Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Getting around and catching up

Following January, with trips to Madrid and London, time spent in Antequera seemed somewhat scant.

It continued as at the start of February, Deb and I flew north to Berlin. Yet again travel has blown away misconceptions. With the cold war hanging all over my youth, propaganda left me with the idea 'West' Berlin would be a much better place than the dour old Soviet era 'East' Berlin. How wrong. What was the 'East' is in fact what was the original old Berlin and all its history. And the DDR's showpiece. It now has so much more to offer as well.

Really, you should read Deb's blog page 'Berlin' at which really does our trip justice.

I just loved the whole time there. What especially? Hmmmm...

The angel statue atop Victory Monument, in the Tiergarten is just beautiful.

Bismark stands proud in granite form.

The higgledy-piggledy heights of the stone stelaes, contrasting with the orderly lines in both directions, of the Halocaust Memorial, is an awe-filling sensation to view.

We chose to visit the Pergamon Museum, from the number of first class museums on Museuminsel (Museum Island). Wow. The completely removed, reconstructed, and restored Istar Gate from Babylonia is something to be seen to be belived.It's approx. 2500 years old. Rows of lions stand in relief. My pick. Though the Pergamon Altar, hence the Museum's name, was also impressive. What I did find interesting was the PR releases justifying the museum's reasons for not returning treasures to their original countries. We witnessed a lot of the other side of the argument in newspapers and magazines in Egypt whilst on the Africa trip.

And sometimes, it's the little things. Like Ampelmann. The really neat little green walking man of the pedestrian crossing lights. And the Trabbies ... the Trabants, those quaint little heap of shit Soviet cars. A local said that people used prefer buying a second hand one: there was a chance they might go.

And I especially love tying loose ends when traveling, those coincidences and such like I've often written of. Like visiting the Jewish Museum, not only for its own architectural worth and interesting and not over-burdening story of Jewish history and culture, but because its first Director was none other than, the late, Nigel Cox, one time manager of Wellington's best book shop, Unity.

I can't leave Berlin without quoting one of a series of plaques embedded in the footpath of a street. It quotes Miguel Cervantes, famous Spanish author (Don Quixote):
"Travelling and sojourning among various people makes men wise."

Walking in and around Berlin is great. Their Metro is beaut. Beer, naturally, damn fine. Stacks of 'The Wall' reminders. The glass and chrome Norman Foster-designed dome addition sitting over the historicist Reichstag parliament is interesting, if not a bit incongruous. But all the reflections, mirroring, makes for some interesting photos.

Home. Antequera. And only a chance to catch breath and repack the bag.

Back to New Zealand, family and friends, in Wellington, for a fortnight. Wacko. The purpose: to play my part in the team sucessfully defending the Men's Grade Trophy won at the Around Lake Taupo running relay. Mission accomplished.

It was so nice catching up with friends. Unfortunately the time constraint meant it had a slight business feel about it. Make appointments, meet, next! But I got to see all I wanted to at least once. It made me think that I wished I was there a bit longer, could spend some more time with people, but then I'd be back in Wellington, and ...

Just had to visit Unity. And again connecting those loose threads, spotted Nigel Cox's Phone Home Berlin: collected non-fiction (Victoria University Press, 2007). Posthumously put together by Fergus Barrowman. Hey, and there's Ampelmann on the front cover! A nice gift for the Deb, who didn't make the trip. But ... ahhhhhh ... Victoria University, takes you back.

I took every opportunity to catch up with my old mates, Ingrid and Peter, los sobrinos. I loved doing all the old favourite things with them. Picking them up from school, going to beaches, rock pools, cafes, parks... On my last afternoon, after school, we walked the harbour front (Pete stood "the closest I've ever been to a helicopter."), we spent a couple of hours rock climbing the walls at Ferg's, and finished off with dinner at One Red Dog. Really neat. I went directly to the airport with a big fat silly feeling welling inside. It was bit tough.

This time I flew back to London via a transit in Hong Kong. Couple of times I've gone through Singapore, but mostly via the US. It was a good change. Nobody on the plane, window seats galore, and daylight travel over Mongolia, Siberia, and smack bang over the top of Moscow. Makes a change. A chance to finish off Ghosts of Spain: travels through a country's hidden past by Giles Tremlett (Faber and Faber, 2006). Took a while longer to read than I would have thought - too much traveling around.

Deb had already flown up to London, staying at her sister's. Tracey had given birth to Zoe, the Zoster or is that Zo-star, on Christmas Eve. She is a real little cutie. We goo-ed and gah-ed, and she puked milk over our shoulder and farted on your hand while you held her. A real charmer.

While in London, we saw Saracens play Harlequins, at rugby. Tracey's man, Rhys is a real Saracens fan. Deb and I went to the Brit Museum, yet again. But during my visits to London, this time and in January, I made a point of catching up on some movies. Ang Lee's Lust, caution. Kite Flyer, based on Khalid Hosseini's book. Ian McEwan's (one of my favoured authors) Atonement. Slueth, I just like Michael Caine. And of course, The Cohen bros' No Country for Old Men. Got lucky - I liked them all.

But by now I was itching to hear the sound of Spanish, have lunch at three, tapas and cerveza at ten (pm), and just be surrounded by charming Antequera again.

Not such a bad option.

aka Max

Desfiles, cabalgatas y fiestas: una via de vida en España

Processions, parades and fiestas are a way of life in Spain. They live for them and celebrate with a passion.

Our first procession was witnessed in Cadiz, in the week after we arrived in Spain, followed closely by another in our first week living in Antequera. These are processions to the Virgin Mary, and this one in Antequera to La Virgen del Rosario.

Escorted by a band, 32 men hoist a large, and judging by the struggle - presumably heavy, statue onto their shoulders and do a slow march, resting every 100 metres or so, around town stopping at each church - there are many. Each arrival is announced by tolling bells, and throngs of nuns. This is forerunner of much bigger things at Easter.

Christmas here, as the Spanish name, La Navidad, suggests is really, oddly enough, about the birth of the child Christ. Santa Claus, or Papa Noel, is a more recently and commercially introduced figure. But you don't, not in Antequera anyway, see characters dressed up as Papa Noel, or stores with a resident Santa. A custom of hanging an inflatable Santa, or small 'stuffed' one from front of your house is taking off. Kids are, of course buying into him pretty quickly.

Towns, and businesses within towns (organised by the local Ayuntamiento - town council, who in turn usually enter the biggest) compete in Belén competitions - nativity scenes. Some are downright spectacular. Needless to say I have seen more nativity scenes this Christmas than the rest of my life total.

We saw Belénes in Granada, Cordoba, Malaga all set out in pastorial magnificence, but I like the poetic licence of this one setting the whole Christ birth and surrounding pastoral activities with a backdrop of the Antequera Alcazaba.

Christmas Eve as we call it, but Nochebuena (the good night) in España, is a big time family affair. It is reputed that TVs are actually turned off that night - something I find a little hard to believe! But the norm is a big feast of seafords, fish, and meat and then los dulces ... the sweets: el turrón, el mazapán, y los polvorones. This all takes place at Mum and Dad´s place.

Next day, Christmas, is yet again another family bash with much eating, and la cava ... the champagne.

Next on the fun calendar is 28 December, Santos Inocentes, and the equivalent of our April Fool´s Day. TV and radio stations play practical jokes, and it´s the aim to stick un monigote - a little paper cut-out stick man - on the back of an unsuspecting friend. All harmless stuff - until someone pokes an eye out!

New Year's Eve, El Nochevieja - the old night, is of course another big night. A big celebration is held in la Puerta del Sol (the Sun Gate) in Madrid and broadcast live nationally. Everyone takes their lead from the clock in Puerta del Sol, for with each toll of the bell una uva (a grape) is eaten - doce en total (12). Then washed down with a quaff of cava. The custom is to wear red undies (ropa interior roja) for good luck in the forthcoming year. This is celebrated more likely at friends, but the family tug is still strong.

On the evening of 5 Jan, the kids get all excited. We witnessed it in Majadaonda, Madrid, with our nephews Reece and Aidan. It's all about Los Reyes Magos - or the Three Wise Kings as we know them. A big street parade is held with lots of floats, bands, jugglars, acrobats etc, and buckets and buckets of sweets and balloons thrown out to the kids. The last three floats have the Three Kings riding aboard. The kids go berserk and scream what present they want brought that night (equivalent to Santa coming to kids back home).

We returned home to discover Antequera had again boxed above its weight and the parade included camels, bears and the Three Kings actually rode the parade on horse back.

The first weekend of February and we celebrated Carnaval in Antequera. A celebration of fun during the last days before Lent, this celebration was pretty much quashed during the austere Franco years. It's now making a big rebirth, especially in Cadiz, and takes place the same time as Rio's Carnaval, New Orleans' Mardi Gras and the other big ones. Antequera, again, did it pretty well. From media dia, kids all start appearing in elaborate fancy dress. About 60% of adults go fancy dress once dark falls.

Antequera celebrates with a parade through town of a giant mollete (the famous bread roll) dressed as a local balomano (handball) player (?). This starts about 11:30. Music is already blazing away from two stages in Plaza San Francisco. At about 12:30 the mollete is set alight, in a great blaze.

Then molletes, aciete de oliva (olive oil), cola cao (hot chocolate) and café (coffee) is served to all. Then, in that typically Spanish way, there's games for the kids in the Plaza at 1:30am! At 2:00 a fantastic un grupo tambor (a drum band) kicks off. At least 100 drummers and percussionists play at fever pitch for an hour with no break in a spectacle that would go down well at Wellington's Fringe Festval. Fantastic!

They finished at 3:00am and that was pretty much it for us. The stages continued to host live rock bands.

You know, I could get used to all this

aka Mad.