Friday, 7 June 2002
Andy the Baker, Bautista and Cat
I am typing this with tears in my eyes. Not through emotion, but through wood smoke. The fire I lit to counteract the drop of 16 degrees in the thermometer yesterday is blowing smoke back into the room. In addition, I think all the heat is going up the chimney. So this is being written by a frozen kipper.
As usual I drove into Leitza yesterday to send my emails and have my lunch. The young bartender wasn’t there but the old woman who was tending the bar was very disapproving of my disconnecting her payphone to send my mail. I don’t think I’ll be allowed to do that again so heaven knows when you will be reading this. In general, I had a most successful day. I asked the ex-long-distance lorry driver who runs the restaurant in Leitza where to buy gas cylinders and was given directions to the local wine merchants. I’m learning to believe my ears and turned up at this warehouse full of crates of beer, soft drinks and cases of wine stacked to the roof. Sure enough, in the corner, sat two dozen large gas cylinders. Don’t ask why.
“Where’s your empty?”
“Don’t have one.”
“No empty, no refill.”
At first I was asked to produce the gas agreement for my house. Then I was told to phone the gas company. Finally, we had a chat about who I was, what I was doing here, how long was I staying, was that my car? How fast does it go? and I was ‘lent’ a bottle as long as I returned it when it was empty. I displayed my gratitude by buying half a dozen bottles of wine to taste.
Later on I found the dry cleaners. Well, not exactly the dry cleaners. It’s the shop that sells wool and buttons but they collect and send away dry cleaning and it may come back as early as next week. It depends. Everything is ‘depende’ but nobody says on what. I wandered round the back of the main street and found a big open plaza. It was festooned with banners and elaborate wall paintings as well as posters stuck to the walls and the ever-present graffiti.
It was clear that the banners were saying something serious and I plucked up the courage and asked an old man talking to a young woman to translate them for me. What a difference a little knowledge makes! Up till now I have been complaining of the Basques’ hatred of the Spanish and the way they are fighting against, instead of for, something. Once the old man explained the words of the banners, I realised how wrong I had been. Festooned throughout North West Spain are small flags and posters in black and white with an outline of el pais Vasco, the Basque country. It has two red arrows pointing at the heartland.
I took this to mean that the Basques felt threatened by France, to the north and Spain to the south. Wrong! It seems the Spanish authorities have dispersed the 400 or so Basque nationalist prisoners to prisons all over Spain and to the Canary Islands and continually move them from prison to prison without informing the families. Thus a wife or mother travels half way across Spain to visit her loved one only to find they have been transferred elsewhere. The Basque people are demanding that their prisoners serve their sentence in prisons within their autonomous region thus allowing friends and relatives to make visits. The flags are asking for their return to their home country. Puts a whole new light on the banners.
I walked on through the back streets and found a sort of general store that had a shop window with boots, blouses, rat poison, hair slides, cycle repair kits, tinned vegetables, whisky and wine on display. It also had a red enamel coffee-pot with a lid, the sort of thing you see in Ikea or Habitat as an ethnic find. Here it was just a red coffee-pot. I went inside and the woman behind the counter turned off the machine slicing the huge ham, wiped her hands and sold me the coffee-pot from the window. She had the most disconcerting squint as she had to turn her wonky eye towards me to see me which made it seem like every time I spoke she would look away. When I told her I was English she told me the baker was English. Sticking to my ‘believe what you have heard’ credo, I went round the corner to the bakers and met Andy from Blackheath. He’s been here six years, married a girl from the village, has a little girl called Jennifer, can’t speak Spanish but is fluent in Basque and his only wish is to have a son, a brother for Jennifer. He spoke to me in pidgin English as if I couldn’t understand him. Gone native, you see. When I told him I had travelled all over the world but had chosen this part of Spain to live in, I swear his eyes welled up and he grasped my hand and shook it violently. He had met his wife, an English teacher from Leitza, when she was studying in London, and had been overwhelmed by the place when he first came here. I have been invited to the Feast of St John on Sunday, 23 June when the whole of Leitza turns out for a communal dinner and party in the plaza. Bit like your Jubilee without the Mr Kipling cakes.
I returned home feeling less of an outsider and was astonished to find the cat had been fed. The cat. It’s grey with a sort of ginger tinge and meows non-stop. It craves human company and demonstrates its affection by rolling around in the mess it has made in the garage. It sleeps on the window cill and rubs against my legs whenever I’m outside. I am bound to trip over it eventually.
Anyhow, I had bought a bag of cat crunchies or whatever they’re called and was most put out that someone had been round and filled the cat’s bowl whilst I was out. I was looking out the kitchen window when I saw a man come up the drive. I went out to greet him and he told me he had dropped by to feed the cat earlier and was returning to make sure I was OK. Turns out he is the owner of the property, my landlord. Thank God I didn’t bellow, “Get Orff my laaand!” at him.
Nice guy, has a house three doors up (ie about a mile and half away) and another in Irun where his elderly mother lives. Comes over every weekend to tend his garden and mine as well. He had no idea what my post code is but offered to introduce me to the woman across the road, well across and down about half a mile, who knew everything. She was out but her son arrived on his very noisy scramble bike which he had been using to round up his sheep in the hills behind us. After some perfunctory introductions the landlord told the shepherd that I was an English writer who needed solitude and the internet. As he, the shepherd, had a telephone could he help me get one fitted to the house I was renting? The shepherd, Antonio, took a mobile phone out of his back pocket and phoned the telephone company. After about 20 mins of discussion, most of which centred on the fact that the house has no address, the landlord agreed to give his name and particulars as long as I paid the bills and ‘a phone line will be installed next week.’ However, to show my honesty and reliability to the phone company, I have to open a bank account here in Spain. Let’s see how that works out on Monday.
Whilst we were talking a van pulled up and out climbed a 4 ft man with a 5 ft moustache. He is the local scrap dealer and will be calling round at the weekend to remove the motorbike, tent and poles, oven, kitchen sink and bags of cement with cat shit, corrugated iron sheeting and other assorted rubbish from the garage. He’s also deaf. This made the 4 way conversation between me, Antonio, the landlord and him very difficult to follow. I must be getting the hang of things because despite the heavy accents and the liberal swear words, I was able to get by and contribute the odd word to the discussion which ranged from the relative merits of German beer over Spanish beer, through the black mould affecting the apple trees, to his son’s chances of winning the pelota match this evening. There are about 50 apple trees in the orchard in front of the house plus another dozen or so assorted fruit trees. There are cherry and peach and plum and damson and apricot trees plus a vine which has those sweet white muscatel grapes which is climbing up the side of the terrace. In the kitchen garden at the side are potatoes, lettuce, onions, garlic and other, unidentifiable plants. The strawberries are huge but the snails get them before I do.
Can’t wait for the fruit to ripen.
The landlord (his name is Juan Bautista Goicoechea Tellechea, which is why I call him the landlord) tells me the apples are for saving and will last from November, when they are picked, until February. We’ll see. He says he will come every weekend to work in the garden and the orchard so I will have lots help filling the pool, stacking logs, cutting the grass, feeding the cat, watering the potatoes, clearing out the garage, shifting the furniture, and, if it ever arrives, getting the sofa through the kitchen window.
I am typing this whilst sitting on a kitchen chair at a low stone table. There is a heavy wooden table in the garage but I will need help to get it up the steps and into the house. Until the sofa arrives, I will have to sit on this kitchen chair. At least I won’t fall asleep in front of the TV! I have been writing this with one eye on the TV where Spain has won and Argentina has lost in el Mundial, the World Cup. I really wanted to watch the 2 games in a bar but was promised that Channel 3 would be showing both games live. Wrong. Spain, having won, the TV station decided to show the goals and interviews and reaction and comments and analysis over and over again rather than show the England-Argentina match. Oh, well!
I got up this morning and went to use my brand new coffee-pot, turned on the gas and …………….. nothing! Can you imagine the luck? Bought a replacement bottle yesterday and during the night the pilot light on the hot water geyser used up the last of the old gas bottle! Win some, lose some.
Looking forward to getting my own internet connection.