Tuesday, 15 September 2009

A great family to have around.

Meet the Bignonia family.
It's proper name is: Bignoniaceae

Let me come clean: I am going to describe a family of climbing plants that grow quickly in this climate and don't need much looking after. For a new garden in a Mediterranean climate they are a great choice.

This reddish-orange flower in the two photos above is from one of the Bignonia family of climbing shrubs. Its name is Tecoma (also called Tecomaria) Capensis or Cape Honeysuckle. The flowers are about 7 cms long and the leaves are wavy-edged pinnate with five or seven branches. The flowers tumble together in a cluster. For this way of describing plant leaves I have to thank the Royal Horticultural Society's A-Z of Garden Plants. Left to myself I would say that the leaves consist of smaller leaves (or leaflets) arranged opposite each other in pairs plus one leaflet at the end of the stem. And there are either 5 or 7 leaflets on each leaf.
There are also, by the way, other plants growing over the pergola including a Passion Flower - in one photo you can see its bright, starry shape rising above the rest of the growth. This invader has somehow seeded itself somewhere in the foliage.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Soundless Flashes

The night of Sunday 9th August, 2009 the windows of Casa Kaduna lit up with vivid white flashes. Grandfather and Grandmother Bear went outside to enjoy the glorious sky. Was it really lightning? There was no sound of thunder. Across the high wide sky to the north came continuing flashes at intervals of seconds. They illuminated the shapes of clouds, and backlit the Montgó mountain - you can see its dark silhouette under the clouds in the photo below.

Father Bear and Mother Bear, with Senior and Junior Teenager Bears, were staying with friends in Gandia on this particular night of their Spanish holiday. Meanwhile back in Casa Kaduna Grandfather and Grandmother continued looking with amazement at the white flashes in the sky inset with the narrow zigzags of the lightning forks. Grandmother Bear said to Grandfather Bear, "How far away is that storm do you think?"
"France," he said, "I'm certain it is a long way off."
But Grandmother Bear said, "I don't think so, I think the storm is in Gandia where our family are staying tonight!"
Whereupon Grandfather Bear declared grandly,"France is 600 kilometres from here and Gandia is only 30! We would hear from Gandia."
As if that settled the matter.

The next day Father Bear,

Monday, 20 July 2009

Brits have a blast in Spanish holiday resort

The rocket shot off with a hiss leaving a red tail followed by a brilliant blue scattering light. Shouting and cheering the group of men from the rowing boat by the rocks near Moriara Marina charged the Tourist Office. In the darkness they hacked down the nearest defenders they found inside. The attackers with blackened faces, wearing bandanas and in bare feet swarmed over the interior as the remaining personnel ran off to save their lives. A tall man with long yellow hair marshalled the attackers, now sending them to join in the capture of a small supply ship in the harbour which had been protected by the guns of the fort at Moraira until this moment. He himself remained in the fort with one man and together they spiked the cannons, set a fuse to ignite the powder room, and ran off to

Friday, 19 June 2009

Local bars and grilles

"Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage"

The photo does not show a hermitage but I hope it looks tranquil rather than punitive. I have quoted the words that every schoolboy now in his third age will know - of Richard Lovelace (1618 - 1657). The photo shows an entrance to the lower part of our house from outside, and the stair rail ending there. It is not quite a hermitage, but it is a bedroom with another entrance from the room above.

The photo on the right is a view looking up from the lower terrace where three uses of the iron bars meet (i) on a window ((ii) on a balcony with a blind called Juliet and (iii) as a stair rail from the upper terrace.

And on the left the railing around two sides of the pool gives the swimmer a view of the village. Balustrades would have hidden most of it.


A small window with a grille (called 'una reja' in Spanish). This design was made locally and is typical of the area: the elaborate scroll shape of the lower sides and the curlicues on the top.

Wrought iron gates, of course, at the front of the house.

All of the features shown on this page are to be found in other houses in the area.

Here is the rest of Lovelace's poem, the lines now forgotten by those schoolboys in their third age
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above
Enjoy such liberty
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Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Pretty Little Nisperos

The pretty little nisperos in a neighbour's garden; they are not quite ready to eat. Their colour and the dark green pointed oval leaves of the plant have been a pleasure to look at for weeks now.

And in the mountains looking down on Benidorm there are orchards of nisperos.
I know that some people enjoy eating them, but do they have other uses? Jam?

On Shikoku, the fourth largest island of the Japanese archipelago, they were wrapped in brown paper while still on the tree, each fruit. Why?

To keep them clean for the meticulous Japanese customer? To keep birds and insects off them? I think the latter. But I am not sure!

This fruit is also known as the loquat, see Wikipedia for more http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loquat

For photos of Rolf and Erika's (our Swiss neighbours) house where the nisperos are right now you can click on the link above or go to http://www.calistro.net/

Monday, 25 May 2009

I'll go suck a lemon!

Above the pomegranate tree with the narrow leaves and spiny branches is a cherry tree with its dark green oval leaves. Neither plant has produced any fruit ever! They have been there at least 10 years. This year they both showed promise after a cool season with more rain than usual. What might have easily become a cherry or two was optimistically recognised nestling under a leaf or two last month.
Alas....... still no fruit! But it did take the lemon tree, mentioned elsewhere, 7 years to produce its first lemon so there's always hope. And the lemons are enormous!
With the village over the shoulder of the cherry tree, and those wonderful Washingtonias standing proud behind it, at least the cherry tree has a good view. Fortunately, there are cherry orchards 45 minutes drive inland and that's where we will have to go for a cherry.

Monday, 27 April 2009

The Riu Rau and the Reindeer Farm

The riu rau was a rectangular building with arches to allow quick access to a sheltered area for grapes which were laid outside in the sun on canes to dry. Drying the grapes of course was part of the process of making raisins. At night to protect the drying grapes from dew the grapes were lifted under the riu rau. And the open arches made it easy to do this rapidly if it rained during the day.

The photo shows a modern version of the riu rau. It is part of a small market garden surrounded by vines near the village where I live. The rows of grotesque shapes on the higher and lower levels (terraces) in front of the riu rau are the vines at the time of writing in mid-April. This little vineyard is probably kept for the owner's enjoyment of the tradition rather than any profit. The roof of his house behind the riu rau can be seen in the photo as well as the garage with the blue door to the right.

The riu rau structure originated in the late 18th or early 19th century. There are not many to be seen now as this form of agriculture is no longer profitable here on the Costa Blanca. Apparently there are no taxes on using an old riu rau as part of a modernised building: an incentive to keep the attractive shape as a feature of the landscape. Fortunately this pleasing form has also been used by some local builders for modern houses like Casa Kaduna (below) and other houses nearby.

The photo above shows the riu rau effect adapted to a modern house.

Although raisins are no longer a local product the grapes certainly are. The photo below shows a vine in Spring with the new growth sprouting from the knarled wood. If you have seen a French vineyard you will note a remarkable difference here in Spain in the way the grapes are grown. They are much closer to the ground; the parent vines are kept low and the new growth is not given a supporting structure for the new growth to spread along.

Flora, my wife, once told the grandchildren that there were reindeer farms all around us. You can see what she means when in autumn and winter after the grapes and the new vine growth have been removed then the rows of Spanish vines look like antlers pushing through the ground!
Each spring the countryside around our village looks as in this last photo with the dark wood of the lines of vines, the dark green of the olive trees, and the pink or white blossom of the almonds.
Bibliography: Vicente Torres at http://blogs.periodistadigital.com/puntodevista.php/2007/10/30/el-riu-rau-bien-a-proteger

Vicente García Morant and Juan Bta. Padros Martínez 'Historia del Poble Nou de Benitachell', 1976

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The Cliff Fishermen

They fished from these cliffs mainly at night and perhaps after a day's work. Any recess in the cliff might provide a place. Sometimes a platform was made from the cane which grew in groves inland. This frail structure was suspended on ropes from stanchions hammered into the rock and hung down on the cliff face above the water.

The fish, octupi, squid, etc provided food for the family or for sale in the village in the early morning when the fishermen returned home in daylight.

The photos show the view north towards Xábia from the cliff top above Cala de Moraig, the Benitatxell beach. The second photo with a zoom setting shows better the possible ledges and slight cavities in the rock where the fishermen could lodge themselves. The whole coastline from south of Denia to Calpe has cliffs like this. Until the warm Mediterranean climate brought tourism, and outsiders came to buy houses and live here, the life for the local Valencians was one of hard work in the orchards producing oranges, olives, and almonds. The cliffside fishing went on until work in construction and tourism created alternative more financially rewarding work.

The cliff sites became the property of the men who used them, and names were given to the position. They were passed on like other property to succeeding generations. The fishermen must have had a rough time just getting to the coast. The sea is a long walk indeed from the village of Benitatxell, and starts with a long, steep climb, high enough to provide a wonderful view looking down on Calpe, more than 15 kilometres away. Presumably for most of last century and earlier donkeys would be used. The descent to a position on the cliff would be no easy task, either. The road down the cliff to Cala Moraig (Benitatxell beach) was made only in the late 1980s. Needless to say over the centuries there must have been many night fishermen who fell from the cliffside eyrie into the sea. From the 1960s it became less and less necessary to fish from these dangerous sites, and nobody does it now.

is a vivid website showing how the men made their fishing sites on and in the cliffside. And there are more photos of the cliffs from viewpoints (miradores) on the Xábia coastline and southward towards Moraira including one of Cala Moraig at the following site:

A reference source reporting what must have been personally dangerous research work is a book in Valenciano: Nits i peixos a les pesqueres de cingle by Anotoni Barber i Vallés, Ismael Guardiola i Mora and Miquel Almenara i Sebastiá. (The title is difficult to translate: Night Vigils at the Cliff Fishing Points is my version) There is much more detail in this book than the website which has the same research source. Some of the photos in the book are from boats, and from positions actually on the cliffside. All of this makes it easier to understand the perilous route to these positions and the dangers of working from them. Candles and scary-looking ropes with rusty pitons were involved.

I am grateful to the researchers mentioned above for the information I have used here and also wish to thank Vicent Javier Monfort, his father and family whose interest in the subject of the cliff fishermen first made me aware of it; and for allowing me to consult his copy of the book referred to.

Monday, 16 March 2009

The last wood fire this year?

This could well be the last evening of the year for the wood fire as the weather now is warmer and brighter. Winter is a good excuse for a wood stove. The bright flames through the glass are a cheerful focal point in the room and the activity of getting up and down from the armchair to add wood keeps you from falling asleep. There are two main kinds of stove available locally. The 'cartridge' type, built-in to the wall, and the free-standing type as in the photo.

Firewood is easily available either delivered as a load for the season or collected in 'capazes' (plastic containers) from local suppliers in the boot of your car. We burn orange, olive, and almond which leave very little soot in the chimney. The wood is from prunings and old tree stock. And I suppose from orchards sold for land to build on. The aroma outside the house from the smoke in winter makes you want to linger in the cool air with this pleasing companion.

We are used to seeing bulls in Spain, the real ones at village fiestas and the huge black cutouts which used to carry the name of a Spanish brandy. They now look down at you as you pass their hoardings on the autopistas. The brand name is no longer allowed by European law, I believe, because it would distract motorists. The bull shape however was allowed to remain after protests supported by the King of Spain. But I was still surprised to see a bull materialise inside our stove the other night. With a fierce look in its eye. At first I thought I had had a brandy too many.

There are many other forms of heating available, in addition to the wood stove and brandy. Our house has central heating from a gas boiler which heats the water and supplies the radiators. Gas is delivered in large metal 'bottles' ordered with a phone call. They are stored in a 'casita' (little house) separate from the main house and fitted with conduit pipes leading to the boiler inside the main building. The cost of the delivered gas varies with the cost of delivery fuel as well as the cost of the gas itself. In winter with regular use of the central heating 4 large bottles will last about 4 weeks; for heating water only they last about a year.

Oil central heating is also available. You can usually see the 'capsule' container for the oil resting on a support in the grounds of a house. Electric under-floor heating is in common use as are portable electric heaters. Wall mounted air-conditioner/heaters are popular as well as the ubiquitous portable (or at least pushable) stoves with a gas bottle attached inside. They bring radiant heat next to your chair and at the same time by convection heat a medium-sized room. You can buy the gas 'bottles' from the suppliers' depots; Cepsa are a silver colour and lighter to lift than Repsol which are an orange colour and make you grunt when you lift. Conveniently, they are also available from petrol stations and some hardware stores.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

The Costa Blanca

Spain is a mountainous country and there is a relatively narrow coastal plain along much of the Mediterranean. Sometimes there is no plain at all when a mountainside drops down abruptly to the sea below. You can see houses built on slender concrete piles reaching upward for as high as three storeys on the steep slope. I imagine living there and being too scared to look down.

The houses on the mountainside in the photo are less than 10 minutes from our house. The route to my bank runs alongside a precipice. Banking is risky enough these days without this; although you never have to wait very long for service.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Red Sky at Night.......from the pool terrace

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Sunday, 1 February 2009

Hercules the night hog

Hercules the Night Hog

The clanking of the cats' bowl as Hercules the Hedgehog emptied it and sent it spinning

................used to bring us out of the house to watch. He was certainly not discreet. The photos on these pages were taken 5 years ago on New Year's morning as Hercules celebrated by emptying the cats' bowl specially refilled for him. Sadly neither he nor any of his clanking clan have appeared so far this winter.
Come back Hercules and progeny in 2009, we'll keep on filling the bowl. To hell with the recession!

Please look at the first blog in January for the first mention and more photos of the hedgehogs.
(In Archive, near the top in the righthand column of the blog page)

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Good old Iris, the first this year, January 28th.

Friday, 2 January 2009

The hogs

The photos were taken immediately outside the patio doors leading to the main room of the house. The hedgehogs had got so used to us by this time last winter that they would come here to feed from the cats' bowls. They were so confident or hungry that I was able to open the door and take the photo looking down on them.

The feeding hedgehogs phenomenon began about 5 years ago. The cats' bowls were at the far side of the terrace from the house. The technique of the night prowler was to put its front feet in the bowl so as to tip the food towards its snout. At night we would hear a clatter as the metal bowl fell back flat on the tiles as the hedgehog moved its front feet.
At first we noticed only one hedgehog whom we called Hercules. When we came out of the house having heard the clatter of a bowl Hercules would scuttle briskly away after pausing for just another mouthful. As the years went by Hercules acquired either a double or a partner or a much larger appetite.
Then two hedghogs appeared at the same time to feed together. It was a partner! Our cats just cleared off or watched from a distance.

Night after night at its peak in the winter months......clatter, clatter, went the bowl and outside we would go to see the fun. Sometimes I would remember my camera.

One night, returning home by car, we caught Hercules outside the garden scuttling along by the wall at a rapid rate to get out of the headlights and through the spaces of the garden gate.

He had quite a turn of speed, seeking cover out of the headlights' glare.

We await the return of the Hercules + this winter hoping they are still around.

But what did I see last Sunday night on the terrace as I went out to get logs for the stove? A fox.