In earlier blogposts here I have recounted how the terraces here were once filled with vines. Gaspar the previous owner of the house told me that there were fine table grapes once grown on the bare terraces here where the donkeys now play. All that remained when I moved in here was the occasional metal pole and stretched wires across the terraces that once supported the branches, heavy with grapes. There was not even a remaining dead vine stock here on the upper terraces: all had gone.
Down in the valley in the furthest corner of the property, ten minutes walk away, there was one remaining vine. I posted photographs of this a while ago. Back in June 2016 when I was in the house preparing to move the donkeys here, I spotted the last remaining vine in the valley and the idea was hatched immediately: to restore vines on the top level of the property from the last remaining vine still growing here. I began to water the vine and ensure it survived.
I sought local advice on the right time to cut away the dead branches from the vine in winter and was told to do this in March. The problem was that we entered another cold spell in late February or early March and there was a risk of frost. I had to keep postponing the cutting of the branches later and later. A neighbour warned me that if I left it too late and the vine began to show signs of new shoots, it would be too late to prune.
The cuttings in a paper sack.
The cuttings were placed in flowerpots up in the kitchen garden in case there was a frost and I needed to move them indoors. I have been carefully scrutinising them for a couple of weeks, half resigned to the possibility that these vulnerable little cuttings might just remain dead twigs stuck in pots for the rest of the season, just to become kindling for next autumn’s log fire… But no worries! Yesterday I was thrilled to see signs of life in three of them. Little shoots are springing up from the dead wood.
I mentioned in an earlier post how I preached a sermon once as a Franciscan friar on the text of the Parable of the Vine and the Branches (John 15, 5-6), and I keep thinking of the many references to vines in the Old and New Testaments: sometimes they are a central motif in the teaching: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” (Matthew 20:1)
Of course, in an agrarian economy it is not surprising that the rich symbolism of the main crops known to the agricultural community figure so highly in symbol and metaphor. The house is called “El Parral” – a Spanish name so closely connected to vines – and I thought of re-naming it, shortly after arriving here, because it seemed absurd. My solicitor Jaime explained to me that the name did not mean “vineyard” which I first thought, having seen a mistranslation. It is a vine covered terrace outside a country house, providing shade and fruit in summer, then dying away in winter so that the light can enter the windows during the darker months.
The vines will be replanted here to start re-growing the parral outside the house.
In the seven years that I have now been here in Spain since leaving England in 2010, the donkeys have provided a constant focus and they still do. They are lovely animals, immensely rich individual characters, and great companions. This place is for them as much as it is for me, and we are all very much at home here. The vines are a sign for me this spring, a sign that we fragile creatures are putting down roots and becoming part of the rich soil here. We are working with the land, adjusting to its rhythm, gaining insight into the joys and hazards of each changing season in this new place. The vines are responding and the focus now has to be on this positive side of life.
It is time to shut down my involvement in the superficial nonsense that has distracted me too often in life, for example the pointless ephemeral distractions of Internet discussions, where real people seem to create an unreal world and behave badly in it. I recounted in my last post the mad behaviour of a rather odd clergyman on an ecumenical blog I once contributed to. Seeing I had given up on his attention seeking and left, he has since tried to entice me back to argue with him on that site by posting links to things about my life on the internet in order to show that he is stalking me. (This was recounted to me in emails by three other people who still look at that blog.)
I did not get involved with his twisted nonsense, but I took a look at the stuff before writing to his bishop, the Anglican Bishop of Truro, to make a formal complaint about his behaviour, which will also be reported to his local police station. One key comment that caught my eye in that obsessive clergyman’s conversation with another was this: “When all is said and dome (sic) blogging isn’t real life.”
In fact blogging IS real life, and what you do to people online is just as real as the effect of driving a car along Westminster Bridge and mowing down pedestrians because you have some idea of a Muslim “Caliphate” in your head and that is more important than real people.
This blog is about real life. It is about four beautiful animals; it is for my daughter in Wales and her struggle to get well, which we don’t say much about here – but the blog serves to keep her motivated on getting well and getting out here; and this blog is about the reality of little green shoots coming out on dry cuttings of vines.
The Internet is not some separate reality that doesn’t connect with life. I hope the Reverend Malcolm Uren of the Godlevy Team Ministry understands that when the Bishop of Truro phones him, or when the local police knock on his door to enquire about his Internet activity. There is nothing unreal about this blog. What is unreal sometimes is what gets in people’s heads when they don’t regard other people as real.
A final reflection on my Lenten experience:
Having considered the matter at some length today, and in the light of the experiences recounted at the end of this blog post (and the earlier one) I have come to the conclusion that I am disappointed with my religion at this time. I believe I can explain my religious position in a new way: I am a retired Catholic. I will spend some more time thinking about this and will attempt to define it, both for myself and for anyone else who is interested to know what I mean. I know deep-down what I mean, and I believe this is exactly where I am now.
The awful experience of the way Christians behave towards each other constantly presents a very big question. But I do not want to be a buddhist… ! Yes, a retired Catholic. Not lapsed. Retired. More thoughts on this soon. But think about this: if we can now have such a thing as a retired Pope (ad multos annos Pope Emeritus Benedict!) then why not have the option to be a retired individual Catholic?
Brother Lapin Emeritus can just say, OK that’s that, no point any more. It was nice while it lasted. Funny, isn’t it? This started off as an orthodox post today and finished quite differently. Coming soon, Brother Lapin Emeritus: a theological justification for being a retired Catholic.