Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Delta del Ebre explored

We took advantage of a coll and cloudy start to drive north to St Carles de la Rapita, a holiday resort with well cared for sandy beaches on the south side of the Delta del Ebre, so Clare could enjoy a comfortable swim. We then set out on the southernmost road across the Delta, dead straight, flanked by huge fields of rice, as far as the eye could see, with a variety of interesting looking dwellings. The road runs right out to a huge sand bar, ten miles long, a quarter of a mile wide, giving vast sandy Mediterranean beaches on the east side and more interesting saline wetlands on the west side. 
The sand bar links several islands and vast areas of salt ponds which are still in production. The enclosed lagoon is an in-shore fishery harvesting fish and crustaceans. The bird life is extraordinarily rich and the entire region has a series of conservation areas of great interest, because of the unique mix of salt-water and fresh water ecosystems, insect and bird life. Whenever I stopped to take a picture by an irrigation canal I saw several species of dragonfly, not just one. I just missed a photo of the beautiful elegant black winged Stilt in a roadside pond, but snapped a couple of Egrets (one walking across the road), some Flamingos and a little Stint, wandering around a muddy pool calling out for its partner. Such a treat.
Not far from the sand bar is a new Tancada lake wetland conservation area and interpretation centre. An old area of salinas has been reclaimed and is now managed to encourage the unique bird life which flourishes in this seemingly unpromising environment. By the time we got there the sun was high, it was nearly lunchtime and it wasn't worth paying the €7 entrance fee for just a short wander, so we resolved to return another day, and went for lunch at the excellent Terrassela de Saur restaurant in Poblenou del Delta, a few miles away. Here we had great fun deciphering a menu written in Catalan, before the English translation was produced.

This small village seems to have taken its present shape in the past forty years. It has a modern church and simple low rise buildings in modern materials, sympathetically laid out. There were plenty of guest houses and places to eat, but we couldn't see any kind of shop. The streets were remarkably free of advertising hoardings of any description - such a simple aesthetic pleasure. It may have expanded chiefly to meet the needs of visitors. If so, a very good job was done. its simple delights (including Catalan cuisine) advertise themselves.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Celebration at L'Ermita

As it was the fifth Sunday of the month, all three congregations of the Costa Azahar chaplaincy met for a united service at the L'Ermita de Vinaròs.

Ken had agreed to bring his euphonium to accompany hymns. I equivocated for ages about whether or not to take the guitar I've been loaned to play while I'm here. It's a long time, decades since I last accompanied a service I took, yet I wanted to know how this guitar would sound in the beautiful vaulted space of the chapel at L'Ermita, so in the end I took it with me, and as we were there an hour beforehand, I had the opportunity to play and enjoy the soundscape, just for pleasure. Then Ken arrived, and we looked at the hymns I'd chosen, figured out what key I would need to transpose into to provide an accompaniment, and then after a brief practice, it was time to arrange how the sanctuary could best be used with four of five chaplaincy worship leaders and myself taking part.

The service was preceded by the welcome announcement of the arrival date of the new chaplain, Father Clem, made by Michael Cowdery, the acting chairman of the church council.

This now sets Monday 10th September as my date to return home to Cardiff, in good time to get ready to share the beginning of term with students and St Mike's, and goodness know what else will come my way as Autumn unfolds. The lessons for the day yielded some useful reflections to preach on about praying to make way for the new Chaplain, and sharing in mission and ministry together with openness to God's surprises. There were about three dozen of us present, and twenty nine received Communion. Ken and I duetted for three of the four hymns, and I left him to accompany the final hymn 'Forth in thy name O Lord I go', as it has an irregular rhythm, naturally suited to be led by a single brass voice. It worked well, as did all the hymns, sounding beautiful in that lovely place of worship.

Twenty of us sat down together to lunch on paella in the restaurant next door after the service. It was a cheery family occasion, most enjoyable to share in. We got to Cala del Pinar beach, so that Clare could have a swim as it began to cool down in the evening, and ate a light salad supper afterwards - all we had room for after generous servings of an excellent local variation on the dish, served by the proprietor, who also kindly gave us access to the chapel earlier and made sure we had the microphones we needed, and knew how to operate them. A day to remember with appreciation, that's for sure.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Olympic launch

Last night, compelled by idleness and curiosity, I stayed up and watched the Olympic Games opening ceremony right to the bitter end. I was glad I did. It was an original perspective on Britain and things British which are worth appreciating and affirming, all spiced with a good measure of self-deprecating good humour. It was at every level a technical tour de force, involving over eight thousand people in an hour long pageant spectacle, before the lengthy athletes' parade and Olympic ceremonies began. It blended old fashioned  theatrical ingenuity on a grand scale with the use modern multimedia technologies.

It was impossible to tell if it went exactly to plan, as there was so much to register going on at the same time. A blend of disciplined organisation, made many components of the event appear more spontaneous than they actually were. The Olympic flame was delivered by honoured Olympian athletes and handed over to seven up and coming youngsters for the lighting of the Olympic cauldron in the stadium where it will burn for the length of the games.

The spectacle of so many people of all ages working well together to proclaim good will and welcome to the world was in its own right an inspiring message about our kind of patriotism. I was amused to hear on this morning's news some reactionary politician denounce the ceremony as unworthy because it was full of lefty multi-culturalism. Tell that to the Queen, I thought to myself - so many of the themes and values of her messages over the past sixty years as head of state were embodied in the celebration we saw.

It's been pleasing to hear positive media reactions to the opening ceremony from around the world, even if some found it all a little bewildering, requiring  more attention than usual to de-code. I suspect that Danny Boyle's production, although unique and unrepeatable will be re-visited many times once it is out there for viewing on video, and provide a lot more food for thought about what we value most.

Needless to say, much of the rest of the day has been spent languishing in front of the TV, channel hopping from one broadcast Olympic sport to another, out of curiosity as much as anything, but finally driven to switch off by too much commentators' repetitious drivel. If only there was an option to turn off the word-noise, but not the sound effects!

Friday, 27 July 2012

Alcala al Xivert

We drove down to Alcossebre this morning, so that I could show Clare the town, and visit the Al Camino drop-in centre. Unfortunately the church was closed, so I can only show her the photographs I took of the interior, as she'll be returning home before my next visit to take a Sunday service. We chatted with visitors, ate cake and drank tea, and then went for a walk along the promenade. I was amazed how crowded the beach was, compared to a month ago - but then this is the peak holiday season time, after all. 

It struck me for the first time that while lots of people go into the water, and play about it in, few people do much in the way of serious swimming. The few who do, go a good way off shore. All along this coast, even when there isn't much wind, strong waves come ashore. Rarely do they seem adequate for surfing. Beach levels in the shallows can drop unevenly, whether there are pebbles or sand underfoot, so maintaining a good swimming stroke against the waves is demanding. So, people just stand in the water and enjoy being buffeted about. I guess it also explains why so many residences have swimming pools.

On our drive home we called into the town of Alcala al Xivert, which sits beside the N340 about 10km inland. The place seemed quite deserted. There is a huge mediaeval church with a very grand bell tower, and it is so hemmed by four storey houses on all sides, that getting a close-up photograph to do it justice was well nigh impossible. 
From an historical information panel on Alcossebre sea front, we learned that Alcala al Xivert had been the main local centre of economic and political significance in the middle ages. It sits in a wide valley which still contains the main arteries of communication north to south. Between Alcossebre and Peñíscola there is no road. Mountains run down into the sea, and nowadays this area is a Parque Natural. 

Down the centuries it appears Alcossebre's population ebbed and flowed. It didn't develop as a fishing port, or as a place of trading by sea, although it was used as a place of refuge by fisherman, as it was easy and safe to come ashore along its beach and find shelter. I couldn't see any sign of an ancient river out-flow, that could have been used in the past for transport to and from the interior. This lack would inhibit its potential for economic development, and population stability over centuries. Now we live in an era of high mobility, and a leisure economy developed around large numbers of people coming and going. Alcossebre bustles with holiday makers, seasonal workers and its all year round community of retired residents. With its mediaeval glory days long past, Alcala al Xivert seems now to be no more than a sleepy little town you slip past on the highway in just a few minutes.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Saldonar beach discovery

We drove into town to visit the Vinaròs drop in centre this morning, and I was fortunate to find a parking space by the port, given it's Thursday when traffic can be heavy because of the clothes market. We chatted with visitors coming and going, many of them are now familiar, but some are old friends returning for their summer break who know where to come and catch up. It provides such a valuable opportunity for everyone  in the local English speaking community, whether permanent or birds of passage. 

Then it was time for Clare to have her daily swim - this time at the end of the main beach nearest to the port, for convenience. The sky began to cloud over somewhat and I noticed the beach begin to empty. Then I realised it was getting on for lunchtime, time for us to do some food shopping and go home. Fewer people bring picnics to the beach to eat, although they bring drinks with them. The main meal of the day tends to be eaten here between two and four, when shops (other than supermarkets) close. The supper is taken after eight or even later in the cool of the evening.

After lunch and siesta, we walked along a section of coast path nearest to home, going very carefully to give  Clare's sprained ankle some therapeutic exercise. We found the beach at Cala Saldonar for the first time - I'd somehow missed it before as it's a bit secluded down a lane, and not accessible along the cliff edge due to the houses being constructed close to the edge.

Actually, it's the beach that's the shortest walk from the Vicarage. 

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Mountain treasures

This afternoon, as it was a little cooler, we decided to go out by car and explore the countryside nearby. We found our way to the neighbouring town of Alcanar. We noted its old church with octagonal tower, and its more recent urban expansion as a result of limestone quarrying and the cement factory several kilometres away on the edge of the sea shore - it simply looks and feels like a town with its feet deeply rooted in heavy industry. However, Alcanar has an ancient uphill footpath leading to L'Ermita del Remei, 500 feet up in the Montsià mountains behind the town. There's a good road leading up to it, a couple of kilometres from the edge of town. The views on the ascent across the plain towards Vinaròs, and up into the mountains are breathtakingly beautiful.
The church at Remei, dedicated to our Lady, was founded as a place for retreat and pilgrimage devotion in the 16th and 17th centuries. Like L'Ermita de Vinaròs, there is a working restuarant and bar in the buildings attached to the church welcoming guests today. The church's central cupola has suffered as a result of earth movements, and is shored up within by steel girders. Access is restricted to the nave, which is furnished as a sanctuary chapel of the Madonna. Floral bouquets on the pew ends indicated to us that despite problems in stabilising the building, it is still used for wedding ceremonies.
However popular the chapel may be for plighting one's troth, what brings many more visitors to this quiet little valley set into a larger hillside is its more dim and distant past. The hill top opposite the sanctuary facing east is the site of an unique and important iron age settlement, well excavated, studied, and well presented for visitors with archaeological interests. Here's an aerial photo from a local archaeological website.
It dates from the seventh century BC, and its thought to be the place from where the Iberian Ilercavones tribe ruled over the Ebre river delta region on the plain below. We were only able to roam on the narrow hillside paths around the base of the settlement. Proper access with guided tours is restricted to weekends. This is less than fifteen kilomteres from where we're staying, well worth the effort of a return visit.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Punctuality - normal or exceptional

With the suitcases packed, there was enough time this morning to drive Eddie and Ann to the car park at the top end of the Costa Norte road, and walk up and down the length of the Jardi de Sol de riu nature reserve before lunch. We got to the station in good time for the train only to discover that it was running three quarters of an hour late. Fortunately this was of little concern for catching their flight to Britain, as this departs late evening. I'm proposing to use the train to get to El Prat airport for my brief visit home in August. Now I'm wondering about how often trains as unpunctual, and whether I will have enough slack in my itinerary to be sure I arrive in time for the flight, even if I only have hand baggage.

After their departure, I drove Clare along the Vincaros sur coast road down to the Playa Aiguadolivia. The sea being so rough today, the beaches along this stretch were almost empty. We parked in the area where the fun fair had been a few weeks ago, and used the more sheltered beach nearby for Clare to have a swim. The beach was not as packed as those we saw yesterday at Peñíscola and Benicarlo, but populated mostly by young families and groups of very well behaved teenagers having fun, not looking bored or irritable. Not a shadow of loutishness anywhere. It really adds value to the holiday experience when everyone behaves decently together in public.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Peñíscola from above

As today was Eddie and Ann's last full day, and Ann was feeling better, we drove down the coast to take a look at Peñíscola. It was, as many have remarked in recent weeks, very busy and crowded, with several kilometres of beautiful sandy beach packed with parasols. I wasn't really prepared to discover how much of an urban environment by the sea-side it really is. It reminded me of pictures I've seen of Rio & Miami with high rise hotels and apartments just behind the beach highway. It's pleasing to see such extensive provision for pedestrians, cyclists, skaters and joggers separate from vehicle traffic, and sensible low speed regulations. 

We could have found a parking place, as there were several cars going away for lunch as we arrived, but nobody except me fancied walking around the old walled city in the heat of the day. It was recommended to me to drive up as high as possible to get a panoramic view, but finding a road which didn't end in one of the many gated urbanizacions was something of a challenge. I spotted a signpost advertising a restaurant with a panoramic view, and climbed uphill on a winding road which brought us to the prestigious looking urbanizacion de Atalayas publicly accessible on the summit of the highest mountain overlooking the town. The restaurant Perla Blanca was one of several serving this complex of holiday homes, and it is open to the public. It should be known as Perle Blanche, as the cuisine was excellent nouvelle cuisine and the proprietaire was a lady from Bordeaux. Once we started conversing with her in French, there was no point in making the effort to order in Spanish - the conversation was too interesting.

We ate well there, with a most spectacular view before us, and I got an opportunity to take photographs from the terrace, over seven hundred feet above the port, and the town's famous mediaeval walled town and fortress, made world famous as a film set for the classic sixties movie 'Ed Cid'.
I think I'll use the bus for my next visit here, so I don't have to think about traffic, or parking, and just enjoy wandering around on foot, and being part of the holiday-making crowd.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Mary Magdelene's Day

Before church this morning, we needed to access weekend medical services for my sister in law Ann to nip in the bud a common-place infection. Thanks to Brenda and Les and a little help also from internet mapping, we were comforted to locate the right place to visit in Vinaròs town centre, not far from the Portico. By the time I was finishing my first sermon for St Mary Magdalene's Day, Ann, Eddie and Clare appeared at the back of church, mission accomplished.

St Mary Magdalene is also the patron saint to whom the Catholic Parish church just along the street from the Portico is dedicated. For us it was a special occasion to pray for a local church community which has been so supportive in enabling our small Anglican enterprise to flourish. After the service it was my turn to drive south to Alcossebre for the noon Eucharist in the wonderfully cool church of San Cristobal. This time I remembered to take my camera.
In the light of contemporary biblical study, I find the so-called 'Christian' tradition that Mary Magdalene was a born again former prostitute somewhat spurious, and at odds with descriptions of her that imply she was someone of standing with independent means.

Having said that, fully aware of the persistence of such sexist myth in popular thinking, it was hard to resist speculation as I drove as to whether those poor sex workers who sit scantily clad under umbrellas in the heat of the day along the edge of the N340 waiting to be picked up by lonely truckers would be taking a holiday on this festive day. Not so. I saw one on the way down, two on the way home. Someone told me that they are more than likely to be of Eastern European origin. As in other countries, this kind of economic enterprise is proving difficult for police and other authorities to control. There are no Health and Safety checks and balances out there on the roadside.

Like it or not, it's a contemporary form of slavery and it requires commitment from all men to abolish, as it's clear that men are the primary consumers of this degrading commodity. Is it not possible to devise better remedies for the loneliness of long distance drivers?

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Parrot and bull story

We decided to go out for lunch, so we drove out to L'Ermita, so that everyone to get a good look at the countryside around Vinaròs, and try the local cuisine. We shared several tapas for starters and then had a seafood paella. Just as we were getting started, a large family party came in, and this led to a long delay (accompanied by apologies) before the paella arrived at the table.

In between courses, the family party were served with some unusual diversions. The first was a large life- like yellow and blue mechanical parrot which moved its wings and head when touched, and piped up Ola - que pasa ? in a very parroty voice. The second was a small model of a black Spanish bull which played a fanfare, pawed the ground, grunted, then charged across the table relentlessly. When postres arrived at their table, they passed the toys over for our amusement, while we continued to await our paella. Is this local custom, I wondered? Well, perhaps we'll find out at the chaplaincy lunch Sunday week.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Polyglot pharmacy

While Clare and Ann went swimming this morning, Eddie and I went to find the railway station, so that he could book tickets for a return journey to Barcelona airport. The main railway line runs parallel to the N340 further inland, out of the built up area of the town, over a mile from the sea. It would appear that the expansion of Spain's railways in the second half of the nineteenth century didn't catalyse the tourism development of the area as it did elsewhere in Europe. The growth of Vinaròs as a holiday resort appears to owe more to the late 20th century rise of motor transport.

After Eddie had bought tickets, we went to Carrefour for weekend food shopping, then returned to find the house locked up, as our spouses had not yet returned from the beach. When Clare eventually arrived with the key, she was limping from a sprained ankle, having just slipped on the ramp down to the beach. She sustained no serious damage, but part of getting her fixed up was a journey for me to the local pharmacy to buy an elasticated support - a minor challenge for communicating in Spanish, in which I was eventually successful. The assistant was very patient and good humoured as I sought for words to express understanding to a question she asked me. She tried using French, German and English to make it easier for me, but accepted my awkward persistence with a warm smile. I noticed the same with the waitress who served us yesterday lunchtime - happy to let us try to speak Spanish, happy to bale us out if we got stuck. I guess it goes with the hospitality of the place.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Keyboard matters

After a long leisurely breakfast in garden shade, I took Clare, Eddie and Ann into town for a look around. As it was a clothes market day, there was a lot of traffic and parking next to impossible, so having dropped them off at the Archiprestal bus stop, to show them where it was, I returned home, parked the car and returned to town by bike, to spend some time meeting people at the church 'drop-in' morning, and the others made their way there to join me later so that we could go together to the Garrofer restaurant in Zona Triador, and enjoy a lunch of their famous paella.

I was delighted to find among a batch of newly donated items a proper Spanish layout computer keyboard, with the extra keys and accents instantly accessible instead of having to dig deep in word processing menus to find the correct ones. So far I've kept a note open on my desktop from which I can conveniently copy and paste Vinaròs and Peñíscola. Now I can install the spare keyboard, and make the effort to type things correctly - a great learning aid, just as I found the acquisition of a Suisse Romande keyboard essential when I was extending my written French fifteen years ago.

There have been attempts at universal keyboards, and complete radical reforms of keyboard layouts, over the century since the typewriters were invented. The debate is once more current as many more people are entering text from a touchscreen on a phone or table (more than from a computer touchscreen). Now more than ever, software design enables all kinds of experimental layouts to find out which best fits the bill. But where will this take us? To an unique universal design, or elsewhere? For what it's worth, my bet is on continued diversification of layout, rather than a unifying standard. 

Go back thirty years and the first computer keyboards used US typewriter layout, and English was the dominant language. Once the WYSIWYG display became a reality, it became possible for computers to function in scores of languages, so a market developed in physical keyboard adaptations to make diverse linguistic input an everyday occurrence. That's why there's now a localised language based market for keyboard manufacture. The only thing that could change this (and it's possible with an on-screen virtual keyboard) would be a low cost physical keyboard that was satisfying to use, but which had key tops able to display the right letters and accents, depending upon what language keyboard driver is loaded by the computer. It's already possible, but rather pricey, alongside a mass manufactured localised keyboard that  may only cost €25 brand new. It will change for sure, as users' habits change. 

Users who have acquired some measure of keyboard skill for data input are reluctant to change - which is why the QWERTYUIOP classic keyboard has survived as long as it has. When people stop acquiring this skill because spoken data input is more accurately received, there will be a sea-change, but not any time soon in my estimation.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Airport run

With the prospect of a long unfamiliar journey to Barcelona's El Prat airport ahead of me, I took an hour off at lunchtime to sit in the shadow of the cliff beneath the beach cafeteria, and listened to the sound of the waves on the shore. Perfect relaxation.  The journey was made for the most part during siesta time and the N340 wasn't very busy. I was surprised not to see any airport signs on the overhead panels once the road reached the Llobregat river plain district. The huge area of commercial warehouses that cover drained wetland areas was visible, and beyond it the airport control tower on the distant horizon. The way to get there soon became obvious, and the approach to the interestingly styled vast multi-storey car parks around the entrance to Terminal One was clear and well marked.

I soon discovered that Eddie and Ann's flight from Luton had arrived early at Terminal Two. Soon, I found them waiting in the Terminal One arrivals area, and  then learned that Clare's flight from Cardiff had also arrived early.  By half past six we were re-united, and heading out of the airport, with the evening sun in our faces for much of the drive home. The combined journey time was five and a half hours. While the travellers freshened up, I cooked supper, and we ate outdoors in the cool of the evening - first drinking the festive bottle of Cava left for us by Kevin and Jenny Ellam, the previous locum chaplain here. It's great to have a full house.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Ascent to L'Ermita

By lunchtime today, I had a draft of my next Sunday sermon ready. Then I went shopping for some special food in preparation to welcome Clare, Eddie her brother, and sister in law Ann tomorrow evening. There'll be less time for this with the afternoon taken up by a trip to fetch them from the airport. Then I sat down to watch the end of the day's Tour de France stage, and once more, by the time it was over, I was ready to get out on my bike and take some exercise.

I wondered about finding my way to the railway station, but as I won't need to know where that is for a little while, I decided to find out how to get to L'Ermita, where the next united fifth Sunday chaplaincy service will be held. Using Dave's map, I rode out of town, past the cemetery, with its own 'Ermita' nearby L'Ermita de San Gregori.
Unusually it's a Byzantine looking church building with good parking, shade and benches in a large enclosure, all of which might be used on the occasion of a large funeral service followed by burial. The main railway line runs above it on an embankment. What is it about churches and railway lines that so often seems to find them close together? And not only in towns. There's plenty of open space out here.

I cycled west over the coastal plain through orange orchards in the direction of a steep escarpment rising over 500 feet above the plain. As the road began to wind steeply, I admitted defeat, and walked the bike up the last mile of road to the domain of L'Ermita - the sanctuary of our Lady of Mercies - at the highest point on the hillside. Below, on east facing slopes looking to the sea three miles away, a residential development has sprung up, of rather select individual houses by the looks of it, somewhat contradicting the idea of this summit as a place of sacred solitude. The sanctuary was founded in 1637 to house a relic of San Sebastian, third century martyr soldier, patron of the Basque city of that name. The church dates from 1754.
In front of the church is a spacious courtyard terrace shaded by trees overlooking the plain. The building to the right of the church entrance is a restaurant with interior accommodation and tables outdoors. It could cater for a couple of hundred altogether. Eating lunch here after the service in two weeks time promises to be a pleasure.
The view from above of the rich colours of agriculture on the coastal plain was well worth the labour of the climb. In the courtyard, a temporary stage has been set up for concerts. In town earlier I noticed fly posters advertising a session of Chi Gung by moonlight, with ambient music on Thursday evening here. Is this is offered by a group doing a public performance or is it an invitation to free for all I wonder?
The descent to the plain into a fresh breeze off the was quite refreshing, taken at a snails pace through several seriously steep bends. I was delighted with the response of my new bike, and home in a fraction of the time it took me to get up there. Definitely one of the 'must visit' places around here.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

A Catalunya Sunday

At the end of this morning's Vinaròs service the noise out in the street was unusual for eleven o'clock on a Sunday morning. It was the sound of motorbikes, shiny classic motorbikes all in immaculate condition, assembled in a nearby parking area, before travelling to an event somewhere else. It was a great sight, but I was too busy to get my camera out at that particular moment.

The N340 was quite for my drive up to L'Ampolla for the next service and I arrived in sufficiently good  time to circle the streets of the barrio several times looking for suitable parking, as Mass in the Parish Church had not yet sent worshippers on their homeward journey. Third time lucky, I found a place near the station and was able to get a cafe con leche in the station bar. I ordered in Spanish, only to realise that the only language in use at that time was English. The place is run by English people and must do well from English speakers living in the town.

After the Eucharist, we made a short journey to the beach area on the north side of the port for a parish picnic lunch in an olive and carob tree orchard just by the beach, belonging to a churchwarden. The land was meant to be a campsite, but the project was resisted by a municipal authority with development ideas of its own, and withheld necessary planning permissions. Surrounding land is now built on, so the orchard offers an open green space right next to the beach, suitable for parking in the shade during siesta, or for a picnic lunch. There were about fifteen of us altogether. I was delighted to find that one of picknickers was from Mont-sur-Rolle, half way down lake Geneva, an area we've enjoyed visiting in times past to stroll through terraced vineyards in spring. I fell into conversing in French with ease and pleasure, if but for a short while. 

On my drive home, I stopped off in Amposta, a town set on the south bank of the Ebro river (Ebre in Catalan). On previous trips over the N340 viaduct, east of the town, I'd noticed canals running on both sides of the river, but these weren't visible in the detail of a landscape which included huge bright green rice fields, fed by their own irrigation channels fed from a canal. Apparently the Ebro river Delta is one of Spain's most productive rice growing areas. So much to explore.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Vinaròs sur and Vinaròs bridges

It's been somewhat cooler and cloudy today, with a fresh breeze off the sea. With domestic chores finished, I rode into Vinaròs centre, and then out the other side on the coast road to the town's south side boundary, marked by the barranco Aiguadoliva. This is where a nature trail begins that goes inland up the wide dried up river bed for a couple of kilometres, before  turning north, and crossing over to the trail that runs back down the riu Cervol riverbed to the sea. I decided to keep to do with family next week, and concentrated instead on taking photographs of the foreshore as I rode back into town.

The sea was wilder today than I've seen it since I've been here, due to the wind, and waves came crashing in spectacularly on rocks at the root of cliffs only a few metres from the road in places. In some places sea erosion is a looming problem for nearby home owners, In others, work has begun on importing huge limestone boulders quarried inland and shipped in to provide a start on coastal defences. The beaches on this southern stretch are fewer than on the north side of town, equally well looked after, but because of small differences in local geology, not as people friendly - especially on rough days like today.

Being on the bike meant that when I'd re-crossed town I could ride up and the banks of the riu Cervol, and get some pictures of all four of its road crossings, and the interesting environment of the ravine the river has carved out over millennia. The oldest bridge of all is apparently of mediaeval origin, though it has had some work done to re-enforce it with a steel girder more recently

It retains its cobble stone surface, and is still in constant use - and not just by me and my bike!

The last of the road crossings doesn't figure yet on Google maps, as it serves a new commercial development area. Beyond it lies the viaduct which carries the railway from Barcelona to Valencia. This zone is an intriguing patchwork of warehouses, olive groves, orchards, and feeder roads, running along the west side of the N340, and marking the Vinaròs inland boundary - very much a project still in the making. Are the agriculturalists waiting to be bought out by the developers, I wondered, or are they regarded as a vital part of a mixed economy? Learning to read what's going on from the environment of a new town is one of the pleasures travel gives me.

With another ten miles of cycling behind me, I was certainly ready for supper when I got home.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Evening ride

This morning I got both the bicycles operational after a bit of a struggle in the heat to unlock the saddle adjustment clamps on them and get them right for taller people. Then I headed for Carrefour with a long shopping list of non-perishable foods, to stock up for next week when Clare, Eddie and Ann arrive. It took me two sorties into the vast cavern of a retail emporium, working the first time from memory, as I'd left my list in the car, and wanted to see how much I could remember of what I'd written down - a sort of retail edition of 'Kim's Game'. I was also short on bags, and had to off-load the contents of one for the return trip. Still can't find cous-cous or tahini, even in a massive euro superstore.

After supper I took my bike out for a ride up the coastal path as far as the riu de la Senia, and found it performed very well indeed. On this visit, I lugged the bike down on to the beach, took a photo, did a little Chi Gung to the accompaniment of waves crashing of pebbles, and then lugged the bike up on to the road which runs along the north side of the barranco, and followed it up to the N340. The waters of the riu don't obviously flow at surface level, where it has the appearance of a long pond, covered with weed, except near the boundary with the sea where it is too brackish for much weed to grow. Altogether it's a very interesting small ecosystem, worth studying. 
 What's impressive is the way the north side bank has been transformed into a park with seats for a quarter of a mile or more from the sea-shore. The roadside is flanked with flowering bushes, and the fields beyond are given over to fruit production - apricots and oranges by the looks of it. Lovely rich dark green colours, and leaves shining in the evening sun. 
I crossed over the N340, and took the bridge crossing the ravine, taking me back from Catalunya into Valencia, I then walked the bike through orchards alongside the road, only to see this on a millstone at the roadside. Regional politics are as alive here as they are back in Wales - including road sign spelling corrections!
The highway winds a lot at this point, and with many big lorries out and about this evening, I didn't feel comfortable about riding along the substantial hard shoulder of the road, even though other cyclists were out and using it. I only had a mile to go before reaching the junction with the Costa Norte road leading me more comfortably straight back home. A great way to get back on wheels again after a break of more than a month.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Necessary opportunity

I've been feeling a little jealous of people of all ages whizzing past me on their bicycles since I've been here. "Why not ask around?" says Clare when we Skype of an evening, but by next day it's slipped my mind again.

I was back at 'the Portico' again this morning for the regular Drop In session. A good number of regulars and some old friends visiting passed through this morning. The church and its outreach hold a special place in the hearts of the latter, for certain. In conversation with Ken, our Sunday euphonium player, I finally got around to asking someone where a second hand bike might be obtained. Providentially, I'd spoken to just the right person. He was clearing a friend and neighbour's storage space, and it turned out there were two adult bikes to dispose of at a very reasonable price! After siesta I went around their place to inspect, and agreed to buy them straight away - one for me, and one for Clare when she comes next week, with a nice comfy saddle. 

The coastal plain around Vinaròs offers lots of opportunities for country rides when it's not too hot, and a convenient way to pop to the shops without consuming too much time. The bikes can stay when I leave, in case the new Chaplain or members of his family can make use of them. But, if I learn beforehand that this isn't useful, maybe church funds can benefit from selling them on, or one of the several Vinaròs cycle shops may be willing to take them. It's so much nicer to have my own bike for the duration of my stay than have to pay out to hire one.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Black Caps and Bridge

To give the new appointed chaplain on his confirmatory visit free time to inspect the house, I went out to the beach nearby after breakfast, and spent a pleasant morning meditating, listening to the waves sucking cascades of sharp bright noises from the pebbles along the shore. It wasn't fiercely hot, and there were a few spots of shade beneath the cliff at the south end of the cove. For a while, half a dozen back cap gulls patrolled the inshore waters, occasionally pausing to hover, then dropping like a stone about forty feet, wings folding in perfect time to make an almost splashless entry into the water, emerging seconds later to climb rapidly, small silver fish in beak. 

More astonishing still were the occasions when a bird would drop like a stone, then pull sharply out of the dive a few feet above the water, like a marionette jerked by its puppeteer - an acrobat with wings. No photograph I took did justice to this spectacle. I'll need to practice with telephoto lens, if I ever get the chance again. I've never enjoyed lazing about on beaches since buckets and spades went out of the holiday luggage, being no big fan of swimming where I can get scorched. But here's a compelling enough reason to spend more time down at the waters' edge, if I find that little patch of shade...

After the beach, I popped into town on the bus to get some fish and drink a caña in the cool of the main covered market. Currently there's an exhibition of carnival costume art, and it's expanded since I was in here last, with some decorated set display back drops that'd be mounted on a trailer towed in procession in the real event.
 And here's another.
After lunch at home, I headed for town to the Portico for an early evening Bridge tournament. Waiting at the bus stop, Anthea came by in her car on her way there, recognised me and stopped to give me a lift. There were a dozen of us altogether, eight Brits, two Hungarians and two of their neighbours who are Romanian. I think that makes it 'international Bridge'. Despite it only being my second playing attempt, I carefully got into the swing of it without making too much of a fool of myself. Other players, and Brenda my Bridge Partner were all most kind and tolerant. When we were done, we all sat at one long table and ate an excellent supper together. 

When I got home, there was a good news message from Rachel to say that she's installed in Cornville Arizona, having made the three day journey safely from Columbia Lake BC, with Jasmine and Biba the puss to make their new home there in the forty degree desert heat. Another one of those days that keeps the smile on my face.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Visit to Bona Fe, El Perello

This morning, I drove out to El Perello, a hill village just off the N340 road north of L'Ampolla, where the local community worshipping in L'Ampolla has started a drop-in centre called 'Bona Fe'. It gave me a chance to meet members of the congregation, some of them involved with running the place. It provides a social meeting place for the considerable numbers of English speakers in the region, where people can bring their books, and decent unwanted clothes to benefit others in exchange for a donation. 

In all three centres of church activity in this chaplaincy, such a simple idea demands committed hard work and generates valuable income for sustaining the ministry of the Chaplain. I suspect this is how many expatriates first come into contact with a church they thought they'd left behind in Britain, either recently or ages ago. In a variety of shapes and forms, such social enterprise is happening, not only among ex-patriates all over Europe, but also in Britain now, where church-going is a minority activity, despite the talk and publicity the CofE gets in national media. It demonstrates the close connection that exists between pastoral care and social enterprise in a community. You can't achieve it by means of grand strategies, only by being present in a place, caring about people you identify with in that situation. It's a response unique to each place, even with many features in common between different initiatives. 

The CofE may struggle to accept the leadership of women in the Episcopate. I wish it would pay more attention to affirming the missionary entrepreneurism of churchwomen at the grass roots, whose vision and energy build communities for bishops to oversee - and maybe listen to them a bit more!

After lunch I was taken by Pru, one of L'Ampolla's local Wardens out into the countryside nearby to have lunch and some marvellous conversation with Isa and John in their house. It's set in a hilly landscape of dry stone wall terraced olive orchards, overlooking the sea, and the Ebro river delta natural park region. The Ebro is one of Spain's biggest rivers and where the N340 highway crosses, it must be about 300 metres wide. The river delta contains great rice growing areas, salt marshes and all the amazing wild life that flourishes in such an environment. Where river and sea meet, an interestingly shaped land mass  has formed. It's worth a look on Google Earth. Now I'm looking forward to ground level visit.

Monday, 9 July 2012

On the bus

I started the day by doing a first draft of next Sunday's sermon - the too familiar story of the beheading of John the Baptist. Now why lectionary architects couldn't have delayed placing this story for a Sunday in  another six weeks from now, I don't understand. After all the commemoration of John's martyrdom takes place on 29th August, and although it's not a major fiesta in the church calendar, it's a story that deserves to be told and reflected upon, no matter how dark and grisly it is to hear.

At last, I got around to turning up at the nearest bus stop at the right time, and catching a bus to town this morning - an impressive 60c fare (=50p). I got off outside the Archiprestal church, and walked down to the port, where I spent several hours taking pictures and enjoying the environment. It's cloudy today and the temperature is around 28 degrees, with the hint of a breeze - very pleasant for being outdoors in an area where there is little shade. 

Mission accomplished, I bought some food at the Consum supermarket, then caught the bus home from the stop opposite. How convenient - and an opportunity to listen to people in conversation around me, even if the subject was an elderly traveller stranded at one of the bus stops with her luggage, having had her purse stolen. I strained to decipher clues about racist scapegoating of the villain in what two passengers were talking about. It's the same the world over.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Alcossebre Sunday

I made my way down by car to 'The Portico' for the ten o'clock Eucharist and was grateful to find a parking space so easily. There were sixteen of us. In addition to our regular Euphonium accompaniment, we had the pleasure of Fr Paul Needle, the former chaplain playing keyboard, adding just a dash of jazz harmony to the hymnody here and there. Afterwards I was apprehensive about the timing of my journey to Alcossebre for the next Eucharist as it was the first occasion for me to drive from the port out to the main N350 road south. Thankfully there was little traffic, and I was able to guess my exit route without  much grief. Carefully observing speed limits, it took forty minutes to get there, but I can see that traffic getting out of Vinaròs or into Alcossebre could easily have eroded the fifteen minute time margin I had on arrival.

Alcossebre services take place at the Parish Church of San Cristobal, an attractive modern building in one of the main streets, where Anglicans were welcomed to hold their services from very early on in the history of the chaplaincy. There were over thirty in the congregation, musically supported by Sue, playing an electronic keyboard which is kept in the church but belongs to a local group which uses it as part of their amateur theatricals. After the service, there was an apertif with nibbles in the sun on the forecourt outside the church main doors. This congregation has a strong core group plus many loyal people who come and go for different periods of the year. All feel they are stakeholders in the church community, but with comings and goings, it will take a new chaplain a year if not longer to know and be known by his people. I'm just amazed at how gracious everyone is to a clerical bird of passage such as I am.

My drive home was uneventful. I cooked an experimental lunch with chicken I'd marinaded overnight with lemon juice and spices, and was quite pleased with the result. I coped only with the first set of the tennis final at Wimbledon. Unconvinced that it would be worth watching and waiting for a Murray win against the mighty Federer, I Skyped away the rest of the afternoon and evening, then went for a walk in the cool of the evening, and did some calming Tai Chi & Chi Gung on the beach nearest to home, to the sound of waves crashing on the pebbles.

More on bull-running

Having awoken and breakfasted early, I switched on the TVE news channel for an early morning shot of Spanish, to help attune my ears to the spoken word - a regular feature of the day now I'm here, as it was via the internet before I came. I was a little surprised to find a full live broadcast of the day's bull-running event from Pamplona, and followed it with interest. Huge crowds of people, thousands it seemed, filled the streets, spectators and participants. The scene, as they proceeded towards the start point en masse made me think of the start of a marathon race, or a big charity fun run, except for the chanting, cheers and singing of a popular chorus in honour of (presumably) San Fermin in front of a statue mounted in a high wall niche on the street. I noticed guys sporting tee-shirts with 'PASTOR' on the back. It turned out these weren't local clergy, but the officials who look after the bulls.

At several stages the crowd was held at a stand-still for a few moments by a thin blue line of policemen - or should I say thin florescent line, in view of their ubiquitous hi-viz jackets. I guess the idea was to make sure the crowd didn't cram the area where the bulls came out running to the arena. It was an effort to limit the potential damage bulls once let loose could inflict on the crowd. When the moment arrived, seconds after 8.00am a signal rocket was ignited - a video icon used to suggest the event in broadcasts already the previous day. Out came the bulls and the mad dash began - all two minutes and twenty seconds of it - with beasts and people alike slipping on cobbles, and there was a certain amount of trampling of people, by animals and/or each other into the bargain. The crowd streamed into the arena, most bulls ran for refuge into a pen with its door open, stragglers were rounded up by matadors before any of the public could do something stupid or heroic. It was all over bar the de-briefing interviews with the usual banale banter - fatuous in any language, no matter what the event.

I was pleased the TV journalists reported visually and with interviews, not only on the crowd control, but also on the work of the first aid teams, letting them give a running damage report. Just the facts, let the viewing public make up their own minds, just as the people of Pamplona have made up their minds, to let tradition continue, albeit as safely as possible.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

San Fermin

This morning's national news on TVE featured the first bull-running event of the week long fiesta of San Fermin (one of Navarra's patron saints). Three mad minutes in which thousands of over-excited people clad in white with red neckerchiefs sprint through narrow streets in the company of ten terrified animals being taken to the corrida. Later, I learned that it was broadcasted live on the news network at eight in the morning. It's an ancient tradition, and attracts interest and visitors from all over the world, as does any spectacular manifestation of folk culture.

Modern concern about the danger of such events demands a great deal of investment in keeping the risks under control and making them safe. It couldn't be achieved without strong local community support. In a way, such a cruel spectacle contradicts the spirit of the age, yet its persistence, surrounded by the best of policing and first aid teams, says something about a popular desire to stay in touch with, and not forget another era in which life was often nasty, brutish and short, for man and animal alike.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Coast path to Catalunya

It was a quiet day, finishing off my Sunday sermon, going out to the Carrefour hypermarket for some heavy shopping and diesel fuel for the car. It'll be a while before I get the measure of its consumption, and the readout from its digital fuel gauge. Better safe than sorry, so I filled up. Mission accomplished, I sat and watched Murray take the first set in his Wimbledon semi-final match, then began to feel restless, in need of physical exercise. 

Yesterday I found an excellent English leaflet on the walking trails around Vinaròs. As there's a coastal path going north to the boundary where the region of Catalunya begins, and a little nature reserve in the last mile of the excursion, I decided to follow it, joining the coast path at Cala del Pinar - all told, it's a distance of about 6km each way from home. 

The local coast road shuttle bus service runs half hourly, and it turns around in the parking area just at the south entrance to the nature trail section. For a shorter walk the shuttle bus is most convenient, although it was noticeably empty on the occasion I saw it pass. I guess the full flood of holidaymakers and other users has yet to arrive.

As I started the path, photographing the dozen coves and beaches as I went, my phone rang. It was Ashley, ringing from CBS HQ in Cardiff, reporting on a regional security conference attended yesterday by the team. Julie the new admin assistant also had some questions about record keeping to ask. I admit that I enjoyed walking, talking business on the phone and photographing at the same time. It's good to stay in the loop at an interesting time in the development of the organisation. To do so in such a lovely environment is both a privilege and an invigorating experience - so much so, I walked both ways.

The nature trail runs through terrain which remains as it was when used as agricultural land before coastline urbanisation coastline began. The boundary Riu de la Senia river wasn't quite the dried up barranco I'd expected, like many others locally. Just behind the beach where it flowed out into the sea, was a stretch of water visible for a few hundred metres, surrounded by lush greenery and trees. If it was flowing water, it moved slowly and seeped out through a bank of pebbles containing it on the foreshore. It didn't look stagnant, and it may have been the issue of the brief spell of heavy rain we had yesterday.

The batch of photos I took can be found here.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Market Day

On my way to visit 'The Portico', I was pleased to catch a glimpse of the weekly clothes market along the south bank of the Rio Cervol, from the San Nicolau road bridge right down to the start of the promenade. For once I was in town early enough to catch the covered food market open, and was able to take some interior pictures of it. Not long ago this early 20th century building with a simple iron frame high clerestory roof had been given a make-over to enhance the 'food retail experience'. The shop units around the wall and the central island have been modernised, and brown Spanish marble flooring is ubiquitous. 
I later learned that the back entrance, with supermarket style glass sliding doors, was new, replacing in part an old goods delivery area. It offers more shop units, but many of them remain unfilled. The building was shut for trade over two years. Some former traders have failed to return, new competitors for available spaces are not forthcoming, as rentals are considered too high. Something imaginative has been done as an interim measure, however. Many of the empty booths have been used as exhibition spaces for local photography, and some is food related. There's one small cafe bar. The place would benefit from a few small cooked food outlets, using only local produce. That'd bring in the self-catering visitors! Owain spoke about the success of this initiative in a popular indoor market he visited in Madrid last year.
After an hour or so chatting with people in 'The Portico', and helping to re-arrange the place for Sunday, I went hunting for a bus time table at the tourist office, having wasted time waiting for a bus on a half hour schedule, when I'd just missed one on my way in. I was pleased to have made myself understood in my experimental Spanish. Then, I walked up to the clothes market and took photos. There must be more than a half mile of stalls in total, along the river bank and promenade, plus on some of the roads crossing the out door sports and leisure area in between. What a lovely setting to do business.
After siesta time, Les and Brenda collected me to go to Anthea's, where I had my first lesson in playing Bridge. It must be over thirty years since I last played any sort of card game. None of the vocabulary or terminology of the game meant anything to me. It was bewildering at the start, and quite a challenge for memory and concentration. They were so patient with me, and this has left me with some homework to do before next Wednesday's session at 'The Portico', where I'll partner Anthea, whose regular Bridge partner is away at the moment. Half way through the session there was a huge dramatic downpour, with hailstones. 

As we left, the fragrance of a cool evening breeze off the mountains was pungent with wild herbs. Mmmmm.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Anniversary memories

It was a pleasure to welcome worship leaders and church wardens at home this morning, to give me a chance to find out more face to face about how services get prepared and offered for the three different congregations. It meant I could explain how the lectionary can be used to optimise the choice of readings for each occasion. I reckon I've been through the full three year cycle five times since it was first loosed upon the CofE, but in effect a lot longer because my my ecumenical association with Roman Catholic use of it from the early seventies. And it's still a challenge to get it right, not least because of some of the confusing nomenclature options surrounding reading selections from Trinity to Advent. It's a lot harder to get confused during the Advent to Trinity period.

After siesta I took my daily constitutional walk right into town and found the nearest Mercadona supermarket to get some fish for supper ( - really I must be less lazy, and go in during the morning to the covered Market, which I discovered yesterday). On my way there I noticed a Chinese 'market' which had light bamboo weave sombreros for one euro each - irresistible! I took a photo with my phone in case I forgot its name. It was too much fiddle to extract my Canon G9 from its pouch while carrying a shopping bag. Not a bad picture, considering the trouble I had controlling the device.
I wasn't sure I'd taken a picture (I took two in fact without realising), as I couldn't revert from camera mode to phone because of a button I inadvertently pressed, locking the interface in phone mode. Will I ever master this pesky new piece of kit? I played around taking a timed photo with the G9 sat on a balcony balustrade back at home, so I could send one of the hat to Clare, and give her a smile.
It's amazing to think that it's twenty years today since Kath and Anto were wed by our friend Martin in St Anne's Church Talygarn. Clare's mother had just died, and in the same week we attended her funeral. Then, within a short while, Clare and I were on our way to Geneva and the interview for the Chaplain's job there, in a process that just wouldn't happen these days. Even so, it was the beginning of my love affair with the Diocese in Europe and its extraordinary contribution to Christian mission in modern Europe. This week I came across a link to an article by Malcolm Bradshaw, Chaplain in Athens about the current economic situation in Greece, and what the churches are doing. It's worth a read. You'll find it here.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

St Thomas - no doubt

I don't know why, but I woke up early today thinking about next Sunday's sermon, so I got up and started writing in my pyjamas, took a break after an hour for breakfast, and then completed the first draft by elevenses. Only then did I get around to saying Morning Prayer in honour of St Thomas the Apostle - his day it is. I now have the rest of the week to mull over what I've written and edit it into final form. Come to think of it, that's what I often do at home early in the week, since I retired. When I was an incumbent, it was rare for me to get down to writing a sermon until Friday or Saturday, distracted earlier by the worries of the week. It's a real enjoyment to do a piece of creative work without pressure, well before having to deliver it. I'm not averse to re-working old material if its content still fires me up, though I can still take a lot of time re-editing and re-phrasing thoughts. It's really nice to have lots of time and space to reflect, and ponder the Word, starting from a blank page in a completely new place.

Next Sunday's Gospel contains an account of the itinerant preacher's lifestyle adopted by Jesus and his disciples. I fell to recalling the seven years I spent travelling Wales preaching and teaching in parishes with U.S.P.G. Travel was demanding, and on times I missed being rooted in one community. It was also a time of great satisfaction, however, finding my voice and my confidence as a missionary priest. It's sad to think that there's no longer a team of Area Secretaries doing that kind of work for the larger church. It's sad for the congregations that once welcomed an occasional different preacher, sad that the clergy can no longer get that diverse kind of spiritual formation during their life in ministry. In a way, I have now returned to that kind of service as a locum pastor, with similar freedom and challenges to relish.

I remembered to take my camera with me when I went into town this afternoon, so there's another batch of photos added to my Picasa website. Opposite are a few photo thumbnails, and clicking on them will give easy access to them - I hope.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Flavours of good life

A cooler day than expected with a fresh breeze, making such a contrast to the rest of the week's weather. The day of my arrival I walked into town in the evening and my overheated feet hurt for two days. This afternoon conditions were just for another exploratory stroll and some shopping. I bought some post cards to go with the stamps I procured last Thursday, wrote them and posted them before supper, walking back from the nearest post box along the cliff-top path. I found a nice clear quiet spot and treated myself to ten minutes of Chi Gong and Tai Chi in an invigorating sea breeze. For me that's better than swimming.

I inherited a pack of pickled anchovies in the Vicarage fridge, and experimented with using them to add flavour to a portion of rice I was boiling. I  poached the piece of bacalao (cod) I bought, by sitting it on top of the rice and anchovies for the last five minutes of rice cooking. It worked a treat. I was pleased with the outcome, accompanied by ratatouille, which I can do to my own satisfaction now that I've bought ginger and turmeric and pimenton to use. Cooking for one is a challenge, first and foremost, of portion control. I plan to perfect a few dishes so that I can give Clare and Eddie and Anne a surprise when they come. I now have some goats milk yoghourt and the other ingredients with which to experiment in making different kinds of hummus. Next target, to hunt down - a jar of tahini. There's some stuff you must see on a shelf to learn its Spanish name because it doesn't figure in a learner's dictionary.

Madrid is party town tonight, and broadcasting to the nation as Spain rejoices in yesterday's Euro Cup victory. The team are being treated like royalty, and with masses of people in front of a concert stage in one of the capital's main squares, it reminds me of the Queen's jubilee, only with more exuberance. The team all look so delighted both to be welcomed back and to be so successful. The economic crisis is hitting the country hard and poorer people are certainly suffering most. Europe debates if Spain can pull itself from the mess it's in. I think yes, though maybe not in a way that's expected or understood to well. The country is no stranger to adversity or oppression, but it has great assets in social solidarity and its sustained tradition of family life to help cope without losing heart. These are strengths that prove their worth in the long term. There are no quick fixes for the problems of the Western world. They are a sign of its moral and spiritual decline.

Cup victory for Spain

In between eating, updating and skyping Clare tonight, I glimpsed some parts of the European Cup final between Italy and Spain. Quite apart from the 4-0 Spanish victory it was an impressive celebration of real teamwork, inspiring to behold, worthy of record.

Every time a goal was scored there was a shout from down the street, followed by  a firework. I was expecting an outburst of local fireworks after the match ended, but not, it was only when midnight arrived was there a fifteen minute display, somewhere further away, probably in the new leisure zone Vinaròs is developing. And so to bed.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

First duty Sunday

Michael and Pamela took me to church in Vinaròs this morning, where I met the congregation of a dozen and a half over Morning Prayer. As with all highly mobile communities of people working out their lives in more than one place, numbers fluctuate hugely. It doesn't affect morale, however. Motivation to meet remains high, and members are habitually supportive of each other, as far as they are can be. Musical accompaniment to the hymns was provided by one euphonium player.  There was an electronic keyboard as well, but on this occasion nobody to play. Not that it mattered. A single warm brass voice to lead worked well and people sang lustily.

After the service, ex-Chaplain Paul Needle and his wife arrived. We had coffee together, then they drove me to the chaplaincy's Catalonian outpost in the fishing port of L'Ampolla - another three quarters of an hour to the north of Vinaròs. Half a dozen people at the service I took had driven an hour and a half from Alcossebre to be at the chaplaincy Eucharist of the day. This says a great deal about the value people place on church life that enables them to sustain their personal identity and sense of vocation. I wish more peole in UK were aware of how people in the diaspora are willing to put time, energy and finance into discipleship without expecting it all to be provided within a mile or so of where they live.

OK, I know that's not fair, because Britain's network of places of worship, so many of them ancient, are part of cultural and social infrastructure, as well as offering a spiritual environment. Nobody wants to see that patrimony wither away, yet that's what happens in places blighted by modern mobility trends. Too many places needing to be sustained by too few faithful people.

Is Spain any different? Not really, as secularistion is also a concern here. What's precious is recognition by the Spanish Catholic hierarchy of the Anglican community presence, and a willingness on the part of many clergy to say 'mi casa es tu casa', and hand over a set of keys for use of their building for Anglican worship - and advertising it ! Yes, it happens all over Europe. It always must be for pastoral reasons, as a local concession, but this has deep roots in a universal spirit of hospitality and partnership in the Gospel.

Here in L'Ampolla, Anglican services, once fortnightly, are advertised alongside Catholic ones, in a barrio Church dedicated to St John the Baptist (which made me very happy), right next to the main railway line in the middle of town. We had to take breaks during the service to counter overwhelming noise from passing express trains. It reminded me of Easter locum duties back in the nineties down in the Ticino at St Edward's, in Lugano.

The congregation lunched together in a port restaurant after the service. All went well until the rain came down fiercely and copiously after the first course, to the point that we had to abandon our outdoor tables and gaze with amazement at the monsoon beyond. We ended up with our main courses in take-away boxes as it was impossible to continue - tables in the interior of the restaurant were all occupied. So we made our way back to Vinaròs, clutching the remains of our lunches. By the time we arrived the skies were clearing and it was a mere eighteen degrees.