Tales of the Lecrin Valley

A personal view of life in an andalusian village.

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.