Sunday, August 15, 2010

Recovered, Santa Pola, another trip down memory lane, the story of Frank and Julia, Gandía and home again.


At the top of the Coll de Rates mountain pass with wonderful views.
Hello my friends,
Today is Sunday August 15th, a bank holiday in Spain which will go unnoticed as it is a weekend and once again it is time to write my blog.  It is also Independence Day in India so happy Independence day to all Indians reading this entry and there are many of you, or so Google blog statistics tell me.
This week has been great.  On Monday Suzy was back from Montrondo and we had a nice dinner together.  However it wasn’t until the next day that we had a full house with both girls for lunch.
Dinner at home with Suzy last Sunday when she came back from Montrondo.
On Tuesday I went to the doctor with my huge bandage and a bit worried I would be prescribed more time with my foot up and immobile.  However I was in for a pleasant surprise.  My ankle was better and the doctor removed the bandage.  Ouch that hurt, as it was stuck to my skin and he did a sort of peeling exercise leaving nasty marks on my leg.  He prescribed an ankle support and told me I could walk but to take heed of how my foot felt.   The good news was that he said I could go to the beach and that the sand and sea would help me recover. Wow I was so happy to be up and about again. I hobbled for the next few days but now I am walking almost normally.
The first thing I did with my newly recovered mobility was to go out with Suzy for a cup of coffee; a normal thing to do for anyone who is mobile but something special for me after nearly 2 weeks stuck at home.  Eladio and I decided then to go off to Santa Pola the next day and be back after Olga left on Saturday so’s not to leave my Father on his own overnight.  The girls went away on Thursday, Suzy to Ibiza with her school friends to stay at Erika’s place there and Oli to cover the Sonorama music festival in Aranda de Duero in Burgos for her website
Suzy on the beach with Erika this week in Ibiza.
Once again we decided not to take any food or shop in Santa Pola and to eat out even for breakfast so’s to make a real holiday of our 4 day escapade to the coast.  We had all sorts of plans to meet up with friends in the area; thus our stay was filled with social activity.  Another upside was that there was little cleaning to do as we had been recently and left the apartment spick and span. 
On the way out we stopped for lunch at one of our favourite places, the Parador in Albacete where we were served a lovely cool gazpacho to offset the tremendous heat outside which was nearing 40ºc. 
Making a toast to my recovery and our short holiday at lunch   in the Parador of Albacete on our way to Santa Pola.
As soon as we had unpacked and set up my pc (and answered my mails, of course) we set off for the beach where we had our first swim of the season and boy was it nice.  The water was clean and the sea as calm as a lake.   We tried my ankle out for a short walk.  It didn’t feel too bad but not yet good enough for the full beach walk.
I had booked a table for dinner at María Picola in the evening, that lovely restaurant on the road from Santa Pola to Elche.  We were welcomed back and enjoyed what we always have there, a superb arroz a banda.
A happy dinner together at María Picola on the first night of our holiday.
The mornings during our stay were always the same, as we are true creatures of habit.  We would have an early breakfast at El Paripé, a bar across the way with superb views of the bay of Alicante.  We would then go for the papers and return to the flat.  Eladio would read them from front to back whilst I worked and facebooked of course.

The view of the bay of Alicante from our breakfast bar, El Paripé in Gran Alacant.  It's also one of the views from our flat.
On Wednesday we had arranged to go and see our long time friends, Benito and Loli who were our neighbours in Saconia in Madrid where we first “lived in sin” before we got married in the early 80s.  They have an apartment on the beach in El Verger near Denia.
Loli and Benito by their apartment block in El Verger near Denia
We went for lunch to a local place called Casa Ramón for a great “fideua” (sort of paella but made with pasta) washed down by what is called “tinto de verano”, similar to sangria.  The afternoon was spent almost entirely at an ice cream parlour called La Jijonenca overlooking the Denia beach.  Here we talked about our old days and caught up on each other’s news.  We have promised to repeat the experience and next time Benito and Loli will be visiting us in Santa Pola.
Lunch with Loli and Benito at Casa Ramón in Denia.
We had planned to return home via a real memory lane for both of us.  We were to take the mountain road from El Verger, via Orba and Parcent and climb up the Coll de Rates mountain pass to visit Tárbena, Bolulla and Callosa before heading back to Santa Pola via Polop, La Nucia, Benidorm and Alicante.
The mountain road which means so much to me and which leads to Coll de Rates, Tárbena, Bolulla and Callosa
Tárbena, Bolulla and Callosa (Callosa de Ensarriá or D’en Sarrià in Valenciano) were the 3 main villages of my “Callosa days”, the time when I first came to Spain with my parents and which, if you don’t know the story,  you can read about here. The drive was like a venture into the past and the views from the roads as heavenly and magical as always.  I love the view of the little village of Parcent driving up to the Coll de Rates mountain pass which is some 700m high.  That doesn’t sound very much but then sea level in Spain is  measured from Alicante nearby so it is of course extremely high up.  The views from Coll de Rates are breathtaking and never cease to amaze me.  I had been here many times before but probably not in the last 20 or 30 years so it was very special to be there again.
Eladio at the top of the Coll de Rates mountain pass with breathtaking views on both sides.
Our next stop was Tárbena, a tiny little medieval village that nestles in these dry and rocky mountains and by almond trees which grow on terraced land and which are or used to be the main stipend for the village.  I hadn’t been back to Tárbena since the late 70’s and this visit was my real trip down memory lane because it was here I fell in love when I was 18 with a local boy who was studying to be a doctor and the reason I learned  Spanish. I had to visit the place, at least one more time in my life ,and didn’t feel good about taking Eladio with me but I think he understood.  The village was in fiestas and the main square felt much smaller to me than I had remembered it.  We walked through it and towards the house where the boy lived, in Plaza Santa Ana.  It looked closed up.  I didn’t want to meet anyone, just to see where it all began and remember my youth.
The little village of Tárbena which brings back so many memories of my youth.
From there we drove to Bolulla, the tiny village further down the valley where my famous Aunty Masha had bought a ruined house for a song in the early 70’s.  I love Bolulla and understand why so many English people have bought houses there (thanks to my Aunt of course).  We walked into the only bar that was open and came across a group of them who immediately wanted to know who we were.  Everywhere we went I told people I was La Señora María’s niece.  They all knew of course who she was and some of them remembered me.  I have so many memories of Bolulla from our many summers spent there and in Callosa in the 70’s and 80’s and in a way consider it to be my village.
Bolulla, my village in Spain.  I carry this image in my heart.
We walked down one of the prettiest streets there and spoke to 3 old ladies (Rosario, Jimena and non Castillian Spanish speaking Vicenta) for some time, remembering the past and talking about the people I knew; Esperanza, la Señora Elvira, Molina, Pepe the taxi driver and of course my beloved Sra. Julia and Frank (Francisco) Vácquer. 
With 3 old ladies in Bolulla talking about the past.  Vicenta in black, Jimena in blue and Rosario the hairdresser in orange.
Frank was the mayor of Bolulla when we first went there and I remember spending the first nights at his house  as Aunty Masha’s place was in no condition to sleep in (there was even a donkey in the main room when she bought it!).  Frank had lived in Brooklyn and had a wonderful New York accent with limited vocabulary.  But he was our ambassador and we loved him.  He was married to Serafina who spoke French and was what was called a “pied noir” for having lived and worked in  Algeria.  Serafina was always ill and had to be looked after by Frank.  Funnily enough she outlived him.  There is a saying in Spanish:  “mujer enferma, mujer eterna” which means “an ill woman lives forever”.  Señora Julia, a sweet old lady with white hair who must have been a beauty in her youth, lived opposite my Aunt and was our other reference in the village.  We learned later, with great secrecy, that Frank and Julia had been sweethearts when they were young but their love had not been allowed to prosper. I never knew why but suspect they were still in love when I met them.  Frank would speak with reverence whenever he mentioned Julia.  In the late 80’s something terrible happened.  Julia was in a car with her daughter and her grandson, a boy I had given English classes to.  He was driving and the car had an accident and skidded off one of those treacherous mountain roads I love so much.  They fell to their death, 3 generations in one go.  It was a tragedy for the village and I suspect especially for dear Frank Vácquer.  Frank died a few years ago, but there will always be a place for him in my heart and in my memories.

Dear Frank (Francisco) Vacquer's house at the main entrance of Bolulla. 
From Bolulla we drove to Callosa, the village where my Mother bought our house, but it was too late and dark to visit this time.  Soon we were back in our flat in Gran Alacant in Santa Pola and the trip down memory lane was now just another memory.
Thursday we spent at Gran Alacant and went to the local market there to buy Eladio some more summer shorts.  He seems to ruin all of them with bleach or paint stains so was in need of some new ones.  He was a bit of an unwilling customer but I managed to cajole him into buying 3 pairs.
Buying shorts for Eladio at the local market in Gran Alacant.  The unwilling customer!
In the afternoon we went to the beach again for another bathe and walk, this time the long one.  Most people go  to the beach in the morning but we always like to go when the heat is over and when most of the people have gone.  We are funny aren't we?

On our beach at Santa Pola, it's actually the Arenales beach.
In the evening we went to Darby’s Chippy for some amazing fish and chips.  It’s a very tacky thing to do but when you have lived away from the UK for so long, fish and chips is something, I, at least crave for.  The owner, a character from Scotland, greeted us warmly and thanked me especially for the mention of his chip shop in my blog!  He must have read the entry about it.  I was bowled over!  The portions we got were enormous and I think it was in lieu of a thank you for my positive write up which you can read here if you are interested. I’m also reproducing the photo of the chip shop owner if you haven’t seen it before.

Darby's fish and chip shop in Gran Alacant, great little find and the only one in the vicinity
Friday was our last day at home as we were leaving on Saturday.  The weather took a turn for the worse as it always does in the middle of August, except that we never seem to remember.  I was going to spend the afternoon by the pool overlooking the sea but it began to rain.  The temperature dropped and of course we hadn’t brought any warm clothing, not even a jumper and certainly no umbrella.  That evening we were due at Jacky and John’s for dinner.  Jacky, a childhood friend and actually my best friend, Amanda’s neighbour in Bradford, now lives with her family in a small village in Murcia on the border of the province of Alicante, in a hamlet called Collado de los Gabrieles.  We drove through an enormous thunder storm with lightening and as we left the apartment I thought guns were being fired.  Thunder storms in this area are always terribly fierce.  Maybe that’s because of the proximity to the sea.
Dinner with Jacky and John and their son Rafi, was great.  It was nice to speak English all evening and John’s curry was superb.  We could have chatted all night but it was dark and we had a long journey home so we left at Cinderella time, at around midnight with promises of going out to dinner together the next time we came. 

Dinner at Jacky and John's was one of the highlights of our trip.
Soon it was our last day, not that our holiday was very long, just 5 days.  We were going to  Gandía to have lunch with Irene and Tomas and their family before making our way home to Madrid.  Irene who is now the proud mother of 4, is the daughter of the González-Gálvez family with whom I lived in 1978 during the year I spent in Madrid as a teacher as part of my 3rd year studies at Nottingham University.  We have kept in contact every since but  more so since the Father, Gerardo, died.  Irene and her husband Tomas have been spending their summers in Gandia on the coast of Valencia since they were children and it was here they fell in love when they were teenagers.  This was the first time I was to see them here and I loved the flat and the location which is right on the beach front. 
With Irene González at their flat in Gandía. 
Tomas who is obviously a good chef, had prepared a great local rice dish called “arros a forn” which is rice cooked in the oven with many ingredients.  It tasted delicious, as good as it looked.

Great oven baked rice dish made by Tomas and called "arros a forn".
It was a delight to be with the whole family as on other occasions we had not been joined by their older kids, Paula and Tomás, just the little ones, Celia and Nacho and I was actually meeting Paula for the first time.   It was funny to see Irene with her 17 year old look a-like daughter Paula, as for me Irene is still the little girl I tried to teach English to, albeit unsuccessfully because of the terrible tricks she used to play on me. But time of course has passed, over 30 years.  
Lunch yesterday with Irene, Tomás and family in Gandía.
We left in the early evening as we had a 4 hour drive ahead of us and were anxious to get home as soon as possible because my Father was alone at home.  We were greeted by a very excited Norah who hates to be alone.  My Father was also happy to see us.  I had brought him a huge bag of all sorts of English chocolates which I had bought at Quicksave, the English shop across the way from our apartment which I am sure won’t last him very long.  I don't know if you know but even at 91 he is still a bit of a chocolate monster!  So it's quite obvious where I got my sweet tooth from then isn't it? 
And now we are home again with another trip for our memories.  You can see the full set of photos  here and a specfic album of our visit to Irene and Tomas in Gandía here.
But we are not home for long. This week we may be going to Peñacaballera to see friends.  At the end of August we will be going to Santander for a big telecoms conference and then in September we shall be off to Israel and Jordan.  October heralds more trips, one to Stockholm for a communications’ get together and a weekend in Barcelona.  Meanwhile we look forward to the visit of Katheryn and Phil who will be visiting us this Tuesday.  It will be nice to have some British visitors, especially for my Father.  Kathryn and I were at school together so her visit will be another trip down memory lane.
That’s it for this week.  Hope you have a good one.
Cheers Masha

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