Friday, 28 November 2014

Peñíscola deserted

There was a little thunder late last night, then rain. It was a few degrees warmer and less humid than than it has been lately. The sun shone in the morning, encouraging me to put some washing out. I went out to buy myself a new belt, as I've ruined my current one by piercing new holes in it as I've lost weight this past year. First I visited Hyper Simply, but they didn't have any, so I drove on to Carrefour which has gone for promoting Black Friday this year, taking a marketing lead from the USA, just like the UK. I acquired a fast 8gb San Disk SD card for five euros, half the price I'd expect to pay at home. Always good to carry a spare, even if it takes me a year to fill one.

At both places, there were teams of enthusiastic people accosting shoppers on their way in, offering them a white plastic bag and inviting them to fill it with dry groceries to donate to the local food-bank. Impressively well organised, with huge containers nearby into which donations could be sorted, and show people arriving how close they were to achieving their weekly target. Then, before heading back for lunch, I called at the station and booked my ticket on the Sunday afternoon Inter-City express to Barcelona.

Later in the afternoon, I drove along the back road to Benicarló and on to Peñíscola With a strong breeze coming in off the sea, huge waves were breaking on a shore devoid of sun worshippers. There are very few visitors in this resort in winter months, few restaurants and bars are open, car parks are empty or shut. I parked outside the fishing port, just one of two vehicles in an area that can take five hundred at least. There we few people around on the quay, fishing boats were moored and idle at the end of the working day. Maybe rough seas meant poor catch conditions for the fishermen. 

I walked up into the village around the castle. The streets were silent and empty, shops and restaurants were shuttered. From within the castle precinct, I heard the tannoy announcement to remaining visitors, asking them to make their way out as it was closing time. I saw nobody leave. Such a contrast to the way it was when I was last here at the height of the summer tourist season. It was quite eerie. I left as darkness closed in, and made my way home the long way, as the road out was less trouble to find than the way I'd arrived.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Borderland village

I was back down at El Portico for a couple of hours this morning to chat with people during the regular drop-in session. Then I went off to the station to buy a ticket to travel to Barcelona on Sunday afternoon but after I'd put some fuel in the car, thought I didn't have enough cash on me, so I drove home instead. After lunch, I drove out in the direction of town of La Senia, and visited the village of St Rafael which sits on the south bank of the riu Senia. 

The river flows under the porous limestone surface of the river bed rather than over it, but there's long been a bridge crossing the border hereabouts. On the north bank, the Catalunya side, is a hamlet called El Castello, equally as old. There's a water conduit running along the river bank. A history panel on this side of the river spoke about mills along the river line. I imagine these were wind driven, for pumping water to the surface and for grinding grain or olives.

The Parish Church of St Raphael seems to have been completely rebuilt to a modern sixties design. On another history panel was a photo of the old church building taken in 1957, not ruinous, but maybe in a poor enough state of repair to warrant a a new start. A commemorative monument in the placa nearby stated the the village only received its charter in 1917. Its original schoolhouse was re-purposed as the town's ajuntament. A public works information panel in the village spoke of a new school under construction, probably to replace whatever was built in 1917.

As I had only another hour of daylight left, rather than travel on to La Senia, I went south on a different road back to Vinaros, which took me to Traiguera, a hill town overlooking the N232 road from Vinaros to Morella. The town dates back to antiquity, and in modern times belongs to a free association of 22 municipalities in this cross border region area, with 100,000 citizens called the Taula del Senia. This exists to represent common economic and cultural interests of an area which is remote from the centres of Valencian and Catalunyan power and governance. Interestingly this area is similar in extent to the ancient historical region of llercavonia, mentioned in the mid 2nd century writings of Ptolemy, as is Traiguera itself.

I looked around the narrow winding streets with their three storey houses in the oldest quarter on the hilltop surrounding the Parish Church of our Lady of the Assumption, dating back to reconquista times. There was a tourist sign pointing away from the town to the Reial Santuari de la Mer de Deu de la Font de la Salut, in the mountains a few kilometres away, a local pilgrimage and tourist venue, where Mary is honoured with the title Fount of Salvation. As the sun was setting, there was no time to go there today, and indeed not enough time to see the whole village. There was lots more to see, as I discovered when I looked at the photos I took on my visit here two years ago. The last half of the journey home was again in the dark.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Interregnum Council

This morning I was invited to attend the Chaplaincy council meeting at El Portico. It was a good opportunity to meet representatives from all three centres of worship, and listen to their discussions on a variety of topics. It's nearly three years since St Christopher's first went into interregnum, and only had a full time Chaplain for a brief spell before locum clergy had to be recruited again. 

In a situation where the two outer congregations are fifty miles apart, it's difficult to sustain mission and ministry in the absence of a long term pastoral leader who knows and is known by everyone, to unite, stimulate and encourage people. It's gratifying to see morale among lay leaders is as good as it is, and that so much effort goes into maintaining the routine rhythm of worship and necessary fundraising effort to ensure the chaplaincy remains viable. 

The Bishop has been asked to recruit a new Chaplain. It requires the same preparatory work by church officers, but unfortunately it can take just as long as recruitment by advertising. There simply aren't as many suitable available candidates these days.

It was late by the time I'd cooked and eaten lunch and done domestic chores, so there wasn't enough daylight left for an excursion, just a walk in the dark back from shopping at the local supermarket along the coastal path, listening to the music of the sea beating on the rocks and sucking at the pebbles - a wonderfully calming way to enter a long dark autumnal night.


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

A visit long overdue

Monday was very much a domestic day, shopping, cleaning and washing clothes which just wouldn't dry out. It's been damp and overcast for the past few days, just like a Cardiff November. Today was warmer and brighter, if still cloudy. I drove to Alcocebre to hang out with customers in El Camino, and then had lunch with Ron and Jenny before returning home.

On my way down, as I was preparing for the Alcocebre turn-off which appears quite quickly around a bend, traffic slowed to a halt, and a workman waving a red flag walked up the hard shoulder. We stood there for about five minutes before moving, so I was quickly on my way for the last 5km of the journey, but with no idea about what caused the delay. On the return trip, almost immediately I joined the N340 I was in a traffic queue which slowed to a halt on the long gradient before the Alcala de Xivert turning.

It soon became apparent that road resurfacing was being carried out on the three lane highway, in a way that involved stop-starting the traffic on alternate sides and re-directing vehicles to cross over, as and when necessary, with a minimum of traffic cones and signage. As I ascended, I stopped counting after 200, vehicles at a stand still in the down lane. The queue reached all the way to the Alcala exit, where the queue was getting longer by the minute. The backlog in both directions wasn't being cleared quickly enough to prevent this happening. Although my side of the road was clear, I decided to go into Alcala to have a look around and take photos. It started to drizzle, but as it was fairly warm, I carried on undeterred.

This commune of which this small town is the administrative centre of runs down to the coast and embraces Alcocebre, whose population is larger and swells seasonally with holidaymakers. It's a place where many agricultural migrant workers have settled, making for an unusual mix of faces among people on the streets. There's been a settlement here since before the Romans, and it's overlooked by an eleventh century Moorish castle, perched high up on a ridge of the Sierra d'Irta. There are some visibly ancient buildings in the town, there may be more whose origins have been concealed by later additions and extensions. To my mind it has the ugly charmless countenance of some old industrial towns. 

Alcala's huge Parish Church is dedicated to St. John the Baptist. It has a baroque west front built in the mid-eighteenth century and a 68 metre high landmark bell tower built in the nineteenth. There's also one large mansion looking like a Moorish palace opposite the railway station. It's nicely built, and from its appearance could be 13th century but may be much more recent, as it carried no history plaque, and no mention of it that I could find on the town's website.

I drove on, and with sunlight to enjoy and time to spare, I stopped at Sta Magdalena de Polpis, another settlement just off the N340, one that I'd intended to visit two years ago and always driven past, keen to get home and have lunch after a Sunday service, not keen enough to drive back during the week. This is another village with a millennium of history, at least, as it has its own Moorish castle on promontory of the Sierra d'Irta high above. 

A dry river bed runs right through the village, crossed by an attractive stone bridge. The watercourse runs underground right down this valley, but surfaces here and there in large ponds and wells. Two of them are located quite close to the bridge. This is an area where almond carob, olive and orange trees grow, also grapevines. The first almond blossom was peeping out on some bare branches just ahead of next season's growth of leaves. An enchanting sight.

The village is not as large as Alcala, but is much more charming, set away from, yet in between the N340 and the AP-7 roads, and quiet nevertheless. It has a population of less than a thousand, but it's still big enough to have its own primary school and a few shops, bank and Post Office. The Parish Church dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, is unusual. On its west wall there is a stone plaque inscribed with a map of Spain with a dove and the words 'A las victimas de la violencia'. I learned later that the village had suffered greatly during the Civil War, being a strategic location on the  north-south highway at a fault line between nationalist and republican areas of sympathy. 

So often when I visit places, I find them sleepy and quiet if not deserted, as I'm out and about in the afternoon, when people are tucked away eating lunch and relaxing, if not at work. The explains why towns and villages in my pictures look deserted.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Christ the King celebrated.

Another nice relaxed Sunday morning, with a drive to Alcocebre to celebrate the midday Eucharist of Christ the King with a congregation of under twenty this week. Autumnal reds and golds of vines and fruit trees now give a blaze of colour among the evergreens along the N340 highway south on a cool overcast day. A couple of solitary whores are, as usual, stationed at spots on the roadside, hoping to attract a client, though in this weather less daringly dressed. The roads are very quiet today and there are few lorries about. A police car drives ahead of me. The women don't wave, nor do the patrol cars flash their lights or stop. Both of them are frequent inhbitants of this lonely stretch of road where there's 10km between villages.

I returned in good time to cook a swordfish steak for lunch, with French beans, potatoes and some ratatouille I'd made yesterday. After a little relaxation, I decided to walk to the fishermen's chapel for the evening service. It took me longer than I thought, fifty minutes, and I arrived as hot and sweaty as if I'd been for a jog. It was the first time for Evensong to be celebrated. Churchwarden Paul and I shared it between us, having prepared the liturgical text during the week. We both realised while the service proceeded that someone else should have done the proof reading and final edit. Nevertheless we coped without much embarrassment, and the congregation enjoyed, almost as many as last week, stayed around and chatted again afterwards.

The last time I attended an evensong in church was when Phil was preaching in Tongwynlais, this time two years ago. The last time I officiated or preached at an evensong, I don't recall, it's such a rarity nowadays, and more's the pity since so many people remember it with fondness.

Anglican evening services withered and died at the time when early evening televisio in was showing 'The Forsyte Saga' a good forty years ago. In this era of TV on demand 24/7, I wonder if people's TV or social habits are changing yet again. As there's so much rubbish on TV, perhaps a live assembly of human beings, properly presented might once more become an attractive prospect. Who knows?

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Dusk images

Friday, just by coincidence, when I was out taking pictures in Xert, the 8gb memory card in my Sony DSLR registered it was full just as the camera was threatening to shut down due to drained battery and I had to carry on shooting with my HX50. I'd bought a new card on special offer a couple of months ago in El Corte Ingles back in Fuengirola, so after re-charge and card formatting, I took the camera with me when I walked to the nearest Mercadona in town for some weekend food shopping, late afternoon. 

By the time I'd finished and was walking back, the sun had just set, floodlights on the two bridges across the rio Servol barranco had just come on. It offered me the chance to play around with camera settings to see what I could achieve with a machine that has a good reputation in low light conditions.
I was slightly impressed with this first one I took on enhanced auto setting, but I wanted to try longer exposures with a manual shutter and slower iso setting, as faster iso gives much grainier photos. I prefer to learn by doing, playing around and reading the manual only when mystified by the machine. It proved easier to achieve than I thought, although only one of the batch I took at 1/4 or 1/3 second, handheld was satisfactory.
A fairly steady hand helps. I have a mini tripod but rarely bother to carry it. For the most part I leave a camera set to auto in daylight and make simple adjustments in Picasa's photo editing suite. Still, with time on my hands, and plenty of low light at this time of year, why not experiment a little? Next time I try this, I'll go for photos in darkness with a tripod.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Discovering Xert

With a little more determination, I got out of the house earlier this afternoon, and drove inland on the road to Morella, remembering more hill villages I'd visited where land rises above the plain. Orange groves give way to olive groves as you start to climb into through the foothills. I decided to stop and visit Xert (pronounced Chert n English), which is on a hillside below a limestone outcrop rising 300m above it. 

The 19-20th century buildings occupying what would once have been flat agricultural in front of the much older hill village are fairly non-descript, although there is a parish church in a germanic modern concrete architectural style dating from 1962 - all angles and no curves, a curiosity really.
Population growth shifted the centre of the village downhill from its mediaeval location. A modern ajuntament, has supplanted the mediaeval town hall up the hill.
Right at the top of the village is a thirteenth century Abbey, founded by the Hospitallers of St John of God. It may have been one of the first permanent buildings of the village, established to provide a refuge for travellers going to and from Morella, a good day's ride from the sea.
This religious order, established by an Andalusian peasant, is still active in social work and care for poor and maginalised in modern Spain. The village may have grown around the Abbey, as was often the case. It has an interesting variety of modest houses and a few mansions for local nobility as well. 
The Abbey declined after the monks quit, and being too large for a small population to maintain, it fell into disrepair, and then was damaged further during the Civil War, prompting the building of a new parish church, nearer to where people were then living twenty five years later. Since then, the building has been rescued and restored, but as it was closed, and there was no information to indicate the purpose it currently serves.

Most of the ancient houses have also been restored, and the fact that a small number of them haven't yet been done up suggests that gentrification is a relatively recent phenomenon, not yet complete. There was little by way of tourism information panels or signage to suggest what a treasure this old village is. I had to explore the entire place on foot to discover what was there, but that was a pleasure in itself. There are some more photos here.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Ancient towns revisited

By the time I've done some CBS office work, sent some emails, cooked and eaten lunch, it's usually three o'clock if not later. As it's now getting dark around five thirty, there's not much time left either for a walk or exploration of the countryside by car. This afternoon I went north again, crossed over the N340 to re-visit the hill village of Alcanar with its 14-16th century church, with an elegant marble renaissance west entrance portal, and surrounded by streets of old houses in narrow streets.
Use of Catalan in signage and tourism panels and even the festive seasonal lights means I have to work hard to decode their meaning, drawing on my knowledge of French.
There's a grand view of the coastal plain enclosing Vinaros ten kilometres away from a high terrace at the top of the village. This place dates back to Roman times, if not earlier, as is the case with many hill villages in this region. The placa in front of the church has a monument to those killed in the Civil War. It's a restrained reminder of how much conflict there was around here. Alcanar is just inside the Catalunya boundary, the rio Senia. It's also the boundary between the communes of Vinaros and Alcanar. Posters were still about publicising the 9th November poll on holding a referendum urging voters to say 'Yes', which 80% of Catalunyans did.
Hanging from a balcony, I noticed this banner celebrating St Cecilia's whose festival falls today, patroness of music and musicians. Evidently homage from one of her devotees.
I drove on to Ulldecona, past groves of ripening oranges through the valley plain behind the Sierra de Montsia, another small town with a long history and a fine 13th century gothic parish church, on the  ancient trade route from Tortosa to Vinaros.
Despite it being Saturday, I noted a team of Council masons at work replacing threshhold stones at the entrance of the mediaeval Casa de la Vila. I think the building may have once been a convent.
This is another of those settlements with ancient roots. In the limestone cliffs the west of the town is the largest collection of cave paintings found in Catalunya. The town has an intepretation centre for visitors. It expanded with the construction of the railway along the coast in the nineteenth century. There's still a working station here, serving the town and surrounding villages.
The new high speed AVE trains run through to Amposta, Aldea and L'Ampolla on their way to Barcelona.

I didn't have long to look around as the sun was already low in the sky, prompting me to head for home before it became completely dark out there on un-lit rural roads, albeit much safer and well modernised highways compared to a couple of decades ago. While Franco tried to modernise Spain in his own way, through tourism, economic development and social change gained more widespread momentum after his death, and with the growth of the European Community.

Recession has been a huge setback, stopping development in its tracks, leaving many projects abandoned half finished, houses, apartments, shopping centes, the off shore gas storage terminal visible 25km away from local beaches, a regional airport meant to serve coastal resorts around Castellon. Rumour has it that this will be allowed to open shortly, but the story has been around for some time!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Alcanar port re-visited

After lunch, following a busy morning on pastoral affairs, I drove to Les Cases d'Alcanar, the port and village linked with the mediaeval inland small town of Alcanar. Last time I was here I cycled from the house to Alcanar, and then back by a different route. I coud borrow a bike but am a little cautious about doing so as I need to be mindful of the vulnerability of my back. Since I've been wearing the new sandals I bought before leaving Fuengirola, I've had all sorts of lower back niggles as my legs adjust to shoe soles that aren't worn right down, but it is improving.

I strolled along the beach promenade and photographed yet again the remnants of civil war concrete gun installations overwhelmed by the sea. 
I want to compare them with photos taken last time I was here. I counted two dozen fishing boats out at sea. One was heading closer to shore than others, returning to Puerto d'Alcanar with its catch. 
I drove to the port and watched the unloading of the fish. Boxes of fish were taken straight from the quay into the small new market hall, top left in the picture below.
Here they were loaded on to a conveyor belt where they were automatically weighed and priced for dispatching. I understoond that the fish are auctioned, but was unaware of bidding going on. It may have been done electronically, since the price per box appeared on a screen, and a bill of sale automatically printed, and added to the box that was taken off and stacked ready for transport.
As I was returning to the car through a back street, I saw a shop sign which said 'Agrobotiga' and stopped to look. 
The proprietor had just locked up, but when he saw my interest he insisted on opening up and letting me in to look around. It was a grocery treasure house of local products. Bio wines and olive oil, rice from the Deltebre, cheeses, preserves etc. I had to buy something for the priviledge of looking around, and settled on a kilo of Montsia rice. The brand name is that of the beautiful rugged mountains which sit inland behind the Delta on the south side. He gave me two Clementines as I was leaving. I ate them standing on the prom looking out over the port as the sun sank behind the hills. Another lovely outing.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

By pass imminent

This morning, I took the car into the garage once more for its annual equivalent of the MOT test, and then walked to El Portico to meet and chat with people. By lunch time the car was conveniently ready for collection, but I didn't get to go for a drive as I'd promised myself because I had emails to write. 

Later in the afternoon, I walked up the Barranco Barbiguera, the next barranco up, which has a narrow road right through to the N340. I reached there as the sun was setting, and stopped for a while to watch the procession of mighty juggernaughts travelling in both directions, so many of them, the pulse in this artery of the European economy.

Things are about to change around Vinaros. A new section of N340-A7 highway a by-pass running from the south side of Benicarlo to the North side of Vinaros after fits and starts in construction over years past is nearing completion. Even in winter the existing road is busy with through traffic much of the time, but in summer, with millions of holiday makers in this region it's a congestion nightmare. The new road will cut around twenty minutes journey time at peak traffic periods.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Late Afternoon at Vinaros Port

Today was a day for washing clothes and shopping, but I also found time to draft a sermon for next Sunday. Jobs done, I walked out wiht my camera, first up the Barranco Saldonar after which our urbanizacion is named. It must only very occasionally flow with water. It has containment walls on either side shielding the adjacent properties, and runs to a dead end in a huge bamboo thicket and an old fence. Work has been started on clearance, but for what purpose is unclear. Unlike the other barrancos on the Costa Norte, this one has no through road, metalled or otherwise connecting it to the N340, perhaps because there is a privately owned property beyond and no right of way. 

It wasn't very interesting or photogenic, so I continued walking down to the port in time to watch the day's fishing catch being landed. It was fascinating to see a variety of people, mostly elderly, friends or relatives of the trawler crews, passing through the safety barriers with little plastic buckets.

These were handed to someone on a boat to be doled out with a kilo of sardinas or boquerones, caught up in the trawl nets with larger saleable fish that were being boxed up for auction in the market hall. One man was fabvoured with three small merluza (hake), a good meal for someone.
The sun was getting close to the horizon, so I walked out on the harbour wall and took some sunset photos and enjoyed the golden warmth of a mild evening before returning for supper. A pleasant afternoon, all in all. Dozens of trawlers and smaller boats are berthed at Vinaros and land their catch there. On occasions at night or early morning I have noticed the distant background rumble of engine noise, and at first thought it was lorries up on the N340. Now, it occurs to me they are more likely to be the fishing fleet 10-15 kilometres off-shore.


Sunday, 16 November 2014

Relaxing Sunday change

A leisurely late Sunday start this morning, now that there's one service to take in the morning and one in the evening. Ron and Jenny picked me up, so we could share the journey. As Aldea now has a by-pass, the journey was a lot quicker than I remember, so we were an hour early arriving, and had enough time for a coffee in the English run Station Bar, next to L'Ampolla railway station, before getting into gear.

We were late starting as there was a baptism following the parish Mass of the day, so the congregation sat together and chatted in one of the rooms next to the sacristy, until it was time to begin. There were fifteen of us, including Stephen, a visitor from Britain who'd been one of the first lay worship leaders to serve the chaplaincy in its early days. Ten years on, he's as fond of Spain as ever, and has made the walking pilgrimage to Compostella from several different starting points during his summer holiday.

After the service we lunched together in the Azara restaurant overlooking the beach. It wasn't warm enough to sit outside in the sun, but we had a lovely view of the sea. The restaurant was run by an Argentinian/Uruguayan couple, and specialised in charcoal grilled steak dishes. I settled for the lenguado instead. It was preceded by a salad with heaps of meillones (mussels) in a gallego sauce. Most enjoyable, and reasonably priced with wine included - fifteen euros.

Stephen and I travelled back together as he intended going to the Vinaros evening service to meet up with old friends as well. We arrived early at the Fishermen's chapel early. Half the congregation were already there, looking around appreciatively and chatting. There were twenty one of us in the end.
 The chapel acoustics are good for singing, and the liturgical space is very worship friendly. Everyone seemed to enjoy the experience, and there was lots of chatting after the service before people went out into the early evening darkness. A serene and relaxed atmosphere for worship later in the day certainly helped. I do hope that people will keep up their support for this experimental change, which runs for the next three months before review.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

News from Fuengirola

I received an email from churchwarden Linda in the Costa del Sol to say that the 'preferred candidate' for the chaplaincy had visited and agreed to come. With all procedures satisfied, it means he'll be able to start at the beginning of Lent. I'm delighted. This is excellent for all those who have worked so hard there to maintain the church's lively ministry over the past year. The appointment will be announced in due course. Then, and not before I'll find out who's the fortunate guy. There's such a lot of variety and stimulus to ministry there. It's more populous with expats down there, and with the 25th anniversary of St Andrew's being celebrated in February it's that much busier than the Costa Azahar pastorate. Very much a full time job. I greatly enjoyed spending so much time there, helping them to do all they do best.

It's been a quiet Saturday, getting ready for Sunday, going for a stroll, observing the huge flocks of starlings that are such a feature of autumnal life here. Are they, have they been migrating from further north? I certainly don't recall seeing them in such numbers when I was here in the summer two years ago. The tree in the neighbouring garden was alive for several hours in the late afternoon with the sound of roosting starlings in conversation, then occasionally large numbers of them taking to the skies in a swirling dark cloud as busy as gnats. I captured a few moments with my DSLR camera, which give the impression, but aren't all that wonderful. Too many moving points to avoid confusing auto-focus.

Friday, 14 November 2014

A change of worship venue

This morning the small chaplaincy team of lay worship leaders came to the house to review the service schedule for the next couple of months and discuss related matters. It's not yet been confirmed who will follow me in January, so it's necessary to ensure the regular routine of worship is maintained. So few regulars will be around for the Christmas holiday week that it won't be possible to offer worship. How good it is that local Catholic clergy have expressed a willingness to welcome the few Anglicans who will be around and want to attend church, to join their congregations for Communion. 

After the meeting Paul and I drove into town to meet Michael and Fr Cristobel the Vinaros Parish Priest at the Capilla Virgen del Carmen (aka Fishermen's chapel) to have a look around and meet Maria the caretaker.

They showed us around a building recently refurbished after a break-in with vandalism last year. Now it's got brand new re-enforced steel doors and an ramped entrance.
Hymn books and furniture were burned in a bonfire, leaving a terrible mess. Now, its walls and ceiling are bright and clean with new flooring to replace the area fire damaged, new chairs, a new altar adorned with a ship's helm carving and a new lectern with an anchor carving, making it unmistakably a Capilla de los Marineros. 
Our Sunday service moves here this coming weekend. It'll be good for the congregation as there's an off road car park opposite, making it much more convenient a place to be than the town centre.

When we'd finished, Michael announced that we'd be calling at the garage on the way back, to pick up car, now repaired after recent misadventures. I was most grateful for this as it enabled me to do some heavy shopping later on in the afternoon.

Quite apart from listening to the Today programme over the internet on my phone when I get up in the morning, I make a point of listening to 'The Archers' in the evening. The drama has been ramped up recently with Brookfield Farm, the family home, up for sale with David and Ruth Archer planning to move up north for a fresh cattle farming start as the new by-pass road threatens to break up their family land held over the past sixty years. Several celebrity listeners are protesting at the threatened affront to the historic soap opera's plot. More drama tonight with Tony Archer being crushed and trampled by his prize bull, flown off to hospital for an emergency operation, threatened with a future in a wheelchair if surgery is unsuccessful. And all this on his mother Peggy's 90th birthday! It's quite something.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Christmas on the horizon

The Vinaros Christmas Fayre took place this morning at El Portico. I was amazed at how busy it was with people coming from Alcossebre and L'Ampolla as well as locally. It's a small place, and for much of the time it was packed with people buying gifts or enjoying festive refreshments. Over €800 was raised for church funds. Hard work for those organising, an impressive feat.

Jenny, the Lay Reader in training came down from Tortosa, permitting us to have a useful catch-up session ahead of tomorrow's meeting with the team of worship leaders. There's a lot to prepare for in coming weeks, with a new service schedule for everyone to get used to.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Delta revisit surprise

This morning I drove up to El Perello to visit 'Bona Fe' the church shop cum drop in centre, to meet a couple of the volunteers on duty, and catch up with what's been happening up there in the chaplaincy outpost in Catalunya. Afterwards I drove back to Vinaros by way of the Ebre delta. I've been looking forward to this for ages. Last time I was there two years ago, I watched the harvesting of the golden rice fields in early September. 

Two months later in the growing cycle, a large number of those fields are under water, and a select number of them that aren't have old rice plants in them, with green shoots growing out of them. I can't be certain of the reason for this. Either these fields are allowed to lie fallow and plants ploughed in later, or it's a kind of rice that regrows productively after being cut. Just thinking about this made me realise how little I know about agriculture and plant life.

I drove from Camarles to St Jaume de Envieja to cross over the Ebre on the bridge which replaced the old ferry crossings. It was constructed as a four lane dual carriageway, but unusually, the seaward side lanes are pedestrianised with a dozen benches where visitors can stop and picnic, or even subathe while enjoying the panoramic view down river from on high. 

I followed the road down river to the Isla de Buda, an island in the Delta which is part of the nature reserve, and reachable only by a floating bridge. The road continues to the beach. About a kilometre inland, is the Alfacada wildlife observation tower next to a restaurant. I stopped there and took a few photos to compare with those I took back in August two years ago. It's interesting how different the seasonal vegetation colours are.

Then, I set off in southward across the delta, aiming for the village of Deltebre, where I knew I could find a bar or restaurant for a snack lunch. Approaching Els Muntells, I noticed a modern cemetery surrounded by rice fields about half a kilometre from the edge of the village, and stopped to have a look. When I went to set off again, the car failed to start. Dead, outside the cemetery! There was no power, suggesting that the battery was disconnected or that a main fuse had blown. Two years ago the car had failed to start because a battery terminal had worked loose, but there was a new battery now and it was well secured so it seemed unlikely this was the source of the problem.

There was no alternative but to phone Michael and ask for help. Within half an hour he was on his way with a mechanico at his side, using sat-nav to reach a place he'd never been before. There wasn't much the mechanico could do, as an electrical connector in the steering column lock was the source of the problem. It was impossible to arrange a grua (tow truck) this late in the afternoon, so we had to leave the car with a note on the dashboard, to inform the Guardia Civile that the car had not been dumped but broken down waiting to be collected.

The irony in being stuck out in a place surrounded by rice fields, was the lack of wildlife, the odd egret and heron, and a few small birds, but nothing compared to some of the flooded fields I'd passed which had dozens of herons plus egrets large and small and ducks. Still, the sun shone and the wind didn't blow, so the open air wait for rescue wasn't arduous. The afternoon's photos are here.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Writing on the wall

Yesterday was quiet, highlighted only by a nice long phone chat with Julia in Divonne les Bains, and a visit to the garage. The spare part acquired was correct for the make of car, but not for the vehicle in question, as differences exist in the same model depending on age and location of manufacture within the European community. It would have fitted OK, but the terminals for the electrical connection in the unit weren't compatible. There was nothing about the part serial number to suggest anything different!

This morning I went down to 'El Portico' where members of the congregation were setting things up for Thursday's Christmas Fayre. Tomorrow will be a preparatory Christmas goodies cooking day, so that everything on the stalls will be as fresh as possible. Michael has arranged for us to meet Fr Cristobel the Parish Priest on Friday, to meet up and take a look around the Fishermen's Chapel. That'll challenge my Spanish, no less than communicating about the car with Manolo el mecanico.

I missed observing the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in remembrance of the fallen of the two world wars. I was doing a weekly food shop in Lidl's at the time, disconnected by retail necessities from more solemn considerations. How does conflict start? What goes wrong in communications, that leads  to violence? I came across this graffito this morning on the back wall of one of the fishermen's storage places behind the port distribution centre. The quote is from an eminent Valencian language scholar.
This can best be described as a morcel of cultural one up-manship, however you read it. Either it is reckoning Valencian language/dialect is like Catalunyan for infants. Or else 'Tots' in this regional context means 'All'. I keep on finding words of French origin. Both languages are quite similar in many respects. Here we're a couple of miles inside the border of Valencia with Catalunya, so this is assertive, whether written by an insider or an outsider. Valencia Generalitat is, in effect, bankrupt while Catalunya is Spain's economic powerhouse. Language snobbery whether in salons or street art, is as old as the hills. Sadly it doesn't always stop there.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Remembrance Sunday

I started to have second thoughts about my Sunday sermon on Saturday morning, realising that it would be better to shorten what I would preach at Vinaròs in the light of having the Act of Remembrance and traditional (lengthy) hymns expected for such a solemn occasion. As ever, shortening it took as much time again as writing the original, and it was late afternoon before got outdoors for a walk along the coastal path towards the town and back.  As I walked back up to the main road alongside the barranco I heard the sound of guitars being played. At first I thought it was coming from a garden where some children were playing. Then I saw two young men practising intensely on a park bench, sounding really good. A couple of touring bicycles laden with their baggage stood nearby. They must have kept their instruments in backpack cases while riding. An interesting take on musical adventures. 

Kath and Anto were performing 'Once in a Blue Moon' with their dance company in Newport today, so Rhiannon has been with Grandma. The weekend has been clouded for them by news that Anto's sister Viv's partner Paul has had a stroke and a heart attack, and is not expected to survive. I was glad of the opportunity to speak to them all on Skype in the evening as they stayed the night before returning home.

There were sixteen of us at the Vinaròs service. I was on my way to Alcocebre by 11.05 and arrived at 11.45, and so had just enough time to sort myself out and start the Act of Remembrance in sync with the UK ceremony at the national cenotaph in Whitehall, London. Although not quite enough time to get used to the liturgical space, as I knocked over a large pot plant, placed in front of the processional cross. I seem to remember doing the same thing when I was last here two years ago. 

There were fifty people present, although less than half took Communion, a sign of the times, I guess. Some had travelled from Peñíscola to join us, as no ceremony of Remembrance was held there this year. We'd prepared for twice as many communicants as we got, so consuming the left-overs had to be delayed until after the service. A couple of dozen people stayed a short while for a drink and a chat on the terrace outside the church afterwards. I was home cooking lunch just after half past two.

This is a significant day for Catalunya as the day of an opinion poll is taking place on the subject of independence from Spain, and the need for a referendum on this issue. Prime Minister Rajoy declared the referendum call illegal on the advice of the constitutional court, but can't prevent the opinion poll. This is a long standing contentious issue in Spain, but the recent referendum on Scottish independence, may encourage more people to say 'Why not?' 

To mark the occasion, at the end of the afternoon I went north on the coastal path, as far as Sol de Riu, and the barranco that marks the border between the Generalitats of Valencia and Catalunya. Hardly anyone about as the sun was setting just a few people out sea fishing from low cliffs or beach rocks. It's a two hour walk there and back. I was certainly dragging my feet, that last kilometre in the twilight.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Francophone visitors

Michael collected me and took me to his garage mechanic yesterday morning, to arrange a replacement wing mirror. We left the car, and he dropped me off at 'El Portico' the church centre close to the port, where I spent the morning chatting with people. He returned later unexpectedly to lock up, as nobody the had the necessary key. So I got a lift home as well, instead of a walk. 

As I was awaiting Michael to return to the garage for the second time in the day, two ladies of a certain age rang the doorbell, and asked if if spoke French. Well many French holidaymakers come to Vinaros, and there are resident expats as well, so this wasn't all that unusual. They were Jehovah's Witnesses. To my surprise, I conversed with them fluently in French for about half an hour before Michael arrived. One thing about being chaplain in Geneva for eight years was that I acquired the necessary vocabulary for theological discourse! And, it was nice to chat while I was waiting. We returned to the garage at the to find that there were going to be difficulties sourcing a spare mirror, so we should return manana a la manana. 

Before supper, I walked a little way along the coast path as the sun was setting in a cloudy sky, making spectacular show. It's very quiet now. Most of the holiday homes are shut up until New Year/Three Kings, if not until spring. The only bars and restaurants open are those serving local clientele.

This morning, another trip to the garage, again fruitless. It will take until Monday if not longer to obtain a new part, as there's no local Ford dealer in town. It's legal to drive without a right side mirror here, so I was able to take myself to Alcocebre to visit 'El Camino' the church drop in centre cum charity shop, to chat with people and get a briefing from Moira on Sunday's Act of Remembrance before the Eucharist. I learned that plans are afoot to re-locate to larger premises nearer San Cristobel church, which the Anglican congregation uses. This will provide space for small meetings, and storage space to support the cafe and charity shop side of things. Being without an incumbent chaplain is no bar to initiative to grow the church, and that's highly commendable.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Bad luck day

After such a trouble free insertion into my new post, today was somewhat disturbing. While cooking lunch I dropped a spice jar which smashed to smithereens making it impossible to recover any of the pimenton it had contained. Then later, when I went out for a drive, I broke a wing mirror, which upset me. While waiting for the Archers, I stepped outside the front door to get some fresh air and take a short stroll up the street, and locked myself out. The self locking door was similar to the one back in the Fuengirola house, so I had already cultivated the habit of keeping house keys in my trouser pocket and carried it over to this place. 

On this occasion, however, I fooled myself, by picking up a set of internal door keys and putting them in my pocket, mistaking them for the genuine article, after having placed the essential ones in a jacket pocket without realising. I had no jacket, wallet or phone on me, so couldn't summon help. I had then to walk a mile to churchwarden Michael's abode, unsure I'd be able to recall its exact location in the dark, let alone remember the address.

After doubling my journey by walking up and down a series of streets which turned out to be less than familiar, I found the right street and house, and gave Michael and Pamela a surprise visit. Fortunately Michael had spare keys, and after an hour's chat, thawing out from my exposure to evening chill, he took me home and let me in. Not the kind of evening in front of the telly that I'd envisaged! But all's well that ended well. I didn't have to hunt for a Guardia Civil patrol car and throw myself on their mercy in broken Spanish after all.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Settling in

I slept well, noticing the cacophany of barking dogs dispersed around this neighbourhood. It is a lot quieter here, out of holiday season. The sound of barking isn't quite as persistent as the background roar of traffic from the N340-A7 was back in Fuengirola. The same N340 passes through Vinaros, 800km further north, but it runs nearly a kilometre away from the house. It's audible as a distant rumble. The sea is 300m in the opposite direction, and when the wind is in the right direction you can hear it breaking on the pebbled shore. 

I walked into town to visit 'El Portico' the local church drop-in centre, and catch up with the crew looking after it on one of its two open days during this week. I also needed to do some some food shopping. The fridge was generously stocked for my arrival, but I needed fresh vegetables, so a trip to the Mercadona was necessary. 

On the way home, I was struck by the presence of several large flocks of starlings, wheeling around, roosting in pine trees and chattering among themselves. On the Costa del Sol, there were hordes of swifts and swallows, always in the air or roosting on power cables, and small families of noisy parakeets inhabiting palm trees. Here it's starlings that make their presence felt.

After lunch I drove out to the Carrefour hypermarket in search of a few items I'd not succeeded in remembering in the morning, just to familiarise myself once more with getting around the town. I also went out looking for the Fishermens' Chapel, aka Nuestra Senora del Carmen, the patroness of fisher folk, but failed to find it, with insufficient information about where it was. It's been used in the past for occasional services, and recently the parish priest has offered the chaplaincy an opportunity for regular use. This means that for an experimental period, services will relocate there from 'Portico', and will take place at six in the evening. It'll mean the chaplain doesn't have to rush off to another assignment at the end of a service and can spend more time getting to know church members. It's a great initiative

Monday, 3 November 2014

By train from Fuengirola to Vinaros

Out of bed at six this morning, and buying my Cercania ticket at five to seven. The one minute past seven train didn't arrive - it's the Todos Santos bank holiday, and that means a Sunday timetable. The twenty past seven took me to Malaga Maria Zambrano station just after eight, with lots of time to check in for the AVE train to Cordoba, the second leg of my journey. Once we were under way, a steward came through checking people were seated where they should be. Because of the way the indicator at the train door switches alternately from showing the carriage number from left to right, travellers can get confused and take their seats in the wrong place. It didn't stop there. The steward's printout sheet told him I was bound for Vinaros, and he asked me to confirm this.

When we arrived at Cordoba there was another steward waiting on the platform for those who were changing from the AVE bound for Barcelona direct at high speed, to the TALGO Mediterraneo train, taking the slower route over the high plains down to Valencia, and then along the coast, stopping at Vinaros just after half past five on its way to Tortosa, Tarragona and finally Barcelona, my route to the airport when I leave for home. It was a wonderful journey through remarkable countryside, rolling plains full of olive trees, vineyards in autumnal dress, pine forests, stark grey mountains, such a variety of differently coloured soils, reminiscent of unfamiliar named colours in a childhood paint box. Seven and a half hours travelling from Cordoba to Vinaros. Such a pleasure.

Churchwarden Paul met me at the station, and took me to his home near Peniscola, where his wife Beryl gave me my first square meal of the day - shepherds pie followed by apple pie and custard. It went down very well. We reached the chaplain's house just after eight, familiar from my first long locum here two years ago, which I blogged under the title 'Spanish Sojourn', perhaps thinking I'd never return. Here I am having so far spent half of this year in Spain, with another seven weeks of duties before returning for Christmas. What a privilege at my time of life!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

All Saints' weekend

Although yesterday was All Saints' day, the chaplaincy annual memorial Service for the Departed took place at six in the evening, attended by eighteen people. After the service, I drove to Malaga airport to pick up Fr Hywel, whose plane left 20 mins late but arrived on time. There was lots for us to talk about so he could feel adequately briefed to get started on Monday. In the morning I prepared a chorizo and vegetable stew for supper so that we could eat straight away and make the most of the rest of the evening. We got to bed around midnight. 

With Hywel from Cardiff came my replacement Blackberry Q10. I got it started OK, but it still wouldn't lock on to any network automatically. Mindful of trouble I had last time, I put it away and reported this back to Ashley, who promised to chase up BT mobile and make sure the SIM card had been registered to work with the new phone. Nothing will happen before Monday, that's for sure.

We were up and out of the house by 8.30 and on our way to Benalmadena for the first Eucharist of the day, giving Hywel an early opportunity to meet and greet people, and for me to take my leave of them. After the later Eucharist at Los Boliches, there was a delightful bring and share lunch attended by a couple of dozen people, a time for me to say my goodbyes. After the service, LInda presented me with a beautiful carved olive wood pestle and mortar, a work of art in its own right, but a proper size for use in the kitchen for making alioli, or hummous. A real practical treasure to remind me of here.

Then I took Hywel out by car to show him the way to Calahonda and the route to the two inland centres of worship. When we got to Alhaurin there was a service of prayer for the dead being held in the chapel, inevitably on this Todos Santos weekend, today being the Dia de Muerte. Unfortunately there was also a Requiem service scheduled here this morning at eleven, despite the fact that our Anglican service is regularly in the diary for ten thirty. No consultation, no checking by those responsible at the ajuntamiento, for the diary is controlled by the civil administration, and as with local government all over the world, the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. It happens occasionally when there are Sunday funerals too.

After our outing, we walked the length of Los Boliches as the sun was setting, and called at the parish church of Our Lady and St Faith which was crowded for an evening Requiem mass. We stopped at Granier for coffee and chocolate cake before returning for supper, and the rigours of getting everything packed and ready to go early tomorrow. Handover done, mission accomplished!