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Little changes in Santa Catalina, but even little changes can have far-reaching implications.
During a particularly dry spell last summer, Antolin advised me not to drink water from my well for the time being. The fisherman often drops off bags of vegetables fresh from his plot by the beach. Over a bottle of fino, he fills me in with local gossip seasoned with a couple of pinches of dry sagacity.
At first, I wasn’t unduly put out by the caution. No matter what lengths smart advertising agencies take to convince me otherwise, water will never be my favourite tipple. As for the two litres medical experts tell me I’m supposed to drink each day to stay alive, I should be dead. When you think about it, two thirds of the human body is composed of water, knocking back a couple more litres, could tip the balance. I might end up a pile of damp clothes in a puddle.
Besides, there are still some of us left trying to save the planet by preventing a shortage of H2O. With countless billions drinking two litres every day, the world could even run dry by next Tuesday. Though, as statistics and pie charts have never been my greatest subjects, I can’t be too exact about the day.
On the other hand, if 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, which is steadily rising with global warming, perhaps we all ought to drink even more than two litres to stop the rising oceans from flooding everywhere but the summit of Mount Everest. The longer I thought of Antolin’s advice, the more confused I got.
Most drinking water in the countryside surrounding Santa Catalina is still drawn from wells. Antolin said latest measurements showed falling reserves were leading to harmful levels of bacteria. To a man with a Swedish grandmother, there are no harmless levels of bacteria. Bacteria are harmful, full stop. They rot your teeth and, in extreme cases, eat your face.
When dropping off some freshly picked green peppers, later the same day, Antolin told me to wash them thoroughly, as they hadn’t come from his plot. The potent chemicals some gardeners use for pest control kill all living things, he informed me cheerily.
I was faced with yet another dilemma. Which was the bigger risk? Should I rinse them well in well water containing dangerously high levels of harmful bacteria? Or should I risk death by chemical poisoning? But there was another choice. Unlike Britain, where bottled water seems to have become rather exotic – judging by price alone – hulking great flagons can be had in Andalucia for the cost of a thimbleful of Perrier. Even then, the thought of a couple of green peppers sloshing about in stuff you paid good money for, goes against the grain. It conjures up pictures of a naked Cleopatra sloshing about in asses’ milk. There’s something sinful about conspicuous waste to a lad raised in England’s Midlands. People from our village wonder things like, what was done with the asses’ milk left in the bathtub? Out in the parched desert of Ancient Egypt, it would seem a bit of a waste to send gallons of precious asses’ milk, or even elephant’s milk, glugging down the plug hole. Nevertheless, I don’t care however royal amybody was who bathed in it; nobody could persuade me to quaff used asses’ milk, even if there was nothing else. Even if it was fresh from the ass’s udder and I had a throat as dry as a camel’s bum, it wouldn’t get past my cracked lips. Perhaps, they made steaming mugs of cocoa out of it for the slaves to drink before they went to bed. Sounds a bit more tempting, but not tempting enough when I think of Cleopatra washing her bits and bobs in it.
To get back to bottled water. As a litre of local wine from Señor Alvarez’ store is almost as cheap, I bought two bottles to help me forget the problem. Besides, an elementary education in biology tells me that if you have your harmful bacteria, and your stuff that kills all living things, each will destroy the other in the ensuing war. I did say elementary biology. So I took my chances, said a quick prayer, and doused the peppers in a pail. Though I have been feeling a little queasy since, I put that down to all the extra plonk I had to drink because of the scare about the water.
Yet there can be little doubt Santa Catalinians take health and science extremely seriously. All the packets and bottles flying off the shelves at the chemists are ample testimony to that. Antibiotics are dished out at the slightest sign of a runny nose or little cough. And scrubbing front doorsteps of germ-laden specks of muck is a daily chore. So much so that nipping down to the shops when they’re all at it can result in inhaling enough bleach-laden vapours billowing from sudsy buckets to have you keeling over. It’s little wonder the houses are so white, and fraying at the edges.
But the war against contagion and contamination goes far beyond the threshold. As elsewhere, a couple of local farmers have joined the vanguard battling daily to exterminate all organisms they consider harmful to the planet. In order to bring us potatoes without wormholes, and the juiciest, reddest, tomatoes, they spray their fields liberally with all the latest miracle products.
But armed with my elementary biology, and my Midlands sense of curiosity, I can’t help wondering where all those marvellous chemicals go after they’ve done their job.
Over a few wines with Antolin in Juani’s Bar, I ventured to ask. As soon as the rains come they get washed deep into the ground, he told me. I enquired if, by any chance, that might be the same ground the well water came from. He nodded.
Copyright © 2009, 2013 Bryan Hemming.
For another Santa Catalina story click onto: A New Year’s Drink
This story was first published by Anda Luz Creative Journal in June 2009
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