Introducing the blog of American writer Jennifer Luna… our latest Olive Press website contributor
“MIND your head,” Nati tells me as I part the hanging bead curtains and enter her home. Inside the white kitchen she introduces her family to me—kisses on both cheeks from her father and mother, her brother Prudencio, her sister-in-law and young nephew. They sit in the kitchen at a table, each with a pruning knife, adding peach slices to a large plastic bowl.
“Preparando preservos.” Preparing preserves, they tell me. Juice, jams, gifts for the neighbors—Nati’s father laughs—they have more peaches than they know what to do with.
The Martinez family live in a cave. As a young couple in the 1950s, Nati’s parents turned the hillside caves into homes, adding amenities like running water and electricity as recently as the 1970s. The family has been on the Andalusian land for over five generations, every year harvesting food, pressing olives into oil, and stomping the grapes down to wine.
Nati is proud of her family’s history—of the cave houses and of the natural way of living. She leads me through the cave maze that is her family’s home, not missing a room nor a closet along the way. The number of bedrooms, sitting rooms, patios and gardens have been added to the original small cave as the family has grown. The white walls boast decorated plates as well as paintings of saints, First Communion photographs, and children’s drawings. The Andalusian home feels more like haunted and forgotten tunnels, with new rooms dug farther underground for the mere sake of construction, of in man’s need to creation, to continue pushing through.
After the cave house we saw the dispensa. Natividad watching my face as she opened the cellar door—knowing it would be something I’d never seen. A cement floor and concrete walls, no windows and workman’s tools scattered about. Sinister hooks hanging from the ceiling.
“To hang the ham dry,” Nati noted.
The storeroom put off a surprisingly pleasant smell of ripe summer fruit mixed with drafty air. The colors were just as appetizing. Thousands of almonds, still in their festive casings, carpeted half the cement floor. Parsley lie drying upon a faded pink bed sheet in front of the almond sea, and grapes of all colors and sizes lounged on the table. Pumpkins and melons crowded the far corner of the cellar, while apples, peaches and prickly pears filled the brown sacks around the doorway.
We stood in the storeroom and cracked the almonds with our teeth. More than the sound of the nut cracking, I remember the soothing percussion sound of the almonds as I ran my hands across all the shells. On the inside of my mouth, the inside of the nut tasted immediately creamy, like a sweet milk, very giving in its chewiness, and very rich.
Perhaps having to work for the treasure inside—the cracking and picking apart, the brave work of the teeth and nails—makes it in fact more delicious, more rewarding, than dipping your hand in a bag and throwing four salty almonds on your tongue. Like the difference between buying a track home built off the freeway, and starting in a cave, cultivating the land, and building your way deeper into the earth.