A Historical Happy Birthday

Catalonia, Festivals, Spain

This week’s Lens-Artists Challenge invites us to focus on birthdays. We’re not big on birthdays in our family, but back in June 2019, something special happened. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

We’re in Spain. Emily and Miquel had invited us to celebrate her 30th birthday with them, so off we went to Barcelona on Thursday. Where they immediately announced ‘Some friends have lent us their holiday home near the coast for the weekend. Don’t unpack. We’re off in an hour.’

The sun was setting as we arrived at a village, somewhere near Girona. As the car came to a stop, I was sure it must be the wrong place – there were cars in the drive, and this was no small holiday cottage. We got out anyway…. and a line of people appeared on the balcony singing ‘Happy Birthday’…. to me!

It was my family. My whole family. My three children, their partners and children had all secretly plotted and contrived to come here for a long-delayed 70th birthday celebration, just for me, here, this weekend. And I hadn’t suspected a thing.

On the actual day, two years ago, Ellie was in the middle of chemotherapy and celebrations were in short supply.

So here we are, all 15 of us, all in the same place at the same time – something that almost never happens. For a whole long weekend of glorious weather, spending our days playing with the children on the beach, and exploring, and our evenings on the terrace outside eating, drinking and talking, always talking…..’

June 1st, 2019

Let’s have a miscellany of the house, the sitting-round-together, the beach, the meals, the Catalonian ambience, and even … a praying mantis.

That first evening
Celebrating in town
Eating out by the beach

A Pair of Oddballs

Festivals, Spain

This year, it’s not too early to go to the fantastic street carnival, Las Fallas, which takes place in Valencia in February and March every year. You’ll find fanciful figures, fireworks and fun. But if travelling’s still tricky, we can join this pair of oddballs on their motorbike, whom I found a few years ago in the museum devoted to this special festival.

For Becky’s Square Odds

With thanks to Sue of Words Visual, for reminding me about this doughty pair of old crones,

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas …

Barcelona, Catalonia, Festivals

… my true love gave to me

Twelve Caga Tiós …

Hmm. Thirteen here. Ah well: one for luck.

We’re still in Barcelona you see. But we could be anywhere in Catalonia or Aragon. And we’re still with the scatological. Caga Tió  is a log. A log with special powers. He’s a poo log, who excretes presents. Children must look after him well before Christmas, feeding him with dried beans, bread or orange peel. But when the festival arrives, they must beat him, hard, until he produces their presents. Whilst beating him they might sing this song:

We’re leaving Christmas behind now. In Barcelona, and Spain generally, things are just hotting up. Tonight, the Three Kings will progress into town, and tomorrow, extended families will get together to exchange presents, in memory of those Wise Men who toiled over field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star to bring gifts to the infant Jesus. (Well. It’s Covid Time. No more than 10 in a family group this year)

Cabalgata de los Reyes: 5th January 2019

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas …

Barcelona, Catalonia, Festivals

I only planned to tell you about the tenth day of Christmas, but Susan of London Senior took the view that I’d started, so I ought to finish too. So here we go: it’s a little rude, but don’t blame me …

If you visit Catalonia at Christmas time and take a look at any crib scene, there at the back, somewhere behind the infant Jesus will be a figurine – a caganer – squatting down doing A Big Job, a Number Two: choose your own euphemism. The message seems to be that we are all sisters and brothers under the skin: mighty or humble, rich or poor, old or young, we all have the same kinds of body – and bodily functions, so get over yourself and don’t give yourself airs and graces. All are Equal in the Sight of God.

These photos were taken a few years ago. The roll call of Those in Charge seems to have changed a bit – can you spot Gordon Brown here? But you’ll see someone you recognise, I’m sure.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Eleven sh***ing caganers …

Despite everything …

Festivals




Two of my three children and their families are down with Covid and their Christmas plans are in disarray. Our third child’s partner is newly arrived from Spain with some horrible lurgie that’s not Covid. The car is hors de combat in a public-transport-lite village. In some ways, this Christmas is more taxing than last. But on the bright side, each branch of the family is together with their own part of the clan, and on the way up from their illnesses: the car – unexpectedly -comes back today: and we’ve had so much practical and unasked for help from thoughtful friends. We’re all going to hunker down and jolly well enjoy ourselves anyway.

And I hope you can too, whether you’re having the Christmas you’d planned for or not. Thank you, all of you, for taking the time to read my posts, and for so often commenting. You are what makes blogging an enjoyable part of my daily round.

Celebrations aren’t just for Christmas …

Ariège, Festivals, France, Pyrénées

We’re asked to celebrate celebrating this week, in the Lens-Artists Challenge. I’ve decided not to focus on Christmas, but instead take us to a small town in France, in the Pyrenees – to Seix – in June, where every year, like so many other mountain settlements, they celebrate Transhumance. Here’s what I wrote in June 2011:

CELEBRATING TRANSHUMANCE IN THE HAUT-SALAT

Transhumance.  It’s that time of year where here in the Pyrénées, the cattle and sheep are moved from their winter quarters down on their lowland(ish) farms up to the lush summer pastures in the mountains.  They’ll stay there till Autumn, and then be brought down again.  And each time, it’s the excuse for a party.

On Saturday, we joined in, and went over to Seix to meet friends who live there.  The Transhumance celebrations in Haut Salat last three days, but we made do with Saturday morning.  We nearly arrived late – very late – because we found ourselves behind a herd of cattle making their steady way along the road.  Overtaking’s not an option: the cows commandeered this route hundreds of years ago.  But we managed to zip down a side road and make a detour.  A whole hour later, after coffee with our friends, the herd reached the edge of Seix and passed their door….

…and finished their long walk into town.  We went too, and arrived just as the last flocks of sheep were arriving, to be corralled like the cattle, at the edge of the town square.  For a while, and probably much to their relief, they were no longer centre stage.

Instead it was jollity of the traditional kind. There were processions of large solemn plaster effigies, local bands.  Dancers from Gascony, the Basque country, the Landes made sure we all had fun, and Malcolm and I even joined in some Basque dancing.  Stars of the show for us were the shepherds from the Landes.  Theirs is flat, marshy country, and they used to keep their eyes on their roving flocks by ranging round on stilts.  But this was a day for dancing, and that’s just what they did, up high on those stilts.  Have a look at the photos.

We went off for lunch at the end of the morning.  But there was more celebrating, more meals to be shared, particularly by those farmers and country people who over the centuries have welcomed the fellowship of Transhumance as a break from the routines of an often lonely life.

Revisiting A Sheep is a Sheep is a Sheep

Blogging challenges, Festivals, Heritage, North Yorkshire

Somehow, we forgot all about Masham Sheep Fair last weekend. We forgot about the dozens of different breeds of sheep on show; the sheep-shearing demonstrations; the sheep dog competitions; the children, some really quite young, demonstrating their knowledge and prowess as sheep-handlers. There’s no help for it. We’ll have to revisit this post from October 2014 instead. And by the way. Please don’t show yourself up. Pronounce Masham correctly. Mas-ham. Anyone who lets the side down and calls it Mash’em is immediately recognised as an outsider.

And let’s include this blast-from-the-past in Becky’s Past Squares, as well as including it in Fandango’s Flashback Friday, a celebration of past posts which deserve another outing.

A SHEEP IS A SHEEP IS A SHEEP …

… or not.

On Saturday we called in, far too briefly, at the annual Masham Sheep Fair. This is the place to go if you believe a sheep looks just like this.

Saturday was the day a whole lot of sheep judging was going on in the market square.  Here are a few of the not-at-all identical candidates. And yet they are only a few of the many breeds in England, and in the world. There are 32 distinct breeds commonly seen in different parts of the UK, and many more half-breeds.  I was going to identify the ones I’m showing you, but have decided that with one or two exceptions (I know a Swaledale, a Blue-faced Leicester or a Jacobs when I see one), I’d get them wrong. So this is simply a Beauty Pageant for Masham and District sheep.

And if you thought wool was just wool, these pictures may be even more surprising.  Who knew that sheep are not simply…. just sheep?

Flashback Friday: Beltane at ‘The Stonehenge of the North’

Festivals, North Yorkshire

We’re less than a week into the month of May. Let’s mark the arrival of this lovely month by celebrating Beltane.

BELTANE AT THE ‘STONEHENGE OF THE NORTH’

May 1st 2016

Not much further than a mile from us as the crow flies, lies Thornborough Henge. It’s a prehistoric monument consisting of three giant circular earthworks. Constructed 5000 years ago by the first Neolithic (New Stone Age) farmers, it was probably an enclosure for their ritual gatherings. The Henge became an important centre in Britain for pilgrimage and trade, although its exact purpose still remains a mystery.

It sends shivers down my spine to think that this ancient piece of our history lies just a short walk from our home.

An ariel view of Thornborough Henges (photo courtesy of Historic England)

We can visit it any time we choose, simply to tramp round and try to imagine it in its heyday, and we’ll have the place to ourselves.  Not on May Day though.  Today is the Gaelic feast of Beltane, half way between the spring and summer solstices.  It’s a day to mark the beginning of summer. Sadly, today is very cold, rather windy and a bit wet.

Back in pre-historic times, rituals were held on this day to protect the cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth. Bonfires, deemed to have protective powers, were lit.  For many centuries these practices died out.  But nowadays, at sites like Thornborough, pagans, Wiccans, New-Agers and lovers of history and tradition gather once more to celebrate the renewal of life and growth.

Today I was there too.  For an hour at least, for the opening ceremony. Brrr!  It was cold.

The Green Man and his horn.

I was strangely moved.  The Green Man, representing rebirth and the cycle of growth was our Master of Ceremonies.  He invited us all to join hands, whether friends or strangers, in fellowship, and shout out three times the invocation to new life. We hailed Brigantia, Celtic goddess of Northern England.  Then at his bidding and as he sounded his horn, we turned to the east and welcomed the summer rains.  We turned south to welcome the sun (who was coyly absent today), to the west to welcome summer winds, and to the north where the wolves apparently are.

Welcoming the West Wind.

Then a man, naked from the waist upwards save for his covering of woad-coloured paint, leapt among us bearing the flaming torches which would offer us all protection over the coming months.

Protective flames.

And that was the ceremony over.  Dancers entertained us.  They seemed to me to owe much to flamenco and to middle-eastern belly dancing traditions, but we all cheered them on with enthusiasm.

I shan’t be there this year for the closing ceremony.  I’m still thawing out.  But weather permitting, I’ll certainly go along next year.  Will you come along too?

I’m sorry to say I’ve not been since. I would have gone this year, but … cancelled … Covid.

Fandango’s Flashback Friday

Cavalcada de Reis

Barcelona, Festivals, Spain

It’s 5th January. Tonight, one of the three kings (Balthazar? Melchior? Caspar? You can choose) will steal into your house and deliver you presents, as once they did to the infant Jesus. That’s if you live in the Spanish speaking world of course. Before that though, they – or their stand-ins – parade through the streets of every city and town they can find. There’s an eruption of lights, gaiety, colour, as the three kings and a cast of musicians, dancers, and hangers on of every kind process slowly through the streets. Joy and delight is uppermost, whether you attend the no-expense spared slickly presented civic offering, as we did in Barcelona in 2018 and 2019, or enjoy a more low-key event put together by your local community as we did in 2020.

These are not the best photos you’ll ever see of the Cavalcadas, But they might give you a small taste of this upbeat, family focused event. Which sadly, this year, will not be taking place. Of course.

Square Up

All kinds of pumpkin

Ariège, Festivals, Food & Cooking, France

It’s Hallowe’en today. Time to carve those pumpkins into frightening faces, and then tomorrow … throw them away. What a pity. Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes, they’re good to eat, and it’s a shame you rarely see anything but the good old bog-standard Jack o’ Lantern here. They can be large, small, yellow, red, orange, green, even bluish or black, and on mainland Europe they’re much more appreciated.

Enjoy the pumpkins on display, many of them from Le Jardin Extraordinaire in Lieurac , near where we lived in France. And then have a go at the comforting recipe I offer here because you don’t really want to scare the neighbours with an evil orange face peering out of your front window do you?

#Kinda Square. Today is the final square in Becky’s month long squares project. Thank you Becky, and thank you fellow squarers. It’s been fun. I’ve met kindness, had my interest kindled and met – virtually of course – many bloggers-of-a-kind.