Spanish Mountain Life
by Juliette de Bairacli-Levy
So vast a mountain is the Sierra Nevada range that it is a country in itself, with its towns and many villages, its rivers and streams, and the strange ways of the people who farm or trade or merely live there, and who preserve very truly much of the ancient life of Spain.
This book tells only about the mountain life in the area of the water-mill where I lived from early spring to late autumn, and where my second child was born and where I and my first child nearly knew entombment in the cemetery of Lanjaron as victims of the typhus fever which plagues that part of the Sierra Nevada.
I arrived in the small sierra town of Lanjaron in March. The town is a two-hours' bus ride from Granada; it has deserved fame for its medicinal springs in the far part of the town away from the Sierra Nevada towards the sierra of Montril. It has fame also for its orchards, cheese and the basket-weaving of the many gypsies who live in their own ancient quarters-barrios-of Lanjaron.
I stayed at first in an inn in the town centre, overlooking the part of the Nevada range where it meets that of Montril. It was several weeks before I found my room and terrace garden in the old water-mill of Gongoras at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, some miles from the town.
That March the weather was bitter: the worst early spring that had come to Andalusia in fifty years. Much snow had fallen in Lanjaron, a rare thing in that town, the orange and lemon crops were largely spoilt, and all the upper ranges of the mountains wore cold white shrouds of deep frozen snow. Ravens screamed in the blue-white air, hungry for the blood of the newborn young of the sheep and goats which teemed on the mountain. The men wore thick woollen cloaks and broad-brimmed felt hats or tight berets, and the children's legs pricked uncomfortably in the unaccustomed wear of coarse, woollen stockings.
The cold kept the people indoors, and over the entire town hung a gauzy perfumed veil of rosemary smoke, that shrub being the chief fuel of Lanjaron and the surrounding sierra farms. Daily the men and boys- and sometimes the young women- collected great bundles of rosemary from the mountain-sides, and brought this fragrant fuel back to the town on their horses, mules and donkeys, leaving a further scented trail as the rosemary brushed against the walls of the houses in the narrow way close by the water-mill.
Nearly every family in the town owned a transport animal, and many owned also goats, chickens, pigeons and a pig or two. These animals were stabled strangely in the ground-floor rooms or basements of the houses. When I lived in the inn I was amused by a herd of goats which was stabled in a house facing my window. Every morning around seven o'clock the door was opened wide, and out into the street hurried forth an immense family of goats, fifty strong or more, of all sizes and colours, including many of the lovely blue-grey shade of wild lavender, a type of fine-horned goat much seen on the Sierra Nevada where, also, many wild goats live.
For a reason beyond explaining, I was always reminded of the Pied Piper of Hamelin: and yet this was a going forth into the light, not an entry into the darkness of a mountain. Perhaps that thought came to me because of the music of the goat bells, which altogether seemed to produce a wild piping: and perhaps also I was influenced by the tall hat and the cloak of the youth who shepherded the flock.
The goats! The goats!' always shouted my two-year-old son Rafik, in his shrill Spanish. He was daily at the window to watch them and the many other animals which made up the long morning procession to the mountain, where the snows melting beneath a cold wintry sun had given place in many parts to stretches of sweet new grass, and there was leafage again on the bushes and wild flowers amongst the rocks, hyacinths and cyclamens.
Excerpt from Spanish Life by Juliette de Bairacli-Levy. Purchase at the Wise Woman Bookshop here.