I dug this paragraph out from my writings years ago when Marion was just 1 year old and it reminds me of many of those tiny cultural differences that I suppose I now take for granted.
We wake up reeking of the raw onion on the dressing table …..Amatxi’s solution for Marion’s cough. It works but we reek! As I carry her down the stairs of my renovated Basque sheep shed, situated high up in the Spanish Pyrenees, we indulge in our game of bell guessing. I say it’s a herd of horses but, when we look beyond the gate, Marion cries ‘MOO’ . I am wrong. Bell culture here is fascinating. Every animal, every herd is different.
After breakfast we take a plum and blackberry crumble to Sagrario´s on the neighbouring farm. It is just a 5 minute walk away. My neighbours go crazy for crumble (lemon curd, chedder cheese and Thai curries also go down well in the hamlet) – and I promise to help Sagrario make one for the fiestas next July. We walk through carpets of sheep’s droppings and chestnuts, pass blackberry bushes and fig trees with Marion alternating exclamations of ‘NAN NAN’ and ‘CACA,’ (Basque: FOOD and POO).
It doesn’t matter that we reek of onions. Sagrario’s house reeks of cows. They practise the old fashioned-farming system with the animals on the ground floor; their very own central heating system. One day I remember Sagrario exclaim ‘qué calor hace aqui’ and, where we would have reached to turn the thermostat, she simply popped downstairs to take the cows out. We have lunch with the extended family; thick vegetable soup, pork, potatoes (all off the farm) followed by strong home-made sheep’s cheese and crumble! The older men reminisce about their past, log cutting in France … the girls in the fiestas and while Luis, Sagrario´s single brother-in-law fills my glass with local wines, I solve his future by playing Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor with the damson stones on his plate!
On one of many trips out I visited a house just as this one. A walking companion asked me, ‘What about the smell?’
Of course the answer was simple. The animals soon get used to it!!!!
The animals were not IN the house with the family. They were down beneath the house. Yes, they did provide heat.
The walls of these houses were very, very thick as were the floors. I know all this because my Father was born in one and lived there until he immigrated to the US when he was 22 years old.
Thank you for your comments on my blog and i can only imagine that your father was one of the many Basque shepherds or farmers that headed out to the states for work in the middle of the last century. We have friends in our hamlet here who have come back to retire, 50 years later, after raising their families in the USA and many of them have incredible stories to tell.
It is difficult to say whether the animals are IN the house or UNDERNEATH the house. The house and stables are one single unit and the main entrance to the house (which is usually an apartment on the first floor (beneath the hay loft one storey higher)) is actually THROUGH the stables. Does this meant that the stables are beneath the house or actually in it? I do not know?
Best regards from hay-making time in the Pyrenees
That’s interesting about the the Bell culture. But cows in the house.? Hmmm. I guess you would eventually get used to it. LOL
Thanks for the interesting article. I enjoy hearing about other cultures. I would love to see that part of the world. From looking at your photos it looks like a beautiful area. Definitely an artist’s paradise! Are there any artists in the area in which you live?