Bless ’em all

"So, what do you think of it so far, Rover?

“So, what do you think of it so far, Rover?

We’ve just come to the end of one of the most important weeks in the calendar of Manacor, our nearest town, in the east of Mallorca. Sant Antoni is the town’s patron saint, so it’s not surprising that the locals take the celebrations around this date rather seriously. Locally, it’s known as the Gran Semana – the big week.

Shops, businesses, and schools were closed on both Wednesday and Thursday, although supermarkets opened just for the morning on Wednesday, and our bank closed early every day of this past week. Almost everyone seemed to have bought themselves a sweatshirt or fleece emblazoned with this year’s Sant Antoni fiestas emblem and, costing around 16 euros a garment, they seemed a reasonably priced way to enter into the spirit of the event and keep warm.

Party on

And keeping warm has been necessary. The weather’s turned chilly and damp on Mallorca but, as we’ve seen on many occasions, the Mallorcans are rarely deterred by unpleasant weather conditions when there’s a party beckoning. We, however, wimped out and watched most of the celebrations on the local TV channel IB3, sitting in front of the log burner.

I was sorry to miss this year’s slow-moving parade of animals and imaginatively decorated floats around Manacor’s streets, on Thursday morning. On the morning of the saint’s day, animals of every sort – farm and domestic – are taken to be blessed by the local priest.

Attending previous animal blessings, I’ve considered taking Minstral, our Birman cat, but I suspect he’d be thoroughly miffed to have been removed from his favourite chair to mingle with animals the like of which he’s never seen. And, of course, we couldn’t take Minstral and leave behind the other eight cats that now call our finca home. I wonder if the local priest does house calls for animal blessings . . .

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May your New Year’s Eve grapes be seedless . . .

A native Mallorcan grape variety, Callet is for wine - not for New Year's Eve. Buy small, sweet and seedless grapes for easier gulping!

A native Mallorcan grape variety, Callet is for wine – not for New Year’s Eve. Buy small, sweet and seedless grapes for easier gulping!

For our first New Year’s Eve after moving to rural Mallorca (2004) we decided to do something we hadn’t ever done in the UK: go to the capital to see in the New Year. We booked ourselves into a very reasonable small hotel in Palma (Hotel Cannes – alas, no longer open) and took the train into the city from Manacor.  The country folk were heading for A Big Night Out in the City!

Much to our surprise, the return journey was free of charge – although the ticket man on the train insisted on giving everyone a ‘free’ single journey ticket.  At the time, there were no automated barriers in either station, so this seemed slightly quirky; we wondered how much it had cost to have these special tickets printed . . .

Whining about dining

We planned to eat out and then go to Plaza Cort, in the centre of Palma, where there’s a real party atmosphere on New Year’s Eve – with live music, plenty of revelry, and these days the presence of the Balearics’ TV station IB3. To our surprise, we found that most restaurants in Palma were closed, and after trudging the streets – stomachs rumbling – we finally found an Italian restaurant with one free table, which we commandeered without even looking at the menu. We were desperate – having been on the verge of gobbling down the 24 grapes we’d brought with us for the Spanish tradition of downing one grape each time the clock chimes at midnight.

The food wasn’t memorable, but we went on to have a great night in Plaza Cort, dancing to a lively band. It was 2.40am when we finally returned to our hotel to catch some sleep before our return train journey home.

Showtime! 

The journey was a long one: the train was packed (with free travel, no surprise), and stopped at every station and, unusually, there was music playing throughout the carriages. After a late night and a few glasses of cava, the driver’s selection (we imagined this was his privilege for working on New Year’s Day) of rousing show tunes made sure that we didn’t fall asleep during the journey. We couldn’t complain though: our journey again cost us nothing and we had another ‘free’ ticket to show for it.

When in Rome . . . 

The next year we decided to check out the celebrations closer to home, among the locals.  At 11pm we went into Manacor with the aim of having a drink in one of the numerous bars, before assembling at the church with the throngs of locals. It would have been a great plan if all the bars hadn’t been closed. We thought of past New Year’s Eve celebrations in the UK – all somewhat livelier than anything we’d seen – or have seen since – in Mallorca.

As we wandered around the deserted town centre, clutching our bags of grapes, we remembered friends telling us that New Year’s Eve is usually a family celebration for Mallorcans, taking place over a special meal at home (hence, many restaurants are closed for the night).  Finally, at 11.45pm the bar next to the church opened its doors: we bought ourselves a drink and watched as, slowly, groups of people began to assemble outside the church, where a band had set up their instruments on a wooden stage and was in the process of tuning up.

Our grapes at the ready, we joined the crowd outside and duly welcomed in the New Year. After the church bells had rung and we’d gobbled down our grapes, the band struck up and we joined in the dancing. But by 12.20am most people had wandered off home, leaving a not very large group of young hardcore partygoers still throwing shapes to the music. We ambled off to our car, making our first New Year’s Resolution: Do something different for the next New Year’s Eve!

Of course, this time of year is not all about partying. It’s a time to share with loved ones, to reflect on the year behind you, and make plans for the one ahead. However you spend your New Year’s Eve, enjoy it, and may 2013 be a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year for you and, if you’re a blogger, a successful one.

Molts d’anys – as they say in these parts.

A chill in the air

Woolly jumpers in the lane!

It’s turned rather chilly on Mallorca today. It’s all relative, of course, because the 11 degrees C we have at the moment outside at our finca, would probably be welcome right now back in the UK.

Watching this afternoon’s weather forecast on IB3 TV – covering the Balearics – I saw a selection of photos sent in by viewers over the past few hours. One of these images showed a thin layer of snow lying on the ground up in Mallorca’s Tramuntana mountains, around the Gorg Blau reservoir.  Brrr . . .

A vested interest in the weather

Another sign of winter has just been spotted. Local farmer Pedro, who just trundled up the lane on his ancient tractor – moving his sheep to a different field – was wearing his warm-looking hat with the substantial ear flaps, rather than the jaunty battered straw number that graces his head for much of the year. On the basis that Mallorcan farmers seem to be able to predict the weather as well as any meteorologist, I’m off in search of my thermal vests . . .

Each to his own . . .

This will do nicely

Although Mallorca has recently been enjoying some mild autumn weather – complete with glorious blue skies and warm sunshine – the rest of this week is expected to be wet and, at times, very cold. I even heard the ‘minus’ word mentioned in connection with temperatures on IB3 TV’s weather forecast – and am hoping that because it’s broadcast in mallorquin, I might have misunderstood what the forecaster was saying!Winter on the way

Like seasoned country folk, we prepared ourselves for winter a while ago. We have been to our local woodyard to stock up with logs for the woodburner, had diesel delivered for the generator and, of course, now have roof insulation – which should make this winter a lot less difficult than in previous years.

Our outdoor cat family is also preparing for the worst, by seeking out – and claiming as their own – the cosy little nooks that will give them shelter from inclement weather. Last winter The Boss created a set of ‘apartments’ for the feline family, from some redundant old pine cabinets. With the addition of a few old cushions, these little shelters should keep the cats cosy again this winter.

Room for a little one?

This year, there’s an extra cat to accommodate: Shorty, the cute ginger kitten that came into our lives in August, and memorably bit (twice) The Boss’s finger, has made himself completely at home here. He’s still not too sure about the cat apartments, but has claimed the outside recessed area of our small dining room window, between the shutter and the rejas (the traditional iron bars used for security in Spanish windows). An old cork bathmat, cut to shape by The Boss, means he won’t feel the chill of the concrete beneath him.

Once the really cold weather comes though, Shorty won’t be able to resist his favourite place: cosying up to the large black and white male cat Beamer – the mellow-natured alpha male of our outdoor feline family. That’s when yours truly isn’t giving him a cuddle . . .

One splendid sun . . .

Occasionally, we see the most spectacular sunset and Monday, September 3rd was such an evening. We’d had sunshine and showers (and a rainbow), and there were some very impressive (and some menacing) cloud formations around. So I took some photos to post on this blog, and also sent some to IB3, the local Mallorcan TV channel, which shows viewers’ photos as part of the weather forecast. Clearly, I was not the only person who rushed for a camera, given the number of similar photos shown on IB3 yesterday afternoon – but to my great surprise, they showed one of my pictures!

I once visited Key West, Florida, where I joined a crowd of people who applauded enthusiastically as the sun slipped into the horizon. It was a special moment that’s made me appreciate sunsets wherever I am. You won’t find me clapping my hands here in the Mallorcan countryside though as the sun disappears behind the valley ridge. The locals would think I was bonkers . . .

Fifty shades of cloud

Fifty shades of sky

Golden moments in our valley

Golden moments in our valley

Goodnight Mallorca!