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Musing on an expat’s sojourn

August 27, 2014 – 8:53 am

Like many expats – indeed, most of the ones I know, especially those with young children – I’m coming to the end of my summer sojourn in England.

As always – this is my ninth August spent here, I’ve only missed one, during my first pregnancy, and never again – my thoughts turn to what I like and miss most about the two countries, my birth home (England) and my adoptive home (Spain).

I’ve now spent as many years living in or near Seville as I did living in London. Two different cities, two different experiences – one fast-paced, stimulating, stressful but with a certain monotony; the other slower, less pressured, more varied, and infinitely more fulfilling. Nine-to-five office job (with perks of lunches, parties and press trips), versus the freedom of freelance, with its crazy, unpredictable hours. Anyone who’s been lucky enough to make the change will appreciate the variation in financial stability, but also the increased “quality of life”.

So what do I miss about Spain when I’m spending a few weeks in England? My son’s willingness to chat to strangers – people in shops, in the pub, in the street – so normal and welcome in Spain, causes some consternation here in more closed England. People with dogs will usually chat, but others look confused and embarrassed by a small boy they don’t know talking to them. The friendliness of Andalucians is priceless.

The weather, obviously – it’s one extreme (we’ve had torrential downpours, electrical storms, hail and 2 degrees at night since we’ve been here) to the other (upper 30s, 40 in Seville today). But England when it’s warm and sunny, and you’re outside in the garden, sitting on the lawn, watching your kids run around playing hide and seek – that takes some beating. The fierce heat of the summer in southern Spain is what sends adoptive Andalucians back north in July and August, but the warmth of the sun is also what draws many of us there.

The food – sheer variety, fads – is as mind-boggling as ever – the new things, after cupcakes and macaroons, seem to be flavoured popcorn and salted caramel everything – even Tesco has this fashionable savoury-sweet flavour now. Chorizo is still in everything, from squid stew to chicken casserole to paella. Spain has its food trends too: burgers are big currently, as is unusually flavoured (non-tomato) salmorejo - beetroot, strawberry, watermelon.

The anniversary of the First World War, in 1914, has filled the TV schedules and book stores, and monuments have marked the occasion – the Tower of London has an installation with thousands of blood-red poppies. I tried to explain to my kids about all the young men who sacrificed their lives in unimaginable conditions, but it’s hard for them to grasp such a foreign concept. The pictures are from another world.

I love medieval fairs in Spain, but they are usually commercial rather than educational, even if in appropriate dress and with period food. Historical recreations sound dull and ditch-water, but we went to a marvellous Tudor Day at a local Elizabethan manor, Kentwell Hall, where actors dress up in costume, speak in English of the day, and explain about their craft – fletchers, felters, alchemists. I would dearly love to go to a similar event in Spain to find out what life was like in the time of the early Bourbon empire.

Do you visit your home country in the summer? What do you enjoy most while you’re there?


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La Bienal de Flamenco 2014 – A Preview

August 18, 2014 – 10:58 am
The Bienal de Flamenco draws the finest talent to Seville every two years.

The Bienal de Flamenco draws the finest talent to Seville every two years.

This autumn, flamenco fans shouldn’t miss a major event taking place in Seville: the Bienal.

Every second year, the finest performers and companies – singers, musicians, dancers – bring their shows to the city for three weeks of mesmerising performances of this striking art form, with its raw emotion, intricate rhythms, and astonishing footwork.

This year, some of the star attractions showing between 12 September and 5 October include:

12 September: The opening night gala at Teatro la Maestranza – a tribute to the great singer Enrique Morente, featuring his children, Estrella, Soleá and Jose Enrique; as well as Carmen Linares, El Pele, Arcángel, and dancer Israel Galván.

15 September: Farruquito in his brand new show Pinacenda at Teatro La Maestranza. The unfeasibly attractive dancer is always accompanied by his family entourage of singers, musicians and other performers.

19 September: Tomatito at the Alcazar – the guitarist is always one of the Bienal’s most popular performers.

20 September: El Baile de la Frontera at Hotel Triana. A group of performers from Moron de la Frontera, renowned for the excellence of its flamenco talent. The line-up includes Pepe Torres, Jairo Barrull, Carmen Lozano (invited artist), David el Galli, Juan José Amador; guitarists Dani de Morón, Eugenio Iglesias
and Paco Iglesias, with the special collaboration of Diego de Morón and Antonio Ruiz “el Carpintero”.

21 September: Manuela Carrasco with Naturaleza Gitana: Gitana Morena, a homage to Lorca, at La Maestranza.

28 September: Patricia Guerrero at the Teatro Central with her new show Latidos de Agua, which recalls the Polinario, a legendary place in the Alhambra.

29 September: Ariadna Castellanos plays at the Espacio Santa Clara – the young pianist won a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music in London, and has played with Paco de Lucia.

1 October: Jeromo Segura at the Espacio Santa Clara. This up-and-coming star, who won the coveted Lampara Minera award in 2013, will sing in this intimate space.

5 October: This year’s flashmob will take place on the final day of the festival at 12 midday in plaza Nueva. Pastora Galvan has prepared the choreography of bulerias trianeras for this 3.5 minute group performance, which anyone is welcome to participate in. If you want to be in this flashmob, get your dancing shoes on now and start practising!

If you can’t wait till then to see some top-class flamenco, then go to the Alcazar on 30 August, to see Jeromo Segura sing as part of the outdoor summer concert season. Hearing any music at night in the gardens of this palace is an unforgettable experience, but the passion and spine-tingling emotion of flamenco adds an extra dimension.


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Rock ‘n’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution (but talking in Seville is)

August 10, 2014 – 11:06 am
A bar in Plaza San Francisco, a flashpoint for night-time noise in Seville. Photo credit: Michelle Chaplow

A bar in Plaza San Francisco, a flashpoint for outdoor night-time noise in Seville. Photo credit: Michelle Chaplow

When you come to beautiful, historic Seville, whether for a brief visit, a medium-length stay, or to live permanently, you will have certain preconceptions about this vibrant city. Its atmosphere, its colour, its buzz. In short, its noise.

In the warm, welcoming climate of southern Spain, you expect life to take place en la calle – people sitting outside in cafes eating tapas on balmy evenings, drinking cañas of chilled Cruzcampo beer, but above all, chatting animatedly until the small hours, possibly even breaking spontaneously into song. Having said that, when I lived in the centre, I do remember being kept awake by groups singing in the street – merrily making their way from one bar to another.

This street life is what makes Andalucia its charming, inimitable self, and is one of the reasons why I personally love it so much, after years of living in (mostly) cold, dark London, and why expats fleeing from the cloudy skies of Britain and northern Europe still flock here in droves. All Sevillanos love to be out, watching life, being seen, meeting friends, talking about the weather, the beach, the Feria, the children. In the street, literally, the lively, human, in-your-face intensity that is a city of energy, colour and excitement.

Which is why, when I first read about the city’s new anti-noise law, I honestly thought it had to be a wind-up. Sevillanos, being told not to make noise outdoors at night? That’s like telling Parisians to be scruffy, or Italians to be subdued. Ain’t gonna happen, not in their culture. In their genes. In their nature. But a petition of 4,000 Seville residents (out of a total 700,000) last year demanded action be taken against excessive noise levels in the street, in the city centre. Some native, or adoptive, Sevillanos can’t take the late-night ruido which prevent them from sleeping any more – El Arenal and Alfalfa are two top areas for wee hours disturbance.

As I scanned through the initial parts of the news reports – which mentioned games of dominoes and dice being banned, as they’re so notoriously rowdy, and so is eating or drinking while standing up while outside a bar – I thought the heat had got to the Mayor and his delegados. But when I reached the part about TVs outside bars being turned up too loud, then I started to believe it could actually be serious. Anyone who’s tried to have a drink in a bar when a football match is on will know what I’m talking about.

Under the new law, anyone having an “excessively loud” conversation on the street can now be fined, as can bar owners who set up televisions on their terraces or who serve patrons who are standing up outside.

Other activities which are prohibited include playing loud music while driving, having a car alarm that goes off for more than three minutes, or revving car engines unnecessarily. Fines for those caught transgressing the law, in all its intricacies of exact noise level and time of day, could be fined from €300 to €300,000, as well as – in the case of bars – the closure, either temporary or permanent, of the establishment. From boy racers to old men to friends chatting, it is as randomly sprawling as it is, in this writer’s opinion, ill-conceived.

Further evidence of its ad-hoc nature is that those charged with imposing the fines at night, a small number of police officers, will not carry technical equipment with which to measure the noise levels. Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, does it?

So why? What’s behind this new law (since there’s always a motive)? There are several theories – in a dire economic situation such as we have currently, filling the coffers is always a priority for politicians. Any new infringement of the law, any means of relieving the public of some desperately-needed euros, will be seen as a legitimate means of extra income. One gallery owner, who often holds events in his city-centre space, told me it was about so-called “quality tourism” – too many terraces, to meet tourists’ demands to eat and drink outside.

Personally it strikes me that there are many, many more Seville residents who want the freedom to  go out at night and enjoy a beer, a tapa and a chat outside (the temperature here in summer doesn’t dip below 30 degrees until after 10pm), than those who are bothered by such activities.

The Feria will not have to curb its exuberant noise levels for the new law in Seville, unlike bars and cafes with outdoor terraces.

The Feria will not have to curb its exuberant noise levels for the new law in Seville, unlike bars with outdoor terraces.

One notable omission to which many have drawn attention is the fact that religious processions and festivals, such as Semana Santa , El Rocio, and the many other Virgin Mary outings which take place throughout the year, with their loud boom-boom bands and deafening early-morning rocket explosions, are exempt from this law, as are karaoke bars and nightclubs, where people often gather outside to smoke, chatting loudly in the street.

Neither is there mention of botellones, the street parties where hundreds of young people gather in an open public space; drink all night, shouting and singing, naturally; relieve themselves where they fancy; and then leave all their rubbish behind. Nice. Another glaring gap is the Feria, where music plays and high spirits keep the party going till 4 or 5am every night for a week in April.

Such anomalies makes a laughing stock of the law, as no one in a position of power in Seville would ever restrict the city’s most popular, traditional – and noisiest – events. Why? Because those are their preferred celebrations. Normal people can’t enjoy themselves outdoors in a bar, but We, those who govern, will continue with our regular revelries. Perish the thought anyone would try to prevent us from doing so. Double standards.

It seems to me there a vast, difference, nay chasm, between a crowded square packed with people talking at the tops of their voices, which is obviously going to disturb those living around, and a few people having tapas at a table in the street. How on earth will the police be able to keep track, decide whom to target with fines and even closures, implementing this wide-ranging, illogical law?

What do you think? Should people be banned from eating and drinking while standing up on a bar terrace? Does it seem reasonable that the right of those living nearby to sleep should be protected? Or is it draconian and over-the-top to protect people’s wellbeing when it impinges on the enjoyment of others?
 

 

 


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As I Walked Out: One man’s journey in the footsteps of Laurie Lee

July 30, 2014 – 8:33 pm
Laurie Lee

On the 100th anniversary of Laurie Lee's birth, the book takes readers on a revealing journey across 21st-century Spain.

To celebrate the centenary of Laurie Lee’s birth, Paul Murphy retraced the writer’s journey on foot across pre-war 1930s Spain from Vigo to Almuñecar, as recounted years later in the much-loved classic As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. For Paul, the voyage became much more than reliving a favourite memoir, as the ex-civil servant battled his own personal demons during the arduous five-month trek. Fiona Flores Watson talked to Paul Murphy about love, loss and literature.

Andalucia.com: Has the idea to write this book been with you for years?

Paul Murphy: I guess the answer to this is: yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I have been fascinated by the book it is based on and its author, and the idea of walking across Spain, since I was 17 and first read As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. No, in that the first time I seriously considered undertaking the journey as a book project was when I had to pitch an idea for a non-fiction book to my tutor on my MA Professional Writing Course at Falmouth University in February 2012. Somehow I had discovered that June 2014 would be Lee’s centenary and I thought my tutor would like the hook. She did, but cautioned me that she had doubts about whether I could do the walk/journey, write the book, and find a publisher, all in time for the centenary. She was right to be cautious, but I did manage to meet the deadline… by a week!

Paul Murphy, PD Murphy, Laurie Lee

Paul Murphy read Lee's classic Spanish travel memoir at the age of 17, and has been fascinated by the writer, and the country, ever since. Photo credit: Joe Wainwright Photography.


AC: When did you first visit Spain, and why?

PM: I first visited Spain as a 15-year-old in 1970 with my mother and brother. I had my O Level Spanish exam looming and I was supposed to be practising my Spanish. I was sent to do the shopping every day – not many supermarkets then in Estepona, so I had to ask for things by name. Ever since, my specialist Spanish vocabulary subject has been fruits and vegetables.

AC: What drew you to Spain, and what made you want to come back?

PM: After my first visit, I pretty much visited Spain every year as a visitor/student/teacher for the next 14 years. I am not sure why I fell in love with the country in the first place. I was brought up in London of Irish and Welsh parents, and am British by nationality, but do not feel very comfortable in that skin. Perhaps it is my Celtic roots that attracted me to the more emotional, sensual Spanish personality. I love language, so perhaps it was the sound and dialects that attracted me.

AC: What is about Lee and his work which attracts and inspires you?

PM: His lyrical style of writing. He is a poet who writes beautiful prose. I am not a great admirer of his classic childhood memoir Cider with Rosie; it is his writing on Spain that has always drawn me in. I think he succeeds in capturing the soul of Spain, its duende, in a way that no other English writer has ever done. It is no coincidence I think that Lee, like me, was fascinated by the Spanish poet Lorca, who for me defined the mystery of Spain and its culture. I never did meet Lee and perhaps that was a good thing, as I am not sure we would have clicked. The more I found out about him, the less I liked him as a man. At the end of the day he was an English eccentric, a pillar of a certain type of English establishment, a champagne (or cider) socialist. I admire him for his willingness to fight for the Republican cause and will always love his writing, but I’m not sure that we would have been kindred spirits if we had met.

Paul visited many towns and villages on his five-month walk.

Paul visited many Spanish towns and villages on his five-month walk. Photo credit: Toma Tours

AC: Why did you choose to make this journey, and write the book, at this point in your life?

PM: I think to a degree it chose me. I was at a low point following redundancy from my 20-year career in local government, and my wife demanding a divorce shortly after. I needed to reinvent myself as a person and choose a new career path. I went back to University and relocated to Cornwall. I needed a challenge, a new journey to complete, I needed to throw caution to the wind, do something unpredictable, something that my wife did not think me capable of doing.

AC: How much of the book (if any) was planned before you set off on your journey?

PM: Essentially the route was pre-determined, as I followed the path taken by Laurie Lee back in June 1935. He arrived at Vigo in Galicia by boat from Tilbury, London – the ticket cost £4. He walked via Zamora, Valladolid and Segovia to Madrid and then down to Malaga via Toledo, Valdepeñas, Cordoba, Seville, Cadiz and Gibraltar. I varied the route slightly by going up to the hilltown of Aracena, north of Seville, going inland to Ronda, and avoiding Gibraltar. I had planned on meeting certain people along the route – like the Guardian’s former Spain correspondent, Giles Tremlett, in Madrid – but also met people along the way who told me their stories and occasionally took me off the beaten track. What I hadn’t planned for was how the journey would affect me emotionally, and this was much harder to deal with.

AC: Had you always intended to write such a deeply personal book? Are you glad you did?

PM: No, originally the book was going to be a biography of Lee based on his Spanish Civil War years; the experience seemed to shape his life significantly and left him with a certain amount of guilt, I think. His actual record of fighting in 1938 is still mired in controversy, and many wonder if he made up his wartime exploits story as he went along. The book was also always going to be a travelogue of Spain, looking back to the 1930s and comparing how much modern Spain had changed since Lee’s time here.

The further I walked on my journey, the more I realised that the experience was becoming deeply personal as I battled with the grief of a lost and failed marriage. Also I gradually realised that Lee was, in effect, a surrogate for my father who had died 10 years previously, and with whom I had a difficult relationship. As well as being a hard physical journey, the walk took its toll on me emotionally and changed me for the better. I felt I had to reflect this in the book and found my own experiences led to a changed relationship with Lee and a deeper understanding of the man and the writer.

In the end I learnt a lot about myself as a person, and as a writer, as the journey took me in a direction that I had not foreseen.

Paul found the journey, which took him to stunning Spanish landscapes, a tough emotional as well as physical experience. Photo credit: Toma Tours.

Paul found the journey, which took him to many stunning Spanish landscapes, a tough emotional as well as physical experience. Photo credit: Toma Tours.

AC: While you were walking, how did you record your thoughts? Notebook, dictaphone, photos? Did you keep a daily journal?

PM: I used an iPad and took over a thousand photos, and made occasional notes; I did not keep a diary as such. The journey from start to finish, though, took five months, with a break in the middle to complete my MA Studies. The book took shape in this middle section of the walk as I had to produce a 15,000-word dissertation – essentially an early draft of the first few chapters. The photos served as my memory triggers.

AC: Did you ever find your own opinions and experiences of Spain conflicting with the course or content of the book?

PM: I don’t think this happened too often, my aim was to record my experiences as an observer in the main. However, on occasions I was not able to hide my personal views about how Spain seemed to have become a much more conservative society following its transition to democracy and membership of the EU. The country seemed as divided as ever, with the poor having got poorer particularly in the harsh austerity regime of the current and previous governments. The Civil War still seemed a subject that few were prepared to talk about and the “pact of silence” still seemed pretty much in place. I think I wanted to see more passion and fight against the injustice still prevalent in much of society.

I was quite shocked when I visited the Valle de Caídos and heard the commentary of the independent tour guide, who still seemed to respect and uphold the image of Franco as essentially a good man and saviour of the country. Perhaps it was also just the reflections of an older man reliving his youth and finding the world a different place. We all reinvent our memories to synchronise with the internal narrative that we have about our lives.

AC: Did unexpected meetings and unusual characters change the course of the journey (and book)?

PM: Yes, I met the grandson, Pepe, of a communist tank commander who had fought against Franco and then had to live the life of a fugitive after the war had ended. He had children of his own now who could not find work and who were living on the breadline. Indirectly he set me off on a path and caused me to meet Alfonso, whose grandfather and all of his great-uncles, bar one, had fought against the Republicans. The black sheep of the family sided with the Republic and was saved from certain death by his brothers, who smuggled him to safety and bribed Francoist officials to spare his life. The war did set family against family, but sometimes blood is thicker than water.

AC: How did the journey, and the process of writing the book, affect you as a person? Do you think you’ve changed, and if so, in what way (for better or worse)?

PM: The whole experience did change me. I set aside over 2 years to make the journey and write the book. I started out as a man whose life had been knocked off course by unforeseen events, a man embittered and saddened by his newly impoverished and lonely state. The journey and the book made me confront some long-hidden demons and work my way through the grief and loss of my marriage. In the same way that I changed my view of Laurie Lee, who I came to see as a flawed man who could write like an angel but was no hero, I also discovered a nicer, better version of myself and came to terms with the memory and life of a flawed and unhappy father. I learnt that writers often lie, heroes have feet of clay and fathers aren’t all as bad as their sons sometimes think.

The cottage in Slad, Gloucestershire, where Laurie Lee was born. Photo credit: Joe Wainwright

The cottage in Slad, Gloucestershire, where Laurie Lee was born and spent his childhood before 'walking out' to Spain. Photo credit: Joe Wainwright Photography

AC: What were the high and low points of the journey for you (including parts afterwards in UK?)

PM: The lows include realising that Lee would often play for his supper in roadside inns that were no more than brothels, and that sometimes his “extras” included sleeping with teenage prostitutes pimped by their grandfathers; and discovering that upright Spanish citizens, pillars of the community, often still gather together in community-run venues to sing the victorious hymns of Franco’s fascist troops.

Of the highs, well literally climbing up and over the Guadarrama mountains north of Madrid – breathing in the rarified air as you crest a peak and see the capital sprawled out below you takes some beating. Right at the end of the journey, I finally met Lee’s widow and daughter, who were thrilled to hear of my journey, and who told me that if their father were standing by their side at that moment, he would bestow his blessing upon me.

It is painful to realise that a hero is often not what he seems, but I still respect Lee as a writer and a man and try not to stand in judgement of him and his faults – after all, I am no angel – are any of us?

The biggest high came not so long ago, and I will reveal all at the end of our conversation.

Laurie Lee

The grave in Slad of Laurie Lee, one of England's best-loved writers. Photo credit: Joe Wainwright Photography

AC: Do you have any unanswered questions after writing the book? Has it left you with the desire to write another one?

PM: Oh yes, there is much that I don’t know about Lee, for example whether he fought and killed a man in battle – only he knows that, and the truth has gone with him to his grave. I think I know Spain a bit better, but I have no idea what its new generation of young people, over 50% of whom can find no work, or prospects of work for years to come, will make of their country.

I am still coming to terms with the emotional and physical effort of what writing a book entails – this was my first one. I have ideas and plans for a further book on Spain, but at present am taking stock and replenishing my energy levels. I have discovered that I can write well, I can tell a story, I can deal with rejection and setbacks, and come up smiling the next day. What I am not sure about is, can I continue to do it?

AC: They say biographers/those who write books about people have complicated relationships with their subjects. Do you like Lee more or less after writing the book? Did your opinion of him change over the course of your journey?

I think we have already established that my view of Lee changed a lot over the course of the project and tested my faith in him. I have a more informed view of him now, a different view, perhaps a more balanced view.

AC: Do you have a favourite town or city in Andalucia, and why do you like it?

This is an easy one: I spent a year living in Granada in 1976 as a student and fell in love with its melancholy beauty. A very favourite place is the Plaza de San Nicolás in the Albaícin overlooking the Alhambra. My special time of day in this special place is sunset, when the blood-red skies light up the white teeth of the Sierra Nevada’s snowy peaks, as the sun sinks down behind the Moorish palace, with just the African birds singing sweetly to the harem’d princesses of stories from home.

I had my own magical moment after writing the book, when the love of my life, the girl I should have married, found me through the book and we are together again. One day I will bring her to Granada to see the sun go down.

As I Walked Out in Search of Laurie Lee’s Spain by PD Murphy is available from Silverwood Books. Paul’s blog is The Little Summer of the Quince.


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Michelin Guide to Spain 2015 will be launched in Marbella

July 19, 2014 – 8:48 pm
Michelin

Michelin Guide to Span and Portugal 2014 - the 2105 edition will be launched in Marbella this November.

A few days ago it was announced that the Spain and Portugal Michelin Guide 2015 will be launched at Hotel Los Monteros in Marbella on 19 November.

Last year the town was a finalist in the race to hold the event, but in the end it took place at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

This will be the sixth presentation of the guide, which has also been held in Madrid, San Sebastian and Barcelona. Marbella beat Valencia and Santiago de Compostela to hold the 2015 launch.

Michelin

Patio of Los Monteros Hotel, where the 2015 Michelin Guide to Spain and Portugal will be launched. Photo: Los Monteros Hotel

The venue for the launch will be the five-star Los Monteros Hotel and Spa, a grand luxury establishment which has hosted the likes of Michael Jackson, Julio Iglesias, Baroness Von Thyssen, Sean Connery and Antonio Banderas. Its restaurant, El Corzo, was the first hotel restaurant in Spain to be awarded a Michelin star.

According to the organisers, with the choice of Marbella as venue for the event, Michelin “is showing its support for tourism and, specifically, for costal tourism, which is facing up to the current economic situation with positive results.” It’s the first time the launch has been held in southern Spain.

Marbella has more Michelin-starred establishments than any other town or city in Andalucia – Dani Garcia’s Calima, now transferred to Hotel Puente Romano, El Lago, and Skina.


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El ronqueo – from whole tuna to tasty tapas, in minutes

July 12, 2014 – 1:09 pm
Diagram of a blue-fin tuna, showing all the cuts. Picture courtesy of El Campero restaurant (Barbate, Cadiz).

Diagram of a blue-fin tuna, showing all the cuts. Picture: El Campero restaurant (Barbate, Cadiz).

As a self-confessed foodie, and with an avid interest in all things Andalucian, I was excited to be invited to a ronqueo.

For anyone who doesn’t know what this is, the concept may seem a little odd. A ronqueo is when a tuna, freshly caught, is skinned and filleted by hand. Most famously, this is done with almadraba tuna, which are fish caught using a traditional system of nets off the coast of Cadiz, during a short season from late April to early June. These tuna are flash-frozen within half an hour of being caught, to be sent to Japan and used in sushi and sashimi. One of the best, and most renowned, places to eat fresh almadraba tuna here in Andalucia, is El Campero restaurant in the fishing town of Barbate. But since the almadraba season finished a month ago, this tuna was caught on a line.

So what’s the big deal about it? Well, if you’ve ever tried filleting a fish – let alone such a large one – by hand, you’ll know it’s not easy. This is one of those incredibly skilled jobs where the person doing it makes it look like a piece of cake – a well-placed cut here, a deft slice there, and before you know it all the meat has been removed from the carcass. Yet it takes years to master the art of slicing cuts of meat off an 180kg tuna so efficiently that nothing goes to waste.

ronqueo, atun rojo, blue-fin tuna

The tuna, line-caught off the Cadiz coast the previous day, arrives at Duo Tapas in Seville.

My first-ever ronqueo was in a tapas bar in the boho-trendy Alameda area of Seville called Duo Tapas. It was a joint venture, organised between Duo Tapas, which owns two other bars including a Peruvian-Japanese called Nazca, and another place called La Pepona. All serve good, inventive-without-being-overly-fancy tapas, at reasonable prices – not OTT gastrobars, in other words.

As I arrived, the floor was being covered in clear plastic sheeting in preparation for the inevitably messy operation that was about to start. There was a palpable sense of anticipation among those gathered, from photographers and press, to food bloggers, to restaurant staff. As a non-meat-eater, I was apprehensive about the amount of blood and guts I was about to see, but then I figured that if I’m going to eat it, I should see where it comes from. Apart from the stinky guts, I found it fascinating rather than disgusting. Must be getting hardened after all these years in Spain. Even so, I’ve tried not to use too many gory photos.

Then the blue-fin tuna (cost: around 3000 euros) was wheeled into the restaurant on a cart, and placed in the middle of the floor. During the following half-hour, an experienced fishmonger called Rafael Gonzalez produced around 110kg of meat from the animal, explaining each cut as he went. We saw the heart, the gills (not for eating, but extraordinary to see), the mormo, morrillo and facera (cuts from the head), parpatana (area between the head and body); and the classic cuts of ventresca or ijada (belly), solomillo and lomo (loin), cola negra and blanca (tail), and huevas (roe).

Rafa cuts the tuna along its spine, making the ronqueo, snoring noise, after which the process is named.

Rafa neatly divides the meat from the spine.

If you listen carefully (00:06-00:09), you can hear the ronqueo (snoring) sound as Rafa cuts along the jagged spine, after which the process is named – roncar means to snore.

Once Rafa, who’s been in the business for 32 years, had finished (with the results laid out on a long tables, from the head to the tail, see video above), the chefs started on their work. The man in charge of the action was Daniel Cardenas, the Peruvian chef who started Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant Nikkei, before moving to Nazca.

tuna, ronqueo, Peru, Peruvian

Peruvian chef, Dani Cardenas, of Nazca, with Juan Fortuna of Duo Tapas (right), explains the tapas he's going to create with the fresh tuna and ingredients from his native country.

tuna, atun, ronqueo

Dicing the tuna ventresca (belly).

Mixing the tuna with avocado.

Mixing the tuna with avocado.

tuna, atun rojo

Colourful, delicious 'Tuna Nikkei' - blue-fin tuna belly with avocado, flying-fish roe, quinoa and leche de tigre.

Dani explained the ingredients he was going to use in his “Nikkei tapa”, taking us on a journey around his native Peru: chilli from the selva (jungle); quinoa, a protein-rich grain from the Andes mountains; leche de tigre, the sauce used for ceviche, and huevas de tobico (flying fish roe), from the coast. The tuna was diced, mixed with avocado, placed in a scallop shell, and anointed with its exotic accompaniments, and the result was a colourful symphony of rich, complex tastes and contrasting textures.

Throughout the entire event, the atmosphere of excitement didn’t wane – all the guests and staff were genuinely thrilled to witness this fascinating operation.

These are the tapas you can try at the four restaurants here in Seville, until the tuna runs out!

LA PEPONA (C/ Orfila,1)
- Tataki de lomo de atún con salteado de verduras
- Tartar de lomo de atún con guacamole y torta de trigo
- Morrillo, mormo o barriga a la plancha con…acaso importa
- Marmitako de cola negra
- Cola blanca con sopa Dashi
- Sashimi de ventresca con sunomono
- Tarantelo de atún con Ajoblanco de pepino

NAZCA (C/ Baños 32)
- Tiradito de ventresca con espuma de leche de tigre y crocante de quinoa
- Costillas de atún glaseadas con rocoto confitado y huacatay
- Carrillada de atún marinado en salsa de anticucho
- Chicharrón de tarantelo y adámame

DÚO TAPAS (C/ Calatrava, 10)
- Lomo de atún con alboronía andaluza y ajoblanco de anacardos
- Cola blanca con alga nori y panco

SIDONIA (C/ Calatrava, 16)
- Sashimi con aceite de romero y sal en escamas
- Tartar en concha con emulsión de ají amarillo


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Confirmed: Game of Thrones to be shot in Alcazar de Sevilla and Osuna

July 2, 2014 – 4:51 pm
Seville's Alcazar Palace. Photo © Michael Barbatulus

Seville's Alcazar Palace. Photo © Michael Barbatulus

As of this morning, we can confirm that the fifth series of TV’s most-watched series, Game of Thrones, will be filmed in the Alcazar of Sevilla, the exquisite mudejar royal palace, and the historic town of Osuna, in Seville province.

Yesterday the announcement was made that the programme will definitely be filmed in the Alcazar, and today an HBO press release was sent out which also mentioned that some filming will take place in the town of Osuna, known for its magnificent 16th century Baroque buildings, with a history dating back to to the Romans.

The specific locations will be: the Colegiata, the University, the Canteras de Osuna, and the bullring.

In a statement today, the mayoress of Osuna stated that “Osuna is a perfect setting for scenes from the next season of this huge super-production which has millions of fans.”

She went on to say that this was “hugely important news for Osuna which would have far-reaching effects, enabling Osuna to be known throughout the world”, and that it was hoped that the shooting, which is expected to start after the summer, would have “a revitalizing effect on the local economy”.

It has been estimated that filming Game of Thrones will bring in around 84 million euros to the Andalucian economy.

Rumours are rife that the locations in Andalucia will also include the Alhambra, and the Alcazaba in Malaga, although neither the Andalucia Film Commission, which has been working with HBO to scout locations throughout the region, nor press representatives from the two monuments, would confirm knowledge of this possibility. This is probably due to the insistence of HBO on complete silence until the official confirmation is given.

alcazar seville

The Italianate grutesco in the Alcazar Gardens, with its arcaded gallery, provides a dramatic setting.

Mercury's pool in the Alcazar gardens. Photo © Michael Barbatulus

Mercury's pool in the Alcazar gardens. Photo © Michael Barbatulus

A truly romantic spot - the Baths of Maria Padilla.

A truly romantic spot - the Baths of Maria Padilla.

The exquisite gold ceiling of the Ambassador's Hall in the Alcazar. © Sophie Carefull

The exquisite gold ceiling of the Ambassador's Hall in the Alcazar.

The Patio del Yeso is the only part of the Alcazar which remains from Arabic times.

The Patio del Yeso is the only part of the Alcazar which remains from Arabic times.


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New king of Spain: Felipe VI

June 19, 2014 – 3:14 pm
Felipe becomes King Felipe VI of Spain in a ceremony at the Palacio de Congresos de los Diputados in Madrid.

King Felipe VI of Spain is sworn in at the Palacio de Congresos de los Diputados in Madrid.

Today is a historic day for Spain. The country has a new king: Felipe VI. The abdication of his father, King Juan Carlos, was officially approved as a law yesterday, in the Spanish capital Madrid.

This morning Felipe was proclaimed king, in a ceremony which took place in the Palacio de Congreso de los Diputados, alongside his wife, now Queen Letizia, and their two daughters. Their elder daughter, Leonor, becomes the new Princess of Asturias. Also present were the previous king, Queen Sofia, and King Felipe’s sister Doña Elena.

King Felipe VI already has his own Facebook page - a monarch for the Social Media age.

King Felipe VI already has his own Facebook page - a monarch for the Social Media age.

Some pictures of today's ceremonial events from King Felipe VI's Facebook page.

Some pictures of today's ceremonial events from King Felipe VI's Facebook page.

Security in Madrid was tight, with 7000 policeman, and the city’s Ayuntamiento handed out 100,000 Spanish flags to people so that the streets would be a sea of red and yellow.

You can see the full TV coverage of this morning’s events here.


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Tony Bryant and the BBC’s flamenco documentary

June 16, 2014 – 5:49 pm
Tony Bryant (left) with BBC producer Phil Pegum (right), and singer Dani de Utrera (middle), recording The Spirit of Flamenco in the town of Utrera last month.

Tony Bryant (left) with BBC producer Phil Pegum (right), and singer Dani de Utrera (middle), recording The Spirit of Flamenco for Radio 2 in the town of Utrera. Photo courtesy of Tony Bryant.

English author and andalucia.com flamenco expert Tony Bryant collaborated with the BBC for their Radio 2 documentary about renowned Spanish musician Paco Peña, The Spirit of Flamenco, which is being broadcast tonight at 10pm UK time (11pm Spanish time) as part of the station’s Guitar Season. I spoke to Tony to find out more about the programme, and what it was like recording in Utrera and Seville last month, where he acted as organiser and translator.

As a non-flamenco expert, I started by asking who Paco Peña is.
Tony Bryant: Paco Peña is one of the main flamenco ‘guitar soloists’. He is one of many guitarists who has promoted the flamenco guitar (and hence flamenco itself) to the rest of the world, especially England – he has performed everywhere from Ronnie Scott’s to the Royal Albert Hall. There are so many celebrated guitarists within this world, and they have all done their own bit; Paco’s show Misa Flamenca was the first of its kind – he was the first person to set the Catholic Mass to flamenco. He was also responsible for setting up the guitar academy in Cordoba (Centro Flamenco Paco Peña), now part of the renowned ‘Concurso’ (Cordoba International Guitar Festival) which takes place every July in Cordoba.

Paco was born in Cordoba but has lived in England since the late 1960s – he is more famous outside Spain, although he has been spending time back here of late. He speaks perfect English – in this programme, you can hear him talk about how he learned to play the guitar as a child with his brother in the patio of his house in Cordoba.

So how did you start planning your part of the programme?
Tony Bryant: The BBC contacted me in February this year with the idea of a documentary – they wanted to record some authentic flamenco. I thought Utrera would be a great place to record, as it is the cradle of pure, uncommercial flamenco, with several different dynasties, and I have so many wonderful friends there.
Social Media was a big help – I put a note on Facebook, saying that I had been approached by the BBC and was bringing them to Utrera, and wanted to organise a juerga (a get-together) and I got a huge response. I wanted to choose people who were well connected, from the major flamenco dynasties of Utrera.

I’ve known flamenco artists in Utrera since 2006, when I met Luis El Marquesito, who is a singer from the Pinini clan. I kept hearing about the huge clan of flamenco singer, Fernando Peña Soto, El Pinini, from Utrera – so many artists were related to him. El Pinini himself had 10 children, who each had five or so, and so it’s a massive dynasty.

As I wanted to find out more, I went to the Feria de Utrera with a friend, and met Luis, who is part of the Panini family. I bombarded him with questions, and he got me lots of information, and I wrote a book about the genealogical history of the Panini clan of Utrera. Luis has become a good friend, and I get invited to family events like baptisms.

As featured in the BBC Radio 2 documentary The Spirit of Flamenco.

(From left) Dani de Utrera, Paco de Amparo and Luis El Marquesito, as featured in the BBC Radio 2 documentary The Spirit of Flamenco. Photo courtesy of Tony Bryant.

What was it like making the programme with the flamenco artists in Utrera last month?

The producer, Phil Pegum, got nervous because the musicians hadn’t turned up. He kept asking me “What time did you say to them?” – in fact they were only 20 minutes late.

He wanted to record Paco de Amparo, the guitarist, playing a solo piece – a buleria. When Paco started playing, the other two (Luis and the other singer, Dani de Utrera) would clap and shout encouragement (called jaleo). Phil got annoyed and told them off for clapping, because he didn’t want any other sounds to intrude on the guitar. He didn’t realise that this is how flamenco artists play – as a group, with participation from the others. I had to say to him, “I thought you wanted authentic flamenco – this is as authentic as it gets”. Afterwards, he apologised.

Fiona’s note: As a flamenco novice, the producer wasn’t familiar with the loose ambience of flamenco playing, and his technical demands didn’t fit with the spontaneous way of joining in which flamenco musicians have. Noone in a flamenco group sits in a respectful silence while their fellow musicians are playing (unless it was for the late Paco de Lucia, perhaps).

Where else was the programme recorded?
TB: The next day, after recording in Utrera, we went to the Museo del Baile Flamenco in Seville. When we arrived, there was a flamenco dance class taking place, so we interviewed some of the American students. We also talked to the director of the museum, Kurt Grotsch, who is very knowledgeable about the roots of flamenco.

For the last part of the programme, they had asked me to find a priest who loves flamenco – I managed to track one down in Cordoba, which was ideal as that’s where Paco Peña himself is from.

I asked Tony which Paco Peña CD he recommend to people who are unfamiliar with the musician’s work.
TB: Requiem to the Earth; it’s incredible!

What should people who don’t know anything about flamenco’s history and different palos (types of songs) bear in mind when listening to this programme?
TB: This is a difficult question, because flamenco is a difficult subject for those with little or no understanding, but hopefully it will give the uninitiated an insight to the ‘flamenco way of life’ that still exists in certain parts of Andalusia.

BBC Radio 2 programme The Spirit of Flamenco, part of the Guitar Season, will be broadcast on Monday 16 June at 11pm Spanish time (10pm UK time). You can listen to a trailer, or download the podcast of the programme once it’s been broadcast.

You can order Tony’s books on flamenco here.


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The season of romerias

June 13, 2014 – 11:42 pm
A flower-festooned wagon passes the Giralda in Seville.

A flower-festooned wagon passes the Giralda in Seville.

The simpecado visits the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall).

The simpecado visits the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall).

The insignia of the Seville hermandad of El Rocio.

The insignia of the Seville hermandad of El Rocio.

Groups, or hermandades

Groups of rocieros are always accompanied by drummers and pipers.

Groups of rocieros are always accompanied by drummers and pipers.

As May arrives, so the season for romerias (pilgrimages) starts – the biggest of these, in quantity of people, is El Rocio. Groups, or hermandades, set off from towns and cities all over Spain, and Seville has several. I saw one making its merry way through the centre last Thursday, from the singing flamencas, with their leather bags and walking staffs topped with sprigs of rosemary, and peinetas featuring the Virgen del Rocio, to the oxen waiting patiently with their pretty gypsy wagons next to the Giralda.

For a more local aspect, a rociero on horseback in the village of Valencina de la Concepcion.

A rociero on horseback from a much smaller hermandad, in the village of Valencina de la Concepcion.

Riders in their traditional romeria garb always look so elegant - here in front of the Hacienda Tilly in Valencina.

Riders in their traditional romeria garb always look so elegant - here in front of the Hacienda Tilly in Valencina.

A carreta, complete with curtained, shaded outside balcony, sets off on El Rocio.

A carreta, complete with curtained, shaded outside balcony, sets off on El Rocio.

All of these sights and sounds are wonderfully timeless, and no doubt will remain so for many more years to come. Romerias large and small take place up and down the country, whether it’s a gleaming silver carriage carrying the saint or Virgin image, or a simple cart adorned with palm leaves.

Crowds gather at the door of the church.

Crowds gather at the door of the church.

From the largest to one of the smallest - the Romeria de San Antonio in the Sierra de Cadiz village of Benamahoma (pop: 500).

From the largest to one of the smallest - the Romeria de San Antonio in the Sierra de Cadiz village of Benamahoma (pop: 500).


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