Ups and downs

Lately, my life seems to be a series of peaks and troughs. Nothing dramatic, thankfully – no deaths or major illnesses, or serious disasters. Just one of those times when a week without anything going wrong represents an unusual, and welcome, period of calm.

Last week, I was staying in one of the best hotels in Spain, according to Conde Nast Traveller among others. I’ll be blogging about it in detail soon.

This week, there wasn’t enough money in the bank account to pay the mobile phone bill, and our (other, thankfully) car died. It was a 20-year-old Volvo kindly donated to us, which lasted for a year and was extremely useful for my husband as a second means of fanily transport, especially for ferrying children around and leaving me free, occasionally, to get out and about without my carriage turning into a pumpkin, Cinderella-style, at 2pm when school finishes for the day.

Living half one’s life in a dreamworld can be confusing. When I am lucky enough to be invited to stay in such places, I try to make sure my car isn’t too dirty (failed this time, both inside and out); my suitcase is not too scruffy (oops, handle broken); and my clothes are appropriate (almost, though too plain. Forgot jewellery. No holes, creases or fallen hems, at least).

My knackered laptop looked completely out of place in my huge sea-view suite (I wish now I’d taken a photo of it in situ – at the time, it didn’t occur to me). When my host asked what my husband did, it’s hard to dodge the fact that, rather than being some dashing entrepreneur or successful lawyer, he’s an out-of-work engineer who’s been on the dole for two years. The bubble of our luxe-surroundings conversation bursts, and we come back down to earth with a bump.

All this isn’t to say I’m not happy with my life. I have two gorgeous, healthy children, who are as creative and bilingual and affectionate as I could hope them to be; we live in a small house which belongs to us, not the bank; I have a loving, if not overly industrious husband; an endlessly supportive and helpful mother-in-law; and a group of fantastic friends; and I love my work – well, who wouldn’t? I write for a living.

Swinging between wordly, confident journalist and competent, organised mother isn’t easy for anyone, and nor is being the sole wage-earner, though obviously it’s vastly preferable to both of us being without an income. But please don’t think I’m whinging, because I’m not; I’m just describing my topsy-turvy life.

Tomorrow I’m going to the reopening of a palace-hotel, built as Spain’s most luxurious by the then-king. I’ve already laid out my clothes, just to make sure I don’t inadvertently wear something which will embarrass me (it’s happened before). I’m looking forward to it, though I know I’ll have to do my Wonder Woman role-change spin before I leave the house.

What are you thankful for?

The Andalucian-ness of Andalucians

Feliz Dia de Andalucia!

Andalucians have a sense of local loyalty like noone I’ve ever encountered. They are fiercely proud of their Andalucian-ness, with famous cultural markers such as Moorish architecture, flamenco, bullfighting and Lorca inspiring the kind of adoration that borders on obsession.

This sense of regional identity is instilled from an early age. Over the years, my children have come home from nursery or school at around this time of year, displaying a range of appropriately-coloured adornments symbolising the bandera blanco y verde: masks, flags painted on their faces, and flags in their hands.

This year, in the run up to today’s Dia de Andalucia celebrations, my son’s school focused on Blas Infante, the politician and writer who is known as the “Padre de la Patria Andaluz” (Father of the Andalucia Fatherland). It was Blas Infante who drew up a charter for Andalucia in 1918, also designing the Andalucia flag, based on historical symbols: Hercules, lions and the Pillars of Hercules.

According to legend, the Greek god founded Seville – hence the Alameda de Hercules. Infante also wrote the lyrics to the Andalucia himno (anthem). (Dia de Andalucia itself commemorates a later, but no less significant, event: the referendum for regional autonomy which took place on 28 February 1980.)

My son did a project on the story of Hercules and the two lions featured in the flag, and how the flag got its colours – something to do with one of the lions loving (green) olive trees and vines, and the other loving the frothy (white) waves of the sea. The lyrics of the himno talk of white for peace, and green for hope:

La bandera blanca y verde/Vuelve, tras siglos de guerra/A decir paz y esperanza,/Bajo el sol de nuestra tierra. (The green and white flag/Returns, after centuries of war/To tell of peace and hope/Under the sun of our land.)

His class also visited the great man’s house in Coria del Rio, now preserved as the snappily-titled Museo de la Autonomia de Andalucia. They were given a complicated make-it-yourself version – lots of working out which bit goes with which bit – IKEA in miniature. One for a rainy day.

All this was part of a build-up to the Main Event: their school play. This was called La Mansion Mas Bella, and it was about the eight provinces and all the elements that make up Andalucia.

La Mansion Mas Bella, with its eight provinces.

We had the Sevillanos, Cordobeses, Granadinos et al…

(From left): Cadiz (Carnaval), Almeria (Wild West), Granada (Sultans), Huelva (El Rocio), Malaga, Cordoba (horse-riders), Sevilla (Feria). Jaen (olive farmer?) is just out of shot.

We had the animals

Horses, flamingo, pig (jamon), deer, lynx.

We had the writers

Lorca, Rafael Alberti, and Juan Ramon Jimenez with Platero the donkey.

We had the painters

Daniel Velazquez, Julio Romero de Torres, and Picasso (yes, blonde).

We had the flamenco artists

Paco de Lucia

La Lola Flores (with Camaron de la Isla on the left, and Paco de Lucia on the right).

We had a torero and a toro


I am knocked out with admiration for the teachers who put this spectacle on, from the casting, to the rehearsals, teaching them their lines, and supervising them on the day – 50 children coming on in groups with all their props.

My children have a very strong feeling for Andalucia, as Andalucians. As an outsider, I don’t share this sense of belonging. I’m from Essex – we do have a flag, but an anthem?  A school play? As I approach my ninth year here in Andalucia, though, I am beginning to understand its value and power.