TALES OF MAJORCAN PIRACY

The Almonds in Flower
Springs and autumns bporcel11111
'When the almonds flower, there is an acute sense of the passing of time, a tumultuous escape into the past. Every year I think I'll go, to contemplate this bursting forth, this prodigious revelation.'

The following is an excerpt from The Enchanted Isles by Baltasar Porcel. Translated from the Catalan by John L. Getman.

This year, due to the cold, the almonds came into flower later than usual. The minuscule, milky white flower blooms first on the plains, and later in the valleys sheltered by pine-covered peaks and hills of wild olive and furze. On the dry farmland of Majorca, the almond reproduces and flowers during the warm days at the beginning of the year, days when the sun is tepid, and the wind is soft--almost a breath--and comes from the south, making the atmosphere a bit thick and misty, blurring the horizon ever so slightly and tinting it with shades of pink. The peasants say "Flowers in January don't fill the pantry," and they are right. If there is a burst of bloom in January during the calm days--those brief and radiant times between two frosts, which sometimes occur around St. Sebastian's day or earlier, then it's probable that a gust of crisp air will kill off the delicate white petals.

The slightest fluttering of the branch is enough to break loose the fragile reddish stem of the flower, and it drops off. Years ago, when I was younger, I used to "make the flowers rain." After school, my companions and I would head for any of the roadsides in the valley outside town where the almond trees grew. We would gather together under the tree and all together we would shake it, and all at once a burst of brilliant white flakes would float down, and then the leaves would placidly follow. It was a slow, silent descent, almost a mystery. Little bits of leaf and petal would cling, wavering, to our hair, to our shoulders, to the palms of our hands, sensitive to the slightest puff of air. We would look at each other for a moment, probably disappointed that nothing else had happened. And then we would make a short run to the next tree, shouting our heads off.

Until some frenetic peasant would come running from a nearby house or would jump off a passing wagon. He would charge at us, brandishing a club, so we would have to jump through the brush and clamber up the banks to get away. The rain of almond petals meant cutting off part of the farmer's harvest. And this year a kilo of kernels was worth more than eighty pesetas. For the peasant, almond trees in flower always bring great joy, for they then become green almond pods, then honey-golden almonds. Harvest time is a happy time. It's usually hot, and clumps of itchy dust fall from the trees when they're beaten, and stick to sweaty skin. The peasants watch, with a self-satisfied, calculating eye as the harvest sacks fill. On the threshing floor, the mule goes round and the man urges on the shiny, sweaty, trotting beast with frightful lashings of the whip, while he chants:

Little pony, when you were young,
you really leaned into your work!
Now to such a point you've come,
you're so skinny, you can't run.

But all that is far away now. On the brownish fields, ribbed with the hardened furrows from planting time, the thin, tender, greenish blades of the new sprouts of grain barely push through. The almond tree is bare, its sketchy, fine, skeletal branches standing out against the luminous sky, looking like a net, a grey gauze stretched before the sun. There are thousands and thousands of trees like that, until suddenly, as if everything had happened in a single night, the blossoms burst forth, as if the winds were full of flakes of shining chalk. And at the same time, they appear vague, tenuous and cottony, with voluminous violet and orange patches. Sometimes carmine-colored almond flowers appear that seem to be on fire. A purplish cloud floats among the delicate whites. The fields are deserted during these weeks of winter.

It's a strange world. I just found an article I had published eighteen years ago in my town's weekly paper, "The Andratx." In it, I said of the almond in flower that its "little white tufts hang lifeless, and during the day resemble Hamlet's crazy Ofelia; at night, the ghost of a tormented soul." Literature truly produces some strange mental aberrations in man. On nights of the full moon, the vast stretches of flowering almond groves are bluish and unreal, with a remote twilight beauty, like the sea on a summer's eve.

I suppose that on one of these February nights, clear and moonlit, this diaphanous foliage is what the medieval poet Guerau de Maçanet was describing when he wrote:

Love's joy renews me
makes me gaily sing
and in you, my lady, find solace
watching almonds flower in spring...

Then, clear lily, open honestly
your hearth to me,
for with you I will enjoy
watching almonds flower in spring.

I didn't see the almonds in flower on the island this year. I was far away. When the almonds flower, there is an acute sense of the passing of time, a tumultuous escape into the past. Every year I think I'll go, to contemplate this bursting forth, this prodigious revelation. But the days go by and the almond loses its leaves, the flowers die flaccid and wrinkled, and the velvety almond pods appear. Then someone sends me a letter, someone from the village who was probably awaiting my arrival: "The flowering of the almonds has finished and you didn't come." Yes, that's right, I didn't go, and I feel nostalgia overtake me, like a lost love, like the image of a woman fading into misty memory.







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