Holiday Season Rain Worst Since 1947

The last two weeks of 2009 saw a deluge of rain falling on the Serranía de Ronda, and a Yellow Alert declaration in Ronda. Rainfall in the week prior to Christmas was described as the worst since 1947 when 12 people lost their lives from drowning or lightning strikes. Flood damage is expected to cost many millions of Euros in insurance claims.

Rainfall on certain days exceeded 80 litres per square metre, whilst winds of 70km per hour were common, gusting in exposed places. Over the entire two week period an estimated 450-500 litres fell depending on location, though most days saw only moderate rain which unfortunately kept the river levels up resulting in further damage as rainfall became heavier.

In Ronda the worst affected area was the Llano de la Cruz and La Indiana districts with several homeowners reporting flooding inside the home and water damaged furniture and white goods. The through road in the Hoya del Tajo (the valley situated below Ronda), is still closed to traffic due to a bridge spanning the rio Guadalevin being submerged. Another road in Ronda, the Camino de los Tejares was closed twice as a nearby stream flooded a depression in the road, requiring a bulldozer to clear silt and mud.

Recent work by La Empresa de Gestión Medioambiental (Egmasa) in cleaning up clogged and overgrown streams and rivers in the Ronda district was credited by Remedios Martel, the councillor for the Environment in the Málaga Province, with preventing widespread flooding in low lying areas of Ronda. A further consequence of cleaning the rivers in Ronda was that flooding was felt downstream in other parishes where cleanup efforts hadn’t been as extensive.

In the Guardiaro valley massive flooding and extensive damage to trees, roads and houses was reported along the banks of the rio Guadiaro amid reports that rising river levels and high winds had caused chaos in low lying areas and on mountain roads. Some homeowners reported flood waters of upto one metre in their homes, whilst in Jimera de Libar at least two cars were submerged by rising water.

The Atajate-Jimera de Libar road was closed for two days whilst workers cleared fallen rocks and mud. On the A-366 Ronda-El Burgo road a small section of the road had to be closed for repairs when a rockslide damaged the edge of one lane. The A-373 between Cortes de la Frontera and Berrueca was also closed for a few hours as high winds knocked over a tree.

In the first week of January 2010 many of Ronda’s car parks remain closed due to the risk of landslides or falling trees, they being El Castillo, Alameda del Tajo, San Rafael, and San Lorenzo. None of Ronda’s underground carparks were affected by flooding.

Older residents of Ronda remember flooding in 197 that breached the lowest of Ronda’s bridges, the Puente Arabe near the Arab Baths, and the terrible loss of 9 lives between Montejaque and Benaojan in the same year when 9 people were drowned. Closer to Ronda 3 people were killed when a small cabin they were sheltering in was struck by lightning. We can be thankful the rains of December 2009 weren’t as destructive.

Escuela de Idiomas Christmas Party

Ronda’s Escuela Oficial de Idiomas (EOI) recently held their annual end of year Christmas party. EOI are the largest language institute in Ronda and are a government owned academy teaching English, German, and French.

The staff and students of EOI decided to have a dress up party this year, though there was no theme, only that everyone made an effort to dress up as a character they identified with.

As you can see from our photos participants put in a lot of effort to have fun, the entire evening was definitely a highlight for many with prizes awarded for best dressed student, though sadly A+ pass grades weren’t offered as prizes.

The German class grouped together to sing German Christmas carols in a resounding and solidly teutonic style, with “Kling, Glöckchen, klinelingeling” becoming everyone’s favourite.

Having recently visited Bavaria the German students hosted the evening and provided several German cakes, hot mulled wine, and German biscuits to the other classes.

EOI’s French students weren’t to be outdone arriving as characters from famous French television programs, though two Napolean Bonaparte’s also made their appearance leading to an outcry that the 1812 Spanish War of Independence was about to start all over again.

Characters spotted on the night included Rita Hayworth, Gulliver from Gulliver’s Travels, Martin Luther-King, Napolean, MacBeth, Santa Claus, one of Santa’s Elves, Anne Frank, Sarah Ferguson, Groucho Marx, Marline Dietrich, and too many more to keep note of.

A grand evening was had by all, and from the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas a very Merry Christmas to all, especially to the students who couldn’t attend the party, you were sorely missed.

Marquez Locally Produced Food Specialties

To find the best locally produced products we popped into Marquez Tienda on Carrera Espinel, right next door to Restaurant Casa Ortega, and just around the corner from Plaza de Socorro, Ronda’s main square.

The Serranía de Ronda, as a small part of Andalucía is blessed with many hundreds of local artisans producing everything from wines, cheeses, honey, specialist meat goods, olive oil, bottled chestnuts, quince jams, and non-edible goods such as olive oil hand creams, soaps, leather goods, and ceramics.

Marquez is conveniently located for tourists, who probably comprise the bulk of their customers, though Rondeños looking for specialist items not found in supermarkets can often be found entering the store, in fact many phone ahead and place their orders.

Close to home Ronda is known for the wines certified as originating from the district, and Marquez proudly display the certificate awarded to José Antonio Itarte of Cortijo Los Aguillares for their Gold Medal win at Mondial du Pinot Noir, switzerland in 2009.

Other notable wines on the shelves at Marquez include some of the Serranía’s best petit verdot varieties such as the 2006 private reserve Principe Alfonso de Hohenlohe or the 2005 Ándalus, both of which are considered excellent representatives of their type.

Locally produced meats from Benaojan and Arriate are readily available, legs of jamón hang from the ceiling, twists of chorizo too. And in the refrigerator look out for Zurrapa de Lomo, a type of local paté made from pork loin fat and lard which is salted, and usually spread on toast for breakfast.

No leg of jamón would be complete without queso curado, so be prepared to buy this as well. A favourite serving in many tapas bars is jomón y queso, quite simply thinly sliced pieces of cured ham off the bone, and triangles of Spanish cured cheese. Queso curado isn’t anything like cheese from northern nations, it is much harder and greasier, and definitely not creamy, but it’s a local specialty that grows on you very quickly.

Desserts aren’t forgotten, jars of quince or chestnuts in their juices or water are available, as is honey from Grazalema or Guirlache from Valencía. in fact the complete tapas dinner and wine is stocked from Marquez, and if you’re staying in Ronda without cooking facilities, Marquez should be on your list of specialtly stores to visit.

Plaza de España Works Progressing

In October 2009 work started on refurbishing the iconic Plaza de España between Calle Armiñan and Virgen de la Paz in Ronda’s Mercadillo district. The project is scheduled to be completed in February 2010 and includes a new traffic roundabout to ease congestion and remove the need for Policia Local to control the intersection.

Costing 1,070,563€, this is one of the most significant projects undertaken in Ronda as part of the Zapatero government’s economic stimulus package. Work in Plaza de España sees the old broken paving stones replaced with thick granite that should stand the test of heavy foot traffic.

In addition the statue of Antonio de los Ríos Rosas, a prominent Ronedeño politician of the 19th century, has been relocated about five metres into the centre of an oval shaped roundabout, and will be surrounded by small shrubs and flowers.

Is the Spanish Bullfight Dying?

“¡Abolición!” shouted the banners and placards. Abolition! Adorned with drawings of youths on all fours with barbs in their backs spurting blood they were held aloft by about thirty protesters on the Tajo Bridge in Ronda, fifty kilometres from Marbella in eastern Spain.

“Abolish the Bullfight”, they cried with Ronda’s most important fight of the year beginning in a few hours. The protesters, mostly young Spaniards, were watched by a squad of Riot Police and bemused passers by.

‘Is the bullfight dying?” I asked Paco, a regular in the Bar Maestro, a small place, serving some of the best tapas in town. Named after Antonio Ordóñez, a native son, and many say, the greatest matador ever, his loyal admirers foregathered there with other aficionados of the bulls.

‘No, the bullfight is not dying,’ said Paco banging down his glass on the counter. ‘You cannot get a ticket for the corrida this afternoon, did you know that?’ Paco glared at me and muttered under his breath. I was mortified. How could I re-establish my bona fides with this much respected man?

‘I was fortunate to see el Maestro fighting five times in the 60’s,’ I said. He looked sideways at me. Other heads nodded, voices approved. But Paco raised his glass to some memory of is own.

‘Read “Vanguardia’s” report,’ one called Pepe said quietly, ‘72% of Spaniards has no interest.’

The figures were dramatic. Over the past thirty years interest in the bullfight has fallen from a high of 55% in 1971 to 46% in 1980 to today’s figure of 28%.

Then Rafa, the owner, made a joke which I think went like this: ‘What do the bulls in Pamplona pray for before the Running?’

‘Please Lord, let me catch a gringo.’ Even Paco laughed at that. Paqui, Rafa’s wife brought out small dishes of paella. Good humour, never far away, was restored. I was honoured to be included by these aficionados.

“Death in the Afternoon”, Hemingway’s classic on the bullfight, introduced many of us to it.  This ritual of danger and death, bull running or fighting is central to most annual ferias in towns, villages and cities throughout Spain. Pamplona in July, Ronda in September and Seville at Easter are the most popular.

This year in Ronda the annual September shindig was in full exuberant swing, the town in an uproar.  Crowds milled about; flamenco and the whirling, laughing music of the Sevillana dance blared from temporary and ear-splitting loudspeakers outside the bars. Girls and women of all ages twirled, arms twisting sensuously, fingers coiling, heads thrown back, in dramatic pose. Men and boys clapped the rhythm, shouting ‘¡Olés!’.

Goyesca Ladies en route to the Plaza de Toros
Goyesca Ladies en route to the Plaza de Toros

Ronda, the birth place of the modern bullfight, celebrates the Goyescas, a festival of bullfighting so called as the participants parade in the garb of Goya’s era two centuries ago. Horse drawn carriages with decorous young girls in colourful finery, process through the streets.  Men and youths in the Andalusian style of tight trousers, waistcoats and Córdoba hats stalk about on tall horses before the fights begin.

About the bullfight, V.S.Pritchett, in “The Spanish Temper” wrote: “The Spaniard never lacks the courage to make the heroic gesture.  The bull is admired, almost worshipped, as the horse is in Ireland.  He is admired because he is great and capable of fury, and the Spaniard requires that furious force against which to display his singularity – the most precious of his possessions – and his courage.  Always the extremist, he likes to test his valour and his whole personality to the utmost.”

‘The bullfight is not a sport,’ said our friend Bosco back in the bar, ‘because the outcome is foreseen. It is a ritual,’ he added, believers eyes shining. ‘Primitive, pagan, maybe barbaric. ‘But,’ he concluded, ‘At no stage in the fight is it the object to inflict pain, although it is inflicted.’

Like reading Macbeth before going to the theatre, an understanding of the bullfight beforehand enables one to comprehend if not approve.  Sadly many of them descend into a crude despatch of the animal, the bullfighter being booed by the crowd. But if one experiences, as I did, the gut wrenching, frightening emotion of a great matador’s performance, as Ordóñez delivered to spellbound audiences it will remain etched in one’s mind forever.

Cayetano's Armani Suit
Cayetano's Armani Suit

It costs over €100 000 to stage a corrida with a top matador’s name. They command huge fees and have expensive lifestyles. Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez, the Maestro’s grandson, appeared this year in a Suit of Lights, as their costume is called, made by Armani. A whiff of decadence, a foretaste of the fall?

The rivals for the public’s Euros are football and basketball. Spain are the current European Champions in both sports. Tennis and golf have attractive role models also.

Nobody in the bar had been prepared to challenge Paco. But the newspaper’s figures would not leave us. None of us was under fifty-five.  And so it is throughout Spain. The corrida is dying with its ageing followers. No doubt in the midst of the recession, they were thinking of the over 100,000 people employed in the industry and the turnover of 1, 5 billion Euros a year.

Despite the two thousand year old tradition going back to Roman times, leading opponents of bullfighting recently took their cause to the Spanish parliament demanding an end to it. Parliament is currently debating a draft law on animal rights. How bullfighting will escape such a charter I do not know. The League Against Cruel Sports is increasingly active. The Spanish public broadcaster, TVE, announced that it will no longer broadcast corridas. Two years ago, Barcelona declared itself an “anti- bullfighting city”. The closure of the last bullring in Catalonia highlights its political ‘independence from Madrid’.

Protestors in Ronda 2009
However, in Madrid and the southern province of Andalusia the plazas are often filled to capacity. Bull fighting is deeply rooted in Andalusia. Like everything else the Andalusians do they do it with passion. It’s as though they had the caps lock key permanently in the ‘on’ position, the stereo at its loudest. It is in this intense, emphatic and above all passionate atmosphere that los toros, the bullfights, persist, its great exponents revered.

But the inevitable is coming. There will be more protesters. Just as Picasso and Hemmingway supported the bullfight, new names will support the Abolitionists.

My wife, Verne, unsympathetic to the corrida, asked the inevitable question. ‘12,000 bulls a year die in 2000 corridas?’ I replied. ‘And as many as 100 men are killed.’ Her silence said it all. ‘But,’ I said, ‘expect marketing innovations. 100,000 jobs will be defended.’

I see in my mind’s eye a dusty road in Spain trodden by a gaunt figure in rusty armour on a spindly steed followed by a podgy fellow astride a donkey.  One almost sees the white sails of windmills that will surely attract the attention of that wandering knight. For it is none other than my demented hero, Don Quixote de la Mancha and Sancho Panza.  Is it the youngsters on the bridge who are tilting at windmills in the battle of the bulls? Or Paco in the Bar Maestro?

The Author:

Article written by Bearnard O’Riain, a published author who has written an autobiography ‘Running to Stand Still‘, an account of his years as an angry and abusive husband. These days Bearnard runs the MURAL support group which helps other men recover from abusing their spouses and families in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs, including the infamous Alexandra township.

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