Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A First Touch of Summer

I said blogging was likely to be both light and bucolic over the summer. I hadn’t meant it to be this light, but technical difficulty with the USB thingy (still unresolved) means that I have no contact with this great interweb connectedness stuff except when I briefly pass through civilization (which is as rarely as possible). Is Gordon Brown still PM? I don’t know and I can’t be bothered to find out. I find it deeply refreshing to write that. This is not an unmixed blessing- terrible things, exciting things, excruciatingly dull things have doubtless been happening in the world and are being commented on breathlessly by the world’s press, bloggers, men in pubs and other assorted gossips, most of which I shall never find out about and be none the worse for, but there may be things I should know, and never will, not, perhaps, until it’s too late. I sometimes wonder about those people who have lottery tickets worth millions, and never know it, because they forget to check it or lose it before they get the chance or misread a number and don’t realize they have won. I might even have done it myself. If they never find out they will be no worse off.

The trouble with bucolic blogging is this: it’s 33º this afternoon. As it was yesterday, and the day before, and… well, you get the idea. For much of the day it takes quite an effort to move. This place is so wonderfully relaxing that even when evening falls and so does the temperature you can hardly be bothered to stagger into the kitchen for a bite to eat. Moving to a rocking chair in the garden is, at least, downhill, but having, later, to get up from there crawl into bed seems like a violation of some code of rights. It really didn’t ought to be allowed.

I do move, in fact. The first thing I do every morning is take the bike or the walking shoes and disappear in a more or less random direction over the hills, to reappear (up to now, anyway) two or three hours later, a few pounds lighter and wondering what’s for lunch. But that’s where activity tends to stop. It’s all very nice to look at, so nice that I spend much of my time gazing at it with my lower lip drooping and a vacant expression in my eyes. To write about it takes more of an effort and, as you will have gathered, that makes it rather tricky.

The garden itself was conceived with a lawn, well watered (this is miles out of town in one of the driest parts of Europe, so water comes, when we’re lucky, from a well that feeds an ‘aljibe’, which is a Moorish style underground deposit of brick or stone) on which a couple of olive trees grow, a series of raised flowerbeds which produce fine roses in the spring but now are full of what we call ‘pericones’ (mirabilis jalapa, I think), an area of sand whose purpose is unclear but there’s a false well in the middle which is used as a pot for reeds and other hardy plants, capable of looking green in the summer with a minimum of water, and what I suppose you would call a patio, laid out a hundred years ago by an artisan of a kind who no longer exist, using stones the rough size of cricket balls to create designs in a base of hardened earth, no cement or mortar anyway. This is where we sit in the evening to read, chat, or listen to the insects repeatedly crashing into the side of the house (rhinoceros beetles are particularly slow on the uptake).

This morning I went SW along a path beside the stream for a few miles. The land is mostly shades of yellow and brown, and fairly flat, but always undulating slightly, so a cyclist never has an easy time. I passed a group of artificial caves cut into the clay of a hillside, now disused but which once served for cultivating mushrooms. The spores were buried under piles of compacted hay, which creates conditions of greater humidity than would otherwise be possible. Now they do it in purpose built plants.

A little further along there is an old, and still operative, furnace of the ‘piconeros’. What they do is burn a mix of peat and aromatic plants (rosemary, sage, wormwood and thyme are all very plentiful on the hills around this area) to begin the process of distilling the essences. The product obtained is sold on to the manufacturers of perfumed products. It is a smelly, smoky business. The works consists of two twenty-foot tall mad ovens, a great pile of peat, stacks of cut plants, log-piles and a young lad who is apparently paid to stay meaningfully into the middle distance and check the fire once in a while.

I stopped on a hill overlooking all this and watched a shepherd moving his flock across a field of harvested corn, chewing up the stubble, and the stream winding its way into the distance to be lost among the hills. There is almost no water, what the eye follows is the trail of green that borders it on each side, snaking away to the horizon.

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