Tales from a Spanish Village – Churchbells, Choking…and Far Too Much H20!

Our village is so tiny that there are only a handful of permanent residents. Uncle Felix, a retired goatherd who shares his cottage with his beloved mule and two chickens. Ancient Marcia who runs a shop selling sweets, beer and cigarettes and very little else. Geronimo, a gentle, football-mad kind of village policeman who enjoys his beer perhaps a little too much. And us.

Well, New Year’s Eve was interesting. The village was filled with people enjoying the holiday and getting away from their city lives. The Spanish have this tradition where you are expected to swallow one grape every time the clock strikes at the midnight hour. Each chime, and grape eaten, will bring luck in the coming twelve months of the year. So Joe and I walked down to the church at midnight as usual, clutching our twelve (seedless) grapes.If you’ve read ‘Chickens’, you’ll know our church clock is rather erratic. It usually chimes twice, so at midnight it’ll chime 24 times. Sometimes it doesn’t chime at all. At midnight, Marcia, Uncle Felix, Geronimo, all the villagers, Joe and myself waited with baited breath, grapes poised.


Geronimo was obviously expecting this hitch, so he began to climb up the rickety ladder to the church tower. We all watched, the village ladies ooohing and aahing as he climbed, Joe and I worrying about how much beer he had consumed earlier.

Well, Geronimo had obviously done this many times before. When he reached the bell, he drew out a hammer from his back pocket. Twelve times he clanged the bell, so loudly that it reverberated round the valley, echoing as it bounced off the mountains. The grape ritual began. I choked on grape number 6 and had to be slapped on the back by Paco, our next door neighbour. Joe got off to a good start but only managed 10.

After the usual round of cheers, kisses, hugs and ‘Happy New Year!’ we wandered back home, Joe still complaining that Geronimo had rung the chimes too fast. Looking back over our shoulders, we could see Geronimo’s silhouette against the night sky, high up in the church tower, taking a hefty swig from his beer bottle.

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And so began 2010.

Forgive me for talking about the weather, but I’m British so should be excused. We were lucky with the weather for New Year’s Eve but the heavens hadn’t been kind to us in December. A few days before Christmas – it started. Rain. Not just rain, but torrents, bucketing out of the sky, hour after hour, day after day. We’ve never seen rain like it in our five years in the village; it just poured…

Now, I know that the UK has really suffered recently from heavy snow, but that is no consolation for the Spanish skies opening and pouring on us for such a long time. Spanish TV showed the floods that were ruining people’s homes, the impassible roads, the mudslides.

Around our village, waterfalls that had never existed before began to spurt enthusiastically out of the mountains. Water coursed down the roads and dry streams became lively rivers. Our poor chickens waded around in thick mud, although it didn’t seem to bother them. The sky turned black, the sun trying hard to penetrate but not succeeding.

The first photo (on the right) shows a local mountain view and was taken, not at night, but at 3 o’clock in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. The second photo shows a brand new river that is coursing through the village where there’s only ever been a dry gully before. I took the photo standing on the little bridge leading into the village. Notice the trees midstream.

Then we made an important discovery. Our roof leaks. Water ran down our dining room wall. Joe and I rescued the bookcase then rushed around collecting buckets, pots and pans to catch the water. This continued for days. When Paco, our next door neighbour came up for the weekend, we showed him. Paco shrugged. “All Spanish roofs leak,” he said, as though that was common knowledge. Do they? We didn’t know that. So we carried on mopping and emptying our saucepans. It’s strange how you become accustomed to things; after a few days the ‘drip…drip’ became just a background sound. In fact the drips were often quite musical…

When we finally emerged from our house to go shopping, we very nearly didn’t make it. The only road into the village has never been good, but the constant rain had ensured that it became much worse. Massive boulders had broken away from the rock face and rolled down, blocking the road. Luckily, someone had pushed them aside into a pile (Perhaps Geronimo with Uncle Felix and his mule?) leaving just enough room for a car to pass. A little nerve-racking as there is a sheer drop on the other side. But we made it safely down the mountain to the shops to get our groceries.

And finally, while we are discussing the holiday period, I’d like to suggest a business opportunity for somebody.

Although the Spanish don’t exchange presents on Christmas Day, we always give our Spanish friends their gifts on the 25th, the English way. Paco was pleased with his brandy, Carmen-Bethina with her bits and pieces and Little Paco loved his microscope. But the present they liked best of all? The big box of crackers brought over by the Gin Twins in October.

Somebody should start selling crackers in Spain; they’d make a fortune.

My Recipe of the Month – Chorizo Braised in Red Wine

The Spanish chorizo is a highly versatile sausage that comes in many forms; chorizo extra, chorizo duro, chorizo picante, ‘fire’ chorizo… The chorizo makes ideal tapas and can also add a real Spanish twist to an abundance of recipes. Here is something very tasty and very simple – spicy chorizo braised in red wine.

You will need:

6 cured chorizo sausages
1 bottle of red wine (such as Rioja)
5 garlic cloves (crushed)
Handful of oregano
Tablespoon of lemon zest
Black pepper


– Place all of the ingredients in a large terracotta cazuela.
– Pour in the wine so that the chorizo sausages are half to two thirds submerged.
– Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer.
– Turn over the chorizos and continue to cook for 12 – 15 minutes.
– Once cooked, cut the chorizo into segments and place on cocktail sticks ready to serve.

Delicious Spanish tapas full of earthy flavour!

Makes 10 – 12 tapas

(Recipe courtesy of www.OrceSerranoHams.com)

Victoria is the author of 'Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools' (available at Amazon UK or Amazon USA) and 'Two Old Fools – Olé' (also available at Amazon UK or Amazon USA)

“a charming and funny expat tale” The Telegraph (UK)
“Weeks later you will be doing the dishes and recall some fleeting scene with chickens or mules or two old fools and laugh out loud all over again.” The Catalunya Chronicle

Contact Victoria by email on TopHen@VictoriaTwead.com or via her website at www.victoriatwead.com

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