Monday, 21 March 2011

Mwah mwah, Muammar

On the principle of trying to find something good to say about people, however desperate their villainy, I want to extend a big thank-you to Col. Ghaddafi.

And, to be fair, to King Idris, Mussolini, Giolitti, the Karamanlis dynasty, Haroun el Rashid, Unkh-el Tomh Qhob'leh and everyone else who at some stage or other has ruled Libya, for their very great personal kindness. In their time they must have given me several tons of the sacred soil of Libya, and their generosity knows no end.

Delivery arrangements are haphazard but effective. It works like this. Vast dust storms blow up in the Fezzan. Zillions of minute particles are swept up into the atmosphere, borne wherever the wind blows them. Mostly humid incoming weather systems coming in from the Atlantic gather some of them up, swirl them about and deposit them in raindrops.

Local winds have all got names, Mistral, Tramontane, Autan, Grec, Albigeois. And the Marin. The Marin, warm and wet, starts in North Africa and blows northwards off the Mediterranean, laden with ochre-coloured particles that J. and I call Sahara Dust. It unloads its rain on the first land obstacles it comes to, especially the hills where we live. Sahara dust gets everywhere, into the minutest cracks and crevices, discolouring everything it lands on.

Almost all of it lands on the ground, as it has been doing for millions of years. The ground round here is very stony, shards and lumps of slates, schists and marble, tortured and twisted from the original limestone by immense geological pressures. All these bits are bound together in a sort of natural concrete by a very fine-grained ochre-coloured clay, the result of aeons'-worth of Marin winds bearing their tribute of Libyan dust. It sets pick-axe hard when dry, has no other virtue and only the coarsest weeds will grow in it.

Drystone wall-building occupies a lot of my time at the moment. Drystone ramparts might be a better description. Just now I'm trying to catch up on the lower rampart with the steps in the photo below, which has advanced quite a lot since the photo was taken. I pride myself on jig-sawing the stones together and never using cement. I don't need to: the invisible bits of stones are all set in solid Sahara dust clay. It's not cheating, is it?

So I'm obliged to you, Col. Ghaddafi. Thanks to you my walls are a lot less tottery than your régime appears to be.


Dave said...

My dream house will, of course, have to have sloping gardens (so the house is set higher than the lake) and will thus require terracing. I must remember to include lots of natural stone in the list.

Vicus Scurra said...

My garden is currently suffering from a slightly unpleasant odour as the result of a local farmer spreading what is politely referred to as "manure" onto his fields.
Of course, this is where the similarity in our situation ends, as the atmosphere has no effect upon, for example, my writing.

Christopher said...

If you're looking for an artisan drystone waller or terraceman, Dave, I'd be happy to quote for you from my extensive fund of quotations, but I'm afraid I couldn't start before 2030.

Vicus, doesn't the spirit of Jane Austen hover in your part of the world? Are you sure that what you're smelling is 'manure'?

Z said...

Wasn't long ago that they still spread the contents of the honeycart on fields around here. Known in polite circles as hoomanure.

I'm terribly impressed by the ramparts. Beautiful.

english inukshuk said...

I was going to quibble that the sands belong to no man but then I was distracted by your beautiful handywork


Vicus Scurra said...

Are you suggesting that Ms Austen was flatulent? It is some time since I read her works, but I don't recall any fart jokes.

Christopher said...

Z 'n' IE: Thank you. But it's an immense labour which will stretch out of the picture and beyond. It will see me out...

Vicus: You aren't becoming a little hard of hearing, are you?

Spadoman said...

That's some fine handywork Christopher. Here in the states, you could be making a small fortune doing retaining walls, steps, garden patios and the like. I make a fine wooden Adirondack chair and those Mexican benches to compliment. We'd have quite the business, provided, of course, we could stay sober all day and actually work. I haven't worked for wages in quite a while, so I might not be the right guy for the job.
Now, to figure out how to get the dust here in the states, Oh, that's right, the returning soldiers will have plenty on their boots before it's through I'd imagine.

Peace, my friend, whatever is left of it.

Christopher said...

You're a hard taskmaster, Spadoman. I don't think I could match up to your conditions. I mean, staying sober all day is one thing, but actually doing some work is another. I can only hope folk will hire us for our entertainment value, or maybe as part of some tax avoidance scheme. Otherwise I think we're euchred.

Anonymous said...

To be showered with windswept ochre 'courtesy of Libya' is certainly preferable to a festooning of cadmium and other 'phosphorescent coloured minerals' NATO is presently offloading over Tripoli.