Freshly picked olives stain your fingertips magenta, and I was so like a child picking one and crushing it and smelling but not tasting it. I was warned that it would be bitter, but I’d been told that about the oranges on the trees that line the streets of Seville and I ate one anyway and I enjoyed it.
That was in Granada, on an arid mountainside above cave-homes occupied by Gypsies and hippies and their untamed dogs. My hangover had faded to a dull murmur and we were zig-zagging up the mountain past an old olive orchard in a valley. It dawned on me that I’d only ever fished olives out of jars and nibbled them off of toothpicks after martinis and more recently, eaten them out of little dishes alongside wine, feeling rude about spitting out half-masticated pits.
I wanted an excuse to stop and breathe and turn around and look at the rocky valley we’d climbed up from and when I turned around to see where we’d come from, I saw the olives. I stepped off the path carefully, because it descended steeply down a gravelly embankment. I pulled the olive branch towards me and plucked it off and my first impulse was to squeeze it between my thumb and forefinger. It bled such a beautiful hue and I imagined Andalucian women centuries ago staining their lips and linens with it.
We got to the top of the mountain, where there was a radio tower, a sofa without cushions, a scattering of broken tiles, and the snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountains sawing into the clouds in the distance. We kept walking along a road and when we found a military base, we realized we had gone the wrong way; we were supposed to end up at the ruins of a church but we were being barked at by bloodthirsty German Shepherds and we saw boots pacing under the gate to the compound. The guards told how to get back to the trail but we took a shortcut and scaled down a rocky hillside.
Halfway down we found a tree that had a white linen cloth attached with barbed wire to a branch. The cloth was a single piece of fabric but it had white thread cross-stitched through the middle and a picture of a woman stapled to it. It was stapled violently; heavy-duty staples criss-crossed at the top two corners. She was pictured on a white background in the style of a passport photo, but there was something deeply solemn and haunting in her expressionless face. There were no flowers or crosses or remembrances or connotations of death and love. It was clinical in it’s simplicity and deeply unsettling.
We got down the mountain and wandered again through tiny cobbled streets between tiny whitewashed buildings.