Friday 21 March 2014

Birds on a Twig

Outside my window in Spain is a tree with a long curved bare branch, not much more than a twig. Every morning at dawn chorus time the birds come and land on this perch, usually only one at a time, but following each other in fairly rapid succession. Different birds - goldfinches, crossbills, blackcaps, greenfinches, others - and they stay for a minute or two, singing and moving around in a slightly agitated manner, before flying off. The thing that surprised me though was the fact that they always face the rising sun. Not a single bird ever lands and faces the other way, with his or her back to the sun. It is almost as if they are carrying out the 'Salute to the sun' which most Hindus (and others) perform in the Far East. I believe I have come across a certain form of behaviour which might indicate something - I'm not going to tell you what, because I'm writing a paper - and hopefully a Nobel Prize will follow eventually, when they realise what a tremendous insight I've given to Mankind. 

Sunday 16 March 2014

San Jose

Yesterday was the Festival of San Jose in our little village of La Herradura. The Spanish have a great capacity for enjoyment (without the need to get drunk) and the fiesta reminds me of my childhood. A fairground is set up overnight along the seafront, with rides, toffee apples, candy floss, bright lights, blaring music, loud callers, and all the things one associates with fairgrounds. It seems to appear as if by magic, growing from a sleepy beach strand into a razzy-jazzy monster. I love it.

Today, Sunday, there is the horse show, an amazing spectacle of riders - haughty Adalucian women with their hats tilted over one eye and proud-looking slim men on beautiful beasts with high curved necks and silky manes and tails - a show which has to be seen to be believed. There are flamenco dancers weaving in amongst the horses and riders, as they perform superb feats of skill in the sandy ring watched by the whole population of the village and the surrounding mountains of the Sierras.

Speaking of superb feats, congratulations to the Irish on winning the Six Nations yesterday (said through gritted teeth) with England missing out narrowly - twice - once when the French beat us by two points and once when the Irish beat the French by two points. Also on the same day I beat my friend Keith at table tennis for the first time. He is a brilliant player. However, Keith has Parkinsons and while he shows no symptoms with a bat in his hand it is obviously a lose-lose situation for me. I can hardly go around bragging that I beat a man with advanced Parkinsons, can I?

Saturday 1 March 2014

There is a stark beauty in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Andalucia, but also a grimness in their visage that I haven't experienced in other mountain ranges. Driving through the first pass from Motril to Granada on the old road the sheer cliffs on either side of the road rise up vertically into the sky, bleak and massive, and lean over as if to say, 'Here we are, you puny mortal, ready to clash together when we feel we need to crush you.' I search vainly for some green vegetation to break the broad expanse of grey, but there is none: only black pits of half-caves too high to be of any use to man or beast, though perhaps the birds use them. I see so very few birds in those dark avenues between the shoulders of the mountains that I wonder if they have ever seen any life. True, the higher one gets the more open the range becomes, terminating in the snow-capped peaks of Mulhacen, the highest of them. I have to say I'm always in the grip of tension driving the narrow winding roads, some of them without any barriers between their outer edge and a vertical drop of hundreds of feet and my stomach knots every time we journey up to one of the Moorish villages that perch on lofty ledges. However, at the end of the climb is a rustic meal in a rural restaurant - hardly a restaurant really, since most of them are the living rooms of a local family - of the highest quality. Potatoes cooked in olive oil (poor man's patates), rabbit or goat stew and home-made wine. Absolutely delicious if you're a meat-eater and enjoy an old-fashioned meal. Braving the big-shouldered mountains, with their immense, threatening drops, has its rewards. Going down the twisty roads doesn't quite hold the same terrors.