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REMEMBERING JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA
by Lionel Darmendrail

Dear old Sam
I’ve much enjoyed your pieces on Sevilla and Jerez de la Frontera.
I believe I’m a good judge, knowing that we’ve stopped there some 40 odd times since my old man took us (my two brothers and I) there the first time --40 years ago-- to the Semana Santa, after a car expedition from Biarritz that lasted 3 days (and one night) before we could reach our destination.

At that time roads (if you could call them that, that is) were something else : bridges –and there were many—never allowed for two cars aside. Cars were very few (but you couldn’t drive faster than 40 klicks per hour) and you’d better bring your vehicle to a halt whenever you spoted a lorry coming down the opposite way if you wished to live longer. You saw far more many horses all around. My fist souvenir from Sevilla was precisely all those beautifully dressed caballeros moving around town riding on their mounts with a sevillana girl sitting on the front of the saddle with her long multi-coloured robe cascading down the side of the horse. Very impressive memory.
From this first trip with my dad I also remember my first Jerez wine : Tio Pepe from Gonzalez-Byass it was. Dry. Fino. A wine meant for warm days ; better served chilled though.

I agree with your distinctive descriptions of Sevilla and Jerez. Sevilla has changed considerably since the world Expo. It has opened up a greatly to mass-tourism. That will not change the old monuments much, granted, but the street atmosphere feels like ripoff business at work, Disneylike somehow. The last time I was there, in the lovely Barrio Judio, I had my shoes polished while standing and drinking up at a small bar and, at one point, the artisan offered to reinforce the leathered heels with some hob-nails that he proceeded to fix to my shoes ; when the operation was over I tipped him with the equivalent of a quid that he smilingly declined as too little appreciation of his craft. I’ve had my shoes polished too many times to start arguing about what we should consider to be fair remuneration. To make a brief story short, I had him to remore the nails from my shining shoes and, after all, I ended up with nicely polished shoes without having paid a cent. Then, I walked back to the car park to find my car broken into (a window smashed to bits but nothing missing in the car for there was nothing in it) and the official lot keeper coming to me, holding his sides, telling me he had to fight hard and make the perpetrators retreat at the peril of his own life and that heroic deed appeared to him to be worth an extra fee. I shook him off.

(By the way, I just heard on the radio that for the first time in France a slow-dying victim of what he perceives to be a Chernobyl effect was taking legal action –a law suit-- against the State that he held responsible for not having told us what real risks were at stake. I do see this litigation development as some clear americanisation of our public system at risk and I --as civil-servant--don’t like it much to tell the truth)

Jerez is a much different place and you've appropriately described that difference (which explains that I've enjoyed your second piece more). You didn't mention the beautiful Equestrian School which is one of the best in the world --with the Vienna School. The premises and the morning show are just great. Not far from there there's also the much appreciated Grand Prix racing ring. Some say that the sound of those motorcars that takes into the air is a very unique and sensational hearing experience.
We have a close friend dwelling in a lovely villa in Puerto Santa Maria (on the way from Jerez to Cadiz). José Luis used to be (from 1962 until 1977) the M.D., based in Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, in charge of the Spanish fishing fleet at work on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland (when codfish were plenty) and now is a successful, handy dentist (his patients call him Manitas de Oro) enjoying his trade and collecting old vintage cars. The operating room, very modern and well equipped, is in the villa itself. People come and go at almost any hour of the day or night, for dental help as well as headache or stomachache assistance, or chest pains, pussy in fire...you name it. José Luis just never stops. He can't stay put for more than a few minutes. Patients are welcome to sit by the pool-house (the waiting-room), help themselves with a drink, take a swim in the water or watch TV on a comfortable sofa.

I really love the region, visiting great places, sea shores, Sanlucar de la Barrameda –that spot by the Big River (Oued el Kebir) where Manzanilla is produced--bodegas, toro land, and walking around town in the evening on copas and tapas and watching the Sevillanas being danced on the floor. By the way, you mentioned the Gonzalez & Byass Bodegas in Jerez. Have you seen those little unafraid mice coming under the wine casks for a little copa, dipping their heads into the glasses made to scale to that effect. They seem so happy with their lot. I was told that the tradition started a couple of hundred years ago, and the lucky mice had been the only cellar tenants admitted and wined for free. I’m presently sipping some Islay single malt and feeding the fire with another log. Keep in touch my friend

© Lionel Darmendrail - Bayonne


A CLOSE CALL- Lionel survives a passion attack

JEREZ

SEVILLE


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