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.
“So how are things in sunny Spain? You don’t want to be back here in the UK, it’s miserable” my old colleague observes, his on-screen lips not quite moving in sync with the words.
I tend to agree with him, though probably not in the way that he means. A few minutes ago I had to turn off the UK news – not for the first time recently – because it was just too disappointing. Not the news itself, though that was grim enough. What really brought me down was the way attitudes seem to have changed, from talk of aspirations and ambitions to an incessant clamour about rights and demands, all fuelled by hysterical media channels whipping up irrational outrage and perceived entitlement.
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.
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.
The neighbouring village has a street market each Tuesday morning. I often enjoy passing an hour or so there, even though I rarely buy anything. Today, instead of walking or cycling there, I’ve decided to drive, as rain has been forecast – I like to take exercise, but at heart I’m a lightweight. The heavy sky and erratic gusts back up the weatherman’s words, and I’m satisfied that on this occasion my laziness is justified. Sure enough, as I pass the poplar trees and white walls of the cemetery and head out of the village the first heavy drops splatter the windscreen and patter and pop on the roof.
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.
“Maybe we should buy a mule.”
We have this conversation every time the car has to be inspected, repaired, insured or (in the most extreme and unthinkable of circumstances) cleaned. After all, we have the space, the garden could use the manure, and we live an easily clip-cloppable distance from the village. It all makes so much sense. A mule would be appropriate.
We fantasise light-heartedly about building her a corral beyond the chicken coup, grazing her up the mountainside, maybe getting hold of a cart or a two-wheeled gig.
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.
I didn’t quite make it to the cafetería before the incoming squall hit the village. Not only am I now uncomfortably damp around the edges, but I’ve been relegated to the only available seat; next to the table where a small girl is treating her parents – and the rest of us – to a squealing, foot-stamping tantrum. I might just launch into one of my own in a minute.
To take my mind off the commotion I’m staring distractedly at the colour-printed A3 flyer that’s fallen out of the daily paper. One of the offers has attracted my attention; a sleek, silver-grey monolith that boasts (it says here) WiFi connectivity, USB 3.0, 200 mega-wossnames of data transfer, plus a whole host of acronyms announcing its many other talents. I want to buy one, I really do. If only they’d tell me what the darned thing is. Hard drive? Router? Sandwich toaster? I have no idea. The vendors have a catchphrase about not being tonto, but clearly I am; and I’m supposed to be tech-savvy.