Tales of the Lecrin Valley

A personal view of life in an andalusian village.

09 Feb 04       

 The February moon is on the wane.  I saw it last night.

 This weekend in Saleres was just work.  We went into Granada first thing on Saturday morning to see the solicitor and from there to the nursery to get yet more plants and pots.  This time Carmen bought some red-flowering things and decided she wanted them planting around the kitchen door.  So I did.  Personally I love bees and  I have told Carmen that the plants are only in flower for four months of the year and that she can come through the kitchen door for the other eight months in complete safety.  But she still wants them moved.  

 The swimming pool is now looking nice.  The water is crystal clear, the ph level is perfect.  The chlorine is just right.  There are a couple of bits of algae on the bottom of it which I will scrub off when the water is warm enough to swim in.  This weekend I didn’t even need to vacuum the bottom as no detritus had accumulated during the week.  One less job to do.  Until Carmen decided to re-pot a rosemary plant and hang it on a pillar next to the swimming pool.  At first I thought it was a long promised earth tremor, but when I looked out of the kitchen window and saw the plant floating in the pool and the pot and earth on the previously spotless pool bottom, I realised that this was just Carmen.

 We had some night storage heaters delivered during the week, and I intended to fit them at the weekend.  I unpacked one and assembled it, only to find that it had no cable and that the shops had shut for the weekend.  So I set about the next task, running a telephone cable from my house to Carmen’s.   This had to be routed from the front door, over the roof of the cloisters we have around the swimming pool, along the outside of the cloister wall, through the tunnel, along another wall, through my bedroom window, across the ceiling and into the telephone point.  Thirty seven metres with supports every metre or so.  Tedious work.

 There was a wedding in the village at the weekend, and for once we were not invited.  I didn’t know there was a wedding until I was straddled across the ridge of the cloisters, the cheap new drill I had purchased in a sale in Madrid in my hand, ready to drill a hole to fix the telephone cable.  I pressed the trigger of the drill and the world exploded.  There were flashes and hisses and the most incredible explosion.  I looked at my hand, expecting it to have been blown off, but it was still intact.  Then I realised that it wasn’t the drill which had caused the explosion but rockets from the celebration at the bottom of the village.  As I believe I’ve told you, we are at the top of the village, and these things went off at about head height.  The tinitis in my right ear from my Commando days was immediately triggered and is still ringing now, days later.  Antonio Two, who hadn’t been invited to the wedding either, but was sat on the wall next door watching me working, thought it was hilarious.  As did Pablo, Antonio One’s grandson, who was sat next to him.  Pablo was supposed to be in the church for the wedding ceremony but had skipped out because the sermon was dragging on.  Evidently the cura was taking full advantage of having the majority of the village captive and was giving them a fair old dose of fire and brimstone.

 The telephone task took all afternoon.  Antonio One’s family were all at the wedding and they then came home at about five to get ready for the reception.  Antonio One himself didn’t want to go as the smoke in restaurants aggravates him, so when the family had gone, Carmen suggested he came around to us for a glass of wine later that evening.  He popped around at about eight and after a few wines he told us some things about the village, especially about the civil war and it’s effects.  He said that five men from the village had been executed for being Communists, although the truth was that they were nothing of the sort, but braggarts trying to impress the other villagers.  Antonio was eight at the time and knew only of the Red and the Blue sides, with no notion of their politics.  Of course there are still those in the valley who remember and who carry grudges, as after any Civil War.  During Franco’s time Antonio got out of Spain and went to work in Germany.  I told him some of the stories that my mother had told me about being in London during the Blitz and he seemed surprised to hear that we had had a war and that the Germans had been involved.  We had a couple of bottles of wine and a Sunday Roast I had prepared and he rolled home at about midnight. 

On Sunday morning he told his family we had wined and dined him, and they gave him a bit of a hard time as they had all been feeling guilty about going to the wedding and leaving him behind.  He retaliated by saddling up his donkey and going off to the campo.

 I bumped into Antonio Two a little later as I was taking some rubbish to the square.  He was loading up a friends car with his decoy bird.  This is a partridge which has been kept in a cage and encouraged to sing.  It is taken to the campo and the cage is placed in a likely spot for an ambush.  The idea is for the bird to sing and attract other birds, which are then dispatched with an escopeta, or shotgun.  It seems a little unfair it seems to me, but I keep my mouth shut.

 The plumber had arranged to come at four on Sunday, to talk about putting more taps in the garden for Carmen’s plants.  We waited til seven, with no sign of him, although I hadn’t been holding my breath.  We left then.  It normally takes an hour on a Sunday evening to traverse the sixty metres from our house to the car as you have to stop and say goodbye to everybody, but this weekend the streets were bare.  Then we bumped into Juan and Antonio Two in the square.  Antonio was annoyed, as his prize songbird, on whom the hunters had been relying for a good shoot, had decided to stay dumb for the afternoon and no-one had shot anything.  This annoyance was added to somewhat by the sound of it singing it’s head off in his garage, making up for lost time.  Evidently the thing is agoraphobic and only sings indoors.  

By some oversight we had forgotten to invite Juan and his wife to our house warming party so we told him they must come round one evening for a drink.  His eyes lit up and he said, ‘Bueno, I have some very  good mosto just coming into it’s best.’  And my heart sank.

 Which day next week can I afford to write-off because I will have a screaming hangover?

The bar is now open Friday to Sunday and Alejandra is doing a sterling job. Her partner Paco is usually there with her and he plays a mean classical guitar and many of his own sardonic renditions.

Alejandra in her domain

Alejandra in her domain

Their three-legged dog, Madonna, is always in attendance and acts as a vacuum cleaner should anything fall on the floor.  The food is excellent and being from an Italian fishing village, fish features in a lot of the dishes.  I was in there with my nephew Jules on Sunday and we had a very nice martinin indeed, gambas pil-pil and a glass of cava to celebrate her coming birthday. 

Jules, Alejandra and Antonio Three

Jules, Alejandra and Antonio Three

Another day I had a pint glass stuffed full of fruit with pale rum poured over it which was delicious.  I don´t usually drink rum as I have previous, but as I didn´t know it was rum and I didn´t do anything outrageous I hope that that particular defective trait has passed.  (The last time was in 1968 in Australia on Bundaberg rum.)  On Sunday it was Alejandra’s birthday and we celebrated in style.  Despite the fact that I said to Carmen that I would only have a tonic water, we saw off the best part of a bottle of wine, and a very passable Rueda at that. 

Saleres coven

Saleres coven

 The tapas were great, as usual, and she even rushed up a quick paella which went down very well indeed.  The local cheesemaker was there with his goats’ cheese and that was great too.  I was going to see him yesterday to take a few photographs of his process, but the weather was abysmal and I gave it a miss until the weather improves.  It has been raining for a couple of days and when we got into the office this morning there was an inch of water on the floor.  A blocked pipe was identified as the culprit and after a couple of hours swilling the water out of the door we turned on the heaters and dried the place out. 

Carmen plotting and planning

Carmen plotting and planning

 I Digress.  I forgot to take my camera on Sunday, which was a shame as the afternoon turned into a Spanish version of a Brian Rix farce, so without photographic evidence I can´t tell you what happened as no-one would believe me.  We are going there on New Year’s Eve as Carmen´s family are in Asturias at the moment, and this time I will take my camera.  And I forgot. 

Antonio Three

Antonio Three

One of the characters in the village, Antonio Three, is normally to be found at the bar, and if anyone doesn´t speak Spanish, he spent years in France and breaks into French whenever he feels like it.

Well, the weather has finally changed and with a vengeance.  Plummeting temperatures, snow on the hills as low as seven hundred metres, flurries in Albuñueles and Pinos and -1ºC last night.  Not enough rain, according to the farmers, but at least the orange flies will not be attacking the oranges as was feared, or not until May, anyway.  The ski station is operating and although they still need the snow cannons for the lower sections there is plenty of snow on the higher slopes.  I have been grounded as I had a detached retina earlier this year and am not supposed to take any falls or knocks.  (As if.)  Besides, it is always my ribs that get damaged and not my head, which is well nigh impregnable, Carmen says.

A long time ago I was taken by a friend of ours to Enrique’s bar in the Acera del Darro, for some reason also known as El Elefante.  I remember it well, as after a couple of bottles and wine and a few raciones I offered to pay.  I brought out fifty euros and was politely told that by my host that we were there at his invitation and that he would pay.  He dug one hundred and fifty euros out of his wallet and told the barman to keep the change and I decided I had better take a look at the prices of the raciones chalked up on the walls.

Enrique's fare

Enrique's fare

They were not that expensive, all around the ten euro mark, but I realised that we had enjoyed a good half-dozen of them, and that the wine we were drinking was a Reserva, and from a good bodega at that.  I must admit that it was one of the better afternoons of my life, made even better by someone else picking up the tab.  Since then I have visited Enrique’s many times, usually while I am waiting for Carmen to finish one of her mammoth shopping safaris.  It is an especially welcome place to while away some time as the beer served there is the creamiest, coldest and best in Granada, especially welcome on a hot summer’s afternoon in the high thirties.  People watching is a local pastime, and here it is made more interesting by the clientele which ranges from the elite of Granada, to bewildered, camera festooned Japanese travellers following a tapas route in their guide books, to an old ex-squaddie sipping cold beer in the corner and to the many wannabes trying to behave as if they are part of the scene.

The bar is unusual in many ways.  It opens at lunchtime and then shuts for the afternoon until it opens again in the evening. It is small, only about eight or ten metres deep by a couple or three wide.  In the summer and indeed in the winter too, a couple of barrels are placed in the street either side of the entrance to accommodate a few more customers.

Entrance to Enrique's

Entrance to Enrique's

  In fact, many people just stand around outside the bar to chat and to be seen, although in the winter this is not advisable if you are drinking cold beer and have a sensitive bladder.  The doors are always open so a good warm jacket is advised even when drinking inside.  The bar is old and traditional and has earned many accolades over the years.  It has a bar along one side which forms a ‘L’ at the end with a flap to allow access to the rear.  There are hams hanging from the ceiling, Pata Negra, of course, and an extremely good selection of wines.  There are half a dozen wooden casks of various sherries at the end furthest from the entrance, and behind the bar a watering can full of fino ready for quick replenishments, sitting in an bucket of ice.  Vermouth is a favourite of the patrons of the bar and the done thing at lunch and after work.  Personally I like my vermouth with a lot of gin and a green olive, but that is irrelevant. The toilets are accessed by lifting the flap at the end of the bar, or ducking under it if the place is full, skirting the sherry casks and going out through the back of the bar.  Once there you find the toilets to the right and beyond them a small private room for meetings of celebrations.  There is a staircase leading down to another, grander, function room beneath bar.

Jamon of distinction

Jamons of distinction

Enrique’s s unique in that it serves no tapas, probably the only bar in Granada that doesn’t.  However, the raciones are only of the finest quality, full mature cheeses submerged in jars of virgen olive oil, Pata Negra hams, fillets of tuna from the north of Spain, Norwegian smoked salmon and even pork brawn if you like that, and I do.  This is interestingly called Pig’s Cheese and that had me baffled until I asked what it was.  Luckily, Enrique himself was there that day and he cut me a slice to try.  He was delighted to find that I liked it and that my father had made it for us when I was a child, thinking that it was a Spanish speciality.  I was there the other day and again Enrique was there.  I asked which sherry he had in the watering can that day and he obligingly poured me a glass on the house.

Casks of sherry

Casks of sherry

  If he keeps letting me sample his goods this way, the next time I am there I will ask him how much money he has in the till and see if he gives me a slice of the takings.  The till, of course, is an old-fashioned brass affair with big ebony keys.

Enrique is probably in his fifties and inherited the bar from his father.  He is always smiling and makes time to talk to his clients, even if he is busy, which he invariably is.  There are a lot of photographs on the walls depicting the history of the bar, and many cuttings from newspapers extolling the virtues of the place.  Last time I was there Enrique had just returned from a couple of month’s off with a bad back, but that didn´t seem to have slowed him down at all, although he said that it had been extremely painful.  The two barmen have been there since I have been in Granada and although not as gregarious as Enrique, are quick and efficient.

I enjoy drinking there, especially in the summer as I am after all English and enjoy my beer.  In the winter I tend to go for the sherry or vermouth like the locals, mainly to give myself that satisfying inner warmth.

The new bar has opened in Saleres, only on Saturdays and Sundays but this is a welcome change from having to go to Restabal.  It is being run by an Italian girl, Alejandra, who is doing a good job of it.  It opened the day of the Saleres festival and was very well patronised, even with a free bar outside.  On the Sunday there was the official opening which was crowded.  Free belly pork, migas and sausage and sardines were laid on and it went on ´til late.

The fiesta was as noisy as usual and lasted ´til all hours, there was free paella laid on on the Sunday and as the weather was fantastic it was well attended by locals and visitors alike.  It was a good chance to catch up on things with those who live away but come back for August and fiestas.

We spent Saturday afternoon with Toñi and her family in their house, bumping our gums and drinking and eating.  Most convivial.  Noticeably absent were Antonio and Chon Two, whose nine-year-old daughter died on the day of the fiesta some years ago.  They prefer to go to the campo and get away from the festivities, which is understandable.

And that is it for November.  The weather has finally broken and we have had some rain.  The temperature has dropped considerably, with good snow on the mountains and the central heating is on.  It will soon be time to light the fire and batten down ´til April.