Thursday, August 29, 2013

August crowds depart, tranquillity returns

At last many of the visitors to El Port de la Selva are heading home, although half of them are probably still holidaying here. The population of the village ballooned at the end of July. In fact locals were saying that there were more people here than ever before. By this weekend many more will return to the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, France, the UK  and Scandinavia. Tranquility will return shortly.

We knew that something had happened in El Port de la Selva when we saw the mayor being interviewed on Catalunya's 24 hour news channel. What was that about? It turns out that an eighteen-year-old German girl, out on a boat with her parents, had jumped overboard and swum to a nearby rock after an argument with her mother. It was a somewhat isolated bit of coastline, but she refused to return to the boat, and so the parents left her to make her own way home. She faced a treacherous cliff-top path back to the port and had no shoes. Five hours later, in gathering darkness, and no sign of their daughter, the worried parents finally decided to contact emergency services. A search was mounted and the girl was found, apparently having been picked up by another boater. The mayor was on television because the parents have been given a bill for €1400 to cover the costs of the emergency services.

Our beaches were quite busy last week with large families coming to enjoy the waves. We really enjoyed watching three generations of an Italian family arriving loaded down with their beach gear and of course food. The Italians definitely rivaled the Spanish in their loud enjoyment of the beach. It is interesting watching how the various nationalities behave at the beach.

Finally, we had had enough of the busyness and took the hour drive over the mountain and then on rural roads past vineyards, sad drying out sun flowers, borage, corn and lovely apples to the seven kilometre-long stretch of wide, sandy beach at San Pere Pescador. It didn't seem busy at all since people are stretched out all along the beach. It's never noisy because of the roar of the waves. Other than a campsite there is nothing around, no hotels, houses or apartments. Just a narrow sand track not even a road. It is paradise. The huge rollers didn't deter us from swimming. In we went and got battered around a bit as we swam, but it didn't matter.

As the sun started to go down we adjourned to the Marlin Beach Bar, right on the beach. It was time for a beer and the always welcoming greeting of the owner. The food, although fairly simple, is delicious. We shared some baby back ribs to die for. After a coffee, it was time to take off our shoes and go for a long walk up the beach, only turning around because it really was beginning to get dark. We will return to San Pere later this week.

Our weather is still warm but not unbearable. The beaches are quieter but the water is still really warm. The house and especially the kitchen has cooled enough that we can cook again. Life is regaining it's regular pace.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Brawn and skill needed for traditional boat race

It was a big day in the Village, boat race day. Now this is not the Oxford and Cambridge boat race. It is racing El Port de la Selva style with fishing boats with six oarsmen and a cox. There is a lot of excitement around the races and on our evening constitutional walk to the dock we have watched various teams out practicing, the chant of the cox drifting across the darkening bay.

There are only three boats in the competition but a number of teams use each boat. Arriving on the fish market dock we were greeted with loud music blaring forth from the speakers. That's okay as the event is sponsored by the local Mackintosh disco. We found a place to sit along the dock and watched as the boats lined up, which sometimes takes almost as long as the event itself as it is difficult to maneuver the boats in to the exact position on the starting line. Then there is frenzied excitement from the loudspeaker, a countdown and the boats are off. There were separate male and female events and some mixed crews as well as older teams racing much younger teams. We still aren't clear on the criteria.

Once the race was started it was up to the end of the dock and a difficult turn around the buoys. At this point the race could be won or lost depending on how close to the buoy the teams could get and how fast they could get around it. It means the rowers closest to the buoy had to stop rowing until they were nearly around then it was a mad dash back to the finish. By this time it was easy to see which teams had been practicing as they were the ones that didn't fade in the second half of the race.

We didn't stay until the very end, although we were almost persuaded by the delicious smell of sardines barbecuing over branches of olive trees. This was being served with the traditional pan tomat or tomato rubbed into bread, along with beer, wine or cava. We opted to return home to watch the final races from our terrace while eating our homemade gazpacho.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Dodging crowds part of summer routine

It is now the height of summer in the Port with everything at capacity. Tourism in Spain is up more than ever this summer and it certainly feels like everyone is right here. Thursday was a  holiday and it was difficult to move anywhere in the village. A late night walk to the pier, where the fishing boats dock, saw us practically elbowing our way through the crowds.

The main beach is very crowded but we can still find some smaller quiet beaches. We always keep in mind that many people leave the beach around 2 and often leave some quieter beaches totally deserted. It is the perfect time to swim.

The neighbours on one side are fairly quiet as different batches of relatives come to visit. That is except for what I thought was a younger child calling someone. I could never exactly make out the name but there were all the inflections that a more and more impatient child might use. It was odd that no one ever answered. When I mentioned it to Seamus he reminded me that one of the relatives had brought their bird with them.

On the other side all is quiet. The mother and father left last Sunday with just the son and daughter and boyfriend remaining and of course the maid. There were a few nights when friends were over with talking going on until six in the morning. No one was drunk or even very loud. Just talking. Of course nothing really gets started until midnight. Last night they locked up and left. We do expect the mum and dad will come back but they too will go before the end of August.

After next weekend the village will be quieter as people start to leave. It can't be too soon for us. Visitors amble up the middle of the road with complete disregard for cars. Some drivers leave their skills behind in whatever country they came from and I won't even mention the parking.

After several weeks with intermittent hot water and several visits by the repairman, the problem may be solved. This time it was a different repairman, someone from the company that makes the horrible furnace that has left us without heat in the winter and quite often without hot water. Apparently, since the financial crisis hit Spain, some distributors are reducing costs by not fully removing the sulphur when they process the heating oil, causing many heating pumps to clog. Supposedly some additive in our oil tank will solve this problem. We hope so. In any case we are back enjoying hot showers again.

Tonight we heard the whirr of the bright yellow ambulance helicopter's rotors. We've seen it come into the Port before but have never been quite sure where it lands. There it was in a tight space on the promenade along with two of the local ambulances. We're not sure what happened. It always takes a long time to stabilize the person before they are transferred to the air ambulance. And it was the same tonight before six or eight people loaded the person into the helicopter and it took off. It lifted straight up from the promenade before heading to the hospital.

It's Saturday night and a quiet band is playing on the beach. Perhaps it's time for a dip in the neighbour's pool. We've been invited to swim whenever we like but we never go when they are here. We should enjoy it while we can.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Summer in the village means lots of Late night music

Our hot summer continues, fueled by warm winds from the south. The village is now at capacity, full of August visitors from northern climes. And we ourselves  have overseas visitors back from a whirlwind tour of Spain. Friday night we visit the neighbouring village of Selva del Mar to watch live band performances in the town square, which is transformed with a stage, loads of chairs and a huge beer concession. It's amazing that everything can fit into this usually tranquil spot under the giant plane trees.

First of all we met up with Teresa, late of the pizza restaurant. We hear all the details about her departure from Sol de Nit and her plans for the future, and what plans they are. She and Antonello are going to serve dinners in their home and not just pizza. This will start sometime in October. I am really looking forward to these fun nights out.

Meanwhile it is past 11:30 and the first band whose name is something like 'Malli Vanilli' begins. They appear decked out in wigs that they seem to enjoy turning around on their heads. None of us could figure out the point of this. And they could talk. Between every number was so much chatting in Catalan that we wondered if they were children's entertainers. When they did actually get playing they were quite good but they seemed to have perfected their talking rather than their playing. At 2:00 am the next entertainer came on, a folksy rock and roll singer, who sang very abbreviated numbers. It was time to go home. This was a disappointment compared to last year. Never mind, there is tomorrow night with new bands.

On Saturday we visited Empuriabrava, showing our guests the Venice of the Emporda with all the fishermen's houses on the canals. Then it was down to the beach for a long awaited pizza. I thoroughly enjoyed my arugula, buffalo mozzarella and bresaula pizza. Delicious. Then it was a long walk down the beautiful, sandy beach splashing our way along in the surf.

Tonight in the Port we enjoyed the walk of the gigantes, who twirled and danced their way up the street. The gigantes have giant heads made of plaster of Paris and papier mâché. The frame of the body is hidden with cloth and someone controls the gigante from inside. These are popular throughout Spain and often represent figures from the town's history. There was also a cabezudo, who has a similar sized head that is carried on his body. Everyone loves these unique characters.

Once again it was the magic hour, 11:30. Time to return for the second night of bands in Selva del Mar, which was even busier than the night before. The first band was quite good playing music that was recognizable before it drifted off into something else. At least it was entertaining. It was fun watching the people in the audience, from very young to very old. At 2:00 the second band came on with a storm. The lead singer for some reason was decked out in a mask. Why? We don't know. His first number, garage, punk or whatever it was was so loud. We decided to give the band a chance but the second, again very loud, Catalan rap song wasn't great. By this time there was a great swath of empty chairs appearing near us. At the beginning of the third song it was time to go and give our shattered brains time to recover. 

Sunday was a beach day. Now the beaches are very busy but once you are in the warm water swimming it is heaven. In the late evening it was time to go and watch Playback, where the performers from the village mime to a selection of music covering many eras and genres. It is all taken very seriously with wonderful costumes and some superb performances. It was the same show that was performed in the ballroom in June for three nights but this time on an outdoor stage with hundreds of people in the audience. There were no chairs left when we arrived. Fortunately, we used two of our beach chairs, while the men gallantly stood for the three hours. Some of my favourites were the mayor and his wife singing, "Get it On,", the wonderful Can Can dancers, the Spanish tenor and of course the hairy men singing, "I'm Sexy and I Know It."

After Playback, disco music played until four or possibly five in the morning. It can be very noisy in August with discos and partying going on well into the morning. The electric guitarist practicing his riffs, using his amplifier, at 5:30 am was not appreciated. Our tranquility is only a distant memory now.