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Spanish Secrets: The Witching Hour

Craig Briggs and his wife Melanie continue their project - to transform a ruined Galician farmhouse into a perfect rural holiday retreat.

Do please read more about Craig’s new life in Galicia by clicking on Spanish Secrets in the menu on his page.

With renewed enthusiasm we began working on our two principle objectives - electricity and water. The main priority was electricity. Without it, even drilling a borehole would prove fruitless. After striking water, the only way to extract it would be via an electric pump.

Our first stop was the nearby town of Monforte de Lemos. Here we’d find the electrical specialist Raul. The shop manager seemed very helpful and knowledgeable. Before preparing us a quote he needed to visit the house and conduct a thorough site survey. An appointment was arranged for the following day. At long last, the project’s momentum finally seemed to be gathering pace.

Buoyed by our success we returned home to begin the search for a drilling company. Within the space of a few hours we’d arranged to meet three different firms over three consecutive days. Each one needed to survey the site and check for the presence of water.

With the two main priorities underway we looked at the next item on our list - a quote for transforming a ruined Galician farmhouse into a perfect rural holiday retreat.

We already had two builders in mind. We’d engaged both of them previously and were happy with their work. In addition to these, Pablo had given us the contact details of a third company. They’d renovated a few houses in the village to the high standards we were looking for. Of course we had our favourite but this was no time for sentiment – price was the key.

With all the immediate priorities resolved my mind was drawn to yesterday’s conversation with Pablo about widening the drive. If, as he’d stated, it was simply a matter of asking the owner of the adjacent field if we could move the boundary wall, it might be worth doing. After all, what could be the harm in asking?

After a quick lunch we headed for Pablo’s.

“Sure, no problem”, he chirped eagerly. “Let’s go and speak to the owner of the field.’’

Without delay we marched off down the lane. Pablo explained that the owner, a certain señora Maruja, was a bit of a cantankerous old dear. Her and her husband lived most of the year in Barcelona and only spent a few summer months in the village.

“Let me do the talking,” he whispered, as we rang the bell at the garden gate and waited for a reply.

The main entrance to the house was on the first floor. A flight of open steps led to a covered walkway and eventually to the front door. We hadn’t waited long before the door slowly opened and a short, old woman dressed in black and grasping a crooked walking stick, hobbled out onto the walkway.

Shouting from the lane, Pablo explained who we were and why we’d disturbed her. Without reply or facial expression she carefully shuffled along the walkway and with cautious deliberation stepped down the stairs and laboured along the drive to meet us at the gates.

“What did you say?” she snapped at Pablo.

He repeated his earlier message, almost word for word. She paused for a minute, looked me up and down and glanced across at Melanie. With a measure of subordinate coaxing, Pablo managed to persuade her to come and take a look.

Pablo and Melanie marched off towards the driveway leaving me to shuffle along with Maruja listening sympathetically to the family history of her precious field.

Eventually we reached the entrance to the drive. With wild animation Pablo explained how we would like to widen it. In reality it was simply a matter of straightening the existing boundary. A rough border made from a number of lichen-encrusted boulders of irregular shapes and sizes marked the divide. In it’s entirety it involved a patch of unused scrubland of less than five square metres.

The Spanish love nothing more than a squabble and today would be no different. Every time Pablo marked out a proposed new boundary, Maruja would force a change by vigorously gesticulating with her crooked walking stick. Pablo responded by tugging the boundary the other way. For the next hour a verbal tug-of-war ensued.

Neither a victory nor a compromise was reached when Pablo whispered, “She won’t give you the land.”

“How much does she want for it” I asked.

Pablo enquired. In a calm, low voice and without making eye contact with anyone Maruja mumbled. “100,000 pesetas.”

Before Pablo had converted it into euros I’d already made my mind up, 600 euros was far too much. Politely we thanked Maruja for her time and informed her that we wouldn’t be taking her up on her generous offer.

Both Melanie and I left the village in a state of confusion, not quite understanding what the afternoon’s events had been about. We had however decided on a very appropriate nickname for our new neighbour – Maruja the Bruja.

For those who may not know, bruja in Spanish means witch.

email address
craigandmel@msn.com

Copyright © 2007 Craig Briggs


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