Bismillah! Increase your word-power!

Anna_Sirwa

Taking a draught of water in the Jebel Siroua – bismillah!

Bismillah! – if you’ve trekked in Morocco you’ll have heard it – it’s used like bon appetit in French or ¡que aproveche! in Spanish.  In reply people often say hamdullah or alhamdulillah.   These are all terms expressing thanks and gratitude for what we’re about to receive.  Bismillah, meaning “In the name of Allah” or “In the name of God” is the shortened form of the Basmalah. This is a full Arabic phrase: Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim meaning “In the name of God the Most Gracious the Most Merciful“.  Alhamdulillah, translated as “All Praise and Thanks to God” is used so frequently in Arabic-speaking countries that it might better be understood as meaning “thankfully,” “thank goodness,” or “thank God” as used in English.  Which is to say that not all Arabic speakers who use the phrase are consciously praising God when they say it.  Hamdullah teams up so naturally with bismillah that it swings in like bitte after danke, and prego after grazie.

Basmalah

The Basmalah rendered into arabic script

Cool or what:  The Iranian authorities permitted an album of songs by the English rock band Queen to be released in Iran in August 2004, partly because the song Bohemian Rhapsody contained several exclamations of the word Bismillah.  Freddie Mercury (known by the snappy moniker Farrokh Bulsara to his family) was born in Zanzibar to Indian Parsi parents and was proud of his Persian ancestry.  Other rockers and rappers have also used the Basmala – from the Wu Tang Clan to Mos Def at the beginning of each of his albums, Lupe Fiasco in Food and Liquor and Rakim on his track from the 8 Mile soundtrack.   On a more controversal and irreverent note Busta Rhyme sampled the Basmala in the chorus of his single release Arab Money

Here’s another one for you – insha’Allah: “God willing”.  Any European asking for specific weather prediction, precise times of departure, or just what might exactly be happening when we arrive at… will often be delivered an insha’Allah as part of the possibly hazy reply.  We have a version in Spain – ¡ojala! – which paired with mañana gives you some idea of the relaxed cultural attitude you can expect both in the Iberian Peninsular and in the Maghreb.

Here’s some information about this year’s Siroua Trek 2016 and the easy Atlantic Coast Trek 2016 from Essaouira

¡Hasta luego!  Ma’a salama!

sand_storm_camels_resized

Camel caravan near M’Hamid, Morocco

 

 

Cabañuelas – Andalucian weather prediction?

Delicate cloud in the Alpujarra

Cloud gazing during walking excursion siesta time…

Meteorological prediction is pretty important for us – whether walking in the heights or planning work on our land.  We live at 850m/2788ft on the south side of the second highest mountain range in Europe and our walking routes take us right up to the peaks, with Mulhacen at 3482m/11,423ft crowning the top.  ‚ An unexpected cold snap can shrivel newly planted seedlings, a dry hot summer means lots of extra irrigation in the heat and a sudden change from warm and still to windy and cold can mean (at the least) that you sincerely regret not packing that extra woolly in your back pack.  Believe me, weather can change scarily fast at high altitides this far south!  One minute, comfortably dressed in a vest and walking shorts, you’re staring at an approaching cloud, the next you’re diving for your waterproof, zip-on legs of your troos, gloves and snood while battling a wildly flapping pack in a white-out complemented by sideways icy rain.

Unexpected snow, Sierra Nevada

Unexpected snow in the Alpujarra, Sierra Nevada.

Local Alpujarra folk often use a truly arcane method of weather prediction called the Cabañuelas, based on observation of daily conditions throughout August. This is then related to each month of the following year.  I’ve had the system explained to me several times by my friend Ramon, the gardener at Cortijo Romero, who understandably puts great store in planting almanacs and such things.  The cabañuelista predicts for his or her local area in a radius of up to 80km.  Predictions are derived from assorted phenomena like types of clouds visible, wind direction, characteristics of the sun, moon, stars, or the appearance of mist and morning dew.  Animal behaviour can also count as a sign of rain to come; for instance the appearance of flying ants or doves bathing.  The rooster crowing during the day means a change of weather. while cats running and jumping are a sign of wind (or an invasion of field mice?).  In a further attempt to hedge bets, other indications of rain include creaking of furniture, soot falling in the chimney, smelly drains, damp appearing on the flagstones and weeping grape vines.  (They’ve been to my house!)

Walking in the Alpujarra Granada

Walking in the Sierra Nevada at 1500m

The Cabañuelas are cunningly designed to give several shots at predicting the hoped-for rainfall:  weather for January 2015 is not only predicted by conditions on August 1, 2014, during the Cabañuelas de Ida from 1 – 12 August, but also on 24 August, during the Cabañuelas de Retorno in the next 12 days, when you count backwards through the months, according to my Alpujarran sources.  And THEN the next 6 days count for two months each day – so the morning of 25 August also corresponds with January 2015, the afternoon to February 2015 and so on.  The last chance for the agriculturalist to bolster his confidence in the security of favourable weather to come is on 31 August which… Yes! – you’ve guessed it, divides into 12 two-hour-long slots and counting backwards again, means that January 2015 is predicted by the last two hours of August 2014.  Gottit?

Although there is a great deal of skepticism about this highly empirical system, most agree that it is ancient – some claiming that it dates from as far back as 35,000 years BC.  More scholarly sources refer to an 11th century document which mentions the placing of 100 cabañuelas throughout a neighbourhood of Toledo during the festival of the Tabernacle.  As prediction of weather has been traditionally associated with Jewish feasts, including this one, it’s a fairly safe assumption that the superstition comes via the Sephardic Jewish community in Spain.

I feel I need to put on record that this year the 1st of August in the Alpujarra dawned bright and clear, but surprisingly cooler than the last few weeks.  There was a lot of wind late afternoon… and the kittens have been running about a bit.

Cloud_inversion

Cloud inversion below the GR240, Sulayr Long Distance Path.  Above Niguelas, Sierra Nevada, Granada

For those who read Spanish: more confusing information including date charts at Cabañuelas es. Wikipedia

For those who read English: some confusing information not including date charts at Cabañuelas Wikipedia in English

And finally:-

Q. What do you call a person who speaks many languages?  A. Polylingual

Q. What do you call a person who speaks two languages? A. Bilingual.

Q. What do you call a person who speaks one language?  A. English.

 

It’s Not A Jeep

Landy_in_Maroc

On the way to Midelt, Morocco. Land Rover Defender Tdi.

“How’s your old jeep?”

“it’s a Land Rover”. I reply flatly. “And it’s only fiftee… um… nearly twenty (gosh!) years old.  Well yes, alright, it’s old. But it’s not a jeep!”

Like calling a chocolate torte a ‘carob cake’, or referring to marmite as ‘vegemite’, or to a Dyson as a ‘hoover’ (for goodness sake!): a Land Rover is not a blinking jeep!!!  (Or a bus or a truck, although I think I can accept these two as being more in the spirit of friendly ribaldry rather than blatant misrepresentation.   Initially called the Land Rover Ninety and Land Rover One Ten (ie. short or long wheel-base) the Landy Defender was developed from the original Land Rover Series launched in 1948.  Does this make it a Baby Boomer?  With the aluminium body it was certainly born out of rationing .

Seen in a Welsh wood. Off road? Mud? Dim problem, bach!

The Land Rover was designed to only be in production for two or three years to generate capital to bump-start (hmm) up-market Rover car production after the second World War.   However, the off-road Land Rover just outsold all the other Rover vehicles and emerged as its own brand.  In October 2013 Land Rover announced that production of the Defender would end in December 2015, after a continuous run of 67 years.  (Nooooooo!)  As Paul and I often tell people (and if you’re reading this, we may well have mentioned this to you personally, but forgive me for labouring the point) over 70% of all Land Rovers ever produced are still on the road, and, we add, the other 30% have no doubt been cannibalised into that 70%.

Range Rover, Child of the Seventies...

Range Rover, Child of the Seventies…

The Range Rover isn’t a jeep either, although some might be forgiven for thinking that neither is it really a land rover.  First sold in 1970, this child of the Glam rock era gave birth in 1989 to the Discovery, aptly nick-named the Disco (teenage pregnancy?).  Luckily the company decided not to include the Conran Design Group’s nifty custom sunglasses holder to be built into the middle of the steering wheel.  They did include now collectable items such as the Land Rover-branded cloth fabric holdall in the front centre console which could be removed from the vehicle and worn over the shoulder – a landy handbag, Terence???

Our Land Rover Defender is called Evita.  Our sunglasses sit firmly on our noses or pushed back on our heads when glaring at maps while bumping along dusty tracks.  Our branded holdalls have Lidl or Carrefour printed on ’em.  We hoped naming her Evita would mean less repairs, evitar in Spanish being to avoid (ho-ho….).   Conforming to Spanish law she takes two MOT’s per year to make sure she’s fit for purpose.  She’s stoutly borne us south to the Sahara and north to Galicia, speeding along motorways, tracks and mountain trails.  She’s provided us with bedroom, kitchen and shelter from winds and rain (does leak a bit!).  We love her –

AND SHE’S NOT A JEEP!

I love Wellies!

Hounds of Geevor - David Kemp

Hounds of Geevor – David Kemp

Growing up in Wales meant that for much of the year when venturing into the Great Outdoors I had my wellies firmly welded onto my feet. ‚‚ As a teenager, however, I scorned folk who wore their wellies into town to do their shopping!‚‚(How gauche!). ‚‚ It took me a while therefore to realise that the girls I saw stomping round shopping centres in the UK in multi-coloured, multi-patterned gumboots were actually making A Fashion Statement! ‚‚ I blame it on the proliferation of outdoor music festivals in Britain – Glasto Chic, indeed.

Last year someone posted The Hounds of Geevor on my facebook timeline and I had to look up David Kemp’s work. ‚‚ A master of the found object, he says :-

‚‚ A friend, working on the maintenance staff at Geevor, watched a mechanical digger burying a pile of redundant miners boots, & gave me a shout, I drove over & filled my pickup with the discarded boots, not knowing what I might do with them.‚‚ This discarded footwear was to become THE HOUNDS OF GEEVOR.

“Relics of a vast subterranean workforce that rarely saw the light of day, each of these Hounds fed up to three & a half families (seven boots per dog). Released from their underground labours, they now wander the clifftops, looking for a proper job”

I also found the picture below with a Boris lookee-likee giving the whole thing scale. ‚‚ Check out David Kemp’s clever pieces at:-‚‚ http://www.davidkemp.uk.com/blog/tinners-hounds.html‚‚ and‚‚ http://www.davidkemp.uk.com/blog/well-heeled-bitches.html

Not-Boris and Wellie Dogs

Not-Boris and Wellie Dogs

Not a lot of people know this… One of my neighbours used an old wellie to repair the distinctive chevrons on the front of her Deux Cheveux citroen. Here in Spain the wellie is known as a bota de regar or bota de agua (I don’t think they’re very keen on the imperial war-leader, Wellington…) ‚‚ Commonly seen in these parts are elderly campesinos stumping about with azada in hand buscando la acequia. ‚‚ And the locals here still think it’s Not On to wear them in the supermarket.

I thought the welly was a truly egalitarian item of footwear (apart from the snooty Hunter range) but then I discovered Le Chameau,‚‚ as modelled by certain recently married members of the Brit nobility, which are a snip! (a snip! I say) at ‚‚ £285. ‚‚ The cheapest wellies I’ve spotted are ‚‚ £5 a pair – but I can’t gettem up my steely muscled calves…. ‚‚ ‚‚ (top tip from your correspondent: always, but‚‚ always, wear good quality wool socks in yer wellies to properly regulate the temperature of the tootsies – cotton? ‚‚ Oh no, no, no!).

In Wales the gumboot as well as being essential survival kit‚‚ is also used as an exhortation to have a go, as in‚‚ “give it welly, bach!” ‚‚ Often heard off-pitch while a scrum is under way. ‚‚ Hwyl!!! http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-hui1.htm

Man On Beach M.E.

Man On Beach – Martin Elliot photos

I recently had a tour around walking mate Martin Elliot’s website – he’s another keen photographer – so here’s a wee link- ‚‚ ‚‚ Martin Elliot photos. No photos of wellies yet dispite the evil storms which have menaced The Beach Hut over the last month.

Last thoughts on Giving It Welly –‚‚A quote from Autumn Walking 2013 – “If I had known how steep the first walk was – I wouldn’t have done it! ‚‚ If I had known how difficult the concrete path (down to Soportujar) was – I wouldn’t have done it! ‚‚ If I had known how hot it was going to be – I wouldn’t have done it! ‚‚ Then I might not have done the last walk which was superb. ‚‚ But I did do it all and I survived and am really happy with myself!” ‚‚ Result!

 

Primarolo of Morocco

Jebel_Saghro_rest

Resting by the mule-track down from Mount Amlal, Jebel Saghro

Hmm, thinking about Morocco – here’s an interestin’ article that a friend sent – Morocco: Lost in the Atlas.  The Ait Atta tribes mentioned here are the folk of the Saghro region who we’ll be meeting and walking with in Feb/March this  year on our trek with Mohamed Yaacoub of N’Kob and his team. Last year we were fortunate to be invited for tea at one of their nomad camps near the impressive cirque of pinnacle rocks which feature in the FB album of that trek (see Dreams of Morocco).

……unlike Lawrence of Morocco, we won’t be charging over £2400 for our Saghro excursion, but then you won’t get an ensuite tent, beaten brass bowls (unless you pick up one of your own in the souk before we leave Marrakech), or white linen table-clothes and I note it’s still a bucket wash, however much you pay – ooooo, how delicious that first post-trek shower!  Still, I second the last line of the article:- “the real privilege of this journey is not the luxurious linen, but the sense of complete escape.”

Lighting_up_chaima

Lighting-up time in the chaima – all-purpose dining/sitting/sleeping tent

As for meeting the Ait Atta with Bootlace and Mohamed Yaacoub: the camp is run with Berber panache and is an experience of the semi-nomadic life of the region as well as a means of getting to places where the indoor accommodation, to be frank, makes a tent look very attractive!  You do get your tent put up for you, unlike many other treks.  The crew are lovely: kind, friendly and helpful in a genuinely heart-felt way – the best we’ve worked with in terms of authenticity and natural organisation.  (Oh, and musical – there was singing and dancing most nights, singing on the march with the mules – they love to sing!).  Here’s some information about this year’s Siroua Trek 2016 and the easy Atlantic Coast Trek 2016 from Essaouira

Ukulele Ladies and the Silent Environmentalist

ukie_peanutsIt is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a ukulele is a joyful being.  Look at Marilyn Munroe… well maybe not.  The combination of piano accordion with ukulele is not traditional but seems to work for Sorrel and me.  It also lends itself to the quirky songs which amuse both of us enough to bother learning – Ukulele Lady is one of our favourites and we’ve recently got under our belt(s) Add Me by Chumbawumba.  Soon to be launched on the terrified public is People are Strange by the Doors and Shine on Crazy Diamond by the Floyd.  Nuff said.  If you’re fancy hearing a sample we’re up on the soundcloud as Las Favoritas (and we hope we’ll be amongst yours).

John_francisNow here’s a man who promotes walking and plays a mean banjo.  And I mean MEAN.  His philosophy is impressive his talks are illuminating and funny: one day in 1983, John Francis stepped out on a walk. For the next 22 years, he trekked and sailed around North and South America, carrying a message of respect for the Earth – for 17 of those years, without speaking.  During his monumental, silent trek, he earned an MA in environmental studies and a PhD in land resources.  Watch this on TED

http://www.ted.com/talks/john_francis_walks_the_earth.html

 

Autumn Walks and a Good Read

A ‘maestra’ practising her siesta – Ruth on Strolls September 2013

I love the Autumn.  For one thing my birthday falls right in the middle of this time of mists and mellow fruitfulness and all that.  Then the light (the light!) of the autumnal Mediterranean sun on mountain hillsides and tiny whitewashed hamlets is a gift to the photographer.  Another plus to this time of year is the shift from the hot and dusty summer to Andalucian autumn and the arrival of a spot of rain and cooler breezes to freshen up the countryside…. and so…. it’s time to start walking again!  Last week we hosted Strolls and Siestas based at the character-full Casa de La Luz in Pitres.  I’ve said lots about this week and venue elsewhere (see Autumn Walks) so I’ll just share this photo up on the left which I think sums the week up nicely… and a comment which gives us a wee glow – “a great week which was throughly enjoyable. I loved the location and the food was as good as ever” (A.D. Strolls and Siestas 2013) Was it the tajine cooked over charcoal in the roof garden or the chocolate torte that did it, I wonder?

Pico Alegas, Sierra Nevada

Autumn 2012 – picnic time at Pico Alegas 2700m

Last year the snow arrived early, so by the end of October there was more than  dusting on the peaks.  We’ll be here at the end of the month – can’t wait!

More on Autumn excursions – Autumn walking from Cortijo Romero and Autumn in the Heights.

If you’re looking for an Autumn holiday read here’s something to check out – long time Cortijo Romero and Bootlace visitor Mandy Sutter published her debut comedy novel, Stretching It, this summer.  In true CR spirit, the story has a ‘personal journey‘ element, as its heroine, plump PA Jennifer Spendlove, no longer wants to put her life on hold to care for her Stretching-Ithypochondriac Mum, Alicia.  A habit of telling white lies to keep the peace contributes to her sense of stuckness.  But when she embarks on a quest to change her life beginning with a series of lonely hearts dates it becomes obvious that this is a very difficult thing to do.  It becomes almost impossible when a sex-crazed Italian hairdresser enters the frame and her new boss offers her an opportunity that might be either a blessing or a curse.  To add to the complications, Jennifer isn’t the only one stretching the truth….

Stretching It is available now at all good bookshops and on Amazon and Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1907401962

 

Maroc through my Little Black Box

AsilahHands

One of the Asilah murals 2013

I’ve been walking and exploring Morocco at least once a year since 2006. As a good friend observed, it’s the nearest place to be somewhere else. It’s clearly Not Europe: don’t drive at night! see camels used for ploughing, flash past unfeasibly large-looking men on unfeasibly small-looking donkeys, dice with death contra-flowing behind a charioteer/baggagiste in Marrakech Sunday evening rush-hour. All the thrills of another continent. As a Muslim country it’s got to be the most liberal, with sufi-accented Marabout Shrines dotting the countryside and cascades of the call to prayer enchanting this jaded Euro in small cities like Taroudant. I’ve seen stars right down to the Time for tea - Fatima's Fingers and other almond and honey delightshorizon in the desert near M’Hamid and wandered many a happy hour with my little black box through the delightfully delapidated alleys of Essaouira and the mural encrusted streets of Asilah. I’ve shooed wild tortoises off the flat place where I want to pitch my tent and had hysterics trying to buy a magenta pouf in Tangier. I’ve discovered scorpions in the Wrong Place and tried to make Berber bread be round, thin and flat, causing merriment to the trek cook.

Berber farmyard gate - Alpujarra or Morocco

Berber farmyard gate – Alpujarra or Morocco

The Berber connection with the Alpujarra intrigues me – so many words, so much architecture and agriculture in common. The heart of the Berber Moroccan like that of Alpujarra friends is generous and wide: share food, water, music, visual humour and Jenga. They’ve got us out of many a pinch – fixed my landy gear box, bargained down the tow-truck man, dispensed tea, sympathy and local-knowledge-based solutions. It’s not home but it feels like somewhere very familiar and loved. I’ve been liberated in the use of colour in my life by my travels in Maroc: absorbing the feel, the taste, the style and textures of Morocco from chic boutique hotels, opulent fabrics, blue neela, stained and polished plaster tadelac, to cruddy municipal campsites, fabulous wild camping in desert, mountain and coast, to medersas hidden at the centre of mazes of alleys, fishermen’s nets on wide sandy beaches, wooden boat houses, mosque towers, etched pise mud walls…  

You’ve probably guessed by now – c’est vrai, j’aime Maroc!  Here’s a link to just a sample of the images of Morocco which emerged from the eye of The Little Black Box more-or-less as my eye saw them (!) and found their way into an exhibition in Orgiva from 13 – 20 September 2013.  I’m proud of my first public photo outing, but best of all for me it warms me with memories of time spent close to that great and generous Berber heart.

If you’re inspired to explore Morocco with us, with or without a black box of your own, here’s some information about this year’s Siroua Trek 2016 and the easy Atlantic Coast Trek 2016 from Essaouira.

Photos from the Exhibition Afrika Afrikana –

Football

Sunday footie, on the way to Ait Ben Haddou

Bootleg File #1

It’s another hot Sunday here in the Alpujarra. Cicadas are competing in the willow trees that line the acequia which curves around the house. Sometimes it’s deafening, rising to a heat-pumped crescendo. The dogs are snoozing flat-out in the shade by the back door. Barely an ear flicks as I peer over the lower half of the stable door. Not the best time for mountain walking you might think, but tomorrow I’ll be off to the heights with a couple of intrepid Dutch and an Irish walker keen to stretch their legs and rise above the simmering ƒ“rgiva valley. We’re off to visit the Refugio Poqueira http://refugiopoqueira.com/ on my favorite route, which will give us great views of the highest peaks, still studded with extensive patches of snow.

Bella on Alpujarra walkThe latest addition to the household, Bella, is growing at an impressive rate. Maybe we should rename her Bluebottle: she’s fallen in the water regularly over the last couple of weeks and demonstrates an impressive doggie-paddle along with a look of mild panic. Boris The-Much-Bigger enjoys cantering along any water-course splashing all and sundry in his careering path. Bella, like the rest of us is learning to dodge….

It’s a question frequently asked of us what we do when we’re not walking. One of the things I’m currently involved in is mounting a photographic exhibition in ƒ“rgiva in September with a friend. I’ve a mountain of possible images stored over the years since my first digital camera landed in my hands, so editing has been a bit of a challenge, but as there are loads of Morocco shots and Dharmo my partner in this enterprise has plenty of South African pictures the joint subject was clear.

BLOG_poster

Calle Real 48A is a private house down a little covered alley off one of Orgiva’s winding back streets. It’s sandwiched between the rear of the Nemesis Cafe and one of the ubiquitous bakeries. I’m curious to see how many people find us. Standing on the roof terrace and looking around at the dodgy-looking bread oven chimney, all the higgledy-piggledy roof lines and levels, I’m strongly reminded of North African towns where I’ve stayed over the last few years. I feel a surge of elation, a jumpy mixture of excited anticipation and slightly sick nerves, looking forward to sharing my photos.

Fi
August 2013