Tales of the Lecrin Valley

A personal view of life in an andalusian village.

Pepe with my tumbona

Pepe with my zambomba

A bit morose this morning, having followed the hearse from Pepe´s funeral along the road from Saleres to Melegis.  Pepe was a character from the village, always trying to trip me up with his crutches as I passed him sitting on a doorstep in the sun, or pretending to shoot me with it if I was too far away to trip.  I can´t remember if I ever heard him speak, but Carmen says that he mumbled a lot, but he was always laughing and playing the fool and had the most impish smile I have ever seen.  He used to use sign language to me, or shrug and grin.  In fact, I liked him so much that we used him for our 2007 Christmas card.  When I had Photoshopped the photos and we had had the cards printed, we took a few round to his house for him.  When we gave them to his wife she was delighted and said that she was going to put the picture on his tombstone, as is the custom here.  He just grinned when she said this and tried to trip me up again as I left.  I´ll miss his presence on Calle Llano.  He was one of the last old men left alive in the village, where we have a preponderance of widows.  From a different era, when life was much simpler, but also much harder, you can see his life  stitched into the contours of his face.

After Photoshop, the finished Christmas card

After Photoshop, the finished Christmas card

Every year for the last five years there has been a Citrus Festival in Melegis to celebrate the end of the citrus season, a sort of Harvest Festival cum Thanksgiving but Spanish.  There are a lot of sideshows, a marquee full of home produce and agricultural machinery and a huge marquee with a long bar on one side and a stage at the other. 

Painting competition winners Painting competition winners

 

It is a good excuse to have a drink with friends and to catch up on the price of oranges, which are never high enough for the farmers, to gossip about the villages and to find out who has died over the winter. And as tradition dictates, everyone has a plate of migas, a kind of fried semolina topped with salt cod, tomato, onion, black olives and of course slices of fresh orange, the basic ingredients of remojon. 

Champion cookess Champion cook

 

Viasur co-sponsors an annual painting competition in the local school and normally Carmen is invited to give away the prizes to the deserving children.  This year was no different and Lidia joined her on the stage to help with the proceedings.  In fact they stayed on the stage and gave out the prizes for the best prepared meal using citrus fruit as well.  Then there was a demonstration of dancing from the valley dancing group, which is always good to watch. 

This year it was Latin American dancing, led by an Argentinian dance instructor.  Then most people disappear to each other´s houses until it is time to shower and go to the fiesta in the evening.  Or rather the night, as it doesn´t kick in until gone midnight and lasts until the sun rises when it is traditional to eat churros and hot chocolate before  crawling off to bed.

Last weekend was much as usual.   I had my tasks to do and they were to fit six shelves in the pantry and put a wire span between the kitchen wall and a pillar supporting the cloister to allow the climbing plants to make an archway separating the garden into two distinct areas.  

I had the wood for the shelves cut in Madrid to save work.  This was an experience in itself.  I had the measurements to hand and went to the department responsible for cutting wood in Leroy Merlin, Spain’s equivalent of B & Q.  I took one look at the lad behind the counter and knew that this wasn’t going to be an easy job.  He was cubic in shape, had a long pony-tail covered in wood-shavings and a bewildered look on his face.  I gave him my measurements, four shelves at 18cm x 39cm and two at 35cm x 35cm.  He looked at the measurements and he said that I would have lots of spare wood left after the cut.  I asked him why and he said that he had to cut the shelves from a master piece which measured 100cm x 120 cm and that that would not be very efficient.  He then went on to show me, by way of diagrams that I would have twice as much spare wood as I would have shelves.  I asked him why he didn’t use a smaller master to cut my shelves from and he said he didn’t know.  I pointed across the aisle to a pile of planks 200cm x 40cm, tailor-made for my shelves.  He then told me  that that wasn’t his wood, but that if I wanted to go and get plank and bring it over, he would cut it.  This cut the price of my order by sixty per cent and so I did. 

The trucks were worse than usual on the drive south and we went straight to Jose’s bar for a drink to recover, before turning in early. 

On Saturday I painted the shelves ready to fit them and got on with the wire bridge to support the plants.  The bougainvilleas had died in the week, as there had been very strong cold winds; and I should have recognised this as a portent of doom.  There was more snow on the mountains than I had ever seen before and the wind brought the temperature down to a miserable 3 degrees all day.  It cut through my overalls like a knife, causing me to wonder about the waxing moon and it’s promise of no more frosts . 

I started the span by drilling a hole in the concrete pillar and fitting a very strong expanding eye-bolt to take the strain of the nylon-coated stainless steel cable I had bought.  Then I did the same to the kitchen wall and connected the two with a cable to form the main span.  I put tensioners either side to take up the final strain when the whole was complete. The next part was time-consuming as I had to fit six other spans to form an arch, all attached to the main span and equidistant from each other.  It looked fantastic when it was fitted, Brunel would have been proud of me.  I gave the tensioners one last tweak to make it ship-shape and Bristol fashion, and a brick shot out of the kitchen wall, the eyebolt fixed dead-centre, dragging the whole caboodle to the ground.  I was not amused.  Not one little bit. 

I decided to drill another hole a little to the side of the gaping hole in the kitchen wall, and after three goes managed to drill one with sufficient holding power and started again.  Once finished it looked great again, I ignored the tensioners and attached the plants to the wire.  Then I filled the hole in the wall with white concrete and sat back to have a beer. 

It didn’t look right.  I thought so, Carmen thought so and Ascension One (hereafter called Chon) definitely didn’t like it.  It spoiled the effect that you get when you walk through the main door and see the views out across the valley.   So next weekend I will take it all down.  

The shelves went in on Sunday morning.  Or at least most of them went in.  One had to be left out, as the wall where it was supposed to go is so far out of true that there was no was of affixing it.  This is a result of asking Paco to build the house to look as if it had been there for centuries.  No straight walls, no perfect plastering, but built in the old style.   So it is and so the shelf don’t fit.  I will find some other place to fit the spare shelf. 

I also put some hooks in the pantry to hang the brooms and the ironing board, and little by little the house is taking shape.  The storage heaters were a Godsend over the weekend as it was very cold, but the television hasn’t been switched on since we bought it.  The vines are budding but the limonero is looking very sad after the wind gave it a battering.  Carmen had built a cactus garden on an old harrow we brought from Asturias, but the wind blew one of the esparto grass curtains across it on Sunday and decapitated half of the cacti.  Carmen was the height of fortitude and instantly dipped the severed pieces in rooting hormone and replanted them.  I hope they take.

 The span with the plants was taken down and thrown into a dark corner of my workshop.  Carmen decided that she wanted all the plants in the garden moving to different positions, which did my back no good as they all weigh a ton.  She then gave instructions that the cactus garden was to be removed and off she went shopping, leaving me to do so.  I removed the cactii drilled holes all over the house and garden to hang them in becoming positions.  Carmen came back from shopping with another car full of plants and I was told to move the cactii to other positions. 

Antonio One came a-knocking at my door at about twelve on Saturday with a handful of mint roots, and then he disappeared down to the terracing at the back of the house to plant a two-metre line of mint.  I am looking forward to this sprouting as I love real mint tea. 

 Which reminds me.  I was in Lavapies the other day, the so-called ethnic barrio of Madrid, stocking up on herbs, spices and Arab comestibles.  All I needed at the end of my shopping trip was mint, or hierba-buena as it is called in Spanish, to make some of the aforementioned tea.  Hierba-buena loosely translates in English as good grass, and grass has the same street meaning in Spain as it does in England.  So when I asked the lad in a small Moroccan supermarket if he had any good grass, he looked really hurt and said of course, all his grass was good and how many grammes did I want.   It’s been a long time since I had any ganga cake, and I won’t say that I wasn’t interested, but I resisted.  The memory of the aged aunt of a rebellious teenage girl in Southampton, found by the Police on the verge of the motorway trying to mow the grass with her teeth in the belief that she was a sheep after the niece had fed her a ganga omelette, is still fresh in my mind. 

I digress.  The neighbour below us is complaining that the water from our de-calcifier is flooding her kitchen.  The fact that her kitchen window-sill is an inch above the main drain for our corner of the village, and that that may be a contributory factor, has failed to register.  She says that it has never happened before and I point out that I had never cleaned my drain before and that now it is clean, rain water can follow it’s proper course to the drain outside her house, rather than pass through the walls of my house and make the winters damp and dank in my bottom bedroom.  This didn’t register either and in the end I told her that her strange window arrangements were not my problem, but that I was willing to brick up her kitchen window next weekend if it would help.  It would certainly help me, as I wouldn’t have to put up with her moaning.  This is a game played by the villagers, when Carmen is out of the house, aimed solely at getting the guiri to fund their house maintenance.  This is the third neighbour to try it on.  Another, living in a house two streets away, spent a whole morning showing me that his kitchen floor was flooding due to the rain from my roof coming up through his floor.  When I pointed out that the roof in question wasn’t mine, but a Scottish neighbour’s, he still thought I should pay for a new floor as the offending Scotsman wasn’t there to do so and that I was an accomplice by guiri association.  Even Antonio One tried it on during the building of the house.  It is a village pastime, to blame all ills on the latest incumbent to the village.  I hope we have some new guiris here soon.  My tenure as village idiot is in danger of being over-extended. 

All the while this was going on, Antonio was busy on the terrace between us trying to pretend he wasn’t there, as he no doubt remembered his vain attempt at extortion.  But it is quite light-hearted, and looked on as a game by all concerned.  And I will probably build a small retaining wall to stop the rain water splashing into her window, all in the name of good neighbourliness.  I am a little wary of building the wall for one reason and one reason only.  Her husband is a member of the Guardia Civil in Granada and brews the most lethal mosto of them all.  And if he feels he is beholden to me my health will undoubtedly suffer.

 A friend of mine from my Army days come to visit on Saturday, prior to a skiing holiday in the Sierra Nevada.  We duly got stuck into the beer and wine late in the afternoon, the war-stories started coming out, and Carmen arranged a slap-up meal for the evening in Jose’s.  But Carmen and I ate something that disagreed with us and I spent Saturday and Sunday shouting down the big white telephone.  Carmen felt rough too, but didn’t react as violently as me.  I lost two kilos, which shows that every cloud has a silver lining, but Sunday’s drive back to Madrid was very subdued.  I hope Antonio One, Chon and their family enjoyed the immense doggy-bag that we brought back from Jose’s on Saturday.  My friend is looking for an Internet Café in the ski station so that he can tell the world that he met up with me and that I was old and senile and unable drink more that a couple of pints of beer and a couple of glasses of wine. 

And that is it for this week.  We are off again tomorrow for a long weekend, hopefully of rest.  But there are a couple of lights that Carmen wants me to put up, one above the barbecue table and one in the  dining room.  And the pergola and the roof garden need building on the upstairs terraces…………