To celebrate the release of Chris Stewart's latest travelogue, Last Days of the Bus Club, we revisit the columns he wrote for us when he was still driving over lemons
On Saturday Bernardo killed his pig. Now, I'm not wild about killing pigs but I went along anyway, as Bernardo had only been able to muster three other men of sufficient calibre to do the job – and his pig was big.
As we beavered about amongst the entrails and the wobbling gobbets of fat, Barquero, who had actually killed the pig, turned to me and said: "You're not a real countryman, Cristobal, because you don't keep a pig."
He bent down to put a finishing touch to the dead pig's ear, dropping a clump of ash from his cigarette.
"Of course I don't keep a pig," I parried. "I'm a vegetarian."
"No, you're not. Anyway, you must eat plenty of the fruit of the pig [sic] to put meat on your muscles so you can work properly."
Barquero was needling me here; I think he had heard from various sources that I was no longer good for anything, that I didn't even shear my own sheep. This last was untrue, but I was nonetheless stung by the implication.
"I disagree, Barquero. I'm with Moses and Mohammed on this issue; I too love the ham and the bacon, but I believe that excessive devotion to what you call the fruit of the pig is not altogether beneficial to the health."
"Ay, Cristobal, I fear you will never be one of us." He shook his head sadly.
Sunday was the annual Vegan Almond Blossom Appreciation Afternoon. Everybody had to bring along a dish. I made some sushi - the vegetable type without the fish. It looked gorgeous among the lentils, the boiled cucumber and the carrot cake. The sun shone and we wandered among the almond trees, a little dazed by the beauty of the blossom.
I was inspired by the exquisite orientalness of the occasion to take my guitar and play 'Haiku' by Gilbert Biberian. You know the haiku:
"The trouble with the haiku is that
Once you 've got started you..."
The haiku baffled everybody, most of all me, but they all listened politely. It didn't take long.
As the afternoon drifted into evening, the Muslim contingent turned up with trays of honeyed pastries. Some Buddhists appeared, fresh from a meditation that sought – hopefully with some success – to bring confusion to the coalition of warmongers. The public notary brought a bag of his homegrown marijuana, and finally Carlos the Municipal arrived with his family, bearing bottles of his unspeakable home-made wine.
Fortunately there were other guitars too, and people sang and children danced, while the blue smoke from the hookahs rose and mingled with the bees in the blossom.
"What do you think, Carlos?" I asked. "There's a change afoot in the Alpujarras, no?"
Carlos looked around at the Buddhists and the Muslims, the Catholics and the anarchists, all lost in Japanese-style contemplation of the flowering trees.
"It's not that much of a change," he smiled. "It was like this once before: it was known as Convivencia. The Phoenicians, Greeks, Goths, Romans, Arabs, Berbers and Jews, they've all been here. Why, look at me." And he displayed his strikingly aquiline profile. "We're all Moors in our way. And you, Cristobal," he added, indicating my daughter Chloe, "You've sown your seed here; that makes you one of us."
Feeling lucky? You could win a complete set of Chris Stewart's travel books...
Click here to read an exclusive extract from Chris Stewart's latest book, Last Days of the Bus Club. If it tickles your fancy, you can order your copy on Amazon now.