Category Archives: Life

My Life with Colombian Drug Lords

This is the best title sequence ever (see it through) – Mexican-Colombian Emmy-winning novela meets Tarantino, the Coen brothers and a mariachi band – and it’s the theme tune to life in somewheresville, as El Señor de los Cielos is on every single night. (Unfortunately, since sitting on the remote, we can’t turn the subtitles off.)

To sum up the week so far: el Señor, Aurelio Casillas, is about to gun down doe-eyed, terrier-keen journalist Eugenia, off-on-off girlfriend of his nemesis Marco Mejia head of the anti-narcotics squad in Mexico City. Mejia’s only just heard about it because he was in bed with a troubled Colombian undercover cop, and now dammit he can’t get a signal on his phone. Aurelio’s brother is getting roughed up by a man called scissors, for the things he does with scissors, at a coke lab run by guerrillas deep in the Colombian jungle. Back at the ranch his saucy wife, Matilda, is looking high and low for her birth control pills having just had sex with Aurelio’s teenage son who, since assassinating his best friend, a celebrity singer and record producer who came to stay with a ditsy singer in tow who turned out to be the troubled undercover cop, is pushy, drunk and mean. In another wing, his mother, Aurelio’s wife is packing or unpacking her bags, pacing sadly. She reckons that for all his floppity hair, money and confidence, Aurelio is a bad egg and he might have something to do with the sudden death of her father, drug lord Don Cleto, yesterday (he did). She thinks she might be happier with her husband’s loyal (up to a point) right-hand man who really, really loves her but really mustn’t show it – not if he doesn’t want Scissors visiting him late at night. Back in Mexico City, Aurelio’s No.1 mistress, Monica, was thinking about stabbing him with a really big knife when he stayed over last night in revenge for the death of her entire family (the Villalobos cartel) but couldn’t quite. She has a man servant called Sad and a body in a freezer which is connected somehow with her aborted plan. And to make matters worse, a high-ranking police official suckered down and dirty into Aurelio’s murky cokey world is about to spill the beans. But someone keeps sticking notes in his prison dinners suggesting that unless he keeps his mouth shut, his wife, Doris, is for the chop, and he really loves Doris even though she is rather Lady Macbeth.

Series three of El Señor de los Cielos, an ordinary tale of gun-toting drug trafficking folk, has been on Spanish television (Nova) every single weekday night at 10pm since mid-September for 1.5hrs a night. Recently it has been shaved down to a mere 50 minutes, but the series still makes going out impossible.
The multi-award-winning series is brilliantly-acted gripping drama trash, and, although it would be nice to see friends over Christmas, I don’t want it to end. However it’s based on a true story, and as I worked off and on in Colombia during the 90s when the real events were playing out, I know how it pans out. Let’s just say, never trust plastic surgeons. The good news is that series 1 & 2 are available. Thanks Caracol, thanks Telemundo. Feliz Navidad.

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Pomegranate Porn

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I can’t tell you how much I love my pomegranates. Last year they split before they ripened, so this year I gave each tree plenty of water, day and night, from July onwards. It was extremely hard work which required me to lie in the dappled shade on a lounger, doing an occasional whip crack of the hose, directing it to a new trunk. I read several books.
Late August, the birds came, Hitchcock style. It’s clear now that they came from the adjacent vineyard, having depleted the stock of grapes. They got through almost every fruit on the far side of the furthest tree before I discovered the desecration. I agreed to let them have that one, and focused my efforts on the rest. I hung coat hangers with dangling CDs and tin foil from the branches, and when I wasn’t crouching underneath the trees ready to jump up and clap, kept a watchful eye over them from my desk, interrupting work and work calls to rush down the hill waving my arms.
Anyway, even taking into account the birds’ portion, the harvest has been big, wondrous, and exotic – they are Persian in origin, after all. The fruit is scarlet, inside and out, and huge. Bite in, and the juice pours out.
Every Saturday I flip out the seeds from a great pile of them, listening to the Rev Richard Cole on R4, and most mornings I eat a bowl of them (not the size of the one shown, I hasten to add) with Sonya’s goats’ milk mint yoghurt. There’s about 40kg in the freezer, and I’ve dropped off around 50kg at the local shop where they’ve sold well under a ‘granadas del pueblo‘ sign. Next I’m going to make sorbet.
They are ranked high among the wonder foods – currently – beating avocados, cranberries, blueberries, and spinach, and so forth, full of anti-oxidants, and a top tool in the battle against high cholesterol and heart disease.
There’s about another 60-70kgs left, dangling from the trees like hefty baubles. Thank you trees. More water for you next year (depending on what’s left in the well).

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WHINE

DSC05004Transpires the reason there were more, and fatter, birds around this year, is that they’d been gorging themselves in the vineyard. And once they’d tapped a hole into every grape, the wasps moved in. Maybe it’s the other way round, or they work in tandem. Anyway, beyond a few rows of photogenic grapes, there were five rows of dessicated raisins, sucked dry over a hot summer spent in virtual privacy. On the plus side there were less to pick.
I’d always associated grape-picking with romantic assignations. School friends would go grape-picking in France and come back dressed pretentiously, and get letters from French boys for one or two weeks which they’d read while smoking a Gauloise on the roof of the school building. I wasn’t sure what they did over there in the vineyards of Normandy, but it certainly wasn’t the crawling along dense tangled tunnels alone, covered in burrs, batting away buzzing things that I’ve been doing here. The fact I only had about six sackfuls at the end of it was fine by me.
I have no idea of the weight of six sacks other than heavy, my measure is man hours. It took me three man hours to pick the grapes, and a further four man hours to pick off the woody stems as we don’t have a machine to do it. I was helped at that point by two friends who really chose the wrong time to arrive. We used a wine press borrowed from Fernando – a barrel with a heavy plate you wind down (and down and down and down, and then up and up and up and up), and pressed the grapes three times. Last year I made around 85 litres – although some was lost during an infamous Spill! during the filtration process. This year I reckon I produced the grand total of around 20 litres, which equates to 3 litres per man hour. Artisan.
Ready-made local wine is available from down the track for about 85 centimos a litre. Still, I don’t want to leave the fruit withering on the vine and all that.

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Dog Theft

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Here’s the stuff that’s been dragged out of the house by the dog and found around the farm. I’ve been asking about pet insurance but people think I want to insure the dog, rather than the possessions it takes and destroys. After completing the list I found the dog eating a glass vial of olive oil.

TV remote: recovered . . . eventually
2 bras, Calvin Klein: both destroyed, one in front of the builders.
3 white towels: 2 shredded, one recovered
4 cotton shirts: 1 recovered
1 work skirt: chewed
1 cloth bound NY Times Guide to US: partially eaten
1 cryptic crossword puzzle book: obliterated
A Stranger’s Child (the book): recovered intact
1 pr Missoni glasses: crunched, chewed, wearable
1 glass jar with paintbrushes in solvent: recovered . . . eventually
1 apple Mac charger cable: chewed
1 large carpet underlay: chewed
1 thick wool blanket: destroyed
1 tow rope: destroyed
2 70s settee leatherette seats: destroyed
1 red cushion – 33 times: recovered
1 Gap sweatshirt: chewed, especially the zip
3 hats: chewed
1 pr Muji slippers: semi-wearable
1 pr Fly London suede sandals: destroyed
1 pr leather boots: recovered. UPDATE: destroyed.
1 pr rubber boots: recovered
1 rubber boot: eaten
I pr Camper leather shoes: partially eaten
1 pr Converse: partially eaten
1 pr espadrilles: one partially recovered
1 pr flip flops: eaten. UPDATE: 2 pairs.
1 pr Birkenstocks: chewed, recovered
1 pr ballet pumps: recovered
1 strainer: chewed
Kitchen utensils, various: unusable
Seeds – onion. lettuce, salvia, morning glory: consumed
Cat’s basket: recovered
Cat’s toy mouse x 3: destroyed
Cat’s blanket: partially recovered
Cat’s springy thing on wooden base: consumed
1 pr hideous white shoes (Dave’s): destroyed (good)
1 pool skimmer: usable. UPDATE: netting consumed.
1 log basket: chewed
2 plastic fruit crates: recovered
1 trowel: partially consumed, usable
6 pr heavy duty gardening gloves: 4 gloves recovered, chewed
3 potted plants: 1 recovered
20 pots: chewed
1 can mosquito repellent: recovered, rusted
6 paintbrushes: 1 recovered, usable, chewed.

 

 

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Ma Belle-dog

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Fernando, Fernando his cousin and Antonio his cousin, say a house is not a home without chickens. After five years of fantasising and one hour at a dog refuge feeling cornered and obliged to leave with something, I have a puppy instead. A mastín which will grow to be big enough to defend sheep from wolves and bears – and which, at 5 months, is too big to lift off the lounger or settee or get in the car boot (it’s a hatchback not saloon), particularly as she does not like cars. 

Her name is Bloody Dog. No, her name is Belle, although she doesn’t respond to it, and it doesn’t suit her. Beautiful inside and out of course, she’s also a big mucker of a dog, a sloppy mud-roller, a fly-snapper, digging holes with long-clawed shovel paws. She likes high-speed lolloping rabbit-style, the licking and scratching of hindquarters, dragging things from the house to a specific place and destroying them. She is an Outside Dog. But also a refuge dog who, found in a box on a road with her tail cut off, did not have the courage to look a human in the eye until just a few days ago and is a pandora’s box of endearing foibles and insecurities. Her insufferable past and the sight of her gentle sad face through the window on her first night here as I sat inside eating sausages were enough for me to instantly promote her to Indoor Dog. She is always by my side, and sleeps dusty and smelling of dog beside the bed, furtively licking the cow skin rug.

The cat Joan who had been picky about her food and listless following a hot summer, has a new raison d’etre: she lives to loathe. Whatever her nocturnal adventures she finds the energy to get up at dawn and fall in behind me for the daily fruit tree watering, a role that really should be the dog’s. When I set off with Belle for an evening walk she follows mewling and pitiful and trails behind picking her way down the track for miles. When the dog indulges in unhinged, jubilant garden play, Joan hops down softly from the top of the freezer in order to stroll and stretch or roll in her path, doing whatever is necessary to impede a run and provoke a chase that ends with the dog being told off.

Yet there’s a mutual fascination there. The cat watches Belle’s attempts to chase a ball with scathing interest, and trails her, spying from behind furniture. The dog is full of panting admiration for Joan’s ability to leap from branch to branch, demand food, sit on my lap, bat and catch mice. Often Belle will cautiously approach the cat and attempt to lick her.  Just as often the cat swipes the dog, claws extended.

But I think everyone’s sort of getting along. I still might get chickens.

 

 

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Too Darn Hot

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People are saying this is the hottest summer in fifty years. Since May the temperatures have consistently been in the high 30s, and as often as not way over 40 degrees centigrade. Now people talk about little else because brains have been fried. Seville has the infamy of being chalked up as Spain’s Hottest Place having twice reached 51 degrees in 1876 and 1881. Any scepticism, any attributing this to inferior thermometers, has dissipated along with every molecule of moisture in the soil.

In town to order a small truck-load of gravel and six bags of concrete at Lobato the builders’ merchants earlier today, I noticed that people seemed particularly lethargic. The buckets to catch the drips from air-conditioners were overflowing, and the doorway of every house there was a person fanning themselves,  dios mio-ing and ay calor-ing and so on, and theatrically wiping sweat from their brows. I saw old women inside dark rooms sitting with their knees apart and their skirts hoisted up. That’ll be me one day, I thought.
I stayed as long as I could at Lobato’s, the only place I know with air-conditioning, reading labels on floor tile cleaning fluids for a while, and then drove home the long way round and as slowly as I could with the car’s air-conditioning set to 14. I paused on the ridge. I remember looking across to the farm at the beginning of May and thinking how lushly green it all looked. Now in the third month of temperatures over 30, and on the third consecutive day that has been ‘that winning combination of suffocatingly hot and ominously overcast, the ground is straw and the sky, a kind of lavender.

I pass the property in the photograph each time I drive home. It belongs to a goat-farming family, the oldest of whom is father, grandfather, great-grandfather to someone in every house in the hamlet except mine, and even then he used to own it and his daughter and her brothers slept on a ledge above the hearth in the kitchen long before there was electricity, running water or the area was connected to the outside world by a road. Not hard to imagine: the municipality still doesn’t provide a road, running water or electricity (I’ve had to be inventive), though the kitchen now has a ceiling. Perhaps I’ll remove it and use that warm space myself. His granddaughter sings Led Zepplin covers in a rock band and make extremely good goats’ cheese.

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