Category: Travel

Homage to Andalucia

On the edge of the sea where the mountains touch the sky, and the warmth of the sun rises over Africa, a white village slowly awakens from its sleep. The mountain cradles and shelters the ‘una pueblo blanca’ from any harsh easterly, should it blow. Rising from the coast, the reclining dragon shaped hills, nose first into the sea, in mimicry of the ridged spine of a fire breathed but now sleeping giant, are outlined against the blue and the fluffy white. Steeply the land falls away, down 5 miles to the coast where the bright lights of ‘Funky Town’ sparkle, soon to fade as dawn strikes in golden red light across the scattering of buildings. Dragon mountain arcs around the village whose streets are scoured into its side in parallel. Grey limestone cliffs, cloaked with olive, pine and ‘other trees’ rise up defiantly against the erosion seeking rain. That is our morning view from the window on the first day in Andalucia.

Mijas clings to the slopes by its Rioja stained fingernails a thousand feet above the sea. Fuengirola looks like a tiny model city from up here. Funky Town it shall remain, as that is where all the action probably is. Mijas, however, sits aloof, offering a better class of shenanigans or so it might think but shenanigans all the same. If wine flows, then so shall excited talk, followed by hints of debauchery. This occurs regardless of social positioning or upbringing. Whether clad in Prada or Primark, wine facilitates the lowering of inhibitions, judgment and modesty. Twas ever thus.

We arrived last night on a late afternoon flight. Malaga airport has developed hugely from the one grass runway and biplane affair of 10 years ago. It is a beneficiary of the Spanish construction boom fueled by the optimism of a tipsy wine soaked Matador armed with a machete and braggadocio, facing a pink ribboned kitten who thinks its mummy has come to feed it warm milk. Turns out the machete was made in Taiwan and is as blunt as a witch’s tit, and thus only half as useful, while the kitten is a banker from Frankfurt demanding his money back with menaces and a panzer tank to support his claim. The Matador gets to keep his shiny suit, for so is the airport, and outward appearances are thus sustained. His dignity and future prospects however cling precariously to hope like a virgin in a brothel knowing that payment is due by being screwed by a scruple free, morally incontinent, fat, sweaty Bavarian with halitosis on holiday. All the vaseline in Andalucia is not going to be enough of an emollient.

There is a nice train though.

It runs from the new airport terminal into Malaga and Fuengirola. One only needs to follow the (badly) signposted walk from baggage reclaim and in 5 minutes the train slides into the station. It is quiet, clean and efficient. And cheap. There is no need for a quiet carriage. It is night by the time we arrive and can only then guess at the scenery as the train hums through Malaga Centro, Torremolinos, Benalmadena, Torreblanca, Los Colinos….. You get the picture. A short taxi ride from Fuengirola 5 miles up the road, and I mean ‘up’, and we arrived in Mijas.

I like stereotypes for they say as much about the stereotype user as they do the stereotyped. I like it better when the need for stereotypes becomes redundant because reality is actually better. And joy of joys within an hour I’m presented with four glorious examples of the stereotyper’s art. A Spanish taxi driver, an English owner of a bar, ex-pat bar fly and weed smoking old hippy from Holland. Honestly, this shit writes itself.

The road from Fuengirola to Mijas has to snake and weave up and around the mountain. Hairpin bends are a speciality. As are the ditches, just a wheel width away from death or a headache. The balding, portly taxi driver has done this journey a thousand times, blindfold and drunk no doubt. How else to explain gunning the engine and skimming the edge of the ditch with only millimeters to spare. I don’t think it was to impress us with his impression of Spanish F1 hero, Fernando Alonso. I think this is just the way he drives, probably with one eye on the road and the other on the Senoras he once woo’ed. In any case, fifteen minutes later and fifteen euros lighter, we arrive at Casa San Pablo, the home of Henri and Mary and our place of rest for the week.

Henri is a very, well there is only one word and that is sprightly, 76 year old. A retiree cinematographer who moved from Singapore to Mijas in 2000. His wife Mary is originally from Ireland and Coventry. How one can hail from the Emerald Isle and the armpit of England is another story no doubt. After scouring the earth for somewhere to settle, Andalucia worked its magic and here they are. The apartment is on the top of the main house with glorious views to Dragon mountain and the sea. Just. Breathtaking. Above the apartment which has to own terrazza del sol is another terrace with a 360 view over Mijas. We arrive in the dark and are treated to a brief electric storm over the Mediterranean and the briefest of rain storms over our heads. Time is not our friend at this hour as the bars and restaurants will soon be closing for food. So Henri bids us hurry into town.

The first two bars/restaurants are indeed closing for food as we arrive at their doors. It is nearly ten at night and in winter this is late enough for the locals. The third bar is thus our rest as we settle for a glass of wine. Or two as it turned out. The bar is called ‘The Village Bistro’, not you may note ‘El Bistro del Pueblo’ or something else suitably Spanish such as ‘Paella Plaza’ or ‘Cojones del Toro’. The name should have been a clue, for just as I was winding myself up to employ my refined in Asturias Spanish, the owner spoke in fluent Northern. I don’t mean northern Spain, but North as in Macclesfield for such was the town from whence she hailed. Food had just ceased being served and I, rather ponce like, asked for a ‘Ribera del Duero’. This is a rather fine Spanish wine. I soon realised that this was like asking for a Chateaunuef du Pape in the Spoons in Camborne, they hear the words but you might as well have asked for sausage in a synagogue in Arabic.

House Rioja it is then. Fair enough, and a damn fine glass or two they were. As for nibbles, on offer was Walker’s (yes Walker’s, we are in Spain) cheese and onion crisps. The restaurant side still had customers finishing their meals while we collapsed into a comfy sofa and soon tuned in to the gaggle of English voices all around us. The owner, a middle aged woman dressing like she was fifteen, was all tits and tattooes. Classy tattooes mind you, there was a butterfly trying to wing free from between her very well endowed cleavage. I had to take a second look to ensure I was just seeing things. Ann had not noticed the petite papillon in purple nestling between the underwired orbs of delight. A nicotine patch was stuck fast to her upper arm. I don’t know why I noticed that or what it means. you decide.

As we stood at the bar ready to pay up I noted a TV on the wall. Match of the day. Leicester v Norwich City. The BBC. A small group of ex pats, one guesses, stood around it no doubt discussing the up coming EU referendum and the butterfly. I made the mistake in engaging a gentleman at the bar in conversation regarding the match. Now this chap has been in Mijas for over 10 years, originally from East London, Wanstead. I guess he was over 60 now and had been practicing to be the poster boy for UKIP, representing England in a foreign country. Within 5 minutes the old cliches started about the ‘old country’.

He’ll never go back.

“It’s all changed”

“London is not the same” (has it ever been?).

“I want my country back” (so why are you here?).

There are too many of them over here (there, in England he means).

“You can’t even call them Paki’s any more” (So, I suppose ‘nig nog’ is right out as well).

“They don’t mix, they stick to themselves and they don’t speak the language”.

The bastards. Coming over there and working on minimum wage at jobs such as ‘shit poking with broken sticks’, ‘pea threading’ and ‘talking to people’.

I’m surprised he did not call for a wall to be built.

“I’d send them back” (…and where would you go?)

So this poured out without a trace of irony, in an English bar, owned and staffed by English people, surrounded by English people, watching English football on an English TV station, talking English. I doubt if he could spell Paella, let alone shit one. His grasp of Spanish is probably on a par with that of whizzed up Scotsman at a rave. Oh, and tomorrow the bar serves its speciality: a roast dinner. Reservations had been pouring in all day. Don’t get me wrong, it is a nice place for a late night glass of red, but it’s as Iberian as my ringpiece is open for business to a red hot poker.

So, hearts of oak can’t stand foreigners invading their country and mucking it up with their funny ways, so they have to move to another country, moan about it, and end up mixing in with the native Andalucians about as well as vindaloo and Guinness fueled fart at a funeral. So, come June 23rd will they be queuing up to move back once we leave the EU? Don’t mention the war.

Luckily ex pats don’t get to vote in the referendum. That would be like vegans voting for veal.

Asturias

Asturias

Never heard of it.

Thats because you are busy jetting much further south to the Costa del Sol or Costa Brava to burn your back, lose your wallet, dignity or virginity in the mediterranean sun.

Asturias is the northern region of Spain and can be found between Gallicia to the west and Cantabria to the East. Cantabria is home to Santander, the ferry destination and home of the eponymous bank, a seller of debt and false hope. This northern stretch is the Costa Verde, the ‘green coast’ running east west from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic. Its name is a give away. It rains here. A lot. It is also home to the the Picos mountains which rise up much less than an hours drive from the coast. In fact, they are visible from the coastal town of Gijon, shimmering blue in the late summer sun. The town has an alternative spelling; Xixon. Reading both gives you no clue as to its pronunciation. The first G is done by trying to clear your throat while also drawing up saliva onto the back of your tongue. Next, keep that saliva where it is, do not let it fly across the room as you proceed to the i, this is pronounced ‘hee’ and yes with a harsh ‘h’. The j is just to confuse you when in fact it should be another ‘h’. So far you should have a ball of spit at the back of your tongue as you expel a harsh ‘hee’ then a ‘hon’ with emphasis on the second syllable. The last ‘n’ is a soft n. Think of taking the piss out of the french accent by going ‘on he on hee on’, donkey like and you are nearly there. Saying ‘Santander’ is a piece of piss by comparison, and is the reason Brittany Ferries built a ferry port in Cantabria rather than Asturias. If you still have saliva in your throat “you may now swallow it” (as the Bishop said….).

The landscape is ‘undulating’, a bit like Devon and Cornwall but with menaces.The airport sits right on the coast, on top of a cliff, in a similar fashion to Newquay. This is because this is probably the only bit of flat land they could find. This is farming country, make no mistake about it, and very proud they are too of their produce. I’m in Asturias to do some teaching for the University of Oviedo, the main city in the region. Oviedo sits in a wide valley, upon hills, but between high mountains to the north and south. It takes about 50 minutes by bus, being 44 kms from the coast and right on the edge of where the geography begins to get really serious. A clue is that the few rail and major roads there are, hog the coastal stretch west to east and the odd valley north – south. The bus route takes an ‘autovia’, a two lane quiet motorway across river valleys on viaducts and through deep hillside cuttings. One minute you will be looking up at the fields, the next looking down to a tiny village in a valley. There is no rail link from the airport to Oviedo. You either take a taxi (mortgaging your wife first), blag a lift, steal a donkey or take the hourly bus which runs straight into the city. However, once in Oviedo, the railway happily skips back out to the coast to end at Gijon (pass the tissues).

Asturias is ‘famous’ (in Asturias) for cider, ‘fabada’ and rain. The King of Spain was the Prince of Asturias before acceding to the throne. Therefore it can be assumed that the rest of Spain has heard of the region. The Prince of Asturias title is akin to the UK’s ‘Prince of Wales’ but without the rabid overtones of English Imperialism snuffing out nascent Welsh independence through the vicious application of royal marriages. So, apart from Royalty we are left with booze and beans, for such is ‘fabada’.

The Cornish love a pasty and will duel to the death the right to establish who makes the best: ‘little Philps in Foundry’ or Rowes. Likewise, the Asturian fondness for fabada rivals the energy used by the most fanatical follower of Islamic State for zeal, single mindedness and sheer bloody loyalty to the cause. Take belly pork and cut it into chunks, likewise ‘morcilla’, i.e. spanish black sausage, and then some chopped chorizo and cook in a casserole with big white ‘fava’ beans stewing in a stock of cider. Serve with rustic crusty bread and more lashings of cider. Tiz simple, tiz filling, and makes you fart till your heart stops. They kill for it here. It is on every menu usually as ‘Fabada Asturiana’, just to remind you what region was responsible for letting you slip into farting orchestrations that would rival the brass sections, especially the trombones, of several colliery bands. The chorizo is spicely superlative, the morcilla a dark, black, devil’s penis of a sausage and the pork follows up the main act with the quiet confidence of a second chance virgin who knows how to tickle a scrotum. The beans have been wallowing in all of that meat and cider stock and have taken on the strength of a cuckolded dwarf at a piss up. What they lack in size they make up for in punch. This is not a dish for those of a nervous disposition. If you like your food to be robust, this little stew will stick around and kick your sorry arse until you faint. In short, it is bloody wonderful. The cider that goes with it is a Laurel to fabada’s Hardy. Cloudy and scrumpy in nature, this has the taste of…well, apples, what else? With a 6.5% alcohol rating, you need to be sat down, preferably near a wooden beer stained bucket, or an ambulance, just in case.

Food does not get any tastier than this.

This sums up Asturias in many ways. Rustic, simple, and warming. A comforting place to be, foreign but not strange, different but exactly the same. It is still Spain, but not as you know it. If you’d like a break and have a mind to try a different Spain, come and enjoy.

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