27 December 2011

¿Cómo se llama?

¿Cómo se llama? (what´s your name?) is one of the first phrases used by most people learning Spanish (after "two beers please" and "Where are the toilets?").  This innocent enquiry does not, however, prepare you for the complexity of the Spanish system of personal nomenclature.

Surnames
The Spanish have two family names or surnames, called apellidos.  A married woman does not take her husband's name, so there is no such thing as a maiden name. A child takes the first apellido of each parent, so the offspring of Mr Pérez Romero and Mrs Rodríguez García will become Pérez Rodríguez.  In 1999 a gender equality law allowed the mother's name to appear first if desired, provided all siblings adopt the same order and it is recorded in the Registro Civil.

SPAIN´S COMMONEST NAMES
With so many very common names, or in small communities, the maternal and paternal apellido can occasionally be the same.  This, combined with the custom of naming the first-born son after the father, can result in names like Fernando Fernández Fernández ("ez" on the end of a name is the equivalent to "son", as in Johnson).

The apellido can be composite, i.e. composed of two or more words, and the paternal and maternal apellidos are then joined by the indefinite article "y", for example José María Álvarez del Manzano y López del Hierro.  In the past the use of "y" was an indicator of social status.  Books by the philosopher Ortega y Gasset were, I realised only quite recently, written by just one person.

Spaniards living outside Spain often hyphenate their two apellidos to avoid confusion, especially when filling in forms where there is just one field allowed for the surname.  Conversely this can cause problems for foreigners living in Spain attempting to submit a form online where there are two mandatory apellido fields.

When addressing someone formally it is normal to use just the first apellido, e.g. Señor Pérez rather than Señor Pérez Romero. Many famous people are known only by their first apellido, for example Rafael Nadal or Penelope Cruz.   If the first apellido is common they might use the second, e.g the former President. José Luis Rodrígez Zapatero was known universally as Zapatero, or ZP for short.  )A wider use of this convention could save many tonnes of newsprint. Our local paper, when reporting a council meeting, is often well into the third column before the names of those present have been listed in full ...)

An illegitimate child whose father is unknown or who is not recognised by his father's family takes both his mother´s names.  Foundlings (a rarity these days thank goodness, but common in less enlightened times) were often named after the place where they were discovered; one of Julio Iglesias' ancestors, for example, would have been found in a church.  Blanco (i.e. blank) and Expósito (exposed) were often used for the second apellido.

Given names
The term "Christian name" is particularly appropriate in Spain as until fairly recently parents had to choose their children's names from a list approved by the Catholic Church.  These days the only restriction is on names which insult the dignity of the child, or are sexually ambiguous.

Most given names, or nombres, have two parts, e.g. Juan Carlos.  The second part is not a "middle name" as in the English convention.  The first part must reflect the child's gender, but the second need not: hence you have girls called María José and boys called José María.

María is by far the most common name for girls.  It often carries a suffix honouring the Virgin Mary in one of her incarnations, such as María del Pilar or María del Carmen.  Informally it is common to lose the first part and just call yourself Pilar or Carmen.  A popular alternative is to use a composite version such as Mariluz (María de la Luz) or Marisol (María de la Soledad).

These days a much wider variety of names can be heard in the school playground.  Lucia, Paula, Daniela, Sara, Carla, Claudia, Sofia, Alba and Irene all featured in the 2010 top ten baby names for girls, with just María at No 3 representing the old guard.  For boys we find a mixture of saints and celebrities, with Daniel, Hugo, Alejandro, Iker, Javier and Sergio jostling for position with the more traditional Pablo and Jorge.

Just as English names have diminutive versions - Bob for Robert, Betty for Elizabeth - Spanish names have their standard variations. Given that there are relatively few names to choose from in the first place, this helps distinguish one Francisco from another.  Another custom is to add "ito" or "cito" (for boys, as in Manolito for Manuel) and "ita" or "cita" (for girls, as in Carmencita).  Some of the most common but less obvious variants are:

Boys
Alberto - Tico, Tuco
Alfonso - Fonsi, Poncho
Carlos - Chepe
Enrique - Quiqie, Kike
Ernesto - Tito
Francisco - Paco, Curro, Quico, Kiko, Pancho
Gerardo - Yayo, Lalo
Guillermo - Memo
Ignacio - Nacho, Naco
Jesús - Chucho, Chuchi
Jesús María - Chumari
Joaquín - Quincho, Chimo
José - Pepe, Pito
José María - Chema, Chemari
José Manuel - Chema, Memel
Juan Pablo - Juampa
Luciano - Chano
Luis - Lucho, Guicho
Manuel - Manolo, Lolo
Marcelo - Chelo
Ramón - Moncho, Monchi, Pocholo
Rodolfo - Fito
Roberto - Tito
Salvador - Chava, Chavito
Santiago - Diego, Tiago
Sebastiano - Chano
Sergio - Chucho, Checo
Vicente - Chente, Bicho, Sento

Girls
The original Mari-Carmen - Nuestra Señora
del Carmen, Cádiz Cathedral
Antonia - Toña, Toñi
Carmen - Menchu
Concepción - Concha
Consuelo - Chelo
Dolores - Lola, Lolita
Eva - Evita
Francisca - Paqui, Panchita
Graciela - Chela
Inmaculada - Inma
Isabel - Beli, Chabelita
Josefa - Pepa, Fina
Lourdes - Lulú
Magdalena - Lena, Leni
Maria del Carmen - Mamen
María del Refugio - Cuca
María Isabel - Maribel
Maria Luisa - Marisa
María Teresa - Maritere, Maite, Mayte
Mercedes - Merche
Montserrat - Montse
Remedios - Reme
Rosalia - Chalia
Rosario - Charo, Chari
Sebastiana - Chana

Nicknames

Finally there are nicknames (sobrenombres or apodos), which originate from the person's profession, appearance, distinguishing characteristics, dwelling place or some other random factor.  They replace both parts of the registered name and were especially common at times when it was prudent to keep one's identity a secret.  Flamenco artists traditionally use apodos because of their gypsy origins, which were once considered disreputable. Spain's most famous flamenco singer was El Camarón, the shrimp.  The guitarist Tomatito was the son of the red-faced Tomate.

Apodos can be quite uncomplimentary.  Xavi Hernández, one of the country´s leading footballers, is apparently known as Pelopo, referring to his body hair, while his Barcelona team mate Lionel Messi is la Pulga (flea) because of his diminutive size.  Former president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is known to all as Bambi.  I can't imagine why ...

19 December 2011

When the Fat Man Sings

The Spanish are avid gamblers.  They will bet on anything from backstreet cock-fights to Premier League football, and spend more of their income on betting than almost any other country - around 15%, an average of €480 per person, totalling €1.9 billion a year.  Nothing as trivial as an international financial crisis puts them off.  Maybe it's some sort of Catholic fatalism; it is often observed that Spaniards believe their destiny is shaped by luck rather than by careful planning (although the Germans spend almost as much, which would seem to quash that theory).


While some forms of gambling are outside the law, the State is in control of the most popular form, the Lotería Nacional. Tickets are sold at face value at official outlets of Loterias y Apuestas del Estado (ours is on the Calle Real), or via street-vendors who get 10% commission.  A recent proposal to privatise part of the operation was abandoned after the government realised that the €7 billion windfall they would have got from the sale would be a poor deal compared to the almost €3 billion a year it brings into the Treasury. You don´t kill a cash-cow like that for a nice bit of steak.

Other lotteries are organised by ONCE, the Spanish organisation for the blind and partially sighted. The ticket is known as a cupón, and there are daily draws as well as scratch cards (Rasca y Gana) for instant gratification. The cupones are sold by sight-impaired or otherwise handicapped vendors, for whom it provides a regular income, either on the street or at official kiosks. If you stop for a copa at any of the bars in Alcalá you will soon see one of the town´s three regular vendors.

But the world´s biggest lottery is the Sorteo de Navidad, known as El Gordo (the fat one).  It is held on 22 December each year, and people sit glued to the TV all morning watching the bolas tumbling from from giant golden cages, and listening to the winning numbers being sung out by the children of the San Ildifonso school in Madrid.



El Gordo was first held on 18 December 1812, in Cádiz. The first prize was 8,000 pesos fuertes and the tickets cost 40 reales. These days, tickets go on sale at the beginning of September and are sold out well before Christmas. They cost €200 and are split into décimos, or tenths. Bars, clubs, places of work, charities and many other groups will buy tickets and sell décimos or even smaller units, adding a small commission for their local Good Cause. We bought our décimo this year at Dominguitos bar for €23, of which €3 goes towards kit for Alcalá´s various junior football clubs.

Seventy percent of the takings (an estimated €3.3 billion) will be paid out in prizes, with around 8% going on administration costs and the rest to the Treasury. This year the top prize will be €4 million, i.e. €400,000 per décimo. There are thousands of smaller prices and the odds of winning something are one in six.

Buying a lottery ticket in Madrid, 1929

El Gordo has its own website and there are several villages in Spain that regularly sell winning tickets. One is the tiny Pyrenean village of Sort (meaning ‘luck’ in Catalan), where coachloads of hopeful ticket-buyers flock every autumn.

Winning numbers are published in newspapers on 23 December and posted in lottery offices for three months following the draw. Winners must claim their money as they aren’t notified automatically (unclaimed cash goes back to the State). If you win a big prize you can take your ticket to a Spanish bank, which gives you a receipt and collects your winnings on your behalf.

And if you don't make it lucky in El Gordo, Spain’s second-largest lottery, El Niño (named after the baby Jesus) takes place two weeks later on 5th January ....

¡Buena suerte!

04 December 2011

Three Cheers for Alcalá Cheese!

Earlier this year I wrote a post about Quesería El Gazul, which makes delicious cheese and yoghurt from the milk of Alcalá's extensive goat population.   At last week's World Cheese Awards, held at the BBC Good Food Show in the NEC Birmingham, one of Jorge Puerto's gourmet products was judged one of the world's Fifty Best Cheeses.  The competition is the world´s largest, and the shortlist was selected by two hundred international judges who sampled over 2,500 submission from 34 countries.

Jorge Puerto with cheeses from the El Gazul range
In all, twelve Spanish cheeses appear in the top 50, compared with eight from England (including last year's winner from the Cornish Blue Cheese Company), eight from Switzerland, six from Italy, six from the USA, and only three from France.  The conventional wisdom that the French make all the best cheeses seems to be up for debate - though they did produce the overall winner, Ossau Irati AOP from Fromagerie Agour.


Alcalá's "Super Oro" prizewinning entry was an organic cheese made from the milk of a special flock of  Payoya goats and branded as "Montes de Alcalá".  The other cheeses produced at El Gazul are made using blended milk from different flocks, so cannot officially carry the label "organic", though they are undoubtedly "free-range".

In all, 28 cheeses from Cádiz Province won awards this year, making artisan cheese production one of the few growth industries in the region. The others came from dairies in Villaluenga and El Bosque, in the northeast of the Sierra de Cádiz.

The Quesería El Gazul has a shop on the Poligono La Palmosa (behind the hotel), open until 2 pm.  To purchase our wonderful cheeses online, visit the website of La Alacena.

Milking time!

27 November 2011

Alcalá Solidaria


It is well known that the poor give proportionally more of their income to charity than the rich do, probably because they are more attuned to the needs of others.  This was demonstrated beautifully in Alcalá yesterday when, despite the economic crisis, alcalainos of all ages thronged the Paseo de la Playa  for the town's third Día Solidaria.

Our "Typical British fare" went like hot cakes
Although solidaridad translates literally as "solidarity" it has a wider meaning in Spanish, embracing sharing, community, empathy, compassion and equality.  The English equivalent would be "charity", but in Spain caridad is more usually associated with aid offered by religious institutions.

The Playa was lined with stalls offering goodies for sale, the proceeds going to various fundraising activities.  The Fair Trade (Comercio Justo) stall had bottles of 40% proof Cuban rum nestling amongst the organic chocolate bars, and the nuns from the Beaterio had a bric-a-brac stall piled with china ornaments, ashtrays, cups and saucers, some of which looked like candidates for the Antique Road Show.  

AMAG, the town´s equivalent of the Women´s Institute, sold a range of "typical English" cakes, biscuits and sausage rolls donated by us Brits, with proceeds going to breast cancer research.   Despite suffering somewhat in the warm sun, apparently they were all sold (and no, we didn´t buy them ourselves).

As ever there were plenty of activities for the kids; a solidarity procession, a solidarity train, a solidarity football match and even a solidarity gymkhana.  The students from the Sainz de Andino secondary school each donated a euro towards the preparation of an enormous paella, cooked by staff and parents and sold off to passers-by to raise money for the annual visit of children from Western Saharan refugee camps.  Meanwhile the team from the Adult Education Centre offered more traditional local fare of gazpacho caliente and tagarninas y garbanzos.   To finish the day, the Asociación de Inmigrantes Áve Fénix organised a few games of Bingo Solidario.

A beautiful warm sunny November day saw the good people of Alcalá de los Gazules at their best.  What better antidote to Deep Gloom?

Paella!
Pounding the garlic and tomato for hot gazpacho

22 November 2011

Deep gloom

It can't have escaped your notice that the Spanish economy is in a right mess.  Unemployment is 21% and rising, and under-25s have barely a 50-50 chance of getting a job.  The interest rate on government bonds is approaching Italy's, making us the S in PIIGS.  Some cities are so deep in debt they can't pay their staff. Government spending cuts are biting deeply into health and education services, and public employees have had their salaries cut.  Families who took out mortgages during the boom years and have now lost their jobs are being evicted at the rate of 15,000 a month, while up to two million dwellings stand empty.  Small businesses are going to the wall on a daily basis, especially those dependent on public contracts.

In last Sunday's general election, the voters demonstrated unequivocally who they blame for this sorry state of affairs. The PSOE (Partido Socialista de Obreros Españoles), which has been power since 2004 under the leadership of Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, saw its share of the vote fall from 44% to 29%, its lowest ever since democracy was restored after the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1976. The right-wing PP (Partido Popular) "swept to victory" with a large majority and an even larger avalanche of clichés.  The political map of Spain is now almost totally blue, apart from red blobs in Seville and Barcelona and a few separatist enclaves in Catalunya and the Basque Country.  




The campaign slogans for the two main parties were a sick joke.  "Pelea por lo que quieres!" (Fight for what you want!) declared the avuncular Alfredo Rubalcaba on the PSOE posters.  How meekly his party rolled over on its back when confronted with the bared teeth of Angela Merkel and the IMF, signing the Euro Pact and committing the country to austerity measures and privatisation!  How they wrung their hands with remorse while cutting 5% off teachers' wages, while dithering endlessly over whether or not to raise taxes for the wealthy!  No, sorry Alfredo, we aren't buying that one.


And the PP's "Súmate al cambio!" (Take part in the change!) was even more of a hoot. Change there will most certainly be, but what it will consist of we can only guess. Their slightly disturbed-looking leader, Mariano Rajoy, must be unique in contemporary Western politics for having won a landslide victory without declaring a single detailed policy in advance, other than the vague threat of more austerity measures and the even vaguer promise of more private sector jobs.  "There are difficult times to come", he said in his victory speech.  To come?  You mean they haven't arrived yet???

Spain's new leader, Mariano Rajoy, on realising
what he's let himself in for
Meanwhile back in Alcalá de los Gazules we lefties have a tiny glimmer of consolation.  The municipal elections last May left us with an unholy alliance of the IU and the PP, an absentee mayor and a deafening silence from the Town Hall ever since (other than the occasional squeak about the mess left by their predecessors).  The electorate turned out in the pouring rain on Sunday to restore the red flag over the cuña de socialismo andaluz - making Alcalá one of just a handful of towns in Spain where the PSOE returned a majority.  Overall this makes not a jot of difference, of course, but it made me feel a bit better.

Voting figures for Alcalá de los Gazules

06 November 2011

The Red Duchess - Luisa Isabel Álvarez de Toledo

I've just finished writing a short biography of a woman who first captured my imagination after I read an article about her in La Luz Magazine a few years ago.   She lived in a palace in Sanlúcar de Barrameda and although I am not normally a fan of duchesses I have become rather fond of this one, as she swam against the tide all her life.

Luisa Isabel María del Carmen Cristina Rosalía Joaquina Álvarez de Toledo y Maura, Isabel to her friends, was the 21st Duchess of Medina-Sidonia, one of the oldest aristocratic families in Spain. She left her husband  after having three babies in quick succession and then deposited the children with her grandparents while they were still small.  She became known as the Red Duchess (la Duquesa Roja) because of her political convictions.  She organised strikes amongst fishermen and vineyard workers, campaigned for compensation for locals affected by a nuclear accident, was imprisoned under the Franco regime, gave away property to build housing for the poor, and started a school for local children in the Palace.   She drank in the local bars, wore men´s clothes and smoked like a chimney.  She is still fondly remembered in Sanlúcar as "la Duquesita".

A prolific writer and a controversial historian, Isabel inherited one of the largest private historical archives in Europe.  She dedicated her life to its organisation and preservation and set up the Fundación Casa Medina Sidonia to ensure it would be made freely available for historical research.   She found evidence in the archive that the Moorish sailors discovered America before Columbus and that her ancestor Guzmán el Bueno, hero of the Christian reconquest, was a Moor.  Controversial to the end, on her deathbed she married her female companion and secretary so that the archive, the Palace and its contents would not be divided amongst her children, who remain convinced that she deprived them of their inheritance.

Isabel was the product of generations of aristocrats, politicians, historians, warriors and controversial figures. Despite her strong belief in social justice she never renounced her titles, and is it intriguing to ponder what she saw as the role of the nobility in contemporary Spain, and where she saw herself within that structure. Certainly her titles protected her from almost certain execution following her outspoken criticism of Franco, but she retained them long after his death. How did she resolve the apparent contradiction of passing on the line of Spain's oldest dukedom with her professed Republicanism? Was her devotion to history and her family's place in it stronger than her political conscience? Did she believe in noblesse oblige, the responsibility of the privileged to the less fortunate?  Why, as an outspoken campaigner for civil liberties, did she keep quiet about being a Lesbian?  Why, as a lifelong atheist, did she call for the last rites on her deathbed?

You can download the full work or read it online here:   The Woman Who Rewrote History

The Palace is open to the public and there are nine beautiful guest rooms around the courtyard garden where you can stay in Renaissance splendour from €70 for a double room including tax and breakfast.  Details here:  Hospedería

Palacio Ducal de Medina Sidonia in Sanlúcar de Barrameda
Accommodation in the Palace Hospedería
The Courtyard Garden
The Archive


25 October 2011

The times they are a-changing

The clocks go back this weekend, in that strange process called "daylight saving" where they take an hour of light from one end of the day and stick it on the other (I've never been able to work out where the "saving" bit comes in).  It was originally intended to save fuel, by moving the working day into daylight hours. Germany introduced it in 1916, to save on coal during WW1, and other countries swiftly followed suit.   In 1996 the European Union harmonised the date so all member countries now change the clocks on the same day, namely the last Sunday in October.  Iceland doesn't bother.

Blue = GMT, Red = GMT+1
Additional benefits of daylight-saving were to allow outdoor leisure activities to take place after work - Churchill argued that "it enlarges the opportunities for the pursuit of health and happiness among the millions of people who live in this country" - and reduce the amount of daylight hours that people "wasted" by sleeping through them.   It wasn't until the 1970s that somebody noticed it led to a reduction in traffic accidents, and today there is talk about the benefits of sunshine on human health, vitamin D production, SAD and so forth.  But the annoyance factor is still considerable, and every year there is a debate about whether daylight-saving needs changing or abolishing.

Mainland Spain is on Central European Time (GMT+1) and the UK is on Western European Time (GMT), but most of Spain is geographically further west than the UK.  Therefore the sun rises and sets later here, so in general we get up and go to bed later (that's my excuse anyway).

At the moment it doesn't get light till nearly 9 a.m. in Andalucia but the schools start at 8 so all the kids are going to school in the dark.  In the UK, one of the reasons always given for maintaining British Summer Time is so they don´t have to do this. Many people believe it would make sense for mainland Spain to move to Western European Time, along with the Canary Islands and Portugal, but others (mainly businessmen) want to stay in line with the majority of mainland Europe.

The opening hours for shops and businesses in Spain are regulated by the government. Shops are usually open from 9:00 or 10 am until 1:30 or 2 pm, then from 4:30 or 5 pm until 8 pm (except Saturdays). In summer the second shift is usually put back an hour or two. Large department stores and big air-conditioned shopping centres are open all day, usually 10 am till 10 pm. Professional offices usually open from 10 to 2, then from 4 to 7.  Banks are open from 10 to 2, then by law, they can choose either to open one afternoon a week, or on Saturday morning.

The suits are pushing for change in Spain's traditional office hours, abolishing the long afternoon break in favour of 9 to 5 (or more likely 8.30 till 6) so that they work the same hours as their counterparts in the rest of Europe and can phone each other, join in videoconferences etc.   This is already the norm in Barcelona and is increasingly common in Madrid.  But workers on the whole prefer their split shift. Lunch is the main meal of the day in Spain, usually consisting of three courses, and it can't be enjoyed properly in an hour (especially if accompanied by a glass or two of wine).  A snooze afterwards makes sense, especially in the summer heat.
The Alameda Clock - right twice a day

Sunday trading is strictly regulated, though for that we have to thank the unions rather than God.  Small shops can open if they sell bread or newspapers, or are in designated tourist areas, but the big stores can only open on eight Sundays a year.   However the many Chinese bazaars seem to have laws of their own and even the Alcalá ones open on Sunday.
This is all likely to change when the next government gets in, as they are committed to deregulating anything that might be seen to affect profitability.  It would also make a huge amount of sense for tourist attractions, visitor centres, museums etc, many of which close at 2, to open during the afternoons when tourists from overseas actually want to visit them.  

But regulations and Working Hours Directives do not feature strongly in the psyche of the average alcalaino.  You do what needs doing and it takes as long as it takes.  Builders and painters often work 12 or 14 hours a day with no siesta, even in midsummer.   Shopkeepers close at short notice for their daughter's communion, bars open when people are thirsty, council workers and the Policia Local seem to spend as much time in Dominguitos as behind their desk, and even the post office occasionally sports a "back in 15 minutes" notice on the door.  

The famous clock on the Alameda is right sometimes, but not often enough to be relied on, and the one on the Plaza Alta has been stuck at two minutes past midday since time immemorial.

And apart from on trips to the UK, I haven't worn a watch since 2008.

09 October 2011

Craft and Produce Fair

This week Alcalá hosted the first Feria de Muestras de Productos y Artesania del P.N. de Los Alcornocales, organised by the Junta de Andalucia Department of the Environment. The aims of the event, which will take place in a different location each year, are:

  • to raise awareness of the enormous environmental value of the Alcornocales Natural Park,
  • to inform the public about the traditional activities which take place there;
  • to acknowledge the role of the people who live and work in the Park;
  • to encourage sustainable development and tourism, which will benefit the 17 municipalities located within the Park, especially at a time when other forms of economic activity are failing.
Twenty stalls were set up in the Paseo de la Playa and the adjacent Parque Municipal.  Some were selling their locally produced goods including cheese, honey, chorizos, bread and cakes, wine, salt, pottery and glassware, wooden bowls and baskets.  Others provided demonstrations and talks by visiting experts on traditional activities such as making charcoal, cork harvesting, forestry and hunting.

Members of the Alcalá Adult Education Centre dressed up to provide a "living museum", culminating in a giant degustación of hot gazpacho, for which the town is famous.  The forestry stall sold indigenous plants; visiting schoolchildren were each given a sapling as part of the Plantemos para el Planeta (Let´s plant for the planet) initiative.   Behind the scenes there were lectures and workshops for professionals and organisations on how best to manage the Park's resources.  Guided walks and excursions into the Park were also available.

 Cheese from Queseria El Gazul

Honey products from the Rancho Cortesano

  Flor de Sal (Flowers of Salt) from the Bahia de Cadiz

 
 Decorative glassware from O'Chio Cristal,  Castellar de la Frontera 

Handmade dornillos for making gazpacho the traditional way






 Assorted handicrafts made in the Alcornocales

Mules are still used to transport cork from parts of the forest that lorries can't get to


¡Sin cabras no hay queso!
 
 La cocina de ayer - the kitchen of yesteryear

29 September 2011

Keeping fit in Alcalá

When I first moved here I though that just walking around this preciptitous town of ours would provide enough exercise to keep me in shape, not to mention living in a three-storey house. It did at first;  I lost half a stone and could sprint up the hill like a whippet without even thinking about it.   But lately I've found myself rationalising my trips into town so I don´t have to do it more than once every couple of days - less if possible, especially in summer.  My muscles are getting flabby and I'm starting to get puffed out climbing two flights of stairs.

So, now that the temperature has come down to a pleasant 25 degrees or so, it's time for some remedial action.  I'm not worried about dieting; we already eat very healthily, I'm not overweight and there are too many tasty treats around to start exercising self-denial at my age.  Exercise, "gentle and regular" as they say, is the thing for us nearly-60s.  My gentle and regular regime involves a rowing machine, lifting heavy things up and down a lot, and plenty of BRISK WALKING.


The Alcalá cycle path, from the town centre to La Palmosa, the industrial estate by the motorway, was opened three years ago.  I've never actually seen a cyclist on it, but it is well-used by Alcalainos and Alcalainas of all ages, shapes and sizes.  The Andar para Salud (Walking for Health) programme is promoted jointly by the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) and the Junta de Andalucia health service.

The views over the lake, the spring flowers,birds singing in the trees, morning mists and spectacular sunsets make this one of the nicest ways of keeping fit you can imagine.  Hundreds of people do the 5 km round trip every day; some jogging, some power-walking, some ambling along having a chat, some with pushchairs, some with dogs, some with walking sticks.  It's an ideal healthy walk; a gentle downhill slope to warm the muscles up, and an uphill slog on the way back go really get the circulation going.  A stop at one of the cafes at the bottom is optional.


Just outside the town is a small wooden hut called La Moncloa.  The Spanish equivalent of 10 Downing Street, El Palacio de La Moncloa in Madrid, is the location for the weekly Council of Ministers meeting.  The original Alcalá "Moncloa" was a scruffy shack with some ramshackle chairs where the old men used to sit, putting the world to rights while keeping an eye on who was coming in and out of the town. When the cycle path was built, the Ayuntamiento replaced it with a more substantial building, but sadly the old boys no longer seem to use it.  It´s a good place to stop for some shade though.


The well-used football pitch, home of Alcala FC

For a town of its size, Alcalá is very well endowed with sporting facilities.  The Ayuntamiento maintains an outdoor swimming pool, an all-weather football pitch, a large sports hall, keep fit classes and an open-air gym. There are also tennis and paddle courts which can be booked at the reception desk in the sports hall, by phone on 676 778278, or by email padelalcaladelosgazules@hotmail.es.
There are also two private gyms:  Gimnasio Energy on C/ Alcornocales (€30 a month and you can join for just one month if you are here on holiday) and one in C/ Altilla.

So there really is no excuse for flabby muscles!

Gimnasio Energy

Basketball in the Sala Deportivo

Floodlit Five-a-Side

Municipal swimming pool (open mid June till mid September, 1 till 7 pm)