Agriculture is totally dependent on a good water supply. You cannot do very much growing without supplementing the rainfall, particularly in a climate like this with 360 days of sunshine. The fields around my farmhouse ‘Elca Seriu’ have not been worked for years and the trees drop their crops on the ground to rot: olives, almonds, pomegranates, and lemons all go to waste. The best I can do at the moment is to use all this for compost in preparation for planting. But water was the main problem. A dry and dusty empty cisterna and a concrete water channel leading up into the hills was the evidence of an irrigation system that had once functioned here, and I went in search of the source.
A mile further up the ravine from my daily crossing point when I walk to the village on my way to work, the water channel was blocked and pouring the life-giving precious water into the ravine below. I took a mattock with me to sort out the problem, but its main use was to keep my footing steady, hooking it over rocks and vegetation as I walked precariously along the narrow concrete channel with a sheer drop below me, and in places nothing much supporting the fragile concrete channel, as the earth below it had been washed away in the erosion of many seasons.
My adventure called to mind the wonderful film Jean de Florette with Gerard Depardieu and Yves Montand, and its equally great sequel Manon des Sources with Emmanuelle Béart as the eponymous Manon. The entire narrative centres on the importance of water in a small local community in rural France. The quixotic idealism of the Depardieu character leads to his untimely death, but his daughter carries on the struggle and triumphs. Such imaginings were going through my head as I stood on the narrow ledge pulling out the algae and the rocks that had blocked the source. If I should fall into the ravine and my donkey project fail before a single donkey had graced the field of ‘Elca Seriu’, maybe my daughter would arrive one day and finish off the work…?
Aching and perspiring from the labour, I hurried back to ‘Elca Seriu’ to celebrate the arrival of the water at the cisterna with a well-earned litre of San Miguel beer. After an hour, I had finished the beer but there was not even a trickle of water…
I was joined by a praying mantis. This was a good sign. Whenever you see a praying mantis sitting on a pomegranate it is a sign that water is about to arrive. (In the absence of any local agricultural community, I can make up my own folk wisdom.) Two more hours went by as I did a few odd jobs around my donkey field. The water did not arrive…
I went up the ravine again with my mattock and started the search for water all over again. The blockage I had cleared had simply moved to another point and washed down more algae, several hundredweight of rotting carob beans and olives, and the water was pouring out of the channel in another place. So the whole channel had to be cleared over a mile of fields and orchards, and finally – as it was getting dark – water arrived at my cisterna and I went immediately to bed exhausted.
This morning I was up at first light, like a child on Christmas morning waking up early to see if Santa had been… Would the water have carried on all night and filled the cisterna? Triumph! The water is still trickling in, the last few inches of dry wall at the top of the tank just filling up. And I am aching all over. Thank goodness I have teaching preparation to do all day, so I can’t be tempted to break Brother Ass (as St Francis called his earthly body) any more today while preparing my donkey field.
A job well done. Rabit de Florette, Lapin des Sources. (Zizz paws in a satisfied manner.)
Note: Manon des Sources a critically acclaimed and commercially successful 1986 French language film. Based upon the 1966 two-part novel by Marcel Pagnol, itself an adaptation of an earlier film of the same title by Pagnol, it is the sequel to Jean de Florette , shot at the same time as Manon des Sources in 1986; and it was at that time the most expensive film ever made in France.