(Statement of Manuel Domecq Núñez de

Villavicencio on his death bed, to his son)

In August of the year of 1977, Pedro Domecq González Núñez de Villavicencio and Gordon, 2ndPerico circa 1942 Viscount of Almocadén had a heart attack. He was in San Francisco with his wife, Elizabeth Cook, and his granddaughter, Maria Fernanda Rodríguez Domecq who, at the time was 10. They had taken her to Disneyland in Los Angeles and then gone on to San Francisco. They had been out to dinner and, upon arriving back at the hotel room, Perico (as he was called) complained of indigestion. He took an Alka Seltzer, as was his custom in these circumstances, but the problem only got worse. Suddenly he gripped his chest, leaned against the wall and slid to the floor. Betty knew there was a problem. Probably, if they had been anywhere else but the U.S., he would have died, but an ambulance took only five minutes to arrive and in less than twenty he was in the hospital. Betty called her daughter.

When the phone rang, I was sitting in the bar (in our house) having a nightcap with my husband. I answered and heard the news: my father had had a serious heart attack, was in the hospital and the next day my mother was going to put my ten year old daughter on a plane to fly home alone. She gave me the arrival time so I could pick her up and promised to keep me informed of my father’s progress. All I remember was a hollow feeling inside. I loved my father; I think I have loved him more 1938-1 Cat Cay 1938 3 (2)
than any other person in my life. If nothing else –and there was plenty else- he showed me that it was possible to be happy in this life with very simple things and that was what kept me going every time I was ready to give up.

My father survived that incident, although it was a bad attack and he had to spend at least three weeks in the hospital and then another month at Burlingame Country Club in a small cottage they rented before the doctors would allow him to fly and return to the altitude of Mexico City.

He had survived, but he was never the same again. “I wish I had gone then” he used to say. I think he meant that the waiting for the next time was not much fun. He lost most of his interest in the things that had occupied him before: the1939-3 Gordon Claridge's Manor  England (5) bird watching, the translations, loading his shotgun shells, painting bird pictures. Life seemed to have turned into a waiting game, trying to guess, perhaps, when the next “sablazo” would hit. (Sablazo is a Spanish word for being struck by a saber with force and it is what my father used to call the blows life dealt one; he called his heart attack “un sablazo”.)

After three and a half years of waiting, Betty figured it was safe to travel and they went to New York to see their son, Michael and his family. Again, the phone call came at night.

“Your father’s in the hospital again. His lungs filled up with water and he was drowning. We rushed him there in a taxi because your brother had gone out to dinner. He almost died,” she said in what sounded like a tired voice.

“Did you consider letting him go?”

“Yes, but he said he was afraid, he wanted to live so I had to take him. The doctors say he will pull out okay, but he is going to have to take care or his lungs will fill up again.”

1949-1 Travels to Latin America07052014That was when my mother learned to cook without salt thanks to a wonderful cookbook that I ended up adopting just because the recipes were so tasty. After a while, my father didn’t miss the salt either, and he would continue having his glass of wine in the evenings and midday on weekends so the loss of salt was not a tragedy. He got well, he even took up some of his hobbies again and all seemed to be going along smoothly.

Then my mother decided that she had to go to San Francisco again, I guess because they had some money invested there, and she took my father along. In Spanish we say “la tercera es la vencida”, which means the third time is the one that wins, and, at least for my father, this turned out to be true.

It was the 25th of February 1982, and once again the call came at night. My mother’s tone sounded emotionless.

“He’s not going to make it,” she said, her voice heavy with fatigue; “I saw an x-ray of his  heart. Poor thing, it’s all limp and barely beating; it looked like a dying fish.”1960-8 Bodegas  (3)

“I’m on the next plane,” I told her and hung up.

My husband and I got tickets for a flight the following day and, once on board the plane, I remember thinking all the time of what I wanted to tell my father when I got there, all the things I thought he might be interested in, how the Conservation Association he belonged to was doing so well, and the projects that had been approved at the last council meeting for the following year. Then suddenly I knew, I knew from deep in my heart: There was nothing left to say. My father and I had said it all. In that instant I accepted that I did not need for him to stay alive, to wait for me, to continue living. I understood that I was ready for him to leave and realized how blessed I was that there was really nothing left to say to him. From somewhere in the air, I closed my eyes and said goodbye with all my heart. When we arrived at the hospital, I practically ran to the room. My mother was standing by his bedside gazing at him as if she were trying to recognize him.

1943-1 Florida trip21042014 (7)“He went 5 minutes ago,” she said looking up slowly from the blessed fog that deep change shrouds us in for a moment to protect us from the shock.

I noticed the strange waxen aspect of his face and, walking over to the bed, put my cheek next to his; he was still warm. “I’ll take care of her, so don’t worry” I whispered and gently kissed his cheek. Then my mother began to talk.

“It’s so strange. About three days ago his voice began sounding different; it wasn’t his and it came from somewhere else. I couldn’t recognize his voice, but he didn’t say much anyway. Only once, he said ‘I want to D-I-E’ in this strange voice, spelling out the word as if it were difficult for him to say it. And then today, I was just sitting here gazing out the window and he called to me.1955 - 3 Trip to Cuba (2)

“’Lay down the bed, I want to rest.’ You know, he had to be in a sitting position to be able to breathe due to the liquid in his lungs. I asked him if he was sure. We both knew that if I lay him down, it was the end. He said ‘yes’. So I cranked the bed down. And then I just held his hand. It wasn’t too bad, but it took about 10 minutes. After he was gone, I called the 1939-7 Perico visits Tony Ruggeron in Portugal15042014 (4)doctor. He asked if I wanted him to revive your father so he would still be here when you arrived. I said ‘no’.”

I walked around to the other side of the bed and embraced my mother. She seemed tiny and all bones in my arms. The admiration I felt for her in that moment was overwhelming; as far as I was concerned she was the bravest woman I had ever known. We sat together holding hands until they 1977 Perico19042014came to wheel my father’s body away. The following day we went for the ashes and flew back to Mexico carrying them in a plastic shopping bag. My father would have had a good laugh over that. No fuss.


I’ll become an honest woman yet! Believe me, it isn’t easy but today I made a giant step.  Those of you following this blog with any kind of continuity probably already know that I am given to stealing… corn. That may sound strange. There are people who steal money, who steal their taxes, who steal jewelry, who steal children… people can steal anything, ideas are stolen, wallets and identities are stolen, dreams and art are stolen. Anything that is and has an owner is up for bids and anyone that wants it, is a potential thief. Some people enjoy stolen goods more than something they had paid for with hard earned cash: it’s the thing and the thrill all rolled into one. So I steal corn. The corn is there, it belongs to someone else, I enter the field and steal it. I have done this ever since I began coming to Salies in the summers and since I have been living here, I have continued.3

The reason I steal corn (every thief that prides him or her self on being an honest-to-goodness filcher will have a “reason” for doing what they do which in their mind justifies the pilferage) is because there is nowhere around here that sells it, at least not fresh corn, in spite of the fact that this is Corn Country, in capital letters. There are plenty of little cans and medium cans and big cans of sweet corn in the supermarket, but I don’t eat canned corn just as some people don’t pay their taxes and others don’t do an honest day’s work because there is plenty of money around for the picking.

Around here, all I have to do is walk out of my building to run into a corn field; I can’t drive a kilometer on the road without passing three or four, ninety nine percent of which are planted with fodder corn. Fodder corn is the worst kind of corn imaginable. However, I have found that if it is picked very, very early, cooked somewhat longer than its tasty cousin (sweet corn) and slathered with butter, it can pass for a meager excuse of good old american brand sweet corn like what granma used to buy at the corner stall in the market. That is how much I like corn!

So ever since I began coming to Salies, and more so since I have lived here, I have been stealing corn. I very quickly learned how to tell the tenderest ears without husking them, and would never take more than two or three at a time (I’m a proven liar, too, because I count 5 ears in the basket). I also learned howOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA to know when a field would not yield any more edible ears. If you consider that I have been coming here since 2007 every summer and lived here since 2010, that adds up to quite a bounty of corn!

When I checked into internet to see what I could find about fields of sweet corn, I discovered that some people have turned this stealing corn into a business. In Bristol, Conn., for example, there was the following on the news last August 5th:  “A thief or thieves who knew what they were doing stole 20 row of corn right off the stalks at a Bristol farm over the weekend.”  It wasn`t me, scouts honor! Apart from the fact that I was nowhere near Bristol on that date because I was climbing up the Machu Picchu mountain in Peru, I doubt very much that I could have carried, hidden or consumed 20 rows of corn.

Anyway, to cut to the chase, two years ago I was driving to Navarrenx, which is about 35 minutes from Salies, for an appointment with my osteopath when I spotted a field of very green fresh-looking corn. It was the month of September and all the fields of corn were beige and dry with the cornsilk so black it looked as if it had been charbroiled already. The kernels 11themselves had lost any juice of which they could have once boasted, and wouldn’t have looked appetizing but to a cow or a pig. So a field of corn stalks that were upright, bright green and frankly inviting, was like a red flag. I quickly turned the car around (the field was on the other side of the highway) and pulled into an uneven dirt road that ran between a field of utterly dry, unappetizing corn and this miraculously tempting stuff. There were the ears, sticking right up as bright and perky as a puppy’s, and who was I to resist what I judged to be a late or perhaps second crop.  I picked a couple of ears and went on my way to the osteopath. That evening I husked the corn; the kernels were shiny and plump, much shinier and plumper than anything I had picked so far in Salies. I pinched one and tasted. It was sweet! Not really believing I had been that lucky, I pinched another one and popped it into my mouth: like honey!  I had discovered a field of sweet, tender corn! 2

That was the year of 2012 and all through the month of September, I ate magnificent corn. Then, one week when I drove back savoring on the way the corn I would have that night, I found the field harvested, there was nothing but shreds of corn stalks and a few crushed ears lying destitute on the earth. The bonanza was over; I accepted that I would have to wait another year, but I knew now where the field was and never again would I have to eat fodder corn no matter how young and tender.

In 2013, I anxiously awaited August when the young corn plants in MY field would begin to sprout, but nothing happened. Nothing but the disorderly ground cover was growing in the field. September rolled around and I had to admit that whoever was responsible for the field was not going to plant my good corn that year, so I went without.

Hope springs eternal, however, and this year I began watching again from July on. Towards the end of July, right before I went to Peru, I was rewarded with a sight that warmed my heart and made my mouth water: tiny sprouts of corn plants were beginning to break through the earth and open up to the sun. My corn!  I calculated: by the time I got back from my trip around mid August it would just be beginning to form substantial cobs, not ready for picking yet, but promising nonetheless.6

Sure enough, by September the corn was edible and I began harvesting my share. However, as I knew now that it was sweet corn, and I knew I would be wanting to take quite a bit, maybe even share with friends, I began thinking that I would like to find the owner and pay him or her and make a deal to be able to pick to my heart’s delight. I started watching for signs of someone tending the field. I wrote a note, placed it in an envelope and planned to leave it tied to a cornstalk, but the fact that I had put my phone number in it asking the owner to call me made me nervous, so I just carried it around in my car in case I ever found anyone. That way, at least, if I was caught stealing I could prove my intentions were good.

But September progressed and I ate corn at least twice a week and shared with friends, and no one showed up to beg permission from or pay for my harvest.

Today, October 1, it suddenly occurred to me after lunch, that the corn I had picked last week was very ripe and that the harvesting would probably happen soon and that I had better get my last batch in before this happened. As I drove, I prepared myself for the worst possible scenario: a field completely devastated and with not an ear of corn available, all gone -as I knew it probably did- to Green Giant for canning. Visions of an ear of corn dribbling butter passed through my frenzied mind as I 5drove as fast as possible, as if that would get me there in time.

Finally, I approached the field and my worst fears were semi-confirmed: they were in the process of harvesting the corn and had cut about half the field. I looked in dismay, but decided there was still corn for the picking. Turning around, I pulled into the usual dirt road. It was going to be difficult because the corn nearest the edges of the field had already been cut, so I would have to walk quite a distance to get to the stalks still standing. Plus anyone, from anywhere could see me (before it had been easy to hide amongst the tall corn stalks so that no one could see me while I hustled my load. As I 9pulled to a halt I observed at the far end of the field, quite distant from me, but visible, the harvesters and the trucks for loading the corn. It was obvious they would see me if I got out of the car and walked into the field, so I backed out onto the road again and went past the field looking for another access. There was one on the other side, not as wide or well formed but it was a path the car could get into; from there I would not be as easily seen. I was about to pull in and risk the walk across the field when suddenly I realized that here was my chance, the one I had waited for. Amongst the small group of men gathered at the foot of one of the loaded trucks, I would undoubtedly find the proprietor of the field and I could pay for my corn: I could become an honest woman. So, instead of pulling into the protected pathway, I drove back to the dirt road and turned in and drove all the way to the back of the field where the men were gathered. They were standing next to 10the truck loaded with corn and turned to watch as I approached. In my poor French, I asked who the owner was and the first man directed me to a nice looking young farmer who smiled as I picked my way over the clumps of plowed up field to where he was standing. By the time I got there I was laughing at myself: there I was, a 72 year old blond foreigner traipsing across a harvested field to tell this unknown man that I had been pinching his corn and would like to pay him for it. It was quite a laughable matter! But that is what I had come for and that is what I was determined to do.

First I asked if I could buy some of the corn that was on the truck, then I explained that I had found the field two years previously and had helped myself to some corn; that I was very disappointed the year before when there had been no corn (they were all smiling widely by then) and extremely happy that this year there had been some. When I finished speaking I couldn’t have felt sillier, but their eyes were kind and jolly. The owner proceeded to tell me that, today, the corn actually wasn’t his to sell anymore because it belonged to the taller gentleman at his side who was going to truck it to Green Giant (Geant Vert). I smiled and said that I had imagined as much as the corn was very good. Yes, he confirmed, it is special corn for Green Giant.

“But it is you I want to pay because it is your corn I have been pilfering all along.”  By this time, I felt we were good friends all of us, crazy about corn each for his own reason, and I was actually enjoying the meeting, their faces were so open and sweet, like the corn. The owner asked if I had a bag and I said “yes”, it was in the car. We began walking back together.

“Are you going to plant corn again next year” I questioned, as if now I too were part of this business of sweet corn and Green Giant and friendly farmers who were willing to listen to a crazy lady telling them she had been helping herself to their corn without blinking an eye or looking annoyed. He said he didn’t know, that he would decide around January or February.

“Oh” I said, taking out my cell phone; “Would you give me your name and phone number so I can call you and see if you are going to plant next year” (I didn’t add ‘so that I can come and steal some more’ because I didn’t think it would sound too good). He immediately gave me his name and phone number which I registered under the name of CORN.

When we got to his van, he pulled out a small plastic bag which I immediately qualified as too small. In my car, I had a sack I usually carry Salomé’s stuff in when she goes to her caretaker that I produced without a quiver (I wonder now if he thought20141001_183636 about how much corn I was going to pinch carrying a sack like that around). We went back to the truck, he climbed up and began filling the sack as I watched. Finally, when it looked as if I wouldn’t be able to carry it, I called out to stop. When he handed me the bag, I had been right: it weighed a ton! I put it down and asked how much I owed him for this corn and what I had snitched previously but, even before I asked, I knew deep down that he wasn’t going to let me pay, as turned out to be the case.

I said ‘thank you very much’, I said ‘I’ll call you in February’, I said ‘Thank you’ again. Mr. tall Green Giant picked up the heavy sack and said ‘I’ll take it to your car’. And I drove off with over 20 ears of corn.

So crime pays, but coming clean pays more, at least in corn, and today I am an honest woman who is calling all her friends to offer them corn on the cob, last batch for this year, honorably filched near Navarrenx with the help of its owners.


The next day, at our coffee gathering, I become very popular:  20141002_101125