Los Mayos – a festival I missed

When I visited Alhama de Murcia a few days ago, I came for the Roman baths and the Archaeology museum. Stepping out into the lovely courtyard, I noticed two sculptures which clearly had nothing whatsoever to do with Roman or Arab history.



Museum garden

Museum garden

As I was the only visitor at the time, I was lucky enough to have a lady from reception giving me a private tour because she had nothing else to. Naturally, I asked her about these guys and that’s how I came to learn about a unique local festival I had just missed by a month.
‘Oh,’ she said, ‘they are Los Mayos’. Question marks in my eyes!! ‘You see,’ she continued, ‘in the first week of May Alhama celebrates the beginning of spring in a very different way than the rest of the country. Have you heard about Las Fallas?’
Indeed, I had. It’s the celebration in Valencia and Alicante culminating in huge fireworks and the display of giant effigies made from papier mache which are burnt in bonfires at the end of the night.

Las Fallas gigantes from Alicante

Las Fallas gigantes from Alicante

‘We don’t have these gigantes,’ she said. ‘We make Los Mayos, big dolls made from fabric, stuffed with straw and painted with individual faces. They represent real people and they carry messages written on pieces of paper they either hold in their hands or have pinned to their clothes. They are a sort of caricature.

Los Mayos

Los Mayos

These dolls are placed over night at houses and public places, so the population awakes on the 1st of May to a whole new set of ‘people’. The messages are funny, or express a wish or ridicule a certain attitude or quirk of someone. The dolls remain in place all day, are removed at night and displayed again elsewhere the next day. We don’t burn them, they even enter into a competition. But that’s not all. We also have the corremayos, musicians dressed in harlequin costumes who roam the streets all day, singing and making music, entertaining people. Then there is food and drink of course and a display of the beautiful huge crosses made from white flowers which are displayed at the church of San Lazaro. Pity you missed it, you must come back next year.’

I will. This festival doesn’t have a long tradition but it seems to be extremely colorful and certainly very different to the fallas. It’s also a festival mainly for the locals, but those tourists who are lucky enough to know about it and happen to be there at the time are made very welcome indeed.

Better stick to what you know

I have to admit that I am a lousy cook. I can boil pasta – al dente, no less and rustle up an omelet, but that’s just about the extent of my skill in the kitchen. I can’t make a sauce to go with the pasta either, but there is always a charitable soul who can.
But, from time to time, I can’t resist to make a fool of myself and try my hand. As was the case on my visit to a charity bazaar in Didim/Turkey. Many hand made things were on offer and, as food is very important in Turkey, a few ladies sat in a corner and prepared gözleme. This is a delicious snack, a very thin pancake filled with cheese, minced meat, potatoes or honey and nuts. I was fascinated by the speed and skill with which the ladies rolled out the paper thin dough and asked, if I could try.
With a lot of giggling, they gave me a lump of dough, a rolling pin and well meaning instructions. The pictures say more than 1000 words and I will not tell what the final result looked like.

That's what they should look like

That’s what they should look like


My turn, ha,ha

My turn, ha,ha

Hard as I tried, the thing just didn't get the right shape.

Hard as I tried, the thing just didn’t get the right shape.

But, a lot of fun was had and my opinion confirmed that I better stick to what I know and leave the cooking well alone.

The history of April Fool’s Day

Have you won the lottery? Received a message from a secret admirer? Taken delivery of a box of fish? Well, more likely than not you have become the ‘victim’ of a prank because it’s, after all, April 1st, better known all over the world as April Fool’s Day. Take everything that happens to you today with a pinch of salt and, above all, put on a smiling face.
It’s interesting though to explore the history which lies behind these pranks and that particular date. As is so often the case with customs everybody knows about, the origin is doubtful and there are several theories.
The most scholarly one is that it all started in France in 1582 when, under Charles IX the Gregorian calendar was introduced and the celebration of New Year moved from April 1st to January 1st.
In those times, news didn’t travel fast and some remote villages didn’t know about the change for several years. Those more enlightened souls who were up to date, took to making fools out of the ignorants who still celebrated New Year on April 1st by sending them invitations to non existing New Year celebrations etc. Those who fell for it were dubbed ‘poisson d’avril’, April fish, because a little fish is easily fooled. Hence the theme of fish related to April 1st pranks.
From there, things spread to England and Scotland in the 18th century, then to the American colonies.
But, the Gregorian calendar is not the only explanation. Some date it back to celebrate the arrival of Spring, as in the Festival of Hilaria in Rome dedicated to the gods Atis and Cybele. Romans still have their day of hilarity but on the 25th of March.
In India people smear each other with color, also to celebrate the arrival of spring, in Portugal they throw flour on unsuspecting ‘victims’, in other countries, paper with jokes or the invitation to ‘kick me’ are pinned on people’s backs.
Generally speaking it’s a harmless way to poke fun at family, friends or colleagues although matters can get out of hand. The pranks are not only directed at individuals but also sometimes at the general public. Most famously in 1857 when a public notice invited the folks of London to get free tickets to the Washing of the Lions at the Tower of London.

If you plan on playing an April Fool’s joke on somebody, be careful to do so before noon. It is considered bad luck to do so later and the fooler may end up being the fool himself.
Whatever happens, take it into your stride, don’t lose your temper, sigh deeply and..smile. Next year, you may get your revenge!

What’s your idea of ‘fun travel’?

This post was prompted by a website I happened upon and which proclaimed to be a niche for fun travel. Intrigued, I went and had a look. To my dismay, I must say that at least half of the trips described sounded anything but to me. More like hard work, uncomfortable clothes, a lot of huffing and puffing, sweat and dirt.

But then, the beauty of the thing is, that people have such different tastes and equally different ideas of what they call ‘fun’. Therefore, I thought it might be very interesting to sort of poll my fellow travel writers and my readers to see what, for them, constitutes fun travel.

To help you along the way, here are a few examples what people do consider fun when they embark on a vacation. To make it very clear up front: I am in no way judgmental nor would I ever have a right to be. All I ask is that people travel at all, never mind the reason why. It may also be, that the odd sarcastic word escapes my writing finger, but that’s just me. I’m sure a lot of folks make fun of me too, I am after all the glamour granny of the stiletto brigade. Enough said, back to the subject and some examples of fun travel:

Those who do absolutely nothing.  They travel to a warm place, lie by the pool or on the beach, fry themselves to a crisp and may even read the odd book. Then go home happy if somewhat sun burnt and proclaim to have had tons of fun. I think, it’s also called ‘chilling out’ which is definitely not a bad thing.

Those who do things they have never done in their life. Like: paragliding, mountaineering, parachuting, scuba  diving etc. I can sympathize with that because it gives a great sense of achievement and I can understand the high of the thrill.

Those who go on a cooking course, preferably in Italy or France. Back home, they ply their unsuspecting friends and family with their new found culinary expertise until all they crave is mashed potatoes and a grilled chicken breast. Maybe, during the cooking course, the tasting is more fun than the chopping of vegetables and the preparation of sauces nobody can pronounce.

Those who want to do nothing else but party all night, get plastered, do drugs, have as many one night stands as they can manage. Back home, they need a month to recover, maybe even a spot of rehab.

A subcategory of those are the infamous ‘lager louts’ . In this case I am judgmental.   I and thousands of others simply abhor them and one has to ask oneself why they even bother to leave their home country.

Those who are on a culture trip. Get as many famous monuments and landmarks on camera as you can squeeze into X amount of time. I guess it’s only later when they actually look at their pictures when they realize where they have been and then they may want to return and do it all over again, but very, very slooooowly!

Now I have to come clean and tell you, what fun travel is for me. Simple: exploring! I will of course look at famous sites, it would be very arrogant not to, but then I feel the pull to go off and poke my nose around every corner, always on the look out for hidden gems. And when I find them, I get a high too and can’t wait to share my finds with my readers. Occasionally, I get into trouble doing this, like the time when I literally got lost in the catacombs of Rome and triggered a quite embarrassing search or when I nearly got shot in Jordan because I wanted to cross the King David Bridge into Israel or at least get close and take a picture of the soldiers. Never mind, that’s what I call fun.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me what fun travel means to you!!!




All about Boxing Day

Being German, I was of course not familiar with the term ‘Boxing Day’. For us it’s just the second Christmas holiday and nothing special.

When I was very young, my English wasn’t so good, but I knew what ‘boxing’ was. So, in all innocence, I thought that the 26th of December was the day when people got into fights over the Christmas presents they had received. Either they wanted to punch out the giver of particularly unwanted gifts or they coveted the things somebody else had received.

As it turns out, my interpretation, today, isn’t that far off. Because, you see, Boxing Day in the UK is the biggest sales event for retailers. Shops and department stores open early and stay open late, offering huge discounts and, I’m told that people stand in line all night to be the first to rush in and exchange unwanted gifts or snap up a bargain. Inevitable, they do get into fights and shouting matches, snatching cheap items out of each other’s hands!!

But of course, Boxing Day has quite another traditional background. It was the day when servants and tradesmen received gifts (in boxes) from their rich customers and employers. It’s particularly big in the Uk and some other countries but not anywhere else. As far as food is concerned, it’s the day when left overs from the sumptuous Christmas dinner are converted into salads, soups and sandwiches presenting a culinary challenge to the fantasy and skills of those who like to cook.

So, take the day in the right spirit and don’t get into fights.