Sunday, 14 December 2008

Big Jaws

It was the day of the Romeria, the annual pilgrimage of the festival of San Isidro, the patron saint of farmers, which begins in our local market town of La Carlota and ends some five kilometres away on the Monte: the plantation of holm oaks a short way beyond Las Pinedas, which has been a site of pilgrimage and picnics since anyone can remember. Even the addition of concrete barbecue sites recently erected by the local council the Monte still faintly retains the atmosphere of some primitive sacred grove. San Isidro himself travels to the Monte on a farm-cart towed by a tractor, hand upraised in benediction, preceded by the flashing lights of a police car and a bare half-dozen decorated floats populated by grinning children, followed by a long procession of local worthies in slow-moving cars, many towing trailers laden with chairs, tables and paella pans for the all-day picnic to come. As for San Isidro himself, he will spend the day on his cart, parked immediately outside the beer tent, looking a little more woozy from the fumes as the day goes on.
We had seen the procession snaking its way down the shallow valley which separates Las Pinedas from its upstart neighbour La Chica Carlota a kilometre away and the site of much recent new building, mostly on its Southern slopes and mercifully invisible to us - new Spanish domestic building is, alas, usually best left unseen. In course of time the procession arrived in Las Pinedas to make its leisurely way along the street re-named after the murdered poet Frederico Garcia Lorca when democracy returned to Spain after Franco's death. Hastening to see the procession pass in Calle Lorca, I left my own front door open in the paralle street re-named another great poet of Republican Spain, Antonio Machado (he sought refuge in France during the Civil War, but died - one suspects of a broken heart - soon after the war ended). As the police car with its flashing blue lights cleared the streets of possible anti-clerical demonstrators and other noxious vagabonds, I noticed a door open on the far side of the street to let out a dog. It was quite a small, sturdy-looking dog with disproportionately heavy jaws, as though a Yorkshire terrier and been mated with a Husky. It pushed purposefully between the legs of the small crowd gathered to watch the procession and disappeared behind us in the direction of Calle Antonio Machado.
The procession duly trundled by, and as the last slowly-moving cars were nursing their over-heated engines along Calle Lorca and out to the Monte, the dog in question re-appeared, trotting firmly along with the air of one who has successfully accomplished some important private mission. It poked its head between our legs, spotted a gap in the traffic, trotted across the road and disappeared into its owner's house.
A couple of days later, going into the still-room off our kitchen for a bottle of wine, I found to my amazement that the cardboard case in which the wine came had been torn open with great force by some unknown third party and then largely demolished, the ripped panels visibly bearing the tooth-marks of a large mouth used with considerable violence. For a moment it seemed as though the age of the super-rat had finally arrived in Las Pinedas. Yet the mouth which had done this work of destruction was self-evidently far from rat-like: more rounded (rather than coming to a point under a ratty nose) and furnished with the massive molars needed to dispatch a regular diet of butcher's meat. Surveying the damage - which thankfully was only to the cardboard, our intruder had left the bottles inside unharmed - my wife Fay and I were completely non-plussed as to what or who might have caused it.
It was some days later before I finally remembered the little brown dog with the massive jaws and the front door which I had casually left open on the morning of the 'Romeria de San Isidro'.
NT/May 2008.

Wifi & The Watertower

It's raining cats and blogs in Britain, our daughter Arabella tells us on the phone. It's lovely limpid late autumn sunshine here. Our ambitious young lady mayor, Rafi, has pledged that every village in her mayoralty will have broadband by the end of 2007.
A shiny new aerial + radio communications dish has already sprouted as though by magic on top of the rust-stained concrete water-tower which overlooks our end of Las Pinedas village. The pines of Las Pinedas having long gone to build a succession of hapless armadas for the never-to-be accomplished invasion of Britain, the water tower is the one surviving tall growth for miles around. Mains water is nowadays piped in under pressure to our houses so there is no longer any need for the tower to be filled to produce a head to drive water to our taps.. It is a matter for quiet relief that there are not now some 30,000 litres of water poised up there in the cone-and-shallow-cylinder tank like a liquid sword of Damocles, ready to be released over our heads by the first earth-tremor strong enough to snap one of the rusty reinforcing rods visibly exposed to the elements in the surface of the concrete. The tower speaks grimly of the distant days of General Franco's doomed autarky - his attempt after the Civil war to make Spain economically self-sufficient, independent from the outside world for goods and services - meagre design, poor materials, a fatalistic approach to security - even empty of waterr the gaunt structure the height of three houses is yearly getting weaker and will eventually have to come down or (since this is Spain) will maybe simply fall down, crushing the cars and dwelling at is feet.
Meanwhile, for all its ugly enormity, it has somehow weathered into the landscape. Every autumn flocks of departing house-martins spend a day flying obsessively around it and clutching themselves to its surfaces - claws locked into cracks in the vertical concrete - as though fixing it in the collective memory for the return migration next year. What will they make of the space-age construction now glinting in the sunlight up there when they arrive next spring? For that matter what are we to make of it? - Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Or is it WiFi? I unhook my computer from a landline and carry it out into the garden, turning on the wireless facility which I last used in my office in Bath. The screen stays blank. If it really is WiFi up there (they call it 'wiffy' in Spain) all I can think is that someone has not yet quite got round to switching it on. But then, even in modern hi-tech Spain, maƱana is always another day.

NT: 07/12/2007

Monday, 8 December 2008


Michele is a Spanish speaking Scot who lives in our local market town of La Carlota with her partner Rob, himself Spanish born and half Scottish with a degree in Spanish and Linguistics from Edinburgh University, who in his middle years has abandoned the bookish life of a successful interpreter and translator to sell second hand John Deere tractors from an inhospitable stretch of hard-standing just off the main Seville to Cordoba motorway. To provide income meanwhile, Michele gives Yoga classes and does Ayurvedic massage – the latter being particularly good for ricked backs, as I can testify, and even better as a non-specific cure for the generalised pressures of modern life.. Over a period of seven years she had built up a thriving business in Algeciras and she is now hoping to repeat the success in La Carlota.

As a promotional gesture Michele recently offered a free massage to a number of La Carlota’s leading ladies. They took the free offer, were duly appreciative, but failed to come back for further paid treatments. In course of time Michele discovered that they were all of them regular clients of the local white witch – the Bruja – who gives her healing services free. It turns out, she is Michele’s principal commercial competitor. Furthermore she operates from a small shop in the very next street, barely 25 metres away from Michele’s apartment.

There, hanging out over the pavement, is a discreet but unmistakeable shop-sign bearing the single word 'EMBRUJA' in colourful cursive script. For an appropriate sum of money the Bruja will bless a bottle of water for a cure, cast a spell to change the course of love, read a palm or turn over the cards or cast up a horoscope to foretell the future, and so forth. Her waiting room is the street outside her shop. Most evenings there is a small crowd at the door - young people mainly. By that time of day the leading ladies have taken their aches and pains home and are in the kitchen scolding their husbands and children and stirring the cazuela in the time-honoured way.

In short, the Bruja, offering pagan services shrewdly tailored to the needs of her mainly Christian clients, has established herself as a formidable competitor to a newcomer like Michele, operating in the related marketplace of holistic healing, based on the ancient wisdom of a distant Far East. There may however be light at the end of Michele’s tunnel. Her two latest paying clients were two of the sisters of the Bruja herself.



Our predecessors in our own house, just down the road from Casa Uno, were thoroughly rational people in all but one respect: her inordinate love of cats. This led her to feed two dozen stray cats every afternoon at from her front door, involving a not inconsiderable outlay of cat-food pellets per day, and creating multiple foraging opportunities later in the night for the rats which naturally roam a farming village. But she was an enchanting person, much respected and indeed much loved in the village, and her little eccentricity where cats were concerned – a deep eccentricity in Spanish eyes for whom cats are only valued as utilities in the keeping down of rodents – was tolerated cheerfully enough. When our predecessors finally left the house to us and returned to England, it was with a parting bequest of 25 Euros and a big bag of cat-pellets, to be handed to a neighbour two houses up the next street, to continue the good work. We in our turn took possession of the house and then returned to England to sort out the furniture to be brought here. When we came back to Las Pinedas a couple of weeks later, a curious absence of cats was detectable. Our immediate neighbour, a French-speaking Algerian and possessor of a shot-gun, shouldered an imaginary gun in explanation. As for the 25 Euros and the big bag of cat-pellets, in this parsimonious society one can be sure they were not wasted.