Spanish Mountain Life, Part 4

Monday, April 30, 2018 9:16 PM | Wise Woman (Administrator)

There blossomed also by the mill streams, white may, and on the near grey rocks a sweet variety of wild lavender. With these flowers came the nightingales. Not a mere one or two birds as in most parts of Europe, but a multitude, so that one seemed to sing in every bush. Oh the wild piping of them! by day and by night, though on the Sierra Nevada they sang mostly by day, for the nights stayed cold that May month. Concerning the nightingales the peasants again spoke beautifully: 'The ruisenors have pearls and corals in their throats.'

The sun of the day had become very hot by May, and the flies bred rapidly. Those swarming flies! The curse of Lanjaron; carriers of disease including the dread typhus fever. The flies are few around Granada, but all upon Lanjaron they swarmed and even reached up into the high sierra above the town and far around to plague the people there on the remote farms. Many persons who came to drink the waters of the medicinal springs went away because of the flies. If the typhus fever had not kept me in Lanjaron I believe that I too would have fled from that insect plague.

The abundance of those flies is difficult to describe: I have only met with a near likeness around the town of Houmpt Souk on the island of Djerba, where they bred in thousands upon the open cesspits. In Lanjaron there were also most unsanitary conditions away from the clean part of the town where were the hotels for the visitors to the mineral springs: for that part was very clean and cool and well-kept. For the rest, the children piled their excreta in the back streets and then the sierra animals which came nightly into the town further fed the flies.

I well recall two unpleasant things of the mountain town. The square opposite the inn where I first lived and where I used to see the unsanitary and miserable life of the very poor: such as the children shut out in the streets by drunken parents, and women picking from one another's heads the lice and the nits which seemingly teemed there. The other was a huge sow kept in the basement of a house in conditions of indescribable dirt, so that the entire house smelt of the pig. The animal itself was memorable for the black coat that it wore over-all-a cloak of flies! so that except for snout and tail there was scarcely a centimetre of its grey-white body to be seen.

In the main street of the town the flies lay on roadway and pavement like black treacle, and likewise they gathered upon the walls of the houses and shops. The wares in the shops were invariably speckled black with fly excreta, fruit to crockery, lengths of dress material to bread, all habitually bore the dirt imprints of the flies. It is difficult to wash fruit clean of such contamination without spoiling and losing most of the flavour. Therefore whenever possible I bought my fruit direct from the sierra farms, or asked the shop-keepers to sell me fruit only from the lower areas of the boxes and baskets, in which parts the flies had not had entry. It was impossible to open one's doors or windows by day; only late into the night until soon after dawn dare one do so.

To defy this rule of Lanjaron was to ensure the entry of a black hissing fly swarm into one's house, soiling everything, falling into water-jugs and milk, and at night-time descending upon the beds to crawl over the faces of the sleepers. They had the same fly habits as those of Arab lands, they liked to be upon the human body. Favourite places were the corners of the eyes and mouths of children from which they sucked moisture and at the same time left bacteria of disease. It was very general in Lanjaron to see babies' faces speckled with fly excreta.

The people nearly all possessed fly-swishes, which the gypsies made and sold: a stout cane on to the top of which was wired a head of coloured paper streamers. With this weapon one swished the flies out of one's home and back into the streets, and also away from one's‚ body. But the fly swishing was not so easy so far as the house rooms were concerned. Through the opened door one beat out the black hordes, but a large percentage of the enemy went into hiding!

As soon as the door was closed, out of their hiding places, beneath beds and in wall niches, they came, and danced in triumph before one's angry eyes! What happened with those flies in the water-mill during the three weeks of typhus fever when I was half-insane and entirely unable to defend my room and my children against the hordes, I shall never know. There were vast swarms of flies habitually around the mill. The fruit trees were blamed, the water, the flour in the mill, but in truth the dirt of the place was much responsible. The mill family never seemed to notice the flies at all. They would sit placidly eating their meals, their faces, hands and clothes black-plastered with flies; also equally plastered was the food that they ate!

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