Friday, February 22, 2013

In the South of Spain

Kathy and Edward
Christian statues, Islamic writing ...
We visited Kathy, a friend who lives near Seville, for David's winter vacation. It was lovely! Downtown Seville is beautiful even during the trash crisis. Many of the streets are extremely narrow - often too narrow for cars to pass - so that they provide shade for people passing by. The buildings are old and very beautiful with elaborate statutes and writing. It felt a bit like home with an LA-type climate. The church you can see was "recycled" several times. It was used by Christians and by turks. I was impressed (and glad) that they choose to add to it instead of destroying the existent art work, which is the way it should always be.

Kathy owns two beautiful and friendly greyhounds, Eli and Abril, whom the children loved. I am not joking when I say beautiful. Eli is a pure-bread greyhound that participated in a one-time fashion show next to a beautiful human and I think won some dog contests as well, while Abril is of mixed race and has a personal charm of her own. Greyhounds are big, but graceful and steady - not jumpy - and due to the large amount of time Kathy invests in talking to them, they felt almost human and played well with the children as long as no-one sat on them, which is a reasonable restriction. David was trusted enough to be allowed to hold onto Abril's leash (and sometimes Eli's) on walks and Edward showed reason and gentleness towards both dogs.

We ate lots of fresh oranges and mandarines from the orchards there, which taste incomparably better than anything I have bought in Swiss or American stores, and some really good strawberries. The olives were amazing as well. However, the oranges from trees on the streets are like lemons and can be used as such. The olives from the trees were not very big and did not taste comparably to those found in jars. Although, salt and other spices have a big influence on the typical taste of conserved olives, this is still a reminder of how much work it takes to create all the prefect fruits we like to eat and how "man-made" everything we eat is. It must have been particularly hard to tame nature in places like Spain and even harder to live in these places 100+ years ago.

The many new and empty houses
There were many new, empty houses owned by bankrupt builders. There was a private street next to where Kathy lives full of very beautiful empty homes. They were also building new apartment buildings in that area even though the already built ones were empty. In the long term, as the economy recovers, I do hope that the homes will be lived in and will raise the standard of living for people in the area.

The street we lived on
We visited a pilot home for sale. It was beautiful, but they were asking for over 400 000 Euros in an economy with lots of unemployment where all loans are until pay-down and the banks do not give many loans now. A home loan is not tied to the house like in the US where the worst thing that happens to you if you default on payments is to lose your home. In Europe, you lose your home, the bank will sell it for much less than your loan (if it sells) and then the struggle to pay the remaining part of the loan continues.

Among the olive trees
some new buildings
Kathy lives next to a former orchard of olive trees. Before I went there I imagined beautiful, straight trees like we have in park. In Spain, the climate is much tougher with lots of dry, hot months every year. So, trees that are hundreds of years old are almost like a bush with thick trunks and low branches. Some parts of it dry, some live. The wood of the olive trees is very hard. It can be seen that their life has been an almost continuous struggle with the very hot and dry climate. It seems that after the long struggle they should have gained some respect and some rights, too, and it is unfortunate that most of these trees are being cut to make room for new buildings. Like in LA, in parks they water the vegetation a lot to keep it green and they must do the same on some streets although I did not see as many flowers as in LA, but I guess it's unfair to compare Hollywood with anything else. If they have water, the trees can go very big in warm climates. The tree that Mihai was climbing is one of the oldest trees is Spain.

The sheep herd
In the last day it rained and then the olive orchard filled with grazing sheep and goats. There were many hundreds of them and some of the goats even climbed the olive trees to eat the leaves. The children enjoyed looking at them and I wondered how much less fresh grass they get than their Swiss counterparts, which reflected in what they left behind.

The children and the snail
Animals and insects were hibernating: A temperature of 15 Celsius degrees in Spain means winter when insects, reptiles and
Eli and Abril dressed for rain
animals hibernate. A tailless salamander was sleeping inside a loosely attached tree bark, and the bugs were sleepy and hiding too. One rainy day, a huge snail with an elongated shell came out for a walk. Even though in Switzerland it rains a lot, I have not seen snails that big before, but perhaps it's because in Switzerland there is much more vegetation and hence more places for snails to hide.

More lax attitudes towards childcare: One of the parks we went to had a sign saying that children under the age of three cannot be left unattended, which means that children over three are considered independent enough to be left in the park to play while parents drink at a bar (or exercise nearby).

Seville's trash crisis and the demonstrations
A Mechanized Protester
Trash workers refused to pick up trash for several weeks and, of course, this happened while we were there. It's good they chose to do this in winter!

Kathy told us it was a protest against lowering the salaries of the workers in salubrity. However, the demonstrations were not limited to the trash situation. People holding were signs that Spain should take money from the bankers to invest them in education, etc.

The end...
I am concluding with a picture with a beautiful plant with thorns and of us next to the horses and the orange trees in Seville.

  Laughing in the car.
Oh... below are some pictures of the children and my mom in the car. I thought they looked cute.

An attempt at being serious...
Note: I am scheduling this post to appear close to when our visit to Spain happened. While this is not optimal in terms of visibility, it will help me keep track of events later on.

Why did I not post pictures of the trash? For several reasons. First, I am not found of trash.  While we did take some pictures of some subset of us (not me) sitting in front of trash, I forgot on whose camera or phone it was and it's not important enough to be worth searching for. Also, plenty of professional photographers must have taken pictures of the trash in Seville, and I am not aiming to compete with them.