30 Apr 2020

59. House Arrest and Gardening

I’ve not been very consistent over the last year or so with this blog. Firstly, after a lifetime of good health, that most terrible of all ailments, A.G.E., gave me a serious warning which only an efficient and caring health service such as we have here in the Canaries could, and did, ward off. And then I had to devote myself to getting the vineyard and garden back into production as well as a couple of other projects I had set aside.

When, at last, I thought we were almost back to normal, Covid appeared. To me at least, it was perfectly clear the situation was more serious than some people would have had us believe and that some sort of lockdown was inevitable. What I should have expected, but didn’t, was the seemingly authoritarian exercise in control of the masses imposed on us by the Central Government (with its Orwellian misinformation and draconian irrationality). Luckily our village has no local police and the Civil Guards (equivalent to the French Gendarmerie) rarely bother to come here. Especially luckily since our villagers are rather like those of Dylan Thomas’s Llareggub, in Under Milk Wood, idiosyncratically unruly and contemptuous of authority, even though they make out they comply. Regrettably our curate does not deliver odes in glory of El Pinar. Even so, the house arrest imposed on us has made for little change: it is true the bars are closed and so our senior citizens can no longer have their afternoon game of dominoes. But we live in the country. Most people’s gardens are dispersed, so are their goats and sheep, and vineyards … and they go to them despite it being forbidden. So there is little chance of villagers gathering in numbers, even if we want to. If one of us needs to talk in person to another – with, of course, the reglementary social distancing – we phone and arrange to meet at the supermarket. If we need a screw or seeds, the ironmonger is open behind closed doors. One very nice thing also happens: every evening at seven o’clock our nearest neighbour’s children go out on their front doorstep to play traditional folk music on a drum and flute. This is echoed in kind by others from different parts of the village. These kids have already internalized our homegrown ‘gentle rebelliousness’. But before they’ve finished, someone with a loudspeaker on the other side of the village tries to drown this authentic sound with recordings of mainland muzak. I’ve heard this person is a civil servant …

Apart from my weekly excursion to the village supermarket to stock up on things we cannot do for ourselves, I have no reason to leave the property – the vegetable garden and the vineyard are right here. During the seven weeks of confinement we’ve chalked up so far, I’ve finished taking in the winter growing season, sown and got under way the spring crops and started preparing the summer selection. The winter season is from October to March, more or less, and I grow broad beans, carrots, broadleaved chicory, lettuce, turnips, chard etc. The spring crops include the same crops and more – peas, climbing French beans, Chinese cabbage, onions, giant garlic, rocket, beetroot, radicchio, radishes, leeks, grelos (kind of turnip grown only for its tops). I start sowing now for the summer – French beans, cucumbers, courgettes, peppers, melons, watermelons etc. In practice, these seasons run into each other and some things even continue from the winter season into summer. It all depends on the weather. We’re at 850 meters above sea level and it is much cooler than you would expect lower down and it varies enormously from year to year. For example, last year we picked peas in January. This year none came up from my sowings and I gave up in February. Last week, peas started coming up in all sorts of places after turning the soil, so I’ve sown some more, we’ll see! In addition to all these, we have a few odds and sods that seed themselves and need very little attention: artichokes, fennel and Florence fennel, celery, wild garlic … On the other hand, I don’t grow potatoes. I buy a couple of sacks of seed potatoes for a friend and he provides us with all we need during the year and sells the rest of the crop. I’ve never managed to grow decent tomatoes, and cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli don’t respond reasonably to my ungreen fingers.

House arrest has naturally led to this involvement with gardening. I’ve always done it but in an off-hand way. Till now. And we have become foodies!