15th July – today. 30 or so minutes outside Valencia surrounded by the Sierra Calderona hills.
Just over 6 months after my first visit, I am lucky enough to return to house sit for Georgie, Phil and family.
The cafe on this Saturday morning is full of noise and colour. Like trees full of tropical birds, flocks of male cyclists are in vibrant lycra, one making ear-piercing whistles to attract his friend’s attention. They are stocking up on coffee before hurtling through the Sierra on their bikes.
Young boys learning to be their fathers, pose on smaller cycles in neon orange T-shirts and bright yellow shorts further up the streets.
Older women in black tops and floaty-hemmed skirts pad to market in sandals, clutching a purse, and returning with a white carrier bag, baguette poking out of the top. Some wear pinnies over their polka dots. These casual clothes are in contrast to the black elegance of last night’s singers, accessorised as they were with white pearls and corsages. I recognise the matriarch who wore a see-through chemise for the concert. She has replaced it with a practical jumpsuit.
A delegation of men and women errupt onto the street dressed also in black, and also with neon orange, this time over their shoulders and with Proteccion Civil Naquera, Proteccio Civil Valencia or Olocau on the back, depending on whether it is written in Castilian or Valenciana I presume. Trousers tucked into boots, they delicately suspend their cigarettes between fore and middle fingers, and traipse back and forth between cashpoint, cafe and bakery. I thought they might be traffic wardens as I have seen similar groups in Edinburgh when they start their rounds at 8am, but no, they are trainee lay people, a force to assist the police in their official duties. They carry only walkie-talkies around their waists, not guns. Both male and female saunter, hips leading at a very relaxed pace – perhaps they are taught to walk like that.
The market is in the square opposite the church. My eye is immediately drawn to the eco- stall and I bought some seaweed flakes to sprinkle on my salad.
They also have gleaming sunshine in tiny bottles of lemon or tomato-infused olive oil.
The stall holder sells Portobello mushrooms so I tell him I live near there, in Edinburgh. This information seems to please him: in English he regales how he has never been to Scotland but, with a smile on his face, that he will visit when he grows up, when he has more experience! (I am guessing he is around 60 years old.) He says he was in love with Chrissie Hynde (the lead singer and founder member of the Pretenders, who lived in South Queensferry, just outside Edinburgh), and thought Simple Minds were great. Later, when I was queueing at the place opposite, he came over and played me their music on his phone. I find the Spanish delightful.
There are two fruit and veg stands: one presided over by a woman in thin denim who keeps a close eye on who is next, gives me a soft yellow plum to try, then takes one herself and laughs as the juice escapes down her smock.
A quieter man serves at the other one. He gives me a handful of cherries, and I buy potatoes, almonds, and a fig for a treat.
The patroness of the patisserie / panaderia (cake and bread shop) struggles to understand my Spanish as I foolishly attempt to ask if the bread has anything extra in it, like olives, because it resembles that sort of loaf in the UK. Why do I try such things?
Although I only arrived 2 days ago, I am greeted by fellow choir members from last night’s performance – some with kisses on each cheek, others with ‘Que tal?’ (how are you?), or ‘buen dia’ (literally, good day). Everyone is so friendly to me.
There is always a large screen in cafes here. This one has silent rappers in caps making their secret sign-language.
Palm trees line the main street, edged mostly with older properties in pale yellow and whitewash, though some are more modern. Pavements and cobbled streets look well kept, apparently mended during the recession as the ‘ayuntamiento’, (town council) attempted to keep men in work. The village is clean and smart with ornate balconies, bulging at the bottom, and matching window bars at street level.
There are decorated eaves made of terracotta or white plaster, and the blind covers someone’s front door to minimise the heat.
As the church bell sounds, I look up and see that the roof tiles are made up of columns and rows of arcs like endless ‘mmmms’. If I listen, I fancy I can hear humming from choirs of ages past.
Cliffs provide a craggy backdrop to the north end: strata of pale pink rock interspersed with the sort of plants that obviously do not need much soil (see the church picture above). To the south are softer tree-covered slopes. There is no doubt that Olocau is right in the middle of this popular natural park.
A woman lifts her skirts to point out the mosquito bites to her friend, who responds by showing hers.
There is a burst of Barry White which must contravene all laws concerning sound levels, followed by a cascade of Spanish I cannot understand. This is repeated – in case I did not get it the first time?
The Spanish tongue rolls and bubbles, like waves at the beaches edge. Words I recognise punctuate: ‘claro’ (stress the aah in the middle, means absolutely), ‘genial’ (say henial, lovely). Luckily they have expressive eyes and often gesture dramatically, which might be for my benefit or for the fun of it, I am not sure. Where I fail to communicate my English sense of humour to the French, the Spaniards seems to share it. With naughty smiles, their voices pick up speed and timbre as they chuckle wickedly together over village stories.
Fans are constantly a-flutter. Sue (my rescuer) tells me that the houses are cool in summer, here in the tight streets where the sun does not shine on them, so the women find it hot when they come outside.
The Valencians take pride in their music, offering free classical concerts in Olocau, really a small community, every Saturday night through July. Not just that, it also boasts a music school of its own which prepares kids for the Conservatoire, a choir and a band. Emma, the talented and lively singing leader, tells me that nearby Lliria is famous for its wind players, and we thoroughly enjoy the evening concert. A quintet consisting of flute, oboe, horn, clarinet and bassoon, enchants us with Mozart, a medley by Bizet, plus the more unusual Muczinsky and a Piazolla I had not heard before, to end with. In the middle of the Rossini the town church just over the wall struck midnight, but it did not deter them.
Just part of one of my days here in this beautiful place.
Olocau Tourist Information at the Casa de la Senoria http://comunitatvalenciana.com/viaje/olocau/oficina-turismo/tourist-info-olocau
Susan’s air bnb comes highly recommended https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/2518994?location=Olocau%2C%20Spain&check_in=2017-06-01&check_out=2017-07-01&s=5V8FQfC-