Tanks a lot

There are times living here in rural Mallorca that I am reminded of an ’80s comedy movie called ‘The Money Pit’, starring a youthful-looking Tom Hanks and Shelley Long (best known as cocktail waitress Diane in the TV comedy ‘Cheers’) as a couple who, for various reasons, end up buying an old house in need of renovation. Only the work is never finished, as the place gradually falls apart around them.

Now, I wouldn’t want you to think that our finca is like that, but there have been a number of times when it has seemed that as one job finishes, another presents itself.

The turn of the cisterna

We’ve recently re-roofed the place; replaced the kitchen sink tap (for the second time), and done some necessary work on the gates to our drive. Are we due a little break from repairs and expenditure? No. Now, it seems, our cisterna (water storage tank) needs a little attention. One of what The Boss calls his ‘Monday checks’ is to monitor the level of water in the cisterna (so that we know when to order a delivery from Jaume, the water man). And he discovered that the metal lid – now very old and slowly degrading – had fallen into the water inside, leaving our supply open to the elements. Any passing pigeon or seagull, with a sense of devilment – and, it must be said, quite a good aim – could have pooped into our water supply.

Despite the fact that the water would be very cold, The Boss had to do a little angling to retrieve the lid, which will soon have to be replaced with a new one. But a routine inspection of the tank also revealed a small leak – probably caused by the metal lid spiking the membrane that lines the old concrete cisterna; the membrane that we had installed just a few years ago, after the ageing concrete tank developed a nasty leak.

Feeling drained

Back then, we had called in the builders, who gave us a couple of options: have a new cisterna built (expensive), or have a lining put in (not so expensive). We opted for the latter and arranged the date for the work to be done, hoping that we’d worked out accurately when the water supply would be almost exhausted.

The day before the builders were due, we were alarmed to find that we still had quite a lot of water left. Because we would be unable to use the cisterna for 24 hours after the lining was put in, we’d filled the bath and various receptacles in the house with water, for loo flushing and general use. We then set about giving our garden the best watering of its life, until all that was left was a small puddle in the bottom of the cisterna. Just as we’d finished, we received a phone call from the builders. They were very sorry, but they were unable to come out to do the work the next day . . .

Footnote:

Thank you to Anders, from Sweden, who recently added a useful comment on my earlier posting about water cisternas, which you can read here: https://livinginruralmallorca.com/2012/08/13/5-things-to-know-when-buying-a-rural-property-in-mallorca-part-1/

Bless ’em all

"So, what do you think of it so far, Rover?

“So, what do you think of it so far, Rover?

We’ve just come to the end of one of the most important weeks in the calendar of Manacor, our nearest town, in the east of Mallorca. Sant Antoni is the town’s patron saint, so it’s not surprising that the locals take the celebrations around this date rather seriously. Locally, it’s known as the Gran Semana – the big week.

Shops, businesses, and schools were closed on both Wednesday and Thursday, although supermarkets opened just for the morning on Wednesday, and our bank closed early every day of this past week. Almost everyone seemed to have bought themselves a sweatshirt or fleece emblazoned with this year’s Sant Antoni fiestas emblem and, costing around 16 euros a garment, they seemed a reasonably priced way to enter into the spirit of the event and keep warm.

Party on

And keeping warm has been necessary. The weather’s turned chilly and damp on Mallorca but, as we’ve seen on many occasions, the Mallorcans are rarely deterred by unpleasant weather conditions when there’s a party beckoning. We, however, wimped out and watched most of the celebrations on the local TV channel IB3, sitting in front of the log burner.

I was sorry to miss this year’s slow-moving parade of animals and imaginatively decorated floats around Manacor’s streets, on Thursday morning. On the morning of the saint’s day, animals of every sort – farm and domestic – are taken to be blessed by the local priest.

Attending previous animal blessings, I’ve considered taking Minstral, our Birman cat, but I suspect he’d be thoroughly miffed to have been removed from his favourite chair to mingle with animals the like of which he’s never seen. And, of course, we couldn’t take Minstral and leave behind the other eight cats that now call our finca home. I wonder if the local priest does house calls for animal blessings . . .

These devils don’t wear Prada

Christmas, New Year, and The Three Kings festivities are now over but, here in Mallorca, we don’t let something like January get in the way of enjoying ourselves. This week sees more fiestas on the island and, as the mercury drops in thermometers, we’re pleased they involve bonfires.

Tomorrow is the eve of the feast of Sant Antoni Abat. Funnily enough, he wasn’t a Mallorcan, but an Egyptian Christian monk who lived in the desert. Visited by the Devil, in the guise of a woman, he walked across the burning embers of a fire to take his mind off the immediate and obvious temptation parading in front of him. Well, that would certainly have done the trick.

Pass the matches

But back to Mallorca: in the 10th and 11th centuries rye crops on the island were blighted by a poisonous fungus, which caused a debilitating itching disease among the population. The Mallorcans, convinced this was the work of the Devil, followed Sant Antoni’s example and lit bonfires to ward away the evil.

And to this day, on the eve of Sant Antoni’s day, bonfires are lit across the island and effigies of the Devil are burned. Locals, dressed scarily as dimonis, dance around; there’s traditional music and, this being a Mallorcan celebration, food and drink. Sausages and other meats are cooked over open fires outdoors, and a glass (or two) of warming hierbas (the local herb liqueur) helps fend off the evening chill.

Down on the farm . . .

Some years ago our neighbours Lorenzo and Bárbara had their own Sant Antoni celebrations on the farm and, along with other neighbours in the valley, we were invited along to join them. We offered to take some food and drink and it was suggested that we might like to take a dessert and perhaps a bottle of something. I decided to make a tarte tatin which, to my surprise (considering the unreliable nature of our Smeg oven), ended up looking (almost) like something Raymond Blanc would have produced in the kitchens of Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, back in Oxfordshire.

Lorenzo and Bárbara’s Sant Antoni fiesta was great fun. He lit the most enormous bonfire, and nearby we cooked delicious cuts of lamb and pork from his own farm over the burning embers of an improvised BBQ. We ate in their large garage/workshop/store, sitting on the ubiquitous (at Mallorcan fiestas, at least) white plastic chairs, either side of long trestle tables.

A few guests had brought along the traditional instrument that accompanies the singing of songs about Sant Antoni.  We could only listen – not understanding the Mallorcan words of the song – but were told that the songs were verde. This being the castellano word for ‘green’, I thought it was interesting that these songs should be about ecology – and a little strange that there was so much raucous laughter accompanying the verses.

Party-on and keep warm in January in Mallorca

Party-on and keep warm in January in Mallorca

It was only when a friend explained that verde is the equivalent of what we’d call ‘blue’ in English, that everything fell into place. More laughter followed, as we explained our misunderstanding.

The deserted dessert

After the singing, it was time for dessert. All the contributions had been placed on a large trestle table. Every one – except ours – was an ensaïmada, the coiled sweet yeasty pastry that’s emblematic of Mallorca. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt about many Mallorcans in our part of the island is that, when it comes to food, they favour the traditional and the familiar. So I wasn’t too surprised to see the ensaïmadas disappearing in front of us, like plants being devoured by a swarm of locusts – while my glistening golden tarte tatin sat untouched, shunned for its foreignness. “Never mind,” said The Boss, sensing my disappointment. “Plenty for us!” And just then, two of the German guests stepped forward and helped themselves to large slices.

Things that go bump in the night

Image

We’ve become quite good at detective work since moving to the Mallorcan countryside; you have to be when you live in an old finca like ours. Strange things happen from time to time and, if we didn’t work out the reason for them, we’d probably go mad. And there is always an explanation eventually.

All manner of things have piqued our curiosity. One of the earliest mysteries was the occasional pile of empty almond shells found around the terraces and garden. Who was eating our almonds and shedding shells in neat little heaps around the place? A Mallorcan neighbour gave us the answer: it was what’s known here as (wait for it) . . .  an almond-eater. These cute-looking little rodents – with facial markings that make them look as though they are wearing bandit masks, and a tail topped with something like a pom-pom – certainly live up to their name. They’re incredibly shy and we seldom see them . . . just evidence of their presence.

Then we had the incident with the vanishing *butano. In the course of a week, The Boss had to replace the butane bottle that powers our shower room water heater three times. No, we hadn’t suddenly become super-obsessive about showering every hour. It took some considerable thought, mess, and money, to sort that little mystery out. I’ll tell you about it in a future episode on this blog.

The latest in many strange occurrences happened just this last Thursday evening. I was working at the computer, and The Boss was watching TV when, suddenly, we heard the strangest rumbling noise from outside. It was like nothing we’d ever heard before – and most evenings in winter there’s nothing much to hear except a generator somewhere.

My immediate fear was that someone driving down the lane had swerved to avoid one of the cats that have adopted us, and driven into one of the old dry stone walls. It might have explained the noise. But, as The Boss pointed out, we hadn’t actually heard a car (few pass this way in the winter once darkness has fallen). Nevertheless, we rushed outside, armed with a torch probably powerful enough to confusing incoming aeroplane pilots, to scan the lane. Nada. Satisfied that neither human or feline had been injured, I returned to the warmth of the house, while The Boss scoured the terraces around the house, finding nothing out of order.

It was only this afternoon, having been out all day yesterday and this morning, that we worked out what had made the mysterious noise we’d heard. At the bottom of our field is an old abandoned finca, which was where one of our Mallorcan neighbours had been born. It’s been empty for years and, over the past year in particular, the roof had become rather dilapidated. See https://livinginruralmallorca.com/2012/10/03/ripping-off-the-roof-at-last/ for an image of what it used to look like. Every time the wind was strong or we had heavy rain, a tile or two would fall to the ground.

Now, there is no roof at all. The entire thing has collapsed into the upper floor of the old house, and only the four walls remain standing. The strange rumbling noise we’d heard suddenly made sense: it had been the sound of roof tiles and old beams crashing down.

I’m just hoping that the next strange noise we hear isn’t the rest of the place finally falling to the ground.

* For those who own or rent property in Spain, and use butane gas for heating or cooking, there is good news: the cost of one of those orange metal bottles of gas has been frozen by the Spanish goverment at 16,10 euros. It had been due to increase in price on January 1st, 2013, to 19,06 euros.

Into each life a little decadence should fall . . .

The Boss and I have changed a lot since we moved to live in rural Mallorca. I hope for the better . . .

For a start, living in such beautiful surroundings has made us more environmentally aware. Some of this is due to the practicalities of our ‘off the grid’ life. For example, if we’re careless in our use of electricity, the chances are that our solar system will do the equivalent of screaming “Woah! I need a little generator support here!” And diesel, apart from being rather unfriendly in environmental terms, is also quite expensive.

So, we think carefully about usage, and would never dream of running the dishwasher, the washing machine and the iron all at the same time. And I try to do jobs that require a good slug of electricity on days when our 16 solar panels are basking in sunshine. If we’re lucky with the weather, we don’t have to rely on the generator to keep us in clean ironed clothes.

We’re similarly careful with water usage: we have to be, as it’s delivered by tanker to our cisterna, 12,000 litres at a time.

I must confess that I probably wasn’t so careful about these things when I lived in the UK, even though we had quarterly bills to pay for such services. The bathroom  tap would run while I was cleaning my teeth (now a ‘sin’ in our household), and lights would be on in unused rooms, just for decorative effect. Everything was ‘on tap’ and available – even if it meant bigger bills for less careful use.

A zest for cooking . . . and gourmet goodies 

Happily, my writing keeps me fairly busy, but I do like to find time to do things such as making  bread, biscuits, and preserves. In the early days of living here, I’d have been slightly overwhelmed by a generous gift of lemons – wondering how many G&Ts we’d have to drink to use them all up! Now, I head for the kitchen (where, it must be said, I am quite a messy but reasonably successful cook) and turn these gifts into preserves.

Friends who came for lunch last Thursday brought us a large basket of organic lemons and grapefruit; this summer, we’ll be spreading the resulting marmalade on our morning toast, thinking of our friends in their home in New York, and remembering a sunny January day when I spent most of one joyful morning shredding the peel from a small mountain of citrus fruit.

But within this changed girl remains a part-time hedonist: when the opportunity is there, I love dining out on fine food and wine, and I get little-girl-excited when I discover previously untried gourmet foods and ingredients.

So, when we opened a parcel yesterday – a generous gift from our lovely friends Duncan and Kristina in Oxford, who have visited us annually since we moved here, and probably love the finca as much as we do – we were thrilled to find some delicious Fortnum & Mason gourmet goodies within. And among the wrappings was a jar of F&M Majestic Marmalade. And, I kid you not, it’s flecked with gold leaf: it lives up to its name, looking like something a princess – or her servant – would spread on her morning toast (crusts removed, no doubt).

Our breakfast toast may be rustic in style – crusts intact, and with the bottom of the loaf slightly burnt, due to our thermostatically-challenged oven – but, when it comes to the marmalade that will be gracing it for the next week or so, all that glitters is definitely gold . . .

A decadent start to a day in the Mallorcan countryside

A decadent start to a day in the Mallorcan countryside

Mallorca – the global village

When we moved to rural Mallorca I had no idea that it would lead to us making new friends from around the world. We hoped to make new Mallorcan friends, because we’d deliberately chosen to move to somewhere populated mainly by local people, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the cosmopolitan nature of Mallorca – even in this rural area.

In our valley, we have neighbours – either resident or with holiday homes – from Mallorca, England, Switzerland, Sweden and Germany.

A blast from the past

Shortly before Christmas we had an unexpected visit from Ingo, an entertaining and erudite character from Hamburg, who’d owned a neighbouring holiday home with his wife Marion. They sold up here six years ago and bought a forest retreat in Germany, but he’d decided to make a short nostalgia trip to the island. We were thrilled that he’d remembered us after all this time; although we doubt that he fully remembers one hilarious evening we spent with him, eating bread and German sausage and enjoying a bottle or two of Mallorcan wine. We still chuckle about it . . .

A Swiss family bought his house and have become valued friends. They’re great fun and Peter is an excellent cook to boot. How could we not like people who arrived on our doorstep to introduce themselves, bearing gifts of Toblerone and Swiss Army Knives?

Friends from afar

Today, we’ve had lunch here at the finca with newish friends who live and have a wine business in New York, but bought a rural finca as a  holiday home on Mallorca when they were living in Madrid. We met through a South African friend and former work colleague, who married a Texan, moved to the States, and worked in the wine industry. As I write, there’s a glass of Martué 2009 DO Pago Campo de la Guardia (Toledo) by my side – a bottle of which our New York friends brought with them to lunch. In the kitchen, there’s also an enormous pile of lemons and grapefruit, they brought us from their finca.

Mallorca may be a small Spanish island in the Mediterranean, but at times it feels like a global village, full of people with interesting stories to tell and hearts open to new friendships. It makes me think of that quote from the Irish poet W B Yeats: “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.”

Here’s to friends . . . of every nationality.  ¡Salud! (Slurps from glass).

Now where's that recipe for lemon curd . . .?

Now where’s that recipe for lemon curd . . .?