She sighs, hands on hips, as she gazes at a barren pot where once was a jungle of cabbages. She’d been looking forward to seeing them reach maturity, being a variety with a local name ‘Asturian cabbages’.
‘All I’ve managed to do is make a lot of caterpillars and snails fatter.’
Then a little lizard with a stumpy tails scurries from behind the pot full of stripped cabbages. It has the inquisitive energy of a juvenile. Using the plant pots for safety it weaves in the shadows between them. In the shade, it looks dappled blue and grey, but in the sun its rough skin takes on a more golden glow. Getting bolder, it clambers up the side of a pot, scuttling over the unbroken soil. There it stops, assessing the gap to the next pot. The pot, being taller, meant it had no reach and clearly unable to jump, it turns back. She nexts sees the little lizard defy gravity as it runs up the terrace wall. The stone lintel at the top of the wall breaks its path. Confused, it runs the length of the wall until it reaches a dead end, then shuffles back to where it started. Not finding a way over the wall, it makes its journey down again before finding a gap near the terrace gate. It flees to freedom in the grasses beyond.
‘Well at least someone’s happy,’ she scolds it, before removing the barren pots for reuse. The action reveals a few empty snail shells. Something has also been eating the snails.
‘That’s the trouble with all this biodiversity,’ mocks her partner.
She grins. Who’d have thought a small container garden on a balcony could produce so much life? She’s secretly proud of her efforts, and it’s not like she hasn’t made use of the produce, with still more promised. Dragon’s tongue mustard, nasturtium, cutting celery, pipiche and coriander make powerful ingredients in salads. They even turned a regular fish and chips dish into a gourmet meal.
The phone rings and she receives a call from her daughter. While talking, she’s prising snails from tubs and tossing them over the wall into the field beyond. She picks a wild strawberry while her daughter asks about trying to cook only partially defrosted chicken. After a very short discussion on this topic, they share recipe ideas until her daughter declares that pesto is bad for you.
Daughter sends a photo of a nutritional label.
Mother ignores it.
‘Let’s see, there’s a lot of olive oil, granted, but that’s good fats. Lots of green leaves – good for you; garlic – good for you; any herbs you want – good for you; pine nuts – not sure about the nutritional value of pine nuts, and then some hard Italian cheese, which you could leave out. All you have to do is go pick yourself a handful of young nettles, pop it all in a blender – and hey presto, healthy pesto and cheaper too.’
‘Think I’m going to have to, I even eat it on toast.’
The phone call ends with daughter returning half frozen chicken to the fridge to cook tomorrow.
The conversation triggers a memory of an earlier one.
‘Had a chat with María when washing la moto.’
They do that now, without real consciousness of it. Commonly used Spanish words and phrases are substituted for English.
‘She says she’s gorda from eating pinchos all the time. They never eat at home she said.’
María had complained she eats as much as her husband. He’s a big man. The bar/restaurant they frequent specialises in local beef dishes and tends to mix it with a locally cured soft blue cheese. For example, tapas of toast adorned with either a slice of steak or burger are offered with drinks, buttered with this locally produced cheese. The cheese isn’t for everyone, due to how it is processed, allegedly using some kind of worm or grub to produce the blue veins. Delicious, but not something to be eaten daily.
‘Seems everyone’s concerned about their weight today.’ Her own attitude is that if you avoid processed food and exercise regularly, you don’t really have to worry. She doesn’t, but then looks at her pudding belly.
Her attention is distracted by another snail. But she checks her fingers and lets it roam.
She’s fascinated by the golden spiral, polished with the sheen of rain. It now glows in the sunlight. The brown stripe is so perfectly painted onto its shell. The soft jelly like body, similarly ornate is backlit, making it almost transparent. Looking more closely, she discerns its tiny face framed by a headdress of two horns, wriggling gently helping the snail find its way.
She disproves of the direction it is going in. It travels, slowly but assertively, towards its goal. A feast of Chinese chives, garlic in flavour, not a likely choice for a snail, but yet that is where its tiny chomping mouth is going. She goes inside and begins the process of crumbling some eggshells. Not that they’ve helped. She’s seen slugs the size of snakes slither over gorse thorns. Nothing seems to stop them, except those blue pellets she’s seen a neighbouring gardener use. She assures her mind that something benefits from these green-leaved chompers, she hopes they come along a little more quickly next time!