Book Review: Chickens, Mules, and Two Old Fools by Victoria Twead

Awarded a Harper Collins ‘Gold Star’, and now a top selling author on Amazon, Victoria Twead writes a fantastically funny tale of five years living as reluctant chicken farmers in a small village in Almería in Southern Spain. The Alpujarra mountains seem to bring out the best in visitors, but are hell on new arrivals hoping to start a new life in Spain.

The story begins as poor, long-suffering Joe, Vicky’s husband, is looking forward to a peaceful retirement in the UK. Vicky has other plans and drops the bombshell that she wants to uproot to Spain. Vicky is a list-maker, even nicknamed ‘Schindler’ at work, and presents Joe with the following pitch:

  • Sunny weather
  • Cheap houses
  • Live in the country
  • Miniscule council tax
  • Friendly people
  • Less crime
  • No heating bills
  • Cheap petrol
  • Wonderful Spanish food
  • Cheap wine and beer
  • Could get satellite TV so you won’t miss English football
  • Much more laid-back life style
  • Could afford house big enough for family and visitors to stay
  • No TV licence
  • Only short flight to UK
  • Might live longer because Mediterranean diet is healthiest in the world

Joe is far from impressed, and retaliates with his own list:

  • CAN’T SPEAK SPANISH!
  • TOO MANY FLIES!
  • MOVING HOUSE IS THE PITS!

However, after much nagging, Joe caves in, but only on the condition that they will move for just five years.

They find their new home in a tiny village tucked away in the romantic Alpujarra mountains. Actually, the house is a crumbling ruin, but Vicky is still sure they’ve made the right decision. The Alpujarra is a rustic and quite conservative part of Southern Spain, very few of the locals speak English, and the couple have no idea of the culture shock in store.

Of course a glimpse of British television documentaries from the time would be enough to convince anyone that paradise awaited; happy couples in white-washed houses, long sunny days, and cool cocktails at sunset. Indeed this was what Vicky had in mind until moving day when their removal truck arrived, knocking over a lamp-post and destroying the village fountain. Hopes of a dignified beginning are quickly dashed. Talk about making an entrance! This was definitely not part of Vicky’s Five Year Plan.

“Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools” is an hilarious rib-splitting read from beginning to end. We are introduced to village characters, both animal and human, ache for the trials endured by poor Joe, and find ourselves laughing on every page wishing the end wouldn’t come quite so soon. We meet characters such as Mother, a spliff-smoking 85 year old sex-kitten, and her daughter Judith, a slightly too large and exceptionally generous woman who keeps ten dogs. ‘That one’s called “Half”, dear. Always said we’d never have ten dogs, so now we have nine and a “Half”.’

We are introduced to Vicky’s sister and husband-in-law, the Eco-Warriors, whose antics certainly leave an impression, the riotous Gin Twins, and of course we can’t forget the most dangerous cockerel in Spain and the chickens and mules that torment Vicky and Joe. As for selling eggs to the villagers, that plan was never going to run smoothly!

But that’s not all. Woven into the story are a number Spanish recipes given to Vicky by characters in the book and the village ladies. No wonder HarperCollins described the book as ‘charming’ as well as ‘hilarious’ and ‘laugh-out-loud funny’. If you liked Chris Stewart’s “Driving over Lemons”, you won’t regret reading Victoria Twead’s “Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools”. Take it from me, this is one paperback that should be on every expat’s bookshelf and I know people will be talking about B*gger and F*ck, two of Vicky’s hens for years to come.

Says Victoria, “As I wrote, the book made me laugh and cry. When, reluctantly, I showed it to other people, I was astonished to see them react the same way. One may easily imagine my delight when ‘Chickens’ was awarded the HarperCollins Authonomy ‘Gold Star’, and is still today the only non-fiction book to claim that distinction.”

Buy the book from Amazon UK

Paper Version: Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools

Kindle Version: Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools

Ronda Tourism Awards 2009

Ronda held it’s annual Tourism Awards Evening last week at the Santo Domingo Convent, followed by cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the patio terrace.

Tourism in Spain accounts for 12% of GDP, and in Ronda is a huge industry drawing millions of visitors every year. Excellence within the tourism industry is therefore encouraged locally, and in recent years has seen a huge increase in support from both the Ayuntamiento and APYMER.

The event was well attended, and an air of excitement prevailed, although I’m sure the award winners must have been feeling quite nervous as they waited for the call to the stage to collect their trophies.<!–more–>The mayor of Ronda Antonio María Marín Lara, the councillor for tourism María Isabel Morales Oballe, and APYMER Tourism Representative Teresa Montero Verdú officiated.

Winners in 2009 for tourism were;
Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda for their immeasurable efforts in promoting cultural, tourist, educational, and heritage activities.

CIT (Centre for Rural Tourism) for their long years of promoting tourism in the Serranía.

Restaurant Jerez, for excellence in gastronomy, service, and a long history of actively supporting tourism in Ronda.

Juan Manuel Medina, for tourism innovation, in particular for donating his time in producing a guide to Ronda and the monuments in Braille for blind people.

This year’s award winners are well deserved, and it is believed they will all be positive role models for other tourism providers in Ronda, with the additional hope that 2010 will be tough to decide winners.

A final surprise of the evening saw Bartolomé Nieto González awarded a framed certificate acknowledging his tireless work to promote Ronda.

Pauline Emmens, Fabric Artist

Hello, my name is Pauline Emmens and I am in my mid fifties. I moved to Olvera in January 2009 together with my husband Jim, having spent the previous 22 years in Oswestry in Shropshire. I originate from Wigan in Lancashire, although we have lived up and down the UK depending on the work situation.

I have been sewing for pleasure starting off, as many do, with cross-stitch. Once I had mastered this technique I felt I wanted to bring more creativity into my work so I started attending various embroidery workshops.

This really wetted my appetite for the creative side of stitching and I was hooked (or needled) so to speak. Having studied traditional and contemporary techniques for the last three or four years, I gained my City and Guilds certificate in design and contemporary embroidery in 2007.

I have also attended various workshops with internationally known artists in the embroidery word, using mixed media and a myriad of advanced techniques and equipment. Sometimes I look at all the tools in my workshop and wonder whether I am a plumber, electrician, builder or embroiderer.

When living in the UK I was an active member of the Embroiderers Guild.

I am now drawing inspiration for my work from my new surroundings in Olvera, and looking forward to new and exciting ways to expand the materials and context of my work in this new environment. I want to create some pieces that incorporate the views and the environment as well as continuing with the more contemporary side.

While most of my work is designed to decorate the home, I am also anticipating having the time to create some varied pieces for commercial consideration.

Contact Pauline Emmens

Pauline can be contacted for private commissions.

Would you like to purchase one of Pauline’s pieces? Pauline is a regular exhibitor in Ronda’s monthly Artesanía market held the first sunday of every month. Click to send an email to Pauline: jim954@telefonica.net

Gallery of Pauline’s Art

Damas Goyesca of Ronda

Since the inception of the Corrida Goyesca in Ronda’s September fair in 1954, the ladies of Ronda have been the official representatives of the city, and welcoming committee for visiting dignitaries.

The role is exceptionally demanding, not only from the responsibility of the role, but also from the demanding schedule of training, and gown fittings before the build up to the week’s festivities.

So exceptionally popular have been the Dames Goyesca, that in 2009, a bronze statue of a Goyesca lady was inaugurated in Alameda park, directly across from the statue of Pedro Romero, Ronda’s most famous bullfighter.

Every year a president of the Dames Goyesca is chosen, usually she is a woman well respected in Ronda, someone who has earned the affection of the people of Ronda, and who is held up as a model of womanhood for others to emulate.

At the same time, fourteen younger Rondeñas are picked to support the president in her duties, typically the younger Dames Goyesca will be in their teens, and of course chosen for their beauty, as well as their grace.

The Goyesca Ladies

Every year in Ronda several of the town’s ladies are chosen to be the Dames Goyescas, and represent the ladies seen in some of Francisco de Goya’s paintings of bullfighting and pageantry from the late 18th century. Many of Goya’s paintings were in fact commissioned by a tapestry workshop in Madrid, the aim being to print the paintings on fabric.

When Goya painted his portraits of nobility, the fashion of the day was for colourful fabrics, and matching accessories such as shoes, fans, hairpieces etc. The gowns worn by Ronda’s Dames Goyesca are not exact copies of those seen in Goya’s paintings, instead they are designed to reflect the matador designs seen in Goya’s paintings of Pedro Romero, so can be said to be complimentary rather than historically correct.

Some art historians argue Goya’s paintings of the Duchess of Alba are the inspiration for the gowns worn by the Dames Goyesca, and to a lesser extent this might be true, in that many of the simpler gowns worn by the Dames Goyesca are very reminiscent. The more complex designs however have been developed in the 20th century in response to perceived fashions of the 18th century, and as such are even more stunning and beautiful than they would have been.

Each outfit can cost many thousands of Euros, everything is custom made to suit the lady, right down to handmade shoes and lace shawls. In addition, each Goyesca lady usually has another gown for less formal occasions, and perhaps a third for specific medal ceremonies.

Pedro Romero Feria Parade 2009

The Pedro Romero Feria in Ronda is the biggest carnival event in Ronda’s social calendar, a week of partying, of live shows, of fairground rides and attractions, and of course culminating in the Corrida Goyesca, the only bullfight to occur in Ronda’s famous Plaza de Toros.

Wednesday the 2nd of September 2009 was a special day, this was the day of the feria parade, a 3 hour extravaganza that departed from Alameda and the Plaza de Toros, and then snaked it’s way up La Bola, onto Avenida de Málaga, before turning down into the fair grounds near the hospital.

Carnival atmosphere reigned in Ronda, well before the parade began balloon sellers were offering large silver balloons in the shape of animals, aeroplanes and other things for 5€, and woe betide any child who let go, the balloon quickly ascended, and reached the heavens, never to be seen again.

2009 was my first year seeing the parade, though I’ve seen other parades in bigger cities in the UK, Germany, the USA, but little Ronda put on a show worthy of the biggest of cities. One can only speculate at the amount of money invested in giving Rondeños such a spectacle, but it was worth it. Despite the gloomy economy, on parade day everyone wore a smile.

Just as the sun set over Ronda the parade reached Avenida de Málaga, a great shout rang around the crowd who had been waiting for an hour or more, and then the first sign that something was happening. The Policia Local quickly cleared the road of balloon and sweet sellers, and leading the parade, a group of riders on horseback, looking resplendent in period costume from the late 18th century.

Corrida Goyesca
It wasn’t long till the great big animals, Tigger the Tiger, and his Disney friends appeared along with 100 children in colourful outfits, then dancers, acrobats, larger than life insects that attacked the crowd, Ronda’s brass bands, and too many other floats to mention.

At last, the moment everyone had been waiting the longest for, the Goyesca Ladies on their float that looked like the Palace of Versaille on wheels, the President atop her thrown, and the other dames waving from balconies below her.

What a parade! Incredible effort must have been expended, and all this in a small town in Southern Spain. 2010 will be a must see parade, and if you have the chance to book a hotel room in anticipation of being in Ronda for the feria, do it now, there is not time to waste.

Mariana Mara Art Exhibition

During the last two weeks of August 2009, Mariana Mara, an expressionist painter, has welcomed Rondeños to an exhibition entitled “Un Momento” in the gallery room of the Casa del Cultura next to the Iglesia de la Merced in Ronda’s Mercadillo district.

Mariana comes across as a fun loving, humerous, intelligent, and passionate person, which is immediately evident on entering her exhibitions. I was greeted to the sound of Elvis Presley coming from Mariana’s laptop, and the frequent outburst of frustration as something didn’t work on her computer.

This sets the scene quite nicely for Mariana’s paintings which are at once bold and filled with colour, subtle with many layers to be sampled, and of course none is to be taken too seriously, all of Mariana’s paintings are to be enjoyed simply because they exist, and for no other reason.

Too many artists strive for perfection in a piece, the perfect stroke, a complicated meaning, but Mariana starts with an idea that is fairly easy to understand, and then proceeds to add layer after layer until she is happy with the finished piece.

I particularly loved her piece entitled “La Marsellesa”, a whimsical look at the world of opera. Painted on wood, the bottom third is painted over letterhead from the Madrid Opera company, and on each sheet of paper one can see a sketch of a lady wearing an opera gown. Over the entire canvas Mariana has painted in delicious skin tones and hues of pink, the face of we suppose a famous opera singer in her prime.

Other pieces also captivate, such as the scenes of the Puente Nuevo in Ronda. Again, Mariana has taken a simple concept, the connection with Bizet’s opera Carmen, and the ubiquitous view of Ronda, the new bridge as seen from the lower gorge. In bold and strong colours, Mariana has overlayed her work on the musical score for Carmen, though this isn’t immediately obvious when looking at the score since it is the French and English version.

My favourite piece in the exhibition though had to be Mariana’s scenes of the sky captured in a variety of different moods. These were perhaps a reflection of Mariana’s true depth of soul, I got the sense Mariana paints moods to escape the meaning and humour she often works with, that her mood paintings represent Mariana relaxing, or venting some frustration, and oddly these simpler pieces let us get to know Mariana better.

Of course we all have our favourites, and in conversations with Mariana she explained that her favourite pieces were those that allowed her to experiement with different media, or allow her naturally witty charm to escape and take on their own life.

A fantastic exhibition though, and well worth half an hour to appreciate Mariana’s work, but leave enough time to chat as well, since her art really comes to life when Mariana is given the chance to express her love of art, and philosophy, the theatre, and of course, life itself.

Ronda Today is pleased to host a virtual gallery of Mariana Mara, which includes every piece exhibited in Ronda.

Ronda – Tourist Information – Hotel booking – Activities – Events in Ronda and Surrounding Villages. Telephone 0034 681 14 70 24

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