We saw in the New Year on the terrace in our usual subdued fashion having spoken to a couple of friends and family on Skype and headed off to bed shortly afterwards with our heads full of ideas and plans for 2013.
The plan with the highest priority was to harvest the olives which had started to fall off the few trees out of our seventy odd that had fruited. The designated day dawned with blue skies and bright sunshine, our dear friends from Segorbe arrived to help and we self consciously spread our new net under the biggest tree at the front gates and proceeded to rake the olives from the branches using our newly purchased plastic rake designed especially for the task. The rake proved to be an inefficient tool, much easier to use your fingers or shake the branches vigorously scattering olives far and wide. The net was soon covered in a respectable amount of plump, black olives and we felt a beer was in order before we moved onto the next tree. Sadly, I had forgotten to put more beer in the fridge and so half a glass each was the best we could do before we carefully gathered up the net and dropped the contents onto the marble clad slope whereupon our precious harvest rolled merrily onto the road and down the hill.
Hysterical with laughter we attempted to stop the flow of olives with hands, feet, knees and a broom shouting at each other not to squash the fruit and hoping none of our efficient olive harvesting neighbours were watching. Having scooped up as many as possible and transferred them to the wheelbarrow we beat a hasty retreat to the olive grove, spread the net again and employed a different harvesting method. Realising that we were going to prune the trees as we harvested, it seemed easier to cut the branches and harvest them directly into the wheelbarrow rather than having to either climb the tree to pick or stretch upwards. This method proved effective and we hope that our pruning efforts will mean that next year the olives will all be within easy reach as we shouldn’t need to prune as drastically. Enthusiasm dwindled a little after a late and leisurely lunch with some suitably cold beer but we carried on until the sun started to go down, the air grew chilly and John and Rhona needed to head for home.
Steve and I finished the harvest the following day, transferring the olives from the wheelbarrow into two sacks bought from the co-operativa along with the net and rake. Our harvest weighed 43kg which we felt was quite respectable considering the trees have been neglected for several years. If we get a similar harvest from each tree in the grove, next year we should harvest closer to a ton and won’t be asked “Tienes algo mas?” when we arrive at the co-operativa.
We had steeled ourselves to be embarrassed when we arrived with at the co-operativa with a quantity of olives suitable for a modest cocktail party but hadn’t expected to be told off for transporting them in the wrong receptacle. “No sacos,” we were admonished sternly by the bloke tipping the olives into the grille set into the ground, “plastico”. Plastico? We looked around hastily and noticed that the back of the car next to us was filled with black plastic trugs bursting with glossy black fruit. “Porque?” I asked him whereupon he shrugged and said “es normale”. Fair enough, next year, plastico it is.
Our olives trundled up the conveyor belt, were washed and jiggled about a bit and we were given a sample to take to the officina where they were chopped, centrifuged, pressed into a block and their oil and water content assessed. We were given a print out and told to go to the officina in town at the end of January to find out what we will receive in return for our first contribution to the local economy. Anything more than a hollow laugh will be gratefully received.
Work on the apartment started in earnest in January and the air filled with dust as Steve knocked down the wall at the side of the staircase, knocked out the existing shower and knocked a new doorway in the dividing wall. We had estimates for the new metal banister which will widen the stairway, provide a safer handhold and let more light onto the stairs and chose our tiles and shower enclosure for the new shower as well as the for the kitchen surface and splash back. Stewart arrived promptly at 8am each day and life went back to a Monday to Friday routine.
When not knocking down walls or learning how to build new ones, Steve removed the remaining marble from the drive and we started to shift gravel from one side of the drive to another. As the month went on we realised that the work we were doing was gradually changing from knocking down, ripping out and digging up to rebuilding, putting in new and planting. We bought and I planted 12 large ivies which will in short order we hope, cover the steel fences and provide both shade and privacy as well as looking good. The runners of the dreaded agaves are almost out of the raised beds and the earth has been sieved to remove as much of the root systems as possible. I have pruned, dug and potted up roses and oleanders ready to move to the planned gravel garden which will replace the dull terrace thoroughfare at the front of the house.
The kitchen has been built, Stewart has fitted a new boiler which will give reliably hot water to the apartment and together, Steve and Stewart have put in insulation and lowered the ceilings. Electrics have been moved and improved with the lights repositioned, a new light in the bathroom added and a ceiling fan installed in the bedroom.
Outside, the tubing for the pool skimmers which we had discovered was totally squashed and ineffective has been replaced and we have bought a pool light which, when the electricity has been run to the pool will allow night swimming. We will also install lighting around the pool and are currently debating how much so as to avoid both inadequate lighting and something akin to a landing strip. We are almost in agreement as to the surface around the pool, at least, we are in agreement about the nature of the surface but the colour is still undecided.
As the month drew to a close we enjoyed a visit from a friend from Frome (strictly speaking not Frome itself but I like a bit of alliteration), fantastic weather and on the first of February, the opening day of the Sax Moros y Cristianos fiesta. The festival celebrates the conquest of the Moors by the Christians and the taking of the castle. Eight groups or comparsas, each dressed in elaborate and individual costumes headed by their captain and accompanied by bands, process through the main streets. The comparsas consist of men, women and children, even babes in arms all in full costume and weaving in and out of the groups are the reinas or queens, women in even more elaborate costumes plus young girls in National Costume. Guns are fired, fireworks set off and the atmosphere is electric. The majority of the shops close for the five day festival and the restaurants and bars offer special menus. The streets are lined with people, seemingly the whole town is either processing or watching and there are of course stalls selling snacks, balloons and the kind of cheap toys that I associate with carnival in Frome.
Sax is starting to feel like our town, our 43kg of olives will form part of this year’s oil crop and now that our house is properly registered, our SUMA or community charge will help to provide the services that we use. People are starting to recognise us in town and mutter “hasta luego” or “adios” as they pass by and we mutter something similar back. I spotted someone I know in a coffee shop the other day and over enthusiastically called “allo” instead of “hola”. The learning curve remains steep.