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Our Andalucian paradise

My husband and I had lived in Mexico City, LA, Paris, Guadalajara, Oslo, Montreal and Vancouver. On a rainy November night we moved to a small town an hour inland from Malaga. 'Our Andalusian paradise' is about the historical town of Ronda, the mountains that surrounds it, the white villages dotted amongst them, of hikes, donkey trails and excursions around Andalucía and journeys further afield.

Ode to the smile
06 July 2021

Oskar's grin. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Oskar's grin. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Imagine if you were a baby that was born in the past year and a half. Certainly, here in Spain all you would have seen on the street in your short life would have been masked people on the street. Anyone who leaned over your stroller with sparkling eyes, cooing noises and exaggerated baby talk, would have worn something covering their mouth and nose.  Apart from your own family household, you would generally have seen only masked humans and therefore, quite naturally have believed that is what humanity looked like. Other than the occasional terrible mask with a grotesque Joker smile or a grinning shark jaw, the mouth and the human smile would have been veritably unknown to you.

Imagine then the utter shock when suddenly one day – for us in Spain on the 26th of June – all of a sudden everyone was allowed to walk outside amongst other people without covering their mouth and nose. You would sit there in your stroller with wide eyes, totally flabbergasted, wondering what in heavens name had happened.

 

What’s that?!? Photo © Karethe Linaae
What’s that?!? Photo © Karethe Linaae


Where did suddenly all those strange, moving mouths and lips come from? Why could you hear the voices of this mumbling nation so much better than before? Would you have been scared? Or would you perhaps have thought: Gosh, golly, look at that! Fancy that there are more people than mum and dad who have openings and gaps in their faces!

It is completely incredible what we can get used to. During the first few days of being allowed to go outside on the street without a mask, I felt totally naked. Just as if I had forgotten to put clothes on or left my bag at home. Something was definitively not right. It felt very odd!


Too much carbon dioxide? Photo © Karethe Linaae
Too much carbon dioxide? Photo © Karethe Linaae


All the same, I can guarantee that most of us have thanked the higher powers for the gift of finally being able to get rid of our masks. I say getting rid of, but that is not entirely true. First, we still need to wear them when we are indoors in public places, and perhaps more importantly, none of us really knows what the future will bring. What happens even over the next few months is a big unknown. Many surely have, like I, dreamt of burning their masks in a vast communal bonfire, but with the situation being as it is, I will instead wash and fold the most comfortable and stylish of my now quite extensive mask repertoire, and store them. They will be put away like the winter clothes, ready for another day, just in case…


Masks drying in the summer breeze. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Masks drying in the summer breeze. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

But let’s forget about the masks. It is time for a tribute!

What a true joy it is to be able to see the faces of people on the streets again! I mean the entire face – nose, cheeks, mouth, chin, and skin with freckles and scars and all the lovely wrinkles that appear when people smile. What an utter blessing it is to be able to take deep profound breaths way down into our lungs, and exhale fully without having to breathe through 3 layers of synthetic cloth or a chemical smelling paper surgical mask - all which prevented us from taking a free breath of air while covering almost our entire faces.

 

Oh joy! Photo © Karethe Linaae
Oh joy! Photo © Karethe Linaae


It cannot be healthy for one to breathe in one’s own recycled air either. In fact, a German study by JAMA Pediatrics from June of this year says that school children who wore masks all day received a significant increased level of carbon dioxide, in fact much higher than what the German Federal Environmental Office deems acceptable.  

So, thank goodness, no more masks outside. What freedom and relief! It is enough to make me yodel with joy!

I had almost forgotten, but now that I can see them again – is there anything more beautiful and personal than the mouth? Yes, we can wrinkle our nose, inflate our cheeks, and maybe wiggle our ears, but that is nothing compared to our mouth. For me, the mouth is the most incredibly expressive sensory organ that we possess. Just think about a stunned, crying, laughing or furious mouth. Without the masks, we can now finally see how people are feeling again. Because if it is true that the eyes are the mirror of the soul, then our mouth is the mirror of our emotions. 


The wonderful mouth. Photo © Karethe Linaae
The wonderful mouth. Photo © Karethe Linaae


The mouth simultaneously holds the trump card of all trump cards – the most beautiful, contagious, and universal of all human forms of expression – the smile! A smile can foster peace and understanding and open gates and hearts across cultures, religious and national borders. So now that you can, remember to SMILE! 

 

Smile tattoo. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Smile tattoo. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Recall the lovely melody that Charlie Chaplin composed in 1936, which John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons wrote the lyrics for, and that Nat King Cole made famous in a performance in 1954:

 

 

You'll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just
smile

 

Smile and the world smiles back at you. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Smile and the world smiles back at you. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 



Like 6        Published at 09:34   Comments (1)


Having a heart in two countries
10 June 2021

Looner, Norway. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Loner, Norway. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The other day my son sent me a WhatsApp video from Norway. He was out running by the Oslo fjord and had stopped on a bridge to film the view. Far below, I could see the water that I had sailed on so many times with my late father, the Norwegian coastline, the granite cliffs worn smooth by the salt sea, and the scattering of quaint red and white wooden summer houses by the sparkling North Sea. It was so incredibly beautiful and so completely Norwegian that I was filled with a sense of deep longing.

 

Midsummernight. Norway. Photo © Karethe Linaae.
Midsummer night, Norway. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Obviously we have spring here in Andalucía as well, which is undoubtably beautiful. But spring in Norway is something very special to me. There is the joy and vitality people feel when the winter is finally starting to loosen its grip. This is something the Andalusians likely will never experience, and can therefore never begin to fathom. Regardless of how far or for how long we have been away from ‘home’, certainly speaking for myself and my kinsmen, we will always have a heart string tied up back at one fjord of another.


Looner, Norway. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Coast, Norway. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Coast, Spain. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Coast, Spain. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Norway is after all, if not our homeland anymore, our birthplace. For us who have now lived longer away elsewhere, like a compass, we will always feel a certain pull towards the north. I may speak out of hand here, but in my experience, it is almost a fact. Let’s take Spain for example. In spite of how fond we Norse men and women who live here are of our adoptive home country, and how much we enjoy the Spanish light, sun, tapas, wines, olives, music, flowers and the Mediterranean lifestyle, part of our heart still belongs to Norway - cold, snowy, sleety, dark, stormy and all! 

 

Sheep on the road, Norway. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Sheep on the road, Norway. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Sheep on the road, Spain. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Sheep on the road, Spain. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The Norwegian national anthem begins with the words “Yes, we love this land”, but some of us do not only love this land, but others as well.

 

Wheat field, Norway. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Wheat field, Norway. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Sunflower field, Spain. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Sunflower field, Spain. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

I have heard people who live abroad speaking about how split they feel having two home countries. But having a ‘divided’ heart doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.

 

Wall, Norway. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Wall, Norway. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Wall, Spain. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Wall, Spain. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Instead of seeing it as something negative and destructive, isn’t it preferrable to see ourselves as having a heart that has room for both, or all, our home countries, wherever we have happened to hang our hats?


Colours, Norway. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Colours, Norway. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Colours, Spain. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Colours, Spain. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Even if at times our homesickness can be almost painful, it is still a true privilege to be able to live and create a home base across country borders. So if you, like I, at times long for your original homeland, do so with joy. It is OK to have your heart in two countries.


Between islands, Photo © Karethe Linaae
Between islands. Photo © Karethe Linaae



Like 4        Published at 12:57   Comments (2)


The classic art of cordobese leather - 1000 years in the making
19 May 2021

Detail, Casa del Guadamecí Omeya in Córdoba. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Detail, Casa del Guadamecí Omeya in Córdoba. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

Imagine walking into a French palace back in the 16th Century, the golden age of leatherwork, and coming upon a dancehall lined with brightly shining polychrome gilt-leather panels with the most amazing intricate botanical and geometrical designs. The decor appears to be something out of 1001 Arabian Nights or a magical fairy tale, but in fact these wallcoverings are imported from Andalucía.

Spain is world-renowned for its fine leatherwork, but there is one place that still and always will stand out from the rest - Córdoba. So let us take a visit to the city with the world-famous mosque and learn more about Córdoba’s leather art, both in the past and present.

 

Antique chest, Casa del Guadamecí Omeya. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Antique chest, Casa del Guadamecí Omeya. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

Leather has been used by mankind since time immemorial, but the Arabs introduced more sophisticated artistic leather work to Spain in the 7th Century AD. The oldest form of Córdoba leather art, called Guadamecí or Omeya, was developed in the city during the Muslim Caliphate of the 10th Century.

Many such ancient art forms have been lost, but thanks to a couple of Córdoba leather artist families, the Guadamecí leather art techniques and the later Cordobán leather embossment techniques, have managed to survive.

 


Guadamecí Omeya - 10th Century Islamic leather art


Casa del Guadamecí Omeya. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Casa del Guadamecí Omeya. Photo © Karethe Linaae


José Carlos Villarejo García (www.josecarlosvillarejo.com) may currently be the only person in the world who dedicates his life exclusively to studying and making Islamic Guadamecí leather art. He was taught by his uncle Ramón García Romero, who through archival material managed to discover and reconstruct the city’s ancient Caliphal techniques that had been lost for centuries.


Detail. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Detail. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

“I have the honour of being the only remaining artist to continue this splendorous artistic expression, maintaining the original beauty, philosophy, luxury and refinement of the art,” says the award-winning artist. “Guadamecí creations transport us back in time while reflecting the appreciation of beauty in all its forms, above all geometrical. Other designs represent nature and allows us to imagine our entry into the Eternal Garden.”


Guadamecí chest. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Guadamecí chest. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Guadamecí leather art is made from only the highest quality naturally tanned sheep hides.   The technique requires applying a thin film of silver or vermillion onto the leather, before polychrome paint is applied with microscopic accuracy. Since this type of art is clearly aesthetic, it is mostly used for luxury items, like decorative wall hangings, upholstery and screens.

To really appreciate Guadamecí art, stop at the Casa del Guadamecí Omeya in Córdoba’s historic centre. The museum and store display both historical and recent pieces made by José Carlos Villarejo García. Amongst the most amazing pieces on show are several small chests and an absolutely sublime guest book that combines both Guadamecí and Cordobán embossment arts.

Guestbook with Guadanecí and Cordobán tecniques. Casa del Guadamecí Omeya in Córdoba. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Guestbook with Guadanecí and Cordobán tecniques. Photo © Karethe Linaae


For more information, go to www.artesobrepiel.com
 

 

The development of ‘Cueros de Córdoba’

Detail of old door panel. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Detail of old door panel. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

After the Reconquista of Spain in the 14th and 15th Centuries, some of the trained Spaniards and converted Muslims continued producing Mudejar style leathercraft. Later, Western art movements such as Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles influenced Spanish leather art, which became simpler and more utilitarian with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution.


Tooled leather chair from museum at Meryan in Córdoba. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Tooled leather chair from museum at Meryan in Córdoba. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The ‘Cueros de Córdoba’ spread across Europe and into the colonies of the Americas, but the most prestigious artists and best products still came from the city of Córdoba, which was universally also famed for producing the best shoes that money could buy. As early as 1578, the Córdoba City Council forbade anyone outside their guild to work with leather. The decree was approved by the King, and guild members had a stamp with the city’s coat of arms that they applied to mark the leather to stop the production of inferior imitations.

Leather working tools. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Leather working tools. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Cordobán leather art

The other type of Córdoba leather art is called Cordobán. Which is closer to the style we generally associate with the Spanish leather art of today. The technique usually uses high-quality goats hide, for its flexibility, suppleness, strength and durability. The hides are tanned with sumac, which gives superior results than tanning with oak or pine bark.

Carlos demonstrates Cordobán leather art, Meryan. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Carlos demonstrates Cordobán leather art, Meryan. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Demonstrations of the Cordobán process can be observed at another local leather workshop and museum near Córdoba’s famed Mesquita. Meryan leather art is a third-generation family business with a workshop dedicated to producing handmade and traditional Córdoba leather.

“The hides are always worked when they are humid. The techniques are essentially the same as in the past, and everything is still done by hand,” explains Carlos, one of their leather artists. To create a pattern or a picture, a drawing is traced onto a piece of leather. Then the real work begins - the painstaking carving, pushing and shaping the leather through various techniques such as 3D embossing, using iron stamps and bevellers, colouring, making incisions, metallizing, mosaic work, casting or branding of the leather with a heated object.

Leather tools, Meryan in Córdoba. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Leather tools, Meryan in Córdoba. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Besides observing the artists and being able to purchase some of their fine work, do not miss Meryan’s impressive museum, with rooms and courtyards displaying a wide selection of classic decorated leather furniture, a leather chess board and some ancient leather tapestries that probably belonged in a fort or a palace of the past.

Leather chess board, Meryan. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Leather chess board, Meryan. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Meryan’s leather art have received numerous awards and been featured in international media, such as the New York Times and National Geographic. For more information, please go to www.meryancor.com


Meryan museum, Córdoba. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Meryan museum, Córdoba. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The beauty of the crafted leatherwork is timeless and is yet another incentive to visit the historic and vibrant city of Córdoba.

Cordobán work at Casa del Guadamecí Omeya in Córdoba. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Cordobán work at Casa del Guadamecí Omeya in Córdoba. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

 

 


Like 2        Published at 16:30   Comments (3)


Once upon a time - Love in the time of Corona
13 May 2021

Wrapped up. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Wrapped up. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Now that we might soon be able to talk about the Corona virus in the past tense, it is time to reflect on how this global pandemic affected our love lives. 

If ‘Love in the time of Cholera’ had its challenges, I can assure you that ‘Love in the time of Corona’ did likewise. While people still fell in love during Covid-19, one may ask how deep was their love? Can one really be sure that the person one meets at a 1.5-meter Covid-safe distance will be one’s great love mate for life? If the tender words of affection uttered through three layers of a surgical mask really have the same affect? And can the pheromones that our bodies omit to potential lovers get past the smell of our hand sanitizers? How can interpersonal attraction develop with all these security measures around? I am merely asking the questions here…

 

The thinker. Photo © Karethe Linaae
The thinker. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The Corona pandemic has had a profound impact on national demographics. Spain where we live saw record highs for deaths and new lows for marriages last year. Not since the Civil War in the 1930s or the so-called Spanish Flu in the 1920s (which really wasn’t very Spanish), did we see similar profound effects on population statistics. And as expected, the birth rates took a nose-dive as well.

New life. Photo © Karethe Linaae
New life. Photo © Karethe Linaae


While deaths increased by almost 20%, which is remarkable it itself, the real mindboggling statistics were the weddings, which fell by over 60% in 2020. We are talking about the most common public manifestation of love, which by and large were cancelled. Why might one ask? Was it because people couldn’t have the usual grand wedding fiestas, or maybe because the time of Corona was not a time for new love?


In white. Photo © Karethe Linaae
In white. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

But what about people who were already married and shacked up? How did Corona affect their lovelife?

 

The outsider. Photo © Karethe Linaae
The outsider. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

On the plus side, people had more time for ‘hanky panky’. This was clearly noted in the sex-toy industry. While most businesses suffered during the pandemic, the sales of sex toys grew exponentially. As people couldn’t have fun outside their homes, they had to become more innovative inside their homes - and bedrooms. Denmark’s online sex toys sales doubled during the first few months of the pandemic, while ‘kinky’ UK lingerie producers saw similar hikes in sales.


I'm a Barbie girl. Photo © Karethe Linaae
I'm a Barbie girl. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

But all was not fun and games. Confinement can also have many negative effects on couples.  

In the first lockdown when we all watched or shared stories on social media, a UK actress recorded her ‘secret’, yet very public, Facebook video-diary. She mostly shared her frustration about her husband who just sat in front of the telly all day. She shared this with her hordes of online closet friends rather than with the person she had the issue with. Every day she taped herself inside different closets and under stairs in a state of increasing fury, whispering her disgust to her online followers, who could not have included her spouse. I finally lost interest in following her love-turned-to-hate drama, but hope they survived the pandemic. If not, she was not alone.

 

Closed inside. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Closed inside. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The still primarily Catholic Spain has one of EUs highest divorce rates, with close to 60% of marriages ending in separation or divorce. Not surprisingly, the pandemic only accentuated this trend, as couples were forced to be cooped up together during extended lockdowns. Involuntary confinement can generally do one of two things - it brings out old wounds and highlights problems, or it makes your love stronger. In many cases it led to divorces. According to the Italian National Divorce Association, the country’s divorce rates grew by 60% in 2020. Too much pasta and not enough patience?

 

The husband, from painting in Ronda restaurant. Photo © Karethe Linaae
The husband, from painting in Ronda restaurant. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Now for the real serious facts. The pandemic saw increasing rates of domestic violence all across EU. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), women usually face most danger from people they know. Though every country in the EU introduced special measures to protect women from intimate partner violence during the pandemic, shelters and domestic violence hotlines did not always have the funding to provide the support needed.

 

Anger. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Anger. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The added stress of being confined can make abusers more volatile, while the increased privacy of a lockdown will allow them to continue with less chance of being detected. On the other hand, the victims feel a double threat during a pandemic, fearing the aggressor indoors and the virus outside.

 

Window, Amsterdam. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Window, Amsterdam. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

France saw a 30% increase of abuse cases in 2020, and even more in urban centres. What is called ‘silent requests’ for help (usually email or SMS) by abused women went up by 286% in the first 2 weeks of lockdown in Spain. In the Canary Islands a secret code was developed where women who were victims of family violence could go to any pharmacy and ask for a ‘Mask 19’, and the pharmacy would contact the emergency services on their behalf. Mask 19 has now been adopted across Spain, as well as in other countries, including France, Italy, Germany, Argentina and Norway. 

 

Fist. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Fist. Photo © Karethe Linaae


I think we can introduce a new expression into the English language:
Trial by Covid.

My son moved in with his girlfriend for the first time just before the pandemic. They not only survived a quarantine together, but also months of being laid off, a landlord from hell, contagion, tests, and an involuntary move while both of them were suffering with Covid. If all of this didn't split them up, what will? I do not have a crystal ball, but now believe their prospects are fairly good.

 

Future awaits. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Future awaits. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Personally, I am pretty much the worst example when it comes to longevity of love and marriage, right behind the American author Erica Young, who in her book Fear of Fifty spoke of her numerous failed marriages. However, my third marriage (though technically I suppose I married four times, but ‘what happens in Venice stays in Venice’) has lasted a surprisingly long time, even through the pandemic. I am not saying we are like turtledoves all the time, and there are times during lockdown that my husband was lucky that I didn’t have a mallet handy, but we are still together. And after having survived nearly three 7-year itches and a global pandemic where we had to spend the first 2 months enclosed 24/7 in our 100 m2 house without tearing each other apart, I'd say that there is hope for us as well.

On we go. Photo © Karethe Linaae
On we go. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

So, for God’s sake, or for Love’s sake, let us hope we soon can speak of this whole phenomenon in the past, and of the distant days when our love survived the Time of Corona! 

 

Light. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Light. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Sources:
El Páis, EU, European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), BBC news, Cision PR Newswire.
Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel García Marquez
Fear of Fifty by Erica Young

 



Like 3        Published at 16:12   Comments (4)


May is for Azar
06 May 2021

Orange tree in bloom. Photo © Karethe LInaae
Orange tree in bloom. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Have you ever been struck by an odour which instantly took you back to a place that you had completely forgotten about? This happens to me quite frequently. I can turn a corner and suddenly I am there as a toddler in the land of the fjords, or as a 23-year-old living in Paris. The instigator to these sudden flashbacks can be anything, just as the memories they might bring – the old knitted Norwegian sweaters in the chest smelling of camphor in my childhood home, a taco-shack in an alley some place in Mexico, a tar-impregned fishing pier on the coast of Sweden, home-baking in my grandma’s kitchen, the two-seater privy at our summer house, or the sweet and smoggy stench of old Delhi.

 

Delhi. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Delhi. Photo © Karethe LInaae

 

Sensory impressions can take us back in time and place, and revive memories that have been in hibernation for years. Even if it doesn’t happen very often anymore, whenever I hear the Bee Gees’ ‘How deep is your love’, I instantly get teleported back to when I was a 16-year-old nervously grasping my clear as day fake ID in the line-up at a disco that is probably long-time gone. (Ok, now arrest me!) The mere look at a bottle of Matheus rosé wine makes my stomach turn, though it is decades since that drunken bout. And when I touch the keys of a piano, my modern ‘compositions’ and slamming-therapy on my parents upright piano come back to me as if it were yesterday.

In many ways, I think that our senses have a better memory than our minds.


Old pier. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Old pier. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Nine years ago this May, I went to heaven for the first time. Well, at least olfactory heaven. We were travelling around Andalucía for a month exploring where we possibly would come back to live when we left Vancouver. We had been recommended Valle Lecrín, a valley district in the Granada province. As we drove through the first orange grove, the scent was so overwhelming that we had to slow down to 20 km/h and open all the windows. As soon as we could, we stopped the car and jumped out, so that we really could indulge our noses in this heavenly sensory experience.

Ever since that day and for all eternity, orange blossom or azar as it is called in Spanish, will for me be synonymous with that day in the Lecrín Valley in May. So, before summer barges in far too fast, perhaps it is time to reflect on your most memorable sensory spring impressions?

Azar heaven.  Photo © Karethe Linaae
Azar heaven.  Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

 



Like 3        Published at 11:17   Comments (3)


Meet Spain’s (only) genuine Norwegian olive farmers
14 April 2021

Raymond, Rebecca and Gimli with their olive trees. Photo © Andre Folkedal
Raymond and Rebecca with tractor in knitted Norwegian sweaters. Photo © Andre Folkedal

 

It is no secret that most Norwegians who live in Spain are pensioners who reside on the sunny Spanish coast. Which is why I admit to getting excited when I meet some of my fellow countrymen who are a tad younger, do something a bit different and who have hung their straw hats in somewhat remoter regions.

One such couple are the Norwegians Rebecca Hermansen and Raymond Bakken. Not only are they ultra-cool, hospitable and still on the right side of 50, but they also run, from what I have been able to discover, Spain’s only Norwegian organic olive farm!

 

Welcome to Finca La Colina

Thank goodness for Google Earth, I think as my husband and I pass the town of Álora and continue up and down on increasingly narrow country roads. To be sure we are on the right track, as we stop at a farm where a pack of rat-faced mutts spill out of every crack in the combined house and barn. The farmer nods and says “Por sí! - Absolutely! Finca La Colina is just at the other side of the valley”. And sure enough, after another steep incline and driving across a nearly dried up creek, we arrive at our destination halfway up the next hill, or colina as it is called in Spanish.

 

Finca la Colina from above. Photo ©Aksel Jermstad
Finca la Colina from above. Photo ©Aksel Jermstad

 

If there is any doubt that we have come to the right place, the smiling hosts appear in home-knitted Norwegian sweaters. She – fair and fresh-faced like a real Norway-ad, and him with a beard that could have given him a supporting role in the TV Series ‘The Vikings’ without having to audition. We recognize them and their wagging tailed dog Gimli from the hand-drawn labels on their Extra Virgin Olive Oil - Made with Love in Spain. Reading the description on the can, one immediately realizes that the couple do not take themselves too seriously: This oil is made bare-chested with the cap on backwards and a brew in one hand. The oil is perfectly suited for salads, frying and baking, but can also be used to attract old Casanovas and ageing ladies in leopard-skin tights.  

 

Olive oil cans with labels by Oda Valle. Photo © Finca la Colina
Olive oil cans with labels by Oda Valle. Photo © Finca la Colina

 

A unique pair

“It took us over a year to find the place” smiles Raymond and says it all started when they rented a car in Italy which they had to return in Spain. They looked for their dream home in Italy, France and Portugal, before they finally arrived in Southern Spain just over 8 years ago. “This is where we have both lived the longest since we left our childhood homes” continues Raymond, who together with Rebecca now manages an 85.000 square-meter property with 1200 olive trees and two guest houses. 

After giving us a tour of the lovely surroundings, we settle on their terrace to get better acquainted while an eagle flies in circles above us. Yes, this is certainly peace and quiet.

 

Olive oil cans with labels by Oda Valle. Photo © Finca la Colina
The smiling Rebecca. Photo © Andre Folkedal

 

REBECCA – Green-fingered guesthouse hostess

Rebecca is from the town of Holmestrand in the Oslo fjord but moved to the capital to study. “I have always moved about a lot, but Oslo was sort of big enough for me as someone who came from little Holmestrand”. After several years with various employers, she met Raymond “He had a shorter beard at that point, but I love bearded men. It is so manly!”.  She quit her job and left for Brazil with Raymond, and here they are now running an olive farm and guesthouse in rural Andalucía.  

 

Olive oil cans with labels by Oda Valle. Photo © Finca la Colina
Finca with tractor at sunrise. Photo ©Andre Folkedal

 

Rebecca: “When we got here, we had to invent something for me to do, since Raymond wasn’t ready to have a Trophy Wife at merely 35 years of age. So, I started the rental business. We have two guest houses, Casa Tranquila and Casita Iberica. Our season is usually from March to October, though people are welcome at other times and we can warm up the pool all year round. We focus on peace and quiet, so we do not allow children under 12, unless the same family books both houses. Through the guest houses, we have met fantastic people from all over the world. We have had visitors from New Zealand, Korea and Saudi Arabia. The latter were simply marvellous and even cooked for us! Some of the guests come back, even a couple from Canada. They wanted to get more of our olive oil, but shipping it over there was so expensive that they rather decided to return to our guest house for another holiday instead”.

 

Raymond on the tractor. Photo © Aksel Jermstad
Raymond on the tactor. Photo ©Aksel Jermstad

 

RAYMOND – Olive-growing IT-guy

Raymond, who grew up outside of Oslo, wanted to become a pro cross-country skier. He did well, but not well enough to get on the national team, so he studied IT instead. Between jobs and partnerships in IT companies, he travelled the world. The adventurer is still alive and kicking, and his skies are still in the shed, so he can travel up to the Sierra Nevada for some Telemark skiing when time permits.


Raymond: “I have always been a doer. I sold an IT company that a pal of mine and I ran right before buying this farm. Then I helped found another IT business called MAKE, which specializes in legitimate email marketing. We comprise of five Norwegian owners and 90% of our clients are from Norway. To work remotely is no problem. I usually go north for meetings 4-5 times a year, but due to the pandemic, I have not been back for a year and a half and nevertheless everything has run smoothly”.

 

Gimli the dog observes Raymond working on computer. Photo © Aksel Jermstad
Raymond on computer with Gimli the dog. Photo ©Aksel Jermstad

 

Why and how did you start to grow olives?

Rebecca: “The trees were standing there, so the olives kind of chose themselves. It is a food source that we didn’t want to waste, so we had to do something with them. The farm was not managed the way we liked before we took it over. A lot of pesticides had been used and the soil was rock hard. This year is in fact the first since we got here that we see earthworms. When I saw the first one, I yelled “Raymond, there is life in the soil! We have worms!”. Now I find them even when I weed the driveway! We couldn’t be happier”.
 


Garden. Foto © Aksel Jermstad
Garden. Foto © Aksel Jermstad

 

Raymond: “The first year we harvested only about 1200 kgs of olives, which is nothing for all the trees we have here. It was just enough for our own consumption. We also gave some to friends who gave us good feedback about the oil. Our neighbours also helped us, even though we spoke hardly any Spanish. Initially, I followed their advice, but then I began to read more about olive farming. We quickly realized that the best olive oils are made without pesticides and herbicides and without rototilling the soil. The farm had no topsoil at all, because it had been continually ploughed and then the rain washed the soil away. We took the land completely back to scratch and started organic farming, even though it has taken us a long time to get it going. Most people around here have smaller farms and fulltime jobs on the side. I totally get that for them it is easy to spray and be done with it. Many local farmers still run their farms the way they did when they got their first tractor and began modernizing. They are quite far behind the times when it comes to the latest farming technology and alternative methods, which is unfortunate, although thankfully some farms around here are now converting to organic agriculture”.

 

Genuine organic Norwegian olive farmers. Photo © Andre Folkedal
Genuine organic Norwegian olive farmers. Photo © Andre Folkedal

 

How do you run the farm?

Raymond: “We have gone from producing 120 litres of oil in the beginning to 2.500 litres now. During the harvest we pick 800 – 1500 kilos per day with 5 6 pickers. There is our helper Juan who works 60 % at the farm, me and 3 other guys. We use nets under the trees, a shaker, and traditional wooden sticks. From this fall on, we will use a gentler new type of shaker instead of hitting the trees. During our first year we visited all the mills in the area. The closest one is only 20 minutes away, but we would rather travel more than an hour to an organic mill - the small family-run Molino del Hortelanos in Casabermeja. We are one of the few producers who go every day during the harvest and have a set time reserved every evening for milling. We pick from 08.00 to 15.00, grab a quick bite and then drive to the mill, so there are just a few hours from picking to pressing the olives. This way we get the best quality. We add nothing to our oils, though we filter it, so it has a longer shelf-life and looks better. Our products are cold-pressed organic extra virgin olive oils from either the milder Manzanilla or the stronger-tasting Hojiblanca olive varieties”.

 

Olives. Photo © Aksel Jermstad
Olives. Photo © Aksel Jermstad

 

No former farming experience

Neither Rebecca nor Raymond had a background in agriculture. Although they were rather ‘green’ when they got here, they must have green fingers, as Rebecca’s garden looks absolutely stunning, with huge lavender bushes, herbs, cacti, succulents and other southern flowers and plants. In addition, they have citrus trees, wine grapes and a generous vegetable garden. They tried growing avocado and mango trees, but neither of these seemed to like the northern breeze that blows through the valley.


How is everyday life on the farm?

Rebecca: “Raymond gets up first and then I make breakfast and coffee, which I bring to his office 3 meters away from the kitchen. I manage the guests and the guest houses. In addition, I do all our shopping and cleaning. Usually, I go to Álora to shop and get our mail. Otherwise, the closest village is Valle de Abdalajís (three valleys away), where there is a small supermarket, a butcher and a fishmonger open in the mornings. We are now seeing more and more tourism around here. The Caminito del Rey has been a great help for the entire area, and also for our own guest houses”.

 

Casa Tranquila. Foto © Aksel Jermstad
Casa Tranquila. Foto © Aksel Jermstad

 

Raymond: “I work full time by Norwegian standards, which is from 08.00 to 17.00, on top of which I have the farming. Except during harvest, Juan is our only help, so I easily spend another 3-4 hours working with the olive trees before dinner. Some friends of ours have just moved back to the UK, so we will take over the running of their organic farm as well, which means another 450 trees”.

 

Olive harvest with shaker and stick. Photo © Andre Folkedal
Olive harvest with shaker and stick. Photo © Andre Folkedal

 

Tell us about olive farming throughout the year. What is the toughest and what is the most rewarding part of the job?


Raymond: “We harvest between September and October, which is very early. This gives us much less oil, but the quality of the product is far superior. It has more antioxidants and polyphenols because we pick our fruit when it is green. In addition, there is the cutting and pruning of the trees, cutting grass, fertilizing twice a year and organic spraying of the smaller trees every other month. We have never watered our big trees but give some water to the smaller ones a couple of times during the hottest months of the year. Recently we built a water reservoir, so we can water a little when the trees flower in the spring. One should never provide too much water. For one thing, it is a very limited resource here, and secondly if you water too much, the trees won’t grow without it. The toughest part of the job is picking and then dragging the nets full of olives into the hanger to drive them to the mill. And the greatest joy is the ability to produce food. I have never worked with food before, so for me, that is the best part, since everybody must eat.”

 

Raymond during harvest. Photo © Andre Folkedal
Raymond during harvest. Photo © Andre Folkedal

 

Certified organic agriculture

Finca La Colina is an organic farm. To be certified organic, no pesticides or chemicals can have been used on the farm for a minimum of four years. After this point, tests are taken of the soil and the trees. Everything that is done on the farm has to be reported and logged with dates, types and amounts, for example what is used as fertilizer and when. The manure that they use comes from the goat farm that we stopped at across the valley. “They give us the manure for free (free shit!), but then they also get rid of it,” grins Raymond. Organic production takes much longer than ordinary agriculture. In contrast to conventional mass production where trees might be planted barely a meter apart and some are cut down after 10 years, Finca La Colina plants their trees 7 meters apart and the trees are not used for oil production during their first decade. On the other hand, they will then produce fruit for a century or more.

 

Peaceful morning. Photo © Aksel Jermstad
Peaceful morning. Photo © Aksel Jermstad

 

What are your future plans?

 

Rebecca: “We would like to experiment more with wine. We have planted 400 vines and hope to get the first wine grapes this fall. During the first few years we cut off the fruit before they developed and left them on the ground as fertilizer, so that the plants would concentrate their energy on developing their roots. We are allowed to plant 1000 square meters of grapes for our own consumption. Every household here can produce the equivalent of 365 bottles of wine a year for home-consumption, so you can have a bottle on the table every day. To produce wine for sale is much more complicated. Some friends had to wait 8 years for their commercial permit, so we will stick to our olives”.

 

Olive oil + food = LOVE. Photo © Finca la Colina
Olive oil + food = LOVE. Photo © Finca la Colina

 

Raymond: “The plan is to build up the olive farm, so we have a bit of extra income when we retire. Maybe we also will be able to retire a bit sooner? Last year was our best production year ever, but a total of 2500 litres of oil is nothing for a Spanish olive farm. Our product is small and exclusive, so we will have to expand for it to be something we can live off. We have priced our oil at the same level as more exclusive Spanish oils. When people around here hear that we sell our oil in Norway for 28€ for a ½ litre can they are shocked, but this past year was in fact the first time our business didn’t end up in the red. In the longer term, we would like to participate in competitions and possibly do some olive oil tastings here at the finca. We have taken some courses in oil tasting but are by no means experts yet. Our oil gets sent to be analysed to ensure that we follow all the rules and regulations. The test results also describe the taste and characteristics of our oil. However, the most important feedback we get is from people who buy the oil. So far, they have given us exclusively positive feedback. It must mean we are doing something right!”.


His and her hammock. Photo ©Aksel Jermstad
His and her hammock. Photo © Aksel Jermstad

 

So, who says Norwegians cannot be olive farmers! Perhaps next time you are looking for a present, instead of wine or flowers why not try olive oil, where the joy lasts much longer?

Finca La Colinas organic olive oil is sold at fincalacolina.es and can be shipped anywhere in the world. You can also contact Raymond and Rebecca directly at post@fincalacolina.no. The guesthouses are found on airbnb and are linked on fincalacolina.es

The article originally appeared in Norwegian in Det Norske Magasinet in April 2021.

 

 

 



Like 2        Published at 15:50   Comments (4)


A growing pleasure – 10 reasons to plant a tree
08 April 2021

Couple in new abode. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Couple in new abode. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

One of the greatest pleasures of spring is watching the budding leaves on the trees.

If you always have wanted to plant a tree in your garden, spring is also the best time of the year to do so.  Planting a tree is surprisingly easy. Just find the right spot and start digging. The only thing to keep in mind is that a tree grows and will need ample ‘elbow room’ for the crown and roots to spread. 

 

Tight fit in Montecorto. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Tight fit in Montecorto. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

So why should we plant trees around us? Most people know that trees give us oxygen, but did you know that they also increase our property values and that they are scientifically proven to make us healthier and happier?
Without further ado, here are 10 reasons to plant a tree:

 

1. Trees = life

New life emerges in the shape of a fig tree. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Trees are an essential part of the planet and critical for our survival as a species. They give us oxygen which is vital, as all living things including the trees themselves, need oxygen. As our urban landscape includes more heat-absorbing highways and buildings, we need trees simply to be able to breathe. Trees help break up these heat-islands and can lower the temperature by 5-10 degrees centigrade by letting out water vapour through their leaves. It might not sound like much, but when the thermometer hits 42 and is still rising, you will be grateful. There has to be a reason why we call it the tree of life. 

 

Trees brings life to the darkest of corners. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Trees brings life to the darkest of corners. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

 

 

2. Trees help the environment

Silhouette. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Silhouette. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Trees are renewable, biodegradable and recyclable. They clean the air we breathe by filtrating air particles that get stuck on their leaves and bark. In addition to carbon dioxide, trees absorb poisonous gases such as nitrogen oxides, ammoniac, sulphur dioxide and ozone. A grown tree can absorb over 20 kg of polluted air per year, while at the same time releasing nearly ten times as much in oxygen. By the time a tree is 40 years old, it has rid the atmosphere about one ton of carbon dioxide.  If you plant a tree, you lighten your carbon footprint and fight climatic changes. So, when you plant a tree, you do the environment and your local community a favour.

 

Beautiful tree in Cádiz. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Beautiful tree in Cadiz. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

3. Trees prevent floods and erosion

Impressive root system. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Impressive root system. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Water will always find its way to rivers, ponds and oceans, but trees can prevent floods which can occur when there is extreme rainfall. The crowns of the trees cushion the damaging effects of heavy rain and channel the water into the soil, instead of it just running off. A grown spruce can drain more than 4000 litres of rainwater per year, while the roots trap chemicals and poisons which otherwise would end up in the ground water or the ocean. Simultaneously, the root system holds the soil in place and prevents erosion.  

 

Tree roots prevent erosion. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Tree roots prevent erosion. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

 

4. Trees increase property value

Palm art. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Palm art. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

According to research that compare properties with and without trees, the planting of trees and greenery can increase property values by 15-20%. Not a bad investment compared to how little care and maintenance trees really need.   

 

Colourful banana tree in Murcia. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Colourful banana tree in Murcia. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

A less known advantage of having a well-manicured and tree-filled garden is that neighbourhoods and properties that are left barren and treeless have higher rates of break-ins. Gardens with trees makes properties appear lived-in and less tempting targets for thieves.

When it comes to commercial properties, research show that trees bring more business to commercial areas. A tree-lined avenue will also slow down traffic, which is good for both the merchants and the environment.  

 

Flowering street in Órgiva. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Flowering street in Órgiva. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

 

5. Trees make homes more comfortable, energy saving and beautiful

A stunning natural leaf-parasol. Photo © Karethe Linaae

A stunning natural leaf-parasol. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

When we plant a tree, it can function as a wind break, while at the same time offering shade to humans and animals. A few well-placed trees around your property (especially evergreens) can save homeowners up to 25% on energy consumption, by reducing both air-conditioning in summer and heating needs in winter. 

 

Tree trunk by the Picasso museum in Málaga. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Tree trunk by the Picasso museum in Málaga. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

Trees can also be a buffer against sound pollution, especially if you live near an airport or a noisy freeway. Furthermore, trees can help save water, as their shade slows down the water evaporation from lawns. Finally, trees can protect us from the sun by reducing UV-B exposure by as much as 50 %. This is good to keep in mind when planning schoolyards and other areas where kids play outside.

 

The wise seek the shade. Ronda. Photo © Karethe Linaae

The wise seek the shade. Ronda. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

And let us not forget the trees aesthetical value. Trees visually mark the passing of time. Deciduous trees offer us a constantly changing beauty, from spring green buds to their colourful fall attire.  

 

Autumn colours in Valle Genal. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Autumn colours in Valle Genal. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

6. Trees give us food, medicine, protection and employment

Pomegranate. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Pomegranate. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Everybody knows that trees produce food. A single apple tree on a tiny garden plot can give 3-400 kgs of apples per year. Spain has an endless variety of fruit producing trees: olives, citrus, pears, plums, apricots, quince, pomegranate, avocado, nuts and tropical fruits. Trees also provide food for animals, birds, bees and other insects. Small rodents can find shelter and some have their homes in trees, just like those that have offered humanity protection throughout the ages. 

 

Between the trees in Ronda’s Tajo gorge. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Between the trees in Ronda’s Tajo gorge. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

On addition, trees provide medicine. The medical ingredient in aspirin originated in the bark of the willow tree, and the first malaria medicine, quinine, came from a South American tree called Chinchona. While many traditional medicines have been replaced by synthetic varieties, trees are still an irreplaceable source in developing what we call modern medicine.

Finally, somebody has to pick the fruit, remove the cork-bark, and prune and care for the trees, so they also provide considerable employment. Many may regard the forestry industry as passé, but trees can also represent new economic and professional opportunities for youth who are interested in innovative and ‘green’ professions. 

 

Wood. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Wood. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

7. Trees make us healthier

Fig harvest with Juncal and Antonio. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Fig harvest with Juncal and Antonio. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Trees are excellent for our mental and physical health. Simply seeing trees can improve our mood and reduce fear and depression. Landscapes with trees lower our pulse, reduce our sensations of stress and help us relax. Trees planted near hospitals and other health institutions are proven to help patients with their healing process. Not only to they get better sooner, but also can lead to less complications. Children diagnosed with ADHD have fewer symptoms if they have access to trees and nature. Other studies show that students in classes that are surrounded by trees and greenery concentrate better in class. So, plan a tree and get healthier!

 

Plant a tree and spread some life! Photo © Karethe Linaae

Plant a tree and spread some life! Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

8. Trees make us happier

Happy hikers under tree. Photo © Rafa Flores, RF Natura

Happy hikers under tree. Photo © Rafa Flores, RF Natura
 

Who needs TV? Hang a bird feeder in a tree near your home and you will have a free birdsong concert all year long. Or lay down in your hammock and let yourself be entertained by all the small critters and insects that spurt or fly to and fro and up and down the tree trunk.    

 

I live here! Photo © Karethe Linaae

I live here! Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Looking at trees make us happy – just think about how good it feels to go for a walk in the forest! People are more productive if they see trees on their way to work or from their office window. Trees create visually calming green areas. They can cover unsightly walls, hide parking lots, and cover industrial developments and highways.

Close your eyes and breathe in the aroma of a flowering lilac or orange tree. Talk about olfactory therapy! So, plant a tree and it will give you endless joy!

 

Lemon tree in bloom. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Lemon tree in bloom. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

9. Trees are history

There is something unique about sitting by the 800-year-old Castaño Santo. Photo © Karethe Linaae

There is something unique about sitting by the 800-year-old Castaño Santo. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

From the Viking’s Yggdrasil, to Gallic and Greek tree-gods – trees have represented divine powers throughout history. Many thought that the souls of their ancestors lived in trees. Most civilizations considered trees as sacred or magical, and some still have a special meaning, like the Guernica tree in Northern Spain. A tree can be a landmark with special historical, religious or mythical significance. They are important in all cultures. Lebanon has a tree in their country flag, while universities, football teams and national parks all over the world chose to use a tree as their symbol.
 

Sign on a Casa Rural. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Sign on a Casa Rural. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Trees can feature in our most vivid childhood memories. We recall the first time we climbed to the top of a tree, fond a nest, fell down, or cut our initials into the bark. Trees can house our memories.

 

Trees makes us all children again. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Trees makes us all children again. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

10. Trees are the future

What would the future be without trees?  Photo © Karethe Linaae

What would the future be without trees?  Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

Trees can live for several centuries, hence planting a tree is an investment in the future. A tree can be a measure of time, not only because it has growth rings, but because we ourselves age with the trees we surround ourselves with. If we plan a tree in the memory of someone, we will always have a visual reminder of them. It might start out as a tiny Charlie Brown-like twig, but when we no longer here, the tree will still remain to bring joy to and create memories for future generations.   

 

Jacaranda blossoms in Málaga. Photo © Karethe Linaae

Jacaranda blossoms in Málaga. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

Sources:

Science Mag

National Geographic

treepeople.org

ecologistasenaccion.org

thespruce.com

 



Like 2        Published at 19:44   Comments (4)


Do you choose April?
01 April 2021

Shock of colours. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Shock of colours. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

I choose April” my father would always announce in his booming baritone around this time of the year. He was quoting the first part of a Norwegian poem from the 1870s, though he never continued, so I doubt that he ever knew the rest of it.

Exactly 26 years ago I was very pregnant. In fact, I was overdue by a week, but the stubborn being inside me refused to budge regardless of how many stairs I ran up, buckets of water I lifted, and all the other things they warn you NOT to do as it might bring on labour. I assumed that the mystery being wanted to wait until April 23, which was my father’s birthday. However, he burst out on the 18th of the month. I had no idea about the significance of the date at the time, but when I announced the arrival of my beloved son on the phone from Canada to my parents in Norway, dad told me that it also happened to be the birthday of my son’s great grandfather. Not only was it the same date, but he would have turned 100 that year.

This cannot be a coincidence?

I thought then, as I think now, that my long-departed grandfather and my yet-to-be-born son had plotted this together from the place where before and afterlife meet. They had decided that my lad should be the great unifier of the family by entering on the very same date as his great granddad, only 100 year apart to the day.

They could have chosen another time, but they choose April.

 

Andalusian lawn mowers. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Andalusian lawn mowers. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

And why not? April is a fantastic month. Granted, this specific time in this specific year is incredibly challenging for many people who worry about their livelihood, home, family, health, economy, and everything else. We are still in the eye of the storm, battling new waves, but at least now there is a flickering light at the horizon.

 

Babbling brook. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Babbling brook. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

On a walk the other day we passed a stone cairn. It must have been made by one of those freakish balance-artists who put stones on top of one other in completely impossible ways. The figure had a big rock head and an awkward forward-hunching body. Yet there it stood in the wind, laughing gravity in the face. It was as if it (who likely also had come from the place where before and afterlife meet…) was saying in its dry and crackly underworld voice:

"DEFY GRAVITY! Age is just a number. Volume is relative."

So, on days when we might be a bit weary on the trail and somewhat creaky in the joints, we too can do the same as our friend the stone cairn - choose to defy gravity. We too can choose April.

 

Stone cairn leaning east. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Stone cairn leaning east. Photo © Karethe Linaae



Like 2        Published at 16:28   Comments (2)


Progress vs Patrimony - Ronda’s eternal struggle to become a 21st Century town
11 March 2021

Classic stone trail. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Natural stone path i Ronda. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Andalucía is one of Europe’s foremost travel destinations with a rich and diverse cultural past. One can hardly put a spade in the ground without bringing some more ruins to light. Roman, Visigoth or Arab treasures seem to be discovered every time an Andalusian town excavates underground parking, builds a new road, or simply expands a local tapas bar.

Clearly, development has to be made even in the most historic places, but there are always options on how best to achieve this – and more importantly, what not to do.

 

The ideal – harmoniously blending modern and classic

Málaga’s historic centre. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Málaga’s historic centre. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

If modern architecture is used mindfully, it can coexist with and enhance both historical and natural environments. As an example, we need to look no further than to the museum by the archaeological site of Medina Azahara in the outskirts of Cordoba. The 10th Century Caliphate City is designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site and its museum and research centre, designed by Nieto Sobejanos Arquitectos, received the prestigious Aga Kahn Award for Architecture in 2010. Indeed, it is superbly executed, and what is most remarkable about the modern structure, which is partially sunk into the surrounding farmland, is how it inconspicuously yet harmoniously compliments the historical site.

Entering the museum at Medina Azahara. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Entering the museum at Medina Azahara. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Málaga city has managed to combine their archaeological findings with urban city developments in – mostly - a successful manner. Take the contemporary bronze and glass visitor’s centre adjacent to the Roman theatre. Designed by Tejedor Linares & Asociados in 2010, the exterior walls are decorated with fragments of text from the ancient Lex Flavia Malacitana, a 2000-year-old document describing the laws of this Roman city. The building elements and the colours of the bespoke edifice merge perfectly with the archaeological site and the towering Alcazar fort above it, while enhancing the overall aesthetic impression.

 

Roman theatre museum, Málaga. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Roman theatre museum, Málaga. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Industrial archaeology in nature

As far as natural environments go, one of the most memorable examples of how modern architectural elements can successfully blend with nature can be seen in the El Caminito del Rey, the almost 3-kilometre walkway through el Chorro pass that opened in 2015.

Caminito del Rey. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Caminito del Rey. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Following the petrifying old path, new, safe footbridges have been anchored directly to the walls of the gorge sometimes a hundred meters above the river. Wood, glass, stone and steel wires are the elements that were used to remake this spectacular route. The architect responsible for the new Caminito, which together with the surrounding area soon will be designated a World Heritage Site, is Luis Machuca Santa-Cruz. His incredible piece of industrial architecture causes minimum intervention and adapts to the movements of the landscape, making it an organic whole. Again, an award-winning construction with great respect for both location and patrimony!

 Detail of Caminito del Rey. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Detail of Caminito del Rey. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Examples of recent developments in Ronda

Ronda is unquestionably one of the most spectacular places in the world. For this reason, this small Andalusian town receives more tourists than even the city of Cordoba. Concerns about excessive wear on infrastructure and how to move the visiting masses through the town, are continually on the townhall agenda. Although a one-block section of road between the town’s Parador Hotel and the Bull Ring has been redone three times since New Year (by the same company…), one should remember that it cannot always be easy to find a balance between development and restoration in a town with such enormous patrimonial value. Progress must be made, and infrastructure has to withstand modern traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian. But how can this be done while retaining its intrinsic historical value, which in the end is what Ronda largely lives of?

Timeless stone wall in Ronda. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Timeless stone wall in Ronda. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

In the past decade, the town has seen some rather preposterous development proposals, such as a modern vehicle bridge parallel to the historical Puente Nuevo bridge - the very structure that all the tourists come to see, that is emblematic to the town, unique in the world, and which should be another UNESCO World Heritage Site, if the town could satisfy the strict prerequisites for such a designation.

A rare sight, an empty Puente Nuevo in Ronda. Photo © Karethe Linaae
A rare sight, an empty Puente Nuevo in Ronda. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Another proposal (presented before the last municipal election) was to create a beach by the river near Ronda’s Arab baths. Regretfully, the river is notably polluted, partly due to the municipality neglecting to repair their sewerage system. Therefore, instead of spending money on importing alien tropical sand from the coast that would be swept away by the first flood rain, Ronda rather ought to spend its citizens tax money on some less visible, but far more vital repairs to the local sewer pipes. Yet, money spent underground rarely translates into votes, whereas a beach, or ‘Bread and Circus’ to the masses as in Ancient Rome, is a much more popular preposition.

Polluted dog after entering into Arroyo de las Culebras river. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Polluted dog after entering into Arroyo de las Culebras river. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Beautiful stone paths

Beautiful natural stone trails beneath Ronda’s historic centre. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Beautiful natural stone trails beneath Ronda’s historic centre. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

By no means are all of Ronda’s developments poorly executed, and credit must be given where it is due.

A most successful and popular recent town improvement is the stone walking path constructed between the San Francisco neighbourhood and Ronda’s Arab Baths. Following the hillside beneath the historic town wall, people can enjoy strolling along a sea of wildflowers, occasionally accompanied by a flock of sheep. This classic natural rock trail, including ongoing additions with hopefully more to come, has been made meticulously by hand by local stonemasons. Furthermore, the paths blend perfectly with the landscape and feel like they have been there forever. In other words, Ronda can if we want to!

 

Cut stone path down to Arco del Cristo. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Cut stone path down to Arco del Cristo. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

On the opposite side of the historic quarter, another path has been constructed leading down to what they call Arco del Cristo (Christ’s Gateway), though the arch is clearly Arab. The custom-cut stone walkway is admittedly less authentic-looking than the before-mentioned natural stone path, but it is still a commendable development leading partially down into Ronda’s Tajo gorge. The project is a good start of a more extensive walkway system that will allow visitors and locals to explore our spectacular dramatic surroundings in a safe and comfortable manner.

Dirt trail down into Ronda’s Tajo gorge. Walk on your own risk. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Dirt trail down into Ronda’s Tajo gorge. Walk on your own risk. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Ronda’s path-plan doesn’t stop there. The next step is to improve the rather treacherous trail leading down underneath the Puente Nuevo Bridge, in addition to creating accessible trail through the old mill ruins in the area, which presently are quite overgrown and unsafe to walk. Such development proposals can only be applauded, as long as the trails blend harmoniously with the natural surroundings.

 

Ronda’s own Caminito

Ronda’s Tajo gorge. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Ronda’s Tajo gorge. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The final and most exciting proposal, for which the application is now in the provincial culture department, is to create a walkway anchored to the actual cliff wall in Ronda’s gorge, much in the same manner as the Caminito del Rey. In fact, while Cultura is debating the project, the municipal government has contacted the architect of the successful caminito to hopefully make the local version of the pasarela a reality. And if the walkway is executed with minimal interference to the natural environment and becomes part of an organic whole, we can all only hope that the permit and funds will be soon forthcoming.


The importance of urban planning

Urban planning can boost the liveability of cities by controlling resource use, limiting pollution levels and ensuring that traffic and public transportation operate seamlessly. A well-planned urban environment can create safer and healthier communities, accommodate growth, and revitalize and improve public facilities. The primary vision for an urban masterplan is to create Places for People, while respecting existing zones and infrastructure. Urban plans should therefore faithfully protect public interests at all times. But do they?

A much-debated development project in Ronda is the town’s new bus station. It began with a design competition back in 2012, when the town received 83 proposals from architects and designers from all over Europe. Amongst the applications was the winning project, called ‘Meeting Point’, by the Cantabrian architect company Estudio MMIT.

Bus station billboard. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Bus station billboard. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

While nearly everyone in town agrees that a new bus station is needed, its location have been far from unanimous. In a town hall meeting last year, all the political parties except the one in power voted against the proposed location, which is designated as an educational and recreational zone. Alternative locations, such as next to the train station, were presented. Although the latter location has more space and offers a closer, and more direct and scenic walk into town, the original proposal won. The 1.7 million euros project has been greenlighted from all levels of government and the first stone has now been laid.

Bus station construction from across the street. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Bus station construction from across the street. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Noise and air pollution in educational and recreational zone
The new bus station location presents problems on several counts. First and foremost, the allocated space is too small, squeezed as it is between the rail line, a couple of bottle-neck roads and the new library. The library itself has already proven to be too small, as it can hardly house the collection of books from the old library. The space in front of the library would have been adequate enough to hold a few parking spaces and a nice non-polluted exterior green seating area for readers, in addition to a possible future library annex to room the volumes that cannot be homed at present.

Regretfully, the decision to put the new bus station next to the library remains (I am not the only local shaking my head). Why place a bus station with its inherent air and noise pollution next to a place of study, unless there were no other options, which there are? To add insult to injury, other buildings near the future station include a home for the elderly, an open-air youth centre, the municipal pool and a football field. No-one can be blamed for wondering if the town hall has the best interests at heart of its youth, its athletes and the elderly, not to mention the disturbance some 150 daily buses will cause to anyone trying to study.

Open air youth centre with library and bus station in the background. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Open-air youth centre with library and bus station in the background. Photo © Karethe Linaae

If these deterrents weren’t enough, the location is right next to the rail line (but not next to the train station, which would make sense from a transport and transfer point of view), so the station can never expand beyond its planned borders. In addition is the added cost of creating railway crossings that are structurally strong enough for buses, yet far enough removed from the crossings for the foot passengers. Not that any sleekly designed pedestrian bridges can hide the fact that visitors will be forced to walk in traffic through a convoluted set of streets to get into the town centre.

According to the station’s advocates, the space will be ample, students and tourists will be delighted, the plaza will be heaving with commercial life and the buses will ooze in and out without anyone being notably affected. The future will tell…

Bus station and library plaza. Photo from billboard
Bus station and library plaza. Photo from billboard

 

Seven-story car park in a historic neighbourhood

And so, we come to the final chapter in Ronda’s progress report and the last addition to Ronda’s aspirations of becoming a grand city - the parkade.

In a normal year, Ronda receives several hundred thousand tourists, most of which arrive by bus and do a quick one-hour spin through the historic centre before heading off. It is completely understandable that the town wants to attract more overnight visitors and therein lies the issue of parking. The rondeños themselves are experts at unlawful but rarely penalized mini stops in loading zones, bus stops, pedestrian crossings, handicap zones and wherever else they see fit, though visitors are rarely that bold. Lack of parking is particularly prevalent in the San Francisco neighbourhood with its plaza full of restaurants and bars.

The town hall has been discussing Ronda’s parking problems for years. Finally, they have settled on a proposed 471-car 7-storey parkade at the southern entrance to town. The project is now in its last stage of approval with the regional culture department, and if all goes according to plan, Ronda will have a 12.000 m2 new parkade (though sadly with Covid, no visiting cars to fill it).

Parkade. Photo from Diario Ronda
Parkade. Photo from Diario Ronda

 

As soon as the drawings were made public, there were cries of protest from locals who felt that the white concrete and steel structure looked like something out of a space movie. San Francisco is one of Ronda’s historic neighbourhoods. It offers the most spectacular entrance into town, as the ancient city emerges surrounded by the Arab city wall amongst rolling fields and grazing animals. If the application goes through, it will have a hyper modern parkade across the road.

Entering Ronda from the south. Historic centre to the right, planned 7-story parkade to the le ft. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Entering Ronda from the south. Historic centre to the right, planned 7-story parkade to the le ft. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The parkade appears to once again be an example of short-sighted urban planning, and how so-called progress takes precedence to patrimony. Whether it looks like a high security prison or a Marbella drug lord hideout, the parkade clearly doesn’t blend with the natural surroundings, consisting chiefly of rocky outcrops, small stone huts and grazing land for livestock. As protests pour in, the mayor has been quick to claim that the development will avoid visual impact and be completely integrated into the landscape, with 5 out of the 7 floors underground. But the controversy is not just about impact, it is also about location. It will be too far for most tourists to walk from the parkade and up the hill into the historic centre, especially on hot summer days, so Ronda will be forced to supply shuttle services into town, meaning more traffic and more pollution. The impact of such development does also not factor in existing issues such as cars driving at excessive speeds through residential streets frequented by families with children and pensioners. Speed ramps are urgently needed around the historic San Francisco square, as the current risks to pedestrian safety will undoubtedly be compounded as traffic flows increase with the new parkade.

 

Dream city?

For all the promises of harmonious landscape design, the people of Ronda have learned to be cautious of lofty promises. Patrimony means everything to a town like Ronda, and outmost care has to be taken every step of the way. Something as simple as changing the lightbulbs in the lovely antique street lanterns from warm to brighter cold light, affects our patrimony. Cold light might illuminate more, but it is decidedly not romantic, classic, nor dream like. If Ronda still wants to propagate the image of being a dream city or ciudad soñada, it has to make certain concessions. Progress and hyper modern parkades in a historic area do not, and never will, blend with such an image. Therefore, for towns like Ronda where tourism is the primary source of income, patrimony should always take precedence to, and decide the pace and direction of the town’s progress.

Ronda is history. Photo © Karethe Linaae
Ronda is history. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Sources:

Diario Ronda
La Opinión de Málaga
Málaga Hoy
Ayuntamiento de Ronda
Caminito del Rey
Medina Azahara
Aga Kahn Award for Architecture
Urban Design Group
Planetizen



Like 4        Published at 20:52   Comments (1)


Almond liqueur with an Andalusian twist
23 February 2021

Cracking the bitter almonds. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The almond tree, or el almendro as it is called in Spanish, can be found all over the Mediterranean region. Ever since the Phoenicians brought the fruit to these shores some 3000 years ago, they have been an important food source for the Andalusians. Almonds contain Omega 6, magnesium, potassium, calcium, Vitamin E, thiamine and niacin. In addition to its many food and beverage uses, almonds are also used in the cosmetics industry, while the oil from bitter almonds can be used as a natural flavouring.

 

Almond blossom. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

In la Serranía de Ronda, the almond trees are some of the earliest bloomers, and also have some of the first nuts to be harvested. Due to climate change, blossoms can now be seen as early as January. The saying amongst locals is that the tree ‘improves the rock’, because it will grow on the most inaccessible crags and steepest inclines. Everybody who used to have a piece of land would grow almonds. In recent years however, I cannot help but notice that the nuts are left on the branches – nobody cares to pick them anymore.

 

Bitter almond tree with last year’s nuts and this year’s blossoms. Photo © Karethe Linaae
 

Particularly the bitter almonds (which the locals line their properties with since nobody will steal them), which are basically left to rot. People prefer to buy packages of shelled almonds (likely from a mega-farm in California), to bringing out the hammer and cracking their own almendras.

 

Traditional nutcracker. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Local liqueurs

Inspired by the current almond blossoms and the subtle smell of sweet spring, I decided to make another batch of my own version of almond liqueur. As the locals make liqueur, or licor, out of almost any fruit, herb and nut they can find, I was looking forward to finding the local variant of the famous Italian liqueur Amaretto di Saronna. To my great surprise, nobody in in our town or the surrounding villages seem to make almond liqueur, not even the most dedicated alchemists of local hooch. Not only that, but nobody knew anyone in the entire Serranía who did! In fact, they had never heard of such a liqueur!

 

The local leather bota always seems to be filled with a local 'brew'. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

This of course didn’t discourage me from the task at hand – making my own version of almond liqueur with a local Andalusian twist. You can find many recipes online, though most are far from home-made, merely requiring blending some booze with real or artificial flavouring, and presto, creating a cheer. But I wanted to do it the long and convoluted way. This meant that my planning of the liqueur had already started last summer, when I sun-dried the stones of a dozen or so of apricots.

 

Dried apricot stones. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

This might sound surprising, but other than finding genuine bitter almonds, the soft core of these stones, called kernels, will help give your liqueur that special almond flavour.


 

Chopped apricot kernels. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Like anything I make, please be aware that the measurements are just general indications. As far as base alcohol is concerned, locals in Ronda tend to use sweet or unsweetened Anís to make their liqueurs, but I prefer the more neutral tastes of vodka and brandy, to ensure that almond is the main flavour. Finally, I strive to find all the ingredients as close to home as possible, even if I end up with a bruised finger from hammering the almonds.

So, what are we waiting for? Time to get to work!

 

Licor de Almendra with an Andalusian twist

 

Almonds from the tree in a traditional clay dish. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

What you need

A 1.5 – 2 litre glass canning jar (I use IKEA jars, as we cannot get Mason jars here)

A cup of water (purified/bottled)

A cup coarsely chopped dried unsulphured apricots (Ideally local and organic)

1/3 cup chopped dried local wine-grapes (Pasas de Málaga), plums or cherries

2 to 3 cups (ca 3/4 litre) of vodka – not the cheapest, nor the most expensive

A generous cup of brandy (we buy ours a granel or in bulk from a local store)

As an alternative to the vodka and brandy, use Spanish Anís (the best is the one with the monkey on the bottle)

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped raw almonds (Ideally freshly shelled and local)

A baker’s dozen of bitter almonds (Anyone who grows them will give you a few)

A handful of chopped apricot kernels

A pod of real vanilla in pieces

Chopping the dried apricots. Make sure they are un sulphured and organic. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Instructions

Add dried apricots and water to the glass jar and let sit for a couple of hours so the apricots rehydrate. Add the rest of the ingredients, shake and leave to macerate for 6 weeks, or as long as you can handle waiting (I suggest labelling the jar with the date you started, so you won’t forget).

 

Almond blossom. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Part II

After about 6 weeks, strain the contents from the jar through a cotton cloth into a large sturdy kitchen bowl. This process will need to be repeated a couple of times and is a bit messy. You can use coffee filters for the last few straining’s to ensure that all the ‘gunk’ remains in the filter.

 

Licor de almendra after a few weeks seeping. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

To complete the liqueur

1 cup sugar (I use some stevia, and less sugar) If you use the sweet anís, you might not wish to add any sugar.

1/2 cup purified/bottled water

Another cup of vodka (or anís for that specially Andalu’ flavour)

A dash of genuine vanilla extract, unless you added the pod earlier

A few drops of bitter almond extract (unless you added bitter almonds earlier)

After you have separated the liquids from solids, make a sugar-syrup by mixing sugar (or sugar & alternative sweetener) and water in a pot. Heat it up while stirring until it thickens. When cooled down, add the last cup of vodka/anís and the strained liquid. Check the sweetness before adding all the syrup. If needed, add the vanilla and bitter almond essence.

Shake and stir, then decanter and enjoy!

 

Licor de almendra ingredients. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

NOTE: If you discover a local Andalusian recipe or have successfully experimented with other ingredients, please let me know so I can adjust my batch for the 2022 edition! 

 

 



Like 2        Published at 17:51   Comments (2)


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