Semana Santa Processions

Semana Santa, and the village band has dusted off the drums for the first of the year’s many, many processions. Like most, Friday’s procession of the Virgen de los Dolores began in the plaza at 10pm, and involved a circuit up the street at the back, and down the street at the front. I think it’s fair to say the band is rusty.

The Virgen de los Dolores will have five more outings between now and Easter Sunday, born aloft among lilies and candles on her glittering silver float by costaleros who – given the steps and inclines – make regular pauses while the nun sings saetas through a megaphone. The shadow of the caped Virgin on the white walls can look quite menacing as she lurches past.

I’d gone home to fetch a jumper when I filmed this; the processions are the usual local mix of solemn and sociable, and sacred and funny – except the silent ones of course, and best followed on foot.  Semana Santa is huge across Spain, but particularly in Andalucia, and, specifically in Seville (where there are 60 or so processions) and Cádiz (where you should find a spot along the route from Plaza de Candelaria, Calle Montañés, Plaza del Palillero, Calle Novena and Calle Ancha and stay there until Easter Sunday. Moving, less overwhelming, and with easier parking, there are extraordinary processions taking place in local villages. Being biased, I would say processions through the white villages of the Sierra de Cadiz, are not to be missed.

Dates for your diary, Zahara de la Sierra

Miércoles Santo, 16 de Abril: 22:00 Estación de Penitencia de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno. Itinerario: Plaza del Rey, C/Manchega, Avda. Andalucía, Boquete San Juan, Plaza San Juan, C/Ronda, C/Alta, Plaza del Rey, y a su Templo.

Jueves Santo, 17 de Abril: 20:30 Procesión presidida por el Santísimo Cristo de la Vera Cruz. Itinerario: Plaza San Juan, C/Ronda, C/Nueva, C/Barrero, Avda. Andalucía, C/Manchega, Plaza del Rey, C/San Juan y Plaza San Juan.

Viernes Santo, 18 de Abril: 20:00 Estación de Penitencia del Santo Entierro de Cristo, San Juan Evangelista y Nuestra Señora de los Dolores. Itinerario: Plaza del Rey, C/Manchega, Avda. Andalucía, Boquete San Juan, Plaza San Juan, C/Ronda, C/Alta, Plaza del Rey y Parroquia.

Domingo de Resurrección, 20 de Abril: 12:00 [mass followed by] procesión del Cristo de la Sagrada Resurrección y Nuestra Señora de los Dolores en sus Misterios Gloriosos. Itinerario: Plaza del Rey,C/Manchega, C/Barrero, C/Nueva, C/ Ronda, Plaza San Juan, C/San Juan, Plaza del Rey y Parroquia. O bien Plaza del Rey, C/Manchega, C/Barrero, C/Nueva, C/Alta, C/San Juan, Plaza San Juan y Ermita.


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Spanish Number Plates in 231 Easy Steps

You’d think from perusing the more indignant entries on advice forums that the paperwork involved in importing a car into Spain had been devised by the Spanish to keep Johnny Foreigner out (It’s a Nightmare! Your Car is in Danger in Spain! Don’t bother! Gringo Prices!) However, search Google in Spanish, and you find the same moaning and groaning among Spanish nationals, which I suppose the paranoid will find reassuring. Moving cars across borders is painful for everyone everywhere. Getting a truck from Panama to Colombia was so daunting we didn’t do it, thus ending up staying in Costa Rica for seven years and screwing up the whole New York to Tierra del Fuego trip. Anyway, back to Spain.

The gist is that once registered as a resident you have 60 days to sort the paperwork for a foreign car and get your Spanish plates. Visitors can drive one around for 6 months, after which the car has to be processed, taxed and plated up, otherwise you are liable for penalties – fines and impoundings and stuff, and / or have to keep the car out of the country for a 6-month period. There are people who do nothing but car paperwork day in day out; I thought we should do it ourselves and – YAY-HEY - after seven months of intermittently intense effort we have.  There are so many highlights, but among them, in no particular order:

Sending Dave 70kms to a lay-by outside Jerez de la Frontera, where he was to meet a stranger and hand him an envelope stuffed full of money. The man arrived, took photographs of the car, examined the V5 and whatnot, and after indicating what he wanted through the strenuous use of mime, took the money and drove away in a cloud of dust, leaving Dave baffled and uncertain. All was kosher. The man was a perito, a vehicle assessor from the Colegio de Ingenieros in Cádiz, and his role was to confirm that the car matched its paperwork and provide us with a ficha reducida, one of the necessary bits of paper. But it had a nice Coen brothers feel.

The Spanish MOT – the ITV. Eventually, after changing the headlamps so they pointed right to the kerb, not left into traffic, and realigning something, the car passed its test at the ITV centre near SuperSol in Ronda and we were handed a blue form in triplicate and told to take it to the Hacienda in Cádiz. The Hacienda told us to take it to the Agencia Tributaria down the road. The Agencia told us to go home and first pay the local circulation tax. The local town hall, had no access to the new-fangled online system and told us to go to another town hall. Two weeks and a few hundred kms later, I returned triumphantly clutching proof of payment. Now all to be done was to pay the Registration Tax, a combination of the value of the car (nothing! it’s worth nothing!) and its CO2 emissions as shown on the blue form . . . ‘Ah,’ said the man in Cubicle 16, ‘Your emissions are the highest of the high. Higher than a fighter jet. It will cost you one billion euros to import your car. Perhaps you should get it fixed and retested.’ Back at the ITV centre in Ronda, close scrutiny revealed that owing to a printing error the figure next to the CO2 was actually the idle speed. The form was reprinted.

Paying the Registration Tax. Just take it. TAKE THE MONEY, I pleaded at La Caixa bank back in Cádiz, waving two €50 notes and the Agencia account details, eyeing the clock. ‘We can’t,’ said the cashier, ‘because you are not in the system.’  No, no – I’m paying IN . . . CASH . . . please take my money.  I beg you.  ‘But where is your barcode?’ Barcode? Barcode? Running back up Avenida Andalucia, leaping across flowerbeds, taking the steps back to the Agencia three at a time with half-an-hour to go before closing time, I sprint stickily to the desk at Cubicle 16 and explain. The man puts me in the system and presents me with a sheet of barcodes (the key to all life). I sprint to the bank, hopping from foot to foot in the snaking queue – I’m in the system. I’m in the system, take my money! –  pay, collect the receipt, sprint to the Agencia, pay, collect the receipt, sprint to the Hacienda (squeezing through the closing gates), pay, collect the receipt. Then punch the air.

The Evita moment. One visit to the Agencia Tributaria in Cádiz coincided with a lively protest by immigrants seeking employment rights. A large, good-humoured crowd had assembled at the foot of the steps with banners and megaphones. In a case of mistaken identity, as I emerged blinking in the bright sunshine after one or other of the abortive paperwork processing attempts, the crowd roared and applauded. I waved and bowed.

Well, re the car business – the matriculación – there are agencies that can do this for you in a couple of weeks, apparently. I’d probably recommend using one.

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Rather Disappointing Cadiz


‘I arrived here March 26th 1905, lovely gardens, otherwise rather disappointed in the place’ says this postcard’s sender, adding ‘lovely catheradle here’. At least that’s what it looks like. The picture is of Parque Genoves – paseo de palmeras, which looks exactly the same today. I found the card at Libreria Raimundo, along with another one, written by the same person, with a postmark to show it had been sent to a boy at a school in London. So how did it end up back here in Cadiz?

Libreria Raimundo Cadiz

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A personal, skewed, highlight of Cádiz is Libreria Raimundo, a densely-packed treasure trove of secondhand books with a great name. One end of the Plaza San Francisco shop is dedicated to newer – or much older – more expensive books, the other (the Mercadillo) is messier, friendlier, and cheaper. Along with some Spanish pulp fiction, the latest haul includes Agatha Christie’s Maldad Bajo el Sol, Daphne du Maurier’s Monte Bravo, and James Hilton’s Almas en la Sombre. Hilton is the author of Goodbye, Mr Chips, and Lost Horizons; given the freedom with which titles aren’t so much translated but plucked from the air, this novel turns out to be The Dawn of Reckoning (1925). As we’re in the clouds today it’s going to be perfect Saturday reading . . . with a cup of tea, and a packet of galletas.

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A Night in Cadiz

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Through enthusiasm and bad planning we appear to be buying not one house but two. That’s a house each. Or at least the outer walls of a house and a ramshackle farm. Both need major work, or as friends sweetly put it,  ‘un toque personal’, a personal touch. Just thinking about the amount of work each needs to be fully habitable is fairly exhausting, and then there is the paperwork, the optimistic trips to the two town halls, the two property registry offices, the two local electricity departments to tot up the cost of rewiring for each, and the scrabbling for money to hand out to everyone . . . the work required to generate the money . . . All so exhausting and unfathomable in fact that a day off was called for, and we’re sitting in the sun in the city of Cádiz a couple of hours away, people-watching, and just being tourists.

One of the oldest cities in Western Europe, Cádiz was Gadir to the founding Phoenicians, Gades to the Roman elite who settled in great numbers, and Qādis to the Arabs who ruled here from the 8th to the 13th century. Slightly less certain is that Perseus slew Medusa here in what was once the home of the Gorgons, and that Cádiz is more or less the site of one of  the Pillars of Hercules. But the fact is that for all the history and mythology this city still feels like a secret. Plenty of tourists factor in a trip to Seville, many will get to Jerez for a sherry tour, but few make it down the narrow spit to the old walled heart of this top (hot) place with its wild beaches, narrow streets, and leafy squares. Oh, unless they come by boat. When we arrived, a giant floating planet was parked by the harbour wall and a thousand Thomson passengers were following men with flags down the gangplank.

It is hugely popular with Spanish visitors, however, particularly people living in the wider province of Cádiz – like our neighbours,  Carmen and Montse, who regularly lock up the ancient doors of their village house and hurtle down the mountain, past donkeys and tractors, for a weekend of shopping, dancing, wine, and great seafood. And although there are plenty of sites – churches, museums, monuments – it has a lovely frivolous feel, with a good sprawl of tables and umbrellas outside the cafés, busy parks, and lots of people on the beaches (some even in the sea). The old city is very walkable, but with the sea on three sides and multiple identical plazas, it’s easiest not to have any specific destination in mind – except your hotel, that is.  Hotel Argantonio, built around an internal courtyard with beautifully-tiled floors, is central, super-friendly, and a bargain at around €60 a double (C/Argantonio, 3).

Christopher Colombus sailed from Cádiz on two of his voyages to the new world, and it’s odd, having spent much of my life in the places he discovered, to be standing here by the sea wall, in the same place and the same light.



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Lunchtime Dancing Sevillana Style

Got invited to Ismael’s birthday lunch at the farm. Great food – vegetable stew, asparagus and eggs – cooked over the open fire, marinated meat cooked over flames outside, great wine, great company, and great people.

(Two of the guests were economists. They worked at the University of Seville investigating public spending but lost their jobs when the financial crisis deepened, which, as they say, was ironic. )


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