Page 5, 27th April 1973

27th April 1973
Page 5
Page 5, 27th April 1973 — Land of sherry and citrus blossom
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Land of sherry and citrus blossom

I have been asked to write about Spain which I last visited two years ago, my port of call being Cadiz and lasting, imfortenately, only one day. I mention it, however, because shortly before embarking on this particular sea voyage I had told an old friend, Charles Williams, that I would be stopping at Cadiz.

Ile forthwith laid on arrangements for me to be met at the quayside and swept into the nearby town of Jerez to be shown over the Williams and Humbert "baleen" and sample some of their delicious sherry. It turned out to be a memorable visit, preceded by a drive through countryside of noble beauty to inspect the vineyards. In the monastic se clusion of a house in the mid dle of apparently nowhere — but strategically placed for the intense work of grape picking at the psychological moment— the workers dwell as if bound by a solemn vow of dedication to the grape.

Then back along the coast of the Bay of Cadiz, with Cape Trafalgar not far away as a reminder of Nelson, and into the town of sherry itself.

Jerez is a thriving and bustling place, complete with all modern conveniences including

traffic jams. But the Williams bodega was in a "suburb"

cooled by shade, and there we were shown the whole process of how sherry is made.

The enormous variety and subtlety of tastes is the memory that lingers most strongly.

Many of the types are sold only locally if at all, since they may vary too much from the standard "amontillados, olorosos, films, etc., a sweet looking sherry with an ultra dry tang was one of the many pleasant surprises. But not too much was actually consumed to spoil an excellent, typically "late" Spanish lunch to round off the long morning.

Jerez is of course on the Atlantic, and I would not necessarily recommend this area for a conventional holiday. To combine the maximum of material comfort with hisorical interest, I personally tend to gravitate toward Valencia and the fabulous Costa de Azaha that flanks it to north and south.

It gets its name from the heady citrus blossom that pervades the surrounding countryside, The entire bay is edged by one of the longest and yet narrowest stretches of lowlying coastal "shell's" in the whole of Spain.

If your particular "packet" takes you hereabouts, you may be the most "wrapped up" but by no means the first of the migrants.

People of the remotest civilisations crossed the calm Mediterranean to settle on these Shores. Valencia, which was founded by the Romans, saw its greatest glory under Arab dominion. Sagunto was apparently a very early Greek colony, and its name became immortalised thanks to its inhabitants' heroic stand against the Carthaginian hosts under Hannibal.

Little is known of the origins of Castillon. It seems that the early township of Castalia • founded by Greeks or Romans, used to stand on the hill of La Magdalena, although the first documentary record of its existence dates from 1233. Pefiiscola is thought to be ancient Gaya, which already existed prior to the Phoenician colonization. The town of Benicarle is of Greek origin. However, it was under Arab domination that the coast acquired great importance.

The Arebs created the prodigious market gardening country called "La Huerta" around Valencia, although some authorities today hold that the unique system of irrigation was in fact built by the Romans. The Arabs planted orange and lemon-trees throughout the region, together with rice and mulberry trees. They introduced certain eastern methods of baking and colouring earthenware, a love of noise and of gunpowder, and cultivation of the most delicate plants.

During the week in which March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, falls, the famous "Fallas" are held in Valencia.

This is the big event in the Valencian calendar. To the human voice, shouting, singing, music, and overwhelming rowdy revelry, is added the tremendous din of exploding fireworks. The "Fallas" are a

unique form of folklore to be seen nowhere else in the world. From July 20-31, the so-called "Feria de Julio" or July Fair takes place, with important bull-fights, musical events, fireworks, sports, etc., ending in a renowned 'battle of flowers in which grace and elegance are the order of the day.

At Castellon, the patronal festivities in honour of St. Mary Magdalene are held from the third Sunday in Lent onwards. On the previous Saturday, the "Preget" or solemn announcement of the festivities takes place, this being a cavalcade of historical or local characters. On the Sunday, there is a traditional "romeria" or pilgrimage to the Shrine of La Magdalena in the morning, while the parade of the Gaya lax takes place that night. Bullfights. Sports.

Vestiges of old war dances can still be found in various towns. In Perriscola, for instance, during the patronal festivities on 8th September, the dance of the "Gitanetes", which is of Arab origin, simbites the Christian King's assault on the castle held by the Arabs. The outcome of the battle differs on the following day. At Morella, there are ageold guild dances. Each town celebrates the annual feast of its patron saint with exhibitions of ideal folklore, varied entertainments, competitions and ceremonies.

by MARK PLAYDELL




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