06 June 2011

Painting the town white

Arcos de la Frontera
 Years ago before I had any thoughts of moving to Spain I saw a TV programme about the White Villages of Andalucia.   Sparkling white cubes with terracotta roofs clinging to hills topped by castles, narrow cobbled streets opening into picturesque little squares, populated by little old ladies dressed in black and little old men riding little old donkeys ...  it looked like a film set. In those days my ideal holiday was slobbing on the beach getting a tan and catching up on my reading, but the programme really captured my imagination and I wanted to go and see for myself.  I certainly never imagined I would end up living in one.

Vejer de la Frontera
Many of these towns have the suffix "de la Frontera", indicating that they were on the old frontier between the Moorish and Christian-controlled territories - hence the large number of watch-towers, castles and other fortifications found in the area.

Alcalá is not an official pueblo blanco, in the sense that it doesn't feature in the Ruta de de los Pueblos Blancos and therefore doesn't get the corresponding tourist grant.  Rumour has it that permission was denied because of the ugly four-storey building at the end of the Calle Real.  But to all intents and purposes it is - the buildings are all painted white and have been since time immemorial.

 This involves, as you can imagine, a lot of whitewash, or cal.  Over the winter the mild, damp conditions are perfect for the growth of mould (green, black, orange - take your pick) and it is a spring ritual to go round the house with a bucket of diluted bleach and a scrubbing brush to get rid of it all before you can start painting.   (The spores of black mould can be toxic, by the way - you should never scrub it off dry, always wet it with diluted bleach and leave it for a couple of hours to kill the spores off before removing it.)

I've just started work on painting the roof terrace, having waited several days for the wind to drop sufficiently to be able to wield a brush without it blowing everywhere.  Even so there is nearly as much paint on me as there is on the wall ...

Patio in Vejer
White painted buildings reflect heat and this helps keep the interior cool, or so theory goes, though the flat roofs are usually painted oxblood red, which sort of has the opposite effect. 

Nonetheless they certainly look wonderful, especially when festooned with red geraniums or crimson bougainvillea, backed by an azure sky.

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