06 August 2010

What's the weather like today?

When you learn Spanish you are taught stock phrases about the weather like hace calor (it 's hot), hace frio (it's cold), está lloviendo (it's raining), hace viento (it´s windy).   The good people of Alcalá obviously didn´t use the same textbook.

"¡Que calor!", accompanied by a flapping motion of the hand in front the face, means it´s hot. But this appears to be relative. In July and August when the temperature hovers around 32°C (90°F), you can respond with some sympathy. But I have also heard it used on a sunny spring day when the temperature has sneaked up to the low 20s (high 60s in old money).

Conversely, when the blessed relief of autumn brings the temperature down to the low 20s, they cry “¡Fresquito!” patting their arms in a sort of self-hugging gesture. But the same expression is used on the coldest winter days, when the thermometer can plummet to around 8°C (48°F).

We are taught in the UK that the diminutive “-ito” added to a word means “little”. Hence if fresco means cool, fresquito should mean “a little bit cool”. Not so. “Mucho solecito”, my hairdresser commented one fine May morning. A lot of little sun?? It also implies affection, informality, geniality. Victor the greengrocer just sold me un kilito de manzanitas granditas (a kilo of large apples). I could have had manzanas pequeñitas or even medianitas (small or medium).


But back to the weather. “¡Agua!” they say if it starts to rain, and dart into the nearest shop or bar. Alcalainos do not go out in the rain unless they absolutely have to. Last winter it rained for nearly three months with hardly a break, flooding the farmlands, washing away roads and leaking into people's houses. There was a pervasive air of gloom around the town until it finally stopped at the end of March. The upside, however, is that the reservoirs are now full and we have four years' supply of water even if it doesn't rain a drop.


Last winter was exceptional though. On average, we get 7 wet days a month between November and February, 6 in March, April and October, 3 in May, June and September, and none at all in July and August. From October to March, we get an average of 6 hours sunshine a day. (Why do you think I live here?)

We saw some snow once on a distant mountain in the Sierra de Grazalema, but it was gone by lunchtime.  A friend who lives at the bottom of the hill occasionally has frost on his car windscreen.  On fine days following rain, the valleys are often filled with romantic swirling mist, but you have to get up early to catch it.  Occasionally the upper half of the town disappears into the clouds, although we are only 190m above sea level.


But Alcalá's most notorious weather feature is the wind. The east wind, or Levante, is so famous it gets its own entry in the Winds of the World directory. Born in the Eastern Mediterranean (the Levant) it is funnelled through the Straits of Gibraltar and whips across the southwestern part of Cádiz Province with fierce gusts, sometimes reaching gale force. When it is feeling particularly generous it will sprinkle the town with fine pinkish-brown dust. It can strike at any time of year, but is most frequent in March and from July to October. Many a flight into Gibraltar airport is diverted to Málaga when the Levante is blowing. Its westerly counterpart is the Poniente; this brings clear weather and is apparently the best time to view the African coastline from Tarifa or Gibraltar.

I feel desperately sorry for people working out in the fields when the Levante is blowing, especially when it goes on for four or five days. It saps the strength and can drive people crazy. We very quickly learned that it can overturn terrace furniture and flowerpots and whip the washing right off the line. We have lost two barbecue covers, both held down with four bricks. A friend of ours lost an 8-foot-wide parasol. A portable bull-ring was blown down at San José del Valle up the road.

The response of the locals? “!Mucho aire!”
Alcala weather statistics

2 comments:

tozcal2009 said...

Oh I laughed so much about the language lesson. Learning Spanish with La Vida Alcalaina is great original fun.

Also, what would Spanish be without the gestures? By the way, I notice, that some ways to express things in Spanish may be slightly different than on Tenerife Island where I stay.

Claire Lloyd said...

Thankyou tozcal2009! I´m sure every part of Spain has its own local expressions, and around Alcalá there are words and phrases that aren´t found anywhere else.