Saturday 30 July 2011

I’m learning Spanish, not trying to offend you. Honest!

By Richard Morley.

I think it was Oscar Wilde who said, “Experience is the name we give to our mistakes”. Experience can be a good teacher, unless you are a politician, but that’s another story! I also think there’s some truth in saying the greater the mistake, the greater the learning possibility.

Actually, I would like to rephrase that: The greater the embarrassment potential within the mistake, the chances are much higher that the learner won’t ever repeat that mistake. Again with the caveat that this does not necessarily apply to politicians!

And what greater source of potential embarrassment could there be than that of attempting to communicate in another language.

In another post  I wrote a long time ago I high-lighted the danger of accent blindness when reading Spanish by confusing “Inglés” with “Ingles”. That the difference was explained to me before I committed the blunder publicly was a close shave indeed!

But that was a couple of years back. I have plenty of opportunities to disgrace myself linguistically since then.

How well I remember the time, when enjoying a coffee with a sweet lady in a crowded café, I declared quite loudly that a certain Spanish politician needed a penis. I meant to say he needed support. The word I needed was “Apoyo”, but I mispronounced and said something else entirely. Aforementioned sweet lady quickly amended my pronunciation.

And what confused mental dyslexia had me pointing out to the same sweet lady, while we were walking across a sunlit meadow, all the “testicles” running about in the field. Rabbits in Spanish are “conejos”. Bilingual anagrams are a minefield when you learn new vocabulary from reading and not from listening.

I am convinced the Spanish have so designed their language to get maximum humorous entertainment from us guiris as we stumble through their lexicon. I mean, what could be more innocent than wanting to lend a hand in the kitchen by declaring that you will sweep up the mess. The verb in question is “cepillar” (the double “ll” is pronounced like the y in yacht or young) – to brush, to sweep and in woodwork, to plane. If you check it on those definitions are there plus the act of finishing something, cleaning the teeth, and, surprisingly, killing someone. It’s only at the bottom of the list you find, “vulg. Tener relaciones sexuales con alguien.” Yes, to have sex. Now tell me they haven’t done this on purpose!

Actually, I report that last with gleeful schadenfreude. Last week I was with a group of Spanish schoolteachers and one, as part of a presentation, gave us a talk on first aid and in particular, Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation; the method of using mouth to mouth breathing and chest compression to resuscitate a drowned or unconscious person or “CPR”. The way she pronounced those three letters had the Spanish members of her audience convulsed with lascivious laughter. These paragons of educational virtue took great delight in explaining the fun found in their colleague’s slight mispronunciation, particularly while demonstrating on a muscular, and quite handsome young man.

On a similar note, it is perhaps not a good idea to tell a lady you have only just met that you want to run away with her. The list of meanings in Wordreference for  “Correr” is quite extensive!

Now I know that Spanish ladies tend to speak their mind. “Eufemismo” exists as  almost the same word as “euphemism” in English, but it doesn’t seem to exist in practice. Spanish ladies do not call a spade a wooden handled digging device. I consider myself a man of the world. It takes a lot to shock me. But I was surprised when my female friends spoke about “making their bikini” or “working on their bikini”. All sorts of inappropriate visions came into my head. I am not the only one. When mentioning this to a newly arrived lady teacher from the UK, she too assumed waxing, shaving and unwanted hair was involved, when in fact it means no more than losing a bit of winter weight to look good in their swim wear.

It has got to the stage now that I am suspicious of new words – or new uses of old ones. If I come across a new idiom or hear a familiar word used in an unusual context my vulgarity antenna goes up. Not that it should worry me. See above, man of the world etc etc, but I do have some, shall we say, “old-fashioned” acquaintances who might be either shocked at the word / idiom, or embarrassed to explain it to me.

These words come from surprising sources. I have been working my way through the fictional autobiographical stories of eight year old Manolito Gafotas, who lives in Carabanchel (alto), a district of southwest Madrid.

The books were written by a Journalist, Elvira Lindo, in the nineties and quickly became a huge literary success, followed by a TV series, a couple of feature films and awards for Children’s literature. But in the books, when Manolito wishes to express his frustration he frequently uses the word “Joé”. My dictionary does not have this word. Neither does Wordreference. So I asked, because she was there, a lady of “a certain age” to tell me what it meant. She flustered and was a little embarrassed to explain that it was the kids’ version of “Joder”, the Spanish “F” word, used in much the same way that “Miércoles” replaces “Mierda” in children’s speech – at least when adults are listening. 

These stories have very quickly become classics of Spanish Children’s literature. I am sure that good parents the Spanish speaking world over buy these books for their children, or read the stories at bedtime. I hope they are ready to explain to their little darlings the meaning of some of the words. But I have struck this particular lady off my list of “Spanish explainers”. I would not wish to embarrass her again.

I could, of course, consult my copy of “Pardon my Spanish”, which is a complete guide to the less polite words of the Spanish lexicon and in which the words are graded from “Able to use in front of Granny” to “ONLY EVER use with close friends!”

Of course there less innocuous words to confuse. I remember a Dutch friends who asked an optician to check her “eights” (ochos) instead of her “eyes” (ojos). I recently told a dentist I had lost an “embalse” (dam) instead of an “empaste” (filling). The look of perplexity on his face was a sight to behold. Trying to be more clever than I actually am I thought baby pigeons ( little “palomas”) were a “palomitas”, which is really “popcorn”.

But it’s the big bloopers that stay in the mind. The ones with such embarrassing consequences you will never forget them.

Experience might be a hard teacher, but it’s a good one.

I have a PS, but it’s x-rated, so if you are of a nervous disposition do not read any further.

At one of the English Villages I attend, a rather straight-laced American lady had bitten the inside of her cheek while eating and this had raised a painful blister. Finding out, illegally, from one of the students that the word for blister is “empolla” (but not quite hearing it correctly) she visited a pharmacy and explained she had “a polla” in her mouth, while jabbing a finger in and out of her open mouth to demonstrate. The student nearly collapsed in laughter, particularly when retelling the tale later. “Polla” (pronounced poy-ya) is slang for penis. The student reported the pharmacists was quite surprised!

You continued reading, didn’t you. I told you not to!

What embarrassing mistakes have you made?? 

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Spain Rocks

By Richard Morley

The snow capped peaks of the Gredos mountains. Part of the "Sistema Central" of Spain's Mountains.

I wrote recently in my post about the source of the Manzanares river that today’s tranquil landscape had been, a long, long time ago, a rather turbulent place. That while today the pink, or Rose Granite lends a colourful hue to the peaceful slopes of the Yelmo, at the time of its formation it was a place of volcanoes and heaving rivers of lava. It’s a nice place today because it’s been a gneiss place for ages. (Geological joke! – Look it up.)

 A (very) close up picture of the rose granite through which the young Manzanares runs.

The Manzanares’ source lies in the Sierra de Guadarrama, part of the central system of mountains that stretches from Portugal to just north of Madrid, incorporating the sierras of Gredos, Avilla,  and Guadarrama (among several others) and delineates the divide between northern Spain and the south. In geological terms they are quite young mountains. A famous mountaineer, when asked why he wanted to climb a mountain said, “Because it is there”. Me, I want to know why.

 The Iberian "Sistema Central" mountains running more or less West-East until terminating at the perpendicular Iberian system, formed 40 million years earlier when Spain faced in another direction.

Today we tend to think of dramatic geological events in terms of unpronounceable Icelandic volcanoes and havoc inducing tsunamis. That’s because they happen quickly; over days, or even hours. Most geological events happen much, much slower. For us, and the world in general, that’s a good thing. For Spain, it has been a blessing. The country that we know and love has taken a very long time to reach it’s present state. It has travelled – and will continue to do so. It has been subject to amazing forces – and still is. Geology has shaped the world and shaped us. We respond to our surroundings. Geologically, the country went it’s own way for eons. Historically, it did the same. Perhaps this says something about the tenacious spirit of the Spanish, of their, sometimes, fiery “carácter” , but also their more often seen tranquil nature.

Weathered peaks of the Pedriza in the Guadarrama mountains.

Let’s see the events unfold. (But in a really, really simplified form. I don’t want comments telling me that I have forgotten such and such an event. As an old tee-shirt of mine once said, “Geophysicists do it deeper!”, but here I am just scratching the surface.)

Cast your minds back to, oh, let’s say, 600 million years ago. We will have to speculate a bit. I’ve attempted to do the research, but, as I have discovered in a long career in one particular branch of earth studies, if there is one thing that geologists can’t agree on – it’s EVERYTHING! So, there are competing theories. Quite a few of them have had to be formulated relatively recently. After all, it’s just exactly one hundred years since Alfred Wegener,  noticing how the coastlines on opposite sides of the Atlantic fitted together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, published the first paper on how the world’s landmasses seemed to drift across the Earth’s surface. Perhaps because he was an astronomer and meteorologist and not a geologist many did not take his ideas seriously. Plus, there were competing theories (the discredited “expanding Earth”) and the fact that there seemed to be no driving mechanism behind the continental movements. They were still arguing about it in the early seventies when I was a student.

But it seems to go a bit like this. Prior to 600 million years ago the World’s landmasses had been forming and reforming into groups until on almost opposite sides of the globe two super continents, one called Gondwana and the other Laurasia, had come into being. Slowly they drifted together and at about 600 million years ago they met and formed the giant extra-super continent, Pangea.

Pangea looked like a letter C, or a very distorted 8. A bit like a knobbly Pac man figure facing right, it’s mouth agape. But think of the 8, bent into a C shape. Where the two halves of the 8 meet, or perhaps where Pac man’s tonsils could be, were a few independent landmasses which had been crushed together and bridged the gap between the two continents. They are known as the Avalonian, the Amorican, and the Iberian plates. You might like to bear in mind the “Iberian” plate. It’s sort of important in this article!

To the east, ie, within the Pac man’s gaping jaw, lay the Tethys sea.

Then several things happened. Firstly, the pressure of Gondwana pushing up into Laurasia compressed bits of the northern continent and pushed them upwards, forming mountains. Today, these mountains are so eroded it’s not easy, except by using reflective seismic techniques, (a bit like sonar on land) to find the evidence, but some can be found in Spain’s north west, on its corner with Portugal, in south east Galicia.

As the southern continent pushed against Laurasia, it subducted, meaning it slid underneath. This, as today can be seen around the Pacific’s rim, leads to volcanic activity. This can be seen in ancient volcanoes found in Spain’s northeast, but in the centre, where the Iberian plate was thin and weak, a great intrusion of magmatic rock oozed to swell into a huge globule of granite. It is as if the rivers of fire from hell rose to the surface and, in fact, we call that action “Plutonism”, named for Pluto, the ancient Roman god of the underworld. That’s what I was gazing at in the last post. But 600 million years ago it didn’t break the surface, so at the time there was little evidence of what was going on below. On the Avalonian plate, however, there was huge amounts of violent volcanic activity, which had already been going on for 100 million years and would continue for another 100 million.

Moving forward in time this volcanic activity would lead to a splitting of the left hand side of Pangea. (Incidentally, I write of left and right rather than east or west, north or south, because even though geologists speak of “Laurasia”, “Amorica”, even “Euro-America”, those land masses were nowhere near their present geographical locations – and after which they are named. (Laurasia became, after the splitting off of north America, Eurasia.) All of what I am writing happened when these land masses where deep in the southern ocean. Spain at that time was thought to be around 55º south of the equator and probably not in its current orientation relative to north and south. Events are hard to construct from the historical carousel of continental drift. But not impossible.)

But I digressed.

The splitting off of the left hand side of Gondwana led to the formation of South America. Parts of Avalonia are found in the British Isles south of Scotland and continue through northern Europe. Other parts are found in eastern Canada, from where it took its name from the Avalonian peninsular in Newfoundland.

For the next 250 million years the great continent drifted northwards. 450 million years ago the Tethys sea began to close. So, as Pac man’s mouth slowly closed, the land mass of Laurasia turned clockwise. In the middle of this upheaval the two plates of Iberia and Amorica thrust together. Amorica is the land mass where today you find France, and you will think that Iberia and France, were, from that moment on, like co-joined twins tumbling around in the centre of global activity. But wait, there’s a twist, very literally, to their tale. But that’s for later. Right now, well 450 million years ago, extensive mountains were being built by the squeezing of the plates. The remains of this mountain building can be found today in Portugal, Galicia and Northern France. (Remember that little fact!)

Meanwhile Iberia and Amorica were passing though tropical regions. During this time they became great jungles of vegetation which died and their remains laid down in great belts of carboniferous strata. That’s coal to you and me. The coal is found in seams between layers of limestone and sandstone showing that the landmasses were alternately above sea-level (and covered in trees) and below sea-level, where oozing sand from eroding land and the shells of sea creatures created intervening limestone and sandstone strata. The bodies of those sea creatures, the soft parts, decomposed to give us oil. The great explosion for this was after the carboniferous, mainly during the Triassic and Jurrasic periods.
 Limestone strata found in the Cordillera Iberica near Soria in northeast Spain.

It was in the Jurrasic, around 180 million years ago, that Pangea began to split up. The Tethys sea was closing rapidly. The Indian plate was sliding across to bump into asia. The Antarctic plate, with Australia and New Zealand still attached headed southward. They didn’t have far to go! The major landmasses were still travelling northwards. Laurasia, soon to become Eurasia with the loss of North America, was revolving clockwise. What was left of Gondwana, basically Africa, was continuing to push north and the two joined landmasses of Armorica and Iberia were rolled anti-clockwise and to the left between them.

The theory of much of what I have written is pretty common knowledge these days. The Discovery channel and others present documentaries about how these giant plates; the Pacific Plate, the African Plate and so on, are rolling around the earth. These giant plates are, in fact, “cratons”, meaning they are composed of lots of smaller plates that seem to have permanently joined together; the completed parts of a jigsaw puzzle, if you like. It is where the constituent plates rub against each other that we get seismic activity like earthquakes and volcanoes.

Iberia swivels under France to open up the Bay of Biscay.

For many millions of years the Amorica-Iberian landmass had formed a bridge between Northern Laurasia and Southern Gondwana. About 120 years ago they made their choice and Amorica, with its twin, became a craton of Eurasia. But the forces that had split North America away, first a volcanic rift then the spread of the Atlantic ocean, were pulling on Iberia and the clockwise motion of Eurasia was pulling on Amorica. Eventually they swung apart, but hinged at their southern extremity. This is the, literal, twist in the tail. As Amorica moved north and clockwise, Iberia twisted anticlockwise under it. The resulting gap opened to become the Bay of Biscay and about 65 million years ago, when the Iberian swing terminated by crashing into  southern France, the beginnings of the Pyrenees were formed.

 NASA photograph of the Pyrenees. Notice the compression folds as Iberia was pushed into Armorica.

A glance at the geological map above shows the continuation of the north-south oriented western Iberian mountains continuing oriented east-west in Brittany and Normandy in northern France. Geologists have used paleomagnetism, a technique that indicates the original  magnetic orientation of rocks when they were formed.  I used to think the similarity between those two parts of Europe was their love of cider, but it obviously goes much deeper – and further back – than that!

Europe basically had now taken the shape we are familiar with.

But things did not stop there. Africa, divested of south America, India, Antarctica, continued, and continues, to move north, still pushing into Europe.  With Europe now more or less in its current position this northern movement of Africa exerted such pressure that ridges of mountains were formed all over the place. The mechanism is known as the “Alpine Orogeny” (mountain building) and, obviously, the European Alps are its main manifestation, but it is responsible for the rolling south downs of England, the Apennines in  Italy and the Atlas mountains in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. In Spain this action is responsible for the Cantabrian mountains, including the Picos de Europa in Asturias and the Sierra Nevada in Andalucía.

 The black lines represent the fold lines, showing how Iberia was squeezed while the plate rotated in its travels.

Squeezed at both ends the centre of Spain buckled like a sheet of paper. Mountain ranges rose, then collapsed. There is evidence that much of this time was spent below sea-level, with the peaks of the ranges existing as island chains. Signs of this are shown in layers of sedimentary rock around the slopes of the Guadarrama chain in the central system, but not at their summits. And the “Plate” of Iberia is also a craton, made up of smaller plates. It is through such a gap between plates that the Granite mass of the Pedriza finally pushed its way to the surface – and beyond – around 25 million years ago – hundreds of millions of years after it originally formed.

 Elevation model of the central system and it's location on a general map of the Iberian peninsular. Notice how the land is raised higher to the north of the mountain range.

The Tethys sea had completely closed up at its eastern end by the land masses of India and the Arabian plate, what we now call the middle east. What’s left of that early sea is the Mediterranean. By any standard the Mediterranean is a substantial body of water. It has a surface area of 2.5 million square kilometres, an average depth of 1500 metres. It nearly 3000 kilometres from end to end and around a thousand wide, not including its sub seas; the Adriatic, the Aegean and so on. It borders 21 countries and has many important sea routes.

Imagine it empty.

Slightly less than 6 million years ago that happened. In an event named the “Messinian Salinity”,  after the city of Messina in Sicily. Africa’s relentless push actually closed the access of the Atlantic through the straits of Gibraltar. Within a thousand years, apart from a few very salty lakes, some more than 3Km below present day sea levels, the Mediterranean was dry. And it stayed that way for nearly 700,000 years! The fossil record shows evidence that animals used the dried up sea bed to migrate between the two continents.  The mineral record, achieved by studying core drilling samples show typical shore line mineralogy from the sea bed hundreds of kilometres from modern day shorelines.

Almost as abruptly, in geological time-speak, as it had begun, 5.3 million years ago, due to yet more geological shifting, waters once again poured through the straits in an event called the Zanclean Flood. Zanclean is the name geologists give to that era which begins the modern geological age. Geological studies show that the straits of Gibraltar were not the only water course open. There was one through Morocco and another across the Betic Plain, around modern day Seville. (Think Betis football club!)

 These carried water of a much higher volume than is carried over Niagara Falls today, and over a drop of several kilometres. Some scientists have proposed that the rate of flow was as much as a billion cubic metres per second and the Mediterranean refilled in as little as a few months to two years, with water levels rising ten metres a day. (To compare: Niagara’s rate of flow is just under 2000 cubic metres per second.) However, Niagara’s waters come from the narrow confines of the Niagara river, the waters pouring into the Mediterranean had the force of the entire Atlantic ocean behind them.

Of course, that was not the end of Spanish seismic activity. Since written records began there has been a long history of seismic destruction. To mention the more famous – or infamous, there is the Lisbon earthquake of 1775. It struck in the morning of All Saints day, November the 1st. Its six and a half minute duration caused huge fissures to open up in the city centre and the sea water receded from the harbour revealing long forgotten wrecks.  Forty five minutes later the water returned as a tsunami. Estimates tell of between 60,000 to 100,000 dead and the complete destruction of the city.

 These staples were used to repair a crack in the Church in La Alberca, Salamanca. The crack opened after shock waves from the Lisbon earthquake reached the town. La Alberca is some 330 km distant from Lisbon.

In 1884 the town of Arenas de Rey was struck by an earthquake reckoned to be around 7 on the Richter Scale. Eight hundred people were killed and a further 1500 injured. 14,000 homes were destroyed.

I take no joy from the fact that, following reading a few reports, I posted on my Facebook page on May 1st this year that Spain could expect a major earthquake “soon”. Twelve days later the town of Lorca was rocked by a severe earthquake that killed eight, injured many and rendered many families homeless.

Earthquakes, having been part of my life for so many years, means that I often get asked to speak about them. By coincidence, I was doing just that on the 12th of August 2007 when news came in that there had been a mild(ish) earthquake in Ciudad Real.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. I monitor the website of the Spanish geographic institute which reports on all quakes around the Iberian Peninsular. You can see it here

That’s the downside of living on top of active geology. The advantages have been enormous. Spain’s mineral wealth is huge. The chemical reactions that occur within molten rock produce some useful stuff, like gold (4000kgs annually), silver (20,000kgs annually), feldspar (600,000 tons annually – that’s what all that granite gives you, as well as expensive kitchen tops) and of course historically Spain has been the world’s number one producer of Mercury from the mines at Almadén, which have produced 250,000 tons since Roman times.

The carboniferous era laid down coal in Galicia and Asturias. Current reserves suggest there is 530 million tons waiting to be mined, but apparently the work there is difficult. The damned geology gets in the way! Erosion of rock over the millennia has led to Spain being pretty much self-sufficient in sand and gravel, and the limestone deposits means that cement production is nearly all home grown. Years of shallow submergence, particularly during the Messinian salinity has given Spain untold quantities of gypsum. If you look at the map of the Messianian refilling above you will see the town of Sorbas marked. The Mediterranean used to flood and then recede in this shoreline area, leaving behind each time more minerals, known as evaporates (for obvious reasons), including gypsum,  that would later be mined. Used in building everywhere (plaster walls and ceilings, fairground plaster of Paris statuettes!) Spain is Europe’s largest producer and the second largest in the world.

There’s iron, bauxite, and a long list of other minor stuff. Not much oil sadly. Some oil shale which kept the power stations of Spain running for many years  and a small field off the coast of Cantabridgia.

And all that mountain building has given Spain super fertile slopes for grapes and olives, not to mention the skiing. After Switzerland, Spain is the most mountainous country in Europe.

The continents will keep moving. Some think that Iberia will become so squashed by Africa’s relentless push that it will be squeezed out into the Atlantic like a geological zit. Perhaps it will become an island drifting who knows where. I read one report that suggested in 30 million years it will be somewhere near where Iceland is now. That’s a long time. You don’t have to pack the winter wear just yet, but enjoy the ride!

Just as a serendipitous postscript I was amused to find a shop specialising in "Geological Jewellery" (if there is such a thing!). Many long eJstablished businesses like to boast of their year of foundation. They are never going to beat this place.   
Find decorative geodes, fossil fashion, minerals and meteorites 72, C/Hermosilla. (Near Goya metro.)

Friday 1 July 2011

Madrid's River Manzanares. Where it begins....

Or Out of the frying pan and into the Fridge,
By Richard Morley.

When I wrote, a couple of posts ago, about Madrid’s new park running alongside the Manzanares River as it lazily glides though the city, I gave little thought to where that water came from. Like the crowds happily picnicking on the river banks in Goya’s famous painting above, I was quite happy to spend a cool evening beside the cool water.

Not many days later and Madrid stopped having cool evenings. The numbers on the electronic temperature displays at the bus stops climbed way up into the thirties and refuse to come down. Madrid is hot and sticky. The washing machine seems to be continuously on, removing the perspiration from several shirts a day, with the shower doing the same thing from my body. (I wish the guy on the Metro this morning had followed my example. It must have been yesterdays shirt. What a stink!)

Last week one of my students injured himself playing football and limped into Monday’s lesson wincing as he walked. On Tuesday he called and cancelled, claiming his ankle needed the expertise of a doctor. And so, with a free evening ahead, a friend suggested an escape to Madrid’s northerly mountains.

Now I like a walk in the hills, but I should have smelled a rat when she also suggested that I bring my swimming trunks.

By six that evening we had parked the car in an almost deserted car park in the Parque Regional de la Cuenca Alta del Manzanares, a nature reserve high in the Guadarrama mountains, recognised by UNESCO for its unique biological heritage and overlooked by La Pedriza, a huge granite uplift that dominates the region.

Geologically speaking, the Spanish word “Cuenca” means valley or bowl. Hence the town of Cuenca, which has nothing to do with this post, but where houses precariously hang from cliffs over-looking a deep valley. In the case of the Parque Regional de la Cuenca Alta del Manzanares, the “bowl” here signifies the confluence of several small streams into one main river valley which officially becomes the Manzanares river.

On the drive up to the parque I took in the scene of boulder strewn slopes and thought that at sometime in the past something pretty serious had happened to the geology. Granite is an igneous rock, spewed out by volcanoes, and here was several cubic kilometres of it. In places the granite was fissures and the cracks were filled with black basalt, again of volcanic production, and then it had been uplifted and split asunder. The area would have been pretty uninhabitable at the time. Now the parque is a peaceful retreat from the heat and bustle of the city. A place of shady pines and scented bushes, riverside walks and picnic spots. And, my friend told me, of places to bathe in the cooling water.

We left the car and strolled down the slope to the river. A handy sign informs you or where you are and what you can see. Beyond, a narrow wooden bridge, half submerged in the shadows of high tree – don’t ask me what they are, I am no botanist – led us across a narrow stream that tripped lightly over a few rocks and a fallen tree trunk.

A pretty little river I thought. But as we progressed up stream the rocks became boulders, the trickle turned into competing flows of white water. There was a water fall around every bend, and behind each fall a pool where people picnicked and splashed in the water.

Now, if you were to dip a toe into the waters of the Manzanares as it meanders though the city you might remark that the water is “refreshing”. But when the water reaches the city it is well on its way along its eighty-three kilometre journey from its source to where it joins the Jarama river. Yes, the “mighty Manzanares” is but the tributary of another. On the first half of its journey it has had time to relax under the warming sun while it dawdled in the Santillana reservoir, near the town of Manzanares de Real, and then slowly tumble along its lazy route, past courses for golf and horse racing, into the city.

 Cooling off in the cold, cold waters.

Up near its source, in the Parque Regional de la Cuenca Alta del Manzanares, the water is not “refreshing” but BLOODY FREEZING. A few degrees cooler and those sparkling water trickles would be icicles. It is not many days since the tumbling water of the Manzanares headwaters was snow peacefully at rest on the peaks of the Guadarrama mountains. Then summer arrived and raising the temperature by not very much sent the snowmelt in a raging torrent over the granite boulders where it splashed and tumbled, eddied and pooled as it squeezed through the rocks.

 A local resident basks in the evening sun.

Still unaware of just how cold this snowmelt was, as my friend and I walked along the river banks under a burning sun from a cloudless blue sky, I looked on with envy as groups of family and friends paddled and splashed in the water. The car park we had used was not the only one. My friend stopped a passing dog walker and asked him how far up river did the picnics and pool parties continue. He laughed sardonically, remarking that on a Tuesday evening he had hopes of having the woods and banks to himself, but that he thought most of Madrid, us included I suppose, had come out to spoil his evening.
 Going ...... going ........ soon to be gone. A boulder balances precariously over the river bank.

My friend remarked how nice it was to be able to walk unencumbered with a back-pack through the shady woods. I, being a gentleman, had volunteered to carry the back pack and grunted that I was happy for her. A language difference means that irony sometimes gets lost in translation!

The open and flattish woodland walk soon gave way to a more rugged and narrower path. There were cracks to be squeezed though, boulders requiring giant steps to surmount, sticky, snagging bushes to circumvent. All the while the laughter and joy of those who had already found their little pool of paradise rose up from the river.

Eventually we found an empty spot. A place of washed pink granite, known appropriately as Rose Granite, that had been eroded over millennia into broad, smooth beds which the acrobatic water washed with sporadic waves. We changed into our swimming stuff and dipped a toe in the water.

I shall not record the first word I used. Children might read this! Suffice it to say the coldness of the water came as a surprise. The second surprise was that the smoothness of the eroded rock allowed for no grip and I slid into the water. My friend was greatly amused by this, until the same thing happened to her and it took us a while to scramble back on to dry rock, which, compared to the water, was positively hot. Half on and half off the rocks we dangled our feet in the water. We had possibly walked four or five kilometres so the cold water gurgling though our toes was a welcome relief. Later, now with anticipation than ignorance, we let the water console more of our bodies.

 A couple of degrees less .....and this would be an icicle!!!

From the backpack she produced tortilla and bread and something to drink. Like others in their own personal paradises along the river bank we let all thoughts of hot and sweaty Madrid pass from our minds.

Walking back, with the sun casting long shadows and dappling the wood floor with light and shade, we noticed birds hovering on thermals over the Pedriza. The mountains here claim the title of the largest expanse of Granite in Europe.

On the way from Madrid I thought I was being clever and spotted the shape of a face in the rocks. My friend gave me that look which means I will for ever be a guiri and remarked that gazing at the slopes of the Pedriza is like observing shapes in the flames of a fire. She pointed out a tortoise, a helmet, which is what this particular peak, El Yelmo, is named for, and even a mammoth, while above us the rock formation known as the Canchos de los Muertos contemplated the living below.

I am told that there are nearly a thousand different routes for hill walkers and rock climbers within the thirty two square kilometres of the Pedriza. I had already had enough exercise for one day and the only exercise I was now contemplating was raising a glass or two of cold beer.

This was achieved after we drove out of the park into the small town of Manzanares el Real where stands a real medieval castle and a church tower swarming with storks.

Below that tower, in a small plaza, lay a bar. Around me kids, lots of kids, probably something to do with the storks, played in the plaza. A beer sat in front of me - but not for long!!

Now that was paradise.