Happy Roast Day


Today is the fifth annual Selaks’ Roast Day.

You will find some delicious recipes for beef and lamb, roasted and cooked other ways at Beef + Lamb NZ.

The roast below comes not from my kitchen but that of El Jardin del Califa in Vejer de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain.

It was stuffed with figs, apricots and prunes and served with aubergine stuffed with almonds. It was delicious.

More sheep in Spain are farmed for milk rather than meat.

To preserve feed for the milk-producing ewes,  most lambs are sent to slaughter at weaning.

At that stage they weigh only about 10kgs and we’d call them beta lambs. They’re much younger and lighter than in New Zealand where they’re weaned onto grass until they reach a weight of 18 – 20 kgs.

Spain still sunny but clouds gathering


Spain has been in the media for all the wrong reasons because of its economic woes.

We read a Time article on Jerez de la Frontera, Spain’s most indebted city, on the plane on the way over.

It spoke of council employees who haven’t been paid for months, high unemployment and the social and economic problems which come with both of those.

But on the surface, Spain looked much as we remembered it from three previous visits.

We lived in Vejer de la Frontera in 2005 and returned for shorter stays in 2007 and 2008.

Vejer is one of Andalusia’s many pueblo blancos – white villages. It’s perched on top of a hill near the Cape of Trafalgar between Cadiz and Tarifa on the Costa de la Luz and has a population of about 13,000 people.

In 2005 it was booming. The EU was pouring money into highway construction and a big irrigation scheme. British people, put off by soaring prices on the Costa del Sol  further east, were making the most of their high pound and Europe’s low interest rates buying and renovating houses.

Now the construction has been finished, the pound has dropped in value, interest rates are higher. There are still tourists on the streets but the boom is over.

Given the dire state of the economy we were expecting obvious signs of problems. At first glance it looked at least as prosperous as we remembered it.

However, the increase in the number of shops, bars and cafes was not a sign of prosperity but of people who had lost jobs trying to run their own businesses.

That extra competition made business tougher but was good for consumers. We thought eating out was cheaper than it had been. That was helped by the difference in the exchange rate. It had cost us about $2.30 to buy a euro seven years ago, now it takes about $1.60; but even euro for euro we thought prices were lower.

The busy season for tourists is a bit later but the town was bustling at the weekend. Our landlady said bookings last year were high but this year Spaniards are taking shorter breaks and competition from the Olympics and European Football championships on top of Europe’s economic woes were resulting in less business this year.

A social security system, family support and a thriving black market are masking the dire situation the country faces but locals told us times are very tough, businesses are struggling and depression and suicide rates are high.

The sun was still shining but there are dark clouds gathering.


On the street where we lived


Calle La Fuente (Fountain Street) runs from the Plaza de Espana in the heart of the old part of Vejer de la Frontera.

la fuente

The house we rented is about 2/3 the way down the street. Its footprint isn’t much bigger than our living room at home, but it’s on three levels.

The door opens off the street to an entrance way and internal patio which is a typical feature of Andalucian houses.


 A bathroom and living room open on to that and there are a couple of bedrooms off the living room.

Up a flight of stairs is a kitchen and dining room, a landing, an office/living room another bedroom and bathroom.

Up another flight of stairs is the roof top terrace.

Rental details and photos of the house are here.

Google Map is here.

On the road again


We left Vejer de la Frontera yesterday (Friday) and stayed last night in a 14th century fortress (more on that later) in Caroma, near Seville.

The fast train took us from Seville at 8.45 this morning and we arrived in Montpellier in southern France just after 9 tonight.

Posting from now on will be somewhat haphazard, depending on time and internet access. In Spain free or low cost WiFi was widely available providing, as Inquiring Mind commented, a much better service than we get in much of New Zealand.

It’s  5 euro for one hour or 11 euro for 24 hours unlimited access at the Holiday Inn in Montpellier.

Spare ribs


Spare ribs on  New Zealand menu means a large, long rack of bones.

At La Brasa de Sancho in Vejer de Frontera, there’s less bone and more meat – and the meat is tender, tasty with the subtle flavour of the wood smoke from the fire over which it’s cooked.


They’re not eating our bread here


If I had to eat the same thing for lunch and dinner every day I’d complain but I’m quite happy to stick with the same breakfast for months on end.

Toast with cottage cheese and kiwi fruit in winter and topped with vegemite, cottage cheese and tomato in summer.

My bread of choice for the toast is either Vogels’ sunflower and barley or Burgen soy & linseed.

There is a lot to like about much of the food we’re eating in Spain, but we haven’t been able to find any bread which comes near Vogels or Burgen.

Still, early morning temperatures in the 20s and breakfasting on a roof top terrace with almost 360 degree views is pretty good compensation for that.


bread 2

bread 3

The bright green paddocks are growing rice.

El Jardin del Califa


La Casa del Califa  is one of Vejer de la Frontera’s gems.


The hotel is made up of a collection of houses dating from the 1oth century to 17th centuries.

califa 4

It also has a wonderful restaurant, El Jardin del Califa, which serves delicious Moroccan food.

califa 2

califa 3

After the boom


Spain was booming in 2005.

Contributing to that was the EU money which was being poured into infrastructure.

Nearly 85 million euro for roading here:


Around 50 million euro for irrigation development here:


Vejer de la Frontera where we lived and the surrounding area were benefitting from both these projects.

The discovery by British people of the Costa de la Luz , helped by their favourable exchange rate and EU interest rates, added to the economic growth.

Jobs were plentiful in construction, renovation and service industries, particularly hospitality.

The positive impact of the new roading and irrigation are obvious four years later but the boom is over. Unemployment is around 18% in Spain and it’s higher here in the south.

The pound has fallen against the euro making Spain less attractive to British people, there are cheaper places in eastern Europe to visit or buy property in and the recession in general is having a dampening effect on tourism and the local economy.

We’ve noticed a lot more little bars and cafes in the town, partly a response to job losses as people set up their own businesses to make a living. But there are fewer people visiting them.

One cafe owner told us the busy season has been getting shorter and this year custom is more variable. Another told us he usually has 10 tables with at least eight full from 9am to late at night. Yesterday there were only two tables occupied at lunchtime.

The language school I’m attending has noticed a down turn too and that will have an impact on other businesses which accommodate, feed and entertain the students.

This is still a beautiful old town, with many old buildings and attractions of historical and cultural interest. It’s close to several long, golden sanded beaches with guaranteed heat and sunshine every day of the summer.

There is a lot to attract visitors, but until the recession is over fewer of them will be enjoying its charms and the local economy will be leaner because of that.

What do you do with rubbish?


When temeratures range from 20ish to nearly 40 every day you don’t want to have rubbish sitting around.

But when you live in a small house, with little or no outside space and no garden for compost what do you do with it?

The answer in Vejer de la Frontera is hang it on the hooks beside your door, too high for dogs or cats to reach, and sometime between 8 and 11 every night from Sunday to Friday the rubbish fairies will pick it up and take it away.

vejer 064

The locals say the beaches . . .


. . .  don’t get crowded until August.

If the beach at Conil, between Cadiz and Vejer de la Frontera was anything to go by, their definition of crowds and mine are a wee bit different:


conil 2

Gone to Morocco


The note on the table when I got back from school on Friday afternoon told me my farmer and visiting friends had gone to Morocco for the day.

It’s only a short distance from Vejer de la Frontera where we’re staying but it’s a completely different culture.

We can see the hills of Africa from the town and it’s only a 35 minute trip on the ferry from Tarifa to Tangier.

medina 4

Although there is a strong north African influence in the southern part of Spain, the food in Morocco is different too and a wander through the medina subjects you to an amaxing array of sights and scents.

 medina 2

medina 3

GPS vs map and mind


A GPS makes navigation much easier, but sometimes the old fashioned way is better.

On the way back from picking up friends from Malaga late last night we decided that instead of taking the coastal road from Algercirus to Vejer de la Frontera we’d head inland. That route was a little longer in distance but had more motorway which we figured would take a similar or shorter amount of time.

It might have, but a few kilometres after we’d started our detour the GPS told us to turn off the motorway. I knew the name of the town we were heading for and it wasn’t on the sign at the approaching intersection but I decided not to argue with technology.

I should have because the road we turned on to was narrow and winding. It was probably quite a bit shorter in distance but much longer in time because we could go at only half the speed we could have on the motorway.

Next time the GPS tells me to do something I’m not sure of I’ll remember that good as technology is, sometimes it’s no match for old fashioned paper map and a mind that’s worked out the route.

A little learning . . .


 . . . isn’t nearly enough when it comes to a foreign language.

My first attempts at learning Spanish were by correspondence. I had no trouble understanding the lessons but instead of doing a little each day I tended to do a fortnight’s work at a single sitting and then forgot everything I’d taken in by the next time I went back to it.

Studying at Otago University was more successful but learning the theory gives you skills in the opposite way from which you acquire them by total immersion. If you learn a language by living it you learn as children do, to understand what you hear first, then to speak and later to read and write. Learning it formally, reading and writing  usually come first then speaking and finally listening comprehension follows.

Three months total immersion at language school in Spain did more for my language skills than three years at university could have, but that was four years ago. Teaching night classes has helped me retain the basics but I’m very rusty with anything more advanced.

 That’s one of the reasons we’re back in Vejer de la Frontera where I’m spending mornings at La Janda language school.

It attracts students from all over the world and while we learn the  language we also learn about the Spanish culture and a little about the countries and cultures of our fellow students.

Es una experiencia muy especial, y día por día, poco por poco,  estoy aprendiendo más.  (It’s a special experience and day by day, little by little I’m learning more).

Disincentives work too


One of the waiters we got to know at La Brasa de Sancho in Vejer de la Frontera which we frequented on previous visits was a med student.

He’s not working this summer because if he did he’d lose his student benefit.

That’s the problem with welfare. It should be only for those who need it but it provides a disincentive for people to provide for themselves.

Intermittent transmission


My farmer and I are away for a sunshine fix which may result in posts at odd times and a reduction in posting.

It was trying to snow at home yesterday.

We’re expecting it to be a little warmer where we’re going:  a night in Singapore, two in Barcelona then back to Vejer de la Frontera where we spent three months in 2005 before meeting friends for a walking tour which starts in Milan and finishes in Verona.

Shortest day longest night


Today’s the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night.

The Carter Observatory says:

The Winter Solstice is on June 21 at 18:46 (6:46pm); this is when the Sun is at its most Northerly point in the sky. At the middle of the day on June 21, it reaches its lowest altitude, from the Northern horizon, for the year.

Brian Carter, Senior Astronomer at the Carter Observatory says, “This means that the longest night is June 21/22 and the shortest day is June 21”.

Jamie McKay discussed this on the Farming Show with Met Service weather ambassador Bob McDavitt on Friday.

He said that in there will be 9 hours 31 minutes of daylight in Auckland and in Dunedin just 8 hours 26 minutes.

The solstice doesn’t mean the coldest weather is over. Just as the warmest weather is usually in January and February after the summer solstice, the coldest days of winter are usually in July, after the winter one.

Memories from school geography tell me the lag in warming and cooling has something to do with being an island nation.

Water heats up and slows down more slowly than land so being surrounded by sea has a tempering affect on temperatures.

But that’s a very rusty memory and affirmations or corrections are welcomed.

We were at the Royal Highland Show in Scotland on June 21 in 1982 when the temperature wasn’t much warmer than we’d have expected in New Zealand.

Four years ago we were in Vejer de la Frontera, Spain, in June. Temperatures were much higher and children celebrated the summer solstice by making Juans and Juanas, which were paraded round the town then, like guys, burnt on a giant fire.

espana 110

Sacked for refusing to walk behind men & wear abaya


A British stewardess, Lisa Ashton, was sacked when she refused to fly to Suadi Arabia after being told she’d have to walk behind her male colleagues and wear the traditional black robe, an abaya.

Saudi experts and companies that recruit women to work in the country say it is a “myth” that western women are required to walk behind men. There is no requirement for them to wear the abaya in public, though many do.

Earlier this year an employment tribunal in Manchester ruled that BMI was justified in imposing “rules of a different culture” on staff and cleared it of sexual discrimination. Ashton has consulted Liberty, the human rights organisation, and may seek a judicial review of the decision.

What you do when your beliefs clash with those which  are acceptable in another country isn’t always simple but if this is reported correctly it does appear the airline was asking more of its employees than would be expected in Saudi Arabia.

The idea of any individual or group of people being required to walk behind another offends me and I struggle with the whole concept of the cover-all clothing which some Muslim women are expected to wear.

Some say it’s their choice but I wonder if it’s a free choice.

Fears of terrorism have declined a bit, but if there was another mass attack such as the September 9th ones in the USA or the bus and underground bombings in London authorities might look again at the security implications of voluminous robes.

That’s what put an end to the women of Vejer de la Frontera wearing the cobijaba.


It was common of women of the village to wear this until the Civil War when suspicion that men were disguising themselves as women by wearing the all-concealing black robe and hiding arms under it led to it being banned.

P.S. Stargazer has a related post on religion and gender equality  at the Hand Mirror.

Tagged twice


I’ve been double tagged – first by MandM then by Keeping Stock so I have to:

              *  Link to the person who tagged you

             *   Post the rules

             *   Share seven random or weird facts about yourself

             * Tag 7 random people at the end of the post with their links

So here’s the seven random/weird facts:

1. I had a one-way ticket to Britain when my farmer and I met so he flew 12000 miles to propose to me.

2. My longest friendship is older than my memory – which isn’t a sad reflection on the state of my memory, we met when her family moved next door to mine when we were both two.

3. I lived on Great Mercury Island for a year – employed by Michael Fay & David Richwhite, who own the island, to supervise the correspondence school lessons of the farm manager’s three children.

4. I’ve received a card on every Valentine’s Day of my life – not necessarily because it’s Valentine’s Day but because it’s also my birthday.

5. I lived for three months in Vejer de la Frontera.

6. Most people call me Ele which is a contraction of my name – Elspeth, the Scottish form of Elizabeth.

7. We hosted an AFS student from Argentina and his family is now our family.

And an eighth: I never pass on anything resembling a chain letter and as this could be construed as such I’m tagging the following people as a tribute to their blogs but won’t be at all offended if they don’t want to play the game:


Bull Pen

Art and My Life 

John Ansell

Rob Hosking

Something Should Go Here

PM of NZ

French public back citizenship ban for burqa wearer


A French court has denied citizenship to a foreign woman because she  wears a burqa and swears total submission to her husband.

The woman, identified only as Fazia M., is a 32-year-old Moroccan who has been living in France since 2000. She speaks French and has had three children, all of whom have acquired French citizenship.

Under the laws prevailing at the time of her citizenship application, a spouse had the right to acquire nationality provided he or she had been married for two years and had a good level of French. However, the authorities could reject the application on the grounds of “lack of integration” into French life.

Fazia M. was rejected on these grounds after she attended several interviews, dressed in the burqa, with the social services and police, which are normal steps in the process.

She and her husband volunteered the information that they were Salafists – members of an ultra-strict Saudi-inspired branch of Islam – and that the husband had asked her to wear the burqa and that she accepted “submission” to him, Le Monde reported.

Fazia M. appealed to the State Council, arguing that she had been denied the right to freedom of religious expression. The court rejected her suit, saying she had “adopted a radical practice of religion that is incompatible with the essential values of the French community, notably on the principle of equality of the sexes”.

“According to her own statements, Faiza M. leads a virtually reclusive life, cut off from French society,” explained Emmanuelle Prada-Bordenave, a government lawyer. “She has no idea about secularism or the right to vote. She lives in total submission to the men of her family.” Read the rest of this entry »

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