Yesterday was the longest day and here in our mountain village in Andalucia it marks the true beginning of summer – it is between 25 and 30 degrees most days now and over the next 8 – 10 weeks can easily reach the high 30s centigrade, and even, occasionally, 40 degrees.
In the last week or two, new faces have begun to appear as migrant workers from Africa, some legal, some not, make their way up the mountain to work in the fields higher up our valley, where beans, tomatoes, peppers and many more varieties of fruit and vegetables come into season a little later than elsewhere. Some of these workers are from Morocco, just across the Mediterranean, others from further afield. They all seem to love football and crowd into our local bars whenever Spain play a match, and with the European Cup going strong right now, we can expect to see them regularly during the rest of the competition. On match nights they enter the bar, one or two at a time, sit or stand at the back and always make sure they are not in the way of the regulars, who, of course, all have their favourite spots. Unfailingly polite and respectful, they turn up in clean, if worn clothes having washed away the dust of the fields before coming out for the evening. Many are muslim so don’t drink alcohol, but they love the strong coffee most bars serve and take it with plenty of sugar.
That’s not the only sign summer is really here. Last night, after watering the pots on our top terrace, I was treated to a show of incredible aerobatics when a dozen or so swallows twisted, turned, climbed, tumbled and plunged through the air above our garden, sometimes less than six feet in front of my face. As the shadow of our mountain crept up the opposite side of the valley, they kept the show going. If they settled on one of our almond trees for even an instant the sparrows, who live in our neighbour’s wall, dashed out, squawking in protest and driving the invaders out of the trees. After twenty, spellbinding minutes, it was over. The sparrows settled back into their holes, the swallows swirled away and peace returned.
Some people have mentioned the lack of honey bees in the UK this summer. It is a serious problem and looks insoluble. In our garden this year I’ve seen little evidence of a similar lack of bees. Right through spring and now into summer, honey bees, and varieties of wild bees that live in little tunnels in the earth, or bumble bees, smaller, but just as clumsy and loveable as British bumble bees, plus huge, Spanish black bees with delicate iridiscent blue wings (they can give you a nasty sting if you annoy them) have raided the garden to feast on lavish displays of wisteria, spring flowers and bulbs and are now glutting themselves on the bright purple flowers of the lavender hedge I planted two years ago.
Soon, temperatures will rise, leaving the village sleepily silent in the afternoons until 6 pm, when children are allowed outside to play as the heat dissipates to bearable temperatures and lengthening evening shadows. Then, the village becomes alive once more, with shops and bars opening, villagers and migrant workers heading home after a final few hours work before sunset, and older residents taking the evening air as they go for their evening paseo before a late evening meal and then bed.