Thursday, 13 July 2017

Bad day to be an octopus

Hoy es feria.” Three words which every person living here will have said at some point. Today is market day.

Twice a month, on 13th and 28th, the market comes to town. These dates are fixed so that everybody in the tiny villages in the outlying area knows where it’ll be on any given day - on 14th and 29th it’ll be somewhere else in Galicia. It only changes if it falls on a Sunday or a Bank Holiday.

Feria days are among the rare occasions when the village feels busy, particularly in summer. People from the surrounding hamlets combine all the business they need to do in town into one visit, so numbers are up considerably, for a few hours at least.

The market places itself along either side of the roads at the top of the town, the Toral. You see what you’d see in pretty much any market anywhere; cheap clothes and toys, fruit and veg, household goods, ironmongery etc. And of course the ubiquitous knives which all Galician men seem to carry. Last time round, uncle M of Walk in the Park fame bought a penknife to replace an identical one he’d lost. It appears to my foreign eyes that the penknife is an extension of the Galego’s arm - I’ve seen M use if for everything from cutting away plant life outdoors to spooning jam onto his toast! So commonplace are they that I’ve taken to carrying one myself, since I keep being told I need to be more Galician. My own was gifted to my late father by visiting Spaniards, of course, and has elicited approving comments from the penknife cognoscenti here, being as it’s from Albacete, which is apparently a sign of quality.

The fresh produce is, as you might expect in a rural area, startling in its variety, size and quality. We just dragged home a bag containing, variously, about 200g of figs, about the same of cherries, then oranges, tomatoes, plums, nectarines, green chillies, lemons, pears, paraguayos (a sort of flat peach which I’ve seen only occasionally in Britain) and apricots. Over 5kg of fruit for a total of €10, heavy enough to have turned the stuff at the bottom of the bag into fruit puree under its own weight by the time I’d got it home.

One thing the locals look forward to more than anything on market day, though, is what follows it round: pulpeiros. The pulpeiros set themselves up outside all the bars in the town, heating giant cauldrons of water and stacking wooden plates in preparation to serve the one and only dish on their menus - octopus.

The locals adore this - boiled, chopped up and served on those wooden plates with olive oil and paprika, to many they're reason enough to come into town whether you need anything from the market or not. My partner particularly enjoys the bits with suckers on. This is one local delicacy for which I have no time - for me, it's fish-flavoured plastic with a horrible texture, which occasionally, if you get one of those suckers, feels like it's holding on to you. I don't want my food grabbing hold of me, frankly.

This view is of course the subject of some mirth and is yet one more thing that marks me out. Carrying a penknife around and enjoying a vermouth before lunch - which is eaten at 3pm - doesn't make me a local quite yet.

Friday, 7 July 2017

A walk in the park

This morning, we thought we'd join my partner's uncle M on his morning walk in the countryside, a stroll he takes daily for the exercise. At least, it was a stroll in my mind. A country walk conjures up images, in my head at least, of a pleasant amble through rolling fields, perhaps to a country pub for a ploughman's and a rehydrating pint before returning at the same 'speed' whence you came.

This was not that. Uncle M, dressed for autumn as far as I'm concerned - jeans and a long-sleeved lumberjack shirt - had other things in mind. We drove to our starting point, left the car in the cooling shade of a handy tree, and he promptly stormed off at what could only be described as a military march. I, rocking a Roobarb t-shirt, the lightest white T I own (cheers, Ruthy) and a pair of shorts, could see my immediate future mapped out in the first few minutes. Sweating. Lots of sweating. Another T-shirt ruined. (Sorry, Ruthy).

Anyway, the charge. Walk, I mean. I've mentioned already that the water in the lake is low, and our route served only to confirm exactly how dry it is. I'm no photographer - I lack the creative eye, and have no need for a proper camera because I really couldn't do it justice. So what I'm putting here lack quality but serve to illustrate where my words would no doubt not be adequately descriptive.

We were walking along what used to be the road out of town, to the next village. Unpaved and greening quickly where plants are reclaiming the land man took from them when they dammed the river many years ago, it still faintly resembles a road, with two stony tracks divided by a grassier centre, and it's from that road that you get a decent indication straight away of just how much the water has lowered:

The road I took these from would itself usually be under water, so you can see just how deeply that fisherman would be inundated under normal circumstances. It's revealed more of the old medieval stone-walled buildings that once lined the river as people farmed the valley. The trees in the right-hand pic usually have their feet wet - you can see all too clearly where it would normally be.

I confess that occasionally I did wish that we were under water, because at least we'd have been unmolested by the damn insects which buzzed around us constantly. Now I recognise we were kind of on their patch, but lads, please - there's a time and a place. I'd repeatedly warned my partner, anaphylactic as she is, not to flap about and flick her hair around whenever anything winged came even remotely near her, but of course failed to heed my own advice. I don't know if I mentioned that I sweat - a lot? This was obviously acting like those UV lights you see in butchers' shops, because they buzzed all around me all the bloody time, drawn to me by what was obviously an irresistible smell to them. (I know, right? You've never found me so attractive...) 

Using a white handkerchief in a vain effort to moderate the constant stream of sweat I was producing, of course I flapped around in exactly the manner I'd warned C not to. I looked like some kind of insane semaphorist, desperately signalling my surrender to the incessant swarm. Uncle M seemed entirely untroubled by our six-legged botherers. "Look," he said. "I'm sweating too but they leave me alone." He showed me his shirt, which looked about as wet as if it had spent the previous hour in the tumble dryer.

Anyway, back to the walk. Reaching the point where the road vanished and we could go no further, the stepped remains of the vineyards left behind by the Romans could be seen. You can never be quite certain how old any of the ruins are that you see here, but these terraces are, I'm assured, definitively Roman. (Mind you, I was assured by that same person that the battered plug-end housing of an extremely old extension cable we found in the dust was also Roman, so I would not stake so much as a cent on the accuracy of this information). 

So this shot marked the point at which we should have been having that ploughman's and pint, but instead turned more or less immediately on our heels and started the walk back.

We walked for about 5km in total. For me, that represents a proper effort, but I recognise that this is little more than a short jaunt for proper hikers. I think I'd have sweated away to a rancid pair of Converse, steaming and fly-blown, if we'd gone too much farther though. Regardless of my own toil, the insects and the lack of a pub, there is an undeniable beauty about the whole place.

The old road we walked on, near the starting point.
One last shot, if you'll permit me. Right where we parked the car there's a graphic demonstration of the old and the new, which also reiterates how low the water is. The modern road, on which we'd reached the starting point, crosses the river on the bridge above. The old bridge below is usually some 20 feet below the surface. And this in what is typically the greenest and wettest region of Spain.

The old and the new stand high and dry together.
I did at least get that beer, after all. M was kind enough to drive to the nearest bar, a place on that road where the drivers of the big trucks which thunder through the area stop for a drink and a bit of grub.

Even there, though, we weren't left alone. One of our winged companions had decided to come along for a drink with us, and I noticed it on my leg in the bar. A fly of the type that usually bothers cattle, so Uncle M assured me, and not one you want to spend too much time with. "These ones are tough," he said, and he wasn't bloody kidding; this fly really didn't get the message. It was variously swatted off my leg, smacked squarely against M's jeans with his hand, squeezed between his fingers and stepped on, twice, but still kept trying to come back. Only when it was, frankly, smeared right across the bottom of his shoe did it finally go to wherever flies go when they die. (Not a place I'd like to imagine too carefully).

Let me tell you that, when finally in a position to relax and have that drink, the first glug of that caƱa was one of the sweetest I've ever tasted.