Saturday, January 26, 2008

Antequera - three months on

Expressed simply, I just love Antequera.

The Romans first gave the name Antikira, an ancient place, so it has some history. There are dolmenes, three sites of cave-like rock slab chambers, once burial grounds and storerooms for the riches of tribal leaders dated circa 2,500-2,000 BC.

From Roman days there remains baths and in the enchanting museum there is El Efebo, a rare for its time, bronze statue (and now an Antequeran 'mascot') and pieces of columns, and other Roman artifacts.

The Moors built La Alcazaba, the fort, which is a visible landmark for kilometres out of town, and overlooks our house (it is in photo below the tower, just off the bottom). Antequera was the first town to be 'taken' by the Christians, and then in a show of strength, they built churches for ... Rome, I guess. There are twenty four magnificent churches and seven convents in Antequera (pop. 40-45,000).

One, in particular, San Sebastian, is another visible landmark from all around town. Atop a pretty spire, is un angelote (another Antequera mascot), a wind vane reputed to have the bones of Santa Euphemia (a patron of Antequera) in a bag around its neck.

A third major landmark is actually outside of town, La Pena de los Enamorados, Lover's Rock, which I have written of in an earlier blog [A thing of beauty]. From just above our house we can see all three of these landmarks in one view.

A fourth, but not so widely visible, landmark of town is of course the Plaza de Toro, the bull ring.

We live in el barrio San Juan. What luck! It's a nice little area, but we still get to have both of Antequera's shitholes nearby. Below, is Bar San Juan, opposite Iglesia San Juan, St. John church, were the local clientele can look across at a magnificent tiled picture of the crucifixion and keep an eye on their wives as they go to Friday afternoon, and Sunday morning (oh yes, 9:00am) Mass. Above us, up the hill is La Socorrilla, my already mentioned [El Ciclista de Antequera] post-cycle ride coffee stop. It is on on the beautiful Plaza del Portichuelo , ringed by the lovely Capilla Tribune del Portichuelo (chapel) and Iglesia Santa Maria de Jesus. It is on a tourist walking trail, and the chairs outside sit gloriously in the sun. It's a popular spot for the tourists to stop and take in the ambience, and that lovely Spanish charm. Make no mistake though, inside she's a shithole. But these are tiny, tucked away places and create no problems. It's not tourist season now and it has reverted to a serious, local shithole. I love it. Deb and I are about the only ones who sit outside in the sun, in the lovely plaza, currently. Regularly funeral notices of regulars are posted on the front door, and then a couple of days later she's closed.

But there are plenty of lovely little bars and cafes down in El Centro. And a street of pretty lively late (real late) night action places. El Centro is not the geographic centre of town because of more recent growth. But it means our barrio is very close, even though we sit at one end of town. As a result we are able to walk everywhere - no probems. Also, we only have to walk 250-300 meters to a dirt road that follows a stream down a valley bordered by hills litered with trails for running, walking and mountain biking. It pays to keep an eye out for wild asparagus, and the sneaked views back to town.

Antequera also has a spectacular golf course (I still don't play.)

But another major attracion is El Torcal, a National Park of spectacular limestone formations. Maybe 15 minutes (at most) from town. From there, high in the Sierra, you can see the Mediterranean.

But generally, as planned, Deb and I engross ourselves totally in living in Antequera. We have become regulars and friendly with a number of cafe, bar, and shop owners. Even at a supermarket one of las dependientas, shop assistants, Blanca, always waves at us to come to her check out queue. It's cute. They love us. Being Australian and New Zealander, we are different - from the English. We go all out to speak Spanish with them. They like it. They encourage, correct and teach us. We also get this from my cycle club, and Deb from her yoga classes at the gym. We read local papers and learn what events are on: concerts, shows etc. We are now treated as regulars and they speak freely with us and invite us into conversations, and to share a round of drinks. Many English, sadly, keep to themselves and learn little Spanish. Though we have met a handful of nice couples. (We went out with some last night, and I raised a toast to Australia Day. Nice.) Not so many live in Antequera. Usually they colonise small villages and then make their own little England in Spain. There is a village, Mollina, not far, which is already 75% English, and there are 63 new units being built all already sold off plan to English. They build in squares around a pool and include a bar. The occupants only have to speak to other English. A pub in the town centre has bingo Tuesday night, scrabble Wednesday, pool and darts Thursday, and Beef Hot pot special on Friday night. There are gadzillions living on Costa del Sol. Very sad, I think, but I guess they are quite pleased. Then they venture into town, Antequera, to conduct business and some niceties. We are often asked if we can do some translations in shops and cafes for them.

We have joined the Asociación de Vecinos 'San Juan', the neigbourhood association, and have already gone away with them on some of their regular bus trip day outings. It's amusing, the whole day is planned around the food breaks. And drinks. And dancing at lunchtime! They are real fun. Now when one of many little four foot women call out to us we can guess, usually correctly, they are one of the little old dears from the association and the bus trips. They insist on giving us big hugs, and stroking our arms.

The local market is where we do all out friut and veg, fish and meat shopping. A wonderful experience. A local panadería, bakery, has a van that drives the street tooting the horn and the man sells pan, bread, from the back door. Naturally, Deb and I call him the 'pan man'.

Antequera is well located for travel to other Andalucian highlights: Seville, Cordoba, Granada and Malaga, and is a hub for road and rail. Bus services are great. As a result we have done rounds of all these with visitors. Malaga, only an hour away on the autovista is a great place for picking up cheap flights to Europe. Deb and I have made three trips to London, and we go to Berlin for five days next week. We have more trips planned.

We've also made a couple of trips to and from Madrid on the AVE, Alta Velocidad, high speed 350kph train. Check out this for a neat look at the AVE Note the olive groves before Antequera Santa Ana station and the hills just after: all my riding territory. I pass the staion a lot, it's 20km from town. Antequera station is now the old one in town. Also note all the new track work, bridges and stations they have just built to put this new service in.

We stayed in un cortijo, a farmhouse, in Monachil, at the base of the Sierra Nevadas, near Granada for Christmas. Rising straight out of town is a nasty, steep, long, hill used last year in the Vuelta de España cycling tour race. Wicked. Christmas Day was glorious, and it snowed boxing day. We went to the mountains the next two days and went skiing. New Year and Los Reyes Magos (The Three Kings, we'd say) were spent in Madrid - Majadahonda to be precise, with bro BOK, Sal, the two boys, and Ashleigh our visiting Aussie niece.

Mid January I spent a week in London, showing Ashleigh around for four days before she flew home. We had a beaut time.

The lifestyle is great: and I'm not just talking not working! 1:30 - 2:00pm is the start of siesta. From 5:00pm to 8:30pm things happen again. Comer, the day's main meal, lunch, is had during this time. Then after work people go for a couple of drinks, cervezitas - some small beers, and eat tapas. At about 11:00pm they might eat larger tapas - raciones. Music doesn't start at bars before 11:00pm. We've had a few 3:00am nights.

We have found a great bar, Manolo, that has live, and good, and a different type of music every Thursday night. It's great, we have a Spanish lesson from 19:30 - 20:30 that night. We then drop into a favourite tiny bar, Casa de Diego, for unas bebidas y tapas, some drinks and snacks (and some more free Spanish lessons from Diego! - Deb baked and nicely packaged some Anzac biscuits for Diego, 'Mrs. Diego', and son Dani for Christmas. They were told the bisuits are a true Australian and NZ item. They gave us crushing hugs and tears welled in their eyes.), we watch a little Spanish TV - man, they go nuts over TV here, (Diego's is also my favourite place to go watch European Championship League football) then at 10:00pm we rock on up to Manolo, some bebidas, some raciones, some música. Sweet, or dulce, should I say?>

And internet and Skype keeps us in touch with family and friends across the world. I can't think of anything I need.

I continue to rack up a lot of kilometres on my bike through countryside of olive groves and white pueblos.

Oooops. Nearly forgot. Antequera is also famous for La Antequerana (the lady of Antequera) - a bakery specialising in a range of biscuits - legendary in Spain. It's also famous for El Mollete - really just a bread roll, but travel through Andalucia and you see Mollette de Antequera advertised everywhere (probably not made in Antequera, but that style of breadroll). They are nice, I guess, but a bread roll just the same - don't let an Antequerano hear me saying that. Traditionally taken with el aciete, olive oil, but not just any olive oil, but Hojiblanca, extra virgen. They tell us here Hojiblanca of Antequera, of course, is famous the world over. What do our Te Horo olive growers say to that?

The Antequera football team rocks along in second place in their piddly competition, but the town's handball team, their pride and joy, sits mid-table of the National First Division league.

Last time I mentioned reading I think I was mid Markus Zusak's The Book Thief (Black Swan, 2007). That was a true joy. Next, I read Season of Migration to the North, by Tayeb Salih (Heinemann, 1969), which I bought from a road-side stall in the market square in Khartoum, The Sudan. It turned out to be a nasty pirate photocopy with photocoping creases down some pages and pages out of order towards the end. That aside, it was an interesting, if not intense read. Intense in that deep, strong, poetic, arabic style of writing I guess. I don't know, I've never before read deep, strong, poetic, arabic style of writing. And interesting because of the mention of places I had recently visited. It showed its time in history when the the train trip north to Wadi Haifa, and the Egyptan border, is described in all its luxury!!!!

Then onto some writings on Spain. I read ¡Guerra! (which translates as War!) by Jason Webster (Black Swan, 2007). It was a fascinating enough story mixing his trip across Spain investigating the story for the book, and about the Civil War - prompted by a neighbouring farm lady showing him the site of a forgotten mass grave. A bit shallow though (the story, not the grave!).

A much better read is Ghosts of Spain: travels through a country's hidden past by Giles Tremlett (Faber and Faber, 2006). Much more insightful - about the Spanish Civil War, the Franco years, and the current Spanish psyche.

I realised we are now closer to four months here. Time flies when having fun. But that, really, is our only concern. How quickly this will pass. Enjoy while we can.

aka Mad