ciento volando

travel, stories, and other flights of fancy

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between worlds (a pictureless post)

Recently arrived “home”, from another trip home home… and that pretty much sums up life right now.

I’ve also just written, and discarded, an embarrassingly long winded, nonsensical stream of nostalgia, which was open to various angles of misinterpretation, about the (sigh) trials and tribulations of being an ex-pat Melbournite trying to reconcile a semi bohemian existence in financially critical Spain with the expense of a café latte on her home turf…

Blame it on jet-lag (or more likely, some kind of emotional come-down), but the post had the working title Corazón partido, a telling indicator of the melodramatic tone and direction it was taking. Mercifully I trashed the thing, after a much needed head-clearing run (on a crisp winter’s day in Madrid’s Retiro Park).

Now I’m left with nothing but the lingering, nagging sensation that I should still be writing something about my multiple trips to Australia in 2014…they were a big deal for me.

In January last year I did post about my first Return to Oz, summarizing my impressions of Australia after being such a long time away. Although I have no further quirky observations to add to this entry, my most recent visit home was still quite thought provoking.

I primarily went back for two important weddings, or, as I saw them, massive reunions of all my (no longer) nearest (but nonetheless) dearest family and friends.

Although I grumbled about the flights and the timing, I have to say, the time at home was good for me, and I’m glad to have been there not just for the weddings, but for the beginning, middle and end of what was an epic (and exhausting) year for many. It never ceases to amaze me how complicated, dramatic, heartbreaking, hilarious, inspiring, and tough everyday life can be… even in cushy middle-class-first-world-lucky-country-inner-city Melbourne. It felt like there were reality checks coming at me from every direction, and I’ve subsequently come back to Spain feeling quite “recalibrated”.

This time, rather than going out for breakfastcoffeelunchcoffeedrinksanddinner in a desperate attempt to catch up with everyone I’ve ever known (like the first trip at the beginning of 2014), I was able to spend a bit more time just hanging out (ok, geeking out) with my closest friends. I’d forgotten how nice this is… I’d love to move home at some point and do more of it.

However, it seems I’ve shot myself in the foot in terms of work options, as both my chosen career paths (teaching ESL, and writing) are, for the moment, unviable in Australia. This means that for the next little while, doing what I love doing will be keeping me away from the people I love most. Which sucks.

So anyway, this was the second time I’ve said goodbye with no idea of when I’ll next be going home. The first time was at the beginning of an exciting new chapter. Three and a half years ago I left on a one way ticket to two months travelling Europe in summer, an eight month work contract in a remote village of southern Spain, and who knows what next but it was bound to be an adventure. This time, leaving Melbourne airport, that feeling of adventure was gone. I don’t know when I’ll see my family again, but I do know what homesickness feels like and that it’s inevitable, that it’s going to be a long winter, and that I need to work harder than ever this year.

That’s not to say I’m not excited and I can’t have any fun. Coming back to Spain is not such a hard task; life here, in general, agrees with me. I have unfinished business in the capital, and a lot to look forward to  But while the memory of Australia is so fresh and close, I acutely feel what I’m missing out on, and (at the risk of sounding conceited) that some people are missing me.

All this leads to one conclusion; that I’d better make it worth it.

Bring on 2015!!!


SEGOVIA… so far, so good.

I haven't yet taken my own snaps of the city, I found this beautiful photo on a tourism website. Click here to follow link.

After moving here less than a week ago, it’s probably a bit early to be writing a comprehensive review of my new city, but it’s also way too soon for me to be falling off the regular blogging bandwagon. So here’s a little progress report on how, touch wood, everything seems to be magically coming together.

The move was last Sunday. Despite my best attempts at bribery and catchy facebook advertising, there was nobody available to chauffeur me and my belongings from South to Central Spain, so I made the journey by bus bus taxi and bus. Thanks to a last minute brainwave, I posted the bulk of my luggage on ahead, which turned out to be a cheap and efficient option. Much smarter than struggling with multiple bags on public transport… gold star for me.

I arrived in Segovia quite late in the evening, thinking I was cutting it fine for an early start at my new job on Monday morning. But this was not the case. It appears that Andalusia is not the only part of Spain operating on plan tranquilo.

My boss (the bilingual coordinator at my high school) picked me up from the bus station, and a home cooked meal was waiting for me at her flat. She told me that we weren’t actually starting until Tuesday, when there would be a meeting with the English department to introduce us and sort out timetables. At said meeting it was decided that this week was just too chaotic for anyone to know how and when they wanted the language assistants to fit into their schedules, so it would be better for us to have another week off whilst they get themselves organised. We shrugged and said okay and wandered off, feeling a little lost. It’s not really the school’s fault, due to the crisis and funding cuts to education, things such as staff numbers and hours are still hanging in limbo even though the semester is supposed to have already started.

By ‘we’, I mean myself and the two other auxiliares at my school: a girl and a guy from opposite ends of the States. Needless to say, with an extra week before work starts, we’ve had plenty of bonding time. And they’re lovely. They live in an attic above the main plaza, have a healthy enthusiasm for red wine, I know we’re going to get along just fine :-)

Despite being a little disappointed about not being able to begin work straight away (I am so ready), it was a relief and a luxury to have plenty of time to get myself set up. Whilst house hunting I stayed with my new boss, her husband, and their (very) teenage daughter. They treated me to hearty (mostly home grown) vegetarian food, world music, and a comfortable (very ‘cosy’) space of my own. There was absolutely no pressure on me to find a place in a hurry, and thanks to their cooking, their company, and their bookshelves, I was almost tempted to stay with them for the rest of the course.

That was until I found my flat. After numerous phone calls and a couple of days traipsing back and forth across the city on foot (great for my orientation), I made a gut decision on Wednesday, and by Thursday I was comfortably settled in my new pad. Competition was tough, and I’m sure I’d have been content with any of the decent, reasonably priced apartments I visited, but I’m absolutely rapt with the one I eventually settled on (even if it is a whopping 20 euros per month over my budget). It’s got three bedrooms; the second belongs to a Spanish music teacher (female, and no points for guessing her name), and the third is still up for lease (any takers?). It’s spacious, bright, airy, and centrally located. The famous Roman Aqueduct of Segovia runs down our street, and I literally can’t leave the house without passing under its arches. To top it all off, my bedroom has a little balcony, soon to be filled with pot plants.

In addition to house hunting, there’s been all the regular ‘settling in’ business to attend to. Fortunately the tricky stuff, like bank accounts and visas, was taken care of last time round. Here it’s just a matter of minor details and creature comforts. I now have a library membership and a bus card (like Myki, but it works), which makes me feel like a proper citizen. I’ve done a lot of shopping for stuff like coat hangers, fry pans, and double adaptors (all of which I bought in Hinojosa, but had to leave behind). I’ve decided on my local, or rather, shortlisted it to two bars. One is al fresco and has free tapas (they’re not just a thing of the South), and the other, where I am now, has WiFi, free tapas, and the same name as my regular in Hinojosa, El Gato. It was meant to be. Both bars are in the same ‘apple’ (block) as my flat. So my after-hours timetable is filling up quite nicely. As for taking on private students; without even putting up a poster I’ve got four newbies and lessons have already started. Also, as the foreign language school is just next door, I decided to enrol myself in an intensive Spanish course. Hopefully eight hours a week, with someone actually correcting my errors, will be what is needed to tidy up my grammar and finally master that pesky subjunctive tense.

So going on first impressions, Segovia is looking to be a pretty great experience. Despite the warnings of my Andalusian friends, the people here are not the slightest bit ‘cold’ or ‘closed’. To the contrary. Everyone has been overwhelmingly welcoming, from the taxi driver on my very first visit (months ago), to my new colleagues and neighbours. And the city itself is absolutely preciosa. Although very small (only 70,000 people), it’s rich in history and wonderful old buildings. Rich like 85% dark chocolate, wrapped in gold. This morning, on the first of what I hope to be many runs, I saw colourful hot air balloons floating over the sun bathed Aqueduct and tiered city walls. Not only was it a stunning vista, but the crisp cool air, balloons, and greenery, reminded me of early morning runs in Princess Park, Melbourne.

Already I feel so at home.


Barcelona and back again

The overnight bus from Jaén to Barcelona took just over fourteen hours, and wasn’t the most pleasant of journeys. By no means was it uncomfortable (to the contrary, the seats were wonderfully squishy and of course I had plenty of leg room), it’s just that the length of the trip came as a rude surprise to me. I keep forgetting that Spain is very big for a European country. And since leaving Australia, I’ve clearly gotten weak in terms of long distance travel.

Fourteen hours. Which could have been less, I thought bitterly, if the journey wasn’t punctuated by so many unnecessary ‘rest stops’. These actually made ‘rest’ impossible, as it was compulsory to get off (and stay off) the bus during each stop, for anything from 20 minutes to 2 hours. Great for the circulation, terrible if you just want to sleep in one place.

Fourteen long, expensive hours, as my friend pointed out on my arrival. Why on earth didn’t I just fly? It would have been half the price!

Why didn’t I think of that? I guess I’m just not used to living within reach of an airport. Or thinking things through at all. But no matter, at least I could still book a cheap and breezy flight home.

Well, no. I just had to be a double nuff-nuff. As I was travelling inside Spain, I’d decided there was no reason to take my passport with me, and that my residency permit thingy would do. My expired residency permit, that is. The new one is waiting for me in the Segovia foreigner’s office. So without any valid form of I.D., booking tickets and negotiating airport security was a non-option. It was back on the bus to get home. If you include the leg from Jaén to Martos, my village, that’s over thirty hours travel there and back… all for three nights in a city I’d already been to.

As it turns out, the sleepless hours and precious euros were absolutely worth it.

To begin with, there was a surprise upside to the long and dreary bus time. No, I didn’t meet the man of my dreams (he was probably on the aeroplane, sitting next to where I should have been), but… Serendipitously (how I love that word), it turns out that the book I’d downloaded for the journey, La Sombra del Viento, is set in Barcelona. How perfect! I had no idea, I’d just wanted to read it because it’s the first in a very popular Spanish trilogy, which all have evocative titles, and are based around a mysterious cemetery for forgotten books. But for the novel to be set in the city where I was headed, and, as it turns out, to be full of history, suspense, romance, action, and gothic style magic realism, well that absolutely made my journey. En route to Barcelona, I was already there, and about 60 years ago at that.

Luxury reading time and gourmet picnic dinner aside (I’m over crusty bocadillos from roadside cafeterias, now I travel with an arsenal of fancy sandwiches, fresh fruit, and 85% cocoa ‘emergency’ chocolate),  it was a relief to finally arrive, in person, at my destination. If somewhat groggy and sleep deprived.

I’d been to Barcelona about five years ago with a friend from high school, and we both took an instant liking to it. We spent three or four magical days there, walking up and down La Rambla, taking a bus tour, queuing for ages to get inside the Sagrada Cathedral, going to giant nightclubs, getting lost, eating gelati, drinking sangria, and falling completely in love with the city. We knew it wasn’t the last time we’d be there, but the first in what we imagined would be numerous visits throughout our hopefully long and successful lives.
And finally, there I was again.

The best thing about having been somewhere before is that the sense of urgency is gone. Hopefully, you’ll have seen the big ticket attractions already, which leaves room to pick and choose. To revisit what you loved the first time, and to catch what you missed. Everything is easier – the metro is familiar, you know where to avoid the swarms of tourists and the rip off restaurants, your get your bearings faster, so this time you can dig a little deeper into the city. If it will let you.

Barcelona is massive, in terms of urban sprawl, and dense, in terms of everything. It can’t be rushed, and it can’t be ‘done’, even though there are several clear cut attractions to see and ‘do’.

Love it or hate it, Gaudí’s architecture tops the list, and it’s a bit silly to visit Barcelona without checking out at least a couple of his standout masterpieces. Even though I know nothing about architecture, I’m not shy to say that I’m a big fan of Gaudí. I think he’s brilliant. I love his organic, flowing mosaics, and intelligently designed buildings. The apartment complexes, Casa Batló and La Pedrera, make a particular impression on me, for their unconventional elegance, ergonomic sensibility, and natural lighting and ventilation systems. To me it’s all so clever. I was in awe the first time, and was just as impressed this time around (despite the hilarious audio guide).

As for the Cathedral, the famously unfinished Sagrada Familia, it’s just, so, epic… Hundreds of spires of different heights and colours, random turrets and baubles, a menagerie of stone animals swarming around the base and facade, as well as a complex tangle of scaffolding and cranes, the whole project is just exhausting. Author Ben Lerner describes it as ‘the ugliest building [he has] ever seen’. I can understand why, because it is basically a brown, chaotic, over ambitious jumble. Totally ostentatious. But at least not in the manner of those gilt, cupid ridden, romantic churches. For that reason I think it’s great. Hopefully God thinks it’s refreshingly different too. And regardless of personal taste, you can’t help but admire the spiralling staircases and stained glass windows from inside, as well as the sheer enormity of the task of completing it. Surely there’s more than several lifetime’s work in the design of this one building, but Gaudi somehow made time for it, on top of all his other commissions. I’m not sure what exactly constitutes genius, but I’d give him the benefit of the doubt…

So what else is there to see in Barcelona? So much! So much and so many of everything! Art galleries (big and small), museums (robots, erotica, wax, insert random area of interest here), sporting related things (the old Olympic village and the home field of Barça football team), parks and hidden gardens, bizarre and impressive buskers, big stone monuments and buildings from rich Imperial Spain, random teams of street dancers doing capoiera/break dancing/circus flips freestyle routines, groovy new bars with innovative interiors, rustic bodegas with dusty ‘honest’ interiors, an ancient amusement park with a funny name on a hill, and all kinds of fancy gastronomic purveyors of fine foody goodness. (after Roquefort gelati and thyme and pine-nut chocolate, suddenly my gourmet sandwiches don’t seem so gourmet).

So the best thing to do is really just wander. I did, for three (or was it four?) full days, barely scratching the surface of what there was to see, and barely even making it out of the gothic quarter. Now I’m even more convinced I’d like to come back, again, for even longer… despite the complication of Catalan, the bloody tourists (yes yes I know I’m one of them) and the fact that Barcelona is actually quite a grubby city. Not dirty, just grubby.

After all that wandering, the highlights were:

  • David Bowie being played in a lot of shops and cafes.
  • Edgy fashion and good looking people. Yes, I’m that shallow.
  • The Plaça Reial, which is, so far, my favourite plaza in Spain. I know it’s not the biggest or the most significant, but it has palm trees and a fountain and a wonderful atmosphere.
  • The FADExpo, an exhibition of winning and shortlisted entries from the Barcelona Design Festival. This included posters, packaging, architecture, green materials, furniture and fashion. An interesting category was the ‘City to City’ award, which recognises clever urban planning across the globe. I found it so exciting and inspiring to see beautiful, clever things, made by people who think and care about not just their end product, but the future of, like, the world.
  • Fruit juice at the market of St Josep de La Boqueria. One euro per juice, and a veritable rainforest of flavours to choose from. My favourite was blackberry and coconut, but pitaya scored extra points for being fluorescent pink.
  • Good coffee. The coffee in the south of Spain isn’t that bad, it’s just no frills, and if you’re really into coffee, it can be a little disappointing. But en route to Barcelona, I received a message from my friend, who is the biggest coffee enthusiast/connoisseur I’ve ever met, to say she’d just discovered the most amazing place – The Majestic Cafe. For fans of St.Ali in Melbourne, this is where you should go in Barcelona. These guys are serious about coffee. They sell nothing else. They had beans from all over the world, did every possible variation (fast, slow, siphon, moonlight whispering) of coffee, without resorting to sickly syrups, and it was all made with love and an encyclopaedic knowledge of bean origins and ‘nuances’. We even drank coffee out of wine glasses. The cafe smelt wonderful, and, the apartment above was for rent. Hmmm. Imagine what our slightly over excited coffee fuelled brains have been scheming.
  • A little gallery called El Bigote del Señor Smith, which sells psychedelic illustrations, fashion, and jewellery from local artists and designers. Upstairs they run all kinds of workshops such as DJing, ceramics, skateboard customisation, and jewellery making. Unfortunately they don’t have a franchise in Segovia.

In the end I extended my stay in Barcelona to catch up with another friend and squeeze in a bit more aimless wandering. But still it wasn’t enough. On Sunday afternoon I passed a tonne of closed shops and cafes that I hadn’t seen before, but looked really interesting. Such as the Plumista… the quill maker, I’m guessing. I wonder if that’s the same shop as the one featured in La Sombra del Viento? Could be. I’ll have to check it out, next time. Because as I boarded the bus once again, I knew it wasn’t ‘adios’ to this remarkable city where I feel so at home, but an upbeat ‘hasta luego’. Barcelona, I will be back.

And with a great novel, bag of fresh market goodies, and mind racing with possibilities, the fourteen hours flew by.


¡¡¡ FERIAAA !!!

At the end of my last post, I was making ready for a weekend trip to my ex-village, Hinojosa del Duque, to celebrate her ‘feria’. Mainly I was going just to catch up with old friends, but I was also full of curiosity and excitement to see the village en su salsa, in it’s sauce, in it’s element. Having already spent one afternoon at the Feria de Cordoba, and attended a mock ‘Feria de Sevilla’ (in a two bedroom flat), I thought I had a pretty good idea what these fairs entailed.

In the end, I stayed nearly a week. And now, having been, gone, and survived (just), the true, full-length, Andalusian village feria, I’m left feeling a bit confused. Not to mention exhausted. What just happened? It was mostly a cacophony of bright lights and loud music, with little apparent structure or scheduling. I think the best definition of this kind of feria would be a cross between a funfair, a country show and a latin carnavale. To decipher the blur that is my memory, I’ve attempted to break it down and describe some of the key components.

Religious stuff – The whole shenanigan is technically for religious regions, in honour of a patron saint or virgin. There are masses and occasionally processions with effigies, although these are fading traditions. I should point out that in my last post I made a mistake (or was misinformed) about the patron. The patron of the Hinojosa feria (not the village itself) is St.Augustin. No-one can tell me what came first, the feria or the Saint. Perhaps the villagers wanted their feria at this time of year and so randomly picked a saint who’s day fell on an ideal date, or maybe they just really liked this Augustin fellow and decided to throw him a week long party for the hell of it.

Stuff with animals – Namely horses and bulls. The (very impressive) Andalusian horses strut, dance, prance and parade around (carrying equally well groomed riders in traditional costumes), as well as participating in various competitions. The bulls just fight, with people and each other, sometimes to the death. (Or so I’m told, it’s not something I agree with and I didn’t see any of the corridas).

Colourful stuff – showground attractions, ie rubber duck shooting, ferris wheels, fairy floss, giant Sponge Bob Square Pants jumping castles, smurf flavoured soft serve, dubious looking dodgems, and rollercoasters that make me grateful I don’t have children to fret over.

Cheap stuff – Temporary markets, run mostly by African clandestinos and gypsies. These sell all the usual gimmicks; imitation designer watches, mobile phone covers, Gucci underwear, cakes, lollies, turron (giant slabs of chocolate and nuts), children’s toys, and hundreds of hot pink miniature doll’s prams. The tradition in Hinojosa (and possibly elsewhere) is to enferiarse, a verb meaning ‘to buy oneself a present at the fair’. Excellent. I enferiared both myself and my host with some rather snazzy but totally unnecessary handbags… all in the name of tradition!

Churros and Kebabs – hot food vans (and plastic dining areas) pop up everywhere to make the most of the drunk and hungry hordes that stream in and out of the casetas at all hours. I’m not a huge fan of churros (I’ve given up trying… everyone says that their village’s/grandma’s/local churrería’s taste different, but to me they all taste like oil dipped in something that is supposed to taste like chocolate but doesn’t)… so I ate a lot of kebabs.

Casetas – make shift bars inside enclosures, usually run by different sororities, or as ‘sibling bars’ to other fixed venues in the village. I think each caseta is supposed to have a theme, a particular type of music or a feature beverage. In reality, they were more or less all the same. The same pop music on repeat, several times per hour, for hours upon hours, days upon days, until you want to find this Mr Paquito Chocaletero (the mythical subject of an inanely stupid song that has a corresponding dance which makes The Nutbush seem interesting) and stab him to death with your cheap tinsel-adorned swizzle stick.

The music is at such a volume that it’s impossible to talk, creating an inescapable cycle, in which the more they raise the music, the more you raise your voice, the more hoarse you become, and so the more you must struggle to raise your voice. By the end of the feria everyone’s got laryngitis and is too tired for the charade that is required for conversation inside a caseta… but still they persevere! Glumly sipping their sugary ‘mojitos’ (if a brown slimy mint leaf in a plastic cup of rum and lemonade can be said to constitute a mojito), and bobbing awkwardly to the music (whatever happened to Spaniards all being able to dance?), and then grimacing internally as they muster the energy for what sounds like another torturous round of Paquito Chocaletero…

Okay, that’s a pretty harsh rendering of the casetas, they weren’t all that bad. It’s just the pop-music-repetitivity issue hit a nerve with me, it’s something that’s plagued me since my college days, and is seemingly much more of a widespread global problem that I initially feared.

Some of the casetas are flamenco themed and host competitions, I just never seemed to be in the right place at the right time to see the performances.

By the small hours of the morning, the music generally improved across the board, as the jukebox monkeys were replaced with real DJs and nightshift bartenders, who had a slightly more polished repertoire. It just meant waiting until 6am to hear something that made me genuinely want to lift my feet.

Pretty dresses – At ferias you see all sorts of people; teenagers in hotpants, sunburnt guiris in socks and sandals, women dressed as though they’re going to a wedding (with a different ensemble every day of the feria), well scrubbed farmers with their best shirts tucked in, and regular folk in fun/comfortable smart casual. I even had the audacity to go in flip flops and didn’t feel out of place. But the signature costume of the Andalusian feria is the traje de gitana, the gypsy dress. These are long, brightly coloured, figure hugging dresses, with a flattering V shaped neckline (very low at the back), and a whirlpool of ruffles at the bottom. They’re traditionally worn with large earrings, an impressive floral headpiece, and long tassled necklaces. Everything, from bracelets to nailpolish, must match the dress, which is usually of two to three contrasting colours. They can cost anywhere between 100 and a couple of thousand euros, and you can usually tell which end of the price spectrum the dress comes from. With all those frills and accessories, there’s a lot of room for bad taste to look it’s worst. A particularly hideous example of a poorly fitted orange dress with large brown spots comes to mind. But some of the tailor made, tastefully coloured dresses look absolutely stunning. They are utterly feminine. Perhaps it’s a sign of my changing tastes, or maybe of growing up, but I want one. I don’t have the requisite hourglass figure, I’m too short for long dresses, and the idea of putting a giant flower on my head would usually make me run for miles in the other direction (or scramble up a tree like a boy), but suddenly I’m seriously considering buying or hiring one of the silly things next time I go to a feria. Perhaps in a deep wine red colour, or a brighter red and black for my football team…

Marching Bands – Not the stiff, synchronized, stuffy kind. Just informal groups of roaming drummers and brass musicians. They steered well away from the casetas, and mostly hung around the park and pavilion where they caused the crowds to intermittently leap into enthusiastic (albeit chaotic) paso dobles. During an afternoon cooking competition, one band honoured the prize winners by hovering around their picnic area and playing songs on request.

The Portadathe gateway. A giant, fairy-light studded structure, which marks the official entrance to the feria. The one in Cordoba was absolutely magnificent, and Hinojosa’s was a rather pretty miniature. Portadas, amongst other feria expenses, are paid for by local councils. It’s rumoured that due to the financial crisis, councils are stripping rows of fairy-lights from portadas all across Spain…

Botellóna rather sad and recent development. Hundreds of teenagers have a giant piss-up, just outside the fairgrounds. I’m generally in favour of pre-drinking, it’s cost saving and it’s great to have some bevvies with your close friends before mingling with the masses, but this particular botellón has swollen to ugly proportions. Whereas the feria was originally an all-ages party, the groups are now more segregated. The teenagers do their own separate thing and then hit the casetas at around 5am, when the old people and parents of toddlers have finally gone home. As a more ‘mature’ friend of mine said, it’s a shame because the young people have always made the party, and now that their energy is gone, the older people don’t party as long. Personally I think the older generations show a lot more festivity than their offspring, who huddle in an unanimated group, swilling hard liquor in the shadows so that they can build up the fortitude to awkwardly dance to music that their grandparents bop to with comparative ease. The other shame is that all the smuggled alcohol represents lost revenue for the casetas. It’ll be interesting to see for how long the feria can continue with it’s current set-up, under Spain’s current economic conditions.

The Rules – Unlike big city ferias, where the locals drop in for an evening or just go for the main weekend, the small town ferias require 100% participation, 100% of the time, from all citizens. This is needed to populate the casetas, to justify the migration of all the markets and attractions to their humble location, and really just to keep things running and the atmosphere buzzing. The rules/routine are fairly set.

  1. Sleep in
  2. Early afternoon: drinks in casetas, order food in casetas or go to local bar for lunch, more drinks and dancing in casetas, see a show or activity (bull fight, paella competition, childrens phantomine, whatever), coffee break and chillout in bar/cafe
  3. Late afternoon: more drinks and dancing in casetas
  4. 11pm: everyone goes home to shower, change clothes, eat dinner (optional). DO NOT SIESTA. It’s too late and you’re too drunk and if you sleep you won’t wake up. Leave camera at home, but keep sunglasses in handbag for the next day.
  5. Midnight-ish: rendezvous at a regular bar for more drinks, maybe tapas. Everybody’s appetites are out of sync so it’s every man for himself where food is concerned.
  6. Late: return to casetas for more drinks and dancing
  7. Early: Sunrise. The casetas are all outdoors so it’s pretty cool watching the sky change colours but my goodness we’re all so ugly by daylight.
  8. Breakfast: kebab and then bed.
  9. Midday: wake up, shower in slow motion and get ready to do it all again.

By the end of the week, not only is everyone completely hoarse, but visibly deteriorating. Bloated from beer, hobbling from wearing heels all the time, dark rings under every eye. Conversation frequently turns to what we all want to do ‘when the feria is over and life goes back to normal’. Every second person plans to give up alcohol, every other vows to never eat another kebab again. But the feria itself is treated as a compulsory activity, to be endured until the end, and if you’re not having fun then perhaps there might be something wrong with you. Even the elderly, or people with young kids, or people still working (in Hinojosa the whole week is a public holiday, but farmers can’t just let their animals run wild due to the feria), are expected to participate. For the most part it’s heaps of fun, emigrated relatives return to the village, the population doubles, the atmosphere is of chaos and reunion and light hearted wild abandon. But sometimes it seemed a bit much. One friend of mine, a working mother with serious health issues and who was emotionally drained by a recent family tragedy, had just had her only three weeks holiday entirely chewed up by three consecutive ferias, all of which she was socially obliged to attend. Surely there’s a limit, where it’s okay to just say ‘no, I don’t feel like it today’. But people don’t. They ludicrously keep pushing through, long after they’ve stopped having fun. This isn’t a phenomenon isolated to Spanish ferias, it happens in social settings all over the world, and it makes no sense.

I couldn’t help but get a little angry when on Wednesday afternoon I mentioned being just a wee bit tired of the casetas, and that I didn’t know if I felt like sticking around to see the closing fireworks that evening. I was told to aguantar, stick it out, and tolerate a few (10 or so) more hours until the feria officially finished and we could all proudly go home with our heads held high at having made it to the end. What rubbish. I love going out, I love drinking and dancing and being silly (probably too much), but I absolutely can’t stand doing it out of social obligation, and it pains me to see everyone trying so hard to carry out the script of a feria/rollocking Saturday night/insert orchestrated social event here.

That last evening I made an escape from the casetas, to have dinner with a friend in a bar where conversation was actually possible. Needless to say, after a few beverages, another night out didn’t seem such a daunting prospect, and of course I stayed up to see the fireworks. I’m glad I did, they were spectacular, and easily on par with any displays I’ve seen in big cities. However shortly after the last crack and fizzle, I made a thankful beeline for bed. A week of partying like I was ten years younger had left me completely sin pilas, without batteries, and feeling at least ten years older than I actually am.

The morning after the fireworks ‘closing ceremony’, I take a quiet stroll to Santo Cristo, the chapel on the hill where I used to regularly walk and run when I lived in the village. It seems surreal that it was just months ago. The countryside has once again dried up to the late summer yellow it was when I first arrived.  Everything is dead and muted in the wake of the past week’s colourful madness. Back in town, the Africans and Gypsies have all disappeared, the food vans have folded inward and are making ready to leave, and the bars are closed so the waiters can finally have their holiday. The friend I’m staying with admits to feeling lost. It’s like the after-Christmas come down, all that waiting, and now suddenly it’s over. There’s a lot to be done, cleaning, shopping for regular groceries and balanced meals, petrol to be bought before the government hikes up the taxes again on Sunday. But for the moment, no one else leaves their houses, and Hinojosa is once again a ghost town.

So would I go again to a Spanish feria? Almost certainly. But forewarned is forearmed. Next time, I’ll stick to my pija, snobby, city roots, and just visit for the weekend. I’d like to go a larger feria, that of Sevilla, for example. There, I am told, they have a bigger variety of better casetas, and not all the rides are SpongeBob themed.

As for the onerous journey to and from Segovia to Hinojosa… I don’t think I’ll be making that trip frequently. As much as I’ll miss my ex-village and the people in it, I’m ecstatic to finally be moving somewhere a little more cosmopolitan. Before I leave Spain, I’ll definitely go back to visit beloved Hinojosa, but perhaps just not during the feria period.


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Where am I ?

The last (first) post dealt with who I am and what I’m doing… more or less. But I’ve been getting a few enquiries from friends about whether or not I’ve started work yet in Segovia, and if not, just exactly where am I?

The answer to the first question is no, I still haven’t started work yet! It’s getting kind of ridiculous.  But whilst I (dearly) miss having an income, I’m quite content enjoying the longest chunk of time off I’ve had since, I don’t know, hitting puberty. It really has been an endless summer, and the ever distant prospect of going ‘back to school’ makes me feel like a kid again. Except that this time round I’m drinking tinto de verano instead of banana smoothies, and in Spain there’s no such thing as a cool change at the end of a 40° day (I keep waiting, it never comes).

As for where I am, well my current home base (axe murderers and cyber stalkers look away now please), is a town called Martos, just south of Jaén. I’m pretty sure I mentioned it in my last (ever) travel email, but I can forgive you for overlooking that detail! If you’re not familiar with Spain, then apparently Martos can be confused with Malaga or Marbella… but those places may as well be the Maldives for all they have in common with this town. Martos is dry, dusty, not-particularly-exciting, and miles from the coast. But it’s got a great local pool (with an air conditioned bar and heaps of shady palm trees), some nice (cheap!) cafes, and a library with speedy internet. Perfect for me right now.

It’s also quite pretty, at least I think so. Because it’s built at the foot of a peña (big rocky hill thing), the streets wind up and down, and the different levels nicely show off the ancient Arab buildings. Over the past couple of weeks, in between tearing my hair out over this blog, watching the Olympics, and reading a very long novel (very slowly) in Spanish, I’ve done a fair bit of wandering around the town and its outskirts. Usually I take my camera… you can check out the photos here. There are two albums there, the first is of the town, and the second is of a little adventure I had one cloudy day…

So that’s Martos, and it’s no longer where I am, but more like where I was. As I’m writing, my bag is packed and ready to go. This weekend I’m heading back to Hinojosa (my ‘ex-village’), for the feria of her* patron saint**. The feria (big party) runs for several days, and I think I might need a few more to recover.  Then the rough plan is to hang out a bit longer and do some visiting in Andalucía, before relocating up north, where my endless summer will actually come to an end.

That’s it for now.

*yes, Hinojosa is feminine. (But the word for ‘village’ is masculine. But Spanish possessive adjectives agree with the object and not the subject like in English, which is why I’ve never had to say ‘her’ in Spanish… and an English villages is neither ‘he’ nor ‘she’… maybe that’s why I felt so weird about that sentence… maybe I shouldn’t think so much… maybe this is really boring for you… hello?)

**Unfortunately Hinojosa and Martos both have the same patron (San Bartolomé), which means their ferias fall on the same dates. Given the number of saints and the number of villages in Spain, this really is an unlucky coincidence, I would love to have gone to both parties (it’s a hard life). But considering the fact that Mum’s Spanish-Australian friend’s house (where I’m staying), happens to be in Martos, which just so happens to be the hometown of a colleague from Hinojosa who I get along well with (and whos’s family are lovely and welcoming and have a pool)… I think I’m still doing pretty well in the ‘lucky coincidence’ stakes!