Posted by: puebloman | November 17, 2013

An English immigrant in Spain – from tourist to ex-pat

The immigrant form

Living the dream

I seem to have turned into an immigrant here in the Axarquia.  I’m not sure how it happened. I have sort of evolved that way over the last decade without really making a decision or taking a step.

I’m not even sure if “immigrant” is technically correct, after all aren’t we all Europeans now? Haha!

Here in Spain I still can’t vote for the local MP, but I get to vote for the local Mayor and the regional MEP. I’m not yet a citizen of Spain,  but I do have “residencia” and carry an identity card. I live here more or less all the time (more than 183 days per year) so I pay all my taxes in Spain and submit an annual tax declaration. Had I moved to the UK I’d certainly be regarded as an immigrant. And yet only ten years ago I was a nothing but a simple tourist.

Of course tourists are dreamers , whereas immigrants had better be awake. I wonder when I woke up?

Worker on Donkey Almachar

Eleventh or twenty-first century?

When I was a tourist my holiday pleasure was all in the foreplay. I used to sit at work with a view of the Axarquia on my laptop so I could slope off on holiday several times a day without leaving the office, escaping into my own little world imagining me as an ideal version of myself and Andalucia an ideal version of itself. Perfect. Hardly worth actually going away because I’d already done the holiday in my head. In fact going was a bit of a risk – suppose the actual thing didn’t measure up to the dream?

No worries. When I arrived I just focussed on the stuff that fitted my fantasy and ignored the rest. If there was anything I didn’t understand I made it up. After all I didn’t have  to keep the illusion going for long. Take our first holiday to the Axarquia. We stayed for a week at a so called “Mill” complex just south of Frigilliana. My wife and I decided that our home had been a finca that in the olden days was visited at weekends by a solitary Andalucian peasant on a donkey, but was now not needed because the peasant’s great grandson now had a moped and could get to and from the land in thirty minutes and so had sold up and so on and so on . . . maybe the “Finca” was built on the site of an eighth century Moorish fort?  What did we care? We were only there for a week. As long as we didn’t come into contact with real life (which is messy) we could go back to London having visited some exotic place  inside ourselves as well as in the actual world.

Later we bought a holiday home and promoted ourselves from tourists to holiday homers. I can’t remember why. It was at a time when, if you weren’t a sub prime borrower your credit rating might suffer. So we borrowed some more on the mortgage. It took us all of a week to find the house. We didn’t have it surveyed. We paid cash. We were still a-dream and it was good-bye holidays, hello holiday home because we never ever went anywhere else on holiday again. There was always something to do on the house. People to see, bills to pay, work to organise. Yet we were still in dream time because when we left our place in London we also left behind the clutter and rubbish that accrues to middle aged existence. When we visited our Spanish house it was always pristine bright and shining just as when we’d left it. All the stuff that weighed us down physically and mentally remained at home in London and we lived for a while in a clean clear space containing nothing but what we needed.

We had already acquired some of the trappings of immigrancy, paradoxically by getting a  Número de Identificación de Extrajeros,  an Identification number for foreigners, the ubiquitous NIE.  You need an NIE here to buy a house, car, boat, get a doctor’s appointment, register at the town hall and for more or less any official or administrative action. Although it was more or less ignored in 2005 when we first came, these days you can hardly fart in Spain without having to give someone your NIE number. Once you get it you might as well get your residency and stop paying tax like a foreigner. And so on.

So we decided to sell up and live here. I can’t exactly recall how, or what the logic was.  In London we were both having a dark time in middle management. Both in our mid fifties we knew that if we were going to make a move we should do it while we still had strength to start again. We knew if we left our jobs we would have to start up on our own. People in their 50’s get sacked and replaced by cheaper 30 year olds, they don’t simply slide into new jobs. Reality was kicking in.

Normally we would have jolly well pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and got on with it but . . .well, we had the house in Spain didn’t we? We also had a little two up two down house in London which, without us doing anything at all had  turned into a Regency cottage. We could sell that and set up a little holiday business. So we got the house valued. Five sixteen year old boys with gelled up hair turned up (late) from five different estate agents. There was a fifty thousand pound difference between the highest and lowest valuation – a testament to their forensic professionalism. To hell with it we said, we’ll put the house on the market for the top price and in a year or so we’ll have some idea what it’s actually worth.

Six weeks later the house was bought by a plumber with a heavily pregnant wife. He needed occupancy in a month. We desperately  needed somewhere to rent.

So we rented. Then we moved. And here we are. It all seems to be working out.

Evening view of Mount Maroma

Living the reality

Posted by: puebloman | October 26, 2013

The festival of the Monfi: Catholics drag up as Muslims

handler catching mexican eagle

Professional Catholic Muslim catches Mexican eagle in “ethnic” Moorish fiesta

Read More…

In spite of the resignation of the fascist pope Joseph Ratzinger, the Catholic Church continues to press its Nazi credentials on Spain

In spite of the resignation of the fascist pope Joseph Ratzinger, the Catholic Church continues to press its Nazi credentials on Spain

At a scurrilous “religious” service held in Tarragona and attended by Spanish Cabinet members as well as Catalan premier Artur Mas, the Vatican on Sunday officially beatified 522 Catholic officials killed during the Spanish Civil War. This disgraceful act re enforces the feeling of many in our rural community that the Catholic church remains an institution sympathetic to the fascism of the Franco era.

The total lack of a “truth and reconciliation” process in Spain is nowhere more evident than in its failure to call the Catholic Church to account for its criminal and immoral activity before during and after the civil war.

You will not find a single picture, photograph or icon of the pope or the Vatican in any shop or institution in the region of the Axarquia.

The men of the villages rarely receive the host at communion, preferring to stand at the back of the church to see the host consecrated before retreating to the bar. The women of the villages care for the village saints, those local Gods who are supposed to have actually done something for the communities who worship them.

Ratzi the NaziWhile he praised these so called “martyrs” as “disciples,” pope Francis avoided mentioning the Catholic Church’s role defending and supporting Nazism during the 1936-39 Civil War in which it aligned itself with anti democratic Nationalist forces and, later, with the fascist Franco regime — one of many indelible stains upon the Spanish Church’s history that still evokes hatred in many democratically minded Spaniards.

It is incredible that pope Francis – an apparently liberal pope – should stoop to such an act, which is unworthy of a Christian man. It is tempting to see the hand of the last pope Ratzi the Nazi, who still wafts around the corridors of the Vatican behind this event, which will surprise no one from the villages of the Axarquia.

Bacaladilla (blue whiting) now appearing on the slabs of the fishmongers of Velez Malaga

Bacaladilla (blue whiting) now appearing on the slabs of the fishmongers of Velez Malaga

We are starting to see bacaladilla and pescadilla on fishmongers slabs. When I first came to Spain with my evening-class Spanish, I leapt to the conclusion that the first was baby bacalao – baby cod and the second was just baby fish in general. Typical that an immigrant like me should think the worst of his hosts. I thought for years that fishmongers were selling undersized cod – something forbidden to British fishermen.

But bacaladilla in fact refers to a diminutive species of whiting. This is a fish of the cod family and swims with codling in the deep sea but is a small species that only grows to 300grams, about half a pound. In English it would be called “Blue whiting”  if you could get it in England. It is a silver fish, sometimes with blue speckles on the belly,  a cod like fish that lives in large shoals. They feed on shrimp and squid and occasionally on each other. They are voracious feeders, sometimes tearing into prey that they don’t subsequently eat.

If you are old like me and can remember a time when Brits only ate cod and haddock, you will recall that coley was for the cat and whiting was for invalids – served boiled with some gluckky sauce. In fact, my local fish monger tells me that bacaladilla is great for growing children. It’s full of calcium, high in vitamins A and B and very low in fat.

It tastes best shallow fried, simply gutted with or without the head (your fish monger will do this for you) dusted in seasoned harina rebozado and fried ’til golden. Or you can butterfly it by running your thumb along the spine of a gutted and headed fish, then lifting out the spine and tail. The last time I looked, you could buy it for €2 – €5 a kilo.

Pescadilla is a different kettle of fish so to speak. Also of the cod family, it is defined as  ” A  breeding Hake that has passed its first phase of growth”.  It lives in the deep ocean , always away from the coast except in summer when  it feeds closer to the shore.  It too is a voracious carnivore, hunting fish at night. Its body is silver and shines in and out of the water but you can always recognise a hake, young or old, by the great toothy jaw with razor sharp teeth that point backwards. It feeds on fish and shellfish and the variety of its diet is what makes its flesh so rich.

Pescadilla or young Hake. The sharp little teeth are clamped onto the tail in this "classic" fried fish dish

Pescadilla or young Hake. The sharp little teeth are clamped onto the tail in this “classic” fried fish dish

It has a better flavour than bacaladilla and is much more expensive at €12 to €16, though even at this price it can find its way onto a Menu del Dia as an occasional option. In bars it is always served fried in a circle, biting its own tail, but it’s also good stuffed and baked. Butterfly the fish by removing its guts and head and taking out its spine. Chop an onion small and fry it gently until golden with some garlic. Mix in a handful of fresh spinach leaves per fish. Season with salt pepper and a little nutmeg. That’s it. You can add chopped prawns, or pine nuts or walnut pieces or a teaspoon of grated parmesan per fish. Stuff the fish, brush with oil  and bake in a pre heated hot oven for about 15 minutes.

The problem for the consumer is whether to eat pescadilla at all. Do you want to be part of the Spanish habit of eating undersized fish?  Although pescadilla is of breeding age these young hake might better be left to breed in the sea for a few more years. Many species of fish are sold in Spain in their immature state. Killed before they reach breeding age, the industry and the consumer forfeits the millions of kilos of fish they might have produced had they lived. Red mullet for example, one of the most delicious fish in the sea. Piles of immature baby mullet can be seen on any fishmongers slab any day of the week and this is the result of the rape of shallow ocean shelf by inshore Spanish fishermen using small mesh nets. Turbot on the other hand, which looks like a big fish, are often actually babies. It takes a turbot many years to grow to sexual maturity, yet the small “chicken” sexually immature turbot can be found both in small stalls and in big supermarkets at the ludicrously low price of €13 per kilo.

Catching undersized fish  is one of the main causes of the depletion of fish stocks and there are many Spanish laws against it. The point is to make those laws effective. In Spain it costs little to pass a law but a great deal to enforce it, so inspectors and enforcement agencies are woefully inadequate. Although Spanish fishermen are notorious for catching undersized fish, there are more inspectors in Newlyn, Cornwall, than in all of Spain.

Classic dishes of Malaga – mixed Malaga fried fish for example, are full of undersized fish. This is entirely unnecessary. The dish would not suffer if small species fish were used such as anchovies, sardines, bacaladilla and small species of the squid family plus cuts of larger fish. All fish eaters know that larger fish have a better flavour, though of course they are more expensive. Eating undersized fish in Spain became a tradition because historically these fish were the rubbish, the throw outs of the catch and therefore the cheap food of the poor.

If you care about fish stocks, bacaladilla  might be a more ethical lunch than pescadilla, though it depends entirely where the pescadilla is caught. I was in Eroskis last week and my favourite fishwife was advising me to hang on for a few days because they were getting some superb pescadilla (baby hake) from Caleta, the landing stage for local fish. She kissed her fingers, it was that good! This of course would be the Mediterranean Hake merlucius merlucius, which is almost extinct. The north Atlantic or silver hake Merluccius bilinearis is not endangered. Its stocks are strong and were well looked after by northern fishermen until Spanish industrial fishing boats moved in. This would be a more ethical choice if you could get your fish monger to tell you where your fish were caught.

It might well be argued that under the scandalous and disgraceful policies of the European Community Common Fisheries Policy, all “by catch” and undersized catch have to be “discarded” anyway. They would simply be thrown back dead into the water as seagull food. Good point, though the undersized fish industry is like the drug industry. The only way to deal with it is surely to reduce demand.

The community is seeking to reform the Common Fisheries Policy and  ironically its reforms, including the “discard ” directive, are being blocked by Spain, the greatest beneficiary of present policies. Spain has by far the largest fishing fleet in Europe including some large industrial scale fishing operators, supported and encouraged by massive European taxpayer funded subsidies.  Spain is leading a group of EU nations blocking positive change on the CFP and as the chief benefactor of the existing corrupt arrangements, Madrid will continue to resist.

Posted by: puebloman | September 18, 2013

Grafting mangos

At last! The light coloured leaves are the burst bud of the scion wood. The graft has taken!

At last! The light coloured leaves are the burst bud of the scion wood. The graft has taken!

I was going to call this post “how to graft mangos” but since my success up to this year has been nil, I can hardly pose as someone who knows how to do it.

August is the month when you graft mangos – the temperature must never fall below 70 degrees F (20C) day or night, and it’s best to attempt it when the receiving wood is at the height of its vigour, that means watering it when there ain’t no water and doing this often enough to introduce a little feed by way of encouragement.

In July you prepare the scion (pronounced syon) wood. That’s the wood you are going to insert (the Spanish for “to graft” is insertar ). A wild mango tree won’t fruit until it’s over 100 feet high so isn’t it strange that the height of every mango tree in the Axarquia is exactly the same as that of a small Spaniard? It’s because small Spaniards chopped the sapling heads off at a convenient height and bound on bits of fruiting wood from another tree. It’s the way all fruiting trees are grown and it sounds simple but there are tricks, wrinkles, knacks and skills that I am only slowly acquiring.splitting the rootstock wood detail

Timing is all as I’ve already said. Last year the old boys told me to graft in the autumn, but they were having a laugh.

In July you select the shoots from your best healthiest trees. You strip off the leaves, water and feed the tree and cut the shoot off just before its bud bursts into leaf. In other words when it’s at is maximum potential. How you know when a mango tree is just about to do something is beyond me. The old boys just tap their noses and grin.

You have already selected your receiving tree. It’s either old  or not producing anything, or not the right fruit. The bottom line is that it still has vigour. There must be strong growth coming from the rootstock and you have to catch the tree a the top of its potential. Hopefully both the scion and the rootstock reach this stage at the same time. Ha!

My best fruit trees produce the variety Tommy Atkins. Yes I know it’s a daft name. the root stocks are from Florida and all have first world war names or the names of English counties. Like Kent.

Splicing the scion to the split rootstock and bind the cambium layers together

Splicing the scion to the split rootstock and bind the cambium layers together

I want to spread my best Tommy Atkins around so I have cut back the rootstock wood that grows from beneath the fruiting wood on my non-productive trees and insert my best “Tommy” scions. I use the crudest grafting method, which is to splice the wood, creating a 3cm wedge from the scion wood, splitting the rootstock wood to about 3cms and splicing them together. The important thing is to bind the cambium layer of the scion and the rootstock together. The cambium is the vessel rich layer just below the skin or bark of the shoot.

The binding tape has peculiar properties – springy with good holding power. Traditionally string or hemp would be used but the plastic tie is more sanitary and is airtight to reduce infection – a hazard to which any wound or operation is prone.

Well, after that you just wait around smoking and having a drink as though you were pregnant, or waiting in the delivery room. After two or three weeks you can assess the level of your success or failure. After a month the non takers have turned black. This year I did 20 grafts and have three sprouts, perhaps six takes yet to sprout. This is a record for me, though I’m not sure if I’ve got enough life left in me to become an expert. Next year 50%!

Finished graft. The tie is made with stretchy plastic tape that both holds tight the join and makes the graft airtight

Finished graft. The tie is made with stretchy plastic tape that both holds tight the join and makes the graft airtight. Note the yellow proto-shoot round the tip of the bud.

Posted by: puebloman | September 15, 2013

The proper way to Eat a Fig

blog figs

A handful of figs from our big fig tree. Judy dried some this year. I suppose they’re sexy. If you’ve got that sort of mind . .

Well its the season of figs and other fruitfulness, so let old toilet mouth have a go. I always thought you should write about what you know, so Lawrence ought to write about coal not figs. He does go on about them. Doubt if he’d ever seen one

Personally I wouldn’t bother to peel them

by D.H. Lawrence

The proper way to eat a fig, in society,
Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,
And open it, so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled four-petalled flower.

Then you throw away the skin
Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,
After you have taken off the blossom, with your lips.

But the vulgar way
Is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.

Every fruit has its secret.

The fig is a very secretive fruit.
As you see it standing growing, you feel at once it is symbolic:
And it seems male.
But when you come to know it better, you agree with the Romans, it is female.

The Italians vulgarly say, it stands for the female part; the fig-fruit:
The fissure, the yoni,
The wonderful moist conductivity towards the centre.

The flowering all inward and womb-fibrilled;
And but one orifice.

The fig, the horse-shoe, the squash-blossom.

There was a flower that flowered inward, womb-ward;
Now there is a fruit like a ripe womb.

It was always a secret.
That’s how it should be, the female should always be secret.

There never was any standing aloft and unfolded on a bough
Like other flowers, in a revelation of petals;
Silver-pink peach, venetian green glass of medlars and sorb-apples,
Shallow wine-cups on short, bulging stems
Openly pledging heaven:
Here’s to the thorn in flower! Here is to Utterance!
The brave, adventurous rosaceæ.

Folded upon itself, and secret unutterable,
And milky-sapped, sap that curdles milk and makes ricotta,
Sap that smells strange on your fingers, that even goats won’t taste it;
Folded upon itself, enclosed like any Mohammedan woman,
Its nakedness all within-walls, its flowering forever unseen,
One small way of access only, and this close-curtained from the light;
Fig, fruit of the female mystery, covert and inward,
Mediterranean fruit, with your covert nakedness,
Where everything happens invisible, flowering and fertilization, and fruiting
In the inwardness of your you, that eye will never see
Till it’s finished, and you’re over-ripe, and you burst to give up your ghost.

Till the drop of ripeness exudes,
And the year is over.

And then the fig has kept her secret long enough.
So it explodes, and you see through the fissure the scarlet.
And the fig is finished, the year is over.

Posted by: puebloman | September 10, 2013

History of Cutar in objects 6: The silver mine

The silver mine at Cutar.

The silver mine at Cutar.

Many of you, dear readers, seeing the title of this piece, will be looking for a map – or perhaps a screwed up piece of paper with cryptic clues, crossed bones, a skull and a treasure chest. Well I could tell you exactly where this silver mine is, but I’m sworn to secrecy and once I told you I’d have to kill you. So perhaps its best all round if I talk about its location only in general terms, lest one moonless night you are wakened by the tap tap of a stick on our newly finished cobbles, and you sit up in bed and cry “Lord oh lord, be this the dreaded  tap of Blind Pugh, come for the treasure map? Arrr!”

So. If you walk to the river side of Cútar village and take the concrete road, it will plunge down and round in long looping coils to the bed of the  dry river Cútar. You cross this and then strike up into the hills opposite, planted with a host of young mango trees. Somewhere there in the foothills of the Sierra Tejeda is an old silver mine and last week my friend Claus took me out there to measure and map it.

Claus has lived in the village for more than thirty years and is one of my favorite people. Retired now, he spends his time doing bhuddist things and making low energy light fittings. In a previous life however he was a gold digger. Not a fancy gigolo after moneyed ladies of a certain age, no, he was an exploratory geologist, responsible for making educated guesses regarding the viability of mineral prospects in sites all over the world.  Villagers who know about his past sometimes ask for an informed opinion re the prospects of their land. That’s how Claus came across the mine.

The tunnel is of shale. "Might it collapse?" I ask "I think it'll be standing for longer than we are" replies Claus (flash photo)

The tunnel is of shale. “Might it collapse?” I ask “I think it’ll be standing for longer than we are” replies Claus (flash photo)

As we cross the river Claus kicks a rock in the dry bed. “I call this stuff “Grot”.

It’s pre-Cambrian – unimaginably old, and largely shale. Shale is mud compressed into rock by the tectonic action of Africa pressing against Europe and buckling the southern rim of Spain into its Sierras and  foothills. Here It is very red and that means iron. “You’d need about a million tons of this stuff before you had enough iron to make something” says Claus. Ah. Well. No fortune there then.

We reach the mine. It is a single level tunnel, more or less the height of a man and about a metre and a half wide. It’s 4 in the afternoon but the atmosphere is still hot and airless so it’s a relief to get into the cold of the tunnel. The mine bores straight into a peak of newer Carboniferous limestone which is like spongey calcium so prone to flash flooding, but not at this time of year. The limestone accounts  for the famously “hard” water of the region, full of “Cal” or calcium – the stuff that furs up your kettles.

The tunnel is populated by bats, three or four times the size of pipistrells.

"Surely you don't get calcium walls and stalactites in a tunnel only 100years old?" I said " Ha ha ha!" replied Claus

“Surely you don’t get calcium walls and stalactites in a tunnel only  100 years old?” I said ” Ha ha ha!” replied Claus

The mine is totally un viable. The miners were following a seam of “sulphate” a compound of silver,but the seam was thin and didn’t expand into a viable prospect. Claus believes that the tunnel was cut by hand using cold chisels and block hammers over a period of two to four years by a team of men who voided the tunnel using wheel barrows. He dates it at around 1920. There are a few green smudges on the wall that indicate copper. “You want a green copper smudge, there it is” says Claus. He’s a hard man.

To understand why a generation of men should commit themselves to a massive project that produced nothing, you have to understand the particular desperation of the 1920’s.

Spain had done very well out of the first world war because of its neutrality. Both the British/American armies and the German/Italian armies had appreciated rations of dried fruit – an energising and non perishable food stuff. When soldiers had gorged themselves on raisins and fig bread, they could blow each other to buggery with shells and artillery manufactured around Malaga. The steel industry then was in its hey day. At the end of the war both industries lost their market. The ‘flu epidemic of 1918 killed moire people than did the first world war, and influenza ravaged Spain.

Phylloxera, the vine disease of the 1900’s continued to destroy grape harvests in the Axarquia, so it’s understandable that the fantasy of a “silver strike” should have gripped the men who worked uselessly and fruitlessly in this mine.

The one viable air shaft. Climbable

The one viable air shaft. Climbable

We made our way to the end of the mine, sometimes standing, sometimes crouching until we reached a pool of clear water. A farmer had already warned us that though the water used to be the “purest and best” in the district, it was now regularly doused with insecticide and anti fungicide before being run over the mangos. So we didn’t drink it.

We measured the tunnel bit by bit. I would stand at a bend, Claus stood at the next bend and he would shoot his electronic measuring gizmo at my ample belly, recording the distance and the bearing. A hundred and thirty metres all together. We came across two air shafts. One had collapsed. The other Claus had climbed, but thought it might be a bit much for me (how can a buddhist be so competitive?). There were some dead-end branchings and some water holes.

We emerge once more into the stultifying heat, and see the real gold all around us. Mangos. Hill upon hill of them and battalions of babies with their trunks painted white against the sun. “Of course” says Claus “Once supply exceeds demand the price plummets. Just like gold”. How can he be so hard? And him a buddhist?

Posted by: puebloman | September 9, 2013

How we build roads

Finished roadway with shallow steps featuring ladrillos and marble pebbles

Detail of finished roadway with shallow steps featuring ladrillos and marble pebbles

When you first come to live in a village like Cútar it’s easy  to sentimentalise the “olden days”. To imagine it to have been fairy tale – like Glocamorragh but there all the time – the pristine white buildings, their walls cascading geraniums, the prettily cobbled roadways, its chocolate box “vernacular” architecture.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Apart from blips of prosperity, these are impoverished villages with a long miserable history behind them.  They consisted of mud huts, lining stinking narrow donkey width streets. Cobbled streets yes, sporadic stoney lumps stuck together with mud hard as rough concrete until churned to sludge by the brief belts of pelting rain. The villages of course were white. The Moors, who ruled the region for seven hundred years had strict sanitation laws and the villages were obliged to lime wash their buildings once per year against disease. With the Christian reconquest in the sixteenth century, dirt once more became the order of the day.

There seems to have been a huge grant of concrete during Franco’s last days, in the 1970’s. Many villages including Cútar and Almáchar now have all their roads made of rough concrete At the time must have felt like a technological breakthrough – clean roads, effective “run off” for rainwater and the ability to run a car instead of just a donkey round the villages. Cars would have been a village fat cat asset in those days but “motos” too would have had a less hazardous ride than before.

These days concrete, like Franco, is very passé. The road surface plays hell with your “Campers”, and Moroccan shoes are out. Half a day and the soles are ripped clean off. The economic strategy of the Town Halls  – especially in Cútar, tends towards tourism and this requires exactly those geranium strewn cobbles that never were. No, not even under the Moors who we all know were benign, beautiful and altogether perfect.

So here is our main street in Cutar. The mayor has done about twenty metres every time there was a bit of money and now it is finished. I love it, and well done the mayor, who has managed a little change for good each year  that makes us all feel better, until, poco a poco (little by little) we have a brand new main street. Like English folk music, it harks back to a halcyon time that never existed. Nevertheless it uses traditional materials, flat bricks and marble cobbles plus village craftsmanship to create something impressive and very worthwhile.

Here’s how it’s done:

First strip out the old concrete and lay out the ladrillos (thin bricks). Get a team to fix the plumbing/drainage. Turn off the village water arbitrarily and with no notice

First strip out the old concrete and lay out the ladrillos (thin bricks). Get a team to fix the plumbing/drainage. Turn off the village water arbitrarily and with no notice


Now use the ladrillos to build borders and beds. The square steel poles are to make sure at every stage that the road is level. Continue to turn the water on and off at your convenience. Ignore the complaints of old ladies

Here is the gaffer checking the levels after the central concrete slab has been put in place. Actually that slab had to be turned over because the elderly ladies went ar*e over t*t on the marble every time it rained. So the rough surface was put uppermost

Here is the gaffer checking the levels after the central concrete slab has been put in place. Actually that slab had to be turned over because the elderly ladies went ar*e over t*t on the marble every time it rained. So the rough surface was put uppermost

Decorative cobbles are used to fill the beds. Simple and complex patterns are combined to give the street that fashionable "Moorish" feel

Decorative cobbles are used to fill the beds. Simple and complex patterns are combined to give the street that fashionable “Moorish” feel

Simple moorish "knot" of ladrillos and cobbles

Simple moorish “knot” of ladrillos and cobbles

written from:

Posted by: puebloman | August 21, 2013

The not so common chameleon

One of our "common" chameleons cruising the amond branches

One of our “common” chameleons cruising the branches of  almond trees

Summer is the season of the lizard, and perhaps the most beautiful and elegant of all lizards is the common or mediterranean chameleon that is appearing in gardens and patios now. Although they have been out and around since April, August is their breeding month. Males vigorously defend their territories that often include females, so they are more in evidence at this time of year.

In spite of their exotic nature everyone knows what you mean when you say “Chameleon”. They instantly bring to mind those swivelling eyes that move independently, the 360 degree vision, and a strong, prehensile tail that acts like a fifth limb. Most lizards have five fingers and toes but in the case of Chameleons these have fused into two thick opposed digits allowing them to grasp branches and inhabit shrub. They are Spain’s only arboreal lizard. The famous Chameleon tongue lies coiled up in its mouth like a spring, ready to hit a moving or even flying target at long-range. The tongue is sticky and whips back into the mouth, the prey attached. They are insect eaters and great demolishers of pests.
Chameleons are legendary for their ability to change colour and this is mistakenly thought to be a camouflage technique. In fact the chameleon’s ability to achieve absolute stillness, the excruciating slowness and smoothness of its movement and the slow sway of its gait hypnotises the observer while allowing it to melt away into the background. Strong colour changes are emotionally triggered. Corner or touch a chameleon and its turns dark with rage. Spectacular colour changes occur during sexual inter action and during face offs between males
It will surprise no one to learn that in spite of its name, “common” it is no longer common and in fact it is on the red list. This species is however listed as “Least Concern” because it is widely distributed, and because although it is declining it is unlikely to be declining fast enough to be listed in a more threatened category. The fact that it is on the red list makes it illegal to take or molest the species.
Where we live in the Axarquia the eastern part of Andalucia, is one of its last natural habitats. In this region it is still fairly plentiful. Locals and visitors ignorant of the law are still inclined to abuse chameleons. In a pub in Almachar a man places his evil smelling besocked foot on a bar table, releasing a “tame” (tethered) chameleon, where it entertains customers by picking off visiting flies with its sticky tongue. Children still “hunt” them. Drunks try to run them down in the road. Their gentle beauty has made them fatally valuable to the pet trade – legal in the past and illegal now and this is the major cause of their decline. Other causes are road building and other loss of habitat for example through tourism development, scrub fires, heavy insecticide use that destroys or pollutes their food, road kill and predation by domestic dogs and cats.
Chameleon among the aloes in our two bedroom cottage garden

Chameleon among the aloes in our two bedroom cottage garden

Chamaeleo chamaeleon (Linnaeus, 1758)  is native to  the Atlantic coast of Western Sahara including Morocco, northern Algeria, northern and central Tunisia, northern Libya and northern Egypt. In southwestern Asia it occurs in southern Turkey, western Syria, Lebanon, Israel and western Jordan, western and southwestern Saudi Arabia and northern Yemen. Its attractiveness may account for its initial introduction to southern Spain and Portugal, probably around 1500. It now occurs  along the southern coast of the Iberian peninsula, presumably introduced in response to the demands of the sixteenth century pet trade!

In the Axarquia chameleons occur in a density of 10-25 per hectare (2 1/2 acres), though double that has been recorded, so you are by no means guaranteed to see them even where they are said to be plentiful. Chameleons are day time lizards and you can find them climbing in bushes in  shrub land, plantations, open pine woodland, orchards (such as almonds and olive groves) and gardens. I sometimes find one stalking by vegetable patch where the humidity is a bit higher. Chameleons, like all lizards are “cold-blooded” – their body temperature goes up and down with the environment. So look for them on hot sultry evenings and leave the midday sun to mad dogs and Englishmen. They are solitary beasts, barely tolerating each other or even members of the opposite sex during the breeding season. The females produce a single clutch of between five and forty-five eggs per year; these are buried in the soil and left to hatch.The babies fend for themselves.

same animal on the tiles

same animal on the tiles and in a bad mood


Posted by: puebloman | August 19, 2013

Ode to tomatoes by Pablo Neruda

These are late crop pomodoro tomatoes, grow from seed giving to me by the celebrated London chef Stan Perry. Heavy dense and delicious, growing on slender stems, fruit of August

These are late crop Pomodoro tomatoes, grown from seed given to me by the celebrated London chef Stan Perry. Heavy dense and delicious, growing on slender stems, fruit of August.

Ode To Tomatoes by Pablo Neruda
The street
filled with tomatoes,
light is
its juice
through the streets.
In December,
the tomato
the kitchen,
it enters at lunchtime,
its ease
on countertops,
among glasses,
butter dishes,
blue saltcellars.
It sheds
its own light,
benign majesty.
Unfortunately, we must
murder it:
the knife
into living flesh,
a cool
populates the salads
of Chile,
happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism;
it is the wedding
of the day,
its flag,
bubble vigorously,
the aroma
of the roast
at the door,
it’s time!
come on!
and, on
the table, at the midpoint
of summer,
the tomato,
star of earth, recurrent
and fertile
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.

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