Desayuno Ergo Sum

Market

As a gesture toward progress, the ayuntamiento has painted lines and numbers along the gutters of Calle Pilar, dividing the site of the weekly market into designated plots. As a gesture of complete indifference, the merchants have ignored all of this and once again erected their stands exactly as they’ve seen fit. The ensuing riotous assembly marks each Tuesday morning in our neighbouring village.

Of course, there’s a lot of shopping done at these events; above all, though, something is happening, and for many that in itself is an excuse to turn out. There are enthusiastic and rapid-fire conversations over the parked pushchairs and shopping trolleys; despite the chilly weather, various firing squads have assembled on the benches by the fountain; the lottery merchant is doing good trade as he wanders through the throng, greeting familiar faces with a word or a nod. I’m hungry, having left the house without any breakfast, and intent on correcting this as soon as possible.

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The Charge of the Lite Brigade

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In addition to stuffing the hire car’s glove box with paper maps, this time we’ve brought on our house-hunting mission a laptop PC and newfangled (for this time in 2006) route finding software. It’s the Lite version, given away free with some magazine or other, so on launching the program it’s always keen to remind me that some features may therefore be ‘missing, or limited in performance’. Maybe that’s why it drew a blank at breakfast time when we asked it the way to a small village called La Puebla de Sancho Perez, where we have a room reserved for tonight. The low-tech paper equivalent gets us there without incident, however.

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La Cosecha

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It’s olive harvesting season.

Including the bucketful I’ve just collected from our single olive tree, which Sue is currently preparing for its journey through soaking and pickling in brine, we’ve picked perhaps three quarters of our modest annual harvest; the fifteen or so kilos will be plenty for our own consumption and for small gifts for friends and family. We’re lucky to be enjoying some sunny winter days, so her work is being carried out on the terrace, in sunglasses and shirtsleeves, while I inspect the myriad of tiny scrapes and scratches my hands and arms have collected while working in the tree. No major damage. Nothing that one or two of Sue’s beers won’t fix, anyway. Come sundown the temperature will drop like a stone and we’ll be scurrying indoors to install ourselves around the wood stove and sample a couple of bottles.

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The Guiri In The Red Suit

I’ve never been one for religions, myself.  Being too skeptical to have faith in anything (I’m not even completely convinced about the existence of Richard Dawkins), I’ve always held belief to be something that other people do, and that’s fine so long as they let me get out of the way first.  But even a card-carrying heathen like me has to be quietly impressed at some of the achievements; organised religions have built some cracking buildings, for example, and there’s nobody can hold a candle to them (ahem) for ceremony and ritual, whether you believe the rhetoric or consider it a work of fable.

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Mortal

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Today I started to think about how I was going to build the greenhouse, but I didn’t get very far. This often seems to happen these days when I sit down with the intention of working out some particular problem; my mind seems to slide off the subject and head off on a mission of its own. I can’t remember the exact chain of wacky reasoning this time – something to do with the cost, durability and expected life span of the finished building – but I ended up wondering how to do the same calculations for my own future … and, in particular, how long that future might turn out to be?

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El Taller Mecánico

2012

Even with directions, the mechanic’s workshop proves tricky to find. After the sports hall take a left, go down the cobbled slope, turn right at the salón de fiestas, along the street, and it’s down there somewhere on your left.

The premises, when I finally track them down, hide behind two adjacent garage doors in an old residential terrace of unremarkable, white-rendered buildings. The doors are open, a radio is playing fuzzily, and a couple of vehicles stick their rumps out on to the poorly-surfaced street.

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Appropriate Behaviour

“If you’re planning to take the Los Santos road, part of it’s down to one-way traffic. They’re resurfacing.”

Our host has already lived here in Extremadura for a few years. As novices, we’re glad of his advice.

“Are there temporary traffic lights?”

He snorts at me. “Out here? Nah, they’ll be using the stick.”

From our blank stares it’s clear we have no idea what he’s talking about.

“When you’re waiting at the roadworks because of oncoming traffic, eventually you’ll see someone coming through holding a stick out of the driver’s window. He was the last one waiting – after he passes, your queue is free to start going through. He’ll then slow down and give the stick to the driver of the last car in your queue, so it can all be done again at the other side.”

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All Greek to Me

Many people we know can’t imagine why we chose to come and live the life that we do here in Extremadura. I tend to waffle, offering some trite homily about seeking a simpler life, or una vida mas tranquila if it happens to be a Spaniard who’s asking. They look unconvinced, and probably wonder from whom or what we ran away.

The real reason behind my boiler-plate baloney is that I don’t have a cogent answer. Maybe it’s time I tried to work it out. I’ll start with what our presence here is not about.

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Kerb Appeal

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“What is it with all the fancy gates?” I ask from the back seat of the moving Ford.

It’s the summer of 2006, and Sue and I are visiting Extremadura for just the second time. On this occasion we’re using the services of a property agent, perhaps promoting the status of our moving to Spain from crazy dream to just crazy.

“Gates?” He looks questioningly at me via the rear view mirror.

I point out that nearly every rural property we pass has an impressive entrance – stone or stucco pillars, intricate wrought iron gates and so on – but the buildings inside are usually modest, often unfinished or even non-existent.

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Growth Industry

This summer we grew, among other things, courgettes. The dozen or so plants each produced six or more healthy, shiny examples. Although we ate as many as we could, many more were given away to friends and neighbours, and a few finally rotted away on the spent plants. (Shame, I know, but when even the chickens are sick of them, it’s time to throw in the towel.)

A financially successful venture, then? Not really.

The plants themselves were cheap enough at 10 centimos each, but then you need to add the cost of petrol for the rotavator, of the electricity used to pump water twice daily from the well to the huerto, and an hour a day of labour during five or six weeks to prepare the ground, sow, weed, water and harvest the crop, and finally clear the patch again. From a purely financial point of view, buying from the local market seems quite a bargain.

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