Tales of the Lecrin Valley

A personal view of life in an andalusian village.

Thank you and goodnight

Thank you and goodnight

I´m gonna wash that man right out of my life
I´m gonna wash that man right out of my hair

Last weekend saw a great evening´s entertainment in Restabal as it was fiesta time.  Apart from all the usual sideshows, bouncy castle and slides, the alcalde had laid on a flamenco concert with some of the best singers and dancers that Granada has to offer.  Carmen´s mother and father are friends of the parents of one of the performers so we had a table at the front with the families of artists, all of whom were keen to pass on their knowledge of flamenco, one showing my nephew the three correct ways of clapping to accompany flamenco singers.  He thanked them for their help by putting on a little comedy show of his own, namely sinking gracefully, or not too gracefully to the ground as his plastic chair collapsed under him.  The alcalde has asked him to come back next year and do it all again and is scheduling it into all fiestas in future. Our neighbours Lynne and Elaine, who run Woven Wonders Reversible Rugs were there, and Lynne took a lot of photos, some of which I have copied into this blog.  Many thanks Lynne.

This is where the duende kicks in

This is where the duende kicks in

And now one from the heart

And now one from the heart

One of the singers is the daughter of a famous flamenco dancer who has her cave in the Sacromonte, Maria La Canastera  which is our preferred venue when we take visitors to see zambras there.  She was accompanied by one of the guitarists who also performs there and who is a dead ringer for Howard Jacobson.  Maybe it is him masquerading as a gypsy, it wouldn´t surprise me, although I doubt he could play like this fellow.

We are putting our garden in order.  This weekend I went to buy a lemon tree to plant in between the orange trees we already have, but I made the mistake of letting Carmen come along.  Now we have a herb garden, three jasmine bushes, a bay tree, and a rampant ivy thing, which we hope will climb all over the balcony and look suitably rustic, if it doesn’t pull the side of the house off.  We also have three climbing plants that I don’t know the name of, but which made the neighbours cross themselves when they saw them.  They say they have a smell like jasmine but so powerful that it gives healthy people a headache and those of a weak disposition the vapours.  Evidently, the smell is so obnoxious that sometimes people come in the dead of night and cut them down as it prevents them from sleeping.  Carmen wanted to send them back, but I’m going to plant them on top of the bluff at the bottom of the garden next to Antonio One’s chicken coop, the smell of which has the same effect on me. 

 And of course we bought a limonero, a lemon tree. 

 Antonio One has promised to plant us some vines to make a tunnel over our long, narrow terrace, but he can’t do it until, ‘The January moon has waned.’  The same with the pruning of my existing vine.  NOT until the January moon has waned. I don’t know if we have to dance naked in a circle while this is being done, but if that’s what he says, and he knows a thing or two about vines, then so be it.  My reputation in the village probably won’t be affected overmuch by such a mundane thing, as I’m English and expected to be a little bit eccentric.

Antonio One and Chon One with grandson Pablo and dog Canela

Antonio One and Chon One with grandson Pablo and dog Canela

 Well, ‘menguar – to wane’ is not a verb that I’d heard before so at first I didn’t know what he was talking about.  I pretended to understand all the subtle implications of his statement and wandered off to ponder this pearl of wisdom from my agriculturally savvy neighbour, and to consult the dictionary.  I wasn’t much the wiser.  Do I need some special invocation or do I need to get the cura in to bless the garden and the vine?  As usual I’m lost and ask Carmen if she knows the correct rituals for vine-planting, but she’s an Asturiana and knows only about apple trees.  She wonders where I get my pagan ideas from, dancing naked around vines indeed, and calls me an English barbarian.  I don’t mention wassailing.  I tell her it’s not my idea, but her Spanish neighbour’s, who is probably a Satanist.  So she asks Antonio and he explains about January’s waning moon and the answer is that after the January moon has waned there are no more frosts.  Allegedly.  

So this year when I’ve harvested my grapes, I will be making my own mosto and I can get my own back for all the hangovers I have had to suffer testing the neighbours’ brews.  It’s when I am asked to step in as an arbiter and decide who makes the best mosto in the village that my problems start.  My heart and liver drop when they bring out the 2 litre Coke bottles full to the brim with muddy liquid, with a look of reverence on their faces, and I know that they won’t let me leave until all the bottles are empty and I’ve judged whose is the best.  And the question is never resolved as in the morning no-one, least of all me, can remember the verdict.  So they say we’ll have to do it all again, but invite Pedro and Miguel this time as their mosto is very good, which adds another half-gallon of hooch to the kitty.  The truth is that is that there is no good mosto.  It should, and probably has been banned from commercial production.  Which is why all the men in the village brew their own particular moonshine and my brain cells are being killed off at an amazing rate.  Mind you, it would probably be good to put on chips with a bit of salt.

 The lemon tree got planted, with only four different theories of how to do it from two of our  neighbours and their wives, (both husbands called Antonio, both wives called Ascension, which adds to the confusion.)  I look suitably enlightened, stick my head in the hole I’d already prepared and do what they tell me.  After getting me to move it to all points of the compass, presumably as it has to be aligned with the waning moon, they arrive at a concensus and I am allowed to fill in the hole.  Then I have to empty it again as I have forgotten to put in the manure.  In fact I have no manure and have been told nothing about using manure.  I know about shooting into the branches of apple trees with 12-bores, or beating them with a cudgel while full to the gun’les with cider in order to increase the harvest,  but that doesn’t translate very well to limoneros, which are a little more sensitive than Granny Smiths. 

Luckily Antonio One has a donkey next door, so we all go to look at his midden, and discuss for another ten minutes which part best serves a lemon tree.  No decision forthcoming, I suggest we take a bit from the top, a bit from the middle and a bit from the bottom, then mix it all together, only to be met with cries of derision.  Another ten minutes and we decide that the best thing to do is to take a bit from the middle, then a bit from the top and then a bit from the bottom and mix that.  I felt so stupid for suggesting otherwise!  So I refill the hole, half earth and half donkey manure, part raw straw and part over-ripe mulch; wet, warm and sticky.  Then begins another argument, (or as Carmen calls it, and the Spanish dictionary defines it, a discusión) as to whether to bed it in with plenty of water or just a little.  Ten minutes and we agree that somewhere between a little and a lot is sufficient.  But I don’t know if that translates to two litres or twenty.  So I get a bucketful and give it to Antonio One and he says ‘No, let Antonio Two do it.’  But he declines too, as do their wives; and I get to thinking that they don’t know how much to put on it either.   So I take the bucket and resign myself to the castigations and sure enough, as I begin to pour, Antonio one shouts ‘Enough!’ and Antonio Two shouts ‘More!’ while Ascension One sucks in her breath sharply and Ascension Two shakes her head resignedly and says, ‘Ay-ay-ay.’  But at least I have a tree planted in the garden where previously there was a hole, so that’s a result.

Antonio Two and Chon Two ready for the campo

Antonio Two and Chon Two ready to advise the "guiri" about things agricultural

 Of course, after all that hard work, (giving advice is very hard work, much harder than digging a hole for a tree,) they decide it is time for a glass of wine and pats on the back for all except the poor Ingles, who once again has had to be taught the proper way to do things in Andalucia and, of course, has to supply the wine and the tapas!

  In the absence of a garden shed, I have converted a room in the basement into a workshop, complete with a lathe, chainsaw, tool-grinder, and all my other equipment gathered over the years.  I made the mistake of showing it off to the two Antonio’s and word has got around that I have a tool-grinder.  So now I have visitors at all hours of the day and night, ‘Just popping in for a chat on my way back from the campo,’ with hoes, axes, scythes, secateurs, saws and anything else they can think of.  The wives turn up with scissors and knives and I am beginning to feel like a tinker.  But I am trading this tinkering of mine for the use of various things of theirs.  I have my eye on Antonio One’s donkey for when it is time to harvest my oranges, and Antonio Two has a mechanical mule which will come in useful when we have to move furniture from the village square to our house, after we move there from Madrid.

 And there I’ll have to leave you, as I have to go and buy some secateurs, and prepare myself for next weekend’s lesson on pruning vines, if the moon has waned by then.  If not, I’ll have to do it at two in the morning, by torchlight with muffled secateurs.  I can’t see my boss in Madrid letting me off for a couple of days midweek,  ‘Because the moon has waned and the plants in my garden need me.’  The last thing I want is for him to get it into his head that I am a moon worshipper, or more likely, a lunatic.  That would make my job with the British Council less tenable than it already is.

 It’s mid-January, the almonds are now blossoming, giving credence to the Costa Blanca theory.  We are 35kms inland and 2000ft higher than the coast so are a little behind them.  There is 3m of powder snow on the Sierra Nevada.  The trees are full of oranges and lemons and all is well in Paradise.

I have always had dismal vision in my left eye and a few months ago I started to notice a blurring of my vision in that eye.  We eventually went to the opthalmologist who, after giving me drops to dilate my pupil, had a good look around and discovered that I had torn my retina.  No idea how that happened but there it was and he booked me in for laser treatment first thing the next morning, which was a bit worrying.  It was in fact no problem, although he said that apart from a horseshoe-shaped flap which had torn, there were myriad holes to be patched.  The blurred vision was a blood clot which was floating around in the fluid of my eye, and which he said would dilute and go in time.  The treatment is to fire a laser at the tear and weld it back into place.  All very high tech and painless, a bit like a video game.  In fact I began to suspect that the opthalmologist thought he was playing Space Invaders.  After a few miutes firing shots with the laser into my eye, I asked him if he was trying for an extra game and warned Carmen not to stand behind me in case he drilled clear through my head and she got lasered as well.  He needed two hundred and seventy shots to patch me up and I left feeling none the worse for wear.

I had to go back a couple of weeks later to see how things were progressing and went through the same dilating process and after a good look around the opthalmologist declared himself satisfied.  Going outside in the July sun of a Granada afternoon with my pupils still dilated was excruciating and I borrowed Carmen´s sunglasses and skulked along in the shadows, squinting like Clint Eastwood about to gun down Lee Van Cleef and causing the Granadinos to give me a wide berth.  We passed an ONCE kiosk and I remembered that I had a ticket in my pocket that I wanted to check.  The ONCE is a charity lottery for the blind which I always patronise, as a kind of insurance.  It is manned by people that generally have major problems with their vision and are unable to work elsewhere.  In this case the chap in the kiosk was wearing a pair of bottle bottom glasses, so was obviously visually challenged.  I produced my bar-coded ticket and he ran it past the electronic reader he used to check them, and said something that I didn´t  hear very well, the kiosk being on a main street.  He spoke again and I still had problems so I told him that I was a bit deaf and have problems hearing when there is a lot of background noise.  So he picked up the ticket reader and showed it to me.  Then I had to tell him that I couldn´t read either as my eyes were not too good at that moment.  He looked at me bemused and I think for a moment he was going to offer to swap places with me as I was obviously in a worse state than him.  I saw the funny side of this and began to laugh, and obviously relieved he gave me my five euros winnings.  I sloped off into a department store and didn´t feel really comfortable until I was in the dimly-lit underground car park, like Dracula returning to his dungeon.

There is another enterprising couple who have opened up a restaurant in the centre of Granada, and of which Carmen and I are great patrons, and that is the  Boca d’Oro.  Tamara and her husband Llally are the owners, he is a Sikh from Punjab and she is Italian and they make best use of this mix to serve Italian and Indian food.  So if one of you doesn´t like curries and the other can´t stand pizzas, you can still go out for a meal and enjoy each other´s company while eating completely different cuisine.What I am looking for now is a restaurant that can serve paella for Carmen and steak and kidney pudding for me.

Lally and Sabi Singh

Lally and Sabi Singh

Boca D'Oro facade

Boca D'Oro facade

Pepe’s Gone Plastic 

At dusk, when the birds have flocked to their family trees for the evening’s parochial meetings, shouted to each other the events of their day, discussed the prospects for the coming day, said their goodnights and left for their roosts; one or other of the farmers in the valley opens his sluice from the main  acequia and claims his ancient water rights.   Then in the half-light and quiet of the evening, the sound of water fills the valley, rushing along concrete channels, plunging over rocks and crags or gurgling along watercourses carved in solid rock to finally rest lapping gently on the flooded terraces.  The sound brings a peace to the valley, a continuity with the past, with the Moors, the Mozarabs, the Andaluces.   

But now the sound is becoming scarcer.  Some of the small terraced groves, bordered by small earthen dikes to allow them  to flood, now stand moss-grown, in places the dikes breached.  The acequias are silted up, or filled with weeds.  My favourite sound, from across the valley on Pepe’s land where the water fell one hundred feet over a cliff from the valley’s main acequia into a time-carved rock-pool on his terraces below, is no more. 

Pepe’s gone plastic. 

Medusa-like, thick black PVC piping snakes among the trees, across the groves, straddling terraces, keeping the sound of running water mute within it’s blackness.  Here and there tendrils of thinner piping branch off from the main torso and reach towards their allocated orange or olive tree, succouring and nourishing them in the oh-so-efficient way of progress.  But to service Medusa, here and there on the terraces are large, squat, ugly concrete cisterns, spoiling the once virgin vistas. And to me Medusa’s life-giving umbilicals appear menacing; serpents in the groves of paradise.

 I mention it to Antonio in passing one evening, guiltily as I feel that it is not my place to talk of trees and water rights.  He tells me that the trees now yield much more and are far healthier.  I tell him that that is good for him and good for the valley as it preserves precious water.  He agrees.  I go on to say that it is also so much easier for him not to have to clear the weeds from the acequias, level the terraces and maintain the small earthen water-retaining walls previously needed for flood-irrigation.  But he is wiser than me.  He agrees that this should be so and that that is what the progressives say to sell their piping and their cement cisterns.  But he tells me that if he stops this continuous, back-breaking maintenance, the flash floods of the winter, rolling down from the Sierra Nevada, will wash away the whole hillside.  So he continues as he has done all his life, and as has been done for centuries, to clear away the weeds from the channels, build his retaining walls to slow flood-water and keep erosion from washing his trees and terraces away.   

And when he has finished that, he has to find time to service Medusa.   

You can’t deny the farmers their advances.  The maintenance of acequias and the building of the small dikes is back-breaking work.  When finished the terraces look so much a part of nature, natural,  neat, precise, manicured.  But PVC is better.  None of the farmers are getting any younger and their sons and daughters don’t want to continue this back-breaking work, any more than their parents want them to have to.  I pray that the groves don’t die, or that macro-agriculture bulldozes  the tiny terraces into something terrible.