Outside it´s trying its best to rain. I think the sky has forgotten how.
We have not seen real rain here for weeks. We water the vegetables, we water the flowers, we water the fruit trees, each in its turn, after the chickens and dogs and cats get theirs.
One of the black hens died.
Tim´s foot is much improved, but he is still lazy as hell.
The fields are baked brown, the weeds are crunchy alongside the roads. The farmers spread manure this time of year, a job that lays stink over the town like fetid towel. Their plows turn the dung over into the soil. Their tractors carry great rooster-tails of dust behind them, and when they disappear behind a knoll it looks like something´s on fire out there.
The tall trees are turning yellow and flinging leaves down on the breeze.
There´s a breeze. It is cool in the evening, chilly in the morning. Evenings come earlier now, dawn comes later, and night is inky black. The Milky Way spans the sky from horizon to horizon, and galaxies invisible on moonlit nights suddenly shimmer into sight.
The church is back to being closed all day, even though the pilgrim numbers have not dropped much – they keep coming through in great waves. Some evenings they fill up Bruno´s albergue, and the scent of pasta Carbonara floats down Calle Ontanon. It´s a vast improvement on manure!
The swallows will go soon, if they aren´t already gone. They slip away so quietly.
The windows are still open, the blinds are down to keep out the flies. Sounds roll up from the town and bounce off the front of our house. We hear the radio over at Pilar´s garden, tuned to old men arguing politics. The voices keep the birds out of the fruit trees and grape vines. The vines are loaded, grapes glisten from the stems down along the ground – that´s how the table-grapes are grown here, low down where the leaves shade the soil and hold the moisture. We don´t have a vineyard. Everyone else in town does.
This afternoon, Fran came to the door with a shopping-bag full of table grapes – the second in two week´s time.
This evening, Milagros came to the door with a cardboard box full of table grapes and green figs.
And so we will make Ajo Blanco, one of the great delights of Arab-Andalusian cuisine. It is weird, delicious, mouthwatering food, utterly seasonal. You eat it cold, for Indian Summer. With fresh-cut table grapes like these, it is fit for a king. But try it in January, with hot-house fruit, and it´s almost inedible. Ajo Blanco is not local food. I made some last week, and shared it with Paco and Julia. They had never tasted it. I am not sure they liked it, but Fran did.
You should try it. Here is the recipe I use.
AJO BLANCO de ALMENDRAS (“White Gazpacho”)
1/3 cup blanched almonds
1/3 cup pine nuts (just almonds works fine when piñones are too costly)
2 cloves peeled garlic
1 teaspoon salt
4 handfuls seedless green grapes OR
4 one-inch cubes honeydew melon (I am allergic, but it sure looks good!)
3 slices good quality bread, de-crusted
6 Tablespoons good olive oil
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 cups ice water
Another handful of grapes OR melon balls, for garnish
Grind together the almonds, pine nuts, garlic and salt to a powder. Add and puree grapes or melon. Soak bread in water, squeeze it out, add the goo to the processor piece by piece. Slowly drizzle in the oil and vinegars. Gradually add water. Adjust flavors of salt/vinegar.
Chill well. Taste again before putting into individual bowls or cups and garnishing with grapes or melon. Serve cold.
Forgive me if I wrote up this recipe on the blog in the past. I have given it to many friends, and I cannot always keep track of where and to whom I sent it.
Pilgrims love this stuff, this and gazpacho and vichysoisse (leek soup). Patrick and I make them by the ton, especially when the garden is in full swing. We used to burn through it all fast, but now we do not have pilgrims to feed. Just the occasional guitarist, or Couch Surfer, or someone who stayed here before. (Occasionally the chickens end up eating the leftovers. They love soup, but I hate feeling like I am wasting good food.)
We are shifting roles. I no longer call myself a hospitalera, and I am stepping away from teaching others how to become volunteer hosts. Strangers will always be welcome here, but people who can afford it ought to patronize Bruno or Martina´s businesses – I sometimes feel I am taking food from their mouths when I have a full house and they have nobody.
I miss the hippies, though. And the missionaries. The nuns and the scruffy old tramps, the fresh-faced schoolboys and the lost souls.
But I know that winter is coming, and Bruno and Martina will close up and go back to Germany and Italy for a couple of months. We will once again be the Only Place in Town.
And then we´ll get our pilgs. The hard-core Winter walkers, the True Believers, the cold and frozen lunatics from off the path.
Heavens! I never thought I would look forward to winter!