Z is for Zoom

10985547_10152633705781837_8482271579124366281_nOur village is on Google Street view. Not the entire village, but the main lane into it.

I found it out by accident one day, while checking something on google maps and I was a bit shocked at first. Of course, progress cannot be stopped, and our village isn’t that remote at all, but I just didn’t like the idea that anyone could virtually walk around the lanes where I always walked.

I zoomed in.

You could see my daughter and her friend playing on their bikes at the corner of the lane, faces blurred out. Villager S’s field. Our house from a distance.  I virtually walked on, just for fun, to see who else had been captured. Villager C in front of my neighbour’s house with his donkey. That made me smile,  that donkey had made it on google street view.

Little snapshots of the village, just enough to see the contours, but nothing more. You can zoom in all you like on street view and it will look a little bit as if you’re  there…but it lacks the details.

Some people say it’s the bigger picture that is important, but I’m not so sure.

I prefer experiencing things close up. It’s often where the really interesting stories hide, in the details.

The rumble of Enraged Enrique’s ox cart, the hay which has been left on the lane by Villager J, the see through skin of Villager P’s ancient mother, the colour of freshly made chorizo hanging in the smoking shed.

And so much more.




Y is for Yellow

If you’d have asked me ten years ago what colour I could live without, I’d probably have said yellow. It never did anything for me. Too loud, too brash, too here I am look at me, vulgar, cheap.

But in recent years, since living here, this has changed.

I cannot possibly imagine life without yellow now.

11057850_10152670249661837_5866380272029020920_nBright yellow,  the colour of mimosa which grows in abundance everywhere. It’s not a native plant and considered to be a pain in the neck, but I find it hard to dislike it.

People use the stakes of mimosa for tomato and bean plants as well as vines and the bigger pieces as firewood.

When you drive through Galician countryside in early spring you become aware just how prolific this plant is. It’s like one continuous firework display, as if nature has exploded. And the smell which lingers especially in the evenings is just…  bright yellow.

Another yellow is the yellow of gorse which grows in the hills. It’s a painful color once you’ve walked through it a few times.  The branches leave horrific scratches.  But the smell.  A blend of honey roasted coconut. I’d hug the flowering bushes if it weren’t for the fact that it would hurt so much.

11222412_10152969488371837_3109425769352200224_nBut the most invigorating yellow is that of sunflowers. Who on earth dreamed up these giant beauties? And how can anything possibly smell that good?

I grew some a few years ago and I’ve allowed them to self seed, so every year I have more in the veggieplot. The villagers find it a bit strange and ask me what I do with them.

They don’t understand that  I simply want to stand under them and peer at all  that insanely heavenly smelling yellow.

X is for XO, hugs and kisses

12391872_10153202658191837_914117197206254820_nMy name sounds different when yelled in desperation.  The vocal chords remain stuck on the Ba, so at first I don’t take notice of Villager S yelling outside.

Villager S often yells, at the cats who are procreating at an alarming rate,  at the little dog which her kids bought and which she cannot stand, at her husband who she doesn’t like very much either or at life in general.

When I open the door to investigate, because it does sound an unusual type of yelling, Villager S is standing next to my house,  in tears now she’s seen I’ve opened the door.

I can’t quite make out what she’s saying, but I walk up to her and tell her things will be ok, put my arm around her shoulder and hug her, because whatever is the matter, she could do with a hug.  “Tell me what happened.”

In between sobs I can make out she’s locked herself out again. This has happened before. And her husband, who’s only got one leg and can’t get up on his own is stuck indoors.

It’s tricky to get through the bedroom window, it isn’t that high up but there is a sloped corrugated roof I have to climb on first, and if I’d slide off it and fall, it would surely hurt and there’s nothing to hold on to.  The window doesn’t open at first and panic sets in when I’m worried I lose my footing, but I push again and it opens. I haul myself up and jump into the bedroom, go to the front door and open it.

Villager S’s thanks Jesus and God and the heaven above and declares me a Saint.  She kisses and hugs me and cries and tells me what a bitch life is because she’s old and she’s nearly at the end.

She’s right. Life is a bitch. I’ll be where she is one day. Locking myself out and having to shout for others to help me because I can’t climb through the window myself any longer.

And that scares me.

So I let her hug me a bit longer.



W is for Weather

sunflowerPeople tend to think it’s always sunny here in Spain.

But this is Galicia.

Galicia is green, and that green has to come from somewhere.  Rain. Lots of rain. I’ve read somewhere that the average yearly rainfall on Galicia is more than Manchester. This is probably true.

Before living here, I didn’t really occupy myself that much with the weather. Sure,  it would be inconvenient perhaps if it was raining when I wanted to go out, and of course sunshine is much nicer but apart from that, it wasn’t that big of a deal.

Here it is.

Here, the weather has a bigger impact on daily life. Logical, it affects crops, sowing times, harvesting times, the animals, wood gathering.

It even affects slaughter: chorizo needs cold crisp dry weather. Too humid and the chorizo doesn’t cure quickly enough.

Although my life isn’t as outdoor dependent now as it was in the beginning (we no longer cook on wood and we have water connected to the house now) I still find myself checking different weather websites several times a day, a bit like one would with horoscopes, just in case the other prediction is more suitable.

The last few years it seems the weather is all over the place. The predictions change drastically within days. It’s impossible to tell when a season has started or ended. At times it seems everything has descended into a perpetual autumn, but without the gorgeous colours.

The first year we lived here, we were at the beach in April and the potatoes had been in the ground since March. Currently the ground is so soggy that apart from Villager C who always wants to be first in the potato race, no one has planted any yet. And Villager P told me her garlic has drowned. The mimosa already flowered the end of January, convinced it was Spring, the same with many fruit trees. But alas, winter came back.

We were convinced we had more than enough fire wood for winter but we had to order 2 extra tractor loads of wood this year, which was tricky because  in the middle of winter all the wood is wet.

Villagers talk about the weather constantly, and hence I do too.

Especially with Villager T, the village clown.  We always complain to each other how hot it is and that we want to go to the beach when it’s freezing, and how cold it is and that we have to put the fire on when dogs and cats have reduced themselves to puddles and the tarmac of the lane into the village resembles sticky liquorice.

Summer has to start soon. It has to.

Outside a lonely cricket is chirping. They tend to be the best forecasters. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s wearing a raincoat. Just in case.












V for veggieplot

Veggieplot Chaos

Veggieplot Chaos

Villagers had tried to tell Villager G she ought to hand over her veggieplot to me, because it was silly that she was still working her hands to the bone at her age, and I was young and didn’t have any land and it was near my house.

Villager G however, continued until that faithful day when I found her on her back in a bed of salad in the pouring rain.  Villagers suggested that I had saved her life because I had actually heard her screams for help.

Shortly afterwards she went into the old people’s home, where, to everyone’s surprise she didn’t wilt as everyone had predicted, but relaxed and had her nails painted by the nurses until eventually her hard as nails body gave in and she died.

Her two daughters, not living here but visiting, asked me if I wanted to take over the veggieplot.

I was ecstatic and said yes.

I’m not an organised veggieplotter, I’m more of a pantser, I go with the flow. There is something about neat rows and order, but it doesn’t go well with me and I love experimenting.  Villager G was all about rows and neat and no weeds. She dominated nature with an iron will, her hoe and plenty of pesticide and herbicide.

I opted for a kinder approach and let nature play a bit.

Ok I let it run out of control.

But it was fun, to see what grew where when you just left nature to it, what seeds preferred what spots. The plot and I became great friends.  And there were weeds and that was fine by me.

The two daughters didn’t agree with my thoughts and theories and were horrified every time they came to visit. Wails about what the rest of the village would think of it now it looked like this, how their mother would turn in her grave if she saw it.

Villager J thought it all hilarious and mimicked them every time they were gone.

This went on for three years. They turned up, threatened with strimmers and tractors, I promised to bring some order into the veggieplot.  I really didn’t want to lose it.

But they made me feel bad.  Whatever I did, I couldn’t do anything right, that I wasn’t a true veggieplotter.  It began to grate on me. Every time they turned up to check on the house, every few months, I began to get nervous.

But then someone told me the house would be let out. This wasn’t just  a surprise, but a worry also. We weren’t used to having neighbours anymore since Villager G left and now we’d have someone living opposite us.

It did cross my mind, what about the veggieplot, but I thought there would be no way they’d take it off me, it wasn’t attached to the house.

I’d helped looking after Villager G. I was one of the first at the funeral home when her coffin arrived. They wouldn’t do that to me.

When the youngest daughter turned up and told me she needed to talk to me, I knew what was up. She told me the new tenant wanted a piece of land with the house, so I needed to give it up. I did plead. But they didn’t understand that I’d become great friends with this piece of land who I knew inside out.

The new tenant turned out to be, thankfully, ok. He mentioned that the plot was big enough for two, but I had already said my goodbyes and didn’t know how to explain that it would feel like sharing a lover.

I had another plot at the bottom of the village which another villager had lend me, I’d just go down there a bit more.

It hurt when I saw the entire plot dug over by tractor.  And slowly the new tenant started to work and transform it, until one day I could walk past it without feeling an achy type of missing. I  still saw my old seeds appear, orange flowers I’d let loose.  Purple borage.  As if the plot was waving at me.

But he didn’t have time to look after it  and it slowly started to overgrow and I couldn’t help feeling satisfied that Villager G’s daughters perhaps would regret having handed it to him.  Because it certainly looked far worse now.

And one day I noticed the car of one of the daughters outside.  The badly hipped daughter was out there passive aggresively cutting away the weeds, while my neighbour was still asleep.

I first of all felt a sense of satisfaction, and then I felt deeply sorry for my neighbour.

When the daughter was gone and I saw him outside, I spoke to him and he said he had felt ever so embarrassed, and how bad the daughter had made him feel, saying her mother would turn in her grave.

I told him it wasn’t him, that they had always done this with me too. That it all needed to be rigid or nothing.

The daughters haven’t turned up for a while now.

The veggieplot is still a mess to this day.

It does pretty much what it wants to do and I’d like to think it’s because it enjoys its new-found freedom I gave it.




U is for Understanding

616849_10150943341376837_2137883090_oWhen we moved here I didn’t speak the language. I’m a learning on the job type of person so that didn’t bother me too much; I jumped in with all the enthusiasm I could muster.

Learning a new language through immersion mainly involves not being scared of making a fool of one self. It’s quite amazing how with  limited vocabulary, gestures and plenty of pointing  you can achieve a lot.  And I’ve always had marvelous teachers. I had a wonderful neighbour when I lived in Portugal who taught me the basics of Portuguese for instance,  and here in the village villager C  took me under her wing.

Galician is a bit like an old style Portuguese,  but it’s still very different.  Villager C somehow understood everything I tried to say and often translated when other villagers didn’t get me in the beginning.

Within no time I had the hang of basic village speak.

I even learnt names of tools and plants and  pig slaughter related terminology in Galician without knowing what they’re called in English.

In a way I’m glad I didn’t learn Spanish before coming here. Although this is Spain, not all villagers, surprisingly so perhaps, don’t actually speak Spanish.

I’ve once witnessed Spanish relatives from another villager coming here who tried to chat to villager S but she kept shaking her head saying she didn’t understand, while I did.

In town people tend to speak more Spanish than Galician and I have picked up a decent level of Spanish too, however, I prefer speaking Galician. Town people are always astonished when they hear “a foreigner speaking better Galician than us.”

When I found my immersion level had reached saturation point, I decided upon doing a Galician course and retrieved books from a teacher from the local school. Faithfully I dedicated several hours a day to the task, learning new verbs and expressions.

One Sunday I (full of enthusiasm) joined the few villagers who, as always on Sunday, had gathered on the bench outside villager J`s house. I was determined  to show off my new-found skills.

However, I only got confused faces in reply when I spoke. Why was I speaking like that? Villager S asked me. I explained that this was the real Galician I  had learned from a book. He shook his head. “Stop doing that course.” he said. “Just speak like us. Otherwise we can’t understand you.”

Since then, I  found out there is actually 3 languages here, Spanish, official Galician and Village Galician. 4 if you take into account that there are regional differences as well.

I abandoned the course.

I’m now fluent in Village Galician. And even though the villagers don’t always entirely get me, at least they understand me.


S is for Sounds

IMG_0674I always wonder how the bird kingdom decides who gets to start the dawn chorus. Picking straws?

It’s like a feathered vocal flashmob outside every morning and it’s worth getting up early for.

Village sounds are season related, just like Village smells.

In the beginning of the year the village is relatively quiet.  Around the end of January, depending on the weather, there’s snapping sounds coming from the vineyards when villagers prune their vines. Around February/March the tractors come out of their sheds, filling the village with their whirring.  Villager O’s ancient tractor, which ought to belong in a museum, stands out, it creaks and rattles.

The sounds of birds dominate early Spring and I always sigh a breath of relief when hearing the first cuckoo. His call announces Spring, although sometimes he arrives wearing a winter coat and umbrella. The Hoopoe is next.

In March the first crickets begin to chirp,  but there is an extremely loud variety here which does so in the evening and it’s not exactly chirping. It’s near deafening hence probably made illegal in other European countries.

When it’s getting warmer and the villagers are in a good mood, there is humming and singing and when they have colds they make that typical guttural throat clearing noise which is awe-inspiring and terrifying at the same time.

Villager often J sings, soprano voice. Butcher friend whistles the most entrancing tunes I’ve ever heard, accompanied by the creaking of his donkey cart. I always expect he’s being followed by other creatures just as entranced as I am, an alternative rat catcher of Hameln. Quite astonishing a man that ugly can produce that beautiful sounds.

The sound of little hooves always makes me go outside, just in case a donkey has  escaped.

On Sunday morning the village women replace their books and trainers for shiny polished church shoes,  and it’s clicking heels.

In Autumn it’s more tractors, donkey carts and wheelbarrows, when the harvesting is on the way.

During the rain season dripping noises indicate the roof still hasn’t been entirely fixed.

In December the squealing starts. It completely unnerved me the first time I heard it, sometimes it goes on far too long until you’d hear the bang of the gun, knowing it is over. I’m not religious but I tend to pray for it to be quick.

This year the noises indicating Spring arrived late.  The cuckoo was late, the crickets were late.

But I heard a fly beforehand.  I normally find those immensely irritating, their buzzing,  but in this case it felt, for just a few seconds, like summer already.

Sometimes hope arrives on the back of a single buzzing fly: the reassurance that no matter what, the seasons will change.

R is for Rage

AwgGoGzCMAMwn1b.jpg largeGalician Village life: Villagers roam lush fields, always a smile on their sun kissed faces, soft bleating of sheep in the background, complemented with chattering birds and chirping crickets. The epitome of Tranquility and Peace.



The village is full of rage.

It starts early in the morning with villager S, my neighbour. She will more often than not yell for her husband (Manueeeel) to either get out of the kitchen or come into the kitchen, go to the shed, or come out of the shed. Immediately.

The majority of the time you can hear pots or pans or buckets (or anything else that can clang  or bang) clanging from her courtyard, in echo of her voice which often goes into a near broken high pitch. They’ve changed her tablets again, she told me last week. Her nerves, you see, she whispered.

Villager S used to have a cow to take everything out on,  its skin a creamy milky white, hip bones jutting out like a bovine model. She had a holy air but was anything but. And running she could, with villager S ranting and raging behind her.  Because the stable wasn’t the place she wanted to be.

Villager J’s wife rages mainly at Villager J.  J is normally referred to as “useless” and her expression when talking about men in general makes it seem as if she’s genuinely flabbergasted about the fact that God created Adam, when Eve obviously could do it all better. Wherever something needs to be done, J will turn up too late or too wrong, or simply too J.

But the one who wins the rage race is Enraged Enrique.

Man of Epic Rants and Rage.  Imagine Basil Fawlty but then set in a Galician Village.

Enraged Enrique will always lend a helping hand where he can, will ask how things are and will agree the weather is terrible or lovely and he often smiles and brings me bags of apples if it’s the season.  He’s a highly skilled trumpet player, and in summer, doors and windows open, you can hear the sounds of trumpets drift along the heat haze of the village lane.

Just don’t get him to rage.

The vineyard next to the veggieplot I borrow, belongs to Enraged Enrique, and last summer I was digging up my potatoes while he raged against the vines. Their leaves were too leafy apparently.

His cows bear the biggest brunt. They walk too fast or they walk too slow, eat the wrong piece of grass or not enough grass.

And politics. Politics can get him into a near stutter rage, words laced with expletives spilling from his mouth.

”If it’s not our government fucking us over, then it’s the wild boar digging up our potatoes.” Epic words from Enraged Enrique.

He became ill a few years ago, and was in hospital for a while. There was talk he had to sell his cows. But he returned.  I told him to stop scaring us so much, with being ill and in hospital.

And that the village without him, just isn’t the village.

Q is for Quarry

View in the mist

Up in the hills, about a mile away, there is an old disused granite quarry. The area is quite  overgrown with shrubs and trees,  and to the untrained eye, when you venture up there, you’d think you’ve stumbled upon ancient mysterious settlements.

Some spots look as if they are giant raided tombs, or half hidden temples. In autumn they fill up with water, which gives it an eery atmosphere.

Since moving here, I have developed a great affinity with rock, granite in specific. I adore the silence of granite, its voluptuous solidity, shaped by erosion, the dappled grey patterns.

Our house is made of solid granite blocks, like all houses in this village. We bought it of villager C, it had belonged to her parents and her father built it, she told us. He cut and moved all the granite blocks from the quarry with his ox cart.

I was in awe of this. How did he do it? What kind of tools did they use to do that, to lift these blocks? She couldn’t tell me much about it , apart from saying that they just sort of chipped it to shape it.

How on earth they managed to drive the carts down the substantially steep slope, I have no idea. I’d like to find out more how it actually worked, the process of quarrying.

A few years ago, shortly after we moved here, there were rumours going round about a company wanting to mine gold. I’m truly glad that didn’t happen, because it would have meant the dirt track into the hills would have been turned into a road and we’d have trucks driving past our house on a regular basis.

The Roman’s have been quarrying the area too. and there’s evidence of even older ancient settlements nearby. I’ve always assumed there must have been a lot more petroglyphs in the area, like the big one I came across.

I’ve discovered a few more stone carvings within a km distance, but plenty of them must have been either overlooked or ignored, the need for stone blocks to build houses greater than the need to preserve their ancestor’s art, or graffiti.  (We always assume all these symbols might have a greater meaning, but for all we know we might be staring and trying to analyse some stone scratchings from a few iron age hoodlums.)

Recently  I asked Villager J what he knew about the quarries.  He didn’t know much about it either, but he said it was rubbish what villager C had said, it wasn’t her father at all who had built our house. Yes he was a stone mason, but he didn’t build the house we lived in. Villager C’s parents had bought the original building and extended it slightly. The previous owners,  Manuel and Josephina he mentioned, moved to Argentinia and never returned.

I could ask Villager C about this. But I must say I prefer the story of her father going into the hills with his ox cart and building this place by hand.

I think she prefers it too.

P is for Progress

There used to be a dirt track into the village, Villager J tells me. They didn’t need a road because no one had cars. It was just horses and ox carts. No running water, the water came from their wells. Women washed the clothes in the washing tanks. People took their grains to one of the mills near the river and baked bread in stone ovens.

Progress arrived here eventually, reluctantly, but I can imagine at a devastating pace, because the remnants of life before progress are visible everywhere still.

Walk around the village and venture in some of the old  houses and sheds, long abandoned properties, of owners who have gone of to Venezuela, Mexico or Argentina, never to return again, and you can see the ancient relics of the past.

The roof of the shed might have caved in, crumbling mattresses piled on, but pull  those mattresses away and there it is, the old ox cart, one wooden wheel fallen off.

A dusty lead rope hangs on a nail of part of a wall which is still standing, and behind some old wine barrels a rusty plough. The partitions of the stable have nearly rotten through but it’s pretty clear where the animals would have been, cows most likely. In the corner a stone drinking trough. These go for good money now, people like putting them as ornaments in their gardens.

One of the old properties no longer has doors. Someone has wrecked the cast iron top and front of the old cooker in the room upstairs, the walls blackened with sooth, a bed without a spring in another room.  The spring would have been used as an alternative fence.

The gypsies, people say, the gypsies go in and take it all. They see them as despicable scavenging hyenas, dragging things off with their hunched bodies, not to a cave, but into their not so sparkly white vans. But according to Villager L it’s often Villager J who goes scavenging. Don’t trust him, he  says.  I trust Village J regardless. Sometimes it’s better the devil you know.

I make my way through an overgrown courtyard and peek into another shed, I adjust my eyes to the dark, in the middle there is a massive weaving tool, I can’t quite make out what it is, but there’s even still some wool on it.

Where have all the people progressed to?

There doesn’t seem to be an in between generation as such. The donkeys and horses were hastily replaced with cars and credit, things were whitewashed over initially, kitchens suddenly white rather than blackened with sooth and women had washing machines.

Recently the younger generation, out of nostalgia perhaps, have decided to pay homage to what was in the past, by placing the old ploughs  and ox carts as ornaments in neatly mowed lawns , memorials to the slaving their parents used to do on the land, their callused hands.  That land. I used to grow potatoes there. And they want grass to sit on. I guess that is progress.

Villager M’s previously plastered walls have been sandblasted to reveal the granite blocks behind it, granite which was removed by hand from the quarries in the hills, moved by ox carts.  Her son has made a coffee table out of a cut in half barrel, a glass top.

Rustic is suddenly in again.

Perhaps it’s never been out as such. They might have their pressure cookers now, but the older generation is still clinging on to the old ways. They demand their offspring to come home in the weekends and help them with the vinyards, the potatoes, the haying.

Yes, maybe they have machines for that now, and instead of ploughing with oxes they have tractors, they still demand it gets done. Tarmac or no tarmac, credit or no credit.

The good thing about progress, is that women have it a lot better now, I discuss with Villager E.  Yes, that is the case, but there’s this other problem, she says. Now there’s so much more stress. People are getting ill with it. They might have their washing machines and cars, she says, but…it doesn’t seem to be as what she thought she signed up for.

And while everyone is progressing, digressing and regressing, I keep a look out for old and trying to learn, taking in those old skills wherever I can.