A short, sharp, apocalyptic, thunder and lightening storm yesterday afternoon has left the path strewn with pine needles. Yet again. From trees that are not ours. This means that we have the imminent appearance of the noisy leaf gatherers to look forward to.
The invention of the leaf-blower has to one of the major banes of the modern urban leafy suburb - if our little zone could be called one. As our area is named after the pine trees which are a characteristic of our streets, it is not surprising that we are well used to the howl of the leaf-blowers - both private and municipal.
It is not out of any aesthetic civic pride that the pine needles are gathered up; it is rather because of our inadequate road drainage system. Fallen pine needles gather into impressive clumps and block the drains, so any delay in collecting the organic excess, when linked to a sudden downpour, will result in extensive flooding, or at least large areas of standing water on the roads. The collection is therefore necessity rather than cosmetic. Our economy relies on the tourist, usually the day tourists from Barcelona, so any discomfort and inconvenience has a direct relationship with the wealth of our municipality. Our resort, through undoubtedly popular, does have rivals, and it doesn’t take much to persuade fleeting visitors to fleet elsewhere.
The one good thing about refuse collection here is that it is daily via the system of collective bins that are found along all the roads. In addition, each Friday (in our zone) any pine needles or tree clippings or general plant waste will be collected separately. On a Thursday evening, therefore, I brush together all our neighbours’ pine needles that have fallen in our back garden and sweep them into a neat heap outside our front gate. And by Friday afternoon they are gone.
Although I know that the logistics of refuse collection are prosaic enough, I have always found the reality of rubbish collection almost magical: now you see it - now you don’t! I also know that the reality of landfill and the general problems of disposal are rapidly assuming crisis proportions and we are probably living in the last age of the free-and-easy, throw-it-all-in-the-bin approach to refuse. I know that Britain is gradually developing a fairly Draconian approach to when, when and how you throw things away, and I read with interest of local councils fining people for putting the wrong things in the wrong bins, or putting things out at the wrong times. Here in Castelldefels while we do have bins for plastics, cardboard, glass and general refuse - there is nothing to stop you from putting veering in the same black bag and throwing it in the ubiquitous green bins. I feel that this anarchic time is quickly coming to an end, and it is only a matter of (short) time before we too are dragooned (rightly) into a more caring attitude.
The Greek Way
On a related economic model, I have now reverted to something that I used to do years ago - make my own yogurt!
I used to own a rather nifty device which comprised a heated stand on which stood six yellow screw topped containers complete with overall plastic cover and which provided me with (though I say it myself) a rather fine yogurt. I seem to remember heating milk with ‘starter’ yogurt in a saucepan while keeping an eye on the thermometer to ensure the reaction ‘took’. That is obviously old school. My new device comprises a cylinder inside what looks like a pressure cooker: you add the milk, add the yogurt, stir it a bit, turn the machine on and leave it for 10 hours or so. Voilà! It’s done!
The resultant yogurt was a trifle runny. But the little book of instructions had advice (in Spanish) about making Greek yogurt - that, in theory should be more solid. The complex instructions for adding this sort of value were merely to let the runny yogurt stand for 24 hours in the fridge then put it into a mesh strainer (provided) in the white receptacle (provided) and let that drain for a couple of hours in the fridge and the job is done. And it worked! And is delicious!
The next time I am in a supermarket I am going to look at the price of Greek yogurt. My newfound machine makes 1ltr from UHT milk with the use of the machine (obviously) and 10 hours of very low-level electricity and the fridge. I will have to start making ‘fruit’ versions and see how they go!
At the moment there is something very satisfying in having made a food that I eat every day, it is the equivalent to growing your own wheat for your daily loaf! I am very smug about it all!
Slotting into place
When I was living in Cardiff, I could walk around town and sooner or later I would bump into someone who would say, “Hello!” with that element of genuine recognition that would suggest that we knew each other. And to be fair, I am generally a good rememberer of faces to the same extent as I am an appalling rememberer of names. My inability to recall names bordered, and continues to border on. the psychotic, but my ability to feel affinity with faces means that I am subject to an almost endless mental jigsaw as I attempt to fit the face into a pattern that never seems, at first glance to have the correct space to place it.
The last time this happened was in the changing room of my swimming pool. I was about to walk to the pool for my swim when a naked young man came from the shower, saw me, smiled and said, “¡Hola!” I replied with a smile and walked on to the pool, thinking as I did so, about where the hell I knew him from.
In Cardiff, as a teacher, you have a bewilderingly wide range of ways of knowing people they could, after all, be present pupils, past pupils, colleagues, past colleagues, Union Members, friends, family, shopkeepers, audiences (I had cultural season tickets) sports partners, parents (of pupils I mean - even my inability with names is not that bad!) and so on. Here in Spain there are not quite so many possibilities, though I have taught here and the parents, pupils, colleagues thing can be brought into play here in Catalonia as well.
But this guy was in the sports centre. He was slim and fit and so I tired to ‘dress’ him in the uniform of the centre, perhaps he was one of the summer guys brought in to cope with the summer schools being run. But that didn’t really fit. Past pupil didn’t seem right. Customer? Wrong time of the day for someone so young. And so I went on, slightly resentful that he was naked as clothing would have been a clue!
Shops, supermarkets, opera houses, restaurants all went through my mind. Not, you must understand because it was important to know where I knew him from, but because I was irritated by not knowing. Wherever I placed his smiling and variously dressed face and body, he didn’t fit. I made notes about him in my little notebook hoping 1) his habitat would come to me through the simple power of writing, and 2) if all else failed I could make a virtue of necessity and write a poem about it. Neither occurred.
As is usual in cases such as these it was while I was thinking about something else entirely that I got: a) new waiter, in b) old favourite restaurant. Of course!
And what have I got from expending a frustrating amount of time and mental effort in trying to remember something that is entirely unimportant?
Here is where you, dear reader, can help me. What have I gained?
A quiet satisfaction in allaying the fear that my mind is losing its ability to organize information and bring past events to the surface when they are needed? A triumphant reassertion of my capabilities of being able to deconstruct new combinations and find the essential truth behind them? A complete lack of understanding of priorities? A gleeful acceptance of mind-games displacement activity? The lack of something better to do?
Who knows and, more importantly, who cares!