A Huge Surprise

On Tuesday (this was sometime back in July!) I had decided to make a risotto but had run out of arborio rice. So I go down into the town to get some. It’s not far and I can call in at the organic shop, Panacea by the Teatro Villamarta and Tabanco el Pasaje.

So I get there and no arborio rice, so I thought I would call in at a shop called Aderezarte in Plaza Angustias half way between home at the Plazuela and Panacea. It’s one of my favourite shops and I nearly called in there on the way to Panacea. I walk in and the place feels a bit disorganised or disordered – it just didn’t feel right. After many years working in supermarkets and having been trained as a graduate trainee with Marks and Spencer I sense these things as soon as I walk into a shop. So I ask the lady (who I now know is called Conchi) what is happening and why are they selling things at a discount.

Well I was pretty shocked when she said that they were going to have to close the shop and they needed to sell all the stock.

‘Why are you having to close the shop?’ I ask. She sadly explained that her husband has started to show signs of dementia and she needs to be with him. The care system in Spain relies totally on family in these scenarios. They are only just beginning to have specialist dementia care.

‘So what about Raquel?’ I ask. Raquel I find out is Conchi’s niece and her co-owner. Conchi explained that Raquel would love to keep the shop on, but doesn’t want to do it on her own. So then I find myself asking (this was a case of my mouth speaking before my conscious mind had caught up. I still don’t know where the question came from – it didn’t seem as though it were me).

‘And if she had a business partner do you think she would carry on?’

‘Oh yes’, Conchi replied. So I said, ‘well I’m prepared to be that business partner – can I meet with Raquel?’ So then Raquel walked in and we agreed to have coffee the next morning before the shop opened.

Our meeting was a delight. I find that I get on very well with Raquel. I learn that she is from León, as is Conchi, but she came to Jerez when Conchi made the suggestion to open a shop based upon artisan products from León. So aunt and niece set up together. Apparently León is known for having wonderful chorizo and cheese (queso) and I find many more wonderful food products. So even though I am British and my Spanish is not quite fluent I find myself now the co-owner of a fantastic artisan food shop called Aderezarte. The name alone is worth something since they have registered it and I must confess I have visions of franchising the brand. I can offer my business and retail expertise – it’s not for nothing I spent 4 years with M&S and then 1 year with Somerfield (I wish it had been longer, but the dire financial situation led to me being made redundant) and time doing consultancy work for the Belgian supermarket group Sarma Penney and Sainsburys in the UK and a brilliant sojourn with Disney where all I seemed to do was play – but also learned huge amounts about customer service.

I did some due diligence before I started and looked at the figures from the time the shop opened two years ago and it has had a 30% increase in takings year on year. We would need to lift the sales even more in order to make a profit, but the shop is beginning to move into profit (excluding substantial set-up costs). That’s not a bad record and one I can live with. However what I can’t fathom out is how Spain works the business basis. In the UK I would have to buy Conchi out. It’s not at all like that here and right now I am learning day by day how businesses work in Spain. They don’t as far as I can gather, favour entrepreneurs, something that I would dearly love to change if I get the chance. I have noticed that shops don’t seem to grow naturally here in Spain but remain one shop entities and I am now beginning to learn why this is. However that is apparently one of the things that a new Spanish Government has to do when they finally get that sorted out (after a 3rd set of elections). With my years in facilitation that is another thing I would dearly love to organise – all the parties actually being professionally facilitated to arrive at a solution – but I don’t think Spain does facilitation let alone democracy.

So now I will be selling the wonderful legumbres and especial (spices) that are characteristic of Aderezarte. I will be able to make supplier visits – I already have plans to visit a vinaigre de Jerez supplier and a ecological salt manufacturer in San Fernando on the way to Cádiz. I have also been meeting some of the customers who are wonderful. I could write a book just based upon them alone!

Flamenco Viernes

One of the people in the course last week was Scandanavian and commented that there didn’t seem to be much dancing to watch in Jerez. She said that in Sevilla she had been able to go to lots of tablaos to watch dance performances. This is true. There aren’t so many opportunities here. There are only a couple of Tablaos and some have closed – the market is smaller and people come to watch the ‘greats’ in the two weeks of the Flamenco Festival in February. I explained that for one Seville is a lot bigger and there are more tourists there, and secondly the Andalucían Junta pours a lot more money into the flamenco in Seville than it does in Jerez. (Especially in this the biennale year with the big festival in Seville in September) It removed (or considerably reduced) the funding from the Teatro Villamarta so that very little of any art forms could be performed in Jerez of any size. Another reason is that whilst in the UK and northern Europe the flamenco dance is seen as the most important aspect of flamenco here it is not. As Pilar Ogalla said last week in our class, ’the dancer comes last, it is the singer who comes first.’ So here in Jerez there are plenty of places to listen to flamenco singing. It is no accident that all the dance teachers here sing and I have learned a phenomenal amount through taking flamenco singing lessons that I just did not know through my teachers in England. It is almost a completely different art form. There is also another reason and I found it interesting to talk to a Scandanavian person about this. The flamenco in Jerez is almost a clandestine activity. It is actually very difficult to find out what is happening here unless you are in the know or actually living here. It is as though people make it very difficult! You can of course visit the Tourist Information Office – but there are surprisingly no hand outs giving lists of teachers and classes and their locations and a What’s On of flamenco week by week. This is strange.

However I also found it strange that this individual even though I told her about two opportunities – one was a good Tablao and the other was Flamenco Viernes which takes place every Friday at 22.00 in the garden of the Alcazar during the summer did not pursue the opportunities. When I asked she said ‘no we were tired’ or some like. It was as though she had to have it given to her on a plate. There are posters everywhere, including in the Tourist Information and I know for sure there were leaflets in the hotel this woman and her professional dancer daughter were staying in. This last Friday the Montoya family were performing. Now these are probably the best male professional flamenco dancers in the world – they are a flamenco family from Seville and their nicknames are La Farruca (mother) two sons Farruquito and Farruco and the other main performer the grandson, el Carpeta.

I went to this performance which was fascinating. First of all the musicians were young and playing in a way that is fresh and different. Second el Carpeta was young, powerful and electrifying. He broke two pairs of shoes and even though young, commanded the stage immensely. I have seen Farruquito dance a number of times – in Madrid on the big stage and here in Jerez at the Guarida del Angel as well as a couple of times in the Teatro Villamarta. I wouldn’t miss a performance of his for all the world. To see the whole family perform together was amazing. The most exciting thing was probably seeing their two youngest girls do a bulerías at the end. I have never seen such composed dancers at the age of about two and four in my life before. These girls have been born into a great flamenco family and know it even at this young age. I have seen lots of talented young girls dancing now, but with nothing like the command of these two. It was beautiful to watch. Now I know that the Finnish couple did not go to it – all of the other experienced members of the class were there. So what did they expect? Perhaps I should have offered to get them tickets, but they had been in town shopping so I knew that they were close to Plaza Arenal to the Tourist Information Office. I suspect just to be delivered to a flowery Tablao not to have to do some work themselves in getting there. What they missed was probably the greatest opportunity to see some of the greatest performers of flamenco in one family on the same night. How could you miss that?

First Curso de Verano

I flew back from the UK via Madrid on Sunday and was back in the dance studio at 10am on Monday to start an intensive set of workshops held during the summer at the Centro de Baile de Jerez run by Vicki Ramos and a series of some of the best dancers and teachers available at the moment.

This week I am being taught by Pilar Ogalla from Barrio Santiago, Jerez. She is the wife of Andres Peña and this February at the Flamenco Festival they won the audience award for their show. She is a magnificent dancer and a generous teacher. We are learning Cantiñas, which is one of the Alegrías family of dances. My singing teacher, Luis tells me that the compàs and rhythm are the same, but the song and music is slightly different. Like Alegrías it comes from Cádiz, on the coast about 35 kilometres from Jerez through Puerto de Santa Maria and Puerto Real. It is a sassy dance where the female can strut and show off both strength but also sexuality and femininity. I am also doing the bulerías class with her where she is teaching us a bulerías de Cádiz which would typically be danced at the end of the Cantiñas so it’s great learning the two together. It is altogether more ‘flirty’ than the typical bulerías de Jerez and this one has more virtuosity in the steps and footwork with a lot of flicks and different weighting and balancing which means that you have to have your weight in exactly the right place or you will fall over. That means knowing exactly where you need to be ahead of time so that you move through the steps without falling over. At one point, for example we have our weight on the heel and fall onto the back foot and then over the front. It would be quite easy to collapse in a heap with that one!

I learned a cantiñas with Rafaela Carrasco about 5 or 6 years ago and looking back I didn’t have a clue. So I am pleased with how I at least can adjust my style and since I danced an alegrías in the school show choreographed and taught to us by Vicki Ramos a few weeks ago, I have the strutting and big movements in my body memory! I have been working on my style – especially of my upper body, and hands, since that is what people in an audience notice. My footwork is strong, but my memory horrible so it takes me a while for my feet to catch up! The principle is that you can work on that to get it up to scratch through practise. It is wonderful to be taught style and technique by someone like Pilar who is great fun. Pascual our guitarist is from Cádiz and lovely to work with. We are indeed very fortunate.

On day 3 of a week workshop I invariably have a very off day. Somehow all the work is in bits in the body and hasn’t quite come together. It didn’t help either that last night was very hot and I don’t have air conditioning in this flat so I didn’t sleep well and did not feel at all on form. Hopefully I will catch up tomorrow.

I am planning to do a class with Pilar at the Flamenco Festival next February where she will be teaching an alegrías with bata de cola. So similar to what we are learning but with the dress with a long train. So that will be familiar and fun – another level of difficulty – although I already perform an alegrías with manton and bata de cola, so hopefully not too unfamiliar and difficult.

Flamenco in London – Paco Peña’s show Patrias

Paco Peña opened his latest production Patrias in Sadlers Wells on Tuesday and just by chance I had the good fortune to attend the opening night. Paco Peña is based in London and brings together a talented range of flamenco dancers and musicians. The male dancer, Angel Muñoz is based in Córdoba and has been dancing with the company for 16 years. Not only a very exciting dancer, Angel is also an excellent teacher who visits London regularly for workshop intensives and teaches every year at the Jerez Flamenco festival. I remember being electrified by Angel’s dancing in his first show with Paco Peña in Edinburgh in around 2001 and whilst more self assured and more lyrical than fiery now, he is nevertheless a wonderful performer who can command his own show – such as Blanco y Negro which he brought to Sadlers Wells and performed at the Jerez Festival in 2015. He is partnered by female dancer and choreographer Mayte Bajo.

Patrias is an important word in the Spanish language and means ‘the country’, but within it are concepts deeper and more meaningful to Spaniards. This piece is a homage to the poet García Lorca who was executed in the Spanish civil war and it is the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. It is a darker piece than Paco Peña has shown before, the artists are all dressed in ochres, and greys in the style of peasant clothes. There are quotes from the poetry of Lorca, Pablo Neruda and Antonio Machado with the spoken voice of General Franco and photographs projected onto the back screen. One of the cast reads both Spanish and English pieces in between the music. The dances are predominantly folklórico – Verdiales and Fandangos – rather than the more fiery or showy flamenco dances. There are some heart rending songs which suit the plaintif tone of singer Gema Jiménez.

The sense is of saying ‘goodbye’ and love and loss of loved ones. Of the attack on learning and community, but not of the direct fighting of war, but the sense of coping as a community. For me the sentiment was more about poignancy and sadness and the difficulty of standing up to the fascista element.

Mi Flamenco and the Peña Flamenca de Londres

I have missed my flamenco here in the UK until last night. I have been madly dashing round the country – first to a 60th birthday party in West Wales – St David’s. Then to stay with a friend in Bristol and then back to London to do lots of admin type things not to mention celebrate family birthdays. I haven’t had a lot of time to think about flamenco – except to confirm the courses that I am doing back in Jerez during the next few weeks.

So last night I went to see Mi Flamenco perform at the Peña Flamenca de Londres. Mi Flamenco consist of flamenco dancer, Ester Tal and her guitarist husband, Uri Tal, together with visiting professionals – singer, Luis Vargas Monje and dancer Kelián Jímenez who is from Madrid and I saw performing in February at the Tablao Cardamomo there. I am closely connected to all of them. I have known Ester and Uri for about 15 years I suppose when I started to do flamenco regularly. I was working in Bournemouth and met with a couple who found out I was keen on flamenco and recommended me to learn with Ester. Since I lived in Bournemouth during the week and my residence was in Bristol I used to call by the dance studio they were looking after on the edge of Southampton. It broke up my journey and I could catch up with a private lesson. I attended general classes during the week. Ester was in the process of moving back to the UK from Jerez where she had been living for about 7 years. During the next years I have first attended regular classes with Ester until I found that after moving back to Bristol I just could not continue travelling the 2 1/2 hours each way and I had to suffice with the workshops she ran from time to time in Bristol. Luis Vargas would also come across and perform with the group and occasionally give singing lessons. Kelián as well came over to the UK and gave the occasional weekend workshop. So over 10 years or so I have got to know the members of the group well.

It was through Ester that I came to live in Jerez. She was giving a workshop for the Peña Flamenca de Bristol members near Bristol and I was saying, ‘I really think it’s time I put my money where my mouth is and go and live and dance in Jerez’. Ester looked at me and said ‘why don’t you rent our flat then?’ I knew their flat well, and had stayed there a number of summers to do the Curso de Verano with VIcki Ramos at her Centro de Baile in Jerez. So I investigated renting out my relatively new house in Bristol and discovered that it was a ‘no brainer’. That with the money from my house rental and the difference with the Spanish flat I could live comfortably and pay for classes. So I made it happen and here I am (well not right now since I am in London as I write).

I only saw Ester and Uri a few weeks back in Jerez when they were running a 3 day intensive workshop. I see Luis twice a week though for singing lessons and through him have learned a massive amount about flamenco and the various palos’ since the time I have lived there since October.

It’s different seeing them perform though. However the difference this time is that I know the words and music to many of the songs and could sing them with Luis if invited. I recognised some of the choreographies that I have learned with both Ester and Kelián and have a confidence with Jaleo – the calls that the audience and musicians make to encourage each other on. I am an active participant in the show and much much more knowledgable. In my recent shows I have seen my weaknesses in my upper body and whilst not being quite right still – both Ester and Irène (my teacher at the Flamenco Puro school or Maria del Mar Moreno) – it has finally dawned on what I need to do now. I thought I was doing it, but after having seen photographs and a video I now see at last where I am going wrong. I think it’s a touch of arrogance and also a touch of perception blindness but I couldn’t ‘get’ what they were talking about when they criticised me for limp arms. In fact as a former dance teacher it’s more that my whole upper torso isn’t strong enough and the turn doesn’t come round enough from the centre back. I know what to do now to correct this rather horrible failing. It has been a frustration for years. Basically my ballet training has led me to a weak insipid set of movements. I think and trust that this realisation will enable me to make a dramatic change. I could also ‘see’ Ester’s movements in a different way.

So I felt that I had gone from outsider to inner circle in this country then now to outsider in Jerez and I suspect that when I go back insider in Jerez. I will I suspect look and feel very different. I knew the steps – I remember in Javier Latorre’s class this year in the flamenco festival noticing that although we were virtually at his professional level that the difference between me and the professional level assistant students was that they could see a series of steps and just be able to do them, whereas I have to have them broken down and if not for me by the teacher then I have to do it myself from the video.

So it was lovely to see my friends again and support their lovely performance. Uri played the guitar wonderfully and I love Luis’ rough powerful flamenco voice. Kelían and Ester dance together with a palpable sexual tension. All are consummate performers – I know their choreographies and styles well and am trying to emulate them.

Tomorrow night I go to see Paco Peña here at Sadlers Wells and on Thursday I see the theatrical show given by Mi Flamenco in a theatre in Trowbridge. I am gearing to go back to Jerez on Sunday and start my summer workshops and back to class again in September. This time with new awareness and hopefully a stronger style and technique.

Heartbreak and Healing

Today I learned something about flamenco and its power to heal. One of my favourite places to sit and watch the world go by, or read the Sunday newspapers is Plaza Plateros and in particular the café Casa Gabriela in the centre of Jerez. Now that they know that I am a pupil and friend of Luis Vargas I am not just an anonymous Inglesa but known as a resident. I always think of the words of the Guajiras

“Me gusta por la mañana despues de café mio

(In the morning I like to just after my coffee)

and then

Que bonita es Jerez por las mañana temprano,
D’el barrio Santiago a la plazuela San Miguel”

These words took on even more poignancy today since they were sung by an emigré from Jerez in Havana, Cuba. That is exactly how I feel now concerning Great Britain. As I was reading the newspapers – Charlie Hebdo because it makes me laugh and helps me keep up with my French, the Diario de Jerez, so I know what’s happening in Jerez and Spain, and this morning The Sunday Times to see what was being said about events in the UK.

As I read on I started to shake and cry. I felt very similar to how I felt after my husband died suddenly in 2008. I feel terrible grief and loss. The country that I left in October is no more. Instead there is one that is divided in a way that I never felt possible. It feels from here like civil war has broken out, and that the country is divided in a way that is dangerous and destabilising. My father was in the army and an expert in communications, codes and ciphers and propoganda, having beamed in radio propoganda and messages to the resistance during the Second World War. I remember him describing to me the strategy should there be a military takeover. Oh yes in the 70’s there were contingency plans. A similar situation springs to mind.
I now feel like an exile. I am travelling back to the UK on Thursday so I will test out how I feel then and I will be with my family for a lot of that time. The visit now feels valedictory in some way. I go back with a broken and heavy heart wondering what is going to happen next. Certain things happened yesterday making it even more unlikely that I go back to the UK to live again, in that I bumped into a very old (not in age, but in when we knew each other) who is in Jerez and I hadn’t been in contact with (why I wonder?) Also an awakening of going back to my old work when I was truly an international consultant just like my father and sister. So I feel now like a real digital nomad.  I spend my time in communications with people from the USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and of course Spain as well as France, Scandinavia and through my contacts here Japan. I feel less and less attached to my old life in Bristol which is beginning to feel distant and parochial. I knew this before I left which is partly what prompted me to get away.

So how does this connect with flamenco? Well on one level the one thing that has kept me going the last two days was the preparation and rehearsals for probably my biggest test in flamenco dance yet – the show with María del Mar Moreno’s Jerez Puro Arte school. We have worked our socks off this week and I have learned how to be in a truly professional level flamenco show. Even the tiny tots looked professional and indeed in the second half – our half with the big boys and girls – she announced that this was  professional level flamenco and wow was it. At the beginning of the week I would never have included myself in that category, but after the show last night I reckon I can. All this work really helped to take my mind off how I felt about the referendum and the result. All I could focus on was practising my steps, practising the stage make up and being mentally prepared. It worked. Our performance of a Fandangos and Verdiales was amazing and I think we really pulled something out of the bag (to give this an idiomatic phrase.) Yes we triumphed and looked fantastic and danced beautifully.

The other connection with flamenco is that I keep on finding now that the words of the songs that I have learned keep on popping into my head to match the emotion that I am feeling. Today the words as I walked home sobbing my eyes out were

“pobrecito de mi mare (madre) llorando a……..”

(my poor mother crying….)
I realise just how much an expression of these feelings flamenco is. It is and always has been a way for an exiled/outcast people to express hidden or otherwise unexpressed emotions in a way that is unbelievably beautiful. These words and expressions have become part of my soul and in no way replace those of my beloved English folk tradition, but they seem closer to how I feel now. I am becoming part of a diaspora, a privileged dispossesed population of Brits who no longer feel part of their motherland just like the Jerezano in Havana.  But who nevertheless long for that lost home. I do hope the people in my new home are more welcoming of strangers bringing economic benefits than the people of 52% of Great Britain.

Besides that I look and feel very different to that person who left the UK last October. People hardly recognise me and I don’t recognise myself. In fact one of the events that I will be at next week just outside Bath, is the 10th anniversary of a network of business entrepreneurs run by a good friend and mentor of mine, Mike Wilsher. Called the Executive Foundation, I studied its forerunner for my MBA dissertation, developing a model of entrepreneur and Small Business executive learning that led to the formation of the Executive Foundation. I looked at the photograph of me in the list of attendees and do you know what I hardly recognised myself. I feel in the last 8 years since my husband died I have emerged as a butterfly. Not that I would wish the tragedy that befell me then on anyone. However it is the proof that out of tragedy can emerge new and transformed life just as the metaphor of the butterfly. Not only in every way in my life but in particular my understanding and practise of flamenco which in no way resembles anything I understood when I started to get serious about flamenco just after Rob died. I have always felt that he pointed me on the path and every now and again I get nudges that feel as though he is encouraging me on the path. To where I don’t know, but for sure it’s not back to England.

Let us hope that the same happens to the UK after what I feel is the tragedy of exiting the EU.

End of Term Shows, rehearsals and performances

It’s a long time since I did an end of term show. Alejandra my teacher in Bristol seemed to go off the idea of presenting any shows. I think it was beause fewer and fewer people were willing to do them and the only one that we did was the school Saturday fair towards the end of term. We did a wonderful show a few years back on the dockside in Bristol but other than that nothing. I used to perform a lot with the early dance group Good Companie – all over the UK and Europe. We did historical fairs and events in plays, stately homes, at the Edinburgh Festival. This felt different. We knew each other so well and had delved into historical texts and attended summer courses together so knew the dances and each other really well. No one really knows how those dances looked apart from some rare pictures, and unless someone decided to do one of our dances at a very different tempo – which did happen once – we would rarely see the dances and were in fact the experts.

I have suffered a lot from performance anxiety. I have to be really certain of a dance, and have an unfortunate tendency to translate a dance 180 degrees if I don’t know a performance space or alternatively go totally blank and have to invent steps and pieces of choreography. This is not unusual I am told. So long gone are the days when I would perform regularly – my twenties probably when I did a lot of Jazz Dance demonstrations in London and at University when I danced with Cambridge Contemporary Dance Group.

However don’t get me wrong – I love performing and especially flamenco. It’s just I haven’t had a lot of opportunity. So blow me down nothing for several years and then two come along at once. To say I was excited when I first heard I would be dancing on the stages of both the Sala Paúl and the Sala Companía would be an understatement. I have been coming to the Jerez Flamenco Festival every year for the last 8 years and have seen some of the up and coming and more well known dancers perform in those spaces.

Then reality hit me. I realised that I would be having to attend many practices. In fact this week I have a practise at 7.30 and then have to head straight off to the Sala Paul to perform. I’m not sure that this is wise. I have a feeling that I should be doing costume and make up in that hour beforehand. (That’s confirmed so I will be)

So this week I have practises every day and last Saturday and this coming Saturday. Since I spent many years from the age of 4 to about 25 doing this I have the disciplines – I’m just a little out of practise of being on stage and all the routines that this requires. You can’t count when I nearly ended up in the Matthew Bourne matinée performance of Sleeping Beauty by mistake after taking a wrong turning in the Sadlers Wells backstage area at the Christmas Escuela de Baile course two years ago.

For example there’s the dress rehearsal with all the ensuing chaos. Then knowing whether a table will be here or there, or a speaker set right in the very front. How far do we start in the wings and what is the order of the pieces? Do we come dressed in our first number dress and what is that going to be?

Then there’s the preparation – washing the dress, checking the hair gear – have I got hair grips, flower and what do I do to prevent a piece of hair escaping or my flower falling off in the dance?
I’ve got the ear rings, I’ve got all the rest so now for show number one it’s Show Time. The standard is very high here in Jerez. People see so much really good flamenco it’s much much more professional than anything I’ve seen or done in London in the amateur scene and a lot better than even some of the professional shows even in the UK. There are a couple of teachers who really make an impression in the UK with their end of term shows, but a lot of the pupils don’t know what it means or takes to get to a level of professionalism. I know that sounds harsh, but even I am feeling it and for years I was fully into the semi-professional dance scene.

Bring it on – Sala Paul here I come and see the photo below of the ‘mujeres’ dancing Alegrías. don’t we look great.

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So one show down and rehearsals every night this week for the next one. This time I shall be dancing the fandangos and verdiales and wearing blue and looking much more gitana! It’s a fiendish dance with lots of zapateado (footwork and you have to remember which foot to start off with or you get into a real pickle. Also we have to use the skirt in the right way or it will look awful for the audience. Although I find dancing solo excrutiating, dancing in an ensemble is really tricky so you look like a corps de ballet – all the same. Also I have seen the photographs from Monday and now I understand what Irène has been telling me about my arms and shoulders – I really do need to a) strengthen them and for the shoulders throw them round a lot more to the side. Let’s see how I look in the video of the

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next show.

The Orchard Part 2

We have just been back to the orchard in Chipiona – this time to pick apricots and figs. After having fresh apricots for breakfast and stewed apricots for dessert I have decided that I could live on apricots, which contain vitamins A, B and C, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and are good for the blood and circulation system, the nervous system and mind and emotion. They work to help with anaemia, mental fatigue, and insomnia. Especially these fresh not so sweet ones from this lovely hidden away orchard amongst the vineyards overlooking the sea. It’s a shame I don’t have an oven because I would be making apricot tarts, sponge cakes and more. Although I do have a large batch of apricot and brandy jam which quite frankly is wonderful.

It broke my heart to see so many lying bruised on the ground. We were just walking through them and squishing them under foot. We didn’t have a ladder either so couldn’t reach those high up in the tree either.

It is so exciting picking fruit from a place like this. Although being an avid fan of pick your own fruit I would say it’s exciting picking fruit, full stop. There is just something very special about looking to see which ones are ready – not too ripe or too green, and then reaching up to take it in your hand. It is very special, with a sense of a gift and of gratitude for nature’s abundance. As for eating freshly picked fruit – amazing.
I learned that there are two kinds of fig fruits on edible figs – the early ones are called breba on the old branch and then the smaller ones that ripen later on the new growth at the end. My family had a fig tree in our garden in Buckhurst Hill, Essex on the edge of London which was considered incredibly exotic. Hardly anyone knew what a fig was then. Our garden was the remains of a huge estate called Luctons and it was probably one of the grand remains, together with our grape vine and orchard. So I was as happy as anything learning about the fruit and appreciating the setting. Since visiting the orchard I find that there are at least 850 varieties of the genus ficus including the banyan and the ficus elasticus or rubber tree. The varieties appear to propogate in an interesting way with a codependent relationship with a wasp that helps to fertilise the flower to make the fruit grow. However not all figs are propogated by flower and seed I find. Indeed an interesting fruit.

I can’t process all the fruit – some can go in the freezer I reckon ready to make into jam later and I never really did manage to master making lime marmalade. I still have to work on that. Although I would like to make this old strain with it’s divine smell, nothing like the types that we see in the shops, into essential oil. It is the most wonderful smell I think I’ve come across and now

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I’m wondering how I can learn how to make essential oils before it’s too late.

The grapes on the vines are growing as well and now quite discernable bunches that will be weeks away from maturing. If you look at the photograph you will see the typical ‘white’ earth of the terrain around Jerez, Chipiona and Sanlucar where the Palomino and Pedro Ximenez and grapes are grown and out of which the Sherry that we know, is made. More of that in another blog though.

Relaxed and Refreshed – What is a Detox Retreat?

I have just come back rejuvenated from a detox retreat in Almería, Spain. Because I live here I thought it would be easy. It’s just a 6 hour drive across Andalucia which I’ve done a few times before. However I misjudge what a 6 hour drive takes out of you and arrive absolutely shattered. As Ali one of the leaders said ‘you arrive at 100 miles an hour and wonder why you’ve feel as though you feel as though you have hit a brick wall!’

I came on the same detox in September, however it wasn’t the same. The time of year is different. The September one was over the Autumn Equinox and this is close to the summer Solstice and with a new moon as well. All this has remarkable effects on the human body and a cleanse over a new moon and as we come in to summer is particularly powerful. Last September I was packing up my house in Bristol, UK., and phoning removal men constantly arranging to deliver my main pieces of furniture to a friend’s garage to be stored. I knew I had to get back and finish what turned out to be an arduous final phase of clearing. This time I was 7 months into my stay here in Jerez and I knew that I was facing some decisions – should I stay, should I go home? Should I sell my house, how did I feel about my flamenco dancing, what would I do about scaling up jam and marmalade production, what was happening to my daughter and her boyfriend? In summary I was in a state of fluidity and flux and there was a great big question mark over every aspect of my life. It was definitely a good time to stop and take stock, but I hadn’t reckoned on how the settling in to life in Jerez and managing strange people, strange teachers, an alien culture, speaking Spanish all the time had exhausted me.

So what is a detox? It is where we allow our bodies to cleanse of toxins that build up from eating the wrong food, stress and emotional turmoil, living a life on the run, not allowing ourselves to rest, having difficult family and work situations, and in one of our fellow travellers, recovering from a broken leg and in another suffering multiple sclerosis and other degenerative diseases. In my case drinking Oloroso, eating tostada and coffee for breakfast having to break up from a very unhealthy relationship (well two actually) and as I said all the stress of moving to a foreign culture.

How do we do this? Well for six days all we ‘ate’ was juice and water. The juices were huge and primarily green – that is mainly vegetables such as romaine lettuce, celery, and spinach mixed with carrots, ginger, lemon, apple and possibly some other fruits.

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We drink lots of water – at least 1.6 litres carrying around our water bottles all the time. This allows the digestion to rest and the liver to work on just getting rid of deep toxins such as heavy metals that it doesn’t usually have a chance to access. Instead these are buffered in parts of the body building up poisonous waste products that in the end take their toll on our systems. During the juice fast the body relaxes and lets go of the toxins along with other minerals since it isn’t having to fire fight and use the minerals to fight off infections and generally be the SWAT crew of the body rather than the repair and maintenance crew.

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The first evening I arrive to a delicious raw food meal cooked by Anna Middleton and then that was it – no solid food for another 6 days. Our nourishment consisted of a cup of Mullein tea (more of this later) after waking, a green juice mid morning – if you look at the pictures they are big glasses. A glass of coconut water at lunch time, a glass of green juice at tea time

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and a glass of potassium broth after our yoga class at 8pm. These are all packed with nutrients and minerals and provide the body with everything it needs. It also doesn’t provide the body with all the things that it doesn’t need – empty calories such as sugar and refined carbohydrates which give the body virtually nothing of nutritional value. The water also enables the body to flush out the toxic materials without again having to rob the body of vital water supplies necessary for the cells.

That is not all. Often in detox regimes they forget that what comes out is important and many of us have compromised waste elimination systems – yes in colloquial terms wee and poo. Many people are eating so much of the wrong food with very little green vegetables and the necessary roughage required to scour he digestive system that we just don’t effectively cleanse our gut on a regular basis. One of the questions for my individual clients is ‘how often to you pass stools?’ and they answer ‘normal’ and then I asked ‘specifically what – how many times a day?’ (This often gets strange looks because most people go by the week). They have no idea what ‘normal’ is and whether their normal is actually normal. As nutritionists we learn to talk dirty and on a detox everyone gets to talk about what is happening both in, and passing and out of their digestive tract!

Last time I did this retreat I got off quite lightly but this time I felt truly dreadful and was glad that all I had to do was either lie by the pool or on my bed. At night I had cramps in my digestive tract and could feel my poor old liver literally aching. Something was going on for sure and I suspect that due to the moon’s phase, my state and the fact I could actually let myself go and relax, that I was releasing some deeply held heavy metal toxins and emotions. The body does not differentiate physically between emotions and other toxic substances. Emotions are bio-chemical reactions, no more no less, and we hold the resulting chemicals in our cells (bodies). It is common for people on yoga retreats to burst into floods of tears on about day 2 or 3. I did when I was studying in Pune, India at the Iyengar Institute. The yoga practises were dislodging my emotional detritus. On Day 4 here I was in floods of tears sobbing my heart out and thank goodness there was someone there to hold me. I had been holding on to this emotion – whatever it was – and what caused it is irrelevant but at least I had released it.

The yoga and Pilates also help to wake up the body and again facilitate internal organs to let go. Postures such as spinal twists in particular allow internal organs to be gently massaged which again allows organs such as

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the liver to let go of deeply held toxicity.

As naturopathic nutritionists we also teach and use a set of what we call ‘techniques’ that facilitate the opening up of routes of elimination. Some people are squeamish about talking about topics such as castor oil packs and enemas – but it doesn’t take long to learn how to do these and even enjoy the processes. We also use herbs and concotions such as ginger zinger (a mix of ginger juice, apple cider vinegar and lemon juice) that support our immune system and helps to eliminate inflammation or as in the case of Mullein tea strengthen various body systems such as the lungs.IMG_4559IMG_4558

Rather than suppress symptoms such as swelling, allergies and colds we see these as a natural process of the body’s own healing and take steps to rest and allow these to process safely. If we suppress them through drugs then the body will push the symptoms (which are in fact solutions) deeper and into more vital organs.

Suffice it to say that each person’s experience on a retreat is different and in my case different for each time I went. This time feeling exhausted a lot of the time – it takes energy for the body to cleanse.

It was very exciting to get to the last supper – when we made the transition back with raw food again prepared by Anna Middleton. We made our own vegetable sushi rolls with vegetables we prepared ourselves in our fermentation class. These make really easy lunchtime ‘sandwhich’ rolls for busy people. As well as a great maincourse and a delicious desert made in our using non sugar sweeteners session.

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We also had a cabaret- in this case me dancing a IMG_4595IMG_4697

Guajira. My gift to my fellow detoxers – a fair exchange since I don’t get to perform much and to do this in front of friendly supportive people is a gift for me as well.

I have come out the other side rested and rejuvenated.

Where lemons are green and limes are yellow.

I bought a kilo of lemons last week in the market for a euro.  Great value, but what is confusing to me is that they are green. I was allowed to taste one before I bought and indeed they were lemony, much to my surprise. I thought I’d misheard. I am used to lemons being yellow. They seem ripe (again my preconception and British perspective) is that green lemons are not ripe. No these are definitely lemons and they are ripe. I always start off my day with the juice of half a lemon squeezed in warm water – this actually alkalises the body – there’s a wonderful chemical alchemy that transforms the acid in the lemon into an alkaline substance in the gastric tract. Anyway I believe it helps me feel better even if you might be a bit sceptical.

Recently I was given a lot of limes and these however are yellow. Now I am confused. Again my preconception is that all limes are green. These definitely taste of lime and they are definitely yellow.

Having had to change all my ideas of what citrus fruit should look like, I am left with a task now to use these wonderful sweet limes. Here are some of my findings. They were given to me to make marmalade with – but there are lots and this is fun trying to find different ways to use them. So here goes.

The first is a suggestion from a fellow British member of the Writers and Bloggers of Spain. It is for a somewhat exotic Brazilian cocktail called Caipirinhas. This has a drink in it that resembles rum made out of sugar but processed in a different way.

The second is another cocktail which is very well known – Mojitos. I believe a favourite of my daughter’s. Here’s a toast to you Lucy!

The third is Mojito Cheesecake which someone sent me via Facebook.

The third is Lime Marmalade. Be careful limes and lemons in jams and marmalades contain a lot of acid which prevents the marmalade from setting.  I found this out on a Sunday and have had to wait till Monday to get the bicarbonate of soda to make the mix more alkaline.

The fourth is one of my favourite breakfasts, which I learned to make whilst at Sanoviv in Baja California, Mexico.  It is almond milk and the flesh of one lime mixed together in a food mixer then the flesh of an avocado and some agave syrup. I top it with lecithin – which helps clear out the arteries.

The fifth is another recipe I learned whilst sailing around the islands around Cancún, Mexico a few years ago. Ceviche – where the lemon and lime literally ‘cook’ the fish whilst you let it marinade.   I have the good fortune to live close to the fish market and ‘popped’ down to buy fresh fish just off the boat on a Saturday morning. I chose Pez Espada (Swordfish) just because it looked great, but any white fish or prawns/gambas are equally as good for this.

Cut up the fish and cover with the juice of 2 limes and a lemon, add chopped spring onion, chopped red chilli and cilantro and leave for a few hours.