I think I must have downed at least four sherries whilst sat in the bar with Antonia, pondering on what to do with the mysterious icons. I weaved my way back to the house, went upstairs and gathered them up from the table where I’d left them after Anna and Antonio’s visit. Fortunately Miguel was still working and hadn’t yet plastered over the hole in the wall so I was able to replace the statues and crucifix carefully back into their resting place, offering up a few prayers and apologies for good measure.
Antonia thought I was being superstitious wanting to put them back in their hiding place. She said that we should repair them and keep them, sell them even, but my thoughts (somewhere around sherry number 2/3) were that someone had placed them there for a reason; that buried deep inside the outside wall, they were never meant to be found. After all, I reasoned, they had been there at least a hundred years or more? Maybe someone had died in the house and it was some sort of burial site. Who knows? Effects of sherry aside, I felt much happier once I’d put them back where I felt they rightly belonged.
And with that, I went back to the bar to fetch Irishman who’d been sat outside it all afternoon in the sunshine writing his thesis. His excuse for being there was that our Internet was off and the house was too dusty and noisy with the builders to be able to concentrate. I thanked Antonia, paid our bill and was just about to leave when she asked if I was busy the next day. ‘It’s the village Matanza (pig slaughter) on Friday and I need help before, preparing and peeling onions’ It seemed a perfectly innocuous request and as I’m always looking for ways to repay Antonia’s kindness, I said I’d be round the following morning to help.
When I wandered over the following day, I saw that I wasn’t the only one to be have been roped in for onion peeling. Sat outside in the morning sunshine were both Paco’s and Antonia’s respective parents. I bade them ‘Buenos dias’, introduced myself, and then grabbed a chair and sat down between them. Antonia handed me a sharp knife and a bucket, and then pointed to the large pile of onions in the corner of the barn. ’80 kilos to peel, Lottie!’ followed by a roar of laughter. 80 kilo’s indeed! Not only did my eyes not stop watering, but the painful splits and cracks on my hands which I’d developed from dish-washing and hand-washing clothes outside in cold water for 6 weeks meant that the onion juice felt like acid as it burnt into my skin; – never has onion peeling been such torture but I couldn’t possibly let anyone see that I was a wimp so I gritted my teeth, did the stiff upper lip thing and got on with it. Whilst fighting back the onion tears, I had wondered why Paco’s father was sporting a skullcap forged from onion skins? When he saw my quizzical look, he told me that it helped to stop his eyes watering. Always a follower of fashion and swift to follow suit, I copied him in the spirit of the occasion and got on with the peeling and chopping, I only hope that the relief on my face when the last of the onions was peeled and chopped was invisible.
But the job was not yet finished. ‘Why are you taking the wheel off your car?’ I asked Paco. ‘Watch Lottie!’ and so I did. Antonia went inside to fetch her old metal mincing machine, spanners, and various implements. metal pipes were then speedily assembled on to the table outside. The car wheel was soon off and a pipe then attached to the wheel hub, which then in turn was fixed to the end of the mincing machine. The first of the bowls of chopped onions was brought to the table and Paco started the car engine, this in turn turned the metal pipe, which in turn got the mincing machine going. It may have been somewhat Heath Robinson, but over the course of an hour and a half, 80 kilos of onion became finely minced. It was a sight to behold.
The reward for everyone’s hard work that morning, was a delicious lunch. Irishman, who’d been working at home, was summoned over to join us. Large glasses of sherry were poured and plates piled high with jamon were passed round as Antonia cooked an enormous paella. Sat there in the bosom of our neighbour’s family, not only did Irishman and I feel extraordinarily blessed being invited into our new community, we could not have felt more at home and relaxed. Here we where, laughing, eating and drinking, for the best part of an afternoon; taking part in the preparations for what we now know is one of the highlights of the village year, ‘La Matanza’.