March 2010

We were introduced to the concept of Catalan communal barbecuing last Sunday. We drove from Cardedeu and met John and Mar near Arbúcies. The rendevous was a wooded site set next to the Riu d’Arbúcies carrying the last of the cold winter waters from Montseny. The cars apart, the site took on the appearance of some medieval encampment. Billowing clouds of smoke emitting from brick built barbecue pits as families and friends prepared lunch.

Some families cooked chicken, some sausages. Some lamb cutlets and others pork chops. The three old dears next to us lobbed on a half dozen‘grenade` like globe artichokes, spraying them with olive oil making the flames lick skyward. Ultimately what everyone cooked around the site was calçots. Half leek, half spring onion. These are thrown on smoking barbecue fires until the green and white outer leaves are charred to a charcoal black. Thereafter, the eating of these serpentine vegetables takes on a ritual of its own. Bib or large napkin tucked below ones chin and holding the cooked calçot from the top, the outer blackened sheath is deftly peeled off in one swift movement. The root end is then dipped in the accompanying romesco sauce and holding your head back dropped into your fully opened gob! Sweet and succulent.

Not to be outdone we provided the dessert….I still prefer to call them puddings. To me a more wholesome and satisfying word. One that spells comfort food. A subject to be expanded upon at some future date. Well, the pudding on this occasion was a blood orange (sanguine) jelly set in cava and orange wine, infused with star anise and cloves and served on this occasion with carquinyoles (hazelnut biscotti). One for La Rectoria menu.

And so to today. We returned this afternoon from thanking Pere, a farmer and neighbour at Sant Feliu, for dragging a delivery truck from the winter quagmire that was the road to the house a few weeks ago. His home was set like three neighbouring ones next to a bubbling stream which fed each home with what was once a working lade, used to power a mill. We asked about re-seeding the lawn, once the rubble and earth have gone and other matters of local interest.

Back home, we popped next door to the vacant plot that should be but is not a garden. A few trees….a fig, a conifer and some stunted palms. Amongst the new flush of weeds and armed with a pair of scissors we gathered the first harvest of the year, wild asparagus. Juicy pencil like spears punching skywards. Ten minutes later I would say we had a good bunch of fifty or so pieces. Tea for tomorrow served with scrambled eggs, typically catalan.

And this week’s news from the house. More concrete trenches to reinforce the foundations. A backcloth to all this is the ongoing dialogue regarding the reconstruction budget and structural work. Design, pragmatism and budget. A delicate balancing act.

As for Spring. It is official. I saw my first swallows of the year at Coll de la Manya on Thursday morning, swooping and soaring as elegantly as always.

What a difference one week makes.  Ten days ago there was still a distinct winter chill in the air.  Mornings were announced with a hoary frost that blanketed fields on my drive to work and Montseny behind us was capped with snow.   This has all changed and markedly so.  Temperatures have leapt some 10⁰c and the warmth of the sun can now be felt on the back of one’s neck. 

Whereas it might be said that on occasions summer fails to materialize in Scotland, spring in Catalunya tends to be pretty short.  Blossoms come and go and spring flowers as I know them are all but nonexistent.  The most dramatic difference is how rapidly temperatures change and can quickly reach the mid to high 20s.  Thus, the wonder that is spring is compressed into but a few weeks here.  Well, that is my perception anyway.

It was warm up at La Rectoria earlier this afternoon and the change in the air was noticeable.  Spring is all but here, and the signs are evident.  Two lonely daffodils close to the back door, a few primroses to and catkins drooping from the hazel trees.

Mammals have been active as well, particularly those of a burrowing kind.  Whereas our busy builders have been moving soil and rubble from the basement of the house and piling it high in the garden for removal at some future date, somewhat smaller but equally active little creatures have been digging here, there and almost everywhere.  An energetic colony of moles (talp) are leaving their trail of evidence.  Meandering mounds of fresh earth can be found a plenty around the house.  The question has to be asked, do they have ‘Molers’ in Catalunya?

Goretti came home on Thursday with tangible proof of larger beasts.  Looking somewhat like a piece of dried penne pasta she produced a 5cm long wild boar (porc senglar) tooth which one of the builders had found.  I look forward to seeing my first live one….at a safe distance.

Work would appear to be slow and possibly a little unexciting at present.  Look closer and steady progress is being made ensuring all is O.K. regarding the foundations and this will continue until after Easter.   Trenches of concrete are being poured next to and beneath walls as appropriate, reinforced with 1cm bars of steel.  It will be heartening to see the forest of support jacks disappear from the basement once this work is complete.

This week work on La Rectoria has been at a standstill .   Due not to some national strike in reaction to centrally imposed budget cuts, but instead to approximately half a metre of snow alighting on the roof and the surrounding area.  Yes, La Garrotxa received quite a dumping of snow.

Apparently the local village of Sant Feliu de Pallerols was without electricity for 24 hours and temperatures in the area fell to -14⁰c over the preceding days.  As a result we have not visited the house ourselves, but the builder and aperallador have, ensuring all is O.K. with a view to recommencing work on Monday.

This glitch in progress is nothing to what many thousands of Catalunya’s residents have had to endure since the blizzard on Monday.   Much of the Province of Girona has been without electricity, depriving people not only of light and heat but ultimately water in some cases as electrical water pumps have been rendered useless.

Although weather forecasters warned of the impending storm 48 hours or so in advance, little or no action was taken to help ameliorate the effects of any potential problems (sounds a little like another country I’ve lived in).   As a consequence Barcelona almost ground to a halt on Monday afternoon in only two or three inches of wet snow as drivers headed home on mass.  Some 3,000 trucks were stuck on the south side of the French frontier as the border crossing at La Jonquera was closed for two days.  And rail commuters (me included) had a difficult if not impossible journey home on Monday as trains were cancelled.

I eventually took a train to Mataró where Goretti collected me at 22.15.   The normally straight forward half hour drive from there to Cardedeu took SIX HOURS on roads largely bereft of snow.  Why?  Ask the Police who were largely ineffective and conspicuous by their absence.  No explanation was given to the several hundred car and truck drivers at the Tunel de Parpers.  Ho, hum.

So, nevermind.  Let’s look forward to next week.  Warmer weather and sunshine are forecast for the beginning of the week  and if that is the case we will be greeted by progress at the house and signs of spring in the surrounding countryside.


Today’s mission was to cut down two trees. Well one and the remaining trunk of another that broke due to the weight of snow on it in December 2008.  The two meter slanting rump had been an apple tree of sorts which bore small coarse bitter inedible apples.  The other tree, standing some five meters tall was a ‘prunè bord’,  a plum tree only in name.  It’s fruit small and very bitter.  These two did have at least one endearing quality.  As sirens of spring they would signal the resurgent energy of each new year with a colourful array of pink and white blossom.

The trees had grown just three meters from the somewhat inhospitable northern facing side of the house.   This is only kissed by direct sunlight in the height of summer and then only late in the day as the sun dips behind the hills.  On a cold December or January morning hard frost can lie on the lawn by the house all day without feeling the warmth of the sun. Thus, in hindsight it is something of a minor miracle that these two hardy but useless fruit trees managed to grow at all and to such effect.

So why cut them down?  Well, when fully covered in foliage they blocked views and more importantly light to the ‘old kitchen’ on the main floor and to two prospective bedrooms on the floor above.

Thus, armed with chainsaw and goggles I set too on the apple stump…..or not as was the case.  The tough old B*******  gave not an inch.  It’s 40cm or so girth and core proved too great a challenge for my wee saw.   At which point practical brother in law David pitched up as planned armed with nothing more than axe and hard hat.  Turning to the pruné bord and alternating between axe and saw the poor tree eventually yielded to our efforts.  

Wee branches were snedded off and the thicker ones along with the main trunk were cut into manageable lengths and stacked on the edge of the lawn to be cut into logs later in the year.

Now before I receive any lacerating comments from new age tree huggers and the likes, please hear me out.  I’m probably closer to your cause than you think.  Our game plan is to plant fruit trees and more in due course.  I’m no chain saw wielding tree psycho.  In fact, a part of me hurts with the trees….look at Roald Dahl’s ‘The Sound Machine’ and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  See a Giant Sequoia first hand or the 5,000 plus year old Fortingall Yew in Scotland and you’ll know these majestic  forms  have witnessed much and will continue to do so long after our brief existences.

Job done.  The trees are no more and the house will benefit from that, at least from our perspective.  And yes, hug a tree.  You’ll feel better for it.