Yeah, right! - Writings by Brian Murdock

Archive for March, 2019

24 Hours in La Mancha

March 23, 2019

Figs of Steel: 24 Hours in La Mancha 11

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As we neared the grove, I noticed what sounded like the echo of voices from a radio. At first I thought it was from the neighbor, but then I realized it was coming from underneath one of the fig trees, which is certainly one of the last places I’d ever expected to hear someone engaged in a passionate discussion on Egyptian papyruses over the airwaves. It was just one of a four-pronged defense system to keep the threat of birds away and save the modest harvest without the aid of some good old-fashioned poison. The other three components of the team included a scarecrow, CDs hanging from limbs, and a device that beeped at supposedly regular intervals. I didn’t know what to make of it all, but one thing was for sure, I had the honor of standing before arguably the most fiercely protected fruit in town.

          The scarecrow was a perennial guardian, though ever since its performance in the Wizard of Oz, its effectiveness is forever being called into question; the beeper clearly couldn’t be counted on, as the only thing regular about it was how incredibly irregular it could be, which, now that I think it about it, was perhaps its greatest virtue; and the CDs gave the garden a holistic feel to it, even though no one really knows what the hell “holistic” means. But the radio, now that was a novelty! It was eerie, spooky and disturbing, and it kind of reminded me of those radio hosts in the Korean War who kept telling the American GIs to give up because their wives and girlfriends back home were humping plumbers.

          “Now, that’s a nice touch,” I said, as I listened to a commercial for discounted beach towels. “That really sends a strong message to the enemy.”

          “Freaks the hell out of them,” added Fernando as he gazed out into the distance like a war-scarred colonel.

          “Freaks the hell out of me,” I added. “But is it bio-friendly?”

          “It is, indeed.”

          “I bet the neighbors must love you for it.”

          “Healthy living comes at a cost my friend,” affirmed Fernando. “I’m doing everyone a favor here.”

          “Yeah, but does it work?”

          “It should for a while. Until they figure it out. Birds are smart bastards.”

          “Do you think they will?”

          “They always do. Then I’ll think of something else.”

          “You could always shoot ‘em,” I said. I grew up in a very different and hostile American environment. Suggestions like mine came naturally to me and would have been received almost enthusiastically at home.

          I’m not sure if it unnerved Fernando, but he did pause a few seconds before replying, as if we wanted to know just how to respond to a person who showed early signs of psychopathology. “You could, I guess. It wouldn’t be very environmentally friendly.”

          “Oh, come on. The only poison is lead and it stays in the bird. What more can you ask for?”

          “Well, to begin with, what if you miss? Where does the bullet go?” He had a point. Every year hundreds of people around the world are victims of stray bullets, products of Afghans celebrating weddings with banquets and ballistics, or just idiots like me forgetting some of the basic laws of physics.

          “Into the fields some place miles away. There is no serious risk. There’s a bigger chance of your dying in a car accident than being picked off by a wandering bullet. Plus, I won’t miss. I promise. Just think of how they’ll react. Trust me, Tokyo Rose is driving me nuts.”

          “Nope.”

          “Come on. Your brother would let me. He’s a natural born killer like me.” He was an accountant and he liked slaying wildlife almost as much as he enjoyed balancing budgets.

          “My brother isn’t here.”

          “All right. Have it your way. But don’t say I didn’t warn you when all your figs are gone.” Now that was a sentence I thought I would never utter in my life.

          Laura walked up to Fernando, inserted her arm in his as if they were going to start square-dancing and said smiling, “Don’t listen to him. He’s just jealous.”

          “Don’t listen to me? Don’t listen to her! We’ve been doing the bio-crap for a year and now none of our plants on our balcony have survived. You’d think we were watering them with acid rain. I walk into a florist shop and the plants shiver with fear.”

          “That was mildew that killed them. It happens.”

          “So does genocide, but that doesn’t mean we have to celebrate it. And tell him what happened to your mom’s pineapple tree in her backyard.”

          Fernando looked at Laura intrigued.

          “It was attacked one day by an army of ants.”

          “Attacked? It was stripped to the bone in one night! I swear to God. And I told you. I didn’t know insects were capable of such destruction. So I said, ‘Shoot ‘em. Shoot ‘em!’ But did you listen?”

          Laura laughed again. “How am I supposed to shoot ants?! I don’t have a 100,000 rounds of ammunition lying around.”

          “You don’t need it. Pop off a couple of rounds and you’ll have them scattering for cover. Then you come in with the Raid and finish them off. It’s simple.”

24 Hours in La Mancha

March 1, 2019

Figs of Steel: 24 hours in La Mancha 10

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“Fernando, it sounds like you’re trying to seduce me. Are you sure there are just vegetables out there?”

          “Keep your pants on. It’s just food.”

          “Don’t worry. I’m planning on doing just that.”

          We went out to the back patio to see the latest. Victoria tried to discourage us from going out saying we’d be a pile of ashes before we got to the first row of vegetables, but that didn’t stop us. “Mad dogs and Englishmen, Victoria. Mad dogs and Englishmen.”

          I wouldn’t quite call the patio a garden in the traditional sense of the word. It would be misleading. Images conjured up from Hollywood romantic comedies taking place in the south of France or Tuscany have raised our expectations of what a typical Mediterranean backyard really looks like. We expect the terrace behind the house to afford paradisiac views of verdant rolling hills, well-trimmed vineyards, fluttering butterflies, soaring birds and rays of sun bursting through the deep green leaves of the Holmes oaks. Unfortunately, except for the odd spectacular country villa perched on a distant hill, those are rare scenes in La Mancha. The Spanish like to clump together. Most towns are compact like Lego pieces, and new additions simply latch on to the outer ring.  Life wasn’t about living out in the middle of nowhere, away from humanity, with a glass of red wine eternally in your hand. It centered on being together, banding together and focused on pragmatism above all.

          In addition to being drier than a drunkard’s mouth the morning after a binge, the backyards were working stations, not luscious yards with lawn furniture and a grill. The Ruiz house, no different in this sense, still bore vestiges of the way people lived and labored a century ago. The right side of the courtyard was lined all the way to the end of the property with old tile-roofed sheds, each with room after room of storage spaces stacked with objects that once were useful to the owners but now would be better off mounted on the wall of a country inn, where the urbanite guests would feel that their over-priced rooms were well worth the rate. Dusty varnished beams, rusty rods, chipped amphorae, wheels, piled bricks, cracked stones, wooden rakes, threshing boards, pitchforks, wobbly ladders and a massive array of iron tools, mostly heavy, sharp and unpredictable when used. It didn’t seem like a fun world back then, but rather one fraught with hard work, sweat and plenty of labor-related chronic injuries.

          Additional areas included former stables and quarters for the farmhands. Now these shelters had become the ideal place to semi-retire the stuff you no longer wanted in Madrid without having to pay monthly fees for a storage room. It’s a common practice in Spain. The what-to-dos ended up in a kind of refugee camp for unwanted crap.

          On the left there was a kind of platform whose use I could never figure out other than that it served as a roof for the cellar, where wine, oil, and other products used to be kept. The consistent temperatures and humidity levels below made them ideal for food preservation. It’s since been converted into a multipurpose rec room, bar, with couch and lava lamp included.

          We walked forward under a canopy of dark-green grape vines, with each bunch neatly nestled in a sack to prevent the birds from picking away at the fruit. Then it was up the steps and out to the center of food-production operations. These were no ordinary grouping of vegetables and fruits, I’ll have you know. These were the Navy Seals of the flora kingdom. Quinces, Figs, Olives. Their names might have gotten them laughed at in the playground at the School of Horticulture, but if you ask me, these are some the toughest little photosynthesizers the world has known. Blistering summer days, icy winter nights, sporadic rainfall, all the elements that strangle, mangle and paralyze weaker specimens of their kind, are welcomed by these plants. It’s as if they were married to Death. “Bring it on,” they say. “We don’t need no water. We can hang on until October. How about you?” 

          “I’d be babbling by Thursday and curled up by Friday morning,” I say back.

          As I admired the sturdiness of these trees, I stopped and raised my head, distracted by an unfamiliar noise. “What the hell is that sound?”

          “Let me show you,” said Fernando proudly. “It’s my latest invention.”