“¡Hombre!” Javi was next to the car before I had even gotten out. I stood up and we hugged. “Welcome to La Mancha! Land of the Quixote!”
Like any good man from this region, Javi was fiercely proud of his homeland and every time you went to his place he would greet you as if it were the first time. “Take a deep breath,” he drew in an atmosphere of air and invited me to do the same. “Nothing like it,” he howled. “Have you seen the vineyards?”
“A million times.”
“I can never get tired of looking at them, can you?”
“No, never.” That was true, but even if it hadn’t been, I wouldn’t dare.
“And the zucchini. You wouldn’t believe how far it’s come along.”
“Actually I came to see your place. The new casa rural.”
“Haven’t you seen it yet?”
I sighed. “No, I haven’t. I was hoping to.”
“I could have sworn…coño…I’ll have to give you the grand tour. Come on!” He turned and walked through the new stone gate. “Mamá!! Brian’s here. Can you believe he’s never been to the place yet?”
“Well, if you’d invite your friends over from time to time, it would be nice,” she called back from inside the house. “Then they could see the place and recommend it to their friends.”
Oh, I don’t know. It certainly was a nice looking place after all. Two houses, not just one. I guess if they were going to get into construction, they might as well make the most of it and build a village. One was a handsome three-bedroom deal for the guests, with room for up to eleven people, I am told, if you squeeze everyone in Spanish style. It is ideal for couples or groups of friends.
The place looked pretty snazzy, with a porch that looks out over the vineyards giving everything a sort of Tuscany feel to it. Just the way I had told them to do. Good to see they listened to me every now and then. This house was connected by an overhead roof patio to another building almost identical in shape. It was for “eventos”, gatherings, parties, shindigs, bachelor weekends, hen weekends, even English classes. “I want you to teach the executives English. Who couldn’t learn English with Cencibel right next to you? I’ll even pay you. 100€ for the weekend sound good?”
“That’s about three or four hours of work. What about the rest of the weekend? Plus, I’ve got a job. I’d love to, but I’ve got a job already.”
“Let me show you the kitchen. Maybe that will change your mind.” Industrial. Plated, pleated, shod and sheeted with stainless steel and a battery of new appliances. Gas stoves….the only way to go. Now we’re talking.
I had to admit they had done a great job turning a one acre lot of land from something only a tractor or a dingo would love into a home away from home for the urban dweller with the cash to spend on getting out of town to look at some trees and eat and drink until they passed out. They even laid down a lawn, a rarity in those parts. I was impressed, absolutely, but by far the biggest surprise, and one which I am glad they went ahead with though I had been consulted, was the swimming pool, a welcome addition to any vineyard if you ask me, especially in La Mancha during the summer months. It’s the ideal way of keeping from withering away like a sunflower in August.
“It was my idea,” claimed Javi. “I knew otherwise the guests would be sizzling like overcooked pancetta if we didn’t. No one wants that to happen.”
You see, the decision to open a casa rural in those parts was a bit risky because no one really thinks of going to La Mancha for a weekend away unless their family is from there or they are following in the footsteps of Don Quixote, as some foreigners do, in which case, after about three days they begin to wonder just what the hell they are doing there. A pool was the saving grace. Javi was right on the mark. And it was in this watering hole that we could wallow and wade, discuss American and Spanish politics without breaking down into tears, sip a Spanish beer, and swat off an occasional insect which also wanted to share the refreshing atmosphere and somehow felt my head was the perfect runway.
Afterwards, Javier proudly showed me around the new premises. La Mancha always improves with the aging of the day. As the sun goes down, the reds become redder, the greens deeper, the browns and yellows richer. The sky starts to stretch out forever. They say, with an immense degree of certainty, that the universe is actually expanding at an ever-increasing rate. You get the sense you can actually see that happening before your very eyes right there and then.
Dinner was Mediterranean style, at least the way the Americans envision an outdoor Mediterranean dinner in the summer. Vegetables were picked straight from the garden, washed and carried to the kitchen. We grilled the zucchini and a couple of green peppers. We took an onion and a somewhat weary-looking head of lettuce and the reddest juiciest tomato you’ve ever seen or tasted. Outstanding.
Darkness came. We pulled the table from the deck out onto the lawn so we could feel the most of the fresh air and get the best view of the stars, which were out in legion. Javi was there with his wife and son, along with the grandmothers, a sister and brother, son inlaws, and a handful of cousins. All that was missing was for a few guards to be posted around the grounds shouldering shotguns to give it the full cosa nostra effect.
Javi gazed up into space after the final slivers of daylight had slipped away below the horizon. “Just look at that. Look at the Big Dipper. Big enough to carry a butt load of eggplants. You’ve never seen anything like that in…what’s the name of that state again?”
“That’s right, ‘Connecticut’.” He did his best to replicate the sound so that it sounded somewhat like it came from the mouth of a native speaker and not a squirrel choking on acorns. “That’s a tough one, I tell you. Too soft too. You need something more macho like…”
“La Mancha,” I muttered to myself quietly.
“La Mancha! Yes. There’s a name for you. Rugged and mysterious. It’s no nonsense. No fucking around.”
I didn’t even bother to check for the look on Javi’s mother face or wait for a disapproving, “Javier, we don’t use that language at the dinner table.” It was never going to happen. Swearing has become such a standard part of everyday language here that unless you step right up to the queen and call her a slut to her face, you would be hard-pressed to find someone admonish “Hey, that’s taking things a little far.” Foul language has come to substitute all kinds of forms of speech: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, comparisons, superlatives…even conjunctions.
I didn’t want to feel out of step with the others and agreed. “Absolutely. De puta madre. (the ‘mother’s whore’ – or basically ‘fucking great’”
“Amen,” sang out the grandmother.