I shiver as I get out of my car and I wrap my blue and white checkered pinafore over my many layers of clothes, as if it would offer extra protection.
There’s that special type of mist hanging in the valley and I throw a quick glance at the hill on my left, the uncanny pyramid shape with its green cover. The pine trees and shrubs are hiding a secret: an ancient celtic fort lies beneath. My friends own it. I couldn’t quite get over the fact how nonchalant they were about it when they told me.
My short walk leads past the old church where the creepy priest who was banned from my village now gives mass. The women of my local church no longer wanted him in theirs and refused him access. It’s a long story.
No sign of life apart from three dogs, two eye me warily but the third, much smaller, comes up to me with a wagging tail. It’s one of my friend’s dogs. I greet her and ask her if she’s ok.
My friend’s house is located a bit further along, ruins on either side. I open the door to the courtyard, a twist and a creek. The house is on the right, the outbuilding where we make chorizo on the left.
Up the stone steps, impossibly steep, I can never get used to those. In the olden times Nan had people living in this very place, my friend told me, they used to work the land and had to share half of the produce and in exchange could live here.
I open the alien looking plastic door and greet my friend. A large bucket is already laden with filled tripas, guts. My friend does the filling by hand with an old machine with a wooden lever. It looks a bit like a torture instrument. Maybe it doubled as stocks.
I love this little building. If you listen carefully you can still hear the previous inhabitants’ voices, their lives have permeated the walls, and when you look outside you can imagine seeing the world with their eyes, a short shock of reenactment.
The only thing I’d need is a bed in the corner, I’ve often said, and I’d live happily ever after, open fire and all.
It’s an alternative way of spending boxing day, but boxing day doesn’t exist here in Galicia hence I decided to say yes when my friend asked me if I could do the chorizo tying. I’ve taught him how to chorizo tie, it but I’m faster. My friend’s wife, also my friend, is busy working in her butcher shop.
I fish a long tripa out of the bucket and place it on the plastic covered table, locate the thread, which I wind around a little stick, and set to work. Knitting, but then messier.
Unfortunately the silence and listening to no longer there voices I had yearned for is brutally interrupted, my friend’s three kids enter, a unison of cackling staccato voices, my friend reacting agitated as one of them nearly steps in the big bucket of chorizo meat.
“No yelling!” I out-yell them all and they all stop mid argument, mouths still open. I’m not offering up my boxing day to have my chorizo zen disturbed. “Quiet. Come and help me instead.”
They’re eager learners. It’s not difficult, tying chorizo, but it does involve skill and practice. I’ve had lots of practice. My neighbour in my village taught me how to do it, how to apply exactly the right amount of pressure to the guts without them breaking, how to recognise which guts are good and which aren’t, how to double tie a knot rather than only once and how to do that tricky in between little ball. Not too big, she explained, or you’ll waste lots of meat. At my friend’s all that is required is that they don’t look too neat. Too neat and the people in his wife’s butcher shop won’t think they’re homemade.
“Just as well that child labour isn’t outlawed yet in this part of the world.” I joke to my friend while inspecting their work, their speed is quite impressive. I’ll be home before lunch at this rate.
We’re quite on our way when their neighbour walks in. She’s everything you’d want from a neighbour. Their neighbour is technically my neighbour too as she owns the old ruin beside my house in the village where I live 3 km down the lane. She’s told me what the house was like when she was younger. Normally I don’t find it hard to let my imagination run wild, but I find it difficult to see how that empty shell, because all has been rotten away and caved in, used to have people living there. It’s a ruin without a voice. Possibly it’s because the brambles are too loud in there.
“You’ve already started! I hadn’t heard a thing! Why didn’t you come and warn me?” she says to my friend. She looks at the chorizos the kids are working on, prodding them, and shakes her head. “No,” she says resolutely. “These have to be firmer. Much firmer. Otherwise once they’re dried they’ll look terrible.” The kids look a bit disappointment but I reassuringly pull a face at them behind her back and whisper I think they did ok.
“It’s their father’s fault.” I retort, “He still doesn’t know after all these years how to fill the guts correctly.” We all laugh.
The bucket empties much quicker than I thought.
After a few hours when all is finished, I finally have a moment on my own, contemplating that still life, the rows and rows hanging in the corner, gem like, marbled brown red above the smoking piece of oak. Tears in my eyes. Perhaps from the smoke. I’m not sure.
I’m already looking forward to next year.