Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Today is panettone day

La Fabriquilla to Canjáyar, 45 miles, free aire, 1 night. 

So Gill announced while staring into the tall cupboard which is meant to be a wardrobe, but we use as a larder. It is perhaps worthwhile pointing out that Panettone Day is not some little known Italian culinary festival, but in fact is the result of having bought an enormous panettone as a birthday cake for Gill about a fortnight ago. We have now had to institute more formal measures to ensure its consumption before its sell by date. Now staring into the depths of the fridge, Gill made a further announcement, "It has to be sausage day as well." Luckily, I don't think she is planning to combine the two. 

The mountains to the north of Almeria are magnificent. Gill clicked away through the windscreen as we trundled up hill and down dale. The scenery is remarkably similar to the border of Nevada with Arizona; no wonder it was chosen as the backdrop for Spaghetti Westerns. One thing that they did not quite get right was the soundtrack. I look at the scenery and I don't hear Ennio Morricone, it's much more a John Williams scored landscape with soaring Mahlerish strings, blaring brass and the odd outbreak of clashing cymbals and berserk tympani.

Most towns hereabouts seem the teeter on the edge of a ravine, Canjáyar, our destination, was no exception. Consequently the modern bypass skirts the town, and though the aire is next to the main road, access to it is off side road some distance before you reach the location. This was far too complicated for poor old Muriel to understand, so she proudly announced we had 'reached the destination on the left '. Indeed we had, it was next to the town fire station and a Dutch motorhome was parked in it, all of which we noted as we drove past separated from the aire by a crash barrier. The terrain is so wild and mountainous that we had no option but to drive 6km up and over a steep pass to the next village before we were able to turn around.

The aire, once we found it, was excellent, with seven marked places, level, on asphalt, and the service point well designed and maintained. The occupants of the Dutch van were a friendly couple. Like us, they had spent the last few days in the Capo de Gata staying at the same places as we had, it was remarkable we had not met before. They too were fugitives from the blustery wind. We swapped the usual travellers tales, usefully they were able to give us the GPS coordinates for a cheap place to park in Cordoba. A Campercontact review of the Canjáyar aire mentions that a previous user suffered a fly infestation while staying here.

So did we. I suppose while we used the service point and filled the water tank we must have left the habitation door open. Why the vicinity is so infested I can't understand Our lunch was interrupted by a small swarm which seemed to relish Greek salad even more than us. Time to wield the 'Extermintor' a mighty anti-fly weapon that resembles a toy tennis racket whose strings deliver an electric shock which kills insects stone dead. It's not entirely risk free, if the user happens to brush against the mesh it delivers quite a jolt to a human too, as I well know. I think a fly must be able to sense the electro-magnetic field, for as soon as you waft the thing in its direction, the insect zooms in the opposite way, which does even the odds somewhat and introduces an element is sport into the hunt. Actually, I don't like killing them, and will encourage them to leave by the door if I can. Sadly most of the swarm refused my amnesty so I was forced to fry them one by one, which took some time as they proved both wily and agile. The body count passed two dozen before we felt the van was sufficiently de-flyed. Somewhat later then planned we headed into Canjáyar, giving the van a quick repellent spray before we left in the hope that any stragglers hiding in the corners would succumb to chemical attack where direct assault had failed.

The aire is on the hill above the town and a pleasant path beside a smallholding leads the centre. The mountains above are arid, a mixture of pale sandstone and red ochre rocks. The valleys are verdant with orchards, vineyards and trellises covered with beans. They, and vines seem to be Canjáyar specialty, whereas the nearby village of Rágol seems to be more pear oriented, at least judging from the giant effigies of the fruit which adorned its roundabout.

The path into Canjáyar follows an old watercourse that irrigates the fields and orchards. This is fruit growing at the opposite end of the scale to the industrial production of Tomatoland. Here the holdings are small, produce is mixed, the irrigation system looks very well established, it might even be Moorish in origin. Because the production is on a small scale and avoids monoculture there is a lot of bird life. They twittered away as we walked down the path, the sound of water gurgling through the irrigation channels in streamlets and small cascades in the background. It was delightful. The town itself is not some photogenic pueblo blanco but a workaday agriculture and industrial centre with small factories and agricultural cooperatives on the outskirts.

The place itself is a bit of a warren tumbling down the hill without a central square. Instead there are a handful of smaller plazas, each with a small fountain which form focal points and a meeting place for each 'barrio'. The town has been very proactive in communicating its history. Some buildings display painted tile panels depicting significant events. Each plaza has an information board telling the story of the town's economic and social development. My favourite spot was Plaza Marin which seemed entirely given over to celebrating the town's viniculture.

The information point included a photograph of an extended family celebrating the vintage of 1950. It reminded me of Giuseppe Leone's photographs of Sicilian village life. There is something of both engaging and haunting about such images. Roland Barthes wrote of how photographs 'pricked' us, he called this the pictures' punctum, that they represent a moment forever lost, and all at some level are memento mori. Only the young boy might still be alive, perhaps he still lives here, now an elderly man in his early seventies. The locals seemed a very friendly bunch, everyone we passed nodded and said hola. You sensed a pride about the place, it was immaculate, the public spaces well cared for. 

When I was doing research a couple of years ago one of the articles I read concerned 'belonging'. It explored the difference between inhabiting a place and dwelling in it. Dwelling, it argued concerned not only how we live in a place, but also how places live within us. It was an academic take on the commonplace phrase about 'being able to take the girl out of London, but not London out of the girl'. The article observed that increasingly we inhabited places rather than dwelt within them. Cyber space and social media enable us to inhabit the multifarious almost simultaneously, yet the effect is to make us displaced, dislocated selves. Physicality is no longer a prerequisite for belonging. Canjáyar seemed somewhere that people dwelt in. It exuded a strong sense of locale, the industry and agriculture looked to be locally owned, small scale, yet diverse. Back in the 1970s there was a debate around whether mass media would result in a globe of villages or Mcluen's 'Global Village. 

Today, both concepts seem anachronisms when compared to globalisation's viral cyber metropolis. However, if the vision of the future had turned out a little more 'green' then Canjáyar might be considered an archetype for what settlements in this globe of villages could have looked like: networked but autonomous, semi-sufficient but mercantile, outward looking, yet exuding a sense of locale by celebrating their unique heritage. It's not going to happen. Google Earth is already half built. We can but dream, and celebrate moments when you come across somewhere that has not wholly succumbed entirely to being a simply the sum total of its Trip Advisor reviews.

Sometimes small unexpected places prove the most thought provoking. We headed up the hill back to the van, brewed some coffee, and polished off the panettone. Gill then set about doing something miraculous with a sausage. It is surprising how delicious simple ingredients can be - spicy local sausage barbecued yesterday, rigatoni, a dollop of Spanish frito, onion, garlic, red pepper, a few mushrooms, oregano and a (mighty) dash of chilli. She's an inventive cook. We live well in our 7 metre builders truck.


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