There is a wonderful portrait of Gerald Brenan in the National Portrait Gallery in London, painted by Dora Carrington, a fellow member of the Bloomsbury Group [below]. It shows a glowing, blond good-looking man, the least like a dark, swarthy man of Andalucía that can be imagined. It is clear from his writing however that he understood the Spanish people of the South. This book is set in Yegen, a village in the Alpujarras, the same mountain area south of Granada made famous at the end of the 20th century by Chris Stewart. Yegen as Brenan knows it though is set in pre-Civil War Spain in the 1920s. He writes about rural poverty, local food and customs, and the beauty of the mountain scenery interspersed with visits from Bloomsbury Group fellows such as Carrington, Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf.
Best of all is his description of the store-room next to the kitchen, ‘… several hundred persimmons from two trees that grew in the garden: picked after the first frost, they ripened slowly and were eaten with a spoon when they went soft and squashy. Quinces were also kept there, as well as oranges and lemons and apples, and pots of marmalade and cherry jam and green-fig jam… there were always one or two of the famous Alpujarra hams which kept through the summer if they were rubbed every week or two with salt.’
Several hundred persimmons! The birds always seem to win the race to get to our caquis as soon as they are ripe, eating them on the tree. But we enjoy bird watching, so it is an amicable trade-off.
5 to remember
el retrato – portrait
la galeria – gallery
rubio/a – blond/e
guapo/a – good-looking
la caqui – persimmon/sharon fruit
‘South from Granada’ by Gerald Brenan [UK: Penguin Classics]