St Martin’s Day

NIGEL SIMON’S MEMORY LANE

Shooting Script: “Accidental Tourist”/Asturia (Episode 1)

  1. GVS:  THE FARMHOUSE, SHOTS OF NIGEL EXITING VAN, WALKING UP DRIVEWAY, GREETING OWNERS IN YARD, VIEWS FROM TERRACE

NIGEL (VO)

It’s been twenty years since I stumbled upon this beautiful spot in the Asturian countryside.  Indeed,  ‘stumbled upon’ is the right phrase; it was a broken van and even more broken Spanish which led us here in the first place.  I remember that we were a crew of rag tag, sweaty English blokes in rugby shirts and jeans, grumpy and hungry from one too many wrong turns, but, despite our appearance, Xurde and his family welcomed us in to their home for the night and served me one of the most memorable meals of my life…

  •  INT: VERANDA

NIGEL (TO CAMERA)

 Sitting here on the veranda, the word serendipity comes to mind. (Raising glass)

I’m in the old kitchen. The fabas are steeping in a cream plastic bucket with a cracked rim, which I find on the sticky shelf behind the old deep fat fryer. I give it some attention, folding kitchen paper in to an arrowhead to scrape up the mealy brown glue which rimes its lip.  Then in go the beans and water from the tap.  And that’s it. Fabada isn’t cooked under heavy, black skirts in silence; it’s made wearing jeans, sound-tracked with fuzzy jingles on the radio, rasping men with opinions who phone in to shout at the DJ. I smoke a cigarette. A hair clings to the thick surface of the bean water – one of mine – and I push it under.  The water is silky and I think of the cloudy surface and what my face would look like from beneath. 

They wanted to film me preparing the dish but I said no – and something in my voice at that moment made my grandfather nod and close his eyes and smile, nod again. Then he took the man with the clipboard and the headphones away, away to the orchard, the farmhouse extension and the little blue tiled, kidney shaped pool which is to be used only by the guests, because they paid for it, after all.  Everything we do now is for the guests, including that new kitchen, which is all metal dials and silver chrome and reminds me of a robot lying down on its side, dead to the world.   It’s not like the one that I’m now in, which is our kitchen, where I am thinking of my face from under the water. This one is small and square and dark and the shelves under the scarred old counter top are crammed with twisted vines of tomatoes and aubergines that contort and gleam like bodybuilders, onions bound to one another with twine. Knives cling to a metal strip on the tiled wall in front of me – the handles, some blue, some oak, some rubber – show their allegiance to different masters and times.  This is the kitchen where I will cook, where they will not film me. 

Even so, I want to be just like our special guest, so I’ve laid out the ingredients in little bowls; the garlic in an olive dish, pimenton in a saucer, black pepper in the pestle. I pick saffron strands, crisp and brittle like a mummy’s hair, and rub them hard and slow between my thumb and forefinger.  I feel the alchemy of heat, pressure and my own essence, distilled in the oils from my fingertips, as I wear those threads down, down to a biddable dust.

There were so many rules when I first moved to the farm, and most of them were about St Martin’s Day and the pigs. My grandfather kept me away from them, told me not to feed them, play with them, name them, because it would make it harder when they were slaughtered. I followed his advice because I was a good girl and I was five, so the idea of betrayal was vivid to me then. But I risked encounters wherever I went on the farm because they, the pigs, had license to roam as much as me.   Even now I remember one time, one time which has come to stand for the whole, when I looked up from the rigours of a day shift as chief surgeon at the doll hospital I had established underneath an acorn tree into the keen eyes of one of our sows, in close up. I stood and walked away on bamboo legs. And I never went back to get those dolls. 

But then I found out who I was when I was twelve and since then I’ve looked forward to St Martin’s Day.  My grandfather holds the animal still, but I bring my knife to its neck. I offer no words of consolation or comfort.  I offer nothing. In that moment I’m a butcher, not a priest.

In my small dark kitchen, I unwrap the meat for our special guest. I can tell that it came from a good pig because the chorizo is the colour of my lips and spattered with beads of fat which weep in the heat.  And the morcilla gives itself willingly to the pressure of my blade, revealing a face so purple that it’s black to me.  I place my hands on the chopping board, either side, just for a second, then I switch off the radio.

I have only seen the programme twice, on a video cassette that I found when I moved in to my mother’s old room.   In it, there’s a young woman who looks like me who crosses the veranda carrying a terracotta dish. Her head shakes and dips like she is singing a song to herself and she smiles at the floor.  She stands next to the special guest while he eats.  Then he starts to make big eyes, still chewing and, dabbing his mouth with a blue silk handkerchief, he pushes back his chair. Wow, he says.   He looks at her hair when he says it.  This is what he does in all his programmes, I’ve watched him. 

Six months after that day, that moment, that wow, that smiling nodding girl left Asturia to stay with my aunt’s family in Murcia.  Five years later a little girl, me, returned alone.

But the dish is ready now.  The man with the clipboard and headphones comes in with my grandfather, who is wearing a maroon cummerbund under a black jacket which has faded to green at the shoulders.  I place the cazuela dish in his hands – it is hot and his hands tremble and drop a little under its sudden weight. I think of him standing next to his ‘friend’, nodding like my mother did, watching him speak to the camera, but I don’t dwell.  There’s cleaning up to do.

That night I go to our special guests’ room.  I ask him if he enjoyed the dinner, my dish, but his eyes are looking at my hair (he doesn’t see the him in me) and his mouth is smiling and he is already pushing closed the door to his room and pouring a second glass of wine.

‘That isn’t what I came for’ I say. 

‘Well, now.’ He replies softly and his light changes again and he sinks to the bed and pulls me close.  It’s the one thing I let him do.  I pluck off his shirt and grip his hair.  It’s crisp and brittle like a mummy’s.   His eyes are the colour of my lips.  I take the knife from my apron and sure enough he gives himself willingly to the pressure of my blade. He reveals a new face then, and it’s pure black.

I offer nothing.  I’m a butcher –  not a priest – and every pig must have its St Martin’s Day.

Author: nefny

Getting on with it.

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