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by Mike Booth

Ever Been Poleaxed by Delight?

For many summers we’ve been driving up to the forest above a neighboring village to gather pine cones for starting fires. They’re ideal for the job, dry and resinous. We need them as the firewood we use—olive, almond and live oak—is hard to light and in wintertime all of our heating and most of our cooking is done on wood fires. Sometimes we take along a picnic. One time we were up there in a sunny clearing enjoying a potato omelette and some red wine while our two little terriers ran around chasing lizards and butterflies. When we finished lunch and rolled over on our backs on the blanket, staring aimlessly skyward, we discovered a pair of golden eagles circling quite a bit lower than usual. They were thinking about lunch, too.

Prohibition

A couple of years ago it occurred to the forestry authority to prohibit collecting anything in the natural park forests. But we still need pine cones, so I came up with a business plan. I would drive up there before dawn on a Sunday morning, while Smokey Bear was still in bed, and load the back of the car with big 100-liter black plastic garbage bags full of pine cones.

It’s a half-hour drive up there from our house and when I left last Sunday at 7:00 a.m. it was 19º down there and a bracing 13º up on the mountain. I turned off on a forestry trail, followed it for a kilometer and parked at the edge of the road. There were enough plump pine cones within a 30-meter radius to fill the four bags that would fit in the back of the car. After scurrying around filling two of them I sat down on a carpet of pine needles for a break. Then it struck me: the silence, the solitude, the pine-scented air… I should come up here more often.

Churros and Glee

Add to that the larcenous glee of stealing the pine cones and you have most of the makings of a perfect Sunday morning. All that was lacking was a double coffee and a plate of the fried batter rings the Spanish call “churros,” and I would see to that at the bar on the way down.

I was headed due south on the dirt trail when I burst out of the woods and found myself on the rim of a great bowl, looking down into a vast valley full of valleys crosslit from the east by the morning sun. Then, as I lifted my gaze I was confronted by one of our old friends, the eagles, soaring low in the distance beneath seven layers of mountain ridges receding into the haze of the upper reaches of Sierra Nevada.

Self Help

I was almost down to the level of the Río Quentar at the bottom of the valley, only half listening to a Spanish self-help guru on Sunday-morning radio discussing the healing effects of nature when a “cabra montesa” (Spanish ibex) appeared in front of me, like a traffic warden, securing the road for her half-grown kid from last spring’s brood, who trotted out of the bushes behind her. Maybe I’ll go back again next Sunday.
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Homenaje a Maureen

Somos Pineros

Homenaje a Maureen.
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Nikki Braunton, on holiday in Órgiva at the foot of the Sierra Alpujarra (the seaward slope of our Sierra Nevada) with her husband, John Chase and their two girls, came for a visit the other morning. We had only known Nikki through Facebook, so it was lovely when they showed up en persona. I made a chocolate cherry cake–which was still warm from the oven, but they didn’t seem to mind–and we had coffee and tea on Mike’s new table out under the grapevines.

Nikki and John wanted to see my studio so we spent some time down there. John and Mike are both photographers, so they got on like a house afire. The two girls, ages 8 and 12. seemed interested in everything–studio, prints, cats, Cuca–and withstood the boring conversations of older people admirably.

Both John and Nikki work at the Museum of London, he as a photographer, she in the photo archives. “I only do three days a week,” Nikki says, “so it leaves me time for printmaking.” She works at the Greenwich Printmakers open studio. Nikki and John have fallen for Órgiva and have spend their last few summer holidays there.  So, we hope to see them back here next year. Happy printmaking, Nikki.

 

 

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Most of the Butterflies Were in My Stomach

Miguel Ángel Castillo phoned the other day asking if I wanted to play a small part of a veteran butterfly activist in his latest film. I said sure. Could they shoot in my studio? Sure. Ever since I worked with Juan Carlos Romera on ¡Bive! seven or eight years ago I have been entranced with movie making. (Juan Carlos also made my printmaking tutorial videos.)

Miguel Ángel is a retired science professor who is full of the kind of creative energy the Spanish call “inquietudes.” He is a butterfly activist with his own mariposarium at home, he makes short films and he takes excellent care of his friends. Asked what got him into film making he says, “I always wanted to try it, and when I did I loved the process. Also it’s an opportunity to be in contact with bright, talented young people. I find that very enriching.” Don’t be tempted to think that his film is one of those boring ecological treatises. It actually has an assassination in it. though it lacks a helicopter.

So, Miguel Ángel and his crew of seven technicians and actors showed up yesterday morning and started running cables and setting up lights and the camera. It was a hot day and it took us till 3:00 p.m. to shoot what was was essentially three scenes, so we were thirsty, worn out and starving when we finished.

Miguel Ángel was right on cue. “Where’s the nearest place to get a nice lunch?” he said. “I’m inviting.” Mike suggested Casa Guillermo, just down the hill in our village. The food is good there and we could sit at the tables on the river’s edge. The meal which lasted from three until five, included a wonderful selection of Andalusian soul food: jamon serrano, pipirrana salad, grilled morcilla and alonganiza, churrasco steak, chicken and ham croquetas, pitchers of beer and assorted soft drinks; one fundamentalist actually drank water, with ice cream and kinky little cylindrical cakes for dessert) lasted from three until five.

One of the best dishes was papas a lo pobre, (“poor man’s potatoes) sliced potatoes with green peppers stewed in quite a lot of olive oil. Jordi, the sound man from Valencia, wrinkling his nose disapprovingly, asked, “What’s that puddle under the potatoes, oil?” “Yes,” I said, handing him a slice of bread. “Here, dip some bread in it,” and I showed him how it was done. Jordi became an instant devotee of papas a lo pobre and an expert olive oil soaker upper. (Don’t try this at home with just any old olive oil. Ideally it should be the silky golden aceite de oliva virgen extra from our village, Pinos Genil.)

The crew had a two-hour drive back to Almería, but Mike and I were home in less than five minutes, stripped off as we were descending the garden stairs, showered in the hose, dried off and hopped into bed, where we stayed for hottest three and a half hours of a 39ºC (102.2F) day. There’s nothing wrong with a day in which you get up from your siesta (just a bit groggy) at 9:00 p.m.

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In recent months a couple of my galleries in Granada have been asking, “Could you make us some miniature prints?” These are my first proofs.

 

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People ask, “Why did you come here? Why did you stay?”

The answer is straightforward enough. We liked Spain, at least the version of the country and its people we encountered in our village, Pinos Genil. And Spain seemed to like us. We arrived here in the fall of 1969. (“Ha llovido,” say the Spanish. “It has rained since then.”)

Mike started making photographs from the beginning, especially of the events in the pueblo: the fiestas, romerías, harvests, etc. He recently digitalized his old negatives and started publishing them on a photo-blog, SomosPineros.com. In case you’re interested in seeing what our village and our neighbors looked like a few decades ago I’m going to upload a few pictures here and give you some links to posts on Somos Pineros.

Later, in a second post, I’ll show you some recent pictures from this year and last, so you can see how things have changed around here. Here we go.

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Here are some links to  posts about the old days in Pinos:

Stop back in a couple of days to see pictures of Pinos Genil today.

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It was such a beautiful morning yesterday that Mike took his camera and macro lens out in the garden. The red flowers and baby fruit are from our pomegranate tree. Spanish for “pomegranate” is “granada,” by the way. A neighbor gave us a cutting of the blue morning glories on the right many years ago. They came with a warning: “Be careful, they can take over your garden.” They did. The wispy little white flowers are honeysuckle. They form banks in the garden and perfume the atmosphere out there all summer. The yellow star is a zucchini flower. We put zucchini in everything. The two yellow flowers are some sort of squash, which appeared on top of the compost heap. Our lemon tree is called a “limonero lunar” in Spanish. It flowers every month so during most of the year we have both flowers and fruit.  Here’s the pictures.

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P.S. This one’s for cousin Carole.

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