Monday, August 31, 2009


One day, in my aviary of Love Birds, I found an egg that had fallen out of a nest and the baby was half way out. After carefully removing the rest of the shell I put him in a box of cotton-wool and fed him with a bobby-pin. I made his food out of everything his mother ate plus some bread and milk all ground up in a blender. Having to eat every two hours he came everywhere with me and was quite popular. As he grew the gullet that used to fill up with food and look so ugly, began to disappear and his feathers began to grow. Pipsqueak, as we called him, turned into a beautiful yellow bird with blue tail feathers. He lived free in our bedroom and sat on my shoulder every morning to make coffee. The aviary runs the full length of one side of the house so you can watch the birds from several rooms. It was better than Dallas, the mothers teaching the babies to fly, the building of nests, the fight for residential counsel-flats or flower-pots and especially the flirting. Love Birds are monogamous and will even pine to death if they lose a mate. Both parents take part in the raising of the young and look like hedgehogs when they fill their feathers with bits of palm leaves to build the nest.

Every once in a while I would take Pipsqueak out to the aviary to meet some of his own kind but he always flew straight back to me, not wanting to have anything to do with the other birds. After two years of constant companionship, I put him in the window to chat with the others, when his behaviour became very agitated. He kept squeaking and flying back and forth to the window then my shoulder. I took him inside the aviary where he promptly left me and joined a blue Love Bird. Pipsqueak never came back to sit on my shoulder or come in the house. After a while I could't even tell him from the other yellow ones. With my feelings very hurt I asked my father why he thought that he wouldn't even come see me inside the aviary. As always with my father's quick wit, he said "well if your mother looked like that would you want to introduce her to your friends?" He didn't mean it in a hurtful way he just meant that with me being so big and of another species I was quite a spectacle. By the way it turned out Pipsqueak was a girl and had batches of green and red Love Birds.


When I moved back to Mojacar in 1980, I dreamt of having a stable of beautiful Spanish horses and giving each the name of a car like Morgan, Alfa or Jag but as it turned out my first purchase was a black mule whom I named Honda because she was cheap and reliable. The drawing of the cart above is the old cart I turned into a mule-taxi and Honda and I took people up and down the beach or from bar to bar. Being the first taxi in Mojacar I was issued with licence plate No. 1. The plate was made by the famous playwrite, artist and local resident Win Wells because the town had no such facilities. I'm sorry there are no pictures to show but I only had a poloroid which a good friend had bought me because I wasn't making any money seeing as all my clients were friends and I couldn't charge them but they all bought the pictures and that was my income and probably the best job I have ever had.
Things were very primative then: the beaches virgin, the people friendly. The weather was always beautiful and modern conveniences were unheard of. In those days the local doctor still made his rounds of the farm areas on horse-back for which I accompanied him many times.
To do the laundry, one went to the Arab fountain at the base of Mojacar, where water ran 24 hours a day and went down troughs that you had to stand in up to your knees and rub bar soap on the worn rock wash-boards. The used water continued down to irrigate the farm-land, each according to his 'hours'. It was always a fun time because we would load up Honda, go to the shop at the fountain, buy a melon to put in the icy water until we had finished washing clothes - the rinse-cycle was acomplished by our children standing up to their waists in the fountain and stomping up and down on the laundry until the soap was out. Then we would wash our hair and share out the melon. It was a great social meeting place; then we would go home with all the gossip of this interesting and relaxed little community.
One day when Amber was in nursery school, in the plaza of Mojacar, there was a terrible ruckus - it turned out that Honda and our Great Dane had gone walkabouts and ended up in the village. Not knowing what to do they got three-year old Amber out of school to deal with the situation. She tied the mule to the iron grates on the window of the school and took the dog inside. When I went to pick her up she rode the mule home. She was considered quite the little heroine because the locals were scared to death of both animals.

Friday, August 28, 2009

How the Cow Jumped Over the Moon

This is a photograph of a family portrait I once commisioned. It was painted by the French artist Jean-Marc Faure. From the left, there is Negrita the sheep, Petite Suisse the cow, three horses Cura, Oli and Casi (la potra: the foal) and in the foreground, Lorca our first Briard.
The subject of this story is Petite Suisse and how my father learned where the childrens' poem of the cow that jumped over the moon came from.
When we first moved to Mojácar there was no fresh milk, what we had was milk with the cream taken out, pork fat and formaldahide added. Of course there was no refrigeration so it made sense.
I had made it known amongst the local farmers that I was in the market for a cow and it became a standard joke, but after a few years I was sitting having lunch at the Focus, one of our hang-outs, when a man arrived and asked if I was the lady that had ordered the cow. Being rather taken off guard I said "well yes", so he said, good because he was the cow salesman; that she was in a truck in the parking lot and I was to take her so he could continue delivering the rest of the calves. I looked in the truck full of calves and had no doubt which one was mine. Seven day old Petite Suisse. To the amazement of the many onlookers, I picked her up, put her in my car and took her home. My father, who by this stage of my life, was not surprised by anything I brought home, said "is she just visiting or is she here for good?" Without another word he left and came back with baby bottles and UHT milk. She roamed free with all the other animals and, as is so common in my animals, she suffered an identity crisis. She thought she was a dog or at least she acted like a puppy, running down to the car to greet you, jumping up and even coming into the house. As she grew in size and affection we started having to contain her a bit which turned out to be harder than you might think. You always see cows so peacefully in a field with a small fence around it and never trying to leave but Petite Suisse wanted to be with us at all times. We started with collars and ropes, then moved to chains and finally to the stables with their typical stable door, built to keep a stallion in, only to get home to find her waiting on the terrace. Her escape was remarkable and that is when my father said he now believed the poem of the cow that jumped over the moon, because the space of the open door was smaller than she was and higher than her head. Soon after, one time while I was filling her water bucket, an old habit of hers was suddenly repeated as she jumped joyfully into my arms. Unfortunately, she weighed in at around 300 kilos and the two of us fell into a nearby manure pile, sliding merrily down to the bottom. My father was luckily on hand to dig me out.
She never produced milk, of course, because of the absence of bulls in the area. She was a wonderful pet.

Life Returns

These are the new shoots on a burned eucalyptus one month after the Mojácar fire (which burned several thousand acres, including most of our land). For one month there were no mosquitos or flies or fleas to bite us. Sadly we lost a lot of the more attractive local wildlife like the hares, wild tortoises (tortuga mora) and the local lizards. We saw frightened birds flying off with their wings on fire. We hope that the swifts who nested under our beams managed to fly to safety. We were visited by a few of them in the following days, but they should be in Africa by now.

The house (which miraculously survived the fire) was filled with frightened tree rats, snakes and centipedes but only the centipedes survived the smoke and intense heat. Here is a picture of one my son found in his bed today. These three-inch long fellows give a really nasty bite.

The capers are already growing out of the black ash and the cactus are shedding their skins like snakes to find a new green cactus underneath. The roots of hundred year-old carob trees burnt underground for weeks and the trees will return. The last picture is of the corner of our terrace where you can see the contrast of the green and the burnt on either side of the two wooden horses.