For some silly reason the Adriatic always sounded like a magical sea to me, like it’s located on the moon or in the land of Narnia. But here it is, still clear and blue under a moody summer storm.
A quick photo from Milan’s World Expo, where the theme is ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’. A place full of architecture, selfie sticks, tired feet and blatant avoidance of the complex issue of feeding the world sustainably in the future.
In the background, the Qatar pavillion. The foreground, the equally sized pavillion for that glorious country committed to healthy eating, McDonalds. Image taken at a juice and fruit cafe that was shunted to the back. All the buildings were cool though!
Summer time (in Tortosa)
And the living is easy.
Fish are jumping, (honestly, I saw one this morning)
And the cotton is ‘Cause the mercury’s high. Your daddy’s The food’s still rich,
your mama’s the beach is good looking
little baby long to-do list, don’t you cry.Continue reading “The week of summer time”
“Dear Dr Ashcroft,
I am pleased to inform you that your paper has been accepted for publication.”
Huzzah! Is there any sweeter sentence in the scientific world?! Maybe “the results are significant at the 99.9% confidence level (p<0.01)”. But the opening line from this email I recently received is definitely up there.
The accepted paper is the last publication to come directly out of my PhD thesis, an adaptation of the final chapter that brought together several datasets I developed and tried to answer a big question using my historical instrumental data: how has the El Niño–Southern Oscillation influence on southeastern Australian rainfall varied since European settlement?
This post contains a lot of links to scientific articles that may be paywalled, or just as bad, really technical. Just let me know if you need a copy of any of them, or if they don’t make sense.
Ah, teleconnection. What a word. Much like ‘madrugada‘ does not have a translation into English, or ’serendipity‘ does not have a Spanish equivalent, teleconnection is a term that is hard to translate into normal words without it losing some of its beauty.
But let me have a try. Essentially, teleconnections are the connections between weather and climate in one place, and weather and climate in another. No, that’s not it. A teleconnection is the remote influence of large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns. No that’s worse. It’s the effect that the climate in one place can have somewhere else. It’s teleconnection.Continue reading “Teleco-what now?”
The first sign was the flags. Blue and yellow, red and white, on street corners all around the old quarter. Next, they were on the bridge, and the main street. After that, deep red velvet banners were drawn along the balconies of our little Carrer. The following morning we awoke to sails draped across plazas. Then red and yellow flags and banners appeared, hung from one end of town to the other. And on Thurdsay 100 market stalls, bars, taverns, and tressle tables sprouted overnight, along with several discreet islands of portaloos. When the portaloos come out, you know something big is happening.
With such anticipation-building decorations, Tortosa prepared itself for its biggest party of the year, and we steadied ourselves to go from one festival to another, very different party. This week Tortosa is celebrating its 20th Festa del Renaixament, a four day extravaganza of all things 16th century. The town has completely been transformed. The air is full of the smell of BBQ and the sound of drums, people are dressed up in 1700s garb (from peasants to lords), and performance groups, giants, eagles and gargoyles are roaming the streets. It is amazing. The old fortifications at the back of town are also included: for the rest of the year the old walls are pretty much abandoned, but at the moment they are playing hosts to all night taverns and concerts. Incredible.
As we are living in the old part of town, we’re right in the thick of it. Sleeping before 2am is not really an option, giving us plenty of opportunities to explore. Here are just some of the sights we’ve seen!
Tuesday last week
Before we left Australia, a friend of a friend squealed when I told her we were moving to the south of Catalonia. ‘Oh, near Tarragona? You really should to go to Benicàssim!’ FIB, Festival Internacional de Benicàssim, is a music festival in the coastal town of, you guessed it, Benicàssim, about an hour south of Tortosa.
FIB has played host to a fantastic array of bands since its inception in the late 90s, including Oasis, The Chemical Brothers, Arcade Fire, Leonard Cohen, and millions of others. When I looked into the festival, I completely agreed with my friend’s friend. We SHOULD go to Benicàssim. And so in January we bought two early-bird tickets, 130€ for four days of camping, fun, sun and sound. FIB? Bring it on…
It is now only two sleeps before we set off to Benicàssim, and my excitement has turned to mild terror. The heatwave continues, and the thought of sleeping in our cheap tent for four nights has me imagining what it is like to live inside a plastic bag in an abandoned bin. The program has been released, and all of the headliners are starting at 1am or later. One AM! Surely I’m too old for that. My lack of festival fashion has me concerned that the youngsters will boo us out of the crowd. How are we going to get through this, let alone enjoy it??
We survived! We are filthy, and exhausted, and will probably never drink tequila-flavoured beer again, but Benicàssim was a great weekend. Here are some highlights and lowlights, along with some of those obligatory stage photos that you take at festivals, even though they always turn out dreadful…
But that’s it. Highlights definitely outweighed the lowlights, and we had a rocking time. Thanks for the tip Sarah! Would love to see you again next year FIB, although we might spring for a hotel with AC in 2016.
Last week was hot. And this week…still hot. Our old bedroom is now the Bed Frame Room, as the mattress permanently lives in the living room under the fan. Use of the oven is forbidden. I’m on a four-day ice-cream streak. And our clothes are drying in about 90 minutes on the line.
So we take to the sea.
The beaches near Terres de L’Ebre are actually quite lovely and pretty close to Tortosa. A 30 minute bus or train trip will get you to a swimming spot, or if you have enough energy you can keep walking or riding until you find a beach all to yourself.
A great walk mentioned by this excellent book is a section of the GR (Gran Recorrido) 92, which snakes from the top of Catalonia all the way to the bottom of the Spanish Mediterranean coast, hugging the sea all the way. One morning a few weeks ago we set out to conquer 17km of this 583km pilgrimage, from L’Ametlla del Mar to L’Ampolla.
The walk was long, and hot, and took us the best part of 6 hours (including swimming stops), but we saw some beautiful water and amazing Catalan coastline. Hiking really is a group activity here, and so we passed, and were passed by, many packs of flour-wearing, pole-wielding walking groups. We were even lucky enough to spot a g-string-wearing abuela trudging along with her backpack. Quite the sight! It’s a bit different from Australia, where people hike to enjoy the serenity.
Some hidden and not so hidden beaches we’ve come across.
We’ve marked our favourite beaches (and the ones with promising camping hideaways) to get us through the rest of the summer.
Another cooling activity this weekend was the XV Piraguada Popular en Defense de L’Ebre, or a paddle down the river in protest of the plans to divert much of the Ebro River into irrigation, threatening the ecosystem of the river and its important delta. The trip was also part of Big Jump, a European-wide day of river celebration. We have been keen to see the river from water height since we arrived, and jumped at the chance to paddle the 10km from Xerta to Tortosa yesterday.
After a short bus trip to Xerta, we found the kayaks waiting for us. More than 150 people took part, as well as a few adorable and brave dogs. The event was launched with a few fireworks (at 9:30am, of course), and included a considerate morning-tea stop after about an hour for bacon sandwiches and beer.
We cruised down the river, ogling the birds, the estuarine ecosystems and the sadly regular piles of rubbish. The Ebro River is the longest river in Spain, and the fourth largest river that feeds into the Mediterranean, although it was very shallow in parts today. In fact we were told that the dam managers up river had to let extra water out so that we could paddle.
We eventually reached Tortosa in about 3.5 hours, including a couple of water fights and swimming stops. After nearly eight months walking along the Ebro every day, it was lovely to finally be in it! Although I am not sure how healthy the water really is – we have been warned against eating any fish we may catch due to high levels of mercury. The motley crew of demonstrators then banded together and paddled through the town en masse, before wading into the water to show just how low the water levels are.
— Defensa de l’Ebre (@PDE) July 12, 2015
And continued to be hot. And still is hot.
Wearing bathers around the house, sleeping in the living room under the fan, covering windows with wet towels, giving up on the balcony plants, staying at work until late because that’s where the AC is, eating watermelon for dinner kind of hot.
A heatwave is currently gripping Europe with its sweaty paws, breaking records all over the place and driving people to the beach in massive numbers. Helpful timing for the Our Common Future Under Climate Change conference happening in Paris right now.
The temperature in Tortosa has not dropped below 20º since the 26th of June, and maximum temperatures are ranging between 30 and 39ºC. It’s these high minimum temperatures that can be the real killer, particularly for the elderly and vulnerable who do not have access to AC.
I was going to try and write about the science of this crazy heat, but a) my computer (and myself) do not work well in high temperatures and b) this article from The Conversation explains what is going on, with neat pictures too.
Essentially a high-pressure system has parked itself over western Europe, suppressing clouds and diverting any low pressure system that might want to meander this way. It is also being fed warm air from the south thanks to high pressure in the upper parts of the atmosphere. Just read the article, they explain it much better.
In Australia, heatwaves occur in a similar way, when the jet stream and a surface high pressure system push warm air down from the middle of the country. However in Europe, the warm air comes up from Africa, instead of down from the red centre.
One interesting part of that article that I was not aware of is the Spanish Plume. The warm air travels up from Africa, over the Iberian Peninsula where it gets even hotter and drier. From there it ends up near the UK, where it meets cooler air coming down from the north. This results in some terrific thunderstorms.
We were lucky enough to experience both the middle and the edge of the giant pillow of hot air this week. For the first half of the week we melted in our non-air-conditioned apartment, eating ice cream and trying to think of cold things.
In the second half we were in Ireland for the wedding of some lovely friends. I’ve never been so happy to wear a scarf! Western Ireland was brisk and showery, which may be characteristic of the Atlantic climate, and on our return to Dublin we saw some ripper cumulonimbus clouds which I now realise may have been the edge of the warm air. We even went through a town that had completely lost power thanks to the storms.
Now we are back in the heat, daydreaming about green fields and trying to keep cool. There is no respite in sight, with the Spanish Meteorological Agency predicting similar temperatures for at least the next week. Please look after yourself Tortosins, and your neighbours. See you at the beach.
This week brought with it a delightful mid-week fiesta, the day of Sant Joan. The Catalan holiday combines a celebration for the summer solstice with a day commemorating the birth of Saint John the Baptist.
If you are a boy lucky enough to be called Joan, then June 24 is your name day — like a second birthday, complete with gifts, family celebrations and maybe even cake. In fact, most Catalans that are named after saints have name days as well as their birthday, how great is that! I am yet to find a Saint Linden…
The 24th might be great for Joans, but it is the night of the 23rd that is the big verbena. Fireworks, bonfires and all-night parties happen on this ‘Nit de Foc’ (night of fire), welcoming the Spanish summer and symbolically burning the old to make way for the new. People get together to share cava and an oval-shaped traditional cake, the Coca de Sant Joan. In this region it is also common to snails, a local delicacy.
Apparently the number of fires has decreased over the years, presumably in response to safety concerns. I have to admit I stifled a gasp at a celebration that promotes fire during the summer! This would never fly in Australia. Nonetheless, the firework stores in Tortosa had queues coming of out their doors for several days leading up to Tuesday night, and children of all ages (seriously, I saw a two-year-old have a go) have been throwing noisy crackers in the street for a week or more.
But when the big night came, the fires in town were overshadowed by natural entertainment in the form of a huge thunderstorm that flashed and rumbled and drenched poor Tortosa for over an hour. The lightning was very spectacular, but it put a dampener on many of the parties in the surrounding suburbs. In the end we had to set off our meagre collection of crackers next to a supermarket car park that had become a temporary lake.
Wednesday, the public holiday, is a day for the beach. Rest and recovery after a big night. We had left the abuelos to their dancing at 2am on Tuesday, and so were up relatively early, ready for a fun day celebrating Sant Joan in Tarragona.
Tarragona is a moderate city about an hour from Tortosa, rich with Roman history and a wonderful place to explore. We wandered around the old city walls before joining the throngs of families celebrating with paella by the sea. Later on we slept off the paella on the beach, as instructed, and then rounded out the day watching some castellers build their best human towers in Tarragona’s central square.
I am now writing this in 36 ºC heat, with nothing but sunshine in the forecast, so it seems we have welcomed summer correctly.