Category Archives: Spain

Romería Time

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I’m starting to think driving along in first behind a procession of riders, saints on floats, and horse-drawn and tractor-drawn houses is normal. The end of May is peak pilgrimage season, most processions setting off from the village church to picnic in nearby fields. This from Algodonales, went to a grassy riverbank clearing under a bridge and much fun was had. Last week I went to El Rocío in the neighbouring province of Huelva, destination for one of Spain’s greatest romerías, attracting around one million revelling faithful from far and wide. I like the tranquility of the local gatherings, seeing people I know released from town life and returned to something more blissful and normal.

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Bastard Owls

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Fernando and his cousin Antonio have been helping me build walls (landscaping rather than fortifying the land). Tonight we talked about foxes. Although I’ve held onto the hope my dear Bob cat who disappeared in March will return after recovering from his bout of amnesia, I let slip that it does cross my mind occasionally there is the possibility he might have met a fox. There’s a massive silver grey fox in the neighbourhood. I often see him on the track in the beam of the headlights when driving late at night.
‘Oh no!’ they said in unison. ‘You’d have found bits of the cat scattered around.’
‘For sure,’ says Fernando, ‘it was a búho real, an eagle owl’.
My heart plummeted. There are eagle owls left and right of the house, hooting on and on, night after night, and I’d let stupid, simple Bob out at 4am on a full moon night.
‘They are completely silent when they fly and swoop,’ said Antonio. He mimed an owl picking up something like a small cat. ‘Sure it was an owl’.
I turned away because my eyes had filled with tears. Just a cat. I still have the psycho Joan, but I loved that soft Bob from the moment he arrived. He elected to go with me and stay beside me and I enjoyed his company as much as a person possibly could enjoy the company of a thick cat. So while I understand nature is all about predators and prey, and the owl is a beautiful thing, I don’t like hearing it hooting and hunting at the moment.

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
Uncurled
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
Artichoke
There in the garden,
Dressed like a warrior,
Burnished
Like a proud
Pomegrante.
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
Were
The Marshals
Of the artichokes
Lines in close order
Command voices,
And the bang
Of a falling box.

But
Then
Maria
Comes
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
Bottle
Of vinegar
Until
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,
Then
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.
Pablo Neruda.

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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.

 

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How to Build a Garage. Sort of.

Fernando, Antonio and I design a freestanding garage. Turns out that calculating how much iron to order is a fairly complicated business.

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All The Fun of the Fair

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

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