Tuesday, 11 June 2002
I have wanted to be able to say that for about 25 years. It’s old and gnarled and straggly and needs pruning which is too late this year but I have un-entangled it and tidied it up and I’m attempting to train it across the trellis over the terrace at the back. It’s not a wine grape vine, with small, tough skinned grapes but a sweet, juicy eating grape variety. Don Juan tells me they are muscatel.
He came round on Saturday afternoon. He’s called Bautista by everyone but I call him Don Juan. He’s small and shy and diffident, about my age and worked for 20 odd year on the French Swiss border as part of a forestry gang recruited locally. Living like animals in the forests for six months of the year, washing in the mountain streams and eating game and what they could get on the occasional trip to a local village. Cutting down timber for the furniture industry. Built this house about ten years ago and rented it out to a painter, then to a married couple, now to me. He gave up the lumberjacking and works instead at a factory which makes car parts for Mercedes lorries. With his sister, he looks after his 87 year old mother who lives in Irun, about 40km away. The house he grew up in and which he visits at the weekend is on the hill behind me. He proudly showed me around my house and garden. All the wooden beams, shutters and flooring he made himself including the window and door frames. You can tell he also works as a welder by the amount of solid iron work everywhere. The terrace at the front of the house has railings made from dozens of metre-long Mercedes truck axle torsion bars ‘borrowed’ from work and welded to a handrail and painted black. Should see me and a few more generations out as they’re made from mild steel.
The two unusual heavy, stone-topped side tables inside the house use leaf springs from Suzuki trucks and sit on castors otherwise you would never be able to move them. DIY from B&Q this is not. I helped him repair the starter motor on the lawn mower and he admired my impressive set of socket tools which has hundreds of bits in a smart case. Hardly ever used it before but pleased I brought it here.
We talked about getting chickens again, the last lot which I had seen running about the orchard having been got by the foxes.
“If you want young hens ask the bread man, he’ll buy them in Pamplona and deliver them to you. Same price as you’d pay in town. Mind you, you would have to lock them up every night and let them out every morning.”
Maybe not just yet.
He reckons we’ll get about 100kg of tomatoes from his twenty plants in the green house. The hazelnut trees have masses of nuts but the walnut trees look too young to bear fruit yet. He’s put maize and leeks in as well as lettuces and red onions. There were three big, heavy wooden tables in the garage and we decided the medium sized refectory table would be best in the kitchen. It could seat 6 with more than enough room and 8 at a pinch. The top is 5cm thick oak planking, unfortunately covered in shiny marine varnish. I tried shifting it and could barely lift one leg up. This tiny little man and I manhandled it out of the garage, round to the front up the steps of the terrace and through the kitchen window. I did the sweating and puffing and groaning, he did the lifting and carrying bit. He told me the wood was 200 years old and came from roof timbers in an old house nearby.
I am now sitting at the table typing this on a gloriously sunny, clear morning. Yesterday was sunny and bright too and what a difference it makes to life! For a start I can see across the valley to the sheer hill sides that rise up in front of the kitchen window.
For the first time I can see two of the futuristic wind generators forming part of a ‘wind farm’ on the top of the next ridge of hills, their space-age, three-armed rotors turning gently in the breeze. There are about 15 of them in all but the rest are hidden behind the hilltop.
The only sound I can hear, apart from the birds, is the continual ‘donging’ of the cow bells all round me. It’s like something out of the Sound of Music. I expect Baron von Trapp and his bloody kids to burst in any minute.
Last night someone fired a shotgun and the echoes reverberated around the valleys for what seemed like 5 minutes. Probably wasn’t but it seemed like it.
I was leaning on my gate looking out across the road and admiring the kiwi fruit bushes that form my front hedge when a man in a white van pulled up. Except this was an old man in an old van.
Old man says, “Do you live here?”
I said, “Yes.”
He says, “There’s a letter for you at the post office.”
I said, “Oh, how do you know it’s for me?”
“I know everyone around here except you,” he says, “I’ll go back and get it.”
He then turns the van around, drives a mile back to the Post Office in Ezkurra, retrieves the letter and returns with it about half an hour later. This is at seven o’clock in the evening.
“Now I know who you are, I’ll leave your mail on the table in the garage,” he says.
I think he might be the postman.
Or maybe not.
Just a neighbour being helpful, perhaps.
The letter was from JP containing a ‘Good Luck in your new Home’ card. Being the sort of enterprising hero he is, it was addressed to ‘una casita en la ctra de Leiza s/n en Ezkurra‘ or ‘a little house on the road to Leitza without a number in Ezkurra’ and it got here from Chalfont St Giles in 4 day.
My next door neighbour saw me at the kitchen window yesterday morning and called out that the telephone man was on his way from San Sebastián. I thanked her and waited until another man in a van turned up about an hour later. This young Speedy Gonzales leapt out and after a quick introduction he began to survey the poles and cables stretched out across the fields behind me. He came back and told me I needed a phone line from the main junction box about 700 metres away and he would need an assistant to help him string it up along the existing poles.
He would be back in two days. Knowing that I couldn’t get a phone without a bank account, I rushed into Leitza before the banks closed at 1300. There are 5 banks in Leiza and I chose the one with the fewest ‘X’s ‘K’s and ‘Z’s in the name, the Caja Rural de Navarra. Good choice, as they’ve only just opened their branch here and are keen for new customers. I went in and met the only person I could see inside, Oskar. Oskar chatted away for a good half hour about this and that before getting out his ‘New Customer with a Foreign Passport who has just moved to Spain’ manual to help him fill in the computer screen forms.
“No address? No problem, lots of people don’t have an address and we suggest a passbook for them. You can feed it into the automatic teller machines around the country and it will be updated and returned to you while you wait. Small interest rate paid on any deposits. No charge.”
“So that you can withdraw cash from any ServiRed cashpoint in Europe, we will give you a card. No charge.”
“Want to access your account via internet? No problem, just sign here. No charge.”
“Your card and passwords will be available from the bank by the end of the week.”
The computer insisted on two surnames so I am Cordery Hogan on my passbook. We discussed whether I should be Mikel (pronounced Mee Kell) Korderi as I would be in Euskara (Basque for Basque) but Oskar felt it might cause confusion with HSBC. Nevertheless, the idea appeals to me. Once the formalities had been completed, Oskar disappeared and returned with a bottle of wine in a presentation box.
“A gift to welcome you to our bank,” he said.
“Now let me introduce you to my colleague who will assist you should I not be here for any reason,” and took me in to meet Sergio, who like Oskar is about 18 years old. We chatted about wine and the weather and then I asked which restaurant would be a good place to eat. Just like they do in Sainsbury’s instead of pointing, he led me by the elbow out across the street to show me where to go. I still hadn’t put any money in my account.
I had alubias con chorizos, red kidney bean stew with spicy sausage and a couple of fresh fried trout stuffed with Bayonne ham and a decent Rioja and read the paper till 4:30 when the shops opened again.
The cat’s got ticks and fleas. I was sitting in the sun scratching its head when I noticed these fat, bulging, pink lumps on its head and neck. I had seen an aerosol can of tick and flea killer in the garage and whilst stroking its back, gently sprayed a little onto the ticks by its ear. As it shot vertically out of my lap, hissing and screeching and squalling, I stupidly tried to hang on to it. I now have hands like Mike Tyson’s face. The cat’s called Lennox from now on. Anyhow, I wanted a collar or something to get rid of the fleas and went back to the coffee pot lady with the squint. All she had was for dogs but she sent me to the chemist. The young girl in there said, “Try this trick. Smear olive oil on the ticks and they let go and drop off.”
Popped in to see Andy the baker who was dusting the bread on the racks whilst puffing furiously at the smallest roll-yer-own stuck to his lower lip like his cartoon namesake, Andy Capp.
Seemed pleased to see me as the shop was empty. Not like Sunday when it was absolutely heaving, every little table taken and staff rushing about with coffee and cakes for the good and great of Leitza. In fact the whole of Leitza was out on Sunday afternoon pushing their prams (never seen so many kids, there are four schools in this little town alone!) dressed up and walking the town. Every bar was full to overflowing, obviously the place to be on a Sunday.
When I told Oskar I lived in Ezkurra he remarked on the fine food from the restaurant there and I was able to agree with him. I had ordered wrongly and have since been back and had one of the finest steaks, cooked over a wood fire with a delicious salad. Bit pricey though, around 16 quid but it was a decent Rioja I was drinking.
I go in and stand at the bar and when a table comes free, the wife comes out the kitchen and calls ‘Mee Kell’ and I am ushered in to a small neat room with a dozen tables and a TV set in the corner. Must be about 8 diners, all men, all eating, talking, drinking, watching TV and calling for more wine or bread or whatever.
The programme on the TV was about hunting dogs in the States, not hunting dogs but dogs for hunting if you see what I mean.
Beautiful looking animals with big elephant ears and long whiskers.
The room was in uproar as half thought they were great animals and the other half thought they were not nearly as good as the local variety. Shouting and arm waving, all good natured though.
They hunt ‘jabali’, wild boar in the winter. This commune uses shotguns and bagged 8 last season. Up the road, where they use rifles, they killed 32 including a 300kg monster. They also net migrating doves in the autumn to make a spicy stew which is a local speciality.
Off to find the post office in Ezkurra and see if the old man was really the postman.
I am now:
Ctra de Leitza km 13
Will pop into the bar to send and receive email, maybe for the last time if Speedy turns up tomorrow.