Sketches of Spain

Mr F and I went with Riviera Travel to Andalusia. Six nights visiting Mijas, Ronda, Seville, Cordoba and Granada. Quite a lot of Moorish plasterwork and complicated history. There were about 30 people in the group ; Mr F was actually the youngest, with me sitting somewhere around the middle : clearly old, but cheerful and mainly mobile. But really, all things considered, it was a good time. I enjoyed the moment when a middle-aged, grim Home Counties man made a joke to a Scots couple inveighing the old saw about Scottish meanness; about an hour later he pressed two euros into the guide’s hand at the end of a three hour tour, having sought change from his wife’s purse.

We are in Mijas which sits on a hill which we have ascended in our coach. We are to be there for three hours and find our own way back. Ann, our trip manager, explains 13 times which bus we get. There are taxis and, in fact, plenty of donkeys, though the latter seemed a mite smelly and were, no doubt, expensive. We have had a wander, had our dinner, just miss a bus. Mr F decides we can walk – his phone said it would take 8 minutes, he assures a visibly disbelieving me.

Never trust mobile maps in Spain is the message here. After twenty minutes, it is really dark; suddenly his phone changes its mind and tells us it’s a further 25 minute walk, steeply downhill on a busy road devoid of pavements. Now he is usually right about these kind of things, so I just sigh a bit. But a wonderful thing happens – just before we reach the road itself, three wild boar emerge from the woods and cross the path in front of us, hairy and snuffling. 

And then there was Ann herself. She was a bright-eyed, tired lady of uncertain age, patient, thoughtful and informed. She clearly loved her garden back home, for we heard a lot about flowers and trees. She had a soft, slow delivery, rather teacherly, comforting. Spain is full of churches, of course, and she was inclined to give directions by them, just as some people in Edinburgh direct you via pubs. ‘Now ye knoh where Isabelle the Catholic is? The boos is the tharty-two, and it comes out from the back of Isabelle the Catholic, the tharty-two, going thiss wae…’ Our favourites were the antics of Joanna the Mad and Philip the ‘Andsome. Outside the chapel where they were buried you could catch the ‘Noddy Train’ that took you round the city, very bumpily, up backstreets covered in graffiti. Mr F loved it. 

Did you know that the last Moorish Caliph of Granada was Muhammed the 2nd? Me neither. He lost the kingdom to the Spaniards, then had to flee with his family. Some distance from the city he turned to look for once last time at what had been his, and wept. His mother said ‘Why do you weep like a woman for a kingdom you couldn’t hold as a man?’ She was clearly a relative of my own mother, practising similar parenting methods in a different time and place. 

There were fewer beggars in Seville than in Edinburgh. One youngish woman had a sign that translated as ‘Don’t give me money. Give me work.’

We ate very well, and things seemed quite cheap compared with here. Our one expensive meal was in Seville in a restaurant called Farala : a tasting menu of some imagination – liquid falafel, a lovely preparation of leeks, chocolate soil. At the next table was a middle aged Spanish couple, with I think their daughter, and I think her girlfriend, an astonishingly striking French woman with a skinhead, tattoos and lots of piercings and jewellery. The conversation moved around Spanish, French and English. There was a sort of patient measured jollity, maybe a little strain. Gloriously, as Mr F and I had our first pudding, she dropped one of her rings and it bounced in our direction. She crawled towards our table to retrieve, did so, then bumped her head on the table coming up, causing her prospective mother-in-law to collapse into hysterics which lasted fully ten minutes, and involved all of them in huge amusement. I like to think that story – of the ice-breaking bump on the head in the fancy restaurant – might feature at these girls’ wedding. 

Travelling, I find a lot of things disappointing – Niagara springs to mind. The Grand Canyon, the Taj Mahal…now they were great. I had been to the Alhambra before, thirty years past with Dr Scott, but I was again awestruck by its Islamic beauty, and that of the Mezquite in Cordoba too. It’s a pity the Christians had to come and cover bits of it in dark carved panelling depicting various essentially unpleasant things. On the last night at a great restaurant called Las Tomasas, we sat on their patio and looked across the valley at the Alhambra at the sun set and it lit up; it was a bit of a cure for energy prices, Liz Truss, the Ukraine, the coming winter. Just for a moment.


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