Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Shpeekin' Inglis. (B2 or not B2.)

It's several weeks since I wrote a post and in that time, I haven't really read anyone else's blog or even thought about blogging. Blame Facebook! So many of my friends from blogworld are now Facebook friends too and when life is a bit hectic,then a quick scan of status posts makes me feel like I'm still in touch.

But here's a brief round up....

  • Romy's performance, which wrote about in my last post. 
  • Hot on the heels of this incredible production, we had end of term exams; 
  • Ruy had archery competitions - where he walked off with one 3rd and two 1st prizes. 
  • And my students at work had their English B2 exams.

And here's some detail, as much for me to remember it all by as for a blog post in its own right...

The exam preparation was quite time consuming for me as we did the Trinity syllabus, which is very interactive and requires a lot of extra input from the teacher! (At least, this teacher seemed to put in a lot of extra hours....there is always a lot to learn.)

B2 indicates the level of English that a foreign student has to reach in order to study at an English University. And I have been preparing a class of 10 people from the offices and research department in the factory where I am working. It's been very interesting, to say the least, teaching a group of adults who have different backgrounds, different experiences of learning English but who have close and friendly working relationships with each other. Our classes - held over the lunch break twice a week - have occasionally been utterly rowdy!

I know from teaching teenagers and younger children that I've always had a sneaky soft spot for the noisy, energetic individuals who liven up proceedings - or sometimes disrupt them - and who keep you on your toes. I could name several that I will never forget and I was delighted the other day to bump into one of them, who will be about 16 now, I think. When he saw me, instead of the usual polite greeting that I occasionally get from ex-students, he opened his arms wide and gave me a big hug and said how happy he was to see me! Made my day.

Teaching adults is different. But my B2 class has been very different! There's a great phrase that sums up how it's felt teaching this lively and disparate group of people - it's been like herding cats! We have had since mid-February to start the work, which is in two main parts - written and spoken, with the emphasis on communication. The written part took place at the end of May and a few people had problems with the timing...nothing we can do about that now! The spoken part consisted of preparing a portfolio of three writing tasks done in different styles - letter, report and creative - and which can be corrected as many times as needed before submission. The teacher can't directly correct but can indicate where mistakes have been made. The final results were, in my opinion, really well done and I was pleased with everyone's efforts. At the actual interview, students go in individually and converse with the examiner for about 12 minutes. They have around 4 minutes to talk about a subject or topic of their choice. My group had an incredibly wide range of topics - from a disastrous honeymoon to producing specialist plastic film products; from a childhood in France to a childhood in Transylvania; and from the guitar to business planning! In addition, they had to talk about their portfolio, including asking the examiner some questions and leading an interactive session to find out details of a strange or unusual situation that the examiner introduces.

The examiner was in for quite an afternoon!

The date for the interview was 25th June - which just happened to be my birthday - and my students were due in both before and after the lunch break. There were three - and I picked the three that might be most nervous - before lunch and they arrived all together and definitely nervous. The other six were after lunch. (One person chose not to enter the exam, but had been in our classes - if you wonder where the 10th had gone!) But I'd met the examiner beforehand - a very sweet, gentle and rather eccentric (at least so she appeared to the Spanish folk) retired FE teacher, who spoke slowly and calmly and very clearly - and so I was sure that my students wouldn't have a problem. And the first one emerged smiling broadly. Then my only dubious candidate went in - she'd been very busy and rather stressed for a few weeks previously and I felt her speaking had actually deteriorated, rather than improved and I was a bit concerned. However, she too emerged with a big smile and a huge sense of relief. She said she surprised herself with how fluent she had been! And the final morning candidate left the room, more than 12 minutes later, and punched the air with delight!!

I went with the examiner and my friend from the Academy for lunch in the park - a glorious spot in full view of the castle. The examiner was enchanted with the place and sweetly anxious to know how the candidates seemed to be when they left the exam. I told her that they seemed to have enjoyed their conversation and felt that it had gone well. (Maybe it would help in the results, maybe not!!)

And then they arrived....a group of my B2 students came to the park BEFORE their exam...and I could hear them clearly speaking in English, ordering a beer or four! Eeek!!!

As the examiner went back to prepare for the afternoon session, I scurried over to my group just in time for George to see my face and change his order to a non-alcoholic beer. They'd already had two.
Elena was the first of the afternoon interviews and she definitely was going to be a nervous candidate especially for the interactive session, which for her was a potential nightmare. She pushes herself hard and has put in an incredible amount of work in preparation and likes to know she has her facts clear. She has given us some unintentional laughs over the period as she's tried to be 'spontaneous' in the interactive practice.... However, after two beers, she seemed remarkably relaxed. Jolly even. And on the verge of ordering another beer! I had to drag her away and we had an hilarious twenty minutes waiting for her exam, where she never stopped talking with Toni in English. I only hoped the examiner wouldn't notice - although to me, it was quite obvious that Elena's usual somewhat formal demeanour had disappeared. Fortunately, she came out smiling, though complaining that it had gone far too quickly and that she had lots more she wanted to talk about - her topic was Equality for Women.

The next two were utterly sober and quiet and sensible. One came out not too happy but as he's from the Pays Basco and much less extroverted than the rest of the group, it was in keeping. He speaks very well but he isn't the most interactive of types - and when the examiner asked whether he wanted to ask her any questions (a cue to do so), he said, no thank you!

Whilst the other candidate was in, the remaining three from the park emerged....full of beans. Lots of beans. There has been a long standing joke about using the word 'subtle' during the classes, on account of the very direct approach of one person. He's worked very hard in softening his style of writing, which bordered on brutal, but still has a tendency to pronounce the word 'shuttle'. It was the ambition of the group to use the word at least once during their interview, so the three remaining candidates were practising. In whispers, so we didn't disturb the exam in progress. It was not reassuring, though it was very comical.

Eventually, all three had been in, done their bit and come out. Then they left to return to work. As the last one closed the door, the examiner emerged from her room. I swear she looked exhausted! And she said, 'Well they were a lively bunch, weren't they? Are they yours?' - and I SO wished those last three had still been around, then I could have said - 'THAT'S subtlety!'

The next morning, the students from the Academy had their exams and then Toni, Becky (the native English teacher at the Academy, who took over from me when I left) and I waited for the examiner to finish off and give us the feedback - and the results - from the interviews.  We were all on tenterhooks and most concerned that our students had done their best. (I was also worried that the examiner might come out and tell me I shouldn't allow my candidates to enter for their interviews in a state of inebriation.) But eventually, we had our minds put at rest. All my students passed - and a few of them passed really well indeed. Alberto - with his honeymoon story and great sense of humour - had impressed enough to get 3 As, which is fantastic.

I went back to the factory to share the news and there was much whooping and hugging and a great sense of relief. We had still to wait until late July for the results of the written exams, but as the spoken part amounts to 70% of the exam, most people feel they've made the grade. And they are also keen to continue onto the next level. I may have work for a bit longer yet.

Thank you if you've made it to the end of this quite personal ramble. I don't know who will have done, but if you are or have been a teacher, you'll understand the anxiety and concerns that you have when it's exam time. And at least I've only had 9 students!! I know that they are all pleased to have passed - one or two definitely thinking they could have done better and one or two feeling hugely relieved - but I suspect my own delight and relief almost matches theirs.

And now BREATHE! It's holiday time.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Beauty, the Beast and the Teapot

For those of you who are Facebook friends, you will know already that this week has been very important.

Two years ago, Romy's school did a performance of 'The Lion King' for the end of term and they did it in the local theatre. It is still talked about now with respect, admiration and awe. This year, the school decided they would do 'Beauty and the Beast' and as far as I remember, they held auditions for the various main parts either at the end of last year or early this year. And Romy auditioned for the part of Mrs. Potts and she got it. She was rather nervous about auditioning and she had to learn quite a few lines of dialogue and sing the well-known song from the show. But she did it.

Then all went quiet for a while before the parents were summoned to a meeting - in February, I think - to discuss costume-making. I was a bit worried as sewing is definitely not my forte! I was even more shocked to discover the hall was full to bursting with parents, mainly mums, and to find out that there would be 155 children in the play! The chaos of that meeting gave me a few negative feelings about the undertaking but was relatively relieved to discover that as Romy was a main character, I wouldn't have to make her costume.

Then towards the beginning of April, I was summoned to another meeting. This time with Puri, one of the Infant school teachers, who said I was to make the dress that Romy would wear under her teapot costume and she showed me a still from a performance of the play that had been put on in Madrid. It was a high necked, frilly white satin blouse and a long white satin skirt. Not a dress. Puri said I could buy the material and a lady who lived in the Calle Columbia would make it for me.

Now, my granny was a tailor - not a Taylor though - and my mum always made lovely dresses for my sister and me when we were little. My sister is an incredibly good seamstress and had a flair for design as well. My needlework teacher, who despaired at my dreadful attempts at school, couldn't believe Judy was my sister when she came to the school a few years after me. I never finished anything and nothing ever looked right either. I do own a sewing machine but it never worked properly and without instructions, I could never remember how to thread the thing. And I admit, it frightened me somewhat.

But I decided I would make Romy's costume myself. It was a learning opportunity and there was plenty of time to get it right.

Good job there was plenty of time!

Thinking a dress would be too difficult, I decided to make a skirt and a blouse and I began straight away by making a blouse in 'draft' (I don't even know what this would be called) using some old material and a pattern from a friend. It was too small. So I decided to make the skirt and at the market, I found some lovely, off-white satiny material that wasn't too heavy and I successfully made a skirt. It was very full and a bit bulky. I admit, but I'd made it. I went back to the market the following week to get some more material for the blouse....and they didn't have any more.

Undaunted, I bought some white satin, which is what I had been told to buy anyway, thinking to see which looked best. And I went home and made a blouse which wasn't too bad. It took me some time to make it and by the time I had finished, I could almost remember how to thread the machine without looking at the pictures in my instruction book! Almost.

But as you can see from the photo, it didn't look too good with the skirt. I wasn't happy. And there was too much material everywhere.

So I went to every shop in Alcala to try and find some more cream satin to match the skirt. Why I didn't think it would be easier just to buy some more white satin, I'm not sure....but I didn't. I couldn't find any anywhere that was just the same, so I returned to the market and bought some cream satin, that was thicker and not as nice as the original stuff but which at least was a similar colour, And quite expensive as I remember.

I decided to make a simpler style blouse and laid Romy on top of my material and drew round her.
Then I cut this out with a bit to spare and then, with great speed and confidence, I sewed it up and tried it on her. It wasn't an absolutely perfect fit, but it wasn't bad at all. Spurred on at this success, I decided to take the skirt in and have it more fitted. A doddle. I could now thread the machine and run a seam up in mili-seconds. And soon, I'd sewn the trimmings on and finished both the skirt and the top successfully - and look how beautiful my daughter looks in them!

I was quite happy when I took these in to school at the next meeting. And I was ready to offer my help if anyone needed it...but I was told that first, I should buy 4 metres of a slightly spongy material that had a satiny top layer - I'm sure it has a name but I don't know what in either Spanish or English- in the same creamy colour as Romy's costume. I was so glad I hadn't made it white! And then I had to bring it into school and they would show me the pattern and how to turn it into the teapot.
It slowly began to dawn on me that I was going to have to make the teapot part as well....

The next few weeks saw me backwards and forwards at school as we all groped our way blindly round the plan for making a teapot costume. Puri had her ideas but as I began to put them into practice, I could see they were flawed....there was a moment when I'd followed all her instructions but was left with something that was definitely never going to be a teapot! A bit of back-tracking and I discovered how to make the shape we were looking for. Oh gosh, and sewing the thing together, adding whalebone round the middle, trying to sew the wavy ribbon around the centre was SO difficult and of course, impossible to do with the machine and I couldn't get so much thick material to go through. I sewed until my fingers bled, then I had to tape them up and sew some more....

But in the end, I finished it and the beastly teapot began to look pretty good!

The school secretary had made Romy a teapot lid hat, which was fantastic and Puri made the spout 'arm' - and although this picture is rather out of focus, I think you have to agree, we did a sterling job between us. (I tried to persuade Romy to take her pink socks off for the photo but she was having none of it - she had some lovely cream and gold shoes for the performances, which matched beautifully.)

All that was left was to go and see the show.

And oh what a show!!!

For three nights, the children of Jose Garnica Salazar put on a spectacle that deserved to be seen by everyone. Hearts and souls were poured into the acting, the dancing, the acrobatics, the singing and just being part of a wonderful, wonderful show. It was very cleverly staged and the children acted brilliantly with the songs being performed to a playback tape from the film version. They had such confidence and energy and there was something for all ages to take part in. The town has a very successful acrosports group and there are several champions of Spain at different age groups. Many of the girls are at the school and they performed some very impressive routines during the show. The townsfolk scenes were lively and colourful and the Gaston character was impressively swaggery and confident for a young boy of possibly 12 years old.
There were plates, forks, spoons, can-can dancers, a wardrobe, a chest of drawers as well as a candlestick, a clock, a feather duster, a chipped cup, some amazing wolves in the forest, and touchingly, children in wheelchairs taking their part too. There were tiny children in spectacular costumes doing dance routines - and of course a teapot, an animated and charming Belle and the Beast  - and his alter ego, the Prince.

I managed to sneak in on the first night after I'd finished work and arrived before Romy had done her main part. All the songs were mimed by the children - all except Romy who was singing live. She has a nice voice, without doubt, but I wasn't prepared for how lovely and unafraid she was when she sang. And when we went to see it all together on the last night, she had gained in confidence and sang her little heart out to the most amazing applause at the end. She very nearly brought the house down.

Here are some photos from the play - I do apologise for the quality, it was so difficult to get some good shots but you can get a feel for the amazing work everyone has done.

With the wolves in the forest - aren't they fantastic!

Some of the characters in the castle - including Mrs Potts!

Lumiere, out of focus, but a lovely wardrobe and a brilliant Beast, bottom centre. Don't miss Chip, the cup on the trolley!

Another out of focus one, but with Belle on the chair.

Action shot as the acrosport girls arrive

...and the spoons, forks, plates and can-can girls join them

Lumiere, Belle, Mrs. Potts and Chip - now in human form. Just look at the costumes!

This is when the townsfolk come to storm the castle...
I took some video as well but you must forgive the awful quality. My recording is really poor as I was up in the balcony but I have to share these clips. The first one is a great little scene when the townsfolk come, with Gaston, in the red boots, to try and storm the castle and get Belle back. But they weren't prepared for the resistance!

And here is the jolly good fun scene, with lots of action on stage.

And here is Romy singing at the end of the show on the first night. It's not the very best she sang but it's the best recording I was able to make. You can't see my tears!

 And I am so happy because my mother in law was able to come down to see the show. It's a long journey from Valladolid, but she was utterly swept away by it all. Everyone in Alcala was, I think. And at the end, it was really rather special to hug the teachers and staff from the school and feel so very much a part of it all. Sadly, my mum wasn't able to come - she would have loved it too.

But the very best part of all was the pure pleasure that Romy and her school friends got from doing the shows - all the hard work paid off and they really did enjoy every minute.
Such a great experience for them.

SO - we've had a roller-coaster of a week. How has yours been?

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Living up to their names...

Despite my garden looking like a bombsite - now and for the foreseeable future - the roses are blooming and it's wonderful to have little touches of colour around.

Casa Rosales.

The pink ones outside the computer room window.
The Clematis and Rosemary also rather abundant this year - ie. unkempt!

One of the red ones - camera colours might be playing up a tad!

I did prune this one quite harshly but it's gone crazy!

This one came from Sam when she left - the colours are so pretty,

This is the yellow, sweet-smelling bush that is in the middle of the garden.
The lovely colour doesn't show well here, so I took a close up....

Yellow from a distance and when fully open, but tinged pink as they are in bud and opening.

Not out yet, but dozens of buds on this white bush.

And this one I bought for 6 euros in a little pot last has really flourished and flowered almost through to December.

FR decided - on a whim - to change the intended location of the swimming pool. We had a couple of tense days when he ignored my pleas to rethink or at least concentrate on finishing one job before starting the next. I lost the battle. Which is quite a surprise to me. I don't usually. But I lost this one.
I think in his panic to push home his plan, he allowed Juan the Digger to dig too deep a hole and leave it not wide enough....

I am not best pleased with things as they stand. FR has a lot of work to do before I am
convinced his action has been right....

It was our village fiesta this weekend and I am at least relieved to have heard FR speaking to Juan, asking him to return and adjust the dimensions. Talk about digging your own....

Photos of the fiesta to follow. Needless to say, a good time was had by all and the food was excellent this year.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The brave and the good ...Part Three. Flamingos at Fuente Piedra

Memories of our day out are beginning to's been a busy week!

We left the damp and soggy mountainside behind and headed north, spurred on by the thought of paella at the Visitor Centre in Fuente Piedra. We'd visited this inland, salty lake once before, and on checking this post about it, I am gobsmacked to discover that it's almost four years time flies! Then, just one month later in the year, it was a very hot day and we really enjoyed the place, the sights and the centre.

As we got nearer, the cloud definitely lifted but the rain continued. Our little group entered the centre full of smiles and jollity...only to discover that the paella had all gone. This was a blow. We were a bit on the chilly side by now and the thought of a nice hot, paella was definitely inviting. Ho hum.
Still broody, but rather beautiful
 In true Alcala spirit, no one bothered too much, but set to work discovering what the place had to offer. The first was an incredible view across the marshy lake to a strange 'huddle' in the middle. Juan Carlos had brought a powerful telescope, which he set up for us to see that the 'huddle' was the breeding site for the flamingos - it was actually the nursery and full of little flamingos.

There was a number of stalls set out, including one that was a charity supporting cancer victims, 'manned' by three white-haired, women in their identical t-shirts. I knew at once that they were from the UK...unmistakable in any setting...but was most impressed by one of them, who was chatting away in really excellent Spanish. This is very unusual and I had to find out how she could speak so well. Turns out she came to Madrid for three years in her youth and had become fluent during this time, which has served her really well when she returned twelve years ago to live in the local area. They were great fun and doing a fantastic job to link the English and Spanish communities together with their charity work.

And then! The sun came out!! Yes, really out and shining. So out we trooped to get a closer look at the lovely wildlife.

And whilst the clouds soon closed in again, Mateo and I had a beautiful walk around the lake and across a bridge for a good half an hour. It was lovely to just chat together about all sorts and for me to see that his enthusiasm about the place hadn't dimmed at all.

We were so busy talking that we didn't manage to get many photos of the birds - many of the most impressive were flying around, rather then feeding - but I rather like this one I took of some trees and their reflections.

And as once more the rain started to fall, we decided to call it a day and head off home. It was only 4.30pm but we felt as though we'd had a pretty full day.

At 4.36, I noted that the bus was unusually silent. Looking around, I saw that practically everyone on board had fallen asleep. And not much later, I too took a well-earned siesta.

We arrived back in Alcala la Real around 6pm and noted with satisfaction that clearly a lot of rain had fallen there too whilst we'd been away. We thanked our guide, Juan Carlos, and all decided that it had been a good day. We would definitely do it again - come rain or shine.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

The brave and the good - Part Two. El the rain!

After the fascinating visit to the Dolmens in Antequera, we reboarded our bus and set off up into the hills and mountains to the south.
As we began to climb the winding road, it was rather like being in the north of Spain - Asturias - where the weather is often damp, the countryside very green, the hills very steep and the roads exceedingly bendy.

And as often happens in Asturias, we drove into a cloud. A thick, wet, dense cloud. This wasn't what we'd ordered for the day but Juan Carlos kept us in a cheery mood by telling us what we couldn't see to our left...and here is a photo I found on the web to share with you.

El Tornillo de Torcal

Image result for el torcal

This is one of the more extreme examples of the rocks in the area. Originally under the sea, the landscape is now visible as layer upon layer of rock - some of which have worn away over the millenia into these strange shapes. The meaning of this rock's name is the 'Screw' of El Torcal - and you can see why it has this name. However, we couldn't see it.

We drove up to the Visitor Centre and the car park and were quite amazed to see it busy despite the weather. It's a very exposed place and I can imagine that not many people will visit in the height of the summer when the sun is very fierce but there was a bigger turnout than expected for such a foul day!

The good news was that there was a bar at the Visitor Centre so we were assured of a coffee after the walk...I hadn't had time to have one before we set off and was a bit worried about where I might get my fix. I am, I confess, addicted to coffee. Especially that first one in the morning.

A few not so brave souls decided to give the walk a miss...the stones were unbelievably slippery and the mud in between was both slippy and sticky. (FR gave it a miss and settled down with an Edward Bond script and a coffee in the bar area.) Another young couple had decided to buy themselves matching rain jackets in the visitor's shop and this delayed them for so long (can't understand why - there was only one type and it was blue....that's what they bought in the end) that they missed our party's departure. FR witness the argument that ensued between them afterwards but I'm glad to say they were friends again by the time we returned.

SO, the brave and the good from Alcala la Real set off on the 'Easy Route' around El Torcal.
Big broody rocks..

One of the brave and the good

Muddy paths and grey skies

Love this matching couple, not the two who were left behind, but a retired couple
who were definitely very brave and who stuck together and avoided any accidents on the
treacherous stones, literally sticking to the mud - and with mud sticking to them!

Brave AND good - and you can't see the amount of mud that covered the back of
her legs and trainers...

These were just the rocks we could see...I have no idea how far this landscape extended!

Our noble guide, sense of humour intact, informing us of what lay behind the screen of fog...

Mateo named these 'The Cliffs of Insanity' ..if you know
'The Princess Bride', you'll get the reference.

I love this picture because it adds a brightness to the landscape. My camera was definitely pleased to be able to pick out some cheer - it seems to have really emphasised what colour there was!

The brave, huddling beneath more looming rocks.
I have absolutely no idea how long the 'Easy Route' took us but I remember seeing a signpost that said that the Visitor Centre was 600 metres away and I did feel rather relieved. But that last 600m seemed an incredibly long way!!

But we all made it back safely and without incident or accident and there was quite a sense of elation to it all.

And then I had my well-deserved cup of coffee. I'd been brave and it was good.

There's more to follow! Part Three sees us setting off again, in search of flamingoes and paella...

Monday, 27 April 2015

The brave and the good set forth...Part one. The Dolmens of Antequera.

This will be a blog post in three parts. I have lots of photos and want to share the whole adventure with you but there's a lot to take in in one go!

A friend of ours runs an eco-tourism business. He's incredibly knowledgeable about nature, wildlife and birds and his guided tours combine education and information with photography, walking and birds. (Do check out the website - all the photos are by Juan Carlos - he's an incredible wildlife photographer!)
He often takes the school children on local rambles and they return with plants and notes and full of enthusiasm. Romy is really good friends with his son - they love playing together and Romy often spends weekends with the family even though she's now at another school.

I got a message last week from his wife to say that there would be a day trip to El Torcal near Antequera, which is inland Malaga. This is a natural park, formed by incredible rocks which rose up from the seabed many millions of years ago and which have eroded into weird and wonderful shapes, and showing the many distinct layers that went into creating them. Mateo went on a school trip there a few years ago and was deeply impressed, so we decided we should take the opportunity for a guided tour and go all together.

I booked our 5 seats and we made sure all homework and tasks were completed on Saturday and the packed lunches were made and ready to take - we had an early start on Sunday morning.

The weather forecast was poor...without doubt we were going to get some rain, but we were prepared for that and the trip set off in good spirits (- but without our guide's children and the time Tere had told everyone about the trip, she discovered all the seats were booked and there was no space left for her and the children! However, they'd been many times before so it wasn't the end of the world.)

Our first stop was to view some Dolmens, which were located just outside to an industrial estate, actually. Apparently, until around 10 years ago, these incredible relics were just part of the landscape, unmanaged or monitored and people could access them however and whenever they wanted. Now, there's a car park, the area is fenced and kept natural and there's a good visitor centre where you can see an informative video about how the Dolmens were possibly built. And then, you can actually go into them!
Despite being open to all and sundry all this time, there was no graffiti or obvious vandalism anywhere at all - apart from a few crosses carved into the entrance of one of them - but these had possibly been there for a good thousand years or so...

The first, discovered at the beginning of the 20th century, around 4000 years after its creation, faces east as is customary for dolmens. It's a long corridor-shaped dolmen with a small chamber at one end. Twice a year, at the Summer and Winter Solstice, the sun shines directly along this corridor to reach the chamber at the end. The stones, despite their huge size, fit carefully together...goodness knows how this was achieved.

Surrounded by wild flowers.

The second dolmen we visited, known as the Dolmen of Menga, is actually considered to be the largest structure of its type in Europe and is definitely impressive.

When it was discovered in the 19th century, many hundreds of skeletons were discovered inside.

What makes this more interesting is that instead of facing east, as dolmens usually do, it faces directly towards a most fascinating geological feature of the landscape. Check out the photo below and then look at the closer version that I managed to the clouds and the rain began to close in on us!

Observe the large mountain in the middle of the photo - then look at it again in the next photo....

Does it not look rather like someone's profile? Mother Earth asleep, perhaps?
Well, this is probably what the ancient people thought - I could be convinced myself. It is incredible, although the more common name is 'El Indio' nowadays, as it does look rather like some American Indian Chief on the horizon.

Entrance to the Dolmen...big stones!

Inside - 25 metres long.

More big stones....
The well was discovered some years ago and although it's not know whether the prehistoric people knew about it, it was clearly used, as there are footholds carved into the sides. The well is the same depth as the dolmen is this a coincidence??

View of Mother Earth rock from the entrance. 

 And as we emerged from the tomb, it began to rain....

The flowers smelt amazing

Umbrellas went up - the skies darkened.
And were delightful to look at.
 And we climbed back onto our bus.......more in Part Two!!

Monday, 20 April 2015

A musical interlude

On Wednesday this week and quite by chance, FR noticed that there would be a piano recital here in Alcala la Real on Thursday evening and he thought it would be a good idea to go.

I have to say, it was definitely one of his better ideas!

Icono de actividadesThe pianists were two had reached the second round, but not the semi-final, stage of the big competition that was ongoing in Jaen. This is the 57th year of this international and very prestigious competition, though I'd never heard of it before. There were 19 pianists at this stage and I think it is an excellent idea that the 13 that didn't reach the finals spent the next few days doing recitals in local towns in the province. These included concerts in Ubeda, Linares, Baeza, Huelma and our own town, where they came to the beautiful old building that is home to the 'Pep Ventura' Music Conservatory, part of the local museum.

We went with Ruy and Romy, and as we waited in a rather small recital hall with children aged between about 8 and 15, plus a few parents and some of the teachers, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. As it turned out, we were in for a real surprise. The two young pianists - one Russian, one Japanese - played Prokofiev's 4th Sonata - quite a heavy work - and Ravel's 'Gaspar de la Nuit', a notoriously difficult piece, respectively and both pianists held us spellbound. I was really impressed with both of them and staggered at the level of their performances. These were two who hadn't reached the semi-finals....
I also had quite a cathartic moment when the Japanese pianist returned without too much encouragement to give us an encore. He played a Chopin Etude which I knew exceedingly well, it being a piece my ex used to play a lot. I honestly don't think I've listened to a live piano recital in the last 20 years since we split up and I couldn't quite contain the huge emotions it created in me. I cry very easily at music, always have, but this felt to come from very deep down. I hasten to add, I don't miss the ex at all but I do miss hearing him play - possibly more than I realised. It was a very powerful moment. Afterwards, I was able to speak to both musicians, though the Russian said his Spanish was better than his English, and to tell them how wonderful they were. I came home quite on a cloud.

And still on the cloud, I did a bit of research about the competition and found that the final was to be held the next day in Jaen. However, all the tickets had been sold...but a bit more digging uncovered the information that the winner of the competition would play a concert in Granada on the Saturday. It didn't take too much persuasion for FR to book us some of the very last tickets available. It is quite to our shame that thus far, we haven't taken our children to a 'proper' concert but this felt like the perfect time to put that right.

So we set off on Saturday evening, parked at the Alhambra, as you do and mooched down through the beautiful old streets next to this glorious Moorish palace to the Manuel de Falla Concert Hall.

It's not a bad setting to go and listen to music....

View towards an incredible hotel (centre) where my friends Denise and Jim stayed
when they were visiting last year.

Walking towards the concert hall - gorgeous colours as the sun starts to set

View of Granada

Lovely courtyard and yes, that 'man' in denim top left is Mateo....
(Our family is rather like a group of cats...they all wander off in different directions
as soon as they're given a second of freedom!)

As for the concert - well, the winner of the competition was a 16 year old girl from Canada, Anastasia Rizikov and she was going to play Chopin's 2nd Piano Concerto. Only 16 - and the winner not just of the competition but also the two additional prizes for the best interpretation of Spanish music and also for contemporary music. We had a feeling she must be good.

I was so unprepared for the confidence and absolute mastery she had of the instrument. She was a consummate performer, showing not the slightest amount of nerves but communicating an excitement at playing. I don't think there would be anything she couldn't play and she deserved the fantastic response that brought her back to perform two encores,

You can't see much on this photo as I just wildly pointed and clicked just before she left for the last time - she's the little figure at the front in a red dress!

Here she is at the ripe old age of 12 - and if you check her out on YouTube, you can see why she's been performing since she was 7. Truly incredible talent. I can't imagine the hours of work she's put in and how incredibly musically mature she is. Maybe some people are just born to play the piano...

The rest of the concert was also lovely and we heard a modern piece, which I quite enjoyed for its orchestration but which didn't appeal too much to the younger members of the family...but they were impressed when, at the end, the composer left his seat in the audience to take a bow. And then, to finish, we had the glorious and uplifting Schubert 5th Symphony. The orchestra was excellent and the conductor, Paul Mann, a real pleasure to watch. (We were behind the orchestra and so had a really good view.) As we left, Mateo thanked me for 'forcing' him to go....he absolutely loved it. (I didn't force him really, but I told him not to make any other arrangements for the evening and it just so happened his friend was in town that day...visiting from Granada, ironically.)

And what could be better? Well, Romy's come home with the desire to start playing our electric piano and she spent several hours yesterday willing to listen to and follow my instructions and by the end of the day, had mastered the scale of C, both hands and two easy duets that we played together. I am delighted.

Note to self....MORE MUSIC PLEASE!!!