En Vente

Kermes OakI walked down to the glittering blue sea, and then back up the mountain. Past a private sign and over the coastal railway, through the white development of flats on the cliff point., the pool empty and post boxes stuffed full and overflowing, much unread. The cool slope below was resinous with pine and spiky agave, edged with the aniseed aroma of yellow fennel. A white sail on the sea seemed hardly to be moving.

On the high hillside behind the urbanisation of Montgavina I found arrested development. Tracks cut into the rock, awaiting tarmac, plot sales, investments. Manhole covers by rocks and more fennel. There are three hanging valleys perpendicular to the coast. The first Llavinia is full, houses to the very tops. I sit in the next one, un-named, full of mature pines, crumbling terraces, buzzing grasshoppers. It has escaped. The third is half-developed. And all around the tomillares, garrigue in France, of Mediterranean scrub, rosemary, lavender, heather and bilberry. A mimosa with ovate grey leaves and shiny pods the colour of figs. Below is a vineyard is green on the flats towards sea level.

Manhole at MontgavinaFlies come. But there is too much breeze for mosquitoes. A horsefly with red eyes and striped thorax settles on my bag. I watch it carefully.

En vente. Spain is for sale. And no one is buying. Nature was sold first. Developers rushed in, cast up grand houses, counted future profits greedily. Forgot to put in paths for those on foot. Or shops. Forgot too that tourists and second-home owners might dry up too. All around infrastructure is magnificent. Clean wide roads along the coast, heading inland too. Every light bright in every tunnel, many several kilometres long. In France, these would be single track roads. Here they are motorways, half empty.

En VenteWe decided to walk up to the highest hill, Penya del Llamp. Just 250 metres, but straight up a drovers’ stone wall that must once have separated pastures and ancient terraced fields. Grasshoppers buzzed up a wall of sound. No agriculture now, nor any animals. The heat beats off the limestone and slate. Each plant is in its own catchment, growing slowly, capturing water and nutrients when it can. Then a discovery, high up, the light trembling in the midday sun. A dwarf oak, with small spiny and serrated leaves. Adult trees just two feet high, a low dome of leaves and gnarled branches. I thought at first it was rare, but later worked out it was the Kermes Oak, Quercus coccifera, native to these slopes of the western Mediterranean and North African Maghreb. The tiny acorns are long maturing, 18 months or more, and held in cups of sharp recursive scales. From kermes came the word crimson, for this oak is host plant to the Kermes scale insect, source of cochineal dye. Crimson dye.

A copse of pines crests the electric hill, cool again, thick with resin. Someone had hung a strip of black material from a line between two trees at the summit, and we thought at first it was a body. Out to sea, slow currents tugged at the surface, and more white sails leaving white wakes arrowing behind. We crushed lavender and rosemary between fingers, and listened again to the legions of sawing grasshoppers.

Penya del LlampThese hills are safe now. In the mornings came many swifts, slicing over roofs and balconies, darting down lanes, sailing fast. At night, the waxing moon rose over the sea, lighting a silver path to the horizon.

Tick tick, tock. Time passes.