Last updated on March 22, 2015
I can believe, but do not want to believe how quickly time goes by. It is already the beginning of March and the almond blossoms are bursting forth all over the Maestrat, some more advanced than others depending on the variety and how high up they are.
The wilder they are, the more resistant the blooms, but also the more bitter their fruit may be.
At the end of my terrace a self-seeded tree has been throwing forth flowers for 6 weeks already, clearly in weather confusion. I actually thought it was done, especially with the winds we have been having, but a few days ago it gave another bursting performance and now looks more vibrant and beautiful than ever.
The light is clear and crisp, yet has a pleasing softness, and the sunrises are gobsmacking, so spectacular that I actually set my alarm every morning so as not to miss them. The sunsets are pretty amazing too.
And the winds – well they are nothing less than brutal. You can’t have everything after all. It feels like minus 50 in the sun, and half of that in the night. One of my shutters keeps on freeing itself from its anchor and banging back and forth against the stonewall. Two years ago almost all of the shutters did this, and then last year only a few as Miguel the ironman and I devised a system to keep them put and noise-free in the unrelenting Mestral.
Now I understand why the Spanish here tend to keep their shutters on the inside of the houses. Serves me right for choosing a French system. A few months ago I passed through the Langue d’Oc near Beziers and was intrigued to see how many different systems they had in place there on the older houses – different from town to town but pretty much consistent in each area.
So a problem for the southern frogs too, and no surprise as their troublesome wind, the Mistral, is the very same as ours. Historically the local ironman devised a solution to it – no Monsieur Bricolage or the like then. I like to think I am following in the steps of history. I took a photo of one such remedy, for not only did it make sense, but also it was also extremely fetching. Handsome ironwork really does set a place apart.
However my one banging shutter is high up and I have not been able to apply any of these pleasing solutions apart from closing it – something the French do a lot. How many times have I passed through a bastide town at midday and wondered if everyone had gone to a funeral? If I had a dime for each shuttered window.
I don’t like closed shutters. I don’t particularly like curtains pulled shut either. This is definitely a Dutch thing. The Dutch prefer large windows without dressings and invite strangers to look into their beloved sitting rooms much as if they were front show gardens. The Dutch are clean and tidy. We are house-proud and I believe there is an historical reason for this, at least according to Simon Schama. The men spent so much time away at sea that the women sublimated their sexual urges by scrubbing. And if you believe that, you will believe anything.
I personally think it had more to do with the fact that Holland is very damp. Dig down a foot anywhere and the odds are that the hole will fill up with water. Many of the houses are below the waterline; just think of the Amsterdam with its canals. Damp, water, mould. Ill health. So scrub, scrub, scrub.
Here the wind blows every trace of moisture away. It has hardly rained for 22 months now. No mould and no need to scrub. My lips are cracked from it all, but the almond trees continue through the gales like resplendent carnival queens. I hope there are no more late frosts and rain comes soon. Last year this very duo killed the almond and olive crop. The local supermarket has had to buy oil from elsewhere in. Almonds no one worries about – they keep for years.
My trees produced a miserly 10 kilos of tiny olives instead of the usual 100 kilos of plump juicy ones. Three months ago Felix and I placed them in a glass vat with water salt and mountain herbs. Last week I gave them a go. I was really looking forward to the tart aromatic taste as his partner Merce does bar olives so well. These were bitter and incredibly salty, and stung my sore lips. Basically inedible. Oh dear. I poured off some of the water, topped up with more salt-free water and herbs and had a peek this morning. Upon releasing the cork, an animated cloud of vividly coloured mould rose from the herby water surface like a fleet of aliens. So there is mould in Spain after all.