Friday, 27 February 2009

In Training

By Richard Morley.

The down escalator in my local metro station has been out of order recently. In fact I think the down escalator has been living up to its name more than it has been up and working.

In my travels around the city I have seen the inner workings of many moving staircases as the engineers try to fix what seems to be a recurring problem.

It would seem, though I have no real evidence, that those bits of the metro that don’t run on rails are becoming worn out, run down.

This could be serious problem for the passenger. It is not that long ago that Metro Madrid was planning great things to help the weary passenger move quickly through its stations. Many of the interchanges have long walks between lines and this was identified as a bottleneck in the normally super-efficient working of the system. So there were plans to install more escalators and moving walkways.

This was greeted with great acclaim. Millions of people get carried by these mechanical movers every day. A lack of reliability could present a crisis.

My local station came into being in 1976 and is showing signs of age. But to Metro Madrid , this is not a crisis. It is an opportunity.
The best Metro in the World is now suggesting that all these creature comforts they have been giving us are not good for our health. We are becoming lazy. So, in advertisements in stations across the city we are being exhorted to make use of the metro to – exercise.

That’s right. This has to be the first recorded case of a mass transit system advising its passengers that they would be better off walking.

Take advantage of the Metro to Exercise.
From the time to enter until you leave make your journey more healthy.

Walk down the stair instead of using the escalators.

Walk through the passages instead of using the moving walkways

Of course there is nothing wrong with the trains, just the bits in between. But I suspect this present campaign is no more than a cover up for a lack of maintenance. Or perhaps the high expenditure of the wonderful new rolling stock plus the installation of new monitoring equipment means there’s nothing left to spend on fixing the antique cog wheels and chains that drive the escalators?

And I have to admit I am full of admiration for whoever it was came up with this wheeze. But let’s hope it doesn’t backfire on them. I mean, if we have to walk on the underground, we may as well walk on the surface and save ourselves the fares. Now that would be good exercise!

A more healthy way to use the Metro.

Not that the advertising people the metro uses will be getting much exercise. It’s hard to walk after you have shot yourself in the foot!

Monday, 23 February 2009

Looking for a Home.

“This room has everything you want”, the women said. Her husband, standing in the background nodded in agreement. They were not wrong. There was a fat desk, a hugely oppressive dark walnut wardrobe, a high bookcase with bowed shelves showing years of use, a Lloyd loom wicker chair taking up twice as much space as something more utilitarian and a bedside table that looked as if the mere weight of an alarm clock would cause it to collapse. The latter stood next to the lower half of the narrowest pair of bunk beds I have ever seen. My first thought was that I was to share this room, ¡que horror!, but I was assured that was not the case. So why bunk beds? Yes the room had everything. The amazing thing was that “everything” was contained in a room that measured barely four by two metres.

The room had been advertised on Loquo Madrid and I was now in the business of searching for accommodation. The ascent to its fifth floor location in an elevator that was not sufficiently ample to contain both me and my suitcase together should have given me due warning. But after seeing the room, my fears were well grounded by the twenty meter obstacle course to the (shared) bathroom and the two square metre kitchen with just a two ring hob and a microwave oven that I would have to share with three other tenants.

It is possible to wander the streets looking for those signs advertising “Se Alquilar Piso”, Flat to rent. There are many of these. Some are handwritten, others printed posters where the phone number of the landlords has been felt-tipped in underneath. I have seen apartments worth several hundreds of thousands of Euros advertised on a handwritten, photocopied sheet of paper sticky-taped to lampposts. But you can’t just knock on the door hoping there is someone to show you around and negotiate the price. Things will never be that easy.

And of course there are agents, or inmobiliarios, who always have something wonderful and cheap in their window, which has always “just gone”. But they can certainly help, although their fee adds considerably to the “up front” money.

There are a number of websites that prospective tenants can use to find rented accommodation in Madrid:,,, and Loquo. All contain plenty of properties, but do not guarantee suitability or quality. Beware also of those that do not mention size. After a while it dawned on me that a suitable piece of equipment would have been a cat for swinging. Many would have failed the test.

Beware also those where the owner says he will meet you at the door of the building containing the apartment or room. You will probably find upwards of a dozen people crowded round the door. This is a room with a queue! These people are the Enemy. They are competing with you for that shoebox of privacy, that black hole of clutter. Why do the owners bring such a clamouring hoard to their doors? It is not an auction. Or is it? Should I have slipped the guy showing us the property a secret cincuenta note? Would it have given me an advantage over the poor students who jostled for position at the doorway like piglets at a fat sow. Or were they wiser than me? Did they know tricks I had yet to learn?

Was the girl who viewed first and came out scathingly flapping a disparaging hand claiming it was “muy muy pequeño” trying to discourage us? A couple did wander away. Did she hope to return later and claim her prize? I was not fooled by this subterfuge. I waited my turn. She was right as it happened. It was “muy muy pequeño”, but its associated facilities were ok and its location, a hundred metres from a metro station in a much sought after barrio, were superb. I gave my details as one interested, but I never received a call back.

Look carefully at these people. They are your prospective “house mates”. Ok the two girls in tight clinging dresses might have brightened up sombre mornings as they fought for the bathroom, but the guy in the shirt he had worn for several days in Madrid’s sticky humidity? Hmmm! I think not. Differing tastes in music and the volume at which in is played are minor in comparison.

I am sure the Comunidad de Madrid has housing regulations. Is it legal to rent a room for human habitation that does not contain any windows? Or a window only the skinniest could clamber though set way above head height? There must be rules on cubic metres per person and so on. There must be a limit to how many people can share the same toilet facilities. Does anyone check, I wonder?

And how does Spanish law stand on sexism? Most of the ads on the websites are for chicas. Are men less deserving? Are women less trouble? One site had little pink and blue hearts denoting the sex of the sought for sharer. The pink slides down the page like a rash. But at least it saved the cost of a telephone call. The male recipient of one of my calls made no bones of his preference. “I am only looking for women to share”, he told me. Did he have an ulterior motive, one wonders? He probably wanted someone to do his washing.

The various websites allow you, for a small fee, cleverly collected by SMS messaging, to place a “Wanted” advertisement. For a paltry one euro twenty my ad appeared for three days. This works! Within twenty four hours my inbox was nicely filling up with offers of rooms all over the place. But where were the places? I opened my Michelin map of Madrid, (the best five euros I have ever spent, incidentally!), and checked. A pattern developed. All big cities have less desirable areas, areas not easy reached or not suitable for various reasons, like directly under the flight path of Barajas airport. These were the ones filling my in box. Some were not even on my map, and the Michelin covers a wide area.

“Only fifty minutes by cercanias from Nuevos Minsterios”, one happily admitted. My ad clearly stated “in Madrid”. This must mean different things to other people.

Then there was the lady who intriguingly asked if I wished to share her apartment with her and her three kids! Oh, the possibilities! Was this a property website or a dating agency?

And while on the subject of agencies: You have to pay two month’s rent up front. That’s normal and you get the extra month back at the end of the rental. But the agencies require a further month as their fee. That’s a whole lot of cash to spend for an over priced room. And they are over-priced! The utility closet masquerading as a bedroom at the start of this article was more than five hundred euros a month. The disparaged “muy muy pequeño” was six hundred. One lady of my acquaintance pays six fifty for her single room. That equals the cheapest apartment I have seen advertised. But it’s a renter’s market and maybe the invited crowds around the doorways are the renter’s way of demonstrating that fact. Face it; accommodation will cost an arm and a leg. You don’t need to eat as well.

The main thing I learned was that you can’t find anywhere in August as everyone is away on vacation – and by September first it is too late as the returning students have snapped up all the best places. But there probably isn’t a good time throughout the year. But there are good rooms to be had. Not everything I saw was bad. Some were spacious with bright windows. The smell of fresh paint pervaded in many places and many were indeed reasonably priced, although never cheap.

Mind you, my Spanish had to take dramatic leaps forward as I dealt with prospective landlords. Not just face to face but also on the phone. I made so many calls I had to recharge my prepay phone several times. I forgot simple words and I really mangled the grammar, but I did communicate and that pleases me.

And I did eventually find a room. I am no longer of no fixed abode. I have somewhere for my belongings and I do not have to travel with a suitcase the size of a house. It’s in quite a good area, the room is large with its own facilities and the rent is affordable. Oh yes! The lady who wrote to me turned out to be bastante guapa and the kids are no problem at all.

© Richard Morley 2007 / 2009

Friday, 20 February 2009

Not a Load of Bull

The image of Spain is inextricably linked with that of the bull.

But this post is not a load of bull, it is just the opposite. The streets of Madrid have been invaded with cows. What is the reason for this bovine Cownival, this festival of Vacchanalia? I hear you ask.

Calgary in Canada might have its stampede; Pamplona its mad dash of drunken madness. We in Madrid take things at a far more leisurely pace. After all, El Prado means The Meadow, so what better place for such a cownference.

The cowmunity of Madrid is hosting the Spanish showing of Cow Parade. Spread throughout the city centre are one hundred fibre-glass cows which have been decorated by different artists and designers.

You can download a map that should steer you in the right direction to every cow, although I wouldn’t steak my reputation on it.

Visit the city and feel free to MOOch around the streets. You will find a decorated cow to suit your MOOd. If you feel a little COWardly, don’t go alone, take a COWorker.

The whole herd is one display until the 21st of March. You can see the complete parade here:

The cows in my pictures can be found at the Plaza de Colon and around the barrio of Samlamanca.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The Legend of La Alberca

By Richard Morley

At our hotel in La Alberca, Las Villas Abadia de los Templarios, the bell in the clock tower always strikes the hour six minutes early. Recently, while touring the village, which is about a kilometre distant from the hotel, we noticed that the bells in the village church also chimed early. A lady in our party wondered why this was. I told her a much shortened version of this tale:

The story of Maria Esperanza Garcia Garcia.

Maria Esperanza Garcia Garcia was born of dubious parentage in the pueblo of La Alberca, not far from Salamanca in North Western Spain. Why dubious? Well, her mother was an unmarried girl in her mid teens who died while giving birth to the child. Her father was unknown, but as her mother’s brother suddenly disappeared when Maria’s mother began to show signs of the pregnancy, there was speculation that the young child was the result of an incestuous relationship. Hence the repetition of the surname. This would be shocking today, but in the mid eighteen hundreds in rural Spain it caused great revulsion in the small community.

While Maria Esperanza was still a child she was cared for by her widowed grandmother. The supposed scandal of her birth turned the community against the family. Neighbours, previously good friends and even the priest of the parish would have nothing to do with them. The priest even refused to baptise her, but somehow they survived.

Her name, Esperanza, means “Hope”, but what she could hope for in those circumstances was difficult to know. But she was a happy child. In the summer the woods and fields around La Alberca were pleasant places and full of adventures. She would leave home early in the morning and return before dark. Her grandmother had taught her to count and she would always stop to listen when she heard the bells of the Church of our Lady of the Assumption peal the time across the fields. When she heard the bells she never felt afraid.

The area around La Alberca at that time was one of the poorest regions in Spain. A film made within living memory calls it “La Tierra Sin Pan”, or the land without bread. Just a child, Maria Esperanza had no idea of the sacrifices her grandmother had to make to care for her. Often there was just food enough for one, so her grandmother, a woman often in poor health, would none the less make certain the girl’s needs came first.

So it really came as no surprise that shortly after Maria Esperanza´s eleventh birthday, her grandmother died. At a stroke Maria lost her support and home. She moved into a shepherd’s hut just off the mountain track that leads up to the monastery on the Peña de Francia. In summer she lived on apples stolen from neighbouring orchards and in autumn on the chestnuts that grew so plentifully on the mountain slopes. In winter she had very little. She had no friends, no education, and, despite her name, no hope.

When the food was not easily obtainable she would beg in the streets of the town. There were some in who believed in Christian charity and they would secretly slip her the odd peseta. Occasionally someone would pass on a couple of chorizos that were past their best, but most days she would return to her shack hungry and empty handed.

She grew into a pretty young woman, although very thin, and pretty young women have their charms. She soon learned there was money to be made if she waited in the dark narrow streets when the workmen came out of the bars after an evening’s drinking. But in a small town like La Alberca there are no secrets. Now when she came begging in the streets the townsfolk gave her no help. Men treated her like dirt, women spat at her, called her “puta”. On more than one occasion she was bodily carried to the edge of town and told not to come back. The priest condemned her from the pulpit. And one cold, dark night a group of vigilantes set fire to her shack while she was sleeping inside.

She escaped and after spending the cold night trying to keep warm by the heat of her own smouldering home, moved further up the mountain side to a small cold cave.

But her prostitution had brought her more than a few pesetas thrown at her feet by a spent man. At the age of fifteen she was pregnant and in the summer gave birth to a baby girl. Starving and destitute she would sit in the Plaza Mayor, her babe wrapped in a dirty cloth in her arms and beg passers-by for money. People from outside who travelled from Salamanca to buy the jamón that was the town’s main product would throw her a few coins and because not everyone was mean spirited, she managed to survive.

Then one August during the Festival of Our Lady of the Assumption, when the ladies of the town paraded in their finery and there was dancing in the streets, a market and a corrida, a gypsy entered the town looking for work. His hair was lank and dark, his face pitted with smallpox scars, and he had a limp. In the gaiety of the festival he was like an ugly mole on a pretty girl’s face. No one would speak to him.

Except one; A pretty girl with a dirty face and a baby: Maria Esperanza Garcia Garcia. Somehow this odd couple came together against the rejection of the town. She told him of her life and showed him the rotting, charred remains of her burnt shack. Within a month he had rebuilt it and they moved in together.

His hard work on the shack did not go unnoticed. He may have been ugly, and a gitano, but he was strong and soon found labouring work on the surrounding farms. His powerful arms could wield an axe and so, with the end of the year rapidly approaching, he was employed in tree felling and to cart logs into town to fuel winter fires.

His work earned him enough to support himself, Maria and her baby. No longer did she have to beg or sell her body. But memories are long. Her scandalous birth and reputation as a puta still brought her rejection from the townsfolk. But at least now she did not have to face that rejection. While the gypsy worked, she stayed out of the town, kept house and looked after her baby.

Yet the people of La Alberca, rather than rejoice that Maria Esperanza had at last found happiness, now castigated her for living in sin.

For one bright and beautiful year they lived together. The ground around the shack grew vegetables. The gypsy proved to be an artful hunter and so there was rabbit meat on the table, and once an illicit cochinillo. “That sow had so many children”, he told Maria, “she won’t miss one of them”. Maria began to smile more and her baby grew sturdy and fat.

When the autumn leaves began falling from the trees the gypsy was again employed to gather winter fuel for the town. One icy morning his axe slid from the slippery tree bark and the blade severed a foot. Alone in the wood, the gypsy bled to death. Men brought his body to the shack that evening and without a word dug his grave and lowered his body into it. Then they left. The priest did not come to commit the body to the ground and she was left to fill the hole herself. No one came to console Maria. You can’t be a widow if you were not married.

The gypsy had had no money save what he earned. He left Maria nothing except one thing. She was pregnant again.

Following a hard winter and a late spring Maria Esperanza had a baby boy. What crops she had harvested from her garden had long run out. She was hungry and desperate. She could barely produce enough milk for the new born. Forlorn, she returned to her old place in the Plaza Mayor and begged for help.

Now with two illegitimate children and no husband the Christian folk of La Alberca were both repulsed and embarrassed by her presence. They protested to the priest and to the town hall. Many people came to the town to buy the jamón. They did not want a beggar in their midst. It did not present a good image.

Maria Esperanza, belying her name, had run out of hope. Her body was wasting away. Her two children cried with hunger all day. The man she had loved lay buried near his now weed strewn and unkempt vegetable plot. Crying bitter tears she prayed for her children and herself to be released from that hell. But rejected by the church, God did not hear her. And so she decided to take the matter into her own hands.

One evening, just after dark, she bundled her children and walked silently into the town. In the shadows of the Plaza de Iglesia she crossed to the rear door of the church and let herself in. The church was empty and dark. The statue of the virgin high on its mount cast vacant eyes across the gloom. In one corner she could make out the form of the baptismal font that had been denied to both her and her children. Despite it being summer the interior was cold. She shivered and her new son whimpered in the chill air.

Hugging the babies closely to her frail body she silently crossed to the steps that led to the high tower and then climbed the cold stone treads to the top. Through the huge portals that allowed the sound of the bells to carry across the town and the surrounding fields she viewed the rooftops of the village that had rejected her and then glanced down at the hard cobbles of the plaza so far below. She laid a flat palm on the cold metal of the bell and remembered hearing it chime the hours in her childhood. For a fleeting moment a memory of her carefree life as a little girl passed though her mind. It saddened her that her own children would never experience such a time, and for a brief moment emotion battled with reality. She almost turned and left, but a vision of a future as bleak as her past strengthened her resolved. She knew there was no turning back.

She set her oldest child on the floor near the great bell that chimed the hour and removed the wraps from the baby. Despite all the hardships she had suffered, this was the most difficult thing she had ever had to do in her young life. She was still not twenty years old.

She hugged him close, wetted his face with her kisses and then with a cry cast the tiny boy through the arched opening and watched as his fragile body crashed onto the unforgiving stones below. He did not move. Quickly, she turned before her resolve weakened and picked up her beloved daughter. She did not waste time on kisses. If she kissed the child and the child hugged her she knew she could not do it. With one last glance she held the child high – then let her go.

The little girl dropped, slowly turning then smashing against the hard cobbles beside her lifeless brother. Maria Esperanza gazed down in horror at what she had done. She was illegitimate, had been a prostitute, lived with a man out of wedlock and was now a murderess. She would surely go to hell and, she thought, it was no more than she deserved.

It was, of course, her intention to follow her children into the oblivion of the unforgiving stone hard cobbles of the plaza. But the thought of what she had done to her beloved children weakened her. Her legs began to buckle and she leaned against the vast cupola of the great bell for support. She heard voices coming up from the plaza. The bodies of her children had been discovered. She heard the shouts of men, the wails of women, “Oh Dios Mio. Los pobres niños pobres”. Now they worry about my children, she thought. Now it is too late.

Maria straightened, resolved herself for her final act, pushing against the bell for support. It moved. Suddenly there was nothing to push against and Maria began to fall into the void below the bell. Wildly she flailed attempting to grab hold of anything that would stop her fall. The drop inside the tower would kill her just as surely as if she threw herself through the smooth arched portal, but she wanted, in death, to be with her children.

The bell moved first away then swung towards her as it pivoted on its axis. As it rose before her Maria made one last grab when her foot slipped. She fell against the bell, which now swung away, opening a gap wide enough for her to fall through and nothing to hold on to. But as she dropped, a loop in the bell rope appeared before her. She made a wild grab. Held it for a second then slipped, but long enough to pull the loop towards her. Her head went through and the weight of her body pulled the loop tight, like a noose. She fell another two metres before the rope snapped tight. With an audible crack the vertebrae in her neck snapped and mercifully, instantly, Maria Esperanza Garcia Garcia was dead.

The weight of her body pulled on the rope and the bell completed its swing. Sonorously its hammer chimed, then swung back and chimed again and continued to chime until her body was still.

It was six minutes before the hour.

When news of Maria Esperanza’s final act spread beyond the town her treatment by the people of La Alberca was universally condemned. The priest, who had led the persecution against her, was replaced. Those few who had secretly aided the girl now became public to avoid the shame and those who had overtly damned her, roundly castigated. The new priest ordained a Christian burial for Maria, insisting it wasn’t suicide but a terrible accident. And in a spirit of contrition from that time on, the hour was always chimed six minutes early in her memory.

In recent times, to celebrate the new millennium, the church decided to replace the bells. Now a prosperous town and always full of visitors, a new hotel was being built on the outskirts and in a spirit of whimsy the owner decided to include a bell tower in the design. He bought the old bells from the church.

When the new bells were installed in the church the tradition of chiming the hour six minutes early was officially discontinued. An expert from Salamanca reset the mechanism and went home. Yet the next day the bells continued to chime before the hour. And when the old bells were set in the new tower in the hotel, the same thing happened.

And continues to chime six minutes before the hour to this very day. The memory of Maria Esperanza Garcia Garcia lives on. As does her ghost.

© Richard Morley 2009

Monday, 16 February 2009

La Alberca

So, two weeks ago I told you were I was going. Now I shall tell you where I have been.

Approximately four hours weary bus ride west of Madrid lays the little town of La Alberca. Situated at the foot of the Peña de Francia Mountains, it is a town untouched by time – by order of the government.

This was not my first visit to the town. I feel privileged that I have been able to see it in all the seasons of the year. Nestling almost a kilometre above sea-level it can be very hot in summer and with little ultra violet protection is an excellent place to get a tan. In winter be prepared for bitter temperatures and snow. But best of all is the autumn when the trees turn golden and there are chestnuts ready for picking and roasting. I love roast chestnuts!

We stayed in the hotel Villas Abadia de los Templarios. This is a resort hotel with a central building housing reception, the restaurant and the all important bar, surrounded by small, but very comfortable chalet style houses which are where the residents sleep.

The name of the hotel (Abadia means Abbey) is a reference to the Knights Templar, a quasi-military-religious order from the time of the crusades who gave aid to the sick and wounded during the wars in the Holy Land. Some of the order also provided care and lodging along the various routes of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, one of which, La Ruta de Plata, or Silver Route. This runs up through the west of Spain and comes close to La Alberca. There is a slight diversion through the town to enable pilgrims to visit the Madona Negra, or Black Madonna, in the monastery that sits high on the peak of the Peña de Francia.

So why is the town protected by the government? It is a beautiful example of unspoiled medieval architecture. The town is wonderfully preserved. The designation as a site of Historical Importance guarantees this. The houses are of timber frame construction lining delightful narrow cobbled streets. Roofs and balconies sag under the weight of their years, the uneven cobbled lanes could twist many an ankle, walls lean, and stonework shows the erosion of extremes of weather. In winter, swollen by snowmelt, the tiny stream crashes and splashes its way under the stone bridge at the foot of the sloping and very twisting Calle del Puente.

The name, La Alberca, means a watery place. There are many springs and an overflowing stone trough in the Calle de la Fuente Canal is meant to have health giving powers. I heard tell of an old lady who claims to have never drunk anything else. The trough behind the stone cross in the plaza mayor, though, seems to be the main refuelling place of kids playing with water pistols on hot summer nights.

To walk these streets is to return to an age of knights and chivalry, crusades and jousting, but also to poverty and persecution.

This area of Spain was known as “La Tierra sin Pan”, or the Land without Bread. Hidden in a valley not far from the Portuguese border, it was a forgotten place. But in 1933 Luis Buñuel made a short documentary film of the area, which brought it to public attention. Surprisingly, this was something that a visit by the abdicated king, Alfonso XIII and the doctor Gregorio Marañon a few years before, had failed to do.

La Alberca is known for its Jamon. The hams, lomos, (pork loin), and chorizos, (Spanish sausages), for sale in its shops are without question absolutely delicious. The surrounding countryside is full of black pigs happily snorting as they enjoy the bellotas, the slightly longer than usual acorns from the encina tree, (Holm oak), little suspecting what lies in store for them. One very happy pig is allowed to roam the streets of the town. And this is one of my favourite stories:

Casting you mind back to 1492, when Cristobal Colon sailed the ocean blue, you may recall that the “Catholic Kings”, Ferdinand and Isabella, decided that the “convivencia”, the peaceful cohabitation of Catholics, Jews and Muslims, could no longer exist. Moslems and Jews were given three choices: leave the country, face death at the hands of the newly formed Inquisition, or convert to Christianity. Jews with business, families, or who just liked living here, proclaimed their conversion. But there was a catch. Muslims and Jews don’t eat pork, but Christians do. So there was an obvious test to prove the veracity of the conversion. As Marie Antoinette didn’t say, “Let them eat pork!” And to take this one stage further the townsfolk of La Alberca decided that a pig should roam free in the town. If it was found outside your house at nightfall you were meant to take it in for the night, give it supper, provide sleeping arrangements and after a hearty breakfast the next morning you could release it back onto the streets.

Carved into the lintels of several doorways in the town are inscription proclaiming the conversion of the family inside. Invidiously, one doorway’s inscription is thought to show it to be the local offices of the Inquisition.

I don’t know if La Alberca has any remaining Jewish or Muslims residents, but the pig still roams free. It’s not the same pig! A new one is introduced each year and when sufficiently fattened up by the good food and comfortable beds it is put up to be won in a lottery. It’s a very friendly pig, as my photographs show. Ignorance is, very obviously, bliss!

So engrained in the psyche of the town has the pig, and its products, so become that outside the church stands a granite statue of a pig. It is very obviously a boar! Local legend has it that childless couple wanting to conceive a child should give the pig’s, er, equipment a rub. I don’t know if it works.
On August the 15th every year the town comes alive with the sounds of the traditional festival of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, after who the parish church is named. The image of the virgin is placed in the Plaza Mayor and the townsfolk offer their devotions. There are colourful costumes, which have special significance and the day concludes with dancing and traditional music.

The next day the plaza becomes a bullring with a Pamplona style running of the bulls and a corrida.

La Alberca holds a special place in the heart of many Spanish, who come here by the busload throughout the year. In summer the locals must be out-numbered by tourists several times over. I have been there a good dozen times now and still find it fascinating. A tiny place, it should not be missed. Just don’t sit down where the pig wants to be.