Earthquakes shake Spanish land and politics

A series of earthquakes measuring up to 6.3 on the Richter Scale rocked our coastline in the early hours of Monday morning and was heard and felt up in our mountains. Beds shook and the remaining olives on our ancient tree rained down on the roof above our heads.

The quakes’ centre was in the Alboran Sea, between the Spanish mainland near Malaga and the Spanish enclave of Melilla in north Africa and came just days after a series of tremors were felt along the Costa Tropical. It’s a reminder of our proximity to the colliding Eurasian and African plates and that hundreds of people were killed in Granada and Motril in the 1880s during the deadliest earthquakes – a tragedy still “celebrated” in Motril during its annual Día de los Terremotos (Day of the Earthquakes) fiesta.

It’s unlikely that seismic activity here would cause such devastation again. But the predicted political earthquake as a result of December’s general election has certainly put an end to traditional two-party, rotational Spanish politics.

Over a month since the election, Spain is still without a government. PSOE and PP lost significant ground to the anti-austerity Podemos and neo-liberal Ciudadanos – indeed it was one of PSOE’s worst results since democracy returned to Spain in 1977. Manoeuvres to try to form a coalition government continue, while acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has refused the king’s investiture invitation. A PP-Ciudadanos coalition is alternately on and off the table, and even if it does happen it won’t deliver Rajoy an overall majority. Not that Rajoy has stood aside – he hasn’t ruled out accepting another offer from the king.

Meanwhile, PSOE’s efforts to form an allegiance with Podemos, and possibly the United Left or regional Catalan and Basque parties, remain stuck on Pablo Iglesias’ party’s support for a Catalan independence referendum, along with his determination that his MPs take many of the top government posts, including deputy PM.

How either Podemos or Ciudadanos, which both stood on anti-corruption platforms, can contemplate coalitions with the parties most associated with the defrauding of public money and remain credible new political forces remains to be seen. (I am reminded of the newspaper cartoon depicting a conversation between two children: “Vamos a jugar politicos (let’s play politicians)”. “No sin mi abogado (not without my lawyer)”.)

Still, Iglesias and PSOE’s Pedro Sanchez did manage to speak for 20 minutes recently, with the former tweeting that Podemos has an “historic opportunity to be the change”, though his public statements following an earlier meeting with the king, including that the PSOE leader would have him to thank if he became PM, are unlikely to assuage Sanchez’s suspicion.

Whatever the outcome of negotiations – and it may yet be another election after several more months of a government-free Spain – the country’s traditional parties are being forced to face the reality that the Spanish people voted for change (except the trusty Andalucians, who remained as loyal to PSOE as ever) and though they may not achieve it in seismic proportions, they have a right to demand, as IU said, a progressive government “that meets the demands of the social majority and finishes with the disastrous policies imposed by the government of Mariano Rajoy”.

Órgiva’s seedy side

How many of the (mainly) men, showing off their chilli eating prowess at Órgiva’s first chilli festival were able to reflect on the significance of what was behind the event, as the heat engulfed them, was doubtful.

But it’s possible that those who were egged-on by onlookers engulfed by a delightful sense of schadenfreude as they witnessed the discomfort of competitors consuming chillis high on the Scoville scale – the measurement of the pungency of chilli peppers – had time to contemplate the following day, as the side effects stayed with them.

For this was about far more than a crowd-pleasing spectacle, a spectacle that prompted mischievous compere Barney to declare that he was ashamed of his gender.

Rare and beautiful

Rare and beautiful

The displays of some of the rarest and beautiful chillis in the world, tenderly nurtured and labelled with love, the chilli sauce contest – judged by a man with a self-confessed “problem with hot sauce”, having become so inured to it over the years – the delightful chilli-laden tapas created by Fran of Bar Venta el Puente, the scene of the day’s debauchery, and music from El Club Del Aguante, JD Meatyard and Absolut Pantz, were intended to raise much needed funds for an Órgiva based seed bank.

Run by a small group of people who are passionate about seed saving in order to build a deposit to help preserve biodiversity and to make seeds accessible to everyone, Semillas Españolas Ecológicas en Depósito (SEEeD) is a non-profit initiative.

SEEeD guardians have so far produced over 200 seed varieties for the vault (well, a fridge). When the guardians submit them, they choose and grow new seeds and so the cycle is self-sustaining – vital in the face of big agri businesses such as Monsanto, which dominates the US food chain with its genetically modified seeds and is ruthless towards farmers and seed dealers suspected of infringing its patents.

The Indian academic and environmental activist Vandana Shiva said of seed freedom and diversity that controlling seed and food “is more powerful than bombs and guns” because it is the best way to control the populations of the world.

SEEeD is one cog in the resistance movement to stop species becoming extinct and “normal” seeds being put out of reach by agrochemical giants. But Rosie, without whom it would not happen, says plans for a second Órgiva chilli festival are already in the works. And I hear that some of the chilli pod munchers are in training, in order to avoid the tears next year. Not a good look.

Check out the pictures and videos from the Órgiva chilli festival

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Blue Monday? Happy Tuesday (it’s another fiesta)

The so-called saddest day of the year was declared to be Monday (19 January) by those organisations which have identified an opportunity for some calculated marketing around the January blues. Whichever Monday it falls on seems to depend on which pseudoscientist is to be believed. But the Spanish have an inevitable cure for being down in the dumps after the festive season. They throw a fiesta in the name of a saint.

Unlike in the UK, where Christmas and new year are distinctly separate events and the fun ends abruptly on new year’s day, the Spanish keep their festivities going until the 6th – Three Kings Day – with processions and presents and much partying on the night of the 5th. Things go a bit quiet after that. But not for long. Here in the Alpujarras, a neighbouring town Torvizcon soon perks up the collective mood with its annual “fire”. It’s a three-day January weekend fiesta celebrating San Antonio Abad, which seems to involve combining the eating of lovingly raised pigs with the burning of red underwear. If there is more to it than this, and there almost certainly is, then lo siento. But my sources may have consumed a little too much of the local “costa” vino to be able to coherently recall the details.

And so to last night. A procession through Órgiva followed by bells and fireworks ringing out across the town and its campo marked the Alpujarran capital’s own Saint’s day.

Saintsebastiane-online-free-putlocker Sebastian (he of the Derek Jarman film Sebastiane, which established Seb as something of a gay icon) entered the Roman army to assist the martyrs and had a brutal time of doing good. Found out, and having initially survived his body being pierced by arrows, he was eventually beaten to death by clubs. He’s buried in Rome, on the Appian Way (where I once ruined a favourite pair of shoes).

As one local put it, San Sebastian deserves a few rockets and bells. And it’s cheap entertainment for a rural and fairly impoverished community which would, no doubt, be aghast at the UK travel companies and their PR firms’ use of dodgy statistics and cod-psychology to convince us that that we need a holiday. I don’t believe in deities, but if the Spanish devotion to and success at living life to the full and enjoying longer, healthier lives than most in Europe has anything to do with their ability to throw a fiesta at the drop of a saint’s name, then buena suerte to them.

Floats and flamenco

There is much more to Orgiva’s annual feria than tradition and doing things the way they’ve always been done. The four-day festival that celebrates this rural town’s history and culture is as eclectic as its community.

Without getting too teary-eyed about the significance of the giant paella, the massive free portions of which would set us back several pounds at most community festivals we’ve enjoyed in London, or of the tradicionales huevos fritos con ajos (fried eggs with garlic) handed out with bread in the main square, the egalitarian nature of feria reminds us of what is possible for a society.

Floats and flamenco dresses, elderly locals in their finest (new sombrero plano for him, a splash of colour for her), ex-pats keeping the pop-up bars busy. That they are juxtaposed with the powerful Brazilian and afro-Cuban drumming rhythms of Espíritu Santuka is a tribute to Orgiva’s diversity.

cintas
Another feria highlight, the carrera de cintas, a traditional sport in Spain and Latin America where contestants ride horses (though it is done on bicycles too, apparently) to a wire to try to capture a belt or ribbon hung from a loop, underlined the difference between equestrian activities here and in the UK. This wasn’t a gymkhana for privileged youngsters. These were working class men, racing their animals on a patch of waste ground in the middle of a housing estate (and no one at the council tried to stop it on ‘elf and safety grounds).

It’s difficult to spend money during feria. Most events are entrada gratuita. Only the Friday evening espectáculo ecuestre – the Andalucian horse dressage display – carried a charge. Not that anyone bothered to collect the €3 entrance fee from spectators. But I hope the hat was passed around for the €2 entrada solidaria at the theatrical production, money intended for Orgiva’s food bank.

As if four days of festivities was not enough for this town, we learn that Monday is another bank holiday, a fiesta in honour of Nuestra Señora del Pilar – the Patroness of Spain, the Guardia Civil and neighbouring town Lanjarón. There’s a saint for everything and everyone here. Any excuse for a party.