THREE times a week I’m up at seven for a pre-dawn walk. The sun doesn’t rise in the Alpujarras until about 8.05am, and the lanes are quiet in the blue-grey half-darkness. I follow the riverbed, scale a steep track up its western bank, pass through an olive grove, then a copse of eucalyptus, and then another olive grove, before emerging on a long, rocky ridge clad in prickly furze. On the crest of the ridge I sit myself down on a flat boulder to watch the sun climb above the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Perfect peace . . . Continue reading Outfoxed . . .
ON a hillside beneath the village of Capileira I discover the local lavadero, the laundry where women scrubbed their dirty linen before the advent of electrical goods changed their lives. Unlike the lavadero in neighbouring Pampaneira, which I have written about before, this specimen is situated at the foot of a very steep, wet and uneven track, and outside the village proper. The long climb back up the hillside, bearing a swill laden with wet washing, must have been an ordeal indeed, especially during the winter months with ice and snow on the ground . . . Continue reading Lavaderos and leeks
SOMETIMES I wish I’d been a stonemason engaged in restoring cathedral spires, or a potter shaping clay into useful and attractive objects. Or a bookbinder, or a crafter of fine leather, or a cabinetmaker – someone with a skill who can gather raw materials in his hands and fashion them into items that possess beauty. I feel a bit like that today when I visit a weaver’s workshop in the Alpujarran village of Pampaneira, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains of southern Spain . . .
We have visitors staying; and one of them, Sue, knows all about weaving and looms and warp and shuttles, and all that stuff, and is keen to impart her knowledge. I listen attentively as we walk about the workshop, though I must admit I find the process a complicated business and most of the information flies over my head.
I look about the workshop and I want to be a weaver. I have an overwhelming desire to sit at the loom and create something that will give people pleasure. Why wasn’t I provided with this option by the careers officer in my final year at school? Why didn’t someone say: “Right, you’ve all read George Eliot’s Silas Marner and we all wear clothes and have access to materials – who wants to be a weaver instead of going in the shipyard?” But it didn’t happen.
Why didn’t someone say: “We all use pots so who wants to be a potter? The world is full of churches and grand buildings, so who wants to be a stonemason?”
Perhaps they did but I just wasn’t listening. Perhaps, at sixteen, many of us do not possess the faculty to see beyond the easiest option. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a weaver now.
IN Capileira, during summer months, flags come out and hand-woven banners are strung above alleys and pinned to walls. Midday arrives, and no one walks the streets except people with cameras. Capileira is Spain’s second-highest village – but that doesn’t render the air any cooler. Perhaps, because it’s closer to the sun, it’s slightly hotter . . . Continue reading Sounds of silence . . .
MY first encounter with avocado pears came during the general election of 1979 while watching BBC Nationwide with my father. I had never heard of the fruit until this rather well-to-do woman in a large house in Helensburgh was asked who she would vote for come polling day. She replied: “Well it won’t be Labour, because prices have risen to the point I can no longer afford avocado pears for my family.” Continue reading Proverbial pears
THERE’S a swallowtail butterfly in the lavender. It busies itself drifting from one plant to another, gathering nectar or whatever it is that butterflies do. This insect – as delicate as it is – triggers a thought process in the recesses of my mind and liberates forgotten memories. I am transported to a terraced house in a Lancashire village where coal trains from Cumberland clank past the front door and high moors rise from the back . . . Continue reading Fifty years later . . .
THERE are many things a man needs to sustain him in life and one is rhubarb. There may well be items of greater importance, such as bread and butter, faith, humility and hot tea, but rhubarb is among the essentials. Anyone who has worked an allotment, or owned a back garden where dolly tubs rust quietly under elder trees and gutters sag from shed roofs, knows the one element that links them all is the rhubarb bed. A vegetable patch without rhubarb is like a hot-pot without potatoes. So this is my quest to grow rhubarb in Spain . . . Continue reading Ruibarbo, ruibarbo