Chris reading from The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society
Bit of a mouthful, I know… hardly trips off the tongue, but I think it has a certain something. There’s something to be said for an offbeat title… also a good cover. The booksellers will tell you that the title and the cover are the most important part of a book… the stuff that comes between the front and back cover is of much less importance.
Nevertheless I’ve pushed the boat out a bit in this one and come up with some tolerably good material. Once again the main theme is home and here in the Alpujarra, but in order to allay the opprobrium of the critics I’ve slipped in a little entomology… insects are what we’re good at here. There’s also a new character, just in case you’ve had enough of the ever present protagonist: me. This is my friend and travelling companion, Michael, or Maiquel as the locals pronounce and spell it. Maiquel is Michael Jacobs, art historian eminent and erudite, and, to use his own words: a scandalously underrated writer. He has his own website (as well as twenty seven books to date)… www.michaeljacobs.co.uk
In the middle, and my favourite chapter, is a piece of travel writing about my time in Morocco, where I went seed collecting every year for many years. This gives me an excuse to move onto the topic of immigration: moved by the arrival of four destitute and terrified Moroccan lads at the farm, I went to work for Granada Acoge, an NGO that looks after the interests of any immigrants who arrive in the province. I didn’t last long… I don’t think office work is my thing… but it gave me some insight into the plight of the poor immigrants… and equally important, the selfless care and devotion of the many ordinary Spaniards who staff the organisation. Hard to make a subject like this light hearted I know, but when it boils down to it there’s something to laugh at behind even the most dismal story.
It’s hard to write a book about living on the land in the Mediterranean without going on a bit about olive oil, so there’s a chapter on the ins and outs of olive harvesting and milling.
And then there’s the title… it refers to a walk over the hills I took one February with a couple of friends in order to appreciate the beauty of the almond blossom… because, as I said once somewhere, if you can’t take the time to get out in the spring and wallow a little in the beauty of the almond blossom, then you’re living in the wrong country… or you’re living in the right country but you’re the wrong person.
The book concludes with a meditative little piece inspired by the simple contentment of the lives of two of our neighbours, Juan and Encarni. In the saddest of circumstances, though, Encarni died the year after I wrote the book, leaving Juan to carry on alone in the cortijo. He was devastated, but in the inimitably stoical way of country people he gathered the shattered pieces of his life and fought on. I hope this portrait of their simplicity and goodness does them justice.
Driving Over Lemons | A Parrot in the Pepper Tree | The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society | Three Ways to Capsize a Boat