Blood oranges


Driving along a country road I stopped as I saw amongst the olive trees the tiny creamy white flowers of that delicious salad ingredient wild rocket. In supermarkets a bag of force grown rocket isn’t cheap yet it’s freely available now for the next few months absolutely free from a roadside verge near you. Soon there will be wild asparagus and fennel to enjoy.

Five years ago when I moved to rural Spain a neighbour gave me some sound advice which I heed still and that was to never come back empty handed whilst out and about. I don’t think she actually meant for me to steal anything however I do recall that the odd vegetable or two would mysteriously disappear overnight from our vegetable patch coincidently when this certain neighbour was passing on her midnight constitution. I still take her advice but in a less cheeky manner and when out with the dogs I usually return home armed with rosemary, thyme and dead branches of Retamar to use as a fire starter.


Spanish locals are usually generous and only yesterday a neighbour pointed to a distant field where he owns five orange trees and told me I was welcome to take what I want. Considering he owns a vicious dog that just loves to take a bite out of any of my passing dogs perhaps they are blood oranges.

Having Spanish neighbours is a great benefit as not only do they give kindly gifts but they also have such stories to tell. Felix who lives across the way from me is in his 70s and recently he proudly showed me his marble plaque given by the then Mayor of Bedar in recognition of 10 years faithful service down the iron mines.

Felix was also later employed in the mines between Villaricos and Cuevas del Almanzora. The poor chap now has severe chest problems which have been attributed to the dust from the mines and years of smoking those foul smelling Ducados cigarettes probably hasn’t helped either. 

Many older Spaniards are shorter due to suffering food shortages in the Franco era. Hopefully a reader can enlighten me as I was researching without success a story I had been told that there was a law passed allowing people to take fruit from trees to combat malnutrition.

Instead I stumbled on a very interesting book entitled Fear and progress – ordinary lives under Franco’s Spain 1939-1975 by Antonia Cazorla Sanchez. The book describes the deprivations caused by the regime which led to many people dying. In Seville in 1941 the British Consul observed that people were dying in hospitals due to starvation.

In the same year a secret Spanish Government report said that up to two million people were in danger of starving to death in the coming months. In 1942 one in three newborns died in Jaen. It is estimated that at least 200,000 people starved to death between 1939 and 1945.

Perversely in General Franco’s strict Catholic regime prostitution was rife as women were forced to sell their bodies to feed their families. A servant working a 12 hour day would typically earn fewer than five pesetas a day yet as a prostitute it could be up to 25 pesetas and more if in a classy brothel (is there such a thing?)

In 1941 there were 65,000 cases of syphilis reported yet six years later there were over a quarter of a million cases. There were only 10,000 registered sex workers at the time so there was a huge clandestine industry going on which only increased peoples suffering.

By 1951 the situation was actually worse with people on average surviving on 10% fewer calories than in 1935. This is a huge almost untold story of immense suffering which is not taught in Spanish schools today.




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