February 2010


So what is there for ‘us’ to do at La Rectoria each time we pay a visit?  The most obvious thing now is to see how the past week’s work has progressed.  Given that we are now at the end of week four, Vicens the site foreman and his young colleague have not been hanging about.  Old plaster has been chipped from the walls on some ground floor rooms and the wall of main arch to the front has been broken through.  This has permitted a small Bob the Builder type digger access to the lower ground floor to remove about half a meter of soil and in the process reveal the depth of any pre existing foundations…..or not as may be the case.  Among other things the local building code requires some 2.40m of ceiling height, thus the need to remove so much soil.

So having nosed around to see what had been done, we set about our task for the day; some gardening.  Well hardly…a bit more like, ‘slash and burn’!   The majority of the ‘garden’ is what could loosely be called a lawn, a mix of grass, weeds and other things green.  To south and west this is bounded by a thickly wooded steep hillside.  To the east lies the house and small chapel and the pine tree (pineda) , which lends the house its name.  The northern edge of the lawn is marked by three or four hazel trees.  Here the land falls steeply away for five metres and is taken up in large part by some highly invasive BAMBOO.

Now I did have some prior knowledge as to what a nuisance bamboo can be.  But having bought this place we have discovered we have quite a job on our hands getting this little lot under control.  Much of it has grown to a height of four to six metres high.  So what? You might ask.  The bigger issue is that it has taken a liking to creeping beneath the soil and popping up three, four, five, six meters onto the lawn.  And boy does it feel at home.   Last summer we arrived after an absence of some four weeks to find new shoots standing a meter high in the grass!!  No need for triffids here.  I subsequently spent a sunstroke inducing afternoon trying to hack the stuff back.

The roots form a thick lattice across the garden, spreading like nebulous fingers beneath the soil.  I guess some mechanical solution might be needed in the longer term to break up the roots.  But for now we want to make a start in cutting back the main stand.  Thus the afternoon was spent gathering some old dead bamboo and burning it along with other garden waste. 

So can I make an appeal to any gardeners out there.  Is there a simple solution to bamboo management or is thermo nuclear warfare the only simple solution?  I would like to know your thoughts on the subject.  I await a reply from a well known tropical botanist in particular….

As a footnote I would like to add a wee thank you to Oscar, one of my English students who helped us on the way with our blog.  Take some time to visit his website www.enlamolchila.com.

Over the last two years or so the majority of our weekends, Saturdays at least, have been spent going from Cardedeu to the ‘Rectoria’.  This trip has been made markedly shorter over the last year by the completion of the new road from Vic to the Val d’en Bas, a not inconsiderable feat of engineering. 

The drive to Vic up the C17 from Barcelona becomes increasingly tortuous as you pass La Garriga.  The dual carriage way cuts through the steep valleys which divide the comarques (counties) of El Valles Oriental and Osona.   The orange and grey sandstone hillsides are covered with pines which run down to the boundaries of the villages shoe horned into the valley floor.   The road climbs steadily for about 10 km or so opening out on to the valley floor of Osona.  In winter your view might invariably be obscured by the ‘pea souper’ of a mist which envelopes the countryside and magnifies the chill of a cold winter day.  Sunny weather brings with it the early morning balloon flights over Vic, a welcome distraction for our wee passenger in the back of the car.

I guess I could be blindfolded, bundled into a car and driven up the C17 and I’d know when I was at or near Vic…..the giveaway is the smell of pig SHIT.  Yes, Catalans like most Spaniards love all things pork and the dear things have to come from somewhere.

So what about this feat of engineering!  That manifests itself twenty minutes or so after Vic in the form of five or six tunnels – Bracons – which now connect Osona and La Garrotxa.  The penultimate of which is 4500m or so long.  Leaving the last tunnel you are welcomed by a vista of snow capped mountains to the north and nearer to hand the dairy farms of the Val d’en Bas bounded to the west by the magnificent rocky mountain peaks of the Collada de Bracons.   You then only have a further 10 minutes drive before entering the Vall d’Hostoles and on down to the La Rectoria.

Yesterday was my first look at the house for about a month, previous weekends being occupied by Silvestre’s 5th Birthday Party and other matters.  My reaction I guess was a calm eek, jings and jeepers!   Walls had been knocked down and concrete applied on top of the stone arches to provide a ‘compression layer’.  We occupied ourselves tidying the garden.   Yes, there is quite a bit to do there as well.

And so it was last Saturday night we sat down to celebrate ‘Burns Night’.  A first in a number of ways.  The first I had ever prepared in total and hosted.  The first in Carretera de Canoves, Cardedeu, and certainly the first that our Catalan friends and neighbours had attended.

A grand party was highly appropriate and timely as two days later work commenced on the ‘rebuilding’, ‘restoration’ and more importantly the raison d’être of our being here in Catalunya.  The commencement of what will hopefully be the fulfilment of over 5 years dreaming, scheming, mulling over and sweating about.  The transformation of ‘La Rectoria de Sant Miquel de Pineda’ to a Casa Rural, or guest house.  Pere our builder started knocking the s*** out of walls and getting rid of several decades of dirt, dust and debris and some stones going back possibly many centuries.  Now the clock has started ticking.  For in 18 months or so we will be uprooting ourselves to our new home and business.  A guest house in the foothills of the Pyrenees, 100 km or so north of Barcelona.

Meanwhile back to the Haggis antics.  The main course had been procured by dear friends of ours ‘The Macs’ in the Beatrix Potteresque named village of Lilliesleaf near Melrose stuffed in a suitcase and then lain dormant in our freezer until last week.   The menu comprised ‘Cock a leekie’, a wholesome soup of chicken, leeks and prunes too which we had added barley to give it more body.  The Haggis followed, served with Tatties (pomme puree amply bestowed with cream and butter) and Neeps….given the very different nature of the Catalan turnip (nap), pumpkin was roasted and pureed to give a worthy substitute.  We finished with ‘Clootie Dumplin’  (a steamed pudding of raisins, suet – dehydrated rendered beef fat…lip smacking – spices, syrup and a few other bits and pieces), served with butterscotch sauce and almond praline.  The above was washed down with liberal quantities of Glenmorangie in the main, and we finished with homemade shortbread, fudge and coffee.

The poetry wasn’t too bad either.  For Burns purists et al we did not stick rigorously to the formal protocol of the evening….we blew out on Tam O’Shanter and the speeches.  On the other hand our hosts Quico and Pepa did manage to rustle up a Catalan Piper playing the ‘Sac de gemecs’ (or sack of groans or whines – if only we Scots were so honest!) to pipe in the haggis.  And I hope I didn’t murder ‘Auld Lang Syne’ too much, deciding to sing it solo to the mildly whisky embued throng.  John (fae Clydebank) did a sterling job with a couple of poems and in short I think we’re booked for next year and beyond.  A big thanks to Pepa and Quico for giving us the space and their time.

In signing off, I just hope that the Spanish economy does not go right down the tubes, if for the sole reason that for now quality supplies of ‘aqua vitae’ can be found at refreshingly low prices.