Spain is clearly not England, and even more clearly, it is not the same as the United States. Coming from the latter country, I was raised with a certain sense of ‘how things are done.’ I spent a half-century in a climate where business, or more appropriately, making enough money to live at least as good as the bloke next door, was everything. And when I moved to the United Kingdom, I felt like I was in the same environment, only on then the environment was on steroids. Work, work, work. And when you come from one of these environments, working at the speed of light becomes the norm. And now I live in Spain. And it is different.
I first encountered the difference in Barcelona a few years ago whilst living on Angelina. Living on a boat suited me; after all, everyday required working on the teak or some other boaty project. And as with most projects, this required going off most days to purchase supplies with which I could do the work. The first day I had to do this, I just assumed that my teak-cleaner supplier was closed for some really great reason, but I had no idea that it was because it was the part of the day set aside for siesta. Siesta – a noun that seems to mean that you get to close your shop from about 1:30 to 4:30 pm because there are more important things to do than make money…or something like that. I can imagine that siesta was a great idea back in the pre-air-conditioner days, when summer in Spain was blistering hot mid-day. But we do have air-conditioning today and the stores still close each afternoon. Okay, whilst I am still mystified about the whole siesta thing, I am used to it. But then there is the whole August thing.
Whilst living on Angelina, I had a mechanic do some engine work for me – I don’t do that whole greasy engine thing well, so I hired a mechanic which enabled me to stand around and look the part of a boat owner instead – and the work entailed taking apart the fuel injection system on the engine. Not a big problem, it only took him an afternoon to crawl into a space the size of a shoebox, but then he said that he needed to take the injectors to an injector-rebuild shop. That was the good news. The bad news was that it was the last day of July. An anticipated two-day job took a month. Why? Because most of Spain closes for the month of August.
So here I am in Puigpunyent, and whilst I know about these little cultural things – siestas and the August holiday time – I still am plagued by them. Remember the last letter? The one in which I talked about my ceramic painting adventure? Well yesterday I drove into Palma to have my newly painted plates fired in some intense oven that cranks out enough heat to melt most of Antarctica, and found out that they are closed for the entire month. And then in the afternoon, I suddenly got the urge to walk to my local market (the only market in Puigpunyent) at two o’clock, and of course, it was closed for siesta. I must be acclimating to living here however, because after the attempted visit to my market, I just went home and fell asleep. It is a cultural thing…and I like it.
Living in a different country than one is born in can result in different views of what is ‘right.’ I can remember when I moved to London years ago. An American friend of mine wrote to me and asked what it was like to drive on the wrong side of the road. My response was that in England, they don’t drive on the wrong side of the road; they drive on the other side of the road. There is no right or wrong when living in a different culture than you are used to; there is however, the opportunity to experience new ways of looking at things.
Today Jordi and Tomeu came over to install a ceiling fan outside in the courtyard. Whilst my ‘room’ outside is wonderful, on days when there is little air movement, I realised that simply by hanging a ceiling fan from the structure that supports all the grape vines, I could make the ‘room’ even nicer. And although it wasn’t quite the easy job it appeared to be – I had been able to assemble the fan and hang it from the structure, it did take Tomeu to weave electrical cable around and connect the fan to electricity. Of course, it does not look a bit like an old DC-3 is landing through the grape vines. Now the ‘room’ is complete…until I come up with another idea of how to make La Antigua even more comfortable.
the roof terrace
It's back. Yes, it’s that time again; the veritable good news v. bad news. It is…hold your breath…festival time in Puigpunyent once again. I had been tipped off about the mid-August weeklong festival, but had almost forgotten completely about it, until I heard the sounds wafting over my courtyard wall this afternoon. I had been sitting in the courtyard, working on my computer (well, it is what I do), when I heard the sounds of drums, fife, and bagpipes. I kept typing for a few minutes until it set in; drum, fife, and bagpipe? I put my computer down and opened the gate only to see absolutely nothing…but I could still hear the sounds. Down my street I went, and sure enough, around the corner was a marching band. Okay, it was two men, one playing a bagpipe, and the other playing a drum and a fife. No, I am not kidding about this. They were being followed down the street by a group of children, each passing out flyers about the upcoming festival. Perhaps the two guys are the Pied Pipers of Puigpunyent? I was given one of the flyers, and now I know what the festival will entail. So, cutting straight to the chase because I know you are all on the edge of your seats, here is the line up for the big August festival.
8 August: the semi-finals of Petanca, at the sports centre. Petanca is sort of like lawn bowling, with opposing teams rolling heavy balls at each other...sort of. I just may pass on this event, having seen it quite a few times whilst living in Barcelona. But then again…it might be worth seeing here.
9 August: the semi-finals of a series of football matches; followed by Cinema a la Fresca, also at the sports centre. No word on what the movie will be, but from the name, the village must have managed to acquire sponsorship from a soft-drink company. Or maybe it will, like last time, just be held outside. Probably the latter…but now I am thirsty. Hang on, I need to get something to drink.
10 August: at 1100, the finals of a children’s Ping Pong tournament. At 1930, more football, and at 2030, a presentation by Tomas Vibot, the author of “I Jornades d’Estudis Locals.” Sorry, no clue, and whilst my online translator programme does do Spanish to English, it doesn’t do Mallorquin at all. Your guess is as good as mine. At 2230 is the Gran Ballada Popular at La Placa de Son Bru. This appears to be a large dance…and it is at the plaza that is very near my house. It will undoubtedly be a late, noisy night for me. Maybe I should find some cotton for my ears.
11 August: amongst other activities, there will be the seniors final Ping Pong tournament at 1900 at the sports centre, and at 2230, (oh my God), the IV Gran Nit de Play Back…next door. And guess what? We can vote on our favourite songs via SMS text messaging. Whooooweeeee. And at 2300 (that would be quite late you realise) is the Gran Nit de Rock. No, I don’t think it will be the Corrs. A rock concert; almost next door; loud, pounding, heavy metal; yikes!!! I think I will need to buy a couple of kilos of cotton to stick in my ears before this one.
12 August: Not exactly sure – the flyer is printed in Mallorquin and my Mallorquin is about as good as my ability to run the mile in under 12 seconds – but it appears that it will be a series of exhibitions of paintings and sculptures, followed by more music and skits. Probably next door…(note to myself, buy more cotton).
13 August: the finals of the children’s Ping Pong (Ping Pong does seem to be a big thing here in Puigpunyent apparently), followed by the finals of the football, a Café Concert (this must be a music dinner) and a magician’s performance. The magician is good, and I will do this one for sure, and hopefully, he will be able to gesture hypnotically and restore the hearing that I will probably lose the night before.
14 August: at 1100 is the Festa Aquatica (yes, this will be held at the pool); the Festa Amb Inflables (at the football pitch); and the finals of Petanca. Hmmmm, more Petanca. And at 2300, it is the Gran Orquesta Mallorca. I am assuming that this will be more than a drum, fife, and bagpipe, but will let you know later.
15 August: at 1900 you can either attend a football match, or the finals of senior women’s tennis. At 2230, it is a play called ‘Noces D’Argent’, and yes, it will be next door to my house. And even more exciting (???) is the fact that at midnight, there is a programme for residents, but they must be over 14 years old to attend. What? I always thought that 14 year-olds should be in bed by ten o’clock at night to begin with. Oh, that’s right…that is what I was told by my parents…who weren’t from Puigpunyent. Never mind. Note to myself: buy stock in companies that make cotton balls.
16 August: at 1800 it is the senior men’s finals of tennis, followed at 2130 by the Sopar A La Fresca. To be honest, I have no clue what this is, but it will be outside, and should be good – you need to buy tickets in advance (3 euros for residents and 6 euros for non-residents. Place your orders now)
Okay, so let’s do a little recap; nine days that are chocker with activities for the community – good. Activities for young and old – good. Various forms of things to do - good. Rock concerts near my house – hmmm.
Will I attend a lot of these activities that are put on by the village? Damn right I will. Part of living in the village, is ‘living’ in the village. And maybe whilst I am there, someone can help me understand the drum, fife, and bagpipe thing.
the Pied Pipers of Puigpunyent
Living in Mallorca, or probably more appropriately, ON Mallorca, enables me to find the real culture of the island. No, not the culture of places like Magaluf – which is more like Birmingham that Birmingham is, or Arenal, which I thought was just a suburb of Munich when I first went there. But the real Mallorca; and to do that, one needs to go hang out with Mallorquins. This is quite a challenge for me because, whilst my Spanish is good enough to be able to communicate with just about everyone I need to talk to, my ability to communicate in Mallorquin is…well, it is about as good as my ability to do a triple-reverse somersault wazoo flip-thingy for the Circ du Soleil whilst wrapped in day-glo spandex. But learning to communicate better is important to me, so I work at it.
Remember the ceramic plate-painting extravaganza? Well, the other day, in my frustration of not being able to get them fired in the ceramic oven at the store where I bought the plates, I drove to Palma and asked just about everyone I knew in Santa Catalina if they knew anyone that has an oven that was made for firing ceramics. I came up empty, but whilst there, I decided to ring my ex-landlord (and artist) Biel. Biel and his wife Catalina have lived on the island all of their lives, and we got along rather well when I was living in the building they owned in Palma. And although neither of them speaks any English, we have always been able to understand each other. So I rang their mobile and as things would have it, Catalina answered. Catalina is adorable, but she does speak rather quickly – when I was renting the flat from them, Catalina would be the one who would stop over on occasion to sort out any requests I had, and invariably, I would end up saying to her, ‘habla mas despacio por favor Catalina’ (could you please speak a bit slower). She would smile, and start again, pronouncing each word as if I was a four-year old, and in terms of language, that is probably what I was at the time. But within a half-sentence, Catalina would be deluging me with the Mallorquin language at a speed that a U.N. translator would have trouble keeping up with. Regardless, as it was Catalina on the phone, I accepted the challenge and asked her if she or Biel knew of anyone who could fire ceramics. She said that she would have Biel ring me back; which I took as either Biel may know someone, or she had no clue as to what I was asking for.
The next day, Biel did ring back and I asked him if he knew anyone with an oven and he said he thought he did and would ring me back in a few minutes. Which he did. So last Thursday, I drove to the airport to meet my new combination Mallorquin friend and ceramic oven provider. Barbara works for Iberia airlines as she was getting off her Sunday shift at 1400, had told me to bring my plates to the airport with me. We met; we exchanged pleasantries, we talked about Puigpunyent, we discussed the type of glaze I had used on the plates, and she said that she would take them with her and fire them in the next day or two. I was told to expect a call from her when they are ready. All this without using any English. I felt good about resolving the plate situation, but even better that my Spanish flowed from my mouth as if I was actually thinking in Spanish, albeit probably not that well.
I think my biggest problem in Spanish is the conjugation of verbs. It hasn’t seemed that difficult to learn the root verbs, but learning the conjugations for them is about as difficult as me believing that the inquisition was the first example of good customer service. It would be bad enough to learn all the conjugations for all the verbs (assuming I even knew all the verbs) if there was one rule that applied to all of them, but the reality is that the number of conjugation rules is only exceeded by the number of exceptions to those rules. And as I don’t seem to have the right level of attention span to learn from Michel Thomas or some other language teacher that attempts to help people learn via CD-ROMS, the best way for me to get with the programme is to listen and talk to Spaniards.
The other day, this method kicked in big time when two Catalan friends from Barcelona who are in Mallorca for a few days came to visit me and see La Antigua. Neither Afrika or her cousin speak any English, but we managed to talk for a couple of hours about her late husband, Josep Maria, about Barcelona, about Mallorca, and just about everything else that we could think of. Josep Maria owned a ferreteria / ironmongery / hardware store (pick on that makes sense in the language you are most comfortable with) and I had happened to be in his store the day he collapsed and was taken to hospital. We had visited with him whilst he was there, and were saddened when he passed away. Josep Maria was a very special friend, and everyone who knew him misses him, even several years later. Afrika, her daughter, and the other friends from the store and I have kept in touch, and it was very special for her and her cousin to come and visit whilst on the island. And if their visit weren’t special enough, Afrika brought me a ceramic pitcher from Barcelona. The visit was great, the present completely unexpected and wonderful, but just being able to communicate for a couple of hours was the ultimate treat. I must admit, I did ask several times for them to speak a bit slower, but I know that most Spaniards believe that Brits speak English way too fast as well.
Language does seem to be a relative thing: when I lived in Houston, I was amazed the first time I heard, ‘howy’alldoin?’ and ‘y’allgoindowntothemall?’ come out sounding like one long word. I think the trick for me, or at least the way I have been able to learn to understand my Spanish friends is to not become fixated on one or two words in a sentence. Screw that. Sure I may not understand every single word that is said to me in a one-breath sentence of two hundred words, but by just listening to what is being said and focusing on the whole sentence, I am able to get the drift of what is being said; and at the same time, be able to learn how to use another word or two when I speak.
It was different when I was in ‘translation mode.’ I would listen to a Mallorquin speaking and try to get every single word sorted out in my mind. This, of course, did slow down my ability to comprehend what was being said, mainly because I would get stuck on every fourth or fifth word whilst trying to remember what the words were in English. Not only did it slow down my ability to understand what was being said, but by the time I would finally figure out what the speaker was saying, he would be about six sentences further along, leaving me in his literary dust. And then there was the time when I clearly mis-understood what someone was saying – no doubt because I was lost in the translation processs – that I began to think he was telling me that Generalissimo Franco was alive and well and making paella in my favourite neighbourhood restaurant.
Actually, I don’t even get too worked up about language anymore. I just do what I can, with what I know, and keep trying to learn more. Of course, I have used a secret weapon – trust me, this has worked rather well for me. I simply begin speaking to someone new with the incredibly well pronounced, ‘Lo siento, pero mi espanol es muy malo’ (I am sorry, but my Spanish is not that good). Then I kick in with my butchered conjugations and disjointed sentences. Perhaps it is a pity reaction on the part of those I am speaking with, but at least they do know I am trying to speak the language of the country I have chosen to live in.
plate test 1
plate test 2
sunlight and shadows in the courtyard
Miscellany item 1: Robin MacNeil, of the old MacNeil-Leher Report on America’s PBS, when asked what it felt like to become an American citizen, said, ‘you never more feel like a guest.’ And these are the same sentiments I have about being British and living in Europe. When I made my choice to become a British citizen, I knew that it would take a while before I really felt that I was part of a different country. But it wasn’t until I settled in Puigpunyent that I really have felt that I am part of Europe. Okay, so it might seem a bit confusing to some of my friends – an American by birth, who is now a British citizen, living in Mallorca Spain. But it does work for me, and in reality, I am very comfortable here. One of the things I like the most is that Puigpunyent is a sleepy village…most of the time. But this week is the annual Puigpunyent Festival and the ‘sleepy’ part seems to have disappeared temporarily.
This evening’s entertainment was titled, ‘Gran Nit de Rock’, or as most people within a 3,000 kilometre radius would have described it, ‘louder than standing next to a 747 engine.’ It was spectacular. There were several live bands that demonstrated their ability to exceed the limits of the human ear drum, and all on stage only fifty metres from my house. Even though the programme didn’t even begin until eleven thirty at night, I hustled myself to the plaza to take part in my community celebrations. The plaza was filled with young children (running around undoubtedly with the clear intent of driving their parents a bit crazy); teen-agers (trying to avoid even being seen with their parents); hard-core rock and rollers (trying to absorb the sounds that not even a lead lined brain could avoid); parents (looking a bit perplexed at it all and wondering when they could go home); and grandparents (probably trying to think what they did wrong in raising their children). And then there was me; standing listening to a local band singing Paperback Writer in English; and just absorbing it all. I must admit that after an hour or so, I did head home, safe in the knowledge that I would still be able to hear the music – and oh my God, could I hear the music.
Miscellany item 2: Living here certainly is different than living in the big city…any big city. Yes, it is true I don’t have access to all the things that go on in big cities; yes, it is true I am not even able to see all the big city lights, but everything is a trade off. Whilst I don’t have big city lights, I do have a clear view on the spectacular evening sky. Tonight, the view became even more spectacular. I was just about to go over to the plaza for the festival when my phone rang. It was Afrika, who called from Barcelona to let me know that she just saw on telly that tonight it would be the best time to see the ‘llubia de las estrellas.’ Afrika, as you know by now, doesn’t speak any English, and her Catalan comes across at near the speed of sound; but when she said ‘llubia de las estrellas,’ it caught my attention. Llubia de las estrellas translates literally to ‘rain of the stars,’ so I asked her if she was telling me that some stars would be flying across the sky, and she said yes. A hot night for shooting stars I now understood, and because I live in the village and not the big city with the big city lights, I just might be able to see some of them.
Before going up to the roof terrace with my camera, I did a quick web-search to see what exactly I should be looking for and where in the sky it would be. Actually, talking to Afrika made more sense that the website I found…this weekend would be the best time to see the Kappa Cygnids, and whilst there were projected to be only a few per hour, they would be ‘strikingly augmented with the annual August Perseids. Isn’t that special? I wasn’t sure if this was a shooting star report, or part of an old Gene Roddenberry script, but armed with all this new knowledge (as if I am actually going to remember it), up to the roof I went.
Being on the roof terrace at night is very special, even when the peace of it all is accompanied by the power of 83 billion watts of a rock sound system. I am not even sure how long I sat out there, covered with a blanket of millions of stars overhead, but none of them were apparently zooming across the sky when I was looking.
Tonight I learned several things: the stars at night, are big and bright, boom boom boom boom…oh, sorry, strike that; an apparent lapse into Texas culture again. The stars are spectacular; the night skies over the village let you see so much more than what we see from cities; and the local festivals are equally spectacular, and reinforce my sense of being part of the village. When reflecting on the evening in the weeks to come, I am sure I will remember that, as we used to say years ago, it was good for me.
rock and roll in the plaza
an actual doctored up picture of what one of the shooting
stars that I couldn't see might have looked like...maybe
Okay, so the inside of La Antigua is just about the way I would like it, but for several weeks I have been pondering what to do about the courtyard gardens. It is lovely the way it is, in a ‘garden run amuck’ sort of way. So I decided to change it. As La Antigua is in Mallorca, and Mallorca is in the Mediterranean, I thought that it would be good to put a bit of structure to the gardens, but in a Mallorquin sort of way.
Ever since I arrived at La Antigua, I had been whittling away off and on at the hanging yellow Jasmine and the grape vines that seemed to wind through everything else. At one time, I was going to go through the effort to actually map out where the vines were, but when my picture began to look like the London underground, I gave up. What I needed was a plan. You know. An overall plan of what I wanted to accomplish. So I began to sort out what I needed to do.
As with most jobs, my first thought was that I could whip through this in a day or so. Right. But it hasn’t exactly worked out that way.
Step 1: figure out what I wanted the gardens to look like after I had replanted them.
Step 2: clean out all the plants that I didn’t want to have lingering around.
Step 3: dig out some of the soil beds to make room for new, nutrient filled soil.
Step 4: go buy the plants I wanted to have in place of the crazy jumble of green that was there.
Step 5: plant the new bushes, flowers, and herbs.
Step 6: water the shit out of the new glorious gardens.
Step 7: have a Pimm’s whilst sitting back and admiring my handy-work.
But as fate would have it, some of my common sense, logical garden construction steps didn’t work out as planned. Okay, so I did actually make some sketches of what I wanted it to look like. Then I went out and bought and borrowed some garden books to see if what I wanted made any sense – growing plants in constant sun and heat can be a bit challenging, especially when the village authorities send out cleverly worded flyers that talk about the need to conserve water. In a Puigpunyent summer, the word conservation seems to evaporate from the vocabulary as fast as the sweat appears whilst pruning bushes that seem to be in turbo regeneration mode all the time. So after a few more sketches and consultations with gardeners and friends, I thought I had a good idea of what the courtyard would look like.
I began step 2 one day when there was a cloud off in the distant sky that I had hoped would somehow scoot over my house and then stay for the rest of the day, providing a bit of shade. Right. I attacked the offending vines and bougainvilleas that had been growing at an exponential rate. I was well equipped for this task, having nice leather gloves (thorns are not nice to have stick in your hands); one of those handy-dandy garden pruning clipper things that looked as if it would cut through my fingers without even feeling guilty; a very large recycling green polyethylene bag for the cut-off stuff; and the most important thing of all for you perspective gardeners – a vocabulary that would make a Spanish sailor blush. And as with all life experiences, there were lessons learnt from all this. First lesson: no matter how big a garbage bag you have to put cut up branches and stuff in, it will not be big enough. Second lesson: If you have two big bags, you will really probably need four. Third lesson: leather gloves are no match for nasty thorns, but if you don’t have access to something that Sir Lancelot wore, make sure you have plasters nearby. Fouth lesson: thorny plants about to be hacked away seem to take offence at being called ‘puta-madre,’ and tell their thorny plant friends to be mean to the person with the clippers. Fifth lesson: God probably had machetes invented for a reason.
After entire day – I probably lost about 3 stone from perspiration, but I wouldn’t recommend this as a weight loss programme – I had managed to get the bougainvillea back to where I wanted it to be, and had done some serious adjustments to the Jasmine. When I stood back and looked at the mound-like pile of branches and crap that I cut out, and then looked at my two garbage bags, I knew there would be a problem. So I next cut up all the branches into nice little pieces no longer than 10cm – no, I didn’t measure them, I just kept cutting them into smaller and smaller pieces, trying to avoid my fingers getting in the way of my trendy action clipper that was moving at a speed that would have impressed even Edward Scissorhands. I even dragged out all the odds-and-ends plastic pots that had been loitering on the garden beds. Plastic pots are okay, if you believe everything from the soundtrack of The Graduate; but I knew that I would end up binning them and eventually replacing them with seriously Mallorquin clay pots.
Step 3, digging out the garden beds to make room for new, nutrient rich dirt began to look at bit intimidating for me. So maybe intimidating isn’t the most appropriate word. Instead, how about, it seemed way too much like nasty work, so I modified the big plan. Modify is a Mallorquin word that means I hired a professional gardener to finish up the hard part of the work. I did pick out the new plants; I did decide where they would go; but I realised that playing in the dirt is not exactly my area of expertise. Or maybe it just seemed like too much hard work in the sun, so I slagged off the job to Miguel, who slagged off all the nasty bits to Michel, his worker. I must admit, sitting in the shade watching them dig up the garden beds made me feel like ol’Ben Gunn, but after watching the work, I am sure that paying for someone to do it was alot smarter than doing it myself. And if just sitting watching Miguel and Michel wasn't enough fun, they managed to find some magical mystery polished black stones in one of the flower beds. How lucky am I?
Steps 4 and 5 were handled by Miguel – part of the newly revised cunning plan, of course. And steps 6 and 7? Well I figured out I could hold the hose in one hand and the Pimm’s in the other, so once again, life is good in Puigpunyent.
nice plan...for an entire village. need to think smaller
best way to clean out the old bushes
almost ready to begin
Michel and Miguel hard at work
a bit less chaotic, finally
a proper Mallorquin garden
the previously buried treasure
Sorry, this chapter isn’t about a movie, nor have I seen Geena Davis or Susan Sarandon driving through Puigpunyent. It isn’t even about driving my car over a cliff. It is just an update on some things I have written about previously.
When I was little, someone told me that a picture is worth a thousand words. So without rambling too terribly much, I thought it would be nice to share some photos as sort of updates on previous letters.
The entire ceramic adventure has been going along well. I did, however, run into a slight glitch when I went to collect all the pieces I had delivered early for firing. It seems that the oven that the shop uses to heat the painted ceramics only does hold so much, and whilst they were able to fit almost everything into it, the water pitcher didn’t quite make it so I had to make another trip into Palma to collect that. Everything else did turn out pretty much as I had hoped for – plates, saucers, cups, serving platters, a large fruit bowl, and the azulejos I painted to put around the kitchen window near the sink.
Not only did the ceramic extravaganza go well, the garden changeover well brilliantly as well. Miguel (the man who either has a better back than I do, or seems to love sweating more than I do) and his worker did a wonderful job in converting my chaotic jungle of green stuff into a well planned Mallorquin garden patio.
I had picked out quite a few photos from magazines and gardening books and had asked Miguel to go buy what he thought was appropriate from my list of favourites (my list did occupy two pages of A4 paper I might add). I was going to go with him but I had to wait for the repairmen for my dishwasher (pump motor went to dishwasher heaven) and refrigerator (ice maker was acting stupid…as ice makers can do I am told).
After several hours, Miguel and Michel returned with some of the things from my photo list (apparently, if he had purchased everything I had chosen, it would have been able to fill Kew Gardens). So now, after much thought, much planning, solid effort by the lads, and a draining of the garden budget for La Antigua, I am the proud owner of courtyard gardens that contain; Dracina Marginata’s; Asplenium Nious’; Chlorophytum Comosum Variegatum’s; Cordyline Australis’; Hibiscus’; Cyca Revoluta, as well as Thelma and Louise. Thelma is the lucky one who is now living in a huge maceta (ceramic pot) that I received as a gift from the Durston’s – friends from London who also have a home in Soller. I have no idea how Tim managed to lift this mother-of-all-macetas into his car, but he brought it over when he visited La Antigua last week. A wonderful surprise pressie.
And if all that wasn’t good enough, today, on my way back from the ceramic store (the bloody water pitcher still wasn’t out of the oven yet), I stopped at Magatzem Verde (a huge garden store in Palma) and bought a rather oversize Aloe Vera plant (good if my body falls prey to the evil sun burn some day) and a huge variegated spikey plant thingy. I am not sure, but I think its Latin name is ‘largium greenium and yellowium spikeium.' Or maybe it's Raquel.
It has been a busy time for me lately. Life in the village has been good, but I have been pretty occupied with my work (writing for the Telegraph and Microsoft) and my relaxation (cranking out decorated ceramic bits at a level that one might have if I was really doing this for money). In the time since the last chapter, things have changed in Puigpunyent.
It is early October, and autumn has been covering Mallorca for almost a month. The days are usually sunny and warm, but the evenings are beginning to be cool. The most obvious change in the weather has been the autumn rains that usually arrive in September, and this year has been no different. I am not even sure how many days it has rained here in the past month, but the gardens are extremely happy. Lots of green, with the new plants flourishing and perhaps the best news of all is that I haven’t had to spend almost an hour each night watering everything. Outside of the courtyard quite often being wet, the change of seasons has been good. It has enabled me to actually rummage through my closets to find jumpers and long pants to swap for my shorts by late afternoon each day.
With any luck at all, this week Miguel will come over and clean my chimneys – it is almost evening fireplace time. I had spoken to a friend about who I should ring to have them cleaned, and was given a choice. I could either A) clean them myself using the tried and true method that used to be the way to go on the island; or, B) call Miguel. So I enquired as to what option A was. It seems that years ago, the way you cleaned a chimney was to catch a chicken, tie its legs together, and then slowly lower it down the chimney. It would flap its wings trying to get out of the small vertical tunnel, and in the process, clean all the soot off the chimney walls. As I don’t have a chicken to catch, and didn’t think that the animal rights people would think too much of this idea, I opted out to ring Miguel.
Last week, Amelia fell ill. I had gone into the city, and upon returning to my car, I discovered that the clever little electronic component that some cars have to frustrate potential car thieves had died. Amelia’s engine spun like a roulette wheel every time I turned the key, but it just wouldn’t start. I ended up ringing my auto insurance company and they sent a flat-bed truck to take Amelia to a garage for repairs. But as luck would have it, the garage was closed for the weekend, so it was a return to La Antigua by taxi. And because the little component is something that is not usually in stock, I had to wait until I returned from a business trip to London to get my car back. The bad news: I have once again become accustomed to having a car and being able to drive into Palma when I feel the need. The good news: the mechanic who came with the lorry didn’t speak a speck of English, so I was able to learn some new words (which I am sure I can use if Amelia ever again decides to not start).
I had woken up today, and after the usual proper tea and toast, had gone up to the roof terrace to do what I do many days…ponder the world’s problems whilst enjoying the brilliant warmth of the sun. This was to be a very special day in the village. I had been waiting for today for several weeks, and I think that I noticed it the local animals began making more noise than usual. On a typical day, it is possible to hear the odd rooster calling out in rooster-eze to his friends, or telling neighbours that it was well past sunrise and they had better get cracking. And because of the orientation of the village, it is also possible to hear dogs barking, even if they are halfway across town. But today, suddenly, it was if all the animals were talking to each other. Well, actually, it sounded like they were howling and screeching as if the world was coming to an end. And then I realised, it was getting darker. At first, I thought that some cloud who hadn’t read the instructions to not cast shadows on my terrace whilst I am up there had gotten it all wrong, but even when I lifted my sunglasses, it was noticeably darker…at 1100. Animals howling? Roosters screeching? The sun going dark? Could it be that Keith Richards was coming to the village?
Sorry, it was an annular eclipse. An annular eclipse is when the moon slides in front of the sun, blocking the blinding rays for a time, and in the process, creating a visual ring of fire in the sky. I had read about this several weeks ago, and had even sent out information to my friends in Spain so that they could see it as well. And because looking directly at the sun, even when it is partially covered by the moon, is frowned upon by the eyes (unless you have decided to learn braille), I had even picked up a pair of the almost unbelievably dark ‘eclipse watching glasses’ from my local newsagent. I scrambled back inside to get my special glasses and my camera and went leaping (okay, so I can’t actually leap, but I did go quickly) back up to the roof terrace to see the solar/lunar event.
The newspapers had said that the path of the eclipse would track right over Ibiza, but because we are so close, Mallorca would have an 88% visible eclipse. But just after seeing the moon begin to pass in front of the sun, some rogue clouds appeared, and within minutes, the sun was totally blocked by them. No eclipse visible, so off to the market I went.
Autumn is firmly in control over Mallorca. It seems that almost everyday is has been raining, but the reality is that the rains have been visiting only sporadically. But for someone who does love the sun and warm, more than a few days does tend to be a bit tiresome. Everyday I go online to check out the weather forecasts, but apparently all the Ph.D.-laden meteorologists using the latest of technology can only do as good as flipping a coin. And to complicate things, even the online forecasts tend to differ with each other. One ten-day forecast touts day after day of rain, whilst another one pledges sun on a daily basis. So I have given up on the forecasts and instead look at the satellite pictures of Europe; and lately, it has been difficult to spot my island, as the autumn clouds keep drifting in. So to be prepared, a couple of weeks ago, I made a serious psychologically devastating purchase. But, I am ready for more wet weather.
On the days when the sun does come blasting through the clouds, it has been brilliant here. Yes, I have managed to do what any serious sun-baker does and sit on the roof terrace doing reading, painting, thinking, and the most important of all – just ask any sun person – resting in the warmth that envelopes all below. Today was a mixture of both days – it rained in the morning and then the sun came out to dry everything off. When this happens, I don my new Wellies and head out into the courtyard to sweep up the leaves that have fallen (yes, one might call this a bit of anal retentiveness, but it is my courtyard, so I get to keep it the way I like it). Sweeping up rain-soaked leaves has to be one of life’s challenges, but I do manage.
And after the courtyard was cleaner, I sat down to just enjoy my home. It was then when I noticed a visitor had arrived. No, I didn’t hear the round steel door knocker make its distinctive clunking sound; I just looked up and there he was. Or maybe there she was. As a child, my father had introduced me to butterfly collecting, and in the process, had given me a nicely illustrated book of just some of the most common butterflies that I might be able to capture (and as I look back on it all, sadly kill and stick pins and display in an old museum box with a glass top). I can still remember reading the pages of the book that described some rather exotic bugs that I probably would never see in my life. But here one was. On the chair opposite where I was sitting in the courtyard, there was a Praying Mantis. Not exactly one of God’s most beautiful pieces of work, it is, to say the least, fascinating to watch as it waited for a fly to land close enough to have for a snack. These green miniature monsters must have more patience than I have, because for almost an hour, he didn’t move, just waiting. I finally decided that he could wait elsewhere, and carried him outside the courtyard walls to forage for whatever looks tasty to a Praying Mantis.
A friend just rang to see what I have been up to lately (besides waiting for the occasional rains to bugger off). So in the spirit of not having to say this over and over again, this is what has been occurring lately at La Antigua. I received the proof copy of one of the two books I wrote this summer, and that has been an interesting time-eater-upper. I do find it difficult to proof read my own writing. I can remember asking someone to proof read an article I wrote a couple of years ago, and after some silence, was asked what I meant by something I had typed. I said, ‘let me see where you are seeing this;’ but only to find that when I had read my own writing, I was seeing what had been in my mind when I wrote it, not exactly what I had put on paper. So to proof read the entire book was a challenge. Actually, it looked okay, but I did take the opportunity to add a few things I wished I had said whilst writing it – I am sure the publisher will be thrilled to see my additions.
Besides the proof reading (which will resume again next week when the other book arrives for my review), I have been working on this year’s Christmas card. Yesterday I made several test prints to check colours, and will do more this afternoon probably. Oh yes, then there is the aluminium bas-relief I have been working on. This has been an ongoing project for the past month, and I finally was able to finish it a few days ago. Now I just need to find a way to get all the carcinogen-laden sugar substitutes out of my system.
Years ago (actually many, many years ago), I was in Boy Scout. And through the years that I ran about being enthralled at the time by Lord Baden-Powell’s words on how to become a better person (whilst racking up those Merit Badges for God-knows-what). And even today, I can remember one bit from the Scout’s oath (but am a bit foggy on if it was even called the Scout’s oath). The bit I remember? Be prepared. So yesterday, in the vein of ‘being prepared,’ I drove to Establishments (a town about 6 km from Puigpunyent) to track down a supply of leña for the winter. Leña is for all you non-Spanish-speakers, firewood.
Yes, La Antigua does have central heat and air conditioning, but over the summer, I never had to use the air conditioning. Not because it wasn’t warm; on the contrary, it was bloody hot here for much of the summer, but the walls of the house are 72cm thick and that much stone and mortar must be the best insulation on the planet. And assuming once the house is warm, I would expect the insulation to keep it warm as well. But because I have two fireplaces, instead of just enlarging the check book of the electric utility here on the island, I thought I would have fires at night.
On Monday, Miguel (have you noticed how many people I know named Miguel yet?) the gardener came over to clean my chimneys. Yes, there is a correlation between gardening and chimney sweeping apparently, but I haven’t figured it out yet. I had been waiting for many weeks to have the chimney’s swept, so when he arrived, I was rather pleased. And after watching Miguel and his helper drag a crumpled up piece of wire mesh up and down the chimneys, all was well. So yesterday I went to Establishments to find wood to burn in my almost-clean-enough-to-eat-off-of fireplaces.
Miguel had told me that there were only three types of wood I would want to burn – Olivo (Olive tree), Almendras (Almond tree) and Encina (Oak tree), so after finding the wood suppliers yard (I did drive past it twice and only found it after looking up and seeing mountains of cut wood), I parked Amelia and ventured in. Jaime, the proprietor, is older than most of the trees he has cut down I thought but was very helpful, in a non-English speaking way. I began by telling him my Spanish is not very good – my standard line when meeting someone new on the island who doesn’t speak English – and then said I needed to buy some firewood, and I wanted either Olivo or Almendras, or Encina (to impress him with my knowledge of fireplace propriety). He asked me how much I wanted, whilst glancing over to Amelia and then looking at me with a frown. I said I needed a lot of wood, about a pile 2 metres by 2 metres by one log deep. He kept his frown.
Okay, I enquired, how much would that much wood cost? Well, he said, he sells wood either in bags (kindling-type wood-bits) or by the bucket, but…if I didn’t want to come visit him every other day, he suggested I buy his standard amount. Which was ‘mil kilos.’ In English, that is 1,000 kilos, or about a ton of flippin’ wood. I couldn’t imagine how much wood it takes to weigh a ton, but before I could respond, Jaime said it was forty buckets-worth. Well, that didn’t seem like too much so I said fine, but he had to deliver it to La Antigua. I gave him directions to my house, and, to be courteous, did tell him that my street is only 2.3 metres wide. I didn’t want him to come with some lorry that was recycled from a monster truck event and not be able to get to my door – see, more Boy Scout training being applied here.
No, I didn’t have to pay him until the wood was delivered, so Amelia and I drove home.
The next morning (that would be today), my mobile rang and it was Jaime’s driver letting me know he would be over in about 45 minutes. By now I was getting a bit concerned about where the forty bucket-loads of wood were going to go, so I cleaned out my wood storage area and re-stacked the wood I still had on hand. And shortly after taking some Naprosyn for the back pain that I was already beginning to experience, there was a knock on the compound door. It was the driver, but he did look a tad concerned about getting his lorry up the narrow street. This man must be related to Mandrake the Magician, because after gesturing hypnotically (and driving very carefully), the truck was now at my door. The driver and his helper (everyone here seems to have helpers…I need to find a helper I think, not sure for what, but at least I would fit in more on the island) and I slogged the wood into the courtyard.
In under 30 minutes, all the wood was in, stacked neatly, and they were on their way again. But this is where the real fun began…it was tricky getting their lorry UP the street…but unbelievably tricky to back it DOWN the street. But they did it, and off they went, leaving me to go admire my freshly-delivered-ton-of-nicely-stacked-wood. I think I will light the fireplaces up tonight…after all, I am now prepared for the onset of winter, marginal that it will be here.
This was copied from the Mallorca Daily Bulletin, the island English-language newspaper: “Majorca's first sprinkling of snow this winter is forecast for this week and many will be hoping that the Balearics will have another huge dump of snow over Christmas and New Year like last year when it even snowed on the beaches. The forecast for the week ahead points to a deterioration in the weather tomorrow with snow forecast at 1000 metres, the peaks of the Sierra de Tramuntana with light showers and the odd storm nearer sea level. The temperatures will start to drop slightly from this evening with the worst of this new cold front expected to grip the region this weekend.” And of course, I can see the mountains from my house, so I think I might just hibernate in front of the fireplaces for a bit. The whole spectre of winter seems so remote, as last Sunday morning the sun was shining brilliantly in the eastern sky, and I thought it would be a good morning for a walk. Sunday morning means the Sunday Times from London is at our local village combination bakery, gift shop, news-agent, and tobacco shop, and because last Sunday was fabulous, I thought I would take a stroll to collect the paper.
I live .9km from where the shop is, so with using the normal conversion tables, calculating kilometres into miles, and then factoring in the various hills of the village, I figure I walked about 223.5 miles when I go to get the paper, and then converting that into calories burnt, at least 23,753,694.3. Now perhaps the readers of this chapter who were maths majors in school will differ with my calculations, but, as we newly-British ex-pats say, p**s-off. (note: I would like to report that my body fat is now down to negative numbers from all this exercise, but apparently the Mars and Snickers bars that somehow find their way into my system somehow can counteract all the benefits of all the exercise)
The village of Puigpunyent holds a special charm for me. I am not even sure exactly why, but I do both love living here and feel so comfortable in this environment. The people in the village who I come upon whilst walking all greet me, as I do them. And because I am working diligently to ‘fit in,’ I am always amazed at the various greetings I am presented with. Some people say, ‘muy Buenos;’ some say, ‘buenos dias;’ some say ‘bon dia;’ and some just nod their head and smile. And however they say ‘good morning’ really doesn’t make a difference to me; they are all very welcoming, especially in light of the fact that I have only lived here for six months and clearly am not a village native.
In late November, whilst at the correo picking up stamps for Christmas cards to send out, I was talking to the woman who works there about the village. She has lived her for twenty years (and she told me that she was ‘new in the village’) and said that one of the reasons that she lives here is that she loves the quiet life of the country. Of course, then she mentioned the weather, and that did send a bit of a shudder through my body. Last year, we had snow in the village for four days. Not that much of it, but it was here for the four days straight. I said that it must have been very pretty - I have always hated winter, and the winter snows that turn a dark, depressing black-grey colour as soon as cars begin to travel over the roads. The fact that snow is a function of incredibly cold (for me) weather is another whole issue. Yes, it was pretty she said, but it was also very slippery as it turned to ice. ‘Ice?’ I said, wondering how to walk up and down the hills of the village. She provided me with a very simple solution to a potential problem. She said that she just didn’t go outside. I do have firewood that should last me through any storm that drops out of the mountains; I do always have food here; I do have my computer and my paints – let winter come! Now just in case the Gods of Weather are reading this last sentence, what I really mean is that I would be happy to sit in front of the fireplace, watching the snow fall, but would much rather it sunny and warm.
It has been a tad over seven months since I moved into La Antigua, and in a word, it has been fabulous. Yes, there have been challenges; after all, the house is well over 150 years old, and I suppose that I would have a few idiosyncrasies if I were that age too. 1) the walls are almost a metre thick, which was great in summer to help keep the heat out, but in winter, it does take a lot to warm them up. 2) houses this old, especially in Mallorca, tend to have ‘interesting’ electrical systems. La Antigua was originally two homes and consequently, still has two different systems. Not a major challenge, but when a circuit breaker decides to click off, it is like the world’s most bizarre puzzle to figure out why ‘that breaker’ controls ‘those mains.’ 3) all the foliage in the courtyard gardens provide much needed shade in summer, but has resulted in the daily activity of sweeping up fallen leaves…and occasionally, fallen oranges from the tree. 4) the stone floor of the courtyard has far more character than a smooth paved floor, but after it rains, some of the individual stones act as little tidal pools that need to be swept empty. 5) the electricity level in the village is marginal, and usually only delivers 210 volts instead of the 220 or 230 that is the norm in most big cities. But would I change anything? Not on your life… okay, it might be nice to have 230 volts all day, everyday, but everything does seem to work. Whilst I have owned some pretty great houses in my day, this one is by far the most special one.
And now it is almost Christmas at La Antigua, and I have been busy. Each year, I like to make my own Christmas cards, and this year was no different. After I had made them, signed them, put them in envelopes, addressed them all and took them to the Puigpunyent Post Office, I realised that the Christmas spirit had invaded my body and I began to do more. I had made some azulejos and ceramic serving platters for my family and decided to wrap them in hand-made wrapping paper. This really isn’t that difficult to do (just in case you want to get ambitious). Get a roll of white paper; buy some potatoes, buy some acrylic paint, and get busy. Without a single sliced finger, I was able to make a six-colour paper for wrapping the pressies. A nice feeling of accomplishment, but I didn’t stop there. For the past several years, I have avoided having a Christmas tree for a variety of reasons. Whilst living on Angelina, it seemed a bit over the top to put a Christmas tree onboard, plus I have no idea where I would have even had room for one. And last year living in Palma, I just wasn’t in the mood. But this year, I thought I would decorate a tree, but instead of going out and buying some traditional Christmas tree, I opted out to decorate one of the large palms I have in La Antigua. And by now, you have probably figured out what I did next. Yes, I made the ornaments for the tree. Nothing major, just something that children could do with a bit of supervision; and seeing as how Christmas is a great time for all of us to enjoy the wonder of the season, I found some coloured paper and made paper garlands. For those readers who are especially observant, you might be wondering about the angel hovering above the tree. Yes, if you guessed that it holds special symbolism in Mallorca, you are right. It is, of course, the Angel of the Aluminium Foil.
the new plates
the big bowl
azulejos in the kitchen
a decorated azulejo for a neighbour
one very happy hibiscus
what I was hoping to see
what I saw
an October morning
ex-Boy Scouts are always prepared
an interesting visitor to La Antigua
the Constellation Aluminiumus
70 x 100cm
the word 'narrow' comes to mind
some of the 'mil kilos' of wood
the living room
Christmas present wrapping paper
the La Antigua Christmas tree
Christmas decorations in the village
copyright 2005, James B. Rieley