Updated: Sep 19, 2020
Galicia, a land of mists and mysteries, of seafood and fiestas, witches and erratic
weather. Galicia, a land bounded on two sides by the wild Atlantic and Cantabrian
seas and isolated by high sierras to the east. Galicia, the place we call home.
I’m Lisa Rose Wright and over the next few weeks I would like introduce you to this
remote area of northwest Spain by inviting you to follow me to some of our favourite
places in Galicia and to join me in a (virtual) fiesta or two.
We live in Galicia in the beautiful Green northwest of Spain in a restored farmhouse overlooking a small river and surrounded by sweet chestnut trees. But how different this place was 13 years ago when we arrived fresh off the ferry from England.
"We arrived at the house at 10am on Thursday 9th August, raring to go. We couldn’t get in! The metal gates leading to the side garden were firmly closed. A little too firmly. They wouldn’t budge. After some pushing and pulling and some peering over the top on tip-toes, we realised the bar was on and the gates jammed shut. S ploughed his way through the undergrowth around the back of the house to approach from another angle. In no time he was on the other side of the gate, bar in hand. The gates slowly opened, sticking on the vegetation which seemed to have gone rampant since we last saw our ‘estate’. The grass, which had been green, lush and tall when we signed in May, now resembled a thatched roof – golden, stiff and matted. The heat was stifling, even at ten in the morning. On his way round to rescue me and the car, S had obviously found a large patch of greater celandine, a pernicious weed which has a delightful habit of staining any material permanently and irretrievably yellow. His jeans never did come clean.
We drove the car into the garden and looked around. To our left was the ‘long barn’, a long (obviously), low stone building with a wooden slated front to allow air circulation. From our earlier delvings we knew it was well-built but mainly full of junk. Immediately next to us was a semi-circular stone structure which was the old bread oven or horno. The horno had no chimney and the roof around and above it was black with soot. Inside it was fully five feet in diameter. The traditional accoutrements for bread baking, a long wooden pala or bread paddle and the rastrillo de horno, a wooden rake for clearing the ash, were hanging nearby. I looked forward to firing it up one day. Next to the oven was an area around three metres square, full of weeds and moss. I had ideas for this area but they would have to wait.
At the end of the garden in front of us, was a magnificent stone and wood building set high above the ground and a good ten feet above the sunken lane beyond our boundary. This was our hórreo or grain store. It would have been used to store maize, the wide stone overhang above the steps deterring the most persistent of rodents. Now it looked like the rest of our new home, old, tattered and in need of plenty of work. The hórreo would be a project far into the future.
The way to the house, off to our right, was shaded by huge grape vines, with trunks as thick as my leg, growing up and over rickety looking wooden posts. From the supports hung fat bunches of white grapes. The ‘path’ sloped downwards gently to the east-facing terrace area where we planned to set up our camping table and washing area. The morning sun was bathing the terrace in a mottled light, filtering through the fruit trees just beyond.
Wielding our new key, I unlocked the heavy wooden door and pushed it open. The damp coldness hit me. It had been cold of course all last winter but now, with the sun outside so hot, I was shocked. I remembered one mild day during our winter in Galicia (before our old key was taken away) when we decided to ‘air’ the house by opening all the doors and windows. Within twenty minutes all the internal walls and the stone steps were running with water as the warm damp air outside hit the icy cold stonework inside forming condensation on every surface. We panicked, immediately closing up the house once again. We had learnt a valuable lesson when it comes to airing out old buildings, poco y poco as our neighbours would say, bit by bit.
Still, this was our first day at A Casa do Campo and we had lots to do. I had made a long list of jobs in order of importance. First was to clean the floors upstairs so we could lay out our ‘furniture’. I organised that whilst S went off to procure a butane bottle so I could cook dinner.
His task, it seemed, was not to be a simple one. First, he tried the ferreteria (hardware store) in town. They had gas bottles but he couldn’t have one without bringing in an empty bottle to swap. Next he asked at the agricultural shop. Same story there. S offered to buy an empty bottle but that was not possible. He was finally directed to a place near the cemetery. “I spotted gas bottles in a cage and dogs and chickens running around. An old man with no teeth appeared and I tried to explain what we wanted.” The old chap brought S back to the house to collect the empty bottle we didn’t have, then they disappeared again. “He took me to the next village. It’s the chap who pinched our chariot and is a relative I think. The gas man made him give us a spare bottle.”
By the time S had finished journeying around the neighbourhood I had the floors treated for woodworm or carcoma in Spanish – a word we would hear a lot in the next few months – and the deckchairs set up. S inflated the mattress and plugged in the stereo. We had dinner, a vegetable paella cooked outside on the two-ring gas hob we had found in one of the barns, and an early night."
Plum, Courgette & Green Bean Tart by Lisa Rose Wright is available in paper back and on kindle from Amazon. http://www.smarturl.it/PlumCourgetteBean
A wonderfully descriptive and amusing narrative, really brings the various characters to life..you can imagine yourself going through the challenges and experiencing the joy..the book has a great pace and of course a fabulous setting! A truly lovely read, and I am waiting impatiently for book two!
5.0 out of 5 stars
Quite a Year
I am a huge fan of 'resettling in a new country' memoirs and while I know a little about Galicia, Spain, I was interested to learn more. The author uses an interesting combination of diary entries, letters home and formal text and it works well. This was not an easy move, there were holes in the roof, mice in the chimney, tradesmen who never turned up and windows with no glass. But, there were festivals, kind neighbours, bountiful harvests and an ever evolving home renovation. I remain amazed at the determination and fortitude of both partners in the reshaping of a derelict farm house and the turning of the earth to create a productive vegetable allotment. Well worth a read.
5.0 out of 5 stars