence. we moved hotels. The very next morning Marigold said, ‘I miss JP.’
Our route to Spain, through France, has been both problematic and enjoyable. We were forced to divert from our planned route due to what a road sign termed ‘a major security incident,’ which added many hours to the journey and monumental traffic jams. As for the ‘incident,’ we saw nothing about it on the news that night or the next morning.
The enjoyment came from visiting an old friend. Old friend in every sense. When we first met Claude it was in his office in the centre of the village we’d just moved into. A French Mayor is an important person and he would be responsible for many decisions regarding the renovations we had planned for the house. Claude spoke no English, wore a shabby brown suit and wellington boots liberally spattered with evidence he was a farmer as well as the mayor and immediately made us feel welcome in ‘his’ village.
We were expected and Claude, long since retired from Mayoral duties but not from farming, had made lavish preparations. The sun was setting over Mount Canigou, the sacred symbol of Catalonia, which dominates the village and serves to mark the border between France and Spain.
Dinner that night was one of those occasions that I’ll remember forever. I lost count of the courses, the wine flowed endlessly and all had a spectacular time. Claude had invited several of his neighbours for the grand reunion with ‘Les Anglais’ and the festivities continued until the early hours. It had been eighteen years since we’d left the village – moving down to Spain for fresh vistas and the challenge of a ruined finca overlooking the Mediterranean to renovate – but the years of absence were washed away on a sea of conviviality.
The next day being Sunday, we watched the village hunters assemble for la chasse, essential equipment being a dog, a hat, a gun and enough ammunition to fight a war. Headgear varied from cowboy-style Stetsons to leather helmets with dangling earflaps, no two being the same.
This was even more the case with the astonishing variety of canine magnificence on display. We noted a few ‘proper’ hounds, a feisty and cantankerous Jack Russell Terrier, but also a pampered-looking poodle and many others sans race whose only common feature was their complete unsuitability as hunting animals. Complete bedlam reigned as the dogs barked, urinated and fornicated with impunity, their proud owners engrossed in hand-shaking, back-slapping, smoking and, inevitably, taking frequent pulls on the essential flasks and bottles. We’d managed to avoid participation by pleading tiredness after our long journey through France. As animal lovers, hunting holds no appeal, but having lived in the depths of the countryside, in England, France and elsewhere, we defend its continued existence stoutly.
A single thrush attracted a colossal fusillade of ragged gunfire, the noise was deafening, accompanied by clouds of smoke, all to no avail as the terrified creature winged its way to safety through the trees. Great excitement ensued with much boasting and hearty camaraderie. The inability to hit the target appeared immaterial and would set the tone for the rest of the day.
When we met up with them again at lunchtime, taken precisely at noon, a single rabbit was the only evidence of success. Many of the dogs had failed to return with their owners, their excited yelps being heard in the distance as they chased shadows and fought imaginary enemies.
Lunch had been anticipated and was to be confirmed as the highlight of the day. A good hunt obviously called for a special picnic. A Frenchman adores le picnic. The French version bears no relation to the cucumber sandwich and thermos flask variety so familiar to the British. A French picnic is a true feast with each person trying to outdo their friends in the variety and scope of provisions.
Prior to 1789, hunting in France, as in England, was reserved for the nobility. The owners of grand Chateaux arranged their lands around the pleasures of la chasse. Most had pigeonniers or dovecotes, providing homes for thousands of pigeons, all destined for eventual extermination in the great hunts, and, eventually, for the immense kitchens of the chateau. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, la chasse became a classless sport, albeit with the proviso that only the edible are at serious risk. This seems to cover most species, as far as I can see, but unlike fox hunting back in England, here at least most of the resultant bag goes in the pot.
Game has been scarce around here in recent years, unsurprisingly, but wild boar are becoming a menace once more and there remain enough reasons to justify the excitement as hunting season arrives in the autumn. Claude, our host and the most prominent viticulteur in the area is president of the hunt and very proud of the combined skills of his troops. Last season they shot several wild boar, two deer and half a dozen foxes. I made the mistake, cursed once again by my ingrained British politeness, of admiring the stuffed and mounted fox which took pride of place in his lounge. Apparently, I was a little too fulsome in my admiration, as he promised me a similar trophy next time I’m passing through. The stuffing and mounting will amount to a mere 250 euros, trés résonable, non? I’m sure it’s the bargain of the century, but now had the problem of explaining why I must decline this kind offer. Where will we find room to mount a fox? Not that I want the stuffed remains of the unfortunate creature anywhere near me. Oh well, a hard lesson learned. In future, I’ll reserve my praise and admiration for his wine; I’ll gladly take any amount of that.
Hunting in this area is only ‘allowed’ on Tuesdays and Sundays, seemingly honoured more in the breach than the observance and most serious hunters belong to clubs and associations who have areas reserved for them. In exchange for payment of a club subscription the chances of finding game are vastly increased. The clubs finance the rearing of pheasant and similar game birds which are ‘farmed’, reared from young chicks in the same way as the gamekeepers of an English, or Scottish, estate rear young birds for the hunt. There are several of these large netted farms nearby. The unfortunate creatures, virtually tame and with no fear of humans, fly trustingly towards the massed ranks of hunters and their eventual doom. Oh well, not my idea of an ideal way to spend an October morning, but in this company I keep my opinions to myself.
We’d brought our own contribution to the fare – including a few items sourced from Marks and Spencer so not exactly food from the surrounding area - and ate delicious food, washed down with wine from bottles that bear no labels, all made from local grapes, and were reminded once again of the pleasures of living in France. Even though I’m far less fluent in the language than I used to be, this proved no barrier. We ate, drank, roared with laughter in most convivial company and were transported back almost twenty years to the last time we’d shared a meal with these delightful people. It may be a cliché, but it really did feel like yesterday.
On our second evening in Spain we went to the ‘last evening of the summer season’ at a local beach bar. The resident singer was Clive Sarsted, (his better known brother Peter died recently), a swing band and… a belly dancer. She didn’t even remotely resemble JP, fortunately for her and the audience.
We saw a young girl, tattooed and wearing Moroccan clothing, on our way in and both said, ‘she looks interesting.’ Her boyfriend/partner/manager/whatever was even more interesting, like a young Errol Flynn. The swing band were a hardworking group of fine musicians, Clive Sarsted gave us ‘where do you go to, my lovely’ and much more while the young Moroccan girl we’d noted earlier swivelled her hips furiously, gyrating and whirling with great abandon despite the meagre floor space available, while balancing an array of objects on her head including a curved sword and a lit candelabra. A very odd way to earn a living, we decided.
When she moved outside to dance with flaming torches, a man who’d perhaps had a few too many beers managed to trip up Marigold and she was black and blue the next day. Turns out belly dancing with naked flames is a lot safer than being a spectator.
The swing band were brilliant, as befitting a group of gypsy musicians from Granada. We’ve been lucky enough to have enjoyed concerts in the caves set into the hills opposite the Alhambra Palace and marvelled at the prowess of the players. Forget any notion of itinerant vagabonds; these are a proud people with a long and distinguished lineage and that heritage is a valued aspect of life in Granada.
The previous evening was spent in a sea front bar eating a three course meal accompanied by a group of strolling players performing a theatrical extravaganza and regarding this I can safely say I enjoyed the performance enormously, for all the wrong reasons.
We’ve also been to an afternoon session featuring a group of ukulele players who were rather good and not at all what we were expecting. More rock ‘n roll than George Formby, that’s for sure.