Sue has some new students arriving today for a session of English speaking practice, so I’ve done the enlightened, supportive, modern-man thing and buggered off in case I’m given a job. That’s why I find myself in my usual cafetería but at the wrong time of day; instead of half-asleep workmen exchanging their grunts and nods over breakfast, this time those around me are the younger, noisier, late-lunch clientèle, each with one eye on his or her conversation partner, and the other on the incoming SMS or email messages on their now indispensible “es-mart-fonn”.
The road to hell may indeed be paved with good intentions, but at least it got paved, so I reckon it’s about time my own ‘good intentions’ were placed into some sort of order. That’s why today finds me wandering around the property with a ballpoint and a notepad, diligently documenting what the locals would call desperfecciones. (The rural Spanish are not as easily intimidated as I am. A collapsed roof, a stone wall reduced to rubble, or a half-acre field flooded by a blocked culvert will be casually dismissed by them as a desperfección).
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.
I try to lower my wide-brimmed hat and pull up my coat collar even further, but I know I’m wasting my time. Not only is the rain now persistent enough to find a way through any undone fastener or poorly-waxed seam, but I’m already sufficiently wet through for it not to really matter.
Wet winter days can be tough here in the Spanish campo. Back in the UK, cold, wet weather was pretty much expected from around September to April (though as this replaced the slightly less cold, wet weather of May to August, the exact moment of switch-over could be hard to spot). Here, in contrast, the climate has geared our life much more toward outdoors, and these days of dismal deluge that seem to appear from nowhere often leave me, as has happened today, pacing bored around the finca, finally deciding – or being told by Sue, somewhere around my twentieth lap – to go out for a walk. Or, in fact, anywhere.
I want to make it clear that this is not, in any way, a defeat.
It’s simply a tactical withdrawal, after which we’ll regroup and return stronger, better prepared, and with a winning strategy. Sometimes you have to arrive at a negotiation; lose a little to gain a little more. Now the charts and diagrams have all been pored over, strengths and weaknesses assessed, what-if scenarios played out in grim detail. Now it’s time for feet on the ground. So with boots on, radio activated and earphones in, the moment has come to enter the arena.
It’s quite a while since I last came to Villafranca De Los Barros, even though the little town is quite close by. But here I am today, sitting on a bench in one of the many plazas, trying to read the instructions on the packaging of a newly-bought gadget while vaguely distracted by the conversation of two women next to me about their plans for the upcoming Las Candelas celebrations. Although it’s pleasant enough here in the sunshine the winter wind is sharp, so the late-morning shoppers and early-finishing workers are scurrying by on their daily schedules wrapped up in scarves and gloves.
I’d been optimistic that the drizzle would lift at some point and allow me to get out and about, but I’ve run out of day before that dismal blanket sulking above the mountain has run out of water.
I could read, I suppose, or tackle one of my hoarded crosswords – but those activities would mean sitting under the glare of neon light (I must get a reading lamp), and that doesn’t appeal. Let’s see what’s on the telly.
My first instinct is to reach for the daily newspaper, but experience kicks in and reminds me how futile that would be. For those unfamiliar with Spanish television, let me try to explain; television scheduling, like so much else in Spain, is not exactly formal.
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.
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.
The days are discouragingly short at this time of year. At the moment we’re enjoying a run of bright, sunny days and chilly nights; when the breeze drops you’ll usually find me on the terrace, soaking up as much warmth as possible before the darkness descends, while either reading a novel or indulging in another favourite activity:
6 down. “A diversion in daddy’s day (7)” PASTIME (pa’s time).
There have been one or two posts recently in the Spanish expat blogosphere asking what people miss from their home country. For me, not a great deal – but if there is one thing in particular, it has to be the cryptic crossword. A regular source of entertainment when I lived in the UK, that infuriating fifteen-by-fifteen grid was the perfect refuge when I’d bought the paper but couldn’t face the actual news just yet.