Food movement

I get a message on my phone from Narciso, asking if I’d like a pumpkin. I immediately reply in the affirmative and the next day Julian and the girls set off to meet Narciso at his vegetable patch. They return home with a monster – green and orange and so massive the girls can barely get their arms around it. With some difficulty, Julian slices it open, gives a third to Clare and a third to Hazel, our nearest neighbours on the pontoon that day. He keeps a third for ourselves and makes enough pumpkin soup to last us three meals and with plenty of pumpkin to spare to roast for dinner. He roasts the seeds for snacking on.

Spike appears and asks if we’d like some oranges. Yes, please, I say, and he returns to his car and brings me down two crates of big juicy oranges from the trees on his land. I give half of them away.

At school one morning, Sawa practically begs me to come and take some lemons from the tree in her garden. The tree is getting too big and they want to cut it back once all the lemons have gone. The next morning Julian takes a bagful.

When we’re down to the last four or five of Spike’s oranges, English Diana knocks on the side of the boat. She hands me a shopping bag full of oranges from the trees on her land. The next morning there’s a message on my phone from Kate, informing me that she’s left a bag of grapefruits in our dinghy. There are far too many for our meagre needs, so I share them with Clare and with Andrew, who I happen to bump into on the pontoon.

Clare knocks on the boat to ask if we’d like some coriander. Pablo, at the market, gives it away free with every purchase, and he’s given Clare too much. We love coriander and are delighted to take it.

Spanish Diana comes down to the boat. She’s been given a glut of fruit and vegetables by Luis Jose. Can I come to her house and please relieve her of some of them. I grab two shopping bags and she can barely get in her door for the bags of produce stacked outside. She gives me two massive cauliflowers, twenty or more oranges and a giant shopping bag full of spinach. I return to the boat, giving Clare one cauliflower and a quarter of the spinach as I walk past. I send Hazel a message, asking if she’d like some spinach too. She takes another quarter.

Julian forages most days and returns with chard, asparagus and alexanders. On this day, he returns home with a large bunch of asparagus. I’ve only just shared the cauliflower and spinach with Clare, and now Julian’s knocking on her boat and giving her asparagus too. ‘We’re going to have to invite more people round to dinner’, Clare laughs.

Narciso sends me another message. Do I know who has the key to the gate into the plot of land next to his vegetable patch? I don’t. The land is untended and supposedly owned by some ex-pat who doesn’t currently live here. The oranges are falling off the trees and rotting on the ground. Someone should be going in there and getting the oranges, Narciso says. I tell him I’ll try to find out whose land it is and who has the key.

That’s all happened in the last ten days. ‘The food movement’ sort of takes on a different meaning here on the Rio Guadiana!

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Generosity

At the Medieval fair a Spanish woman in her 60s came up to me. She was someone I had not seen before around the village. ‘You are the mother of the two little blond girls?’ she asked. ‘You live on a boat?’ Yes, I told her, that’s me. ‘We own the house on the corner’, she told me. ‘I see your daughters playing on the pontoon’. She said she’d been hoping to see me, because she wanted to invite the girls to use her swimming pool. She said her husband had emptied and cleaned the pool earlier in the day and tomorrow, when he refilled it, he would not fill it to the top, so it wouldn’t be too deep for the girls. I thanked her for her generous offer and said we would love to. But in the way of these things, I didn’t imagine it would actually happen. We parted ways by me telling her my name and she telling me her name is Marie Jose.

I thought no more about her offer until two days later when there was a knock on the side of the boat. It was Rosa, the harbour master, with the key to Marie Jose’s house in her hand. Before leaving their weekend/holiday home in Sanlúcar to return to their permanent home in Huelva, Marie Jose had given the key to Rosa, with instructions that my girls and their friends make use of the pool. I walked up to the house with Rosa; she showed me which key to use, where the outdoor furniture was stored and where to find the toilet and shower.

I was gobsmacked. These people, who don’t know me from Adam, an extranjero living like a vagrant on a boat, had given me the key to their beautiful home and the use of their lovely roof-top swimming pool with its views over the river.

What fun the girls had, playing with a friend in the pool while I drank wine and chatted with their friend’s mum. A week later, when I finally had an opportunity to thank Marie Jose and her husband, Pepe, they insisted we use the pool any time we want. Such kindness meant so much to us – going to the pool was like a little holiday away from home, only 100 metres up the hill from our boat.

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Chris asked me to take what I wanted from this mouth watering selection

Marie Jose and Pepe are not the only ones whose generosity has touched me in recent weeks. I don’t remember the last time I bought vegetables. I wrote before about one of my English language students who pays me in vegetables and eggs instead of cold hard cash. Manoli’s potatoes, onions, lettuce, courgettes, cucumbers, green beans and eggs are enough to get us through about half the week. The other half of the week we are provided for by friends along the river, whose fecund plots are currently producing a glut of vegetables. The morning Chris came alongside in his little boat with buckets filled with green peppers, aubergines, courgettes, cherry tomatoes and plum tomatoes and cucumbers. He insisted I take my pick. Chris regularly brings us lots of food from his plot of land and over recent weeks we have been spoiled with courgettes from Sue and Robin, chard from Paul and Diana and eggs from Kate and Bob.

There is other generosity too – Felipe’s ebullient insistence on always treating me to food and beer when I meet him; Candido slipping money into Katie’s hand when by back was turned so she could buy sweets; Lily and Katie’s invitation to the birthday party of a three-year old girl they didn’t know, simply because all their other friends had been invited; the mayor giving me use of a room for my English classes; Joe and Fiona giving us the use of their mooring upriver; another Joe fixing our outboard motor.

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Felipe invited the girls and I to join him and his family on a excursion upriver

We are outsiders in this village. We have no history here; we have no blood ties to anyone here. Yet, through small and not so small acts of kindness and generosity, we are made to feel welcome and part of the community, whether that’s the community of extranjero’s who live on boats and smallholdings along the river, or the community of Sanlúceños who, in embracing our children into village life, have, by extension, embraced me and Julian as well.

I have travelled a great deal in my life and have lived for extended periods of time in Japan, Nunavut, the UK and now Spain. I always feel uncomfortable when people say things such as ‘The Japanese are the most generous people in the world’ or ‘The Inuit are the most welcoming people in the world’ – or insert a nationality or culture of your choice. Because there are kind, welcoming, generous people everywhere. Everywhere I have travelled to and lived I have met people whose kindness, generosity and patience with me, a culturally and linguistically befuddled outsider, has been humbling. This little corner of Spain and Portugal is not different.

Hooray for Christmas!

The Christmas season is well and truly upon us, although I’m finding it hard to be convinced that it’s not still August. December on the Mediterranean is all sunshine and palm trees, blue skies and sandy beaches. The daytime temperatures hover around 20˚C, so different to the cold, wet, windy Decembers I am used to in Ireland and England. But, Christmas weather in southern Spain is, I’m sure, more akin to the weather in Bethlehem on the first Christmas.

2010 - a rare snowy Christmas Day at home in Ireland

2010 – a rare snow-covered Christmas Day at home in Ireland

Spain, like many countries, has adopted the pre-Christian Northern European symbols of mid-winter – the decorated pine tree and the flying reindeer. Still walking around in short sleeves, skirt and sandals, I am amused to see shop windows decorated with snowmen and snowflakes. But these symbols of Christmas are no more alien to Spain than they are to Ireland and the UK. I have only rarely experienced snow at Christmas, and the reindeer, decorated pine tree and jolly gift-giving fat man are as much a syncretic import to my Irish Christmas as they are to the Spanish Christmas.

Perhaps because of the (for me) unseasonably warm weather, or because this is our first Christmas living aboard Carina and we are somewhat removed from the frenzy, I am less aware this year than in previous years of the manic consumerism that accompanies Christmas. But I know it’s there. I was shocked to see images of Black Friday on the Internet and in the UK newspaper we treat ourselves to each Saturday. People fighting, punching each other, pushing each other over, generally being mean and nasty, for the sake of monster wide-screen TVs and other such unnecessary junk. The only people amused by this are the CEOs and shareholders of the multinational companies that make and sell this stuff. They’re laughing all the way to the bank.

This year I feel more removed than ever from the pressures to consume at Christmas. I’m removed from the pressure to buy gifts that I can’t afford, to receive gifts that I don’t want or need, to line the bulging pockets of multinational producers, manufacturers and retailers, and to contribute to environmental degradation and social inequality. Instead, I’m free to get on with a more low-key Christmas that focuses on giving and sharing and being with family.

2010 - Lily, aged one and three-quarters, posing under Granny's tree.

2010 – Lily, aged one and three-quarters, posing under Granny’s tree.

Last week we started to decorate Carina. We made and hung up a few decorations, and more will follow over the next few days (pictures to follow, when Carina is decked out in her Christmas splendor). The girls and I have come up with lists, not of what we want to receive, but of what we want to give. We have plans to make sweet Christmassy treats to give to our neighbours in other boats and to the staff who work at the marina. And I’m planning a mini-Christmas party for each of my classes at the English school. Making Christmas treats with Lily and Katie and visiting our neighbours is something I’m very much looking forward to.

This year, gift-giving is thankfully curtailed by necessity. We live in a confined space 11 metres long and 3.4 metres wide, so big unwieldy gifts are out of the question. Mammy and my sister are flying over from Ireland and, with their limited airplane luggage allowance, they can neither give nor receive lots of gifts. Spending Christmas with them will be the best gift. We are all spending Christmas with my cousin and his wife in Almeria. With the pressure to give and receive gifts removed, we can all concentrate on enjoying each other’s company while we share some good food.

I have done all the Christmas shopping I am going to do. I spent about half an hour last week buying crafty, creative gifts for the girls on behalf of their grandparents in the UK. (I found even that half an hour immensely stressful). Now we can get back to the fun stuff – singing Christmas carols and hymns, decorating the boat, baking, reading Christmas stories and looking forward to seeing Granny and Aunty Antoinette in a couple of weeks time.

Now…let me think…where did I stow Julian’s Santa costume?

Bloody Christmas here again.
Let us raise a loving cup:
Peace on Earth, good will to men
And let them do the washing up.