Posted by: puebloman | March 29, 2009

Transports of delight

We bought an old Citroen Berlingo from the village plumber three years ago, and while it costs us a lot to keep going we both agree it’s been as good as gold. It can carry our mango crop to market, the winter wood home,  sand cement and tiles from the  builders merchant, and after all this it can be spruced up and turned into a passable taxi if we need to ferry guests from the airport, or round Andaulcia, or up a mountain. Like God it is slow but exceeding sure, especially up precipitous village slopes.

It would be an understatement to say that it’s a bit beaten up. It’s a lot beaten up – every dent and scrape a testament to my driving. I don’t know why I have so many accidents in the village, because the advice of the entire population is always to hand whenever I get into difficulty. Men wave, signal, shrug and argue with each other, standing so close that I’m thankful not to have damaged one of them as I edge my way between a concrete wall, three mopeds and a Jeep. There are little dents around the headlights where I have clipped a car on a tight turn, and there are other little dents where cars have clipped me on a tight turn.There are long  languid scrapes from looking the wrong way while reversing, and prangs to both bumpers from applying the brake half a second too late. The streets were of course built for donkeys, not cars. Only one donkey actually, walking very slowly down a deserted street. Well, that’s my excuse.

The village vandals have also left their mark on the car. At first, knowing who it used to belong to, they left it alone just in case they were related to the new owner. When they realised it was me, they made their move. Too stupid to hot wire and steal the car and lacking the resources to “fence” stolen property, they contented themselves with picking off the top of the gearstick with a penknife and removing the door handle – actions clearly designed to demoralise the car itself.

Driving through narrow streets down to the church square in Almachar yesterday, I noticed an unusually large number of old men hanging around the bar. There was a  formality about them  and I heard the church bell.  As I enterd the square, elderly women were emerging in black jumpers and slacks. I assumed someone had died, which is a good bet because the population here is so ancient that someone usually has. But I was in a hurry. Fifteen minutes later I’d done my business and returned to the square. There was no one to be seen. As I gunned the car back up the hill I came nose to nose with the biggest funeral procession I’d ever seen – two hundred people led by hearse that entirely filled the street. When you meet another car in the street its the custom either to stand your ground (by looking casually out of the side window as though you have all the time in the world), or to wrench your gears into reverse, cream the car expertly backwards and slam it into a recess with a half centimetre gap between yourself and the wall. I looked at the crowd and recognised in it my many parking advisors. The hearse came to a standstill.  I reversed down the narrow slope, narrowly missing the precipice to my right and the rail to my left.  The cortage followed me down, removing any possibility to adjust or manoeuvre.  At the third attempt I slid into a siding to the gentle crunch of sheet metal, as the side of the car gave way against the wall. I like to think that, in spite of the sweat running down my back, I retained  a sense gravitas throughout, and an appropriate“lo siento” expression on my face.

The cortage solemnly passed by the Berlingo. As I placed my hand upon my heart and bowed my head, I wonderd vaugely whether the mood of the passing mouners was brought on by grief, or by by a deep sense of regret that if only they had been able to impart a little advice, the latest long scratch on the bodywork might have been avoided.

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