08 Feb An afternoon at the cortijo
There’s a canopy that runs right across the front of the cortijo. That’s the place to enjoy the views, shelter from the breezes and catch the maximum heat available from the winter sun. Today, however, the wind is more easterly than usual so, I’m sitting on an old wooden bench up against the west-facing wall of the wee house, shielding me perfectly from the cool air wafting off the sea a few miles away.
I don’t often sit here and I’m struck by the completely different soundscape just a few feet from the main terrace. The small paved area in front of the bench is bounded by a low stone wall, about two feet high; two thick round wooden posts run horizontally between stone plinths at intervals along the wall making it look like a fence for an equestrian event. A horse would come to a sticky end here since beyond this barrier the land falls away steeply into the barranca, bottoming out at least 100 feet below. You hear birdsong here in a way you don’t out front. It’s a symphonic poem of sorts: some busy chattering; some longer notes held pure and steady like warm-up exercises for a soprano solo; the mechanical five-beat chant of a bird with a tonal range of no more than two notes. The doves, with their soothing, timeless call, are off ‘doo-dooing’ somewhere else; they’ll be back later to perch awhile on the fence as they always do.
There’s a light breeze catching the tops of an elegant cypress, swishing its crinkly branches; it’s gently bothering the brittle, sun-browned leaves at the bottom of a large yucca that towers up behind the fence, its roots deep in the bank of the barranca. Small specimens of the same species have been planted along the top of the stone wall where somebody, once upon a time, was enthusiastic, creating a raised bed to garnish the little terrace. This now hosts jaded yuccas and despondent succulents being steadily swamped by a burgeoning growth of mixed weeds and grasses. Had the owners left a tool or two I might have obliged with some essential weeding. A little further away, I can just hear a couple of Mediterranean pines having a parley about their day.
The dogs are quiet today. Two, or it could be three, of indefinite breed live in a house about 700 metres away, the smallest one a yapper given to occasional fits of rage or excitement – always difficult to tell which. Behind me the low whirr of mankind in the form of machines that heat or cool, that filter the water in an uninviting ‘plunge pool’ at the back of the house. Silence from the temperamental boiler that’s switched off – but has a habit of not always doing as bidden. A distant plane on its way to Murcia, Malaga or Madrid.