Seaside, Sea Salt, Sanlúcar

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Down below all the history, callejónes, bars, singing, and bodega action of Sanlúcar de Barrameda’s barrio alto, Spain ends in sea and sky. Straight roads meet at a point on the horizon in the salt flats beyond down-at-heel Bonanza. You can buy sea salt by the sack here.

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Zahora, Caños de Meca

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They don’t call this the Costa de la Luz for nothing. The daylight is unique, the sunsets all-engulfing. The beaches were packed in August, but in September, even on a Saturday, in prime position in front of Chiringuito de Juan and Sajorami, with temperatures over 30 degrees and not a cloud in the sky, things are just plain civilised.

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Cante por Serranas

DSC01207Had cheap beer, montaditos and crisps at the 39th annual competitive flamenco sing-off in the plaza of Prado del Rey. A rousing event involving high-profile singers – and their supporters – from all over the sierras, the organisers are hoping it becomes a designated national tourism attraction. It currently feels pleasantly neighbourly – well-dressed children, hair slicked flat, rolling across the plaza; teenage girls in platforms texting the boys lolling about by the church wall; old women (hair done specially) discussing someone who’s died; men in striped shirts smoking at the bar talking about bulls, and a succession of suitably overwrought singers punching out the compulsory copla.
It’s what passes as a top night out round these parts.

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Running with . . . Cows

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All through rural Cádiz la cultura taurina is alive and kicking. This is bullfighting country, and August is the peak of the bullfighting season, although the first events begin as early as March, and the season lingers on through September. Village ferias that don’t include a bullfight as part of their summer festivities will at least have a corrida de toros or two. And so it is in Zahara. As part of the Annual August celebrations at the end of August, bulls . . . well, cows, but cows with attitude and enormous horns, are released into the main street to chase the local population up and down the cobbles for several hours before being taken home again in a lorry. Most people sit on, or peer through the wooden barricades erected for the occasion (from the safe side), or watch from balconies with a drink, or in the slither of shade on the church steps; but the village’s youth and those old enough to know better are in with the cows, jumping and calling to attract their attention then running fast when they do, hauling themselves up onto window ledges, or impressively vaulting the fence. Last year, I saw someone run towards a cow ‘bull’, grab hold of its horns, and somersault over its back. Free drinks all round.
Best viewing point is the old men’s bar, Bar Niño, although once in, you’re trapped for the duration – not that anyone’s complaining.
Twice now I’ve put out pink socks, yellow shorts and a red cape for Dave on the morning of the corrida, but so far he has hasn’t been keen to strut his stuff.
This year, like every year, the celebrations included prize-giving for flamenco queens and princesses, paella, dancing until dawn to old standards played on an electronic keyboard, and a very quiet Monday.

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Resident Donkeys

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Fernando’s donkeys lived on the farm before we did, and we said they could stay. I never realised how funny, bolshy, and full of character they can be; obviously they’ve never done a day’s work in their lives. I can’t go anywhere without them at my side. They wait for me at the gate, accompany me on walks. Recently they ate the back windscreen wiper off my car, and then the electrician’s car, and they have been getting in the builders’ way. They’ve also stripped a row of grapes, and know how to unlatch all gates, so until the harvest at least they’ve been banished to the field, but I’m looking forward to seeing their faces back at the window again soon.

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Milk & Honey, Dates & Figs etc

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Two neighbouring farms sell goat’s cheese, the flat bread molletes, and eggs, and Fernando, who is both generous and full of pity, is at the fence most evenings with a bucket of peppers, tomatoes, and the best onions I have ever tasted, as well as bunches of poleo, the feathery flowered herb used in minty tea.
While the earth is rock hard, things continue to grow. We have had plenty of the weird looking thistly stuff so good in revueltos, apricots, artichokes, and loganberries (all of which were eaten by the aforementioned birds). Now there are dates, pomegranates, prickly pears, black grapes, long tangy grapes, and the wild mass of grapes in the vineyard – so far unidentified, but not, thank god, moscatel. It’s currently fig month: all the fig trees I’ve found so far are producing so much fruit, I can pick several kilos without moving.
I’ve been turning down work so I can eat, I mean cook, figs. I’ve never had any inclination at all to make jam or chutney before, or to cook, actually – it must be the challenge of having to do it outdoors over firewood in ambient temperatures of 40 degrees that makes it interesting. Thankfully the crop and one hopes the compulsive obsession it will be over at the end of the month, and I’ll be able to get back to the nitty gritty of making a living.
Next bounty, as far as I can see, will be oranges and lemons. I removed over 600 snails from one tree alone, not pleasant. I put them in a paint tub, filled it with water, and felt awful. According to Fernando, I should have cooked them. There have been jubilant ‘Hay caracoles‘ signs outside most of the local ventas, and apparently, the bar by the church and plaza in Algodonales does a particularly good snail stew.

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