The weather was quite the opposite of what I felt. Personally, it had been a long, hard winter – a winter that seemed to have lasted several years – but here I was in Mallorca, and suddenly the sun and warmth were brightening my outlook. I had come to Mallorca on my boat on a visit, but I just knew that this is where I wanted to be. I sold the boat and rented a flat in Palma to use as a base whilst looking for a home.
Mallorca is a pretty spectacular place, but as there are so many tourists here, it is almost easy to lose track of where you really are. Walking down the streets of Palma, it is audibly evident that this is a favourite holiday destination for Germans and English alike. I had rented a flat in Santa Catalina, part of the old quarter of the city, and was desperate to use my Spanish. Okay, this was a bit of a problem for me, as the Spanish I knew had worked well in the Americas, and even in central Spain, but this was Mallorca, and here, Spanish was in reality Mallorquin. The only way I can describe Mallorquin is that it is sort of a cross between Spanish, French, Catalan, Paella, and red wine. So I found myself connecting mainly with ex-pats from all over the world. My best friends here are from Australia, and although listening to them is quite enjoyable, what they speak is not Mallorquin, nor is it even Spanish. I was living on a Spanish island, only 100km from the mainland, and I was determined to find an environment in which I would improve Spanish, or probably just wilt away from lack of sustenance.
I began to look for properties that were outside of Palma. Well, the reality was that I began to look for properties in little villages that are not filled with visitors from other parts of the English-speaking world. Last autumn, my friends and I were driving around looking for a fab restaurant on our semi-frequent Sunday journeys out of the city, and we drove through Puigpunyent. Puigpunyent (pweej-poon-yent) is indeed a small village. According to one of my friends here, it is actually just a ‘T-junction’ that filled up with houses over the years. No big central square where the locals gather; no proliferation of shops; no hustle and bustle; just a little sleepy village about 14km from Palma. As we drove through looking for the right road to Valdemossa, Puigpunyent registered itself in the back of my mind as a place to consider settling.
I looked at all the trendy, four-colour glossy adverts put out by estate agents on the island, only to find out that the German influx in the 1990’s had driven prices into the stratosphere. So that meant I had to readjust what I considered appropriate housing choices. Out went the idea of large finca, surrounded by hectares of orange, lemon, and olive trees; out went the idea of having a swimming pool the size of Old Trafford; and out went the idea of having spectacular views of the sea surrounding the island. All of which upon reflection was probably a good thing. It became apparent that a nice village house would (hopefully) be available in my budget range, and living in a village would be better for immersing myself in the real culture of the island. So I kept looking at the cleverly worded adverts – ‘reformation possibility’ meant that the house was in a state of ruin that approximated Dresden after the war; ‘spectacular vistas’ meant that if you stood on your toes with your face smashed up against an upstairs window, you might actually see something other than the house across the street; and ‘incredible possibilities’ meant you would have just as much of a chance of making it liveable as winning the lotto the same day that Cindy Crawford or Penny Smith rings you for a date.
Early this year, I had found a house in an advert that looked super. I clicked on the estate agents web-site and saw more photos of it and instantly fell in love. It was two old (old means very old) connected houses that had been reformed by a previous owner into one two-bedroom, two bath home with a small terrace off one of the bedrooms and a patio that was filled with an overgrown palm tree. And it was in Puigpunyent. After a phone call to the agent, off I went to see it. It was, in a word, spectacularly-wonderful (okay, that may look like two words, but I am trying to keep the word count down for the editors, and that is what it was). In my budget, sort of. Nice location. Serious vistas of the mountains. Fab kitchen in the centre of the house. In Puigpunyent. But for the next three months, I waffled about it. I would spend hours trying to ‘see myself’ in the house, trying to imagine what it would be like to live there, but I didn’t make an offer on it.
And then in early April, I was with a friend looking at a flat for her and when she was done talking to her estate agent, he turned to me and asked if I needed any help finding a property. ‘Well,’ I replied in my increasingly acceptable local language, ‘I have seen a house I like in Puigpunyent. Do you have any homes there for sale?’ And he did. And I ended up buying it.
Buying a home in Spain is an experience. I come from a culture where home buying is all about scurrying about, rushing to wait, dealing with appraisers and legal minds, and hard bargaining. But my experience here was a tad different. Yes, step one was to find the house you want to buy – did that. Step two was to make an offer. But according to my estate agent, an ex-pat Brit who had been here since Franco was a just gleam in his father’s eye, the way the offer thing worked here was to only make a money offer. No real conditions required at this point. No parameters of the deal. Just figure out how much over the asking price you wanted to pay and he would tell the seller. ‘How much over the asking price?’ No, the way I was brought up is that purchasing a house is about as adversarial as any financial transaction could be. The seller wants X, I will offer X minus a bunch, with more conditions that a hypochondriac has on a bad day. Then the seller says no and counters with a mild compromise. Then I am supposed to halve the difference, and eventually, all this compromising and ‘halving’ differences ends up with a deal.
So I made my offer, but I added about fifteen contingencies to it, clearly demonstrating my home buying competence and my desire to stay in my home-buying safety zone. The estate agent tells me that there is no way the seller will accept it. So I, feeling that someone is just trying to attach a Hoover to my bank account, tell the estate agent to actually find out by ringing the seller (I thought that was his job anyway). He does, and comes back with the message he predicted. Buggers. Now I needed to figure out how badly I want this house.
The house that I was keen on is a village house. Originally two homes that were connected (making one house out of two seems to be THE thing to do here); a previous owner broke through the common walls on both floors and made it into one. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, one ensuite for the master bedroom, a living room the size of a small aircraft carrier, a kitchen of almost equal size, fireplace in the living room and one in the kitchen, a roof terrace, and a tiled courtyard with orange trees and a completely out of control bougainvillea plant/tree/bush that appears to have been on steroids for some time. The house is over two hundred years old, and the external walls are over 60cm thick. Nice tiled roof, great shutters on the windows, and a wall providing privacy from the street. (I use the term street a bit loosely here, as the street is actually a relatively narrow mews-like alley, but passable by cars.) Then there was the thing about the sign.
When I first saw the house, the estate agent took me up the street to a long white stone wall. In the middle of the wall was a massive wooden door, and on one side of it, an etched brass plaque with the name of the house. I loved the sign, and I loved the fact that the house had a name. Apparently the artist who etched the plaque also put his initials in the plaque, because in the lower right-hand corner was a ‘JR.’ As these are my initials, it was clear to me that this was a sign from heaven’s property Gods, and that my having this house was pre-ordained. Those are some of the good bits. The bad bits are that there is no garage, and living in a village away from Palma means I would need to buy a car. The village doesn’t really have a centre to it, just some streets that come together every once in a while. One ‘super market’ as far as I can tell, but even the supermarket is about the size of a newsagent’s shop. But the bottom line was that I really did like the house, so I decided to increase my offer up to the asking price.
But before doing this, I had more homework to do. Due to the fact that so many houses on the island are older, many owners have ‘reformed’ them so they are more suitable for today’s buyers needs and wants. All this is fine, but I had been told that in many cases, the rehabilitation process for houses was not recognised by local authorities, so this suddenly became a potential issue. Was the house legal? If I bought it would I be able to obtain legal title to the property as it now stands? Were the two older houses really considered to be one property now? After consulting with the local government in Puigpunyent, I received assurances that all was well. Then there was the minor issue that as I was not a resident of the island – residency is an important issue, as you cannot purchase property in Spain without holding a NIE number. I had never gotten one when I arrived in Mallorca as I was initially living on a boat, and had no idea how long I would stay. So I began to talk to solicitors here, known as historias, about how to obtain the all-permitting number. Whilst there does seem to be a fixed process for doing this for UK citizens, every historia I spoke with gave me varying information. Then I mentioned it to my bank here and was told that they would take care of it all for me. So I thought I was good to submit my offer.
It wasn’t just my emotions that were driving the increase in my offer. I had gotten my hands on a valuation of the house from two years ago, and it was more than my latest offer, so I felt pretty good that I would be safe in buying it. Besides, Mallorca is an island, so land availability is pretty much non-existent. And even in recent housing price falls in the UK and continental Europe, the housing market has been not slipping on the island. So I raised my offer, added even more conditions with it and sent it to my estate agent. Within hours after its submission, I had the answer…my offer was accepted.
Sunrise over Mallorca
the entrance to La Antigua
Moving from my flat in Palma, whilst an exciting prospect, was fraught with worries. I had been enjoying living where I was. Overlooking the harbour in Palma, I currently had two terraces, each with spectacular views, and windows on all four sides of the building. Each flat occupied a separate floor of the lift-equipped building, so I had lots of privacy. And because I didn’t own a car, I had become quite comfortable with walking everywhere.
The neighbourhood I was in is called Santa Catalina, and it is very special. It was only a five-minute walk to the fresh fish/meat/poultry/flower market that was open from 0800 to 1400 each day. I was only five minutes as well from a pretty-well stocked super market. I was only five minutes from a plethora of restaurants of which many became favourites. And I was only a bit more than five minutes from downtown Palma. Actually, I could find almost anything I wanted within a five-minute walk from the flat – I felt like I was in the centre of the Palma world. But it was time for me to move on, and I was very excited about the prospects of the new house.
As I am not as young as I used to be, and with those annual chronological increases comes corresponding slippage in the ability to keep everything straight in my head, I began to make lists. Lots of lists. One list was of all the things I would need to do to finalise the paperwork on the purchase; one list identified all the things I had to do to make my flat rentable again; one list detailed all the things I wanted to do to the new house to make it truly mine; one list included all the miscellany that comes with transferring utility services to a new owner; and one list identified all the stuff relating to the actual move. It was this last list that became the most complex.
For over four years, I had been paying a storage facility outside of London to keep the furniture I had in my London flat, all packed sardine-like in a 16 cubic metre space. Yes, I know, four years of monthly storage bills was pretty excessive, and even whilst making the list, I tried to avoid doing the sums of how much I had paid these people over the years just to keep my things in case I needed them again. I rang the London facility to give them the good news that I was finally going to get my belongings out of their locker-filled building, but for some reason, they didn’t seem as excited as I was; probably because they were losing one of their sure-thing annuities, but they did understand. We talked through how much I owed them for the final month, what part of the security deposit I had given them years ago I would get back, and how the removal company would get access. As I didn’t plan on being there to help put everything in a removal lorry, I asked if there was some way they could get past the very expensive, super strong padlock that I had put on the door of the locker when I rented it. ‘Oh, not a problem; we cut them all the time.’ So much for security.
I found several companies that said they specialised in weekly removals between Spain and the UK, so after bartering back and forth, committed to use one of them. This was a bit tricky (or just new to me). The deal was, I was told, that they would collect everything from my storage locker thing and take it to a depot where it would be containerised for the trip south. But whilst they were keen to get their lorry over to the storage place and fill it up, they wouldn’t ship it until they were paid in full. Fair enough I supposed, but a serious pain in my bum as I struggled to make sure that getting them the funds did not slow down the shipping process. I offered to have the local agent come to my flat to collect the check, but he was too busy with removal work to do this quickly; and when I offered to come to his office, I was reminded of the fact that he just didn’t sit around waiting for someone to come strolling in with sterling. It was the beginning of several catch-22 scenarios; they won’t ship until they get paid, and they are too busy to take the money, the word delay started to spin around in my head. Eventually I was able to sort it all out, but it was a nuisance that I didn’t need.
Then there was the little thing about getting my Palma furniture to Puigpunyent. Whilst I didn’t have too many things here, the catch was that the removal company was quoting me two prices; one for two men in a van, one trip; and the other was two men in a van, two trips. “Why would you suggest two trips?” I asked. “Well, we may not be able to use a van big enough for one trip that will make it down the village streets.” Oh fine. I hadn’t expected an over the road, double trailer lorry to do this; all I had to move was some tables, terrace chairs, large palm plants, pictures, and clothes. No appliances, no beds, no sofas…just normal stuff, and not much of it. This discussion went on for a week until the agent managed to come over to the flat and have a look. One trip, one van, two men…four hours, give or take a bit. Done.
All I had to do now was wait for the bank to finish their paperwork – a mortgage note, various notary signatures, reviewing the new valuation on the property, and the filing of new ownership documentation with the local authorities. The new valuation had come in about 25% higher than the purchase price – great news - so now I just had to wait to walk through the door to the courtyard of La Antigua. And I don’t do waiting well.
view from the apartment
the living room in Palma
The whole thing of having to wait once I was ready is frustrating. For some reason, in my mind, I couldn’t understand why, if I was ready, the current owner of the house wasn’t. Okay, so that might be a cheeky attitude, but here I am, having waited for months to even find a house I wanted to buy, having made my decision, made the offer, all fired up, and now I am sitting waiting.
From a rational perspective (something that gets thrown out of the pram with the toys when emotions kick in), I should have been able to get my head around the delay. After all, the current owner wasn’t about to take steps to move out until he knew for sure that the deal was on – fair enough. And I don’t think that he was even that keen to sell the house anyway. Something about the fact that selling the house was the only way to sort out finances due to an upcoming…okay, I think you may have a clear picture of what was going on so enough about his problems.
I spent part of Wednesday trying to figure out how to have the local removal people safely move the palm plants from my flat – palm plants that had been expanding about as fast as the start of the Big Bang theory. What were nice little palms in cute little pots when I bought them last year had gone jungle on me. Don’t get me wrong; I loved the fact that they became highly motivated to grow once I re-potted them. But they had gone from being about 1.5 metres tall and ¾ metre wide to over 2 metres tall and by a sprawling 2 metres width. I was beginning to feel like I was on one of those celebrity-get-me-out-of-here programme when walking through the flat. I suppose I could have just purchased a pith helmet, but buying the house seemed like a better idea.
Plan one to move the plants was to just leave them as they were and keep my fingers crossed. I wasn’t too keen on this idea, as the palm branches might be broken off by the local removal staff. Plan two was to wrap some light twine around the branches, holding them up in a semi-mummy-shaped configuration. I tried this idea on one of them, but was using so much twine to keep all the leaves in place that I was worried that the movers would assume I was the head of the Palma S&M club. Probably not a good idea either. On to plan three. This one sprang into my head whilst laying out in the sun on the terrace (all part of my daily health regimen). I got up from the sun lounger and went to my closet. For some time, I had been washing and ironing my own shirts instead of taking them to one of the neighbourhood laundries, but in the back of the closet, I still had some shirts that they had done…and they were covered with those clear poly-what’s-their-name bags. After whipping one of the bags off a shirt (and trying to figure out why I hadn’t binned that shirt years ago), I cut the top off of the bag and gathered it up into a poly-donut thing shape. I then put the ring of clear plastic on the floor and manhandled one of the palm pots into the centre of it. After a bit of pulling and stretching, I was able to slide it up around the palm leaves. A great way to ship the plants – all protected into a poly-wrapped tube. Nice. Yes, of course I had to slide it off, as I it didn’t appear that I would actually make the move for another two weeks, and didn’t think that Mr. Palm would enjoy being wrapped up in a cling-film like container that long.
Now just in case you are reading this thinking to yourself, ‘I think he has too much spare time on his hands,’ don’t worry. I have plenty to do; I just want to get into my house and it admittedly is becoming on an equal standing as finding the Holy Grail for me. Next, I pulled out my handy-dandy measuring stick and began to measure all the paintings for the local removal people. You know, so they could ensure to bring the correct containers for them. “Let’s see; one that is 102 x 72cm, one that is 150 x 100cm, three that are 92 x 60cm,’ and on and on until I had the exact dimensions of all 15 paintings. After compiling a rather exhaustive list, I rang up the removal company to give them the news. His reaction? ‘Thanks mate, we will bring a couple of big boxes.’ Fine. So much for trying to help him.
All this ‘hurry-up and wait’ may have been getting to me, I admit. I began to stare at the photos I had taken of the interior and exterior of the house. I scrutinised the floor plans. I compared the floor plans to the photos. I went out and bought copies of trendy home magazines to look for clever ideas of how I could enhance the ambiance of the house. I studied the photos of interiors of other houses that I saw on websites. And suddenly I realised the most important thing I could do, the thing that all people who are eager to move into a new house but have to wait should do; I opened a bottle of red wine…and fell asleep.
my Palma terrace
The actual move to the village of Puigpunyent went well. Or as well as any human being could expect in a country where everyone speaks a language that I don’t know as well as I should by now. No last minute hitches, so major problems…well, sort of. At the last minute, I had received a phone call from my friendly banker – anyone who was nice enough to give me the money to buy the house deserves to be called friendly. The message was pretty clear – I had to get over to the bank to supply them with one additional document before I could sign the mortgage note. The request was fair enough, but what was confusing was what they wanted. They wanted to see a copy of my last will and testament. ‘My will? Why?’ I enquired. ‘Because of your age and the length of the mortgage, we want to make sure that you have children.’ I am sure that my boys will be very excited to know that a bank in the middle of Mallorca thinks that they will pay off my mortgage after I die. I took it in; they photocopied it; and went back home, happily with the knowledge that everything was set for the hand-over.
On the 18th, I went to my Mallorquin bank and met with the bankers, the sellers, the notarios, and my estate agent; signed way too many papers; received a series of keys and instructions on how to operate all the appliances, and a list of contact details for anyone important connected to my new home. You know, the names and phone numbers of the fireplace wood supplier, the local news agents, and the various utilities. I had asked for a list of all the little idiosyncracies of the house, but I was told that there were none. Right. I have never owned a property that doesn’t have little quiks, so this should be either, A) a wonderful experience, or B) quite an interesting experience of discovery. I really didn’t care at that point – I just wanted to get back to my soon-to-be vacated flat in the centre of Palma to help the movers get everything packed and on its way to Puigpunyent.
I had been packing for several days, and as these things go, had ended up with far more boxes than I had planned on. I had taken care to make a small floor plan of La Antigua and labelled each box with a huge blue letter that identified which room at the house the lads from the removal company should put them. So much for planning.
The boxes were all stacked as close to the door as possible; the plants were all wrapped in their clear polyethelene sleeves, and I had previously dragged what furniture I had all into the centre of the living room. I was ready. I was excited. I was chomping at the bit. And I was waiting for them to arrive.
The actual moving expedition went like clock-work on Wednesday. And as if I suddenly became lucky, I received a phone call from the movers who were bringing my furniture from the UK that it was already in Palma and would be out for delivery the next day. So within a twenty-four hour period, everything was in the house. Okay, so on Thursday, it was a bit hectic – the international movers arrived and were carrying everything from their lorries to the house along the narrow road; my food delivery people arrived and carried enough supplies to feed an army for a month to the house; and a package delivery service arrived with a house-warming present from a good friend in the UK. A very busy two days…but I am in La Antigua, and am very happy.
in the courtyard
in the courtyard
on the roof terrace
The cast of characters for this weeks missive includes; Luis – the previous owner of La Antigua; Paulo – sort of Luis’ handyman; Vesca – the woman that Luis has been using to clean the house once a week; myself – the new proud owner of La Antigua; Tony – the owner of my local café; four german tourists; and Pedro – the cabinet maker;. Bet you just can’t wait…So here is how things went.
When I arrived at La Antigua, my plan was to unload my hire car before the movers arrived, but for some reason unknown to modern man, the moving van managed to catch up to me on the road from Palma to Puigpunyent. So by the time I pulled up in front of calle Es Forn (the name of the street I now live on), they were stuck on my tail so close I think that my little Ford Fiesta had a Velcro bumper. Okay, so that part of the plan didn’t work out that well, but I knew that they wouldn’t be able to get their van up the street because it is a tad narrow. Narrow means that the street is only 2.3 metres wide, which in other, non-metric worlds, means it is 89 inches wide. (apparently, when the houses along my street were built 200 years ago, not too many people were driving cars). So my cunning plan to get there first sort of shifted a bit, and I decided to back up the street and unload the car in front of the house. Ever try to back a car down a street that is 89 inches wide? Not only was I able to (softly) touch both side of the street repeatedly, I almost burned out the clutch. The problem (okay, MY problem) is that I live in a village, and on either side of the street are houses. Houses whose exterior walls are literally the edge of the street. Looks great, feels great…except not to the fenders of the car. And to top it all off, the street is about a 15 degree incline. So whilst trying to avoid my neighbours houses, I was riding the clutch quite a bit. But eventually, I did make it up to the outside gate, just in time because the interior of the car was beginning to smell a lot like burning clutch. My next challenge was to open the door far enough to get out and unload the stuff that I brought…just about the time that the movers had most of their van unloaded and placed on the ground in front of my car that was, as you might imagine, blocking the gate. Think I was having fun yet? It was only beginning.
When I managed to move the car backwards a bit further so that the movers could carry all my things in, I met Paulo and Vesca. And why do you suppose they were there? Of course, they were finishing moving Luis’ stuff out. Well, that was what Paulo was doing at least. Vesca was there to clean the house completely for the new proud owner of La Antigua. A nice gesture on the part of Luis, but apparently Vesca may have skipped out on a few classes in the Cleaning Academy of Bulgaria. Don’t get me wrong, Vesca was a very nice lady…it is just that she and I have different views of what the word ‘cleaning’ means. The big wooden gate was spotless – she wiped that down more than once whilst I was telling the movers which room to put which stuff. But she did miss a few other areas…like the floors, ceilings, walls, closets, refrigerator, stove, oven, and counter-tops. But the outside gate looked fab.
Yes, everything did get unpacked AND put away. No sense waiting for days trying to figure out exactly where things should be – just get the clutter cleaned out and make the house liveable was my motto. Within two days largely spent trying to figure out where things were, and why I put them there; I decided I needed a break, so off to my local café. Can Domingo is a very special place. Not too big, not too modern; just your typical local Mallorquin café. I walked up the hill (Puigpunyent is not exactly a flat village) to the café and sat down. I really like Can Domingo, probably because one of the reasons I wanted to live in the village was to work on my Spanish, and it seems that everyone that goes there is a local resident. Tony came over and said hello and explained what was on the ‘menu del dia’ that day and brought me some water and a glass of red wine. I was in heaven. I was surrounded by the sounds I wanted to hear. Okay, so I didn’t understand everything I was hearing, but one of the best ways for me to learn a language is to surround myself with it, and that is what I was doing. And then I heard a melange of German and English. It seems that two older couples (if I am 60, and am saying that they were ‘older,’ you can just imagine how old they were) had sat down at a table near me and were trying to order. ‘You have menu?’ was the first thing I focused on. Well, Tony doesn’t have menus. In a restaurant that has a menu del dia, you get what they make, and that day, it consisted of a seafood salad, pork in an incredible sauce, desert, coffee, and wine. So the two couples finally figured out that the menu was set, but when Tony’s wife brought the salads, one of the women began to try to explain that they didn’t eat any meat, fish, or anything that closely resembled them. It took a few tries, but eventually, her salad was replaced with some lettuce and onion slices. As I devoured my lunch, I began to feel sorry for the tourists – I know how difficult it can be when you don’t speak or understand a foreign language, so I borrowed a pen from Tony and wrote something on my place mat for the lady. ‘Soy vegetario y no es posible comer carne o pescado. Gracias.’ (I am a vegetarian and do not eat meat or fish, thank you). Not sure, but I think I earned my merit badge for being a good person that day. Too bad I didn’t wait around for them to finish; I suppose I could have earned another one by helping them across the street, but the streets are so narrow and traffic is not exactly a major problem in Puigpunyent, I figured that they could handle it on their own.
Today, after another day of looking for things in closets and drawers that I know I put someplace, but can’t find; I decided to go talk to Pedro. Pedro is a neighbourhood cabinet maker and I had found out from Luis that he is the one who built the kitchen of La Antigua. Why would I go see him? After several days in the house, I realised that I wanted an island built for the open space in the kitchen and a cabinet for under the stairs on the south wall of the kitchen. So down the hill I walked (see? I don’t always have to go uphill) (except on my way home from Pedro’s I guess) and gave Pedro a semi-accurate artists representation of what I wanted him to build for me. That’s all, no traumas, no problems, just the news that it would take him 15 days to make the stuff. And then Pedro helped me understand the Spanish culture a bit more. He said that 15 days in Spain meant a month…and then he smiled. I will let you know how the things look in two weeks…hopefully. But for now, I am just sitting outside in the courtyard enjoying my new house.
c/Es Forn, 6
from the courtyard
I have some friends who, for some unknown reason, refer to Puigpunyent as ‘Hermit Valley.’ Well, I suppose I do understand why. When I began to talk about moving here, I used words like, ‘countryside,’ ‘little village,’ ‘truly Mallorquin.’ And I suppose if I was hearing these words from someone who leans toward being an introvert, I might come to the same conclusion. Whilst my descriptors are accurate, they might also be a bit mis-leading.
Clearly, Puigpunyent is not a metropolis, but equally, I really wasn’t looking to live in something the size of London again. The population here is (allegedly) 1,500 people; it does have a supermarket (okay, so it only has three aisles); it does have a post office; and it does have more than one restaurant. Yes, the streets tend to be quite narrow; yes, many of the homes were built around the time Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were hanging out together; and yes, the village has more character than Sybil has personalities. Puigpunyent feels like a village. And that is what I was after.
I have made it a point to meet some of the other residents here. Here’s how this goes…I see someone walking down the streets in my neighbourhood (yes, Puigpunyent has multiple neighbourhoods, but more about that in a bit). I walk up to the person and immediately tell them (in Spanish) that I just purchased a home here, AND apologetically, I admit my Spanish is crap. Well the fact is that I probably don’t need to tell them that last bit after listening to me for 3 seconds. But everyone is so polite, and they all respond with ‘no, your Spanish is very good.’ Right. So then we kibbitz back and forth for a few minutes about the weather, or where I can buy something, and I go on my way…having made a new friend in the village. Now all this sounds great, but my first problem is that I can never remember who they are. Last night, one of my neighbours knocked on the big wooden gate of the courtyard. I went rushing outside to find out that he was interested in knowing if it was my car blocking the road. ‘No, my car is parked down the road a bit’ I responded. But it was an opportunity to meet a neighbour and dazzle him with my Spanish (which he said was very good. Right) Just as he left, I once again asked his name, and then rushed back inside to write it down. I figured that not remembering the names of every person I assaulted with poor Spanish in the village was okay, but it would be good if I could remember my neighbours names. Tomeu. Nice name. TOE-MAY-OOH. I suppose I should have checked to see if that was his Christian name or his surname. Tomaeu. The whole name thing is different in Spain. Most people have three names, as I do – James Brown Rieley. But in Spain, it is the first two that are what people are known as. I, on the otherhand, am not Spanish, and everyone knows it. Almost every person I have met in Spain refer to me as one of the following: ‘Dr. James;’ ‘Mr. Really;’ or just ‘señor.’ (I keep waiting to hear, ‘hey, YOU.’) Whatever works is my motto, so I respond to pretty much anything when I think that someone is talking to me. In the case of Tomeu, he called me ‘el dueño nuevo’ (the new owner). I imagine, in a village where people have lived here for generations, I will be the ‘new’ owner of La Antigua for the next 200 years.
Puigpunyent isn’t antiquated in everything. The village has a very serious re-cycling programme. Of course, due to resources, the programme does appear (to me) to be a bit ‘interesting.’ Every house has its own numbered trash container. That is the good news. The bad news is that the container is about big enough for a litre of water. And to make things even more interesting, the village people (no, there aren't a group of guys dressed up as construction workers, indians, police and motor cyclists singing about the YMCA here) who collect the refuse only pick up certain types of trash on certain days. As far as I can understand it so far; Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are ‘food garbage days;’ Tuesdays are for bottles; Thursdays are for paper and cardboard; and the weekends are dedicated to drinking wine. So as a recently arrived person, who needed to dispose of multiple kilos of crap that I shouldn’t have even moved, I was trying to figure out how to put all this stuff into this little plastic box. And then I found out that Puigpunyent has its own recycling centre. Separate places for bottles (four huge green bins), cardboard and paper (four more huge containers), electrical appliances (yes, how many discarded appliances can there be in a village of 1,500 people does seem like a fair question); metals of various types; grass and plant clippings; motor oil; rubber; and non-recyclable items. Pretty nice. So what do I do? Easy-peasy. I begin to fill up monster bags of junk and haul it to the centre in the boot of my hire car. One day, I was so pumped up about the whole concept, that I loaded one of my black polyethelene bags full of cardboard and chucked it onto the little carry-rack on the back of my bicycle. How ecologically minded am I, anyway? Well, the recycling centre is at the bottom of a large hill, and as I was coasting down towards it, I was beginning to think I could do this everyday. Then I had to get back home. I took the car ever since. As of today, I have been in the village for 8 days, and have made 9 trips to the recycling centre. I don’t’ think I will ever get to the point of using the adorable Barbie-sized home container, but at least I am re-cycling.
calle Es Forn
from the master bath
I have been in La Antigua for a week and a half, and the fun is just beginning. Tomorrow is Tuesday, and I have been told that Tuesday’s are the day for the open market in the centre of Puigpunyent. So tomorrow morning, I will wake early and walk / ride my bicycle / drive into the town centre and have a look around. (You can pick my method of transportation yourself, but my money is on the car).
After my shopping excursion, I will probably come home and resume the routine I have seem to have established for myself. For those of you who really want to know, this is it. Sometime between 0630 and 0900, I wake up and do my exercises. Not exactly the highlight of my day, but part of my post-GBS life is lots of stretching exercises to keep all those muscles and joints operational. I do my exercises to the melodic sounds of Mietta, an Italian singer whose CD I bought whilst living on a previous boat in America. Still have no clue what she is singing about, but with her singing, my exercises are not quite as frenetic as they were when I was listening to Aretha Franklin egging me on with ‘Who’s Zooming Who?’
After a shower, it is breakfast time, and as I live in a little village in Mallorca, AND, I am working really hard to assimilate into the culture of the island, I have a typical Mallorquin breakfast. When pigs fly. After my toast, yoghurt and tea, it is email time. I love email time…(yes, you are now thinking that this guy has no real life. But I do; it is just that email keeps me connected to the non-Puigpunyent world…, which is pretty sizeable.
Usually, what shows up in the morning is adverts for unbelievable low-interest loans; adverts for a couple hundred variations of Viagra; offers to help out some poor bloke whose father squirreled away millions in Zimbabwe and has picked me to help him get his money from some mythical account in a mythical bank; as well as the rather bizarre myriad of methods to increase the length and breadth of some of my body parts. Next, it is time for the semi-religious experience that I do daily of looking at various websites to see what is going on in the rest of the world. This usually means surfing through the Telegraph, the Times, bCentral (a Microsoft website that has been publishing some of my writings), and my brother’s website. By then, it is time to get cracking, and getting cracking means going out to sit in the courtyard and just pondering.
This Wednesday was a good example of the trouble that pondering can get one in. I was thinking of how wonderful all the trees and plants looked, and then I noticed that some leaves had fallen from the trees. As I was always taught that a clean courtyard is good, and undoubtedly hidden somewhere in the Puigpunent code of ethics, I decided to sweep up the leaves that were lying about. And as I was doing this (almost daily) chore, a couple more fell. My father had always taught me that being proactive was good (actually, he just told me to get back in my room and study, but so many years later, saying he taught me to be proactive sounds better). So, being proactive, I took my magical red-handled broom and whacked the trees a few times, expecting that more loose leaves might fall, saving me from repeating the sweeping exercise tomorrow. Well, fall they did, and within a couple of minutes, the stones on the courtyard floor were completely covered in leaves. So after filling up another big black garbage bag for the recycling centre, I rewarded myself by having one of the oranges that had been growing in my trees that had fallen with the downpour of green.
By 1000, I was about ready to get back to serious work, and decided to fill in a form to send to my friends at the internal revenue service in America, explaining to them that, as a British citizen, living in Mallorca, I would no longer need their always exciting, annual tax form-filling-out exercise. I read the directions, filled in all the blanks, double-checked it all, then, following the instructions (I always follow directions when they are from some government), placed the four-page form into an envelope addressed to Philadelphia. I was feeling pretty good about doing this; and so with a feeling of exhilaration, walked to the main post office in Puigpunyent. Okay, so there is only one post office here, but that would make it the main one, wouldn’t it? After a brisk 10-minute walk, I found the building, and as I went to open the door, was practising to say, ‘I need to send this by certified mail to America.’ And then I noticed the sign on the door. Hours: 0800 – 1000. The (main) post office in my town is only open for two hours per day! Count this with me - ONE, TWO. Two hours per day. And I had walked all the way there. Buggers. On the walk back home, with my letter firmly in hand, I realised that being open only two hours per day makes sense; after all, that gives THE employee the rest of the day to deliver the post. And go to lunch. And have a siesta. Ahhh, village living.
the Master bedroom
a guest room
courtyard from the roof terrace
rush-hour at the Puigpunyent Post Office
Vignette 1 – When I purchased La Antigua, I was given the names of several people by the former owner. One of these names was Pau. Pau was the ‘gardener and wood-suppler’ of La Antigua I was told, although for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why a gardener was even needed. The house doesn’t really have a garden, only a courtyard that is filled with trees and bushes and plants. But I was beginning to think that, as my grape vines were beginning to produce what appeared to be a bumper crop of grapes, I should ring Pau. After all, I was told that one of his jobs was to spray the vines to avoid a flock of wasps from appearing along with the grapes.
Today Pau came. He looked strangely like someone from the next George Lucas Star Wars sequel, with this huge spray tank on his back with hoses sticking out all over. I was trying to figure out how to ask him if he was one of the cast members of Revenge of the Grape-Sucking Wasps, but I was sure that there was no possible way to say it, luckily for me. For all I knew, it would have come out sounding like your mother sucks grapes. Yes, still working on the language thing. So after the mandatory ‘hello’ and ‘how are you today Pau,’ he began his work. He pumped up the pressure on the tank and went about his work. After a couple of minutes, I looked out the window, and noticed that the overspray was falling down on top of him. So being a good little homeowner – and a concerned employer – I went outside and, in my best Spanish, asked Pau if all that spray falling on him was safe. There was a bit of background in my question. I used to be the owner of a company in America, as well as a business consultant in the United Kingdom; and was painfully aware of all the health and safety regulations that are designed to protect workers. Technically, as I had contracted with Pau for him to spray my grape vines, he was my employee, and I certainly didn’t want him to become sick from his efforts. I have seen photos of people spraying pesticides in the past, and they are all covered up with protective clothing and breathing masks, and here was Pau, dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, with nothing over his face, spraying away. When I asked if this was safe for him, his response was that, in small amounts like he was using, it was completely safe…and then he let out a series of coughs that made me think his lungs were coming out. Perhaps Pau misplaced his book on health and safety in the garden.
Vignette 2 - I knew that moving from Palma to Puigpunyent would require several serious changes in my life. I had existed quite well in the city without a car. Everything I needed was within walking distance, with my only automobile requirements being getting back and forth to the airport when I did my monthly trips to London. And whilst taxi’s solved that for me, I realised that living in the village would mean that I would need a car. So a week or two before my actual move, I began to look for a suitable car.
Sort of torn between practicality (a VW Golf or Polo) and fun (a Mazda MX5), I, in my decidedly pragmatic thinking mode, sought out all the adverts I could that were auto-specific. It didn’t take long to find that my eyes kept coming back to an advert for a silver MX5 for sale at a used car dealership in Palma. One day I walked over to see it and was smitten. Yes, it was a bit small (only two seats, with barely room enough behind them for copy of Vanity Fair, and a boot that might be able to carry my travel bag. But it had a removable hardtop and a folding convertible top. I checked under the bonnet; I examined all the wheels and brake discs; I prowled around through the boot (whatever prowling means in a space that was exceedingly small); and most importantly, I sat in it and started it up. I was hooked. I kept thinking about what would happen when friends and family would come and visit me. What would I do if there were more than one person? How would I transport the guests and their luggage? Screw-em. They could take a taxi…I was primed for the Mazda. So I went into bargaining mode with the dealer, and after about 30 minutes of hard, but somewhat understandable offer, counter-offer, counter-counter-offer, we were on the same page with the price. Now came the minor little details of actually writing the deal up.
Antonio, my very helpful auto dealer, asked me for the spelling of my name, followed by a request to see my NIE number and insurance information. In Spain, an NIE number is required whenever you buy anything serious, like a car or a house. I explained that I didn’t actually have one yet, but had applied for it because of the house purchase. Not a problem replied Antonio, but I would need to provide a photocopy of my application. I was feeling pretty good. But then he asked again for my insurance information. ‘Don’t have any yet, but I will get it straight away,’ I replied. Antonio gave me the name of an insurance agency in Mallorca that was staffed largely by Brits, so as soon as I returned home (with visions of driving around with the wind blowing through my hair in the soon-to-be-my-Mazda), I rang them up. Yes, I wanted to obtain an automobile policy for a Mazda MX5. Yes, I have been driving for over 40 years. Yes, I have a driving license. No, it is not from the United Kingdom, it is from America. Oh. America may have all the money in the world, but they don’t seem to have the ability to convince Spain that a US driver’s license is the same as a European one. Interestingly enough, it is possible to rent a car with a US permit, but not to buy a car. (Note: If anyone who reads this letter can explain the logic behind this, please do feel free to write me.) So I decided to simply get a Spanish drivers permit; after all, I was living here, had bought a house here, and was feeling very Spanish.
Obtaining a drivers license in Spain could be the Webster’s unabridged definition of bureaucracy. First, you have to go through a driver’s school. Yes, I know I have been driving for over 40 years, but this is how it works. The driver’s school arranges for the medical examination you have to take (yes, you need a medical exam to get a driver’s license, and whilst it only consists of an eye test, a hearing test, a blood pressure check, and a two-hand coordination test; you still need it). So I did that, but must admit that the coordination test did seem like an updated version of one of the first computer games, with the instructions being to not let the little horizontal bars slip outside of the curvy, moving white line. Next, you have to take a written test.
Making sure I was getting all this straight seemed like a bigger challenge than the test itself, for the people who worked at the drivers school didn’t speak a bit of English. I do love (attempting) to speak the local language, but when it comes to technical things or specific legal instructions, it sure is nice to double check what I am hearing with my native language, but that wasn’t to be. So I kept asking them to repeat everything a couple of times, and far slower than they are used to talking. For the written test, I was told that I needed to study the ‘book.’ Okay, fair enough. ‘Tienes este libro en ingles?’ I asked (do you have he book in English?). No, sorry, we don’t have one in English. Shit. But instead of just taking what was going to be offered, I then asked, ‘Es possible para obtenir un libro en ingles? ‘ (Can you get a copy in English for me?) Yes, that they could do, but I would have to come back the next day. Not a problem. So the next day I was back in the office to pick up my trendy little study book, only to find that it had 560 questions that needed to be studied. FIVE HUNDRED SIXTY QUESTIONS!!!! Scheisse. Luckily, there are only 40 questions on the actual test, but it sure would have been nice to know which ones to worry about.
I apparently should have just taken the test in Spanish, as the English version was totally depressing and confusing. It seems that whomever translated the test questions sort of, as we say, mucked it up. Of the forty questions on the test, a passing score was to be 36 correct. I managed a 35, so now on to plan B (which I haven’t even figured out yet).
acrylic - 100 x 120 cm
cut paper 70 x 100 cm
view to roof terrace
The weekend, as most of us know very well, is a time for rest and relaxation; a couple of days to recharge from the turmoil and stress of the workweek. And it is the same here at La Antigua, with a few minor exceptions. Exception 1: my typical workweek is either full on, or semi-non-existent (according to some of my friends here on the island); Exception 2: I like to do stuff, and just sitting seems so non-productive; Exception 3: There are lots of things I could do each day here to convert La Antigua from a great village house to MY great village house. So quite often, my weekends blend in with my weekdays.
Last night (Friday), I had been invited over to see some of my new neighbours and had a lovely time, but after a couple of G&T’s during the evening, I think I overslept this morning. My day began normally, except for the fact that it began later than normal; whatever normal is for me. A few days ago I had purchased 15 flowering Oleander’s from my favourite garden store in Palma (this is a serious garden store, and I think it actually could be on a par with all of Puigpunyent size-wise), and quite unexpectedly, they were delivered this morning. Early. About the time I had just gotten into the shower.
After helping the delivery man haul the 15 potted plants, the 15 larger pots so I could replant them into something larger than the cheesy little pots they came in; and the 300 cubic litres of potting soil up to the house, I decided that they probably weren’t going to re-pot themselves, so I began the ever fun job of seeing how much potting soil a person can jam up under his finger nails. I had purchased these beauties for the roof terrace, but as I was flying to London for a few days next week, I decided that I should leave them in the courtyard where there is some shade until I returned. I had been told that the Oleander’s would be good in direct sun, and that is what the roof terrace is full of. But being gone meant that there would be no one to water them for three or four days, and I reasoned that being newly re-potted, they might need some adjustment time. And besides, now in their new, more spacious injection-moulded imitation clay pots, they were heavy…and I was tired. So I hosed them down for a while in the courtyard and then set about my next task for the day.
My original plan for Saturday was to do some research for the books I had been contracted to write. Doing research (in my lexicon) usually means lying in the sun and thinking. And I reasoned that after the adventure in re-potting, this exercise was well deserved. So I hustled my ex-American, semi-British, Mallorquin wannabe butt up to the terrace and began the process of getting things ready for the day. ‘Getting things ready’ included positioning one of the sun lounges so that it would be perpendicular to the sun (for increased intensity, of course); looking for a some sunscreen that had a number on it that was higher than 1 (which is downright difficult to find in my house); turning on the music on the terrace (that days choice was Luther Vandross; and ensuring that I had something cold to drink. And because I have children who think that I spend too much time in the sun to begin with, I even committed to myself to actually turn over prior to needing a total skin-grafting operation. Four hours later – yes, I did turn over a couple of times…I think – I was back in the courtyard examining the Oleanders and wondering what I could do next to feel productive.
Doing creative things is pretty high on my list of things I like to do, so I dug up some heavy (heavy in terms of paper means ‘stiff,’ not ‘weighs a lot), a couple of photos that I like, my container of Cola Blanca (which is just white glue for wood or paper), my straight edge, and a matt-cutting knife. Hours later, I had accomplished what I set out to accomplish; sort of a modified ‘three-panel picture.’ When viewed from one side, it is one picture, from the other side, it is a different picture, and head on, still another picture. So I hung it on the wall…as I do with almost everything I make for La Antigua. And by the time I had made dinner, my mind was already rolling about what I would do the next day. Let's see, I could sweep the courtyard; I could mop the tiles floors; I could iron my shirts; I could do all the above (which I ended up doing).
And I think Pau was right when he told me the other day that I would have a bumper crop of grapes this year. Or did he say that the grapes would be green? Or that the bumper on his car was green? Or perhaps, as my brother just reminded me, Pau meant that when I have several Gin & Tonics, I turn green.
invasion of the Oleander
fun with photos
view from left
view from right
grapes on the way
It was, in the words of Charles Dickens, the best of times and the worst of times…or something like that. Whilst my time living in La Antigua has been an incredible experience so far, I awoke the other morning to my worst fears. It was something that I had known might occur but after feeling so comfortable living here for the past month, I think perhaps that my fears had dissipated over time. After all, the past month had been glorious; great weather, meeting new people, getting my house sorted, being pretty productive with my writing and painting. But here I was, hit with something that I had all but forgotten could happen. Yes…it was cloudy.
Okay, so the clouds did bugger off after an hour or so and the sun resumed its rightful place in the sky over La Antigua; and I decided that a cloudy day once in a while might not exactly qualify for razor blades on the wrists. By 1000, I was at the pool following the JBR-modified-health-regimen prescribed by my doctor as a way to keep up with my GBS episode of last year. I try to follow my doctors orders explicitly – that is to say that when he says to exercise as much as I think is appropriate on any given day, and then to get lots of sun (for vitamin A or E or some other letter I think); I do actually do what he says. Although I must admit, sometimes the ‘exercise time’ and the ‘sun time’ do sort of blur together into something I recognise as ‘laying in the sun thinking about exercising.’
The pool is very, very nice. I have found that if you arrive shortly after they open at 1000, the pool is virtually deserted, with only two or three ‘regulars’ (well, three or four now counting myself). It isn’t until around lunch time that all the mothers arrive with their darling children. So when I arrive, I have my morning conversation with Pablo, the all purpose life-guard, card-checker, maintenance person, and Baywatch wannabe. We talk about just about anything…well, anything that I can say in Spanish that is. I made a deal with Pablo – each day, he needs to help me learn another word or two in Spanish, and for this service, I promise not to splash. Well I think that is what I promised. (God, I hope that is what I promised) Today I did a series of laps in the pool, did my compulsory lying in the sun, cleverly using some of that time to thank the sun for breaking through the clouds earlier. Then when the children arrived, I headed into Palma to do a bit of serious shopping.
I have been very fortunate in Puigpunyent in the fact that I am able to buy almost everything I need here. If my market doesn’t have what I am after, I ask Guillermo (one of the two brothers who own the market) if he can get it for me. This is great for me and something he always seems to be able to do. The only things that I need to go into Palma for are canvases, furniture, and visiting friends. I had asked Guillermo to bring in some red wine that I quite enjoy that I couldn’t find on his shelves, along with other necessities (white wine for friends, beer for friends, still water for friends, fizzy water for friends, coke light for myself, tonic water for mixing with Gin, and cranberry juice…for myself. The whole thing about finding cranberry juice has been interesting. First of all, the word for juice is ‘zumo,’ so when you order orange (naranja) juice, you say, ‘zumo de naranja por favor.’ But as I have yet to find the word for cranberry in this apparent non-cranberry part of the European Union, when I order orange and cranberry juices mixed together, as I tend to do, I end up saying ‘zumo de naranja y zumo de cranberry por favor.’ And the waiter looks at me like I am from a different world – and seeing as how I was born in Milwaukee, he might be right.
When I asked Guillermo to bring in a case of cranberry juice along with the other liquids for a party this weekend, I brought an empty brick with me (most juices and milks come in ‘brick-like’ cardboard containers that are fabulous for storage). So I said, ‘Guillermo, este bric (brick is bric in almost any language apparently) es zumo de cranberry.’ And he blurted out some word that apparently is the translation for cranberry, but I missed it. So there we were, me saying ‘zumo de cranberry’ and Guillermo saying ‘zumo de something-or-other.’ I really do need to, A) listen more closely to whomever I am speaking to; B) get Guillermo (or whomever) to speak slower; C) find a better dictionary; or D) start drinking more things I can pronounce.
the village pool
the village church
I must admit, I have never really been the big ‘festival guy,’ but as one of the reasons I was keen to move to a small village was to become part of the culture. And today the culture came to me. The Festa de Sant Joan is an annual festival that Puigpunyent celebrates, and as luck would have it, the celebration takes place just around the corner from La Antigua.
According to the brochure that the local government had delivered to each home, all the village people are invited to participate. No, I didn’t think that this meant that we all had to sing Y-M-C-A, but the night was still young. And come to think of it, I wasn’t even sure exactly who Sant Joan was before the festa began, although, about mid-way through the evening’s festivities, I was beginning to think that Sant Joan was a reference to Joan Wilder in the movie Romancing the Stone – lots of people enjoying the evening in the little plaza with couples dancing the evening away. The reality is that the Festa de Sant Joan is all about the life of John the Baptist, and traditionally, it is at this time of the year to celebrate the arrival of summer. Of course, relatively speaking, summer weather has been here for months.
After a dinner (there was the choice between Italian and Mallorquin food), a band began to play, and the music was wonderful. It was a truly Spanish evening; even when the band broke into Achy-Breaky Heart in Spanish. Well, okay, so maybe that was a stretch, but it did sound far better in Spanish than I thought it ever did in English. It could have been the environment, it could have been the evening, it could have just been Puigpunyent. At a quarter after midnight, the band stopped playing and fireworks began to rocket off into the evening sky. And whilst the concept of fireworks in Puigpunyent may not be the same as it is in Barcelona, or London, or even Milwaukee; they were everything fireworks are supposed to be; loud as thunder, bright as a million flashbulbs popping in front of your eyes, and fabulous as they whizzed up into the night over the village. Actually, as the plaza where the festival occurred is only about 100 metres from La Antigua, the fireworks and the music completely filled my house. And after the fireworks were over, the music continued, but now with a different band. But for the rest of the night, the sounds that managed to filter through the walls of La Antigua were a melange of Rescue Me, Sex Bomb, I Will Survive and Lady Marmalade. It was then that I decided to go to sleep. Well, with the sound system of the band putting out what seemed to be triple digit decibles, at least I decided to try to sleep. A very special evening in a very special place. And the weekend wasn’t even over yet.
After moving into La Antigua, I had decided that I needed to have a little get together to celebrate my purchase, and several weeks ago, I picked Sunday to have it. Living in a village in Mallorca was a big driver in my planning – I wanted to serve typical Mallorquin dishes, and consequently, began to try to find ideas for recipes that I thought I would be able to make myself. I went online; I looked in cookbooks; I spoke to friends who I thought would know what would be good to have. After enough of trying to sort out what would be best, I went to my market here in the village to talk it all through with Guillermo. I, in my faltering Spanish, went through my planned menu and asked how many of these things I could get there. And then, in one of my best moments, told Guillem it would be a lot easier if he prepared it all and brought it to the house a few hours before the party was to begin. Which he did. The food was great; the friends were fabulous; and the day, whilst being a tad warm, was wonderful. I just finished loading the dishwasher and am pondering how many trips to the recycling centre I will need to make tomorrow to bin all the wine bottles that somehow were now empty. A(nother) good day in Puigpunyent.
festa de Sant Joan
quite close to the roof terrace, but simply spectacular
I bought a car yesterday. I know, in an earlier letter I talked about the complexities of the entire ‘automobile purchase’ bureaucracy in Spain, but I managed to come up with a ‘Plan B.’ In order to buy some time to retake the Spanish drivers licensing test (most probably in Spanish next time to avoid the translation problems), I gave in an figured out how to obtain an International Drivers License. And as soon as it arrived in my hands, I began to get back into my car search mode.
I was kind of torn between something expressly fun and exciting; and something that would be practical and comfortable. And after doing an exhaustive (well exhaustive in my terms) I found a nice sedan. Yes, I know…I ended up going down the practicality route. It is nice…a used SEAT Cordoba, made here in Spain several years ago. Three doors; five speeds; lots of trendy dials, some of which I will figure out in a year or two; a boot big enough to hold most of the Spanish Royal Family; an ironing board; and it is white. Yes, white. I do live on an island where the prevalent characteristic of weather is an intense sun that bestows light and heat (heat being the key word here) on everything. So a white car made sense to me. Besides, the last hire car I had was dark blue and it shows up dust and dirt and damn near everything that lands on it. So white it is.
In the morning I had returned my last hire car and took a taxi to the auto dealer where I purchased Amelia (yes, I am a firm believer that cars should have names to match their personalities, and this car is most appropriately named Amelia). I gave the dealer money, I signed lots of papers, Debbie (the daughter of Antonio the auto dealer) gave me the keys, and off Amelia and I went. Well, it didn’t exactly go that smoothly as it turned out. I did sign everything; I did have my auto insurance documentation with me; and I did give Debbie a cheque, but because the cheque was not a bank cheque, the two of us walked a couple of blocks to one of the branch office of my bank to get them to say the cheque was indeed good. Then I was given the keys to Amelia and drove off.
Our first trip was to El Corte Ingles, a Spanish department store that has two sites in Palma and has just about anything that one person could imagine. I like shopping at El Corte Ingles, but I usually do walk out of their stores with many more things that I went in for. And quite often, I am so busy shopping impulsively, I completely forget about what I went there for. But today, I was a man on a mission. I wanted to buy a picnic basket. On my last trip to London, I went shopping for them, and for some reason, had difficulty in finding exactly what I was looking for. Yes, I did find some pretty great ones, but I really didn’t want one that had the Burberry plaid pattern all over it, nor did I need one that had Harrod’s printed on everything inside of it. Besides, the ones I found in London were a tad on the expensive side (a ‘tad’ means two to three hundred pounds Sterling for a wicker-looking basket with a couple of cheesy plates in it). I did find one in El Corte Ingles (actually, they only had one style, but it was perfect) and after exercising my Visa card again, walked out with my new purchase. That was the good news. The bad news was that I now had to locate Amelia, parked somewhere underground near Plaza de España .
Palma, to help cope with the tens of thousands of cars that can’t seem to find a place to park, have built underground parking garages in many parts of the city. The problem is that the garages are huge and if you don’t pay serious attention to where your car is, you may spend days looking for it. As Amelia and I were new to each other, we hadn’t worked out any special ways for her to let me know through mental thought projection (yes, I just made that up) where she was. After a few well-intentioned excursions down aisles that were chocker-block with white cars that all looked sort of like Amelia, I finally found her and we drove home.
The distance between Palma and Puigpunyent is not that far, with only 14 kilometres separating the two cities (okay, one city, Palma - and one village, Puigpunyent). The road, one lane travelling each direction, is a bit narrow at times, and has more curves than the entrants in the Miss World contest, but it cuts through some of the most spectacular countryside of the island. As Amelia was whisking me along through the woods, suddenly I came up on something I had never seen before. There was a police car on the side of the road with its driver motioning for everyone who came along to slow down. And just around the next curve, here was a car that apparently had gotten a bit too close to one of the many trees that line the road. It did appear that no one was hurt, and I was quite impressed to see several police cars and a tow truck there; but the thing that stuck in my mind was to make sure that I had every emergency number plugged into my mobiles. You just never know when, out on the road, you might need assistance.
But for now, as soon as I made it past the road disruption, I geared down and went whizzing along through the woods and along the grape-vine laden fields in my new car.
Amelia, on the road
the ironing board
the road between Palma and Puigpunyent is...
simply fabulous as you approach Puigpunyent
the term 'scenic' does spring to mind
It was about nine o'clock in the evening and I was on the phone with one of the organisations I write business articles for in the UK when I heard the noise. It was almost like a car crash, except of course I realised that it couldn’t be that, as my street is so narrow that only one car can fit on it at any given time. And then I heard it again. It was a sound that I had heard before, but I just couldn’t place it for a few moments; and then I remembered…it was thunder. I rang off of the phone call and went bouncing outside to feel the gloriously cooling rain falling from the cloud-filled, soon-to-be-dark skies.
Rain. Oh My God. Rain. Haven’t seen rain since I had moved to Puigpunyent. My mind started flashing through all sorts of thoughts; good for the plants; a welcome washing down of the courtyard; a free car wash for Amelia; an opportunity to help re-fill the cistern…THE CISTERN!!!
La Antigua is a typical old village house, and most of them have cisterns that act as back-up water supplies. I have even been told that putting a cistern in is a requirement for many homes on the island as a way to deal with potential water shortages that do seem to occur every so often on this rather arid island. And as with most older homes, the cistern has a kind-of-sort-of semi-automatic refilling system.
A good idea I thought; to have a cistern that would collect rain water and store it for later use. And the system itself isn’t that complicated. Coming down from the roof-lines of the house, there are three drain down-spouts. One funnels off water that collect on the roof terrace; another one funnels off rain water and deposits it in the courtyard via an angled spout, or, funnels the rain water into the cistern. How innovative is that? So as I was standing in the doorway watching the rain change the appearance of the courtyard stones from dry and grey to grey with water on it (I know what you are saying, but it did look different), I realised that if I wanted to funnel the water into the cistern, I would have to venture out and move the connector pipe from direct courtyard soaking mode to cistern refilling mode. I thought I should wait a few minutes however, in order to have some of the rain water wash out all the dust and dirt from the roof channels, so I just stood there for a few minutes, not knowing how long I should wait until the water that would soon replenish my cistern was clean. I am not even sure how clean the water needs to be in a cistern, after all, I only use the cistern water supply for nourishing the garden some days; although I had been told when I purchased La Antigua, that there is a submersible pump and valve so I can send cistern water throughout the house in an emergency situation. After ten minutes, I felt I had waited long enough and out into the rain I went.
By now, it was dark; the combination of the rain clouds and the time of night were making it difficult to see exactly what I needed to do, so I came back in to get a torch. Hey, I was proud that at least I had a torch for just such occasions and even prouder that I could find it after only opening almost every drawer in the kitchen. Back out into the rain to manipulate the angled input pipe from one exhaust pipe (the courtyard) to the other one (the cistern). This wasn’t a difficult task, and with the overhead grape vines, I only became a bit wet. But I didn’t care; my cistern would be refilled, my car would be clean, my garden would be happily moist again. Life was good. And then, just as I managed to shift the connector from one pipe and to the other one, the rain stopped. I imagine that my cistern, if I could measure it, would now be almost a tenth of a millimetre more full. Okay, maybe a hundredth of a millimetre. I came in to dry off.
the pipe system, at night, in the rain
Sunday, a day of rest…or so they say it should be. Sunday is also the day for the big market in Consell, so off I went. The road to Consell is interesting, to say the least. Winding back and forth over the mountains behind Puigpunyent, the road is almost wide enough for two cars and the fact that it does wind back and forth more times than an epileptic snake makes it an interesting drive. Once over the top of the mountains, the road settles down to a smooth ribbon of tarmac all the way to Santa Maria. Then it is only another seven kilometres to Consell.
The market takes place amongst some industrial buildings on the south end of the town and by 1000 in the morning, the car park is chocker-block with cars. Walking through the throngs of a combination of tourists who come looking for something to do other than sit on the beach in front of their hotels recovering from the previous nights mass consumption of stimulants, and locals for whom the market is just another place to socialise.
I was there on a mission. Having seen one too many home magazines from Spain, Italy and France, I was beginning to look for bits to put in my courtyard. Specifically, I wanted to find some decorated pottery and classically designed floor tiles. With an anticipated number of local vendors approaching fifty, I was sure that I would be able to find what I was looking for. And after seeing a melange of discarded computer kit that was out of date several years ago, newly antiqued furniture pieces, and other forms of bric-brac that one might encounter when strolling through a recycling centre (some of which I have no idea what they were for), I finally did locate the vendors that were selling what I was looking for. I immediately went into bargaining mode.
Trying to barter with locals who have seen every type of consumer, and already apparently graduated from the school of ‘pick a price, double it, then be willing to haggle back and forth until the price is where you wanted it in the first place,’ engaging in the back and forth was a challenge, but great fun. The ending score (although I never did locate the exact things I was looking for, I did make purchases from three different vendors) was vendors 1, me 2 (or so they made me think). All in all, it was great, and although I never did get the pottery or the floor tiles I had gone for, I did go home with five fabulous green glass bottles that are now happily resting in the courtyard.
The previous week, I had gone to the post office to send a letter to my insurance company in Palma. As I did remember that they were only open from 0800 to 1000, I walked into the village centre shortly after 0900 with my letter firmly in hand. Luckily, I was the only customer that day, and after watching the clerk distribute incoming post into those cute little shelf compartments that most post offices had, the clerk came over to see what I wanted. Having been there before, the clerk recognised me and asked how I was. I replied that I was fine, very happy living in Puigpunyent, and had a letter to post to an address in Palma. She weighed the envelope (following a tried and true process, but as the envelope only contained a single sheet of paper, I didn’t think that it would even register on the scale), she said that it would require 40 cents worth of postage. Bueno, I replied, and passed over a five euro note. Hmmm, it appeared she said as she looked first at the five euro note, and then the almost completely empty cash drawer. It was apparent that the options were minimal. I could walk back home and return with 40 cents; I could walk to a store and get some change; the clerk could do either of my choices; or, I realised, there was another option.
Puigpunyent is not exactly Palma, and the entire life-style is a bit more relaxed. In the short time I have lived here, I have realised that this is a real community, and we all live together in the community. I offered a suggestion (in my best, but still marginal Spanish). Why didn’t she post my letter, and then in a day or so, just put my change – when she had it – in an envelope and deliver it when there was something addressed to La Antigua. Not a problem she said, and I walked back home happy in the belief that I was making more connections in my choice of a village to live in. the next day, nothing came to my house. Fair enough. The day after that, nothing. The following day, still nothing. And today, I received a nice bill from Vodafone (nice being a courteous way of referencing big business’ way of getting lots of money for me using a phone), and a beige envelope with 4.60 euros in it. I smiled.
hmmm, you sure don't see too many of these anymore
my valley, from the roof terrace
Life has proved not to be dull in Puigpunyent. As a matter of fact, this summer, Puigpunyent seems to have become the centre of the island universe for entertainment. I received another flyer from the local government that listed all the upcoming events in the village, and was pleasantly surprised by what I found.
I know that many of my friends were concerned that I would just spend all of my time in the village hidden away in La Antigua typing – sort of the hermit lifestyle that we introverts quite often lean towards. But I have been assimilating into village life...in my own way.
Two weeks ago was the ‘Teatre a La Placa de Son Bru,’ which translated to a play that was put on in the plaza within eye-sight (and ear-shot) of La Antigua. Okay, so the play was done in Mallorquin and I had no flippin’ clue what it was about, other than the kept playing music from movies that I recognised, but seeing as how it was two weeks ago, I have completely forgotten what they were. But I do remember from the applause that the crowd in the plaza seemed to enjoy the play.
Last night was a jazz concert. And luckily, it didn’t take place next to my house. It is nice that some community events take place so close to La Antigua, but the sound systems they use apparently were designed for Woodstock, and it is possible to hear the sounds so well as they come wafting through the air, that even when inside my home, with the windows closed, and my head buried under a pillow, it can be a bit deafening. But the jazz took place in the plaza in front of the local government offices in the centre of Puigpunyent. It said in the flyer that the performance was to be by the Molly Duncan Quartet. Okay, I assumed it would be at least one woman in the group (the reference to ‘Molly’ was my tip off), but Molly turned out to be the nickname of Malcolm Duncan, and he and three other musicians warmed the already warm (and humid) crowd that had assembled. A nice evening.
The next event scheduled is set for the 23 of July and this time it will be at the ‘Polisportiu,’ which is the community sports centre. The sports centre is piece of land consisting of the pool, a football pitch, tennis courts, a café and bar, and a set of table-tennis tables and swing-sets for children. It is nice – well, the pool is the only part I have experienced so far and that is very nice – but I have no clue where the event will actually be. In the flyer, it says that the event will be a showing of ‘The Incredibles,’ and as the write-up said ‘Los Increibles,’ I am sure it will be in shown in Mallorquin. I don’t care, I am going anyway, if for no other reason that to see where they will put the big movie screen (assuming they have a big movie screen). I think I need to find out what the Mallorquin word is for ‘popcorn’ this week. Oh yes, I almost forgot. The last community sponsored event this month will be a magician performing at the sports centre. I wonder if he will gesture hypnotically and rain with cooler weather will materialise?
I spent yesterday working on a new project. When I moved to La Antigua, in a corner of the courtyard was this little upholstered stool. The wood was old and weathered and the upholstered seat had clearly seen better days, but it did look like it was something to save. After a few days, I had placed a large potted plant on the seat, but after a few weeks, I realised that the upholstery was a lost cause, so I took it off. Not a big job – just take off the four screwed that held the seat onto the legs, but as the screws had apparently been rusting for the past 100 years or so, it was a knuckle-cruncher. But I did manage to get it off, and underneath the seat was a wood platform. So I put the plant on the little platform until I could figure out what I wanted to do with the stool. And Saturday morning, I had figured it out.
I like mosaic work, and after spending several years in Barcelona – the home of Gaudi, one of the masters at using decorative mosaic work – I had made my decision. No, my plan wasn’t to some bizarre Gaudi-like design. I decided to make a surface of small smooth stones. That was the good news. The bad news is that I didn’t have any. So I got into the car and drove to a local DYI store and found a vast assortment of ceramic tiles, and eventually, small stones that could be used as tiles. I knew how many square centimetres the surface area of the stool was, so I did some rough calculations of how many stones I would need and, after buying them, raced back home full of anticipation of a soon-to-be-completed stone mosaic stool.
I had done quite a bit of tiling and mortar work when reforming a house I owned in America, and other than the mess it all generated, didn’t remember what fun it was to mix the mortar. Well, just mixing the mortar isn’t bad; getting the right combination of water and powder is the pain. And as it had been such a long time since I had done this, I think I miscalculated a bit. Okay, a lot. I put a couple of litres of water into a bucket, and then gently began to pour some of the mortar powder in. And then some more, alternating stirring the slurry until it was the right consistency and gently pouring in more powder. It didn’t take too long before I had dumped the entire 5 kilo bag of beige mortar powder into the bucket. And seeing as how my little stirring stick promptly broke when it ran into the mass of powder that seemed to be solidifying rapidly under water, I jammed my hand in to make sure that the solution was just right. Hmmm, an interesting sensation. I swirled the solution; I kneaded the muck; and mashed my fingers amongst the quickly hardening slop until my hand was resembling the incredible hulk. I had placed the stones on the surface where I thought they would look the best before the mixing festival, and so I was ready to pour the liquid in between them, filling up the voids created by the stones. This process lasted about two seconds before I just ended up pouring the solution all over the top of the stones. I took my already beige and mortar encrusted hand to smooth the mortar out and then looked back into the bucket. It was almost still full of mortar. Ooops. I think I made too much.
The stool, or should I say, my new stone-covered mosaic table, looks great. And I am sure that in another couple of weeks I will be able to chip the rest of the dried mortar out of my bucket. As for now, I think I will just go back and type for a while.
writing, writing, writing
one of the guest rooms
from the master bedroom
ferns in the courtyard
stone mosaic table-top
Life in Puigpunyent is becoming normal. Well admittedly, normal for one person may not seem normal to all people, but for me, life in the village is becoming my version of normal. And whilst some might think that I don’t do anything, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Yesterday was a pretty typical day…typing, doing house stuff, and painting. I have been working for quite a while on writing two books for a UK publisher on, yes, you guessed it, business. I had completed the first book several weeks ago, and yesterday managed to complete the second book. (I had been writing them concurrently, which is an interesting experience). So after finishing the writing and checking, and checking, and checking, I rang the publisher to let them know of my progress and found out I needed to reformat them both into double-spacing in order for their editors to do their ‘red pencil’ job on them. Okay, not a problem, but changing a two 300 page books currently set at 1-1/2 line spacing to double line spacing does muck up all the formatting I had done. But on the other hand, the 300 pages skyrocketed to over 400 pages for each book. (of course, now I have to carry all of this to London tomorrow when I go to meet with a client). I put them both on a CD-ROM, and drove into Palma to find a printer who could whack them out for me. I suppose I could have just run them through my trendy combination printer-scanner-copier, but I was pretty conscious that it would take longer to print them at home than it did to write them, so a trip to Palma seemed advisable.
During the day, I had several visitors. First, Jordi and his son Tomeu came over. Jordi is an electrician who lives in Puigpunyent, and because I thought La Antigua could use some electrical changes, I had asked him to be the one to make them – it is always nice to deal with the people from your own community. Jordi and I explained to Tomeu what I wanted done exactly (always a challenge, as Jordi and his son were both born in Puigpunyent and their English is non-existent, and I, not born in anyplace even remotely near Spain…well, you know). Jordi had to leave to do whatever other jobs he had, and Tomeu and I went at it. Okay, so the reality is that Tomeu did anything that remotely had anything to do with electricity, and I used the time and opportunity to practise my Spanish.
Two lights that didn’t work were simply a matter of connecting some bad wiring, but the major accomplishment was the connecting up of a light switch that was never connected to anything. Yes, drilling through walls, pulling wires through buried tubing, making lots of dust, and for me, learning new ways to say things that I am sure Tomeu didn’t learn at church. But now I have a functioning light in a previously dark corner of the kitchen.
After Tomeu finished, Dani came over. Dani is the proprietor of an internet café in Palma who I know, and he came over to sort out some of the wireless problems I have been enduring at La Antigua. Not a major problem – the wireless function for my computers does work fine, but the almost metre thick walls play serious havoc with the signal roaming through the entire house. So after installing another signal transmitter thingy, I can now be connected online in every room of the house. I know, some readers are probably wondering, ‘why does he need to be connected all over the house?’ The answer is because I am who I am, and sometimes it is nicer to be doing my computer stuff in the kitchen whilst waiting for dinner to be ready, or sitting out in the courtyard enjoying the warmth of the sun. I don’t think I will be doing this too much during the day however, as the sun is so bright I can’t see anything on the computer screen. Perhaps after the sun goes down a bit. And besides, many of my friends are as anal retentive about connectability as I am, so now when they visit, they can get their emails from one of the guest rooms.
After sweeping the courtyard, which is a daily activity (the bougainvillea is spectacular, but every day, flowers fall from it onto the courtyard floor, creating a wonderous sight of redish-purple flower petals blanketing most of the stone tiles - visualise the adverts for American Beauty, but without the blond cheerleader), I resumed working on a painting for some friends in Palma. John and Ms. Ely already have one of my paintings hanging on their walls, but had asked if I would do another one for them. I replied that I would be more than happy to do so, if they would buy me the canvas to paint on. They did, so I have been laying down paint almost every night for a while. And last night, I finished it.
And then I just sat and relished the peace and extraordinarily mystical beauty of an evening in Puigpunyent.
new lighing in the kitchen
soon to be in the McDonald Collection
a courtyard evening
I remember sending an email to my boys (who still live in America) on 12 September, 2001. It was the day after the World Trade Centre attack, and having witnessed the destruction of the buildings on a video link in Amsterdam where I was, I felt I needed to share something with them. In part of my email I said, ‘I hope you can remember what life was like on the 10th, because life as we know it would never be the same again.’ It isn’t, and today, I was on the edge of the new world we all live in.
I had flown to London to attend a business meeting last week, and after arriving at Heathrow airport, I went downstairs to catch the Heathrow Express into the city. After managing to get onboard just as the train’s doors were about to close, I sat there for five minutes, trying to figure out why the train hadn’t zoomed out of the terminal toward Paddington Station on its almost always prompt timetable. And then there was a policeman walking through the coaches telling everyone to evacuate the train immediately. On the platform, police had a young man wearing a large rucksack sprawled out, and clearly, there were concerns about what was in the rucksack. Eventually, we all were permitted back on the train and it departed into the city. After the arrival at Paddington, I managed to find a taxi to take me to my hotel, and on that part of the journey, found out about the extremely heightened state of security in London.
Living in Puigpunyent, we are very conscious of what goes on in the outside world. But seeing news alerts and broadcasts about terrorism threats is different than being caught in the middle of them. Life has indeed changed, for all of us. And I fear it will never be the way it was ever again. And I learned, once again, we just don’t know about tomorrow so…well I think you know.
So, I am back in La Antigua. My flight back from London was interesting, as always. But the plane was chocker with tourists coming to Mallorca and the ever-present sun and warmth. And if all the tourists plugging up the airport queues weren’t enough, I was bringing home a large pastel I purchased whilst in London. Not a pretty sight; a briefcase, a little trolley that I pack my clothes in, and now I was manhandling this framed picture too. Not even sure where to put it yet in the house, but I thnk it will end up on one of the guest rooms walls.
This morning, I experienced more of the Spanish way of doing things. Shortly after purchasing La Antigua, a friend had mentioned to me that wills drafted in countries other than Spain were either not valid here, or at very minimum, fraught with problems. Several weeks ago, I had met with a solicitor here to find out what I needed to do, and before going to London, had taken him a copy of my current will. Alejandro looked at it and smiled, mentioning the fact that in Spain, all the pages weren’t necessary. Here what is needed is a simple document that states that all my possessions simply are transferred to my sons. That’s it. So this morning I went to see Alejandro again to sign my new will. In the past, when I had drawn up a will, it was typed up and signed by myself and witnesses. But in Spain, the process is that a solicitor draws it up – in my case, both double-spaced pages – and then I sign it in front of a ‘Nortario’ (a notary). And because of the legal system – solicitors work privately, and notarios are publicly employed – we had to walk several blocks to the notario’s office for the big signing…which lasted about three minutes. All done and dusted, and on its way to be filed in Madrid with everyone elses wills in Spain. I did some small shopping at a great store in Palma and raced home.
As luck would have it, when I walked through the courtyard gate into La Antigua, there was the post laying on the courtyard floor, and with it, a notification from DHL. I had missed the delivery, which was too bad, because it said they had attempted a delivery from China. And I missed it, meaning that I would have to wait until tomorrow to see what it was. Not sure, but I think (and hope) that it is a copy of one of the books I have written that is being re-published in Taiwan for the Chinese market. A month ago I received several copies of the ‘formal Chinese version’ of the book, but I had been told in London that copies of the ‘simplified Chinese version’ of the book was on its way to me. And whilst it will be good to have it, I am sure that I won’t have any more clue as to what it says than the formal Chinese version.
The DHL package was the simplified version of the book, but after looking at it, I am more mystified than before about what is 'formal' Chinese and what is 'simplified.' I think I will stick with Spanish.
the new pastel
formal Chinese version (I think)
simplified Chinese version (I think)
Okay, so maybe Puigpunyent may not exactly qualify as a ‘city,’ it does certainly qualify as summer here. And to steal a quote from the Lovin’ Spoonful, “Hot town, summer in the city; Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty.” When I had purchased La Antigua, one of the things that I thought was highly attractive was the part of the courtyard where the shade provided by the Yellow Jasmine, Orange tree, Grape vines, and Bougainvillea created an outside room that I fell in love with. I put some nice wicker chairs out there and a table or two and made the space into one of my favourite ‘rooms.’ But over the past weeks whilst sitting out in the shade, I kept noticing that the ‘ceiling’ of my new ‘room’ was a disaster. According to Pau, my magical mystery gardener, the previous owners had given him explicit instructions to not touch the vines, branches, and other green things that had merged together and become more entwined than teenagers in the back seat of a Chevy at the drive-in.
I have talked to Pau about this spaghetti-like mess several times when he has come over to spray my grapevines, and we agreed that in autumn, he would come and clean it all out. Pau’s idea was to cut away at least ½ of it all, with the intent being that next spring, it would all grow back, but much more organised and healthy. The idea made sense to me, but this morning, there I was; sitting outside, looking up at the mass of dead stuff above my head and decided to not wait until autumn. Did I call Pau? Not on your life. I went into the laundry room and grabbed my leather gardening gloves and a branch shears and had at it. (Yes, I do own gardening gloves; hell, I even own a trowel). So up on a chair I went (no, I don’t own a ladder…yet) and began hacking away. Two hours and about 35 litres of perspiration later, I had filled up several 200-litre garbage bags and began to sweep up the courtyard. It was hot, it is summer, and the back of my neck was dirty and gritty; but the ‘ceiling’ of the outside space is beginning to take shape. I wonder if Pau will even notice?
After an extremely long and cooling shower, I was on a roll. Last week I had completed two serious projects that I had been working on: I finished writing the two books I had been contracted to produce, and I had put the finishing touches on a large acrylic that I had done for friends here on the island. I suppose it should have been a great feeling to know that I had completed them, but part of me was wondering, ‘what project will I work on next?’ Over the weekend, I had figured out what it was, and after the jungle-like episode outside, I began. I do like to paint, and for some time, I had been thinking about painting on pottery. Nothing too terribly cheesy; but I had done some water-colours whilst recovering from my encounter with the evil GBS last year that I thought might look nice on plates or pitchers. So I had purchased four large ceramic plates from an art supply store in Palma that would be suitable to test out my new project idea. It seemed like such an easy plan – buy the pottery; sketch out what I wanted to paint on the pottery; paint it; and then take it back to the shop to be fired (I do have a fab oven, but to fire pottery, apparently it needs to be at a temperature of about 1250 degrees, my oven doesn’t quite make it that high I think). Step one; buy the pottery – done. Step two; sketch out the design on the pottery – done. Step three; apply the paint in the aforementioned design – done (more or less). Step four; get the pottery fired in the shops apparently steroid-laden oven – tomorrow. I can’t wait to see how they come out, and as the process involves actually painting the picture on the plates, then covering it with a clear glaze that actually goes on quite pink in colour, I can’t even see what I painted now. But hopefully, the pink will turn clear in the firing process (well they told me it would), and I will end up with some samples so I can figure out if this is a good idea or not. Stay posted for an update.
By now it was almost 1600, and I thought I heard a faint cat-like noise coming from the roof terrace. Well, as I know that there is a cat that seems to enjoy vaulting over my south wall and spending time on the terrace, I assumed that it actually was a cat. And I don’t like cats. To be fair, it isn’t that I just don’t like them; I am allergic to them. So I flew into the house, scampered up the stairs and flung open the door to the terrace, only to find it empty, except for the throng of Oleanders that I had put on it in big pots a few weeks ago. No cat. Shit. But then again, I really didn’t have a plan, other than trying to convince him (or her) to stay away from La Antigua. I have asked friends and neighbours about how to keep them away, but the suggestions have sort of covered the gambit of dealing with pesky animals.
Suggestion 1 was to make it a pet – not a good suggestion for someone who is allergic to cats. Suggestion 2 was to put out some poison. That did seem a bit harsh – I don’t hate cats, I just don’t want them around. Suggestion 3 was to sprinkle pepper where he was walking. The logic of this (I actually did ask why) was that the cat would get the pepper on his cute little paws and not like it. With any luck at all, the cat will associate the bad pepper experience with my roof terrace and stay away. But as an avid fan of The Far Side years ago, I thought I recalled that the only thing dumber than a cat was a rock, so it seemed like a daft idea. None-the-less, I have sprinkled pepper several times along the wall that the sneaky little furry thing comes over, with the total result so far is that the pepper blows around in the breeze as I am sprinkling it and I end up sneezing a lot. Then there was suggestion 4 – when I see the cat, I should spray it with water. I have heard that cats don’t like getting sprayed with water, so on the surface that seemed like a good idea. But as the cat has not been neighbourly enough to provide me with a schedule of his visits, I think that this idea isn’t the best either. So that left suggestion 5 - get a dog. At first, this did sound like a nice idea to think about, but then I realised that few dog breeds are competent to edit all the writing I do, and when I do bugger off to London, he (or she) would be alone and probably wrack up big bills to Lassie Fan Club chat rooms on the internet. And if I did have a dog, I would end up sweeping up more than just bougainvillea leaves in the courtyard. I think I will stop at the market tomorrow and buy some more pepper first.
my favourite room
the master bedroom
copyright 2005, James B. Rieley