Driving Over Lemons is the contagiously entertaining account of one couple's beginning a new life as they turn a rundown peasant farm in southern Spain into a home.
When Chris Stewart first sees El Valero, he's willing to overlook its lack of electricity, running water, or access road. Assured that he's bought "a paradise for pennies," he phones his wife, Ana, still in England, whose enthusiasm is a little more tempered. Together they embark on an undertaking that includes rebuilding the house, feeding and housing a former owner reluctant to leave, the threat of drought (and flood), a cultural misunderstanding, and the creation of a whole new, fulfilling, enviable life.
Stewart, a former drummer in Genesis, middle-aged travel writer and professional sheepshearer, never quite explains why he and his wife, Ana, decided to quit England 11 years ago for a dilapidated farm without electricity, water or even a road in Andaluc!a, Spain. Perhaps the olives, almonds and rosemary had something to do with it. Stewart clearly has found contentment in his good place among a lovingly described collection of local farmers, New Age travelers, artists and the occasional Buddhist. His hilly farm is a harsher place than Peter Mayle's Provence or Frances Mayes's Tuscany, and the local cuisine far less appetizing, yet his unfailing good humor and invincible optimism carry him past obstacles that would send most readers scurrying for home. More than a travel book, this is a record of Stewart's slowly flourishing friendship with his neighbor, Domingo, and of how Stewart gradually sank roots deep into his beautiful Andaluc!an hillside. A bestseller in England, this enchanting memoir is likely to prove popular in North America with both armchair travelers and readers who, while curious about the odd life choices others make, would just as soon give scorpions and clouds of flies a miss. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 07, 2001
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Excerpt from Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart
'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 whitewashed houses. 'I want to live in the mountains, for heaven's 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 most stubborn bureaucrat could doubt 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 orgiva, 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 groves of oranges and olives on either side of the track. There were white houses covered in the 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 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. I remembered a half-forgotten snatch of song, something about a lovelorn gypsy throwing lemons into the Great River until it turned to gold.
The lemons, the creatures and the flowers warmed my heart a little. We drove on through a flat plain quilted with cabbages and beans, at the end of which loomed a little mountain. After dipping a banana grove, we turned sharp right up a steep hill with deep cuttings in the red rock.
'This looks more like it.'
'Just wait, we're not there yet.'
Up and up we went, bend after bend, the river valley spread below us like an aerial print. On through a gorge and suddenly we burst into a new valley. The plain we had crossed disappeared utterly, hidden from sight by the mass of mountain, and drowned by the roaring of the river in the gorge below.
Far below, beside the river, I caught sight of a little farm in a horseshoe-shaped valley, a derelict house on a cactus-covered crag, surrounded by unkempt fields and terraces of ancient olive trees.
'La Herradura,' Georgina announced. 'What about that, then?'
'Well, it's nice to dream but the pittance we've got to spend is hardly going to buy us a place like that.'
'With the money you've got to spend you could afford that place and have some left over to do it up.'
'I don't believe you. You can't possibly be serious.'
I was incredulous because this was so far beyond my wildest hopes. I had come to Spain with a sum of money that would barely stretch to a garden shed in the south of England, expecting to buy at best a ruined house with perhaps a little patch of land.
'Well, there's no point in going any further. I'll have that one. Let's go down and see it.'
We pulled the car off the road and tripped down a path. I was so overwhelmed with excitement and delight that I felt sick. I picked an orange from a tree, the first time I'd ever done that. It was quite the most disgusting orange I'd ever eaten.
'Sweet oranges,' said Georgina. 'They're mostly sweet oranges here -- good for juice. And the old men with no teeth like them.'
'This is it, Georgina. It's paradise. I want it. I mean, I'll buy it now.'
'It's not a good idea to be too hasty in these matters. Let's go and have a look at some other places.'
'I don't want to see anywhere else. I want to live here, and anyway I'm your client. Surely we do what I want, not what you want!'
We drove off, further into the valley, and Georgina took me to see a stone ruin that was slowly slithering down a hill towards a precipice. It was surrounded by rotting cactus, and groves of dead trees covered the dismal hill around it.