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Spanish Secrets: Not Guilty

When the customs at Santiago de Compostela airport insisted on searching the three suitcases, what did they find? Polythene bags, some containing white powder, others reddish-brown powder. Read Craig Briggs's entertaining column and discover the nature of those powders.

Last week we had our first visitors of the year, Mitty and Rajan from California, USA. A friendship developed in part thanks to openwriting editor, Peter Hinchliffe.

Peter wrote a newspaper and internet article about our move to Galicia, which included our email address. In January 2004 Mitty wrote to us and our friendship has grown from there.

They were staying with us for a few days whilst concluding the purchase of their holiday home, but things didn’t get off to the best of starts.

The journey from California to Galicia involves; four airports, three aircraft, two cars and takes almost 24 hours. Finding that your baggage went to a different destination is at best vexing.

Their luggage finally arrived three days later. With customs holding it at the airport, we would have to make a three and a half hour round trip to retrieve it.

Upon arrival at Santiago de Compostela airport we contacted the Iberia Airlines information desk. A polite and efficient staff member led us to the secure customs area. Electronic doors slid open revealing a po-faced customs officer.

Customs insisted on searching the three suitcases before we departed. We lifted the cases onto a long table and one by one Rajan opened them.

The first contained Mitty’s clothing, the second Rajan’s, but the third contained clear polythene bags, some containing white powder and others a reddish-brown powder.

The scene was reminiscent of a Hollywood block-buster, when the bad guys are caught red handed with copious amounts of illegal drugs. Fortunately for all concerned, these contained nothing more than Indian spices and flour, for what we later discovered was Rajan and Mitty’s delicious Indian cuisine.

Within days of them leaving us to move into their own house, our second set of visitors of the year arrived. Bob, his wife Janet and Janet’s sister, Sue.

Last year, Bob and Janet bought a house nearby and had it restored. Their intention was to move here permanently, but the pull of family in England led them to return some months later.

A trip to their now deserted and bare Spanish home, ended with an impromptu invitation to share a glass of wine with the neighbours.

We entered the neighbours’ home via the bodega (wine cellar). The cellar was dimly lit by a single light bulb, suspended from an old wooden ceiling joist by a thin piece of wire. The air was damp and cold with a sweet smell of wine vinegar and musty oak casks. Scattered randomly around the room were new stainless steel vats, barely visible, as if hiding in dark corners, were old wooden casks. The cellar was littered with wine making equipment and tools, both ancient and modern. The floor of the bodega was compacted damp earth, a traditional method of maintaining a reasonably constant temperature.

We were ushered by the owner through a doorway into another part of the dimly lit bodega. We climbed a single step, walked through a narrow passageway and into a tiled entrance hall.

From the hallway we ascended a wooden staircase to a galleried landing. A door on the right led to a comfortingly warm kitchen, heated by a traditional wood burning oven.

Most of the light was provided by two small windows. The centre piece of the room was a large farmhouse kitchen table. At one side was a long wooden bench, close enough to the wall to provide its occupants with a comfortable back support. To the front and at one end were mis-matched dinning chairs.

Having asked our preference for red or white wine, our host left, returning moments later with a litre of each. At the same time our hostess opened a large packet of assorted chocolate biscuits, an unusual accompaniment to wine, but nevertheless delicious.

We chatted for a while before leaving, with an invitation to join them, and their family and friends, for a meal during the village fiesta later in the year. An invitation I’m sure we’d all like to accept.

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