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Sometimes Spain can be a very surreal place. It is a country where you might hear Christmas carols in August (as part of the New Year's Eve in August celebrations)!

The fountains are filled with wine (in Cadiar in February and October and in Toro, Castilla y Leon in August) and farmers march their sheep through the center of Madrid just because they can. It is a country where some of the world's most traditional festivals take on a peculiar twist - with scatalogical Christmas traditions in Catalonia and Salamanca's bizarre Easter Monday tradition of welcoming back the city's 'ladies of the night' after their expulsion for Lent (in their Lunes de Aguas festival).

The Tomatina tomato fight is one of the most famous of Spain's bizarre festivals, but it isn't the only time the Spanish throw things at each other. In Lanjarón in the Alpujarras (near Granada), the locals have a giant water fight each June 24. A little stickier is the Batalla del Vino in Haro, La Rioja each June 29, where the locals fight each other with wine. Its OK, they make lots of it in La Rioja, Spain's most important wine region, so there's plenty to spare.
If water, wine and tomatoes aren't enough for you, how about ant throwing? This is what the inhabitants of Laza, Galicia do at Carnival time each year. Even worse is the Battle of the Dead Rat, in the Valencian town of El Puig during the fiesta of San Pedro Nolasco.

Meanwhile, the Cascamorras in Baza and Gaudix, Granada, (September 6 and 9) just seems like an excuse to pick on someone. An old battle between the two towns is re-enacted, where an inhabitant of Gaudix is sent to Baza to steal the image of the Virgen de la Piedad, is pelted with tar and paint and inevitably fails in his quest. He then returns to Gaudix, where he is pelted again for having failed. And this happens every year. You'd think they poor guy would have learned by now, wouldn't you?

Finally, the Lou Reed-loving Valencians viciously try to hit you with flowers in the Batallas de los Flores (Battle of Flowers).
Staying Safe the Spanish Way
Got a newborn baby? Want to keep them safe from evil spirits? Do what they do at the El Colacho festival in Castillo de Murcia, near Burgos, and lie them on the ground and have grown men dressed as devils jump over them. Never mind protection from evil spirits, I'd just like to know who is protecting the babies from the grown men dressed as devils that are jumping over them...

Hypochondriacs who don't get this protection in their infancy can take part in the Hogueras in Granada & Jaen on December 21, where people jump through bonfires to protect themselves from illness!

If the above blessings work (and you don't get burned to death in a bonfire or trampled on by grown men dressed as devils jumping over you), you may be lucky enough to survive a near-death experience later in life. How should you show your thanks? Well, if you come from the town of Las Nieves, near Pontevedra, you show up to mass during the Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme in your coffin! I'm guessing that the following week the town holds a funeral for all those who suffer heart attacks at the sight of lots of people getting out of coffins at mass a week before.
Cruelty to Animals

Early September in Lekeitio (Lequeiti), the Fiesta de los Gansos (Goose Festival) sees a dead goose hung over the harbor while men jump to catch hold of it, trying to see who can hold on for the longest. Animal rights activists have had some success here, as in the past the goose would have been alive when this was done.
Another famous event that has been famously curtailed (but allegedly still takes place) is the tossing a goat from a bell tower in Manganeses de la Polverosa. The town council out lawed the event in 1992, even though it was ominously admitted at the time that what people do in their own time is their own business.


A Damm Fine Spanish Beer?

Last Month, Alick Howard wrote about beer (following Andy Wilkes' Wine article) bemoaning the fact that there's not much in the way of Real Beer around here. He wasn't bitter about it – he’s come to appreciate a good cold draught of lager. He pointed out that only Southern-Jessie Wine-Drinkers go in for things like 'tasting notes', finicky glasses, soppy descriptions and poncey taste-pairings.

Guardian blogger Tony Naylor, like Alick, is not a natural lover of lager. But Spanish lagers are different - he doesn't merely sneer at them, he loathes them. He says Cruz campo is anonymous, San Miguel has an acrid aftertaste and “Ma-poo” is, I quote: “actually offensive: thick, inordinately frothy, cloyingly sweet”.
It doesn't seem likely, then, that a new Spanish beer would appear that might appeal to both a Neolithic northern beer drinker like Alick and a picky professional gastronome like Naylor. But, look out: here comes a new, boundary-crossing Spanish beer. This is what happens when you take an established brewery – in this case, Estrella Damm – and team it up with an avant-garde, haute-cuisine specialist from a 3 star Michelin restaurant – in this case Ferran Adriá from Barcelona's El Bulli restaurant in Barcelona. Into this mix, throw a couple of top drawer Sommeliers (wine buffs, Alick) – Fernan “Best Sommelier in Spain 2006” Centelles and Davíd “Golden Nose 2006” Seijas. The result is an extraordinary brew.

It's called “Inedit” and it's served in a wine sized, 750ml black bottle. It should, the website advises, be served chilled, in half-filled large white wine glasses. The tasting notes say things like:
“Fruity and floral to the nose, with a yeasty sensation and sweet spices reminiscences”
And it's meant to be paired with certain foods. Vinegar-based sauces, asparagus and oily fish dishes are suggested. Adriá boasts that Inedit is the “first gastronomic beer”, which I think will come as a surprise to some of the centuries old breweries in Belgium, German and Britain. Suggested 'food pairings' include various salads, vinegar-based sauces, asparagus, artichokes, fatty and oily fish and citrus.

But, for all the wine-connoisseur wrappings, it is a beer. No, honestly! It's brewed with a mixture of malt and wheat. Beer forums give it mixed responses: they love it, they hate it – but they all agree it is a beer. Naylor likes it; he compares it to Belgian white beer; softly carbonated with a restrained flavour.
Obviously it is a poncey beer. You won't be able to pick up a bottle for €1 at the Supermercado. You have to order it on the Internet or book into a handful of super-posh restaurants. In the UK it retails for around £15 (ouch). But for all that it isn't a bad thing if Spain get's interested in making more beer, especially more interesting beers. You never know, they might even make some that are both refreshing and tasty …and even (oh joy) affordable.

In the meantime I look forward to trying out Inedit when I'm next in the money. I will be 'pairing' it with a Vegetable Bhuna and Pilau Rice.


Round the bend


There were five lanes of traffic: the extreme right shortly filtered off just past the traffic lights; we were next to that; there was an over-taking lane, then two lanes of traffic coming the other way on the left. From one of these a moto-rider, the wind in his hair, veered right across the wide road, cutting up entire lanes as he wobbling through the traffic, and setting off a cacophony of honking and shouts (what does “carapolla” mean again?), in order to draw up alongside a car in the filter lane, which contained some people he knew. In order to have a chat. The car stopped in its tracks, short of the traffic light, though at least that was on red. The moto boy was perched between the filter lane and our lane, pointing the wrong way, laughing and talking volubly. I don't want to steer into the world of stereotypes, but it's hard to imagine this happening on a Saturday morning on some very public road in Britain without it being all over the early evening news, complete with police helicopters.

In the hill villages I have seen a man on a mule holding up two cars (one mine) and a lorry while having a good old chin-wag with the occupants of a truck coming the other way. I appreciate this kind of very Spanish traffic peculiarity, suggesting a slower more measured way of life, a belief that passing the time and conversation is more important than getting ahead. But it is not typical. A much as we might like to imagine that Spain is the country of the laid back, time unconscious, chilled, calm and unhurried, Spain's young men feel the “need for speed” as much as any macho-rapper on a racing circuit. Driving is like a bullfight, a roller-coaster, a rally centre, a special-effects-full X-box game. Foreign-registered cars, two-wheeled vehicles, bigger vehicle (lorries) or anything observing the speed limit must be overtaken immediately, regardless of the road
conditions and on-coming traffic.
Not (quite) all Spanish drivers are completely bonkers. Astonishingly I have found most lorry drivers to be impressively competent and considerate. They have, in contrast to other Spanish road users, discovered a use for the indicators, signaling right to let following drivers know they can over take. But for all that it is well worth driving defensively. Maintain distance, watch your speed, wear full body armour…the usual.

Other cars aren't the only hazards. Many older pedestrians like to expand across any road coming to a tight bend, blissfully unaware of how they might end up decorating it extensively if unlucky. Donkeys, horses and mules appear with alarmingly little warning. But the big menace is motos. Not the occasional scooter driven by a farmer between fields, nor the helmeted foreign bikers keen to get out off-roading but the wheelie practicing, substance taking, wing-mirror lacking, ear-splitting adolescents. They are completely – and competitively – bonkers. Not to mention dangerous.

As for parking, it can be better described as car abandonment. Give me a few square feet of road, hillside, pavement, abandoned shack or gateway and I'll get the car in. The great British trick of putting the hazard lights on while parking in an illegal and-or dangerous position is less evident since illegal parking isn't felt to need an excuse.
Having said all of which, how many foreigners own properties reached by such ridged, vertiginous and narrow tracks they frighten mountain goats? I don't know how they do it! But maybe I'm just turning into a “dominguero” – a Sunday
Rose Jones

CompetaArt in Morocco


It is an exciting time for the members of CompetaArt. We have just finished a very successful exhibition in the Sala de Exposiciones Municipal in Nerja. We had a very fine opening with over 200 people and the mayors of both towns in attendance. We had more than 4.000 visitors in the following month with tremendously positive feedback for the multi-disciplinary exhibition of our artists and craftspeople.

After the exhibition in Nerja, the members of Competaart became involved with a charity project helping street children in Kénitra, a city in the southwest of Morocco. The project, to help the privately run centre named “Dar Lekbira”, was started by Manuel Dominguez Martos (Manolo) of the glass shop Vitral in Torre del Mar. Competaart founder-director, Wayne Newman, was doing his glass art work at Vitral and brought the project to the attention of the Competaart group. The group was excited to be able to help and over 18 artists donated 24 pieces of art work to be sold to raise money for the centre. “Dar Lekbira”, on seeing the broad range of nationalities represented, decided to have an international exhibition and to start a cultural museum for the children. This past weekend, five of us from Competaart, went to the inauguration of the exhibition.

The centre, a school, workshops and living centre for homeless street children aged 6 to 16 who have been abused, addicted to drugs or suffered violence in the streets. All children are accepted and not discriminated against because of religion, gender or race. It has been in existence for 5 years although it had the official opening of its new
centre last spring. It is located in the city of Kénitra, south west Morocco, 2 ½ hour drive from Tangier. It has a population of about 400,000 people divided into the rich and the very poor. The centre is a non-governmental non-religious centre relying on private donations for survival. It has 40 children in residence and many more who come daily for classes. We were housed in a new accommodation which will shortly open its doors to homeless alcoholics and addicts aged 16 to 21. It has plans for a drop in centre for the homeless and another building under construction to replace a centre currently at Kenitra hospital for abandoned babies and up to 6 years of age.

It was an incredible experience for all of us. We bonded quickly with the children, the staff and many other Moroccans. Everyone was friendly and caring. We had a chance to experience some great Moroccan food sharing the dining room with the children and staff. We worked along side them in preparing the place for the exhibition. It was fascinating watching the children learn so quickly and just as enjoyable playing with them. We were privileged to a view of Moroccan culture seldom seen by tourists.

After the success of this week end, they are looking forward to making the exhibition an annual event. We, Competaart members, are already working on ways we can further help this great project and are looking forward to returning there.

For more information and photographs, see

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Sometimes Spain can be a very surreal place. It is a country where you might hear Christmas carols in August (as part of the New Year's Eve in August...
It is an exciting time for the members of CompetaArt. We have just finished a very successful exhibition in the Sala de Exposiciones Municipal in Nerja....
There were five lanes of traffic: the extreme right shortly filtered off just past the traffic lights; we were next to that; there was an over-taking...
A Damm Fine Spanish Beer? Last Month, Alick Howard wrote about beer (following Andy Wilkes' Wine article) bemoaning the fact that there's not much in...
You live in Cómpeta, have you lived here all your life?Almost all my life, from 1978-1982 I lived in Malaga, but the rest of the time I've lived...

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