I keep doing something quintessentially British; I keep stopping to think about whether I will need a coat before we go out anywhere. It’s ridiculous really, this is the hottest driest September on record in Spain apparently and Pete hasn’t missed a single opportunity to jump/dive/belly flop/karate chop into the pool to cool off after a hot day of chopping logs and walking the dogs. But it’s something that is too deeply ingrained into my British psyche that, even if it is beautiful sunshine out there I may we’ll be drenched and freezing within a matter of minutes. But thinking about it, as silly as it is it makes me happy to know that I do have deep roots in a country I am actually fond of. Our hosts have been filling us with stories of the complete opposite.
Another thing I do love about England is English! Because we do not find ourselves in true tourist spots that often we rarely come across people that can speak English. I do not blame them, they have both Catalan and Spanish to master (and some resolutely speak one and not the other). But I was surprised at how alienating it can be not even knowing simple numbers to know how much to pay for something. I am learning as I go, delighting in words that have a common French or Latin ancestor that I may well recognise. Learning the differences between Catalan and Spanish is really interesting. For example the letter X does not exist in Spanish therefore if you see it you are reading Catalan. This sound makes either a Ch or Sh sound depending on the quirk of the language and the dialect of the people speaking it. They have two words for beautiful and they answer the phone with the phrase “dig’m” which is pronounced “diaggam” and translates roughly to “tell me/let me know/what do you want?” It’s all very fascinating to learn but I wish I knew more of it! However one thing you can easily tell without knowing the language is how happy, vibrant and accommodating these people are. For example a visit to the local vegetable shop which was a field with some boxes of vegetables freshly picked off the vines a few feet away introduced us to a woman with the largest smile and biggest laugh you could imagine. To quote Roald Dahl “sunbeams would shine from her face” and yet I didn’t understand a single word she said. The same with the bakery shop which was practically a cupboard in the middle of nowhere run by an old lady with a deep tan and wrinkles from years of smiling.
The language has also proven problematic when it comes to baking.
For those who don’t know me, I love baking. I would consider myself ok at it for the advice my mum gave me as a kid that any disaster can be hidden by plenty of icing! However when the ingredients are in Catalan occasionally I get confused and pick the wrong thing as happened when I was attempting to bake bread with buckwheat flour (oooops) and biscuits that turned out more like depressed scones that had been trodden on. Part of our workaway project is to occasionally make some food for our hosts and the increasing number of guests they seem to have in the house. Thankfully my pancake cannelloni was appreciated by all but the baking projects will certainly have to be worked on.
Now for those of you questioning the slightly odd title of my blog and it’s relevance to pancakes it is because I LOVE pancakes! More than cheese and I bloody love cheese too. Pancakes should and will appear in every place we go to (hopefully) and it’s the one thing I am actually good at cooking. I am hoping that love, crepes and magic will appear in every country and so far Spain has been a winner with all three.
Other workaway tasks aside from baking include some serious lumberjacking. It’s been great fun playing with axes, chainsaws and other boys toys (don’t worry, we’re being careful) but my gosh the trees out here are not British! The wood is twice as hard when you slice into it and after an evening baking in the Spanish sun it’s like sawing into concrete the next day. Admittedly Peter is finding it easier because he is strong and manly whereas I am rather weak and feeble. But this is exactly the sort of thing I used to be half decent at in zoo keeping so it’s quite embarrassing to realise I can’t do it as well over here. Having said that Pete and I were given a list of projects on our arrival which our host declared would probably take a year of workawayers to complete – I’m glad to say we’re over half way through it!
However it’s also so relaxing here. Workaway hosts typically only ask for a few hours of actual work a day and seen as some of our “work” involves looking after the dogs it doesn’t feel like work at all. So when we’re not working we’ve been playing, hard. There’s been many local festivals, both big and small that we’ve gone to. Besalu’s two day medieval festival was fantastic, musical and so very hot! We attended an outdoor meal event in Crespia (the local village) which, for 3 Euros each got us a three course meal, drinks (including Cava!) and a local disco too. The whole thing was a big question as to whether it was going to be a wash out due to the high winds and fast approaching storms but we all enjoyed ourselves and the very bumpy car ride back along a forest track, with 6 of us and 2 dogs in a five seater car was hilarious! We visited a beach that allowed dogs in which I saw the most stunning husky/malamute cross (aside from our two) and the most droopy pair of Spanish breasts within the space of about 4 seconds. The lady in question was again very friendly and turned out to be the owner of the beautiful dog. I also brought my well travelled spade which is well travelled in terms of beaches visited in the UK (it’s also been on most of the rides at Blackpool too) and has now added Spain to the list. And then there’s the festival at Olot.
We arrived knowing nothing about it, our hosts had been rather vague on the details and as dusk blanketed the city with another balmy evening of indigo hued skies we ventured forth under colourful banners and over cobbled streets. We arrived at the square of the city where we were informed that everything would happen later. I had no idea what “everything” would turn out to be. We carried on, admiring an impressively large church which loomed down at us with the moon behind its spire and through streets with more banners in a riot of colours until we reached the ramblers. Underneath the elongated stretch of beautiful trees we came across a massive dance going on. There was a live band tooting away on a variety of wind instruments and people holding hands in a massive rectangle that stretched almost half of the ramblers street, bopping away to the tune in an apparently co-ordinated dance. I was informed it was typically Catalan. All I could do was take in the scene and be so incredibly thankful that I was there to witness it all. It was the most atmospheric thing and everyone was loving it, most of all me! I still had no idea what on earth they were celebrating but I was very happy that they were and wanted to join in as much as I could.
We decided to get some food and in typical festival style it was all sugary fatty junk, I was in heaven! Yes my diet sucks and for the past few weeks I’d eaten pretty much just like those annoyingly stick thin chefs touting their ideals of 7 million portions of vegetables a day, sugar is the devil and “what on earth do you mean you eat Nutella out of the jar you heathen!” I was determined to enjoy some junk food that night. It was at that point that a huge explosion catapulted through the sky ending in a boom that sounded supersonic, followed by about 30 more. The fireworks had started!
We munched on freshly made churros and chips whilst spying the fireworks through the gaps in the trees and feeling every bass note of explosion resound in the streets and through our bodies. It felt very odd watching fireworks in a T-shirt. Usually it’s a very crisp cold evening affair requiring masses of layers, gloves, hats, scarves and a good degree of shivering to enjoy fireworks in the UK. But here we were actually a little too warm as the colours exploded around us, a very strange feeling indeed.
And then the Giants turned up!
As I would later discover this kind of festival happens across several Spanish towns and has a similar theme in that two giants dance around amid much applause and general merriment, I still had no idea why but it was certainly enchanting to watch. Two absolutely massive models, one of a King and one of a Queen would waltz around in time to the music followed by a cavalry entourage of people riding wooden horses, again moving in time to the music. This parade waltzed it’s way down the streets, finally resting at the square where many crowds had gathered to watch their final dance. Candles were brought out and lit by everyone including people hanging from their balconies in the terrace houses above us and we managed to find a few to light ourselves. It felt like a christingle in the middle of summer. The whole square stood aglow, each individual bathed in a small pool of orange flickering light as the giant couple swayed until the music stopped. Then the applause erupted and there was much joy and laughter, although I still had no idea what for. It was bizarre and yet I felt utterly enveloped in every aspect of it.
So as much as I love and miss the familiarity, the comfort and the quirks of Great Britain I knew that this kind of thing would never happen there (and if it did we would all have to form orderly queues and everything would be ridicously expensive). It really is refreshing to experience other cultures, even if you have no idea what on earth is going on, as long as you sit back, breathe it in and endeavour to enjoy it whatever surprises “it” turns out to be.