Sunday, 31 July 2016

One last service, one last Delta visit

At midday in the Vinaròs Fishermen's chapel I celebrated my final Eucharist with people from all three of the Costa Azahar chaplaincy congregations, as this was a fifth Sunday service, when they combine in one place. When I was here in July 2012 the same service was held out at the Ermita de San Sebastian that I visited on Friday. There were twenty present on this occasion, about half the number of four years ago. Sadly that signifies the difference between having a permanent chaplain and a succession of locum chaplains. People need continuity, they need a pastor they can bond with, and work with in a long term relationship. No matter how much energy a locum priest invests in the role, the fact of being transient works against anyone relating to them in depth. People are welcoming and appreciative for the ministry they receive, but for survival as a community, maintaining their bonds with each other must come first.

I've remarked on previous occasions about how often when officiating at funerals, and even weddings, hardly anyone wants to speak with the minister once the ceremony is over, once they have said their formal thank-you. So often families and friends are gathering for a one-off event and playing catch up, maintaining relationships with people they know which have been on hold for years, as they have scattered far and wide to work and live.

It's a far cry from the days of my youthful ministry, working with people who lived and worked in the same local community, many of whom I knew, and they knew who I was. In those days people would chat with the priest and include them in conversations, but nowadays the officiating minister is as much of a stranger to the gathering as is the funeral director or chauffeur. The mission of the church is to help people build community and make right relationships. In order to do so, its ministry doesn't have to be the centre of attention for any longer than is needed. Being there, doing the right thing to help build and working oneself out of a job is the type of service any kind of locum duty involves, engaging as fully as possible, but also being able to detach and not generate dependency.

So you need to have a life of your own, and interests other than the task. I remember someone saying when I worked as a mission educator "Every missionary needs a hobby.", which is why a camera and computer go with me wherever I travel, to help me reflect on experiences and discoveries in different places I visit.

Anyway, with this in mind, after lunch today I drove to the south side of the Ebro Delta, something which so far I'd not got around to doing. It's nearer and more accessible than the north side, so during previous stays I went there several times. It was hot, and I didn't want to be out for long as there was still bag packing to complete. So I drove from Sant Carles de la Rapita to the sea, past the Tancada Lake visitor centre, then along the beach road where I knew there was an excellent viewing point. On the journey there, I listened to Act One of Wagner's 'Götterdämmerung' on RNE Clasico from Bayreuth, with introductions made in Spanish, French, English and German, a truly European broadcast. I seem to recall listening to a similar broadcast of the Ring cycle when driving through the Delta, on a previous occasion. An epic soundtrack to accompany this special farewell journey.

The Deltebre is an area which conveys a wonderful sense of space, with its long straight roads, vast paddy fields of rice flourishing, but not yet ripening. With different varieties growing in adjacent areas, there are different shades of green, creating a subtle patchwork, and at the edges of fields where the irrigation channels run, red or yellow bog irises grow in numbers, their presence providing a vivid ribbon of colour in contrast to sky and fields. There's a scattering of small trees, often associated with the houses, and occasionally a huge eucalyptus punctuating the landscape and bringing variety to it.

Few flamingos were visible today, sadly. I didn't get many decent bird photos as there didn't seem to be many visible, maybe hiding from the heat. It was too early for them to gather in large numbers for the evening feed, but I did snap a sanderling, a redshank and a black winged stilt, each solitary What did please me was a succession of dragonfly photos, each parked atop a severed stalk of grass in the same location, different kinds too! It was a lovely way to conclude my stay here.

And then, back to the packing and cleaning.
         





Friday, 29 July 2016

Tale of three Ermitas

I had a business call last night from Ashley and we talked way beyond my usual bed time. Unfortunately I woke up as usual at first light and couldn't doze, so I made an effort to get going and out of the house earlier than usual. By nine, I was at the railway station to book my ticket for next Monday. Neither the ticket office nor the station cafe was yet open, so I had to hang around for ten minutes until the booking clerk had opened up. Driving out of the station by nine fifteen, I still hadn't decided what to do with the day ahead. The Ermita de San Sebastian, (patron saint of Vinaròs), 4km inland from the station, came to mind immediately, so I turned left on to the country road past the municipal cemetery, and was parking in the shade just outside the walls of the Ermita by nine thirty, on a lovely cool and clear morning.

I went into the Ermita precinct, took some photos said a few prayers, then looked around the Via Crucis on the promontory outside. Archaeological excavations of the mound of rubble which is all that remains of the mediaeval hill village at the far end of the Via Crucis must have continued since I was here last, as there's more clarity about the walls and remains of buildings uncovered. While I was inspecting, I saw a hoopoe flying across the pine trees nearby, typical of the environment they seek. The next half hour was spent walking quietly among the pine trees, camera ready, hoping for the elusive photo. No luck, although I did see one land on a tree trunk briefly, then take off in a direction I had no hope of following. I could hear the bird calling for its mate, but that was all. I saw a lapwing too, also calling for its mate on the wing. But no photos.

As it wasn't yet very hot, I took time on this visit to read the interpretation about the 'millennial' olive trees, characteristic of this region, explained on interpretation boards around the hill on which the Ermita is set. There are certain size criteria which indicate that an olive tree can have been resident on that site for a thousand years. This is reckoned to be when the Moors imported them here from the other side of the Mediterranean. The area is reckoned to have the highest density of 'millennial' olive trees anywhere in this region of Spain. It's a marvellous thought, when you think how many olive trees there are, just in the Peninsula.

As Alcanar is not far away, as the crow flies, I left the Vinaros Ermita, and went up and down narrow country roads, which initially ran alongside the riu Aiguadolivia, the riu Servol, and finally the riu Senia, before I could find an intersecting road that took me to Alcanar. It wasn't a matter of getting lost but rather a geography lesson in the way different rivers carved their ways from the sierras to the sea, over very variable terrain. I'd hope to find Alcanar church open, for my third visit, as it was early in the day, but no luck. I wonder if the town has a resident cleric any longer. Anyway, I drove out of town and up to the Ermita del Remei.

It's actually the Ermita de Nuestra Senora de los Remedios in Castilian Spanish - our Lady of Ransom we say in English. The Mediterranean coast has a number of churches with this dedication. There's an Ermita I've visited in Velez Malaga on a hill in the middle of town with the same dedication. This dates back to a time when Berber piracy was a commonplace along this coast. Inhabitants were kidnapped and held to ransom, and a religious community developed which specialised in hostage negotiation, in honour of Our Lady. How very modern, given what goes on in the Middle East these days.

Last time I was here, in July 2012, structural repairs and renovations were being made to the church interior, and much of the building was inaccessible. Work on the two side arms of the cruciform central section of the buildings still continues, but the nave and sanctuary have been re-instated. A notice on the wall at the back indicated that there's a fund-raising push going on this summer to complete the job.

The bar/restaurant next to the church was open for business, and I stopped to drink a beer and a coffee before continuing by expedition. The landlady was an abuela looking after a niño while the daughter was out, I joked with her about it in Spanish and was understood. The Catalan interpretation panels outside, again celebrating historic olive trees, were an effort to decode, though not impossible given a knowledge of French as well as Spanish.

The Ermita del Remei is on a mountain pass in the Sierras de Montsia, not far from Ulldecona. A little research had brought to my attention the Ermita del Pietat, a few kilometres north of Ulldecona on the way to Tortosa, so this was my next port of call.

I knew from tourism propaganda in Ulldecona that limestone cliffs in the Sierra de Godall across the valley to the west of the Montsia range was home to an outstanding collection of cave paintings in a designated World Heritage site, but hadn't realised that access to these was by means of a visitor centre at the Ermita itself. The Ermita is a nineteenth century foundation, The town of Ulldecona developed around the railway line and station in that era. The town was dedicated to the Pieta, Our Lady of Sorrows, Mary holding Jesus, taken down from the cross after his death.

The domain of the Ermita is spectacular, clinging to the limestone cliffs a kilometre across fields and above the road and rail corridors running through the valley. The visitor centre has an excellent exhibition explaining the cave art with marvellous large photos and artefacts, and there are guided tours of the caves, after six hundred metres uphill walk, morning and evening. I'd missed the morning tour and wasn't inclined to wait another four hours. Had I known, I would have been punctual one way or another.

I had to wait an hour to look at the sanctuary, as there was a wedding going on when I arrived, and there were about sixty people filling the nave, decorated for the occasion. It was lovely to see that such a building was in pastoral use, thought not surprisingly, given the location. A local cleric presided over the ceremony. I saw him slipping away quietly to his next assignment, middle aged, greying hair, smart casual attire, not clerical, small brief case in hand.

I was told that Ermitas in Spain are managed by the local municipality, and this is what make sit possible for them to be hire for use by non Catholics for services. There's still no chance of parish churches being shared. They are owned and run by the local diocese, and despite good will, ecumenism is not yet that advanced.

All three of the Ermitas I visited are within a 15km radius of each other, and there are more. Each town or village seems to have one. What's remarkable is the way they have retained a community focus, not only for occasional religious devotion and fiestas, but as leisure event venues. Concert programmes, art exhibitions, drama, lectures, conferences are organised, but each place has purpose made picnic areas with barbecue stoves, water supplies, tables and seating - all arranged to be disabled access friendly and safe as is practicable on the site.

This is impressive, and to be honest, it's not something that could be achieved easily if they were still owned and managed exclusively by the church. There's no doubt that Christians will be pulling their weight in making things this good, but what makes it happen is community good-will, despite, in this region, the divisive legacy of the Civil War. The effectiveness of these public institutions is evidence that somethings is being done right here.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Getting ready to go

The Chaplaincy treasurer John came by yesterday morning to settle up with me, as I'm bound for home, Monday. Rachel and Clare have already placed their orders for Mercadona own brand 85% chocolate, so I must remember to call in and buy some over the weekend, and go to the station and book my ticket on the fast train to Barcelona, which gets me in with plenty of time to spare before check-in starts.

When I started to consider packing, I realised that I've not used half the clothes I brought with me. It's so easy in this hot weather to hand wash clothes from day to day, since they dry so quickly, and only occasionally run a full load in the washing machine. I need to look more critically at what I pack for my autumn trip, aware as I am from previous assignments of how warm and dry it stays until the end of October if not later.

This afternoon, a shopping trip to Lidl, to stock up with enough food to cover the weekend and leave a selection of essentials for the locum who'll succeed me. I appreciated arriving here a month ago to find there was enough in the fridge to tide me over a couple of meals. As I learned when I was a teenager in the Boy Scouts nearly sixty years ago 'Leave the campsite they way you expect to find it.' A Chaplain's residence is  far superior to a campsite, but for locums who come and go, the same rules should apply.
  

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Memorable meal

I was given a special treat by the Chaplaincy wardens today. Ron and Jenny called and took me out to L'Antic Moli, a fine Catalan restaurant just outside St Rafael de Riu, where we met with Paul and Beryl for lunch. I came here once before with Michael and Pamela eighteen months ago and was impressed by the high standard and variety of the cuisine.

I had a sushi style marinaded tuna for a starter followed by braised rabbit and alubia beans. The rabbit was covered in a light olive oil, which made an otherwise dryish meat succulent and didn't overwhelm the flavour. Reading the menu beforehand, I noticed that as part of the restaurant's signature gourmet supper, an olive oil tasting course is offered, with seven different local varieties to try. There were some excellent green olives on the table to share as well, though I was the only one to eat them, and ate more than my share during the first two courses.

Then there was blood orange and strawberry sorbet to follow for postre, and the meal was washed down with Catalan vin negre or vin rosado. Normally I don't eat bread with a cooked meal, but the roll was offered was so crisp fresh and light, it was worth making a exception. These were all splendid tastes to remember, and it was a good occasion for the five of us to share, ahead of my final service on Sunday which will be the fifth Sunday united chaplaincy celebration in Vinaròs Fishermen's Chapel. In July 2012, the first time I was here, the fifth Sunday celebration was in Vinaròs, but that time it was at the Ermita, outside town, with its wonderful views of the sierras and coastal plain. Which reminds me, I must re-visit there before I leave. It's a special place.

On returning to the house, I took a brief siesta, then walked up the Costa Norte, enjoying the slightly cooler weather and the breeze coming in off the sea. There are more holidaymakers now than when I arrived in each of many pebbled coves along the Costa, and the sandy beaches along the town sea front are quite busy, as they have been for several weeks. If my memory serves me well, it'll be even more crowded in the first three weeks of August, when the French as well as the Spanish fill the hotels and holiday lettings all along the Mediterranean coast. Even so, traffic and pedestrian crowds in Vinaròs are not nearly as heavy as in Benicarló and Peñìscola, both of which have many more high rise hotels and apartment blocks, such a contrast to how it is in winter and spring.

This evening, there was work to do on a briefing for the BCRP Board about the challenges of the recent enforced upgrade of RadioNet equipment, and how they have been successfully tackled, without need for a crisis loan. Perhaps its something to do with the age that Ashley and I both have in common, that we know how to conserve and not resources, and are quite risk averse when it comes to costly credit. It's good to think that we put old fashioned principles and business ethics to work, and continue to develop our voluntary enterprise, albeit slowly and carefully. Very satisfying.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

The quality of Christian martyrdom

The past twelve days since the Nice terrorism outrage has seen several more dreadful incidents of deadly violence in Germany, and this morning, another in Normandy, involving hostage taking in a church in Normandy, with the murder of a priest Fr Jacques Hamel (84), by men claiming the inspiration of Islamic State ideology. And this the same day as mass murder of disabled people in a Japanese care home by a man declaring the disabled have no right to life. The news of both these happenings again kept me close to broadcast media for much of the day, praying, and wrestling with the outrageous nature of these assaults on our common humanity.

Six years ago in my home diocese of Llandaff, Fr Paul Bennet was killed on his Aberdare vicarage doorstep by a mentally sick man. Ten years ago, Brother Roger of Taize was killed in church by a mentally sick religious follower. Forty years ago, Archbishop Janani Luwum was killed as he appealed to the dictator Idi Amin to halt the persecution of Ugandan people. Thirty six years ago Archbishop Oscar Romero was murdered while saying Mass in El Salvador, in a vain effort to silence his protest against human rights abuses. Twenty seven years ago Fr Ignacio Ellacuria and his companions were also murdered by the Salvadorian Army in an attempt to silence their challenges to the record of human rights abuses. 

There is nothing new about the murder of clerics as they celebrate Mass or teach the faithful about the saving power of the Gospel of Christ. As clerics are public figures, it's a risk that goes with the job, that one might be called upon to surrender one's life, perhaps more likely to the arbitrary evil appetite of those whose minds have been perverted, so they can no longer tell good from evil, evil from good, rather than from an organised persecuting power, like Nazism or Atheism or Soviet Communism. The so-called islamic state has an apocalyptic ideology driving its outrageous tactics, derived from perverted sectarian islamic thought, and is no less dangerous in its idolatrous addiction to violence than any previous expression of totalitarian rule. In the end its actions will prove futile, but at great cost to the rest of humankind.

A malicious individual or collective ideology, spells ill-will either way. It expresses power to divide and destroy community through the fear of violence. Of its very nature, this is diabolical, in the ancient sense of the word - divisive, unleashing chaos. The reality of the 'devil and all his works' depends not on whether it exists in the same sense as God exists, but on the power ill-will has to influence reality. Human beings make diabolical acts happen out of malice, but also by indifference and neglect. Evil has the potential to take on a life of its own beyond our ability to resist or control. Understanding this 'mystery of iniquity' seems much diminished in social awareness today, so people are less than ready to cope with it. St Peter's vivid wake up call twenty centuries ago still applies.

'Be sober, be vigilant, for your adversary the devil walketh about as a roaring lion; whom resist, steadfast in the faith' (1 Peter 5:8)

In the end, Christians are not called upon to believe in the absolute existence of the devil, but rather to proclaim the victory of Christ over the devil - He who was in all things reconciling the world to Himself by the power of love, not dividing the world against itself, leaving us helpless facing chaos.

An active, faithful elderly retired priest in Normandy has been taken out by the power of unbridled evil having its way because people of good will have not yet done enough to prevent or protect innocent and vulnerable people from getting hurt. This isn't a criticism of security services. This is a matter for every member of each community that declares a faith conviction.

Those 'diabolical' forces thrive in a world where not enough interest is taken in those alienated from the ordinary affairs of life, those who separate themselves and seem threatening, so that it takes an effort to hear what they honestly have to say about themselves. Every social group has separatists and extremists in need of engaging in dialogue, in an effort to understand and address what causes their bitterness and anger to thrive. Minds are perverted by propaganda and lies long before evil choices are made. Only a constant struggle to ensure that truth and justice are done for all people, can counter the poisonous destructive effect of ill-will.

Fr Jacques Hamel kept the faith, and was killed because of the faith he lived by and represented as a priest, serving people through the church his entire life. We will struggle to recall his murderer's name, but this priest's name and his story will live on.

'The noble army of martyrs praise thee O God.'

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
    

Monday, 25 July 2016

Old buildings and short films

On a recent afternoon paseo around Vinaròs town centre today, I came across a historic site I don't remember seeing before, and today re-visited it with my camera. A square surrounded by modern blocks of flats has a number of tall palms and a few other unusual trees, but their enclosure is the site of a seventeenth century Franciscan convent, dating back to 1662, of which only fragments of the building remain. The entire ground plan, cloister, domestic buildings, sanctuary has been neatly delineated using low walls and paved areas. It creates a park with a unique story. I wonder if children in the local barrio school learn about it in class?
Not far off, in another large open space enclosed by modern blocks of flats is another old building, a large mansion in its own grounds. It's closed up and looks neglected, and there's no name plate or information panel to say what it is or who it belongs to. It's probably over a century old, and could be older. If it belonged to the town, there'd be a notice on it to say so. There's a small notice that indicates a security company looks after it, and there's a TV aerial attached to a chimney suggesting it's been in use as a private house. It's an intriguing mystery.

I often walk past the 'Casa Membrillera' when I'm in town. It's the 17th century merchant's house restored and turned into a museum by the Fundación Caixa Vinaròs, and has a varied programme of cultural events and exhibitions all year round. Publicity banners on the front of the building an neighbouring lamp posts are announcing a festival this week.
At first, I struggled to imagine what 'Curtmetratges' meant, guessing it was a Catalan rather than a Castilian word. Then I noticed the info-graphic on the banner, suggesting cleverly that it's a movie festival. When I checked later, I was able to confirm that this week there is indeed a festival of short films going on. It's not something I know much about, although I'm aware of the immense number and variety of works now made, both by artists as part of art installations, and by others wanting to make a video essay or poem on a theme that interests them. All of this has become easier and cheaper to achieve over the past fifteen years or so, due to digital video camera and editing technologies, now so readily available on most devices you can buy.

I can certainly see the attraction of this new medium, but have resisted the temptation to move over from stills photography, into video storytelling. I'm like to share my photos, draw attention to the many delightful things I see, and I enjoy the challenge of captioning Instagram photos posted to my account. But, it's a bit like all those ideas I have for writing books that come to nothing, stalled by the devil's advocate question 'Who's interested in what you have to say?'

Sometimes I feel it's just vanity to imagine there's an audience for my personal contribution out there. After forty nine years preaching to diminishing numbers of listeners, it's not so much my ideas that matter, but the effort made to explain the Bible and Christian doctrine, relating it to everyday life. Most of that is familiar to audiences rather than original, just helping people to keep thinking about these things, and praying as best they can. If that sounds pessimistic, it's not meant to. You can but respond to what comes in your direction, and be ready for anything.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Evolutionary questions

Today, I was in Alcossebre for the Eucharist. My fourth Sunday already, how time flies! I drove down early, before the congregation arrived. There was a noticeable increase in cars in the free parking lot on the edge of the town centre, to be expected as Spanish and French holidaymakers flock in after the end of the school term. It seems that many Brits travelling south by car are still queuing in Dover to get out of the country.

I sat on a pleasantly cool stone bench in the shade of a tree near the church shop while I waited for others to gather. There were twenty of us for the service, and I enjoyed preaching about the Lukan version of the Lord's Prayer. Afterwards, I drove to Peñiscola behind churchwarden Ron, to take communion to his wife Jenny at home. She's still confined to the house, awaiting joint replacement surgery. It was nearly four by the time I sat down to lunch at home. Not that I minded being later than usual. I don't seem to get that hungry in the heat.

In the evening, Clare and I talked for an hour on Skype, and at her behest I resent the invitation with travel instructions to a dozen people we know will be coming to our Golden Wedding party in just under two weeks from now. Co-incidentally an email arrived today from one who'd mislaid the emailed instructions, so this was well worth doing. All I have to do is learn to be patient whenever the internet connection drops from being normally slow to very slow, as it does from time to time. 

We've come to take reliability for granted since fibre optic communications began to spread in Britain. In other places, investment priority seems to have switched to mobile internet services, but Britain has developed both, and it's just as well to have not only extra capacity, but a different kind of capacity for communications, as our world now continually shifts volumes of data that would have only been thought of in science fiction stories a few decades ago.

It's amazing to think of the different social and cultural evolutions I've experienced my lifetime, due to the technological innovations that have taken place. Will the rate of change be sustained, are there limits to the potential for growth and development? How are we going to cope with inevitable setbacks for humankind due to the impact of global warming, the gulf between haves and have-nots population growth, and the competition for finite resources? Possibly we have the equipment and even some of the ideas to address these challenges. Does humankind have the moral and spiritual substance, and sufficient collective will to accomplish the task, before problems overwhelm us?
       

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Memories of Stanbrook Abbey

It took me six hours yesterday to edit and upload eighty odd photos I took in Tortosa on Friday. It's an indication of how slow is the house broadband here. While it was uploading every other device was slowed to a crawl. My Sunday sermon was already done, but there was washing to do, and a small amount of shopping. On the weekend I cook enough food for a main meal for Saturday and Sunday, so that preparing lunch doesn't take long when I get back from church.

In the evening, there was another excellent episode of 'Beck' to enjoy on BBC4, also a historical documentary about Julian of Norwich, and survival of a manuscript of the sadly lost original text of her 14th century book 'Revelations of Divine Love' through the work of generations of monastic copyists particularly the Benedictine nuns of Stanbrook Abbey. A group of English catholic women went to Cambrai France in the seventeenth century to live the Benedictine life and start what  later became Stanbrook Abbey in a place free from persecution. They took with them a manuscript version to use as a spiritual resource, and to make handwritten copies of, as a traditional form of monastic labour. 

The story of their escape back to England during the anti-religious purge of the French revolution is remarkable. Also remarkable about this story is that the much published 1902 print edition was derived from the sole known manuscript copy held in the British Library, by Grace Warrack, daughter of a Scottish Wee Free minister. Nothing is known about how she came to learn of this work, or became interested in transcribing and translating it into modern English. Julian's work is regarded as the first example of English prose literature, as well as a first by a woman writer. Its very survival is a remarkable story of providence and faithfulness.

Clare and I visited Stanbrook Abbey while we were students fifty years ago, when the community lived at Callow End in rural Worcestershire. Clare was studying Latin liturgical drama at the time, and was recommended to go and meet Dame Felicitas Corrigan, a scholarly expert in the subject, so we visited her there for an afternoon's conversation. In 2008 the community sold up and moved from there to North Yorkshire, to a strikingly beautiful new purpose built monastery on the moors, designed with a smaller community and sustainable living in mind. It was wonderful to get glimpses of the place during the programme. It was a great reminder of the quiet but substantial role that Benedictine monasticism has played in the spiritual formation of Britain, not only pre-reformation, but through the centuries, right down to today.

  

Friday, 22 July 2016

Tortosa - Festa del Renaixement

Yesterday morning, Paul came around for a couple of hours, to discuss how to approach his next study subject in Lay Reader training correspondence course, which is the Holy Spirit. When I read the list questions for assignment options , I admit that I found it challenging. It's several years since I had to look through any course material of this kind. 

The course aims remain much the same, even when the context changes. The variety of learners and their background changes too. Each generation of scholars and teachers poses questions to answer in ways that they hope will arouse interest and get learners to respond productively, but there's no guarantee any new set of questions generated will be understood by all students all of the time as the background of each person differs. It's part of the adventure of education for scholars, tutors and teachers alike. The perennial challenge is to discover the relationship between the subject matter and one's own experience.

Today, I took the train to Tortosa to meet Jenny, the Lay Reader who was licensed last month after completing her five years on the same course. It was good to have a catch-up session, but the other aim of meeting was for her to show me around large parts of Tortosa's old town that I'd not seen on my two previous visits, all set up and decorated for the city's annual 'Festa del Renaixement' - which is Catalan for Renaissance Festival.

Many if not most of the people out in the streets were dressed in sixteen century style costumes, and the narrow streets were crammed with stalls selling food, craft items, clothes, toys, jewellery. There were mediaeval games, a falconry display and rides for children and exhibitions. There were groups of school children all dressed up, accompanied by fife and drums, an amazing brass ensemble playing ancient looking instruments, as well as dressed up as entertainers. There were a few daytime concerts, but many more arranged for the evenings - outdoors and in churches. Like any old city, Tortosa has its share or redundant churches and convents, thankfully, well looked after and adapted now for other social and cultural purposes. It must be marvellous to spend the entire weekend here taking part.

Jenny and I parted company at lunchtime. I then re-visited the Cathedral before it closed for siesta.
One thing that has changed since I was last here concerns the Cathedral precinct. Its eighteenth west front is approached through a narrow street with four and five storey houses either side. Now a 50 metre rank of houses in front of the facade has been demolished, to reveal a view of the riu Ebre. I bet there was controversy about this, as the houses are side to be eight hundred years old. I can well believe there have been houses there for that long, but the ones demolished may not have been more than a few centuries old, and were pretty scruffy, as I recall. Demolition has given way to archaeological investigation of the housing site, and the findings are bound to be of interest. The plan is to create a garden in this open space created, and this will uplift the area enormously. 

After the Cathedral visit I had a lunch of Papas Pobres and cereveza at one of the many street restaurants nearby. A train still on the internet timetable at three I found wasn't running, so I had a four hour wait for the next. I walked the length of the stalls in the old town streets a second time, also the former Jewish quarter, the best part of a mile's worth of street stalls. I also explored a large park near the station with a palmeria. It contained a large old building, which may at one time have been a place of storage, but is now transformed into a showcase for a collection of large papiermache figures, gigantes, used in festive processions. 

I've seen figures of this kind in Sta Pola and Vinaros. They seem to date back to the eighteenth century, although not in this case. These figures were made in 1996, part of the cultural investment in the renaissance festival. They represent a Catalan renaissance writer Cristofor Despuig, his wife and family, plus a couple of Moors. There's even a local mythical monster the size of a small car called a Cucafera. It looks like a cross between giant beetle an armadillo and a crocodile. There were also a couple of gigantes in a fine gothic redundant convent church I visited, re-purposed as a concert venue and archive centre. I wonder how many other figures are stored elsewhere?

I got back to the station in good time. It's quite close to the centre of town. There was no display of information indicating at which of the six platforms the train was expected to arrive. None of those waiting seemed know. Two trains stood waiting at outer platforms, neither had destination boards. It was only when the train conductor and the drive arrived, just five minutes before departure, that it became evident we weren't waiting for a train from the main line to arrive and collect us (Tortosa is at the end of a branch line), but our train started right there. Generally, rail information systems in Spain work well. Was Tortosa's switched off or broken, I wonder? As this was the last train of the day to travel to Vinaros, I was relieved to find out, as I was tired after a day of walking around and trying to keep cool, taking refuge in churches when I could.

On the way back from the train station, I stopped at a supermarket to buy something for supper, and made it back just as the Archers started.
  




Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Council commitment

This morning, it was unusually cloudy and overcast. There was no sight of the sun peeking through clouds until early evening. It was a bit humid but not unpleasantly warm, something of a change. It threatened to rain, but there was only the briefest of showers, which deposited more find Saharan sand on the car than it did water, so it needed a wash.

The chaplaincy council convened at the Vicarage. I provided drinks, and listened to proceedings. Apart from a few months of having a permanent priest in 2013, they've coped with locum chaplains for the past five years. It's been difficult but they've held together, despite being three congregations spread over a fifty mile length of coast. It's impressive to see their steadfast commitment with no prospect of an appointment any time soon. They have even survived months at a time without a visiting priest, and that speaks volumes about the steadfastness of the faithful.

Having said that, after the next two month summer locum priest, someone is coming for six months, whom they know and has been before. This will be an encouragement to church members, certainly one they deserve. There are people here with all kinds of Christian background, and it must be hard for those who feel the need of sacramental ministry and rely on priests. 

Amazingly though, people adapt to less frequent Eucharistic celebrations, and accept the ministry of Readers and lay worship leaders, and stick together for the most part, as belonging is so important to all, as members of expatriate communities. There are I'm sure lessons to be learned and examples to be followed here, on the part of parishes back in Wales, now having to cope with clergy cut-backs and the demise of once ubiquitous parochial pastoral cover.
  

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Delta party

Yesterday was too hot to do much, apart from walking into town for exercise in the afternoon. The beaches were crowded, and I took some photos of two lads practising tightrope walking on the edge of the beach. I sat in the shade to listen outside the Vinaros Escuela de la Musica. Inside a band rehearsal was taking place, definitely a beginners band. The two young lads were learning by doing, and that captured all my attention.


This morning, another visit to L'Ampolla Pitch and Putt club house for Robert and Gerda's party, a combined celebration of 65 years of marriage and Robert's 94th birthday. About twenty people were there to congratulate them, family, neighbours, church members. A buffet lunch was provided, with a wonderful array of cakes to follow. It was such a happy occasion, with a much loved couple. I felt privileged to be there with them, and asked to pray a blessing on the gathering.

At the end of the party, I had a couple of hours free. The club house is near one of the peripheral villages of the Delta de lEbre, so it was simply a matter of heading east through rice fields to reach the north facing sea shore, opposite L'Ampolla across the bay. The geographical configuration of the Delta is a complex testimony to the interplay of river, ocean, weather and terrain over millennia, so there more to explore than is at first obvious.

I ended up at the Restaurant Vascos, which sits at the conjunction of two beaches. Here, there are miles of open sand, and right behind a thin line of dunes are vast acres of rice paddies. I took only a few photos. In the heat of the day, there weren't too many birds around, only biting insects, so I paid a price for my little expedition.

Then I drove inland to El Perello and visited John again in his residencia. We talked about T S Eliot's poetry. He's running a poetry discussion group, and was puzzling over a particular image of a white horse, and wondering if there might be a biblical cross reference. I could only think of one in the Revelation to John, and as it turned out, when I checked, there are two. Both are symbols of the conqueror's status. In Revelation 6 it refers to the Antichrist and in chapter 19 refers to the ultimate victory of Christ. If I ever knew that consciously, it's not information I've ever had to use before. That's the marvellous thing about scripture. It contains so much, but not all of it has relevance and connects with one's experience at the same time.
  

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Anniversaries recalled

An early start to get to the Ampolla golf club house for this Sunday's first Eucharist, on a bright cool morning. The roads were quiet, and this time I didn't miss my hard to identify turn-off point. During the service, we gave thanks for Robert and Gerda's 65th wedding anniversary, and I gave them a special nuptial blessing at the end of the service. I've been invited to their party at the club house this Tuesday morning. There were sixteen of us again, and this time, we finished early enough for me to be able to join the congregation for a coffee on the terrace before driving back to Vinaros for the second service with the same number in the congregation. 

Celebrating with Robert and Gerda reminds me that our golden wedding anniversary party is now only three weeks away. I remember attending my Kimber grandparents' golden wedding anniversary party when I was eleven, wearing my new Pengam Grammar School uniform for the first time at a family do. My Harris grandparents on my mother's side didn't have such a party that I recall, but their photo appeared in the local newspaper in Burton on Trent, where they lived until illness and infirmity brought them down to live out the rest of their days with us in South Wales, cared for by my mother in our mining valleys terraced house. 

Grandma Harris had a not too serious stroke, but it meant she was no longer able to look after my grandfather. He'd lost a leg through an uncontrolled diabetes infection. She lived only a few weeks after the move. I suspect the stress of having to give up her home and her independence was too much for her.  He lived a couple of years longer bed-ridden in our front room. It's no wonder that my mother also had a stroke several years after her father died. Her life was also made very stressful by the burden of caring for the infirm, and no doubt diet, and the fact that the men in the household were smokers also played its part.

Having said that, my only grandparent to survive into his nineties living independently at home, was Grandpa Kimber, who not only smoked a pipe and cigars for much of his life, but even grew his own tobacco in his back-yard greenhouse. Does anyone fully understand the interplay of nature versus nurture, constitution versus environment, in determining our length of days?

Clare was up in Kenilworth this weekend, and Friday night went with the family to see the Royal Shakespeare Company's new production of 'Midsummer Night's Dream' in Stratford. She was full of praise for it when we talked on Skype after her return. Missing events of this kind is the price I have to pay for being here, unfortunately.
   

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Tale of two wells and a castle

More dreadful news this morning of an attempted military coup in Turkey, and how it was thwarted by an appeal to the population to take to the streets in protest against the army, made by president Erdogan, broadcasting from a tablet or smartphone, as public broadcasting channels were hijacked by the conspirators. It reminded me of the way the Russian military coup against Boris Yeltsin was made known to the world via the early internet used by the international scientific community back in 1991, robbing the army of a news blackout behind which it could do its worst.
  
In a way this was almost too good to be true, like a modern movie plot, translated into real life. It seems to me that Erdogan was gambling in a crisis. Banking on popular support is a huge risk to take, when public opinion can be so fickle. Opinion pollsters can misread the mind of the masses, although in this case their findings are supportive. The Turkish people have had to endure so much violence, internally and just outside their borders. Past military coups never served the people well, so the public protest expresses 'Enough is enough - army stay out of politics, and stick to your job', whatever the people really think about their president.

So, another morning of TV news watching, but n spite of this I got my Sunday sermon finished and printed, and went for a drive inland in the afternoon. I headed for Ulldecona, but not for the town, but rather its castillo on a prominent hill top outside, overlooking the riu Senia to the south. I saw it from a distance previously, but failed to find the side road up the hill for a visit. 

Now, with time in hand, it was easier to find my way up to the car park. The castle was closed and the lower access gates locked. There was no indication of visiting hours, but it was easy to circumvent the gates on foot and walk up to the castle entrance. There's a modern visitor centre up there, stocked with literature, so evidently in use and open some time or another.
Apparently the Moors built the first castle on the site of an ancient settlement in the ninth century, and it was conquered in 1142 by an international company of knights on their way to the Holy Land for the second crusade. It was given to the Knights Hospitallers of the Order of St John. Its mediaeval walls, church and large keep were constructed as a place for local inhabitants to settle. Only after a couple of centuries did the town develop which now fills the plain below.

From there, I drove across to the mediaeval hill town of Traiguera, and discovered a side road that revealed the place from a different side, and in addition took me to St Vincent's Well, which I had seen signs for on two previous visits, but not followed, as I didn't know what I was looking for. At the bottom of the north side of the ridge on which the ancient town is built a freshwater source fills a series of large washing troughs, enclosed in this white painted structure. 
Similar ones I've seen in other places are attributed to Moorish water engineering, but this carries a dedication to St Vincent, the fourth century deacon and martyr of Valencia. In a neighbouring wall is a shrine chapel to St Vincent, and  below it, a five spouted drinking water outlet. This area of the town has clearly had some attention in recent years, renovating and tidying it up to attract visitors. A project well worthwhile, in my opinion, even if the inhabitants of Traiguera now have running water and modern appliances in their hilltop homes.
As I was leaving Traiguera, I recalled seeing a signpost to a nearby Ermita, called the Sanctuario Reale de Nuestra Senora de la Fuente de la Salud, which I'd not had opportunity to follow. I re-found the sign, and followed its direction, driving south through olive groves. At the roadside each kilometre there was a cross on a tall pillar, marking the way, four altogether. I was surprised at what I found at my destination.

In a wooded valley, a large church with a cupola, flanked by substantial buildings, whose purpose was to offer hospitality to pilgrims. One is a modern restaurant, the other a heritage visitor centre. The wide open area in front of the church forms an arena, great for outdoor ceremonies. Along the south flank, on a raised terrace, a series of half a dozen fireplaces, arranged for outdoor cooking. A place for pilgrims to come and picnic. It's a royal sanctuary because the original St Mary's Well, as we'd know it in Britain, had been patronised by fourteenth century Spanish royalty and eighteenth century Bourbon rulers of Spain, to whom the present baroque countenance of the interior is owed.
The restaurant had clients, and there were a handful of visitors like me, just looking around. I went into the empty visitor centre and was greeted by a man on duty. Once he'd established that I was OK with Spanish, he started to describe the history of the sanctuary and its royal connections, and offered to show me around the church, which was otherwise locked. The interior was covered with fine baroque frescos, all in excellent condition, likewise all the buildings. It's clearly regarded as a key piece of local heritage. 

Then I learned that the place had suffered badly during the Civil War, as the region was in republican hands, and its was, of course a place with royal history. It had been completely and authentically restored in the fifties and sixties, which explains how it should still be in such good condition. The frescos, apparently were re-painted by two artists from Vinaros, and all the external walls and terraces were done by apprentice stone masons from Traiguera.
The small original fourteenth century shrine and its well, were established after the region's reconquest. They are still preserved, easily accessible to all who pass by. Everything else in this complex has been built around this.

This was in every way a memorable afternoon of catching up on discoveries I might have made on earlier visits. I was also very pleased to have a half an hour's real conversation, all in Spanish, about things that interest me.

It was a treat to return to another excellent episode of 'Beck' in BBC Four Scandinavian TV crime drama series. This was special because characters conversed in a mix of Swedish, English and German, making it even more interesting to follow than usual.
    

Friday, 15 July 2016

How vulnerable we are

It was truly dreadful to wake up this morning to the news about the murderous attack on people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice last night. I spent much of the day following the news, realising how vulnerable hundreds of thousands of public gatherings are across the continent. Those who are murderously insane or just purely wicked in the name of their ideology, care nothing for their own lives, only for the lives they want to destroy. They can be impossible to spot or to stop, no matter how good criminal intelligence gathering networks may be. It's down to the training and discipline of the forces law and order to expect the unexpected, and respond in the moment. 

It's dreadful to contemplate that failure or success in such attacks is down to bad or good luck. Video footage showed that before the killer went on his destructive rampage a few traffic police risked their lives trying to stop the lorry, but to no avail. It's hard to imagine what those brave defenders must be feeling now, having done their utmost. 

In the end, I made myself stop watching the news and go for a walk. I went into town, initially with the intention of photographing the two bridges that cross the riu Servol, but once I'd done that, I kept walking to the south side town boundary, as far as the Romanian Orthodox church beside the N430a, which I visited back in September 2012. Then I walked to the sea, and returned along the coast road. I covered all of 10km, my longest walk so far. It's good to feel fit enough for this, heat notwithstanding.

After crossing the riu Servol bridge on the way back, I noticed for the first time a fenced plot of land by the side of the road among the houses. It was empty, except for a small concrete clad building in one corner with a metal door. 
There's no notice on the fence, either to say what this is, nor even to tell you to keep out. Someone mentioned recently Vinaros still had an historical remnant of Civil War time military installations, but didn't say where, and I've been looking along the coast to no avail so far. If this building is of military provenance, its windows aren't the right shape for a defensive building housing guns. Although close to the coast road, it's two hundred metres from the sea. So I'm wondering if it was a communications post, well behind front line defences. All I need now is a local historian to check this out with.
   

Thursday, 14 July 2016

El Perello discoveries

Yesterday was hot, not a day to venture far, or do anything unnecessary, but this afternoon, I arranged to get out and visit John in El Perello. I drove there early to visit the 'Bona Fe', the church shop first, and explore the area a little more than I've had opportunity to on previous occasions. There was a cool breeze and it wasn't so hot and humid, giving a little more incentive to make good use of my expedition.

I found a road that went up and out of the village with signs to an Ermita. On the way I found a monument to thirteen militiamen of El Perello, who died in battle against Castilian forces in 1640. The monument is a twenty-first century construction and reflects regional pride in Catalunyan identity and the resurgence of independence aspirations. A little further up the road is the Ermita de San Cristofol (St Christopher in Catalan). Its construction was begun in 1885, but not completed until 1976, by which time a completely modern chapel had been built, and a large terrace of trees and picnic tables laid out with views across to the Ebro delta. Such a surprise

I've heard people talking about El Perello Playa, and seen the tourism signposts at the same N340 junction. The beach is down a narrowwinding road 7km from the hill village 140m above sea level. The road passes through beautiful terraces of olive trees, neatly arranged with dry stone boundary walls, and more wonderful views across the Ebro delta. It came as a surprise to go over the brow of a hill and find an extensive modern urbanización, and a hotel/spa complex, near the sea. The beaches are fringed by pine trees, with picnic tables planted in the shade, and an elevated walk way adjacent which is wheelchair friendly for several hundred metres. All very well thought out, kept simple and free from commercial over-exploitation. Another splendid discovery.

I then drove to John's house on a hillside overlooking the sea on the way back from the beach, only to discover he wasn't there. When I phoned him, I discovered that I hadn't absorbed the fact that he was temporarily in a residencia in El Perello itself. Ten minutes later, we were reunited and chatted happily for an hour and a half. On the journey back to Vinaros, I had to resist making my journey longer with a diversion into the delta, having seen quite enough to digest for one day.


Tuesday, 12 July 2016

More politicking

Another day of news watching today, with attention on the Labour party executive and the conduct of the leadership challenge against Jeremy Corbyn. Had he been excluded in any way from the process, the act would have done the Labour party to death. Interesting too, the speculation about who will be recruited by Teresa May to form a cabinet, an to discover both May and Germany's Angela Merkel are clergy daughters. It counts for more in Merkel's case, when you consider her father served the church in communist East Germany, an uncompromisingly costly and difficult place to maintain any kind of Christian witness. I wonder what sort of CofE parishes May's father served in? I imagine the Church Times will give us a profile before too long.

This afternoon, again being cooler and cloudy, gave me an opportunity to walk again along the Costa Norte path, and this time go all the way to the riu Senia, through the richly bio-diverse Sol de riu conservation area. That's the furthest I've walked since I've been here, 8-9km, and I was just starting to drag my feet with tiredness on the final stretch from the Spar mini-market, struggling to get back in time for the Archers on-line. However, the internet is so erratic here, that I had to resort to accessing the SkyTV box radio channel, which always works, thankfully, although you can't quite wander around, doing the washing and cooking the way you can if you're streaming from a broadcast on a mobile device.

Later I watched an interesting, as well as amusing early episode of 'New Tricks', on the Drama Channel, which I'd not seen before, all about the diamond trade and an unsolved crime. Well crafted with superb character acting. No wonder the series has been so popular for so long.
     

Monday, 11 July 2016

Street naming, political theater and a fig tree

One small but noticeable change that's occurred since I was last here is the appearance of shiny new name plates on street corners, giving an identity to most of the Calle (or Carrer if you prefer the Valenciano) of the housing areas along the Costa Norte. The development of housing along and behind coast road dates back at decade if not longer. Area maps identified streets by an alphabetic letter and houses by plot identification numbers that can still be seen on tiles embedded in boundary walls of fincas here and there. Confusingly, developers' plot numbers eventually gave way to house numbers designated by the local planning authority, so new number plates were added by owners, without necessarily taking down the plot numbers. 

It's a nightmare for visitors, for deliverymen, but not necessarily for council officials or the yellow clad Corrreos post lady who tours the area on her yellow scooter, dropping off letters in the boxes wherever they are bunched. No letter box delivery hereabouts, and they've probably had an updated plan to learn from. So, Casa John Phillips, as the chaplain's residence is known in tribute to its founding priest, which used to be Carrer D, is now Carrer Llatina in urbanización Saldonar
There's no equivalent word I can find in Castilian Spanish, but in Catalan this means 'Latin Street', and Valenciano is close to Catalan, one is a dialect of other, depending on which side of the riu Senia you view the world from. Neighbouring Carrer C is now Carrer Llata, and that's one I can't find in any dictionary.

It's been a day to spend with the news on in the background most of the time, to keep up with the unfolding political events in London. Suddenly there, no longer an election for Tory party leader, but an effective coronation for Teresa May, with the withdrawal of the only other contender. Then, very quickly, Cameron announces that he'll bring forward his resignation to Wednesday this week, which will precipitate immediate action to implement the brexit vote, under new leadership. In the meanwhile, criticism of the process, and legal challenges to the government trying to take short cuts and by-pass parliamentary approval are bound to continue. 

It's such a pity that the Labour Party is rendering itself impotent by its members of parliament doing their utmost to oust Jeremy Corbyn, with the forcing of its own leadership contest. This is an unhappy time to be British, European and radical. This isn't just muddling through, but a chaotic loss of common purpose, despite all the noble idealistic rhetoric.

It was a little cooler and cloudier this afternoon. Once the news frenzy abated, I walked into town and out along the port north wall. There's a wild fig tree that has grown to maturity among the huge boulders of the sea defences on the north, and bears young green figs. The aroma it gives off when the sea breeze picks up is as exquisite as it is unexpected. A Mediterranean delight.


Sunday, 10 July 2016

Food memory

A late and lazy start this morning, with just one service in Alcossebre at noon. I drove there using the new N340 by-pass road, which opened last year, and has taken the heavy long distance traffic away from the existing arterial road, what may have been a by-pass road in its day, but since then, has acquired along most of its length through town, a succession of supermarkets warehouses and business premises. 

Nowadays this road has, for the most part just light local traffic, and is far less dangerous to use than it was last time I was here. Indeed, I notice a difference at night, as there's no longer the sound of heavy lorries slowing down to respect urban speed limits, half a kilometre away from the house. The new by-pass runs three kilometres inland across the coastal plain.

There were two dozen at the Eucharist and unusually, a third were non-communicants. Summer months are the quietest for church attendance here too, despite the influx of visitors. Afterwards we gathered in the 'El Camino' church shop just a couple of doors up from the church, a dozen of us, for drinks and a chat, and some of Doreen's special cheesy nibbles. Then I drove back for lunch via Lidl's, as I needed bottled water, fruit and some fish (merluza) for lunch.

I was a bit haphazard in timing the cooking, and started the rice too early, so it was ready before the veg and the fish. By this time I was hungry, and served the redondo rice - like an Italian risotto rice, to eat just with lemon squeezed over it. Not only was it delicious, but eating this awakened a lovely memory from nearly fifty years ago.

Clare and I spent the summers of '67 and '68 backpacking in Greece. Much of our time on both occasions was spent in Crete, where we were befriended by an olive farmer, and taken around to be shown village life in the mountains, and to attend festas attached to betrothals and baptisms. The first occasion, we were in a hill village, and served mezes to start with, then a large plate of rice with lemon juice squeezed over it. We were conscious of being welcomed by people who were far from prosperous, and blissfully unaware of local custom. (I should add, there were no guidebooks at that time. They had yet to be written.) 

We were hungry and ate the rice heartily, thinking that was all they could afford to put in front of us. Then the roasted lamb appeared, and piece by piece, the whole animal was consumed by guests and villagers. We ended that night so full of food, and no amount of wine music and dancing could help us digest, and we lay awake groaning, regretting our enthusiasm. We still laugh about it today.
  

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Costa Azahar Garden Party

Up early this morning, tidying the house, cleaning the garden furniture, getting tables and a gazebo tent out of the garage, ready for today's garden party. On the telly again this morning, an outside broadcast of the preliminaries for the St Fermin bull running fiesta, due to start at eight. I watched a little yesterday, as I did last time I was here, but it leaves me as bemused as ever. The style of the broadcast, with lots of vox pop interviews, statistics, glimpses behind the scenes, is much the same, whether it's a major sport event, a royal event, Semana Santa processions or other public party occasions. Being a TV spectator is boring if you've seen it once. The commentary becomes banal, even though the commentators make an effort to sound exciting and interesting. It's a second hand experience, so I soon settle for Radio Four Today programme, as usual, while I potter about or eat breakfast.

The team of four organising the garden party arrived at ten thirty to make sandwiches, and by lunch time the fridge was full of sandwich trays and cooling drinks. It was quite a hot afternoon, but we were blessed by a cooling breeze, flowing through the house, once all the doors were open. Altogether about twenty people came, from all three congregations. After socialising, drinking and eating, there was a prize draw, and then a game of 'Beetle' played, with bottles of Cava for six winners. When I wasn't chatting to people, I helped with serving drinks, clearing up and putting away, to de-clutter available space. By seven, everyone had departed, and the house was left clean and tidy. Having had my fill of sandwiches and cake, I felt no need to cook myself a meal, and was just able to relax.

BBC Four's Saturday evening Scandinavian drama of the day was about the hijacking of a Danish cargo ship by Indian Ocean pirates. It was scripted in a mixture of Danish, English and occasional Arabic, without subtitles too. and portrayed the difficulty and risk involved in communication both on board, and ship to shore in such a tense situation. Interesting too, that neither the criminals nor their victims knew each other's mother tongue, so they had to use English, imperfectly understood and spoken by most caught up in the crisis. Getting that right was a remarkable achievement for the script writer. Thought provoking stuff.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Design and divide

Today has been cloudy and pleasantly cooler, so this afternoon I walked further up the footpath running along the Costa Norte clifftop, observing more places where sea defences have been strengthened, and beach access improved. In places, there are level paved sections, alongside the footpath, giving wheelchair access to the clifftop area. Providing the same access to beaches is more difficult however, with a 7-8 metre cliff to be negotiated. Only occasionally, where the beach is at the mouth of a barranco is this practicable. As many residents and visitors are older people, it's in everybody's interests to make it safer and easier to get down to the water's edge, so I imagine the improvements are likely to continue, if slowly, long term. 

I got to the end of the urbanización Deveses where the shuttle bus turns around just as it was about to pull out, so I rode back to urbanización Saldonar, for pleasure. The fare is still 60 cents, and the bus is rarely crowded. It must be running at a loss, yet it's a vital service for those who have had to give up driving. The coastal residential area, north and south of the town, is designed on the assumption that the vast majority are car users, as indeed are the multitudes who travel from inland cities to holiday homes on the coast. They will go to the main commercial centres for shopping and as a result there are very few shops of any kind along 3-4km of coast road.

There was an interesting Ted Talk video I came across today, from a Syrian architect, Marwa Al Sabouni, practicing in Homs. She observes that for centuries, Syrian society succeeded in being religiously and culturally mixed without falling into the chaos of conflict and social disorder. The traditional oriental design of buildings and public spaces in towns and villages, evolved in a way that physically obliged people to live and work together with their differences in close proximity, and mutual reliance. It was hard to avoid each other in that kind of social environment.

It's only been in the past half century when modern architectural layouts of high rise estates and shopping malls, imported from the West, became predominant, that ancient conviviality has been disrupted. Now the rich and poor, powerful and powerless no longer have to live cheek by jowl and notice each other personally. A framework of separation and isolation of people into social groups, in the name of more efficient modern living, makes an environment that ferments alienation and conflict, along with its claimed improvements in housing standards and social amenities. This is a substantial critique of the influential school of thought represented by Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright. There's hardly a town or city in the world that isn't affected. This warning voice from the ruins of the ancient city of Homs is one that makes us see our built environment from quite a different perspective.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Walls as media

Yesterday was hot enough to discourage me from venturing out until it began to cool late in the afternoon. I walked to the port, and out along its rather empty southern boundary, earmarked for fishing industry development, but currently housing a modest boatyard, and a vast vehicle parking area next to the harbour wall, occupied by just a handful of leisure fishermen. I noticed a couple of bus and HGV driver training vehicles parked there, but few commercial vehicles. I wonder if there are times when it fills with commercial traffic for any reason.

Walking back through the town, I noticed some interesting and well crafted graffiti amongst the run of the mill tags, and adolescent declarations of love. I was also amused to see a political rallying call against EU's TTIP legislation, which is causing widespread concern internationally, because of its potential to undermine workers' rights. This was written in Valenciano or Catalan. Not sure which, so close to the border. 
As I was taking this photo, a young man stopped and asked me keenly if I knew what it was all about. I assured him that I did, and then we got into conversation, which give me a good five minutes of live Spanish practice, before we parted company.

In one of the main shopping streets there are two quite large toy shops next to each other. On the wall between them is an ingenious example of slick commercial advertising in graffiti style. I though this too was worth a photo.