A deadly legacy

Posted on October 19th, 2016

55 Atocha Street, between the two red facades

The Massacre of Atocha took place on 24th January 1977 at 55 Atocha Street, in central Madrid.
General Francisco Franco had died fourteen months before, ending 35 years of fascist dictatorship. Spain thus entered a struggle for democracy known as La Transición. Franco had nominated King Juan Carlos I as his successor to continue his legacy, but Carlos, a quiet follower of El Caudillo during his final six years of power, soon began the transition to a constitutional monarchy. If La Transición to democracy was to be successful it required extremists from both sides to abstain from violence. Some did not.
Haunted by the spectre of the Civil War (1936-39), Spain remained split between right-wing Francoists championed by the military and the Republican left, ever suspicious of a dictator-appointed king. Hostile to the direction Spain was taking, far-right Falangist-Carlist-Catholic groups commenced violent attacks. Principal targets were the trades unions, along with underground communists.
On that day in January 1977 three assassins entered the offices at 55 Atocha Street, looking for Joaquin Navarro, a communist leader who had called for a strike against the “Franco mafia” and the government-approved trades union. Unable to find Navarro, the gunmen lined up eight trades union lawyers and shot them all, killing five. Their funerals were attended by over 100,000 people and the massacre led to the legalisation of the Communist Party in April 1977.
Confident they would enjoy political protection, the killers did not even bother to flee Madrid. One of the three, Fernando Lerdo de Tejada, was personal secretary to Blas Piñar, leader of the far-right Catholic-Falangist party Fuerza Neva, or New Force. The murderers were sentenced to a collective 464 years in prison. Lerdo de Tejada escaped from prison two years later, fuelling suspicions that he had friends in high places, particularly the security services. Revelations from former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti also suggested the involvement of Italian Carlo Cicuttini from the NATO Gladio anti-communist network who had fled to Spain following a 1972 bombing in Italy.
The violent legacy of Franco eventually subsided, but not before a failed coup attempt on 23rd February 1981 led by Lieutenant-Colonel of the Guardia Civil Antonio Tejero, an admirer of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Tejero’s son later described his father as “a sincere religious man who was trying to do his best for Spain”.

Memorial to the lawyers murdered in Atocha Street

Memorial to the lawyers murdered in Atocha Street

Defenders of liberty

The Museo de Sorolla, Madrid

Posted on October 9th, 2016

The Museo de Sorolla is a delightful small museum in the former house of the artist in Madrid. Joaquin Sorolla was born in Valencia in 1873 but only two years later his parents both died, probably from cholera. He was adopted by his mother’s sister and her husband, a locksmith. Sorolla began art studies at the age of fourteen while serving as an apprentice locksmith in his uncle’s workshop. Between 1885 and 1889 he lived in Rome and Assisi, but then married and settled in Madrid in 1890. Considered the leading Spanish “near-impressionist” of his day, he was renowned for his extraordinary ability to capture the effects of light. In the United States he achieved fame through fourteen monumental canvases, Visions of Spain, on display at the Hispanic Society of America in New York. This series of massive paintings depicts scenes from each of the provinces of Spain. In Madrid the museum concentrates mostly on his captivating plein-air paintings. Joaquin Sorolla died in 1923 and was buried in his native Valencia.

Running in Porto

Posted on October 9th, 2016

On our first day in Porto we walked down to the riverfront in Vila Nova de Gaia to watch the Porto half-marathon. It’s a major event in the running calendar, attracting elite athletes from all over the world. The course winds along the river on the Porto side, crosses the Dom Luis bridge, continues along the Gaia riverfront, then turns back on itself. The distance is 21km, or 13 miles. East Africans have won every mens and womens race since the competition began in 2007 and this year’s winner was Daniel Rotich of Uganda in 61 minutes. Nao Isaka of Japan won the women’s section in 72 minutes, finally breaking the East African stranglehold.  The leaders came past us at a staggering speed, averaging 21 kmph for a full hour.

Part of the course on both banks of the River Douro

Part of the course on both banks of the River Douro

Vila Nova de Gaia riverfront with Dom Luis Bridge

 

Down memory lane

Posted on October 8th, 2016

Last month I returned to Porto for the first time in forty years, having worked in the port wine trade in the 1970s. The journey from the airport revealed a city much changed, unrecognisable. But as I entered the port lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia all the memories came flooding back. The musty smell of wine ageing in old barrels; the taste of white, ruby, tawny and vintage ports; the haunting sound of portuguese guitars and fado.
“We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past, like ancient stars that have burned out, are no longer in orbit around our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about every day, too many new things we have to learn. New styles, new information, new technology, new terminology … But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us forever, like a touchstone.” ― Haruki Murakami

A "barco rabelo" used to bring wine barrels down the Douro river

A “barco rabelo” used to bring wine barrels down the Douro river

Calem port lodge

Calem port lodge

Calem port lodge

Calem port lodge

Croft Port lodges, Vila Nova de Gaia

Croft Port lodges, Vila Nova de Gaia

Fado concert, Calem port lodge

Fado concert, Calem port lodge

A late vintage

Posted on October 8th, 2016

The vendange, or wine vintage has been very late in some parts of the Luberon this year. This morning an automatic grape-picker was working in the valley below our house, at the vineyards of Chateau Edem. The machine only takes a couple of minutes to vacuum grapes from two hundred metres of vines, leaving only the stalks. At the end of each row the grapes are tipped into a waiting hopper to be towed to the nearby winery by tractor.
In most of the Southern Rhone the vintage for white grapes began around 10th September, with red grapes grenache and syrah following a few days later. The growing season has been very dry, producing small grapes, so winemakers were expecting volume to fall by around 20%. Fortunately this shortfall has been offset by greater numbers of bunches, so the 2016 vintage is hoped to be much the same as last year, but it still depends on final juice yields. Because the grapes are smaller their flavour is more concentrated and the wines are expected to be aromatic and tannic with strong colour. Some cuvées will be superb with fine balance. The drought has also been good news for organic wine producers because pest levels were low and black rot absent. The first 2016 wines will be released later next year.

Harvesting in the Luberon Valley, near the village of Goult

Some table grapes are left to wither on the vine

Wild boar

Posted on September 3rd, 2016

This morning we were startled by two shots. Less than 150 metres from the house hunters had killed a sanglier, or wild boar, which had been hiding in the undergrowth. The hunters stood around the dead animal, talking excitedly, before loading the carcass into a van. They told me proudly they had shot two today. I have no appetite for this – my conscience prefers a camera.

Soapbox Derby, Ménerbes

Posted on August 22nd, 2016

Caisse à Savon

Every year for three years the local village of Ménerbes has hosted the Caisses à Savon, a series of soapbox races down from the mairie, past the pharmacy and on through the centre of the village to the lavoir. It’s a crazy afternoon of fun, where winning doesn’t really matter.
After first assembling below the lavoir, the soap boxes are towed up to the top of the village by quad bikes before racing down the hill. The whole process is then repeated twice more. Having careered down the first steep hill, the carts had to pass through a wall of soapy foam, then drivers braved a narrow street where buckets of water were tipped from house windows high above. One entry was a blue and white boat with a loudspeaker playing the sounds of seagulls and waves. Another had his dog racing with him. The village pharmacists raced in white coats. Other carts included a full drinks bar, a sanglier, a double bed, a bathtub, a pizza and a pompiers fire truck. Wonderfully disorganised, the crowd milled around, set off smoke flares and threw water bombs while children sat on hay bales intended as safety barriers.
Simple pleasures. Wonderful memories.     More pictures: HERE

The pharmacy entry

The pharmacy entry

The tow uphill

The tow uphill

Hitting the foam machine

Hitting the foam machine

The water hazard

The water hazard

Water bombing

Water bombing

Pizza Bella!

Pizza Bella!

A day at the seaside

Posted on August 16th, 2016

Cassis harbour

Cassis harbour

Cassis is a gorgeous small coastal town about twenty kilometres east of Marseille. It can be reached from the Luberon in less than two hours. The town has around eight thousand inhabitants and is a delight in the off-season, but in high summer the tourist crush makes visiting uncomfortable. Friends took us there before the rush, where we enjoyed a great day wandering the streets, the market, the harbour and enjoying lunch at a little restaurant on the beach of Bestouan. Later we drove the Route des Crêtes, a winding scenic road with spectacular views of the coastline.
Once the town was known for Cassis Stone, used to build the quays of Alexandria, Marseille, Port Said, Algiers and Piraeus. Today Cassis is famous for its proximity to many calanques, steep-walled ocean inlets accessible mainly by boat. Local white and rosé wines are also well-regarded and not to be confused with the similarly-named blackcurrant liqueur from burgundy.
A great day at the seaside – we’ll be back after the tourists depart.

Bestouan Beach, Cassis

Bestouan Beach, Cassis

Lunch restaurant, Bestouan Beach, Cassis

Lunch restaurant, Bestouan Beach, Cassis

Cassis harbour

Cassis harbour

Cassis harbour

Cassis harbour

Cassis from Route des Cretes

Cassis from Route des Crêtes

Route des Cretes, Cassis

Route des Crêtes, Cassis

Chateau La Coste

Posted on August 16th, 2016

Crouching Spider - 2003 - Louise Bourgeois

Crouching Spider – 2003 – Louise Bourgeois

The other side of the Luberon mountain, beyond the Durance river, lies the winery of Chateau La Coste, near the village of Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade. Owned by an Irish billionaire, the domaine grows no less than fifteen grape varieties, producing some respectable if slightly expensive wines.
The Chateau is best known for a remarkable assortment of modern art spread around the vineyards and adjoining hills. Artists represented include Tadao Ando, Tracey Emin, Alexander Calder, Louise Bourgeois and Frank Gehry. A two-hour walking trail allows full viewing of this magnificent collection. Most pieces are fascinating and while the Financial Times described Frank Gehry’s Music Pavilion as “exuberant”, I found it strangely adolescent. Equally I was left wondering why “Foxes” was even considered for inclusion. But don’t let that discourage you – it’s all worth seeing. Further details on the artists and winery can be found: HERE

Hiroshi Sugimoto - 2010

Hiroshi Sugimoto – 2010

Music Pavilion - 2008 - Frank Gehry

Music Pavilion – 2008 – Frank Gehry

Tadao Ando - 2011

Tadao Ando – 2011

Foxes - 2008 - Michael Stipe

Foxes – 2008 – Michael Stipe

Wall of Light Cubed - 2007 - Sean Scully

Wall of Light Cubed – 2007 – Sean Scully

Small Crinkly - 1976 - Alexander Calder

Small Crinkly – 1976 – Alexander Calder

Tsicopompos - 2011 - Tunga

Tsicopompos – 2011 – Tunga

Cherries

Posted on July 23rd, 2016

Fete de la Cérise, Caseneuve

Fete de la Cérise, Caseneuve

Cherries are serious business in the Luberon. Available in the markets between May and July, there are numerous varieties. The first to mature is the Burlat, followed by Folfer, Van, Summit, Stark, Belgian and Sweetheart. Annual cherry festivals are held in several villages, including Venasque and Malemort-du-Comtat. We went to the festival in Caseneuve, a small hill village above Apt, dominated by its 11th century castle.
From 2017, the cherries of Ventoux will be protected by the European quality mark PGI (Protected Geographical Identification). This IGP will apply to cherries produced in 86 communes of the Vaucluse, around Mont Ventoux to the Luberon with approved varieties, a minimum size of 24 mm and a guaranteed maturity.

The Confrerie des Cérise, Fete de la Cérise, Caseneuve

The Cherry Association, Fete de la Cérise, Caseneuve

Fete de la Cérise, Caseneuve

Fete de la Cérise, Caseneuve

Fete de la Cérise, Caseneuve

Fete de la Cérise, Caseneuve

Fete de la Cérise, Caseneuve

Fete de la Cérise, Caseneuve

Fete de la Cérise, Caseneuve

Fete de la Cérise, Caseneuve

Le Chateau, Caseneuve

Le Chateau, Caseneuve