Archive for February, 2009

Hello Blossom


The annual spring ‘almond blossom event’ is well underway up here in the Comarca de Los Velez. And the fields are green with sprouting wheat or oats. I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets when I reveal that the vulture feeding station is on the hill above this cortijo. Often you can be admiring the paysaje (landscape) and have huge shadows from the vultures crossing your path.


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Velez Blanco Valley - 8.45am


Late for school but I just had to stop the car. Often as not even grey days bring their rewards here. This is the view from Velez Blanco towards the Moorish ruin of Castillo Xiquena.



Our Spanish AGA

Have you ever wondered what a Spanish equivalent of an English Aga would look like…


The design suggests none of your gentle, confident  English pastoralism here. It’s got the tight buttocks of a bull fighter and the hot sharp spurs of a jinete.

It’s new to our kitchen and is now the heart of the house, producing as it does 24500 Kcal. That’s sufficient to do all our cooking and produce enough hot water, in tandem with the solar panel, to run the underfloor heating too. It burns wood, naturally, so I will be preparing a mixture. Pine for hot rapid heat and olive or almond to make it tick over.

But it needs christening and it’s all a bit new to us. So here goes…


Take one fresh local chicken, a bit of smoked bacon, some garlic and rosemary from the garden. When the oven is around 200 degrees centigrade, pop it in.


And the results, a tad on the ‘scorchio’ but the taste fantastic.



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Pickled Lemons


Abd ar-Rahman III of Cordoba founded the city of Almeria in the province of Almeria in 955.  And indeed, Almeria is a corruption of ‘Al-Mariyat’ the mirror. The mirror of what is a matter of contention. I favour the idea that the landscape being so dry and desert like it was a mirror of north Africa.

So in accordance with that theory Donna has produced these delicious looking pickled lemons. The lemons are cut and stuffed with coarse salt and then placed in a jar. Then a stone is placed on top to slowly press the lemons down. After two to three days the lemons are completely submerged in lemon juice. You then remove the stone and cover the surface with oil to prevent mould. In two to three weeks they will be ready to use.

I suspect a tagine of chicken is in the making. Better go and chop more wood.



Spain or Japan


Probably as a consequence of presently reading Basho’s ‘The Narrow Road To The Deep North And Other Travel Sketches’, this morning it was as if I was in Japan. The blossom not almond but cherry. The snow capped mountain not ‘La Sagra’ but ‘Mount Fuji’.

The poetry not prose but Haiku

Blessed indeed

Is the South Valley,

Where the gentle wind breathes

The faint aroma of snow.



Why We Need Wolves


The province of Asturias in northern Spain has ordered the culling of the protected Iberian Wolf.  Canis lupus signatus is a sub-species of the Grey wolf and although much the same as the Grey it differs by having a smaller frame and dark marks to it’s tail and front legs, hence the name signatus.

The culling is an attempt to stop the ‘out of control’ attacks upon livestock in the area. They have also permitted poisoning too which seems to me to be a rather arbritary and cruel approach to the problem. So far this culling has resulted in a known 50 deaths per year to a species that has climbed from numbering around 200 in 1970 to 3000 today. Experts in the field tell us that culling the animal to this extent could bring about population collapse.

Apparently the order to cull comes into effect when up to 1% of livestock is proven to be killed by wolves. Last year up to 7% of livestock were predated by wild animals and in part the wolf was one of the culprits. But only one of the culprits.

The original practice of culling in Spain and Portugal  started in the 1950′s typically under far right regimes who were morally and spiritually tied to the ‘old world’. The populations were decimated principally leaving small packs north of the Duro and in Asturias.

However, if UNESCO, and other international heritage groups, are all agreed that the dualism of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ in respect of the preservation of the environment is a vital key to understanding and preserving the balance and order of the natural world then surely the wolf is a vital part of this dualism.

More controversially I might add that 7% predation to livestock, especially sheep and goats seems a small price to pay. ‘Ahh but not for the poor goat herder practicing his indigenous rights to graze sheep’, you say. But think about it, Spain is not Bhutan. The modern goat herder in Spain is not culturally and spiritually bonded to animal husbandry any more than he is bonded to doing the national lottery. His pyche is that of a modern European, his concern for his livestock is motivated by finance not the appeasement of some god living in the Picos de Europa. To put it another way let’s look at Israel. ‘Greening’ the desert was an idealistic concept from the 50′s whose roots were deeply grounded in the notion of a nation state. As a consequence they have a green productive desert that consumes 45% of the dwindling and precious water supply and produces 2% of GDP. It has no balance, it is a dysfunctional system whose motivation to persist is political not environmental. What I argue is that Spain and Europe needs a more rational and balanced concept of ‘land management’ that considers the well being of all the biodiversity in the area.


Just as the people of Asturias resisted the conquest of Spain by the Moors so too should we allow the wolf to resist the conquest of it’s remaining territory by those whose minds are narrow and unable to conceive a broader picture. The wolf is a part of this country’s cultural history and the wolf’s right to exist should be justified culturally. The myths surrounding the wolf and it’s ‘pack animal’ predatory manner should be the justification in ‘cultural’ terms for it’s continued survival.

Cynically, I wonder how much the lobby of the hunters here contributes to the existing state of affairs. There is still a large percentage of people here who like to hunt for sport not for neccessity. They should be warned.

Amaranthus was a hunter on the island of Euboea, a son of King Abas. He was loved by the goddess Artemis and he joined her in a hunt. However, he insulted Poseidon as worthless, claiming that the bounty of the hunt was superior to that of the sea. For this Poseidon sent a giant wave which washed him to the sea and drowned him.

Whilst this maelstrom of political lobbyists, farmers and hunters battle out their conceived rights we should be considering the value of the greater aspects of our environment, aspects to which we cannot yet recognise the value.



A ‘Kettle’ of Vultures


Yes, apparently, ‘kettle’ is the collective noun for vultures spiralling on the thermal currents. Saturday morning found Donna and I bereft of twins (at a sleep over until one o’clock) and free to go for a climb up Pena Casenova, the sierra in front of Los Gazquez. On approaching the summit we were greeted by these griffon vultures taking an early morning spin in the warm fresh air. Whilst this photograph is definitely a ‘snap’ it does illustrate their flight pattern and perhaps explain the description given to them by their collective noun. There was not a beat of a wing as they followed the warm air rising up the south face of the ridge. They represent, somehow, the perfect evolutionary design coefficient between size and the exploitation of their environment. How else could something so large fly and yet survive on so little sustenance.

And in case you were wondering, this is the view from the top towards El Gabar and La Sagra.



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New Arrivals @ ‘Los Gazquez’


When Pedro (the water man) offered us these two olive trees it was too hard to resist. He is turning some of his land, down in Velez Rubio, into lettuce production and these two were surplus to requirements. They needed a home and the price was good (including a lorry of top soil) so we said yes please.

We have been avoiding buying in things like mature olive trees as they seem to have become the signature mark to announce a new golf course or a dreaded ‘urbanisation’. These, however, are not too mature and look natural in the places we have put them.

So today is a day of pruning, watering and harvesting the olives that came with the trees.

I wonder if I would be allowed to claim it as the first olive harvest at Los Gazquez?



La Luna y La Muela


This was yesterday afternoon and the shadow cast by the ‘Sierra Maria’, from a low winter sun, creeps slowly up the ramparts of the mighty ‘Muela’.

In a few hours an early moon will be casting shadows in the other direction. And in the morning we will watch the moon set by ‘La Sagra’ and the sun will once more arrive.


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Monday Morning Dawning


Sunrise on a Monday morning. A strong but warm wind blows from the west sweeping the cold winds from the north away. ‘La Sagra’ to the north-west is our snowy barometer. Blue skies and sunshine are forecast. I would expect the almond blossom to flower by the weekend. Watch this space.


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