Category Archives: Cadiz

The Artichoke with Tender Heart

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‘The artichoke, With a tender heart, Dressed up like a warrior, Standing at attention . . .’
The wondrous Ode to the Artichoke (Oda a la Alcachofa) by Pablo Neruda follows in full below. Obviously I’m an old fool, but I have to confess it always brings a tear to my eye, and I can’t see my own artichokes, heads poking up above the vines for a view of the fields, without thinking of it. They are extraordinarily fine-looking things and I find it painfully difficult to cut them down. As I like the look of them, much more than the taste, I’m going to let the majority stand. I’ll never make a market gardener.

The artichoke
With a tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales,
It remained
Unshakeable . . . ,
By its side
The crazy vegetables
Their tendrils and leaf-crowns,
Throbbing bulbs,
In the sub-soil
The carrot
With its red moustaches
Was sleeping,
The grapevine
Hung out to dry its branches
Through which the wine will rise,
The cabbage
Dedicated itself
To trying on skirts,
The oregano
To perfuming the world,
And the sweet
There in the garden,
Dressed like a warrior,
Like a proud
And one day
Side by side
In big wicker baskets
Walking through the market
To realize their dream
The artichoke army
In formation.
Never was it so military
Like on parade.
The men
In their white shirts
Among the vegetables
The Marshals
Of the artichokes
Lines in close order
Command voices,
And the bang
Of a falling box.

With her basket
She chooses
An artichoke,
She’s not afraid of it.
She examines it, she observes it
Up against the light like it was an egg,
She buys it,
She mixes it up
In her handbag
With a pair of shoes
With a cabbage head and a
Of vinegar
She enters the kitchen
And submerges it in a pot.

Thus ends
In peace
This career
Of the armed vegetable
Which is called an artichoke,
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.
Pablo Neruda.


A Green and Pleasant Land

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I haven’t ranked green and pleasant lands, but I’m with Blake in thinking the description rather suits much of England. Green and pleasant is the payoff for rain, the dubious compensation for damp clothes, cold knees, and waylaid picnic and camping plans. Green and pleasant smells like wild garlic. And wild garlic is rural England schooldays.

That said, there are other green and pleasant lands like Uganda (smells like hot wet earth) and Costa Rica (ylang ylang) and summer time Siberia, and New Zealand, and this area here in the northwest corner of Cadiz, where the Atlantic winds run smack into the peaks of the sierras, make clouds, rain, and consequently, greenery. 

Some years, once all the litres per square metre reports have been totted up, the Sierra de Grazalema area wins the title of Spain’s rainiest place, beating the Spanish places I think of as perennially damp, on the flanks of the Pyrenees, the milk farms of Asturias, and throughout drizzly Galicia. And for around 340 days of the year this ‘fact’ seems extremely questionable. But the thing about this area is that all the rain comes at once, and it has to be a lot, because even now, after just one deluge in many dry months, somehow, everything is still green. No longer quite lush, but bearing up under the onslaught of 30 something degrees days.

Not for long, though. The fields have been ploughed, putting the wildflowers one foot under before they steal what remains of the damp in the soil from this year’s olives, or crisp up and spontaneously combust, and one day soon when I get to the crest of the hill on the way to the Our Lady of Rosario Cooperativa to buy a hose extension, I shall find myself staring into the faces of one million sunflowers – something I find most unsettling.



All The Fun of the Fair

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Horse fair that is. Jerez. Big day out for us country folk.


Floral Charts

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I’m trying to catalogue the wildflowers on the farm. I don’t know more than a few of the names – poppies, daisies, and vetch, (amapolas, margaritas, and arveja) which means the plan is fundamentally flawed. In winter I’ll order a book and look them up. For now I’ll continue wandering through the fields in the evenings being amazed with a sense of purpose. These flowers, which arrived in mid-April, are starting to fade out, but a new batch of May flowers is taking over.
I invited Antonio to bring his sheep and eat some of them, but a dog barking in the next field spooked the flock, and the sheep, all 120 of them, set off running, udders swinging, bells clanking, out of the field and down the track. I hope we try again; I liked the sound of them.
What I should be doing in the fields is hacking at the weeds at the base of the olives with a hoe, but I prefer taking pictures of flowers.


Spring is Springing


Several people have been kind enough to let me know that ‘frost on weeds’ the previous post but one was making them feel a little sad. It’s no longer representative, either. It was only representative of that particular morning. The skies over the Sierra de Cadiz throughout February have been predominantly royal blue, and when there have been clouds, as illustrated, they have been picturesque (especially when viewed through sunglasses with a yellow filter). So, while I don’t have time to write a more filling post right now (researching an article and plastering a chimney), I hope this view from the kitchen will make a more cheering note to pause on.

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Frost on Weeds


Following my last post on bright sunny days interrupted by cold nights in which temperatures plunge to 5 degrees, it’s now properly wintry. Some days look nice through the window, but they are actually not. The wind, hurtling along the gorge and sending the TV aerial into a spin (the one channel is unreachable), has ice in it. Above the farm the peaks of the Sierra de Grazalema are covered in snow, as are the mountains beyond Ronda.

Or so I’ve been told. I’m staying inside, within arm’s length of a fire, wearing so many layers I can barely bend my arms, and a blanket sarong which makes walking difficult. I type in silk gloves.

Night time temperatures are now well below freezing. Until about 11am, there’s ice in the wheelbarrow, slithers of ice on the inside of the windows, and a thick coating of frost on the olives and weeds. Most strange of all, the world appears muted and misty. It’s a fact that wherever humans live, winter seems to take us by surprise.

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