Chris Stewart ponders upon what it takes to lead a life on the road. And decides he hasn't got it.
In the deep shade of the eucalyptus grove, I thought at first it was a dead sheep. I approached it with the sort of circumspection with which I habitually approach a dead sheep, but no – it was a pale bag.
Beside the pale bag sat a fat dog, contented and, as it seemed, well loved. I looked up into the branches of the fig-tree, and there sat a young man, perched just above my head. He was buck naked and eating green figs.
I looked at him for a bit, wondering, as one would, at the singularity of the phenomenon... why on earth would one eat green figs when there were perfectly good ripe blue ones?
We considered one another for a while, he biting the milky tails off more green figs and popping them into his mouth, me squinting through the sunlight and scratching my arse in the way you do when you encounter a slightly unconventional situation.
I was the first to break the silence. I felt it sort of incumbent upon me, it being, in a sense, my valley and him being a traveller through, a guest. I addressed him in Spanish, it being the language of the country, although I suspected from his demeanour that he was not a native.
“You know, the blue figs are ripe, and they’re very much more agreeable than those green ones you’re eating.”
The fat dog wagged its tail and grinned at me, but the man in the tree appeared not to understand what I was on about.
“Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” he said after a moment’s thought.
“Aha, you’re German; that explains everything...”
And there was an end of it really, as I do speak a very little German, but I don’t know the word for fig.
I continued on my way home, reflecting on the pleasures of living on a camino. Our farm straddles an ancient road, one that runs east to west along the very spine of the low Alpujarra, and one of the constant delights is the passing traveller, particularly as these days the area tends to attract a less conventional type. I remember from my own youth that part of the pleasure of being on the road comes from the characters you meet on the way.
Now, as a result of the commitments of family and farm, my travelling boots are hung up, but I still get to enjoy this particular aspect of travel, and indeed am able to offer the sort of hospitality and kindness that I myself received in times gone by – and always from those who could least afford to offer it.
And that is a great privilege, one that I fear no longer holds much currency in our Fortress Europe of gated communities and fast-response security squads. The wanderer who is not speeding heedless through the landscape in his gleaming air-conditioned car, the acme of conventionality and orthodoxy, is shunned and spurned, treated with suspicion. The philosophers and dreamers, the seekers, poets and bohemians, have been driven underground, despised and sneered at by the current inheritors of the earth, who are not the meek, but the careless wealthy urban elite.
Anyway, that dying breed of half-crazed wanderer is welcome to feast upon my oranges, almonds and figs, refresh himself at my spring, and to graze upon my vegetable patch... and in return they can tell me their stories, play the minstrel or entertain me with their crazy notions.
There’s a law, attributed to both the Arabs and the Jews, that says if your worst enemy should get up early in the morning to come round to your house in order to kill you, you must first offer him a good breakfast.
Chris Stewart is the author of Driving over Lemons and A Parrot in the Pepper Tree. He lives in a farmhouse in the Alpujarras, SpainMain image: A fig in hand. From Shutterstock.com.
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