It has been, as we say, a memorable year. I bought La Antigua, moved to the country, made many new friends, became (semi) competent in Spanish, and created incessently. And whilst the year is winding down now (only one day to go until 2006), the enjoyment of living in Puigpunyent continues to grow.
At times, it is so hard for me to believe that I have been in La Antigua for almost eight months, but every day when I awake and see the sun creeping over the mountains, it is pretty clear to me that I am home. Okay, it is true…some winter mornings what I see is clouds hovering over the mountains, and even some days the mountains are a bit obscured by the rains, but even on what I tend to think of as ‘bad weather days,’ the sun does peek out at some point.
The holiday week has been pretty great. Kel and Lorraine, friends I met whilst living onboard Angelina in Barcelona who now live in Melbourne Australia, came to Mallorca to spend the hols with friends. After spending a couple of days in Palma with other friends, they came out to the village and stayed in the warmth of La Antigua. There was a Christmas party, a New Year’s party, and special get-togethers in between with friends. And if all that wasn’t enough, there was even an attempt to cook in the kitchen fireplace. Lorraine had said she had a foolproof pizza base recipe, so after a quick trip to my local market, we decided to give the recipe a go. Attempt 1 sort of failed due to one recipe component being missing; attempt 2 sort of failed due to a frozen pizza base not defrosting evenly; but attempt 3 almost made it into the record books for excellence in home-made-oven-cooked-pizzas had it not been for the apparent excessive heat on the incredibly think pizza pan I had. The end result, whilst marginally edible, resulted in the base resembling something a crematorium might produce. And by then, Kel was near starvation, so the great idea ended up being sandwiches. Overall, having them at La Antigua was very special, and we did manage to catch-up on all the happenings between Melbourne and Puigpunyent quite well. Good friends.
Today, as I was out sweeping the courtyard (the daily occurrence for some anal-retentive reason), I noticed that the bulbs that Maryann and Barry gave me a while ago are beginning to come up. Hopefully, daffodils will grace the courtyard in the near future.
I have never really gotten my head around what is a town, a city, a village, or whatever. Yes, I am sure that someplace, there is definitive data on population being a factor, or perhaps it is governing structure. Not really sure, and not sussed enough to dig up the information, But clearly, there is a difference. Puigpunyent is a village – nice feeling, a few shops, but surrounded by the countryside. And it ‘feels’ like a village. Semi-quiet streets, people who greet you whilst walking about, and just an overall sense that we are all living together. Not exactly like some other places I have lived. Barcelona was grand, but it is so big. It is as much of a city as London or Houston, but with a whole different feeling to it. Yes, it has high rise buildings, horrendous traffic problems, a cathedral that looks like it could hold the entire population of Puigpunyent, and clearly different neighbourhoods, each having its own sense of identity. And one of the things that I loved about Barcelona was the name.
City/town/village names hold special interest to me. When I was looking for a house to purchase, I can remember my estate agent driving me around to various towns and villages that had properties for sale. I think this was one of the days the estate agent realised how difficult his task might be. My estate agent had wanted to show me a property in Esporles and as we approached the town, he was going on about the house I was about to see, but I waved him off saying that I was struggling imagining living in a place with the name Esporles, and on we went to the next property…which happened to be in Puigpunyent.
Recently, a new restaurant opened in Puigpunyent. I went with Barry and Marianne to the opening party and was very glad I did, as I met many new people. It is quite amazing to me – for some time after moving to the village, I was beginning to believe that the three of us were the only English-speakers in the village. This was fine with me, as this is one of the principle reasons I moved here. My reasoning was clear – I live in Spain, and therefore, I should speak Spanish and found this difficult to do in Palma as there are so many people who do speak English, or at least want to speak English. But everyone I had met in Puigpunyent (save Barry and Marianne) spoke only Spanish…until last evening. Apparently, Puigpunyent is one of those secret enclaves for Brits, and I was introduced to quite a few other bi-lingual people. Quite a luxury.
Whilst it is very early in February, and according to the calendar, winter is still upon us, the weather here has taken a turn for the better. The past several months have seen grey clouds and rain several days each week, but the past two days have been simply brilliant. The temperatures – whilst never being very cold here – are on the rise but even so, every night I have a fire in at least one of the fireplaces. Not so much for heat, but I think it is like living in Puigpunyent…it just feels good.
Whilst it is still on the waning edge of winter, fabulous weather is fast approaching. The daffodils are coming up faster than the lift in a high-rise; the yellow jasmin flowers are beginning to bloom; and the almond blossoms are popping out all over the island. By mid-month, I had been basking in the sun on the roof terrace for several hours each day, enjoying the warmth, reading, and exhausting my left-over selection of single-digit solar protection bottles.
David and Nancy came to visit La Antigua for my birthday, and whilst I am pretty content to be at La Antigua most of the time, I thought it would be a good time to venture out and do somethings I hadn’t done since I had moved to Mallorca. Our plans included visiting Soller, but to get there, instead of driving up in Amelia, we would take the train.
It may seem a bit odd, but, yes, even Mallorca has a train line. The train, a classically-designed train with wooden framed cars, travels between Palma and Soller several times each day. After getting our tickets, we quickly found seats in a relatively empty car for the one hour trip through the country-side and mountain tunnels. But before the train departed, the car filled with tourists – we were sitting just in front of three generations of a german family that apparently all had hearing defects, as they apparently felt compelled to yell back and forth to each other. But we didn’t let that bother us…we were on the train heading north.
The train had a very ‘Orient-Express’ feel to it, except for the lack of food, comfortable seating, and Ms. Marple. We scooted north through fields of flowering almond trees; wound around mountains with only deep valley views on one side, and steep hills on the other; and several times, everything went dark as the train plunged into narrow tunnels that had been cut into the Tramuntana mountain range that covers most of the north-west coast of the island. And just about on schedule, the train pulled into the station in Soller. Whilst I had never taken the train before, I knew that there was another, smaller train that went from Soller to the Port of Soller on the coast. So we boarded that one immediately and continued our journey of exploration. The port train was, well, it was best characterised by the sound of finger-nails being dragged across a chalk-board for twenty minutes. The ride, a bit bumpy and not as scenic as the first part, was fine, although it might be nice if they would raise the ticket price from 3 euros to say, 4 euros, if only to be able to afford oil for the carriage wheels, which we figured might cut down on the terrible squeeking sound.
Port de Soller is, well, it was pretty deserted. It is still February, and the tourists haven’t inundated the island yet, and tourists are what keep the port alive. So we putzed about, looking for a place to get something to eat before the double return trip to Palma. The trip(s) back were a bit nicer for us. When we boarded the Soller to Palma train, we boarded what turned out to be the carriage that also contains the electrical powerplant that drives (pulls?) the train, and the seats in that carriage were quite plush, with more space and leather-covered cushions. It was very comfortable and the gentle swaying of the train as it crossed back toward Palma lulled David and I asleep within minutes.
The next day, being ever vigilant for things to do for artistically motivated family members, we visited…the cemetery. Yes, we went to the cemetery. It is unbelievably beautiful, in a grey-stone-filled-with-expired-Malloquins sort of way. One of my neighbours had told me that there were catacombs under the cemetery that were open some days, but on the day we were there, either they weren’t open, or we just couldn’t find them - it had been difficult enough to just find a place to park Amelia and walk in. But we did come across one of the most bizarre trees we had ever seen.
And then after a few more days, David and Nancy had to leave, and the island sensed their departure I think because the weather turned foul and very wet. All yesterday it rained as if there was a large wooden boat awaiting the boarding of two of every species. And if the rain wasn’t enough, the temperature began to fall and by mid-afternoon, I could see snow falling into the compound courtyard. Luckily, the temperature nearer the ground wasn’t that cold and as fast as the snow would fall, it would disappear into masses of puddles. But this morning when I awoke and looked outside – a sunny dry day once again – I could see that some of the high mountains visible from La Antigua were covered with snow. So, as far as I am concerned, we have had this year’s snow and now summer can return. And by now I mean now.
JBR Note: I just received an email from Nancy with her observations of their trip...and here they are, along with more of the great photos that she and David took on their trip.
After 15 or so hours of travel (Chicago to London- London to Palma), we land, go to the baggage carousel, and then walk through the double doors to see Jim for the first time. He's good, probably smoking in the airport (everyone does but us), and waiting patiently (unlike us) for our bags to come through so we can boogie. We believed them to be lost for a bit. Luckily, they had just sent them into customs (apparently the international distrust is mutual... who can blame them). In customs, we were entertained by 4 "ugly Americans" i.e. jerks that are grumbling in English at the Spanish customs men as if they are speaking in a super secret code that no one is Spain understands. They weren't the entertaining part. That came when the man controlling the belt that the bags were on reversed the direction
After finding both our bags and Amelia (Jim names
everything- this one being his little white car), we embarked on the road to Puigpunyent. I brought almonds as a snack, and it turns out, they have them there. Groves of them, or whatever you'd call bunches of almond trees everywhere. They were in bloom, and were so beautiful. The road to the village is hoarded with them. So much so that you'd think you'd get tired of them, but somehow, they stay pretty... every one of them.
Once at the house, despite our urge to run for the shower (again- 15 hours of travel), we took a tour of LaAntigua (someone else named the house). I should backtrack enough to say that the "road" going to the
So - the house! The courtyard is just awesome! I had seen a lot of photos, but none that conveyed the awesomeness of standing in the courtyard. (favorite part- oranges on the tree). Then inside, the floors are almost all a terra cotta colored ceramic tile, there's
Since my memory of chronological order of things is questionable, I'll delve into the highlights. The first being Jim's birthday. He had said repeatedly that what we did was up to us since it was our holiday. For the 20th, however, we deferred to the b-day boy. He chose to sweep the courtyard a few times, we went to a Brit market, did some errands and things. Dave stole Amelia and drove it a few blocks, there was a nap involved, and then we went out to eat. The place that we wanted to go was closed, so we went to a Dutch place called the Rose. Tasty food, and we found out a deep secret about Davey involving cheesecake (which I cannot devulge here because it
My most favorite thing, though, was the cemetary in Palma. We seem to always end up at one w/ Jim (last time was in Paris where dozens of famous people are buried- none of whom could we find cause it was
Another day, we took the train (one pulled from a 1940's murder mystery film) to Soller, another villiage that it turns out we had seen once before (only Davey remembered). The trip was awesome, despite the weather (dreary and chilly). I learned that everyone thinks Germans talk too loud and that to make a French boy laugh, all you have to do is take photos of your sleeping companions (i.e. Dave and JIm).
Davey and I returned to the magic Indian restaurant that we've gone to every time in Palma. They have amazing food and work at entertaining all 5 senses while you're there. There's dim lighting, rose petals on the floor and tables, rose water towels to scent your
The other great thing that we did was to have John and Miss Elly over for dinner. They are some of Jims' closest friends, and are an absolute hoot to be around! Miss Elly is a lovely lady who dresses like Audrey Hepburn with big sunglasses and scarves and great handbags that you could put a "Mr. Famous" in (Audrey's dog- she did it way better and way earlier than the Hilton sisters). John is a great guy who can say the funniest things so deadpan that the joke swells the more you mull over what he just said. Davey prepared an amazing dinner. Caprese salad (arranged on a LaAntigua Ceramica platter), a seasoned oil with crusty bread for dipping, and pasta
Then, at 5:30 am, we woke up to get back to the Palma airport to go back to Chicago. Rats, I forgot the sheep. There were sheep within walking distance of Jims house too. So cool! Anyway, even though this
Living in the village is a real learning experience, and an experience I am enjoying quite a bit. Of course, there are some things that do catch me off guard. The other day I had gone into Palma to pick up some picture frames for a series of photos that I have, and when I returned home, the spot I usually leave Amelia in was occupied by another car. When this occurs, as it has previously, I simply drive around several blocks and come back up C/ des Sol and quite often, a spot has opened up. If not, I drive around the corner and park in a street that normally has few cars parked there. But that day, I instead parked Amelia in front of the entrance to Plaza Son Bru (where the festival celebrations are during the summer). My intent was to simply unload the frames and carry them to La Antigua and then move the car because I was parked over a yellow line, which means no parking. But I reasoned the chances of a policeman driving along in the next ten minutes was about as good as me moving back to the states, so it wouldn’t be a problem. I carried the frames to the house and then the phone rang; and then several important emails came in; then another phone call; and by then I had forgotten about where I was parked. But four hours later, there was a knock on the compound door.
I went out and opened the door only to find a neighbour who wanted me to move my car so she could get into her garage across the street. I muttered Spanish apologies as we walked down the street and I quickly (and neighbourly) moved Amelia to my usual parking spot which was by then open. And that was when I noticed a little yellow piece of paper stuck between the windscreen and one of the windscreen wipers. A note; what fun, I thought. But it turned out to be a parking ticket. Okay, fair enough…I did deserve it, so the next morning I walked down to the adjuntament (the village hall, so to speak) to pay the 30 euro fine. The clerk, whose Spanish was about as good as mine because he is seriously Mallorquin, explained to me that there was a discount if you pay the ticket in a certain amount of time. Great news I thought…the discount was 20%, and whilst I have never been a maths whiz, I was able to determine that the 30 euro fine would now be only 24 euros. I laid my 24 euro penance on the counter, only to have the clerk give me back 3 euros. Now at this point, I could have just said thank you and taken the money, but as a resident of Puigpunyent, I didn’t want to have the clerk later discover his mistake and try to collect the 3 euros again. So I said that I think there is a mistake. I borrowed his calculator and showed him that 20% of 30 euros was indeed 6 euros, and 30 euros minus 6 euros was actually 24 euros. I smiled, knowing that I was doing the right thing. And that was when he told me that regardless of what the ticket said about a discount of 20% for paying quickly, he was giving me a 30% discount and the fine was only 21 euros. I certainly didn’t want to offend him, so I took the 3 euros (and a receipt that the ticket had been paid), and walked merrily home a bit confused about maths in the village, but 3 euros richer.
Later that same day – note the ‘same day’ element of this chapter – I heard a knock on the compound door of La Antigua. I was upstairs on the roof terrace, enjoying the sun that seemed to have been coming back to our village, so I went to the terrace wall and said that I would be down in a moment to open the door. As soon as I flung the door open – it is always exciting to see who is coming to La Antigua – I found a woman standing there who began to rabbit on about being sorry but her car was connected to my car in the street. Now whilst my Spanish has improved tremendously in the past eight or nine months in the village, I must admit I was struggling to understand what ‘connected’ to my car meant. So I walked down c/Es Forn with the woman and around the corner to where Amelia was currently parked. Sure enough, she had been trying to park her car in what appeared to be a spot large enough for a car that was one-half the size of her car. And because Amelia has a tow-bar attached to the back of her, the woman had managed to have her grill ingest the tow-bar. Her idea was for me to simply drive my car forward and the two cars would dislodge from themselves, and whilst this did seem like a semi-logical solution (as she couldn’t go any further backwards), she had already taken her scissors-jack and lifted her car up a bit figuring that now it would be easier for me to remove Amelia’s tow-bar from her grille. Even I thought this was a good idea, except for the minor fact that if the tow-bar wasn’t completely dis-engaged from her grille, when I would ease Amelia forward, it would pull her grille out AND drag her car off the scissors-jack. So we talked about it for a bit (in Spanish of course, with neither of us making any sense what-so-ever probably), and then I had a go at it. Ever so slowly, I let Amelia ease forward until I heard a loud snap, which meant that either the two cars were dis-connected, or that her nice Peugeot now didn’t have a grille at all. As luck would have it, all was well, although her car now did have a minor re-shaped air scoop on the top of her grille. She thanked me graciously, and I walked home, eagerly awaiting a new merit badge in auto-grille-removal-from-a-tow-bar to be delivered in the post in a few days. It could be a long wait.
If living in the village has taught me anything, it is that, in many cases, going slow is fast enough. This week I had to fly to London for a series of business meetings, and when landing at the Heathrow mega-doo-wah airport, I was fortunate to see something that brought this point home to me. Several years ago, I had the high privilege of flying across the Atlantic on Concorde, and as my plane faffed about looking for a gate that was open, we taxied past one of the Concorde’s that British Airways has conveniently left out on the tarmac for everyone to see. I don’t think it is there because all the hangars are full – it is probably there as a reminder to everyone that we used to be on the cutting edge of transportation. Concorde flew at about 21,000 metres (double the altitude that today’s planes fly at), and at 1.2 times the speed of sound (which, at over double the speed commercial jets fly at, is pretty flippin’ quick), and the flight that I took from London to New York only took a hair over three hours. No time for an in-flight movie, only time to eat (an incredible meal) and try to contort your neck to see the curvature of the earth outside the tiny little windows. I loved it. An unbelievable experience that few people have ever been able to have. And at that point in my life, getting places quickly was pretty important. And now I live in a village where some of my neighbours look suspiciously at me if they think I am in a hurry as I barely stroll to the market.
When I am home in the village, my life does slow down. Yes, I do spend quite a bit of time on-line, cranking out book after book and article after article, but I am most content when I am able to just enjoy living where I live. There is much to be said for taking the time to enjoy what surrounds you.
Puigpunyent is a pretty sleepy village, and that was one of the attractions it held for me when I moved here. Of course, in fairness, my perception of it being just that is relative. The other day I was over at a neighbours house, whingeing with them about the dire cold we have been enduring this March (cold for me has now become anything under 20c), and I mentioned that the ‘sleepiness’ factor of the village was high on my list of favourite things about living here. Barry responded with, ‘sleepy little village? I don’t think so.’ But of course, he and his wife have lived here for 17 years and have seen it change so much. Even I can see that there is the ‘old’ part of the village and the ‘new’ part. La Antigua is in the old part. Village homes that were constructed well over one-hundred years ago, on narrow little streets that used to be only used by people on foot or in horse-drawn carts. Houses that have walls made of real stone and that are a metre thick and are full of character. And then there is the new part of the village.
Yes, there has been a somewhat serious attempt to make the new houses ‘look’ as if they have been here for years, but the reality is that the construction is that of today in Spain – building blocks glued together with a mortar-like substance that workmen then apply thin stone veneer on. And regardless of what the local planning commission tries to do, the new houses all look alike; sort of a series of highly incestuous townhouses all lined up waiting for holiday-makers to come and plop money down on so they have lay claim to their own part of the sun. (sense any bias here?)
Yesterday, upon my return from London, I could almost feel my internal speed controller begin to slow down as I drove home from the airport. By the time I had parked Amelia and dragged my carry-bag through the compound door, my ‘need to rush about’ factor that had been in force whilst in London had dropped by half, and by the time I was in the courtyard watering the gardens, I was feeling quite good again. Yes, I had a lot to do – unpack the carry bag; unpack the briefcase that was full of business stuff that I had been carrying with me; begin to sort through all the things I had brought home with me – but I was content to just stand in the courtyard and water the plants that had begun to dry out in the now-almost-summer-weather. I was now on Puigpunyent time, and I was loving it.
There are some times where even I admit that living at this speed can be a bit challenging. I am still waiting for a price estimate from Pedro, the woodworker whom I asked over a month ago what it might cost to replace a couple of the pursiannas that are on the kitchen doors; have been waiting for about six weeks for Guillem to make me a simple metal brace for some of the grape vines over the courtyard; and am still waiting for Balthazar to just give me the bill for some things I purchased at his market several weeks ago. But the reality is that they will all get around to doing what I asked them to do when they get to it. And there really is no hurry…I will be here, enjoying living in my village. And the best news of all is that they know it.
And now some breaking news…I had tried to meet a neighbour last month, but he wasn’t home, so today I tried again. His house is immediately to the west of La Antigua, and I have exchanged pleasantries with his wife and one of his daughters, but I thought that as I was a neighbour, I really needed to make a formal introduction. So I planned out what I would say, even to the point of looking up a couple of words in my conversion dictionary, and then strolled over to his house a bit ago. I flicked the bell that is attached to his gate and within seconds, a man came from behind some gardens and said ‘hola’ to me. Okay, here I go, I thought. I knew exactly what I wanted to say, and luckily, it almost flowed out of my adopted Mallorquin mouth. I apologised for having crap Spanish, then told him who I was and that I had been living next to his house for over eight months; then tossed in that I felt bad that I hadn’t introduced myself sooner. He smiled, and then said (these are his exact words…) “Glad to meet you James.” Scheisse. Whilst he is Mallorquin, his English is about as good as 99% of the people I grew up with. Amazing. John (not even Juan…he said his name was John. Amazing.) is a doctor – something that I have been known to need off an on, who was born in England, but of Mallorquin parents, and he moved back to the island when he was quite young. Amazing…simply amazing. So now I could tick off the box of having met all of my immediate neighbours, finally. Enough typing for now. Time for me to go back onto the roof terrace…the sun thing, remember?
There have been a couple of interesting things that have occurred in the village since I wrote last, and I thought they were worth sharing. The first of which was the annual village boot sale. No, we don’t have an over-supply of Wellies here; it was sort of a trunk sale or as in America, a garage sale. Villagers came together at the plaza in front of the Ajuntament (our centre of government in the village) and browsed through the myriad of tables that had been set up by residents to sell all the things that they had discovered in the past year that they really didn’t want anymore. When I had first heard about the sale, I was keen to go, if for no other reason than to meet more villagers and see what was on offer. But as soon as I had arrived – I rode my folding bicycle to the plaza with hopes of selling it as well – it became quite clear that a boot sale is a very English thing, and there more Brits who had brought things to dispose of than there were Mallorquins. And interestingly, most of the people milling about were Mallorquins (probably there just to see what we Brits consider saleable items). With the weather brilliant, there were seriously large crowds walking from table to table, with some actually buying things…that they would probably bring back to sell next year once they discover that they really didn’t need them. No, I didn’t sell the bicycle, but am fully prepared to take offers online.
Last week, I was over at Marianne and Barry’s filling a rather large bag with oranges and grapefruit. They had told me that, as they have over fifty fruit trees in their orchard, it was just plain ludicrous for me to keep buying them at market. And whilst I was there, they showed me something I had never seen before – a tree that produced both oranges and lemons. After a few minutes of me looking a bit gobsmacked, I asked how that was possible. The answer was ‘Rafael.’
Rafael is their Mallorquin gardener, and I use the word Mallorquin with a capital ‘M.’ Rafael is a tad old, and he has lived here since birth and he has, apparently, the veritable green thumb. It didn’t take me long to ask to borrow him one day to do some of his magic on my solitary orange tree in the courtyard. A few days later, Rafael came over with Barry to check out my tree. Barry had tipped me off in advance that Rafael only does grafting under certain conditions. These conditions included; the condition of the tree, the time of year, the weather, and the moon. Yes, the moon. Not sure if Barry was telling me this with his tongue firmly planted next to one cheek, but after meeting the tree magician, I was ready to believe anything. Rafael looked at my tree lovingly, then unloaded on me about the way I had cut some branches off previously (which I hadn’t done myself, but thought it was pretty useless to try to explain that), felt the branches (assuming to check the age and condition of the bark), then looked to the sky and said he would be back in several days. And here he was.
I wasn’t sure what equipment he would bring with him, but half expected him to just have a magic wand and a sorcerer’s hat, but what he came with was a pruning saw, some wrinkled old cord, a knife, and a branch off someone else’s lemon tree. I had, as I tend to do, done a search on the web for methods to graft branches on trees, and what I found was not what Rafael did.
He looked at my orange tree for a few minutes, seeking to find branches that he could add the lemon graftings to, and then slowly examined the branch he had brought with him. Now whilst this was interesting, not much was occurring, so I just stood there and tried to look knowledgeable, but not even knowing what that look would be, he probably just thought I was nosey. No, I didn’t have any ideas about stealing Rafael’s secrets, but I was keen to know how he would do this, especially as we had previously talked about doing several branches, and he had only brought one with him. Suddenly, his knife came out and he started carefully cutting a rectangular shape through the thin bark of the lemon branch. And then even more carefully, he gently picked the rectangle off the branch and put in on the branch of the orange tree that he was going to graft to. He then used the lemon-bark rectangle as a template, and made an exact shaped cut in the orange tree bark, and after lifting that bit off, gently place the lemon piece into the newly cut space on the branch. Notice the notations of ‘carefully’ and ‘gently?’ You might have thought that Rafael was doing open-heart surgery, his hands moving deftly, cutting only through the top layer of bark. I tried to offer my acknowledging comments about what he was doing – ‘ahhh, entiendo’ (I understand), but Rafael didn’t even look up to acknowledge my rapidly acquired wisdom; so intent he was on doing what he does. At one point, he did say something to me in Mallorquin, but I didn’t know what it was and assumed he said, ‘well duh.’
After ensuring that the lemon-bark rectangle was in the exact space, he took some of the nasty looking cord and began to wrap it around the branch, firmly affixing the new bit to the old branch. After several dozen wraps of the cord, he put a knot in it and then repeated the entire operation on the next branch. When he was done, (I think) he explained what he had done, with the only part that I really understood was the fact that the lemon rectangles had to contain healthy looking ‘eyes’ that would be where the new branches would sprout from. Two more grafts later, and he was done, or so I thought. He then picked up his saw and began to whack away at my tree, getting rid of orange-tree branches that he didn’t seem to like. I did understand why he did this – my first gardening experience was years ago when my father-in-law helped me plant a white birch tree in our front yard, only to then cut almost all the branches off in order to make sure that the nourishment would do what the tree needed. But in this case, the tree was already doing well and a lot of what he cut off looked pretty good I thought. But then again, if I knew what Rafael knows, I guess I wouldn’t had to have him come over.
So, according to Rafael, my new friend and gardener, next year, I should have both oranges and lemons ready to pick from the same tree. I can’t wait.
I decided a while ago that, whilst I do think that La Antigua has just about everything I need, it would be nice to have a proper shower in the master bathroom. So, as I do, I made a plan on my computer using one of the trendier programmes that the Microsoft lads impale us with when we buy a computer. Next, I began to mock the shower space up using ‘carton-pluma,’ which to most artists is known as foam-core. Having pretty well decided that the plan would work, I then set about to get some help from someone has actually has a clue about how to do this. I have done remodelling like this in the past, but never on a house that is three-times older than I am, and never in a country where my language skills are still less-than-competent in my mind. The best advise I received was to find the floor tiles before I started really doing anything.
The tiles on the bathroom floor are great, and I assumed that this would be one of those easy things to do. So I drove to a major DIY store to pick up several square metres of replacement tiles, after all, it seemed a lot easier to just be able to whack away at the old tiles to make room for the shower drain and to accommodate the anticipated move of the loo and the removal of the existing bidet. But, as luck would have it, the store didn’t have anything close; so I wheeled Amelia to another store, this one purporting to be a tile shop. After driving past it twice (I must have been looking for a sign that said ‘Tiles Are Us’ or something), I found their car park and ventured in, full of excitement about buying the replacement tiles so I could get this project going. This shop did have a far more comprehensive selection of tiles, and even had the colour and texture I was looking for. But I needed to find tiles that are 24cm square, and all they had were 25cm and 30cm square. And if that wasn’t enough of a problem, the 25cm tiles would take a month to get into stock. After a bit of thought, I realised that cutting off 1cm would be more difficult than cutting off 6cm, so I asked if I could have one of the big boys to take home to compare to the existing floor. Not a problem, I was told; but I did have to drive now to their warehouse depot to collect the sample. Fine. Whilst the last thing I wanted to do was drive around more, I was feeling so good about the almost imminent building of the new shower, so off I went. With sample tile in hand, I drove home, all the way dreaming of my new addition to La Antigua. And after carrying the tile upstairs and laying it on the existing tile floor, my excitement began to diminish a bit. Okay, so the colour was close, but not exactly the same as the tiles that were firmly embedded in the concrete floor under the sink, loo, bidet, and tub. The fact that the sample tile was quite a bit thicker didn’t bother me, and I was trying to talk myself into believing that the colour was close enough…until Martin stopped over to see what I had found. Martin lives in Galilea and is in the process of building a new home, and is an excellent reference point for me to know what will work and not work in the construction field. What I needed to do, Martin told me, was to carefully remove an existing tile and take it with me when I went to the next tile shop. A good plan, but getting a tile out intact proved to be a bit of a challenge.
Ceramic floor tiles are not only bedded in concrete, but then they are grouted with concrete, and as we all know, concrete is a bit harder than most everything. So I carefully began to chip away at the grouting that was surrounding a tile that sounded like it was loose. The key word here is ‘sounded.’ Obviously, this tile had been installed by some clever workman many years ago so when it was tapped, it would emit a hollow sound, whilst still being attached to the floor as if it had been installed with Super Glue for Concrete (assuming that there even is something like that). ‘Chip slowly and carefully’ Martin had told me, and that is what I was doing. When all the grout was removed, I gently began to try to slip the chisel-thing under the tile to free it from the nasty hold the concrete had on it. (A caution here; don’t try this unless you have safety goggles, leather gloves, and an anal retentive compulsion to do things yourself instead of just hiring someone who knows what the hell they are doing.) ‘Chip slowly and carefully’ kept whispering in my ears, only to be obscured by the sound of the tile cracking into several pieces. So I then went after the adjoining tile – the one that hadn’t emitted that evilly deceiving hollow sound. This one, when tapped, sounded as if it was connected to bedrock all the way to China, but what the hell, at least it had one side open already from the first attempt. Believe it or not, it almost jumped into my hands after getting most of the grouting chipped away. Okay, now I was all set to resume my search for the Holy Grail of tiles.
I had heard that there was a tile factory (of sorts) just off the road from Palma to Puigpunyent, so I headed off the next morning. After negotiating the turn onto the small road, I began to wind my way up toward SobreMunt, or so the sign said. After managing to not get completely flatted by a car going in the other direction on the road that appeared to be no wider than my car, and after negotiating turn after turn as the road wound its way up the mountain, I finally came upon what I assumed was the tile factory. We really don’t have ‘factories’ here on the island, as the word for factory is taller (TA-YARE), but as I drove in past the massive stone gates, I had the distinct feeling that I had found myself either amongst a group of artisans or the setting for the movie Deliverance. It was, as we politely say, quite rustic.
Once inside, I found myself surrounded by the biggest grouping of tiles and decorative ceramics that I had ever seen. But it was a bit surreal, as the finished products were all neatly stacked on shelves, but the rest of the space (and the inside space was about the size of a football pitch) looked as if they hadn’t bothered to clean since the Moors were running the island. There were two young men working at a machine that resembled a meat grinder; one taking gobs of semi-wet mixed sand and whatever else goes into pottery and after kneading them as if he was making a pizza base, plopping them into rough mould boxes, while the other one was pounding the freshly extruded glop until it was compacted tightly into the moulds.
I followed the routine I have mastered quite well since arriving here – in my best Spanish, I introduced myself, followed immediately by my disclaimer that I recognised that my language skills were meagre at best, and then proceeded to enquire if they made a tile of the size and colour I was looking for. The whole anticipatory apology must have worked (again) as one of the lads proceeded to tell me my Spanish was fine, but then swiftly went into Mallorquin and after a sentence of at least 300 words (of which I think I understood 4) left me with a look on my face of complete confusion. Luckily, he recognised my lack of understanding and then told me no. No, they didn’t make tiles that size; no, they didn’t have the colour I was seeking; and no, they didn’t make tiles of the same thickness. How nice. So I did what anyone else who is intrigued by making stuff would do…I stood there for a while and watched them take sand and clay and whatever else goes into ceramics, and make some magic. On the way home, a bit mystified that I still haven’t found the tiles I am looking for, I started to ponder on how nice my bathroom looks without a new shower.
As the longest day of the year approaches, it seemed like a good time to reflect a bit on some of the projects I have been working on, and some of the near disasters I have avoided…or not.
The new shower: I did manage to find the magically mysterious tiles I had been looking for, and after several starts and stops, finally did get the project underway. Luckily, I had discovered Toni, the brother of the village blacksmith Guillem. Yes, whilst Guillem does have a pretty state-of-the-art plasma cutter and all sorts of welding kit, he also has a typical blacksmith’s forge that has probably been in use since the Moors left the island hundreds of years ago. One day, whilst trying to convince Guillem that he really should work on the two little projects I had given him three months ago – patience is truly a virtue in Mallorca – I asked him if he knew of a plumber and he gave me Toni’s phone number.
Toni appeared one day and removed the bidet, which I saw no use for in the house, and then moved the loo to where the bidet had been. This day had been precipitated by me whacking away at the floor area where the shower was to go, removing the floor tiles (baldosas) and then breaking up the cement under-floor deep enough to accommodate the slope needed for the shower to drain properly. I had determined the actual sloped required by clever calculations, using basic geometry to determine what angle of finished floor I would need, as well as figuring out that when my arms grew tired from pounding on the floor with my massively brutal five kilo hammer. Luckily, my arms were wasted just about the time I made it down ten centimetres. After Toni disconnected the loo, he then asked me for my floor destruction tools so he could re-route the loo drain to where it would be once the job was completed. Even though Toni speaks no English, I knew what he meant when I saw his smile after I produced the hammer and chisel. He said he would only be a few minutes, and disappeared out of the house, only to return with a electric chisel thing, which, must to my amazement, dug out the new path for the loo drain in a couple of minutes. He smiled, I smiled (but muttered several mild obscenities under my breath about why I hadn’t thought of that before whacking away at the shower floor). After a couple of hours, the drain piping was all in place and the water supply tubing for the shower was marked out, and he said the next day he would return to actually seat the loo into place. And kindly, just before he left, giving me instructions to cut away enough of the wall so he could bury the water pipes, he told me he would let me use the electric chisel if I wanted. He smiled, I smiled, and just about the time he was sitting in the local bar, probably telling his village friends about this crazy villager who had busted up the floor with a hammer and chisel, I had chiselled out two wall trenches for the hot and cold water pipes.
The next morning Toni returned and soldered the nice shiny copper tubing together and put it in the trenches, telling me to next concrete them in place and call him when the shower was ready for him to install the actual shower fixture – something that I hadn’t even bought yet.
I mixed up what appeared to be enough cement to redo the Great Pyramid of Giza and began slapping it on the vertical wall, desperately trying to keep it from sliding down to the floor and after a while, actually began to think I knew what I was doing. Then, I began to build up the floor again, sloping it toward where the shower drain would be. My previous comment about beginning to think I knew what I was doing disappeared faster than a Snickers bar in kitchen when I ran out of cement. I mixed more. I ran out again. I mixed still more. And, as you might have guessed, I ran out again. But this time, the slope was taking shape and I decided that my back was in dire need of some Ibuprofen, so I gave up for the day.
The next morning, I put another layer of cement on the now gently sloping floor, but this time, it was water-proof cement. I had been told by friends I could understand that this was crucially important, as it would not be a good thing to have a small crevice between the floor tiles that would allow many litres of water to suddenly appear in my living room below. I even took the water-proof layer and ran it up the wall a bit, just to make sure that the chances for water seepage would be about as good as me winning the lottery – which would have been a good thing because then I could have just hired a team of experts to do all this work.
The next step – the following day – was to begin to cement the tiles I had acquired down on the floor and up the back wall of the shower. But before I could cement them down, I had to cut them to fit. This had been on my mind, as the slope was compound – it ran both from the high side to the drain, and also formed a slight trench down the middle so the water would not puddle anywhere. Luckily, Toni had also lent me a whiz-bang electric cutting tool so I laid out all the floor tiles; marked them where they needed to be cut, and then without cutting off a single finger, cut all the pieces so the cementing could begin. By now, I was almost having fun. Not sure if this euphoric feeling was from the serious amounts of Ibuprofen I was taking to counter-act the sore back from the previous days, but it really didn’t matter. I was finally beginning to see my vision of a new shower take form. Until I ran out of tiles about 1/3 of the way up the back wall. So off to the tile shop in Palma – a nice break for the back – and then back to the La Antigua cementing festival. Late that night, and I do mean late, all the tiles were firmly in place.
The next day was grouting day, followed by a call to the glass man to come and re-measure for the glass walls. Pepe had come and measured before all the real work started, but had told me that when everything was ready he would come back and measure again. I think he said that sometimes dimensions change a tad when things like this were built, and he was right. So, measurements made, he said that he would bring the extremely thick cut glass panels back soon. Well his actual words were that he would bring them in 15 days, more or less. When I mentioned that all he had to do was cut three big panels of glass to size, he said that ten-millimetre glass is not normally on the island and it would have to come from Barcelona. After a week, I rang Pepe and asked if the glass was ready yet, and he repeated the ’15 days, more or less’ story, to which I replied, ‘Yes, and a week is less than 15 days.’ Ahhh, such a sense of humour. He did bring the glass walls and stainless channel to put them in after another week. By now, Toni had already returned and installed my new wonderously luscious simulated rainfall shower head, and the next morning, I was finally able to use the new shower.
After a several days of enjoying my creation, I decided that there were two things I needed. I went out and bought a rather long window squeegee – don’t like those pesky water-spots on the glass after a shower. I also purchased a wire-formed chrome combination soap dish and shampoo bottle holder. So I marked out where to drill the holes for the soap tray and began to drill…right into the cold water pipe that I had so carefully embedded into the wall with gobs of cement and nice, new tiles. Toni should be here in another hour or so to figure out how to fix the leak. I think I had better get the hammer, chisel, and Ibuprofen ready.
Kel and JBR in kitchen
the big pizza experiment in action
it looked so good in the 'oven'
daffodils on the way
sunrise over Puigpunyent
countryside surrounding the village
winter near the village
the living room
my birthday surprise visitors
(David, myself, and an inverted Nancy)
tourists, doing touristy things
through the tunnels
fields of Almond trees along the route
one crazy tree
one of the memorial headstones
snow on the mountains
on the road to Puigpunyent
the fabled 45-degree angled street
great compositional skills at work
a courtyard corner
some of Nancy's favourite oranges
serious tree branches
some sleepy people
La Antigua dreamin'
roof tiles on the terraza
the terraza floor in the sun
St. Ameila of the Connected Tow-Bar
the best way to fly...now just a memory
high speed in Puigpunyent
La Antigua's version of serious walls
a pursianna with character
the village boot sale, so to speak
the only way to shop I think
Rafael, pondering the task at hand
affixing the lemon rectangle
making sure all is well
the Holy Grail of tiles
the set for Deliverance?
the land of magic
macetas of every shape and size
salidas de aire
the things we find under the floor
Toni, having way too much fun
ready for the baldosas
hmmm, almost looking professional
the finished shower...
before I drilled into the water pipe
copyright 2005, 2006, James B. Rieley