When I came to Spain, I thought I could make a living selling my oranges
My sixty trees could yield maybe five thousand kilograms and Waitrose were selling them for £2.50 a kilo
Simple mathematics convinced me my future as an agricultor was assured
I’d read Driving over Lemons but conveniently forgot why Chris Stewart‘s book has this title
The fruit in Spain is fresh, mature and has a better taste
It’s not picked green, dyed and refrigerated for export
It is, however, not much more than one tenth the price of fruit in the UK
Here it grows with abundance almost everywhere; in the UK an orange is an exotic fruit
I was optimistic… in Extremadura
introduction by Tim Harris
extract from Driving over Lemons by Chris Stewart (1999)
‘Well this is no good I don’t want to live here!’ I said as we drove along yet another tarmac road behind a row of white-washed houses. ‘I want to live in the mountains, for heavens sake, not in the suburbs of some town in a valley’.
‘Shut up and keep driving,’ ordered Georgina, the woman sitting beside me. She lit another cigarette of strong black tobacco and bathed me in a cloud of smoke.
I’d only met Georgina that afternoon but it hadn’t taken her long to put me in my place. She was a confident young Englishwoman with a peculiarly Mediterranean way of seeming at ease with her surroundings. For the last ten years she had been living in the Alpujarras , the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, south of Granada, and she had carved out a niche for herself acting as an intermediary between the farmers who wanted to sell their cortijos in the hills, and move to town, and the foreigners who wanted to buy them. It was a tough job but no one who saw her ironing out deals with the coarsest peasant or arguing water rights with the stubbornest bureaucrat could doubt that she was the woman for it. If she had a weakness at all it was in her refusal to suffer fools and ditherers.
‘Do you bully all your clients like this?’ I protested.
‘No, just you. Left here.’
Obediently I turned the wheel and we shrugged off the last houses of Órgiva, the market town where I’d been adopted by my agent. we bumped onto a dirt track and headed downhill towards the river.
‘Where are the mountains?’ I whined.
Georgina ignored me and looked at the grove of oranges and olives on either side of the track. There were white houses covered in scrags of last year’s vines and decked with bright geraniums and bougainvillea; mules were ploughing; boiler suited growers were bent bum-up amid perfect lines of vegetables; a palm tree shaded the road where hens were swimming in the dust. Dogs slept in the road in the shade; cats slept in the road in the sun. The creature with the lowest priority on the road was the car. I stopped and backed up a bit to go round a lemon.
‘Drive over lemons,’ ordered Georgina.
There were, it was true, a hell of a lot of lemons. They hurtled past, borne on a stream of water that bubbled nearby; in places the road was a mat of mashed fruit, and the earth beneath the trees was bright with fallen yellow orbs.