The promise of a wild swim had drawn us down to the dried up bed of the Rio Higueron. Traversing the steep slopes through mango and avocado groves like cumbersome mountain goats, I realised where you go down you have to come back up. A daunting prospect even in the late afternoon in Southern Spain, the concrete still hot enough to slowly fry an egg. But we were committed to finding the Pozo Batan, a small reservoir that I had read about before arriving in Frigiliana. Strolling along I began to fantasise about the soft cold water rinsing the film of dust and sweat from my arms and legs. I imagined the suspension of my body, blissful weightlessness, completely connected to the water.
Growing up on the coast in South Wales, I have always felt an affinity with water. This relationship is materialised by a habit I indulge when visiting bodies of water. I collect small stones, pebbles and shells, just one from each location. In limiting myself to one I not only ensure my collection remains manageable, but I also placate my mum and dad who are increasingly irritated by my substantial and growing collection.
Each step brought us closer to the pool; I could almost feel the water now. Earlier that day my mum had inferred that out of fear of potential drownings in a secluded spot, the local council might have fenced off my oasis. Ignoring the niggling voice in my head and hoping the rumours proved false I forged on along the basin.
The sun passing behind the top of the valley submerged us in warm shade as we followed the natural curving line of the arid riverbed. Rounding the apex my face fell. Huge iron fences, at least two and a half meters high, rusted in the evening light. We would not be swimming. The water was a true blue, even turquoise in the shallower sunny spots. But I was not in it: looking at it and walking around it, but not in it. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a car, my pulse quickened, it was a police car. Despite knowing that we weren’t breaking any laws my mouth became dry and my palms slippery. I was beginning to form sentences in my head, explaining that we were only looking and not trying to break-in (even though I wanted to). The officers started their engine, rolling over the uneven ground towards us. I held my breath as we moved between the bushes and shrubs obscuring their view. Several scenarios most involving my arrest and or death forced themselves through my mind. Ultimately my anxiety proved completely unnecessary as the car just crunched off down the riverbed and out of sight.
Pozo Batan through its cage
A disappointed wild simmer – Angela
Admiring the Pozo Batan from afar
Turning back to my oasis, finding the feeding river, we followed it upstream. “What would we do if a wild dog were to attack us right now?” My mum’s throwaway comment set my amygdala to high alert, finding that my head didn’t want me to follow the stream further I sat down beside it. Tentatively I reached down and let the flow course around my fingertips (hoping I wouldn’t find it was a stream of sulphuric acid, it wasn’t). Benign, cool and soft, it would have been perfect for swimming in.
Dejected we walked back along the basin toward the roads snaking up the sides of the valley and to our “apartamento”. Absentmindedly my eyes scanned the ground and there it was, my stone. Our walk wouldn’t be fruitless after all. It was a perfect fit, cool and reassuringly heavy in my hand, a perfect swap for the lost promise of a swim.
I like to think that my anxious thoughts about electric fences and electrified or poisoned water wouldn’t have stopped me from swimming, I can’t be sure but they would certainly have made me hesitant. I recall fleeting feelings of relief as I realised the pool was inaccessible. I would not have to overcome my anxiety or ‘expose’ it. Now I wish I had been able to, but I will have to be content with the stone. The next time I come across an oasis I will swim in it.
Alexis makes churros traditionally. He has in his set-up what looks like a sausage maker which contains the pallid batter waiting to be transformed into one of my favourite Spanish delicacies. As he turns the crank and does a little shimmy with his machine, the batter is forced out through a small opening at the end of a spout. As he works Alexis builds up a sweat, wiping his brow on a small pink towel. He encourages the batter to form a large spiral in the hot oil below. As I watch the batter transforms, like skin under the sun, from palest yellow to a golden brown in minutes. As soon as the perfect colour is reached the churro is fished from the oil. Two long skewers are slid beneath the giant spiral transferring it to a circular silver platter, a perfect fit. As the churro rests here, excess oil draining away, Alexis retrieves his scissors. They are cloth scissors. He snips at intervals along the golden coil, creating my mountain of churros.
Each day I have devoured them at the plastic tables adjacent to Alexis’ stand in the small car park off Frigiliana’s Plaza de las Tres Culturas. This is my morning ritual. My Churreria Church. What makes these so good is their context. An unassuming stand with a humble and permanently happy vendor – unafraid to suggest that a Spanish boyfriend would be most beneficial, to my Spanish. Blink and you could miss it. Although it would be quite a feat for you to slip past unnoticed, with Alexis offering any passer by smile and an ¡Hola! He also speaks perfect English, some French and a splash of German; there really is no excuse!
There are only a handful of gems to be found in Frigiliana, but Alexis’ Churreria has to be a very large jewel in its crown, where you can be certain of the warmest welcome.
Before the 25th August last year I had been a fence-sitter when it came to bullfighting. I attempted to legitimise it as a cultural practice and therefore an indelible aspect of Spain’s living cultural heritage. Now, to me, it seems ludicrous to claim this cruelty as central to Spain’s identity, in order to legitimise its continued practice.
I had not seen anything die before, aside from the occasional snail, and nothing as gory as this. Despite the distress and ensuing vegetarianism I am glad that I went and challenged – and ultimately changed – my beliefs.
In just 45 minutes I witnessed the slaughter of two bulls. I had to leave very shortly after the second as I had begun to sob loudly and had no tissues to stem the tide of snot and tears flowing down my face. I probably looked a bit of a site and could imagine people watching me thinking, “well why the fuck is she here? She must have known it would be like this!” The truth is I had no idea I would find it so repulsive and unsettling. I had naively imagined that it would be a clean and respectful practice. Now a thought that seems utterly ridiculous.
My first bull was jet black all over. He was subjected to the veronicas and picadors, by which time his jet black coat was red with blood. Then the Banderilleros entered the ring to perform a crude game of pin the tail on the donkey. They plunged their banderillas into the back of the bull, who was now bleeding profusely. Eventually the Matador re-entered the ring for the faena, a series of veronicas accompanied by the estoque, culminating in the death of the bull. The estoque slid through his hide between his shoulder blades, severing the aorta. He began to sway on his feet, encouraged to the floor by the Banderilleros and Novilleros.
The second bull was brown. He bled far more than the first and it was after this that I had to leave. The bull would probably have been around three years old – the age fought by novilleros (beginners). His death was not clean and skilful. The novillero pierced him high on the neck, blood gushed from his mouth and nose. Swinging his head wildly the bull sprayed the sand around him and anyone who came within range. It was brutal. He slumped to the floor, drowning in his own blood, his killers just watching. When his life finally left him, four horses entered the arena and he was tethered to them and dragged away unceremoniously by his horns.
These were not evenly weighted fights. There was no way that either Jet or Brown would have survived. Bullfights are rigged from the start, like WWE wrestling, but with very real pain and blood. It seemed a fitting comeuppance for me that the Rabo de Toro of the previous night had made me ill that day.