Since the tentants that were renting La Antigua left, I have been going out to the village once a week to check on the house, collect any post that has been delivered for one reason or another, and…yes, sweeping the courtyard. I cannot even imagine how many times I have swept that courtyard since buying the house, and at least when I lived there, sweeping it seemed to be more appropriate than it is now. But sweep it I do. After all, tengo agulloso en mi casa (I have pride in the house I own) and in case someone decides they want to rent it or buy it, the very least I can do is keep it looking nice (which might make it easier to rent or sell I suppose).
I had a real flashback the other day when driving through Puigpunyent on the way to the house. I was slowly negotiating my way through the construction work taking place on the high street (if you remember my previous chapters about the village, I suppose I could have said ‘the construction work on one of the two streets’ but that would be a bit cheeky so I will say ‘the high street’ to make the village sound a bit classier) when I had to stop in the centre of town as a front-end loader was moving a pile of dirt just in front of the market.
In fairness, I must say that Puigpunyent must be becoming a metropolis of sorts as it now has two (count’em…one, two) markets. The market I was stopped in front of was the one I used to shop at, the one owned by the brothers, Balthazar and Guillem. As the front-end-loader was doing what it does best (spilling half the dirt before it was dumped where it was supposed to apparently be dumped), Balthazar came out of the store carrying someone’s groceries. When he recognised me sitting there watching the dirt-spilling contest, he came over to say hello. (I know…if you are reading this in London or some other real metropolis, the very chance of a store owner coming out to say hello to an ex-customer must be about as real as winning the lottery.) This is the second time that Balthazar has wandered out into the street to say hello, and it was, as it was the previous time, great to see him again.
Balthazar was one of the reasons that made living in the village so good for me. His little market didn’t have too many options for food products, but when I couldn’t find something I really wanted, I would tell Balthazar what I was after and the next day he would have it for me. One time, not that long after moving to Puigpunyent, I had asked him if there was any possible way he could make something similar to what I would buy in the Sta. Catalina market when I lived in Palma. That market had a stall that sold chicken breasts, stuffed with bacon and dates and they were sooooooo good. Balthazar said that of course they could make these, but it did take several false starts. Finally I went into Palma and bought one to take back to Balthazar so he could see exactly what I was after. I am not sure if it was Balthazar or Guillem who made them, but they were brilliant. Of course, the new version was about twice as big as the ones I had previously been purchasing in Sta. Catalina which at first was a bit disconcerting, but the fact that they were bigger only meant that there was more of them to devour…the ones from my little village market were better than the ones from Sta. Catalina.
I can remember just before I moved away from La Antigua to live by the sea at Sol y Mar. I had gone to Balthazar’s to pick up something and kibitz with the locals – shopping was more of a social thing in Puigpunyent than it was a replenishment-of-the-larder activity for most people. As I was perusing the massive selection of foodstuffs in the two-aisle store, I suddenly heard Baltazar talking to a customer in English. I was gobsmacked. Balthazar, a good local Puigpunyent native speaking English. I couldn’t believe it. I even looked over to the meat counter to make sure that what I heard was really happening. It wasn’t even just rudimentary English. It may not have been the Queen’s English, but it was clear that Balthazar did know English quite well. I was desperate to talk to him to ask about his new language skills, but being a good Brit, I waited for the other people in the meat queue to be served. When it was my turn, I sauntered up to the counter, only to hear Balthazar say, “hola James. Como va? Que tu quieres hoy?” (Hi James. How are you? What do you want today?)
I was beginning to think I had suffered a momentary brain aneurism. I could have sworn I had hear Balthazar speaking English to the woman at the counter a few minutes earlier, and now my ears were filled with Spanish. “Balthazar, hace cinco minutes, pienso he oido tu habla en ingles. Es verdad? Tu sabes ingles?” (Balthazar, five minutes ago I think I heard you speak in English. Is this true? Do you know English?). Balthazar’s mouth crept up into a little smile as he said, “Claro James. Tengo otras clients Britanicos.” (Of course James. I have other British clients too). “But Balthazar” – I had broken into English for some reason, probably because this was a real WTF moment – “in the three years I have been coming here, you have never spoken English to me” I blurted out. He responed, also in English, “James, when you first came into our store years ago, you introduced yourself and said that although your Spanish wasn’t good, you would try to learn Spanish by living in our village. Your Spanish has improved very much and that is why we have always spoken Spanish to you. Isn’t this what you wanted?” Well of course it was, and had I known that Balthazar spoke English, I am sure I would have used that as a crutch to avoid learning more Spanish. Geez, I sure do miss that village sometimes.
Recently, I received a note from a friend in France who asked why, if I miss the village so much, am I not living there. The reason is a bit complex. I do miss the village and La Antigua. But at the same time, I am quite content living overlooking the Mediterranean Sea each day, whether the sun is out or not (it is usually blazing brilliantly in the sky, showering all of us that are lucky enough to live here, with the inspiration that only sunlight can give). When I bought La Antigua, it was the right thing to do, at the right time, for the right reasons. When I had the opportunity to move to Sol y Mar, that too was the right thing to do, at the right time, for the right reasons. I really don’t have a clue what I will be doing in the future, or even where that will be. But I do know that if something changes in my life again, it will be the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons.
Last evening, after watching just a few of the 32 ka-zillion stars that seem to hover above Amélie as they sent their Morse-code-like twinkle watching over me through the millions of miles of space, I watched “Under the Tuscan Sun” for the umpteenth time. In the movie, there is a line where Diane Lane is questioning why she bought her house when it hadn’t brought her everything she wanted. Her estate agent friend said, “Signora, between Austria and Italy, there is a section of the Alps called the Semmering. It is an impossibly steep, very high part of the mountains. They built a train track over these Alps to connect Vienna and Venice. They built these tracks even before there was a train in existence that could make the trip. They built it because they knew some day, the train would come.” When your 'train' comes, will you be ready?
one of my favourite photos from when I lived in the village
being sold from someone's house in the village
through one of the sitting room windows to the courtyard
one of the paths I would take into the town centre
a sleepy morning in Puigpunyent
the roof terrace at La Antigua
the killer kitchen
just before the stars come out
waiting for the train at Semmering
copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 James B. Rieley