Al Mond

Although it sounds like a new Islamic movement, Al Mond is actually a nut which was brought to Iberia by the Phoenicians, and the name is of Greek origin: Amygdalus, which confusingly means tonsils in Portuguese. Back in the day, it was normal for kids with a tendency to have earache to get their tonsils removed. The miracles of modern medicine seem to have dealt with that, although I’m not quite sure exactly how.

Apparently I had quite gigantic tonsils, which were gleefully excised when I was around eight years old. Along with the tonsils, an obscure nasal appendage named an adenoid, of which we have two, was customarily sliced off as bycatch. I don’t think I’ll make medical history by saying that at the time there was a vague theory that since the role of these bits was unclear, they could just be lobbed off for good measure.

Like starfish arms, adenoids regenerate. Mine were removed twice, and the second time round I didn’t get enough nice drugs, so I woke up towards the end of the procedure. I have vague memories of ketchup. I haven’t checked since, and it’s been a few decades, so I probably have a juicy pair lurking somewhere. On balance, my suggestion is don’t cut it off, even if you don’t know what it’s for. You might get lucky.

Almond blossoms in Tavira, deep in Moorish Iberia

In Al Andaluz, Moorish Iberia, the word mandorla was adapted by the Arabs to almendra, or almond. The trees blossom in January, and the Algarve, the west (Al Gharb) of Al Andaluz becomes a white sea. The caliphs had a penchant for the blonde beauties of northern Europe, and the legend goes that one of these, of Scandinavian origin, pined (sorry) for the snowy landscapes of her home. Her Arab prince delighted her one winter with a white landscape of almond blossoms, and l suspect he found a way to her heart.

Snow in January - Al Gharb style

Spain produces about sixty thousand tons of almonds a year, and the US does ten times that, it’s the world’s top producer – I had no idea. In the Algarve it’s used to make all kinds of pastries, desserts, and cakes, and of course alcohol. The locals drink shots of bitter almond liquor, which can’t do you much good! Apart from the fact that it’s seventy proof, bitter almonds have a compound that reacts with saliva to release cyanohydrin, and what you get in the end is HCN.

Just plain old hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen, but together, H-C-N are known as Prussic acid, or more commonly as hydrogen cyanide – the compound used to gas those condemned to capital punishment in California, made famous by the infamous death row of San Quentin prison. When I was a little older than my second set of adenoids I read a Portuguese translation of a book called “2455 Death Row”, written by an inmate called Caryl Chessman. I remember reading about the gas chamber and the smell of bitter almonds, and the book was horrific. My parents imposed no censorship of any kind, literary or otherwise, and I read a number of books that were wholly unsuitable for a young boy. In fact, I devoured them.

About five years ago I bought the original, to see whether many years on and in its native language the book was as hideous as I remembered it.

It was.

And just now, when researching this post, I found out that Dominique Lapierre wrote a book about Chessman called “A Thousand Suns”. The Frenchman was then an impressionable young foreign journalist in California. Pretty much at the same time as I was learning about the red light bandit and American sociopaths, I read an offering by Monsieur Lapierre, and another colleague, Larry Collins, entitled “Oh Jerusalen”. If you want to see Israel in perspective, learn about the convergence of terrorism and nationalism, and understand just how much trouble British imperial policy-making caused in the XXth century, from Kurdistan to Iraq, Afghanistan to India, and Palestine to Egypt, read this.

GP(X) marks the spot. Waiting for a tow from the navy outside Faro harbor. The image shows just how smart phones are these days

Yesterday we were wandering round the Ria Formosa, a beautiful barrier island system in the eastern Algarve, looking at clams and oysters, and other wonderful things. There’s a wind from Spain called the Levante, and as the Perfect Prince observes in The India Road, from Spain neither a good wind nor a good marriage.

De Espanha, nem bom vento nem bom casamento

The 225 HP outboard had a mishap, and the hydraulic steering line lost all its oil. With the levant wind gusting strong, the little star, the estrelinha da sorte, was on our side.

It only happened when we were coming back in to dock. Otherwise I might be halfway to Morocco by now.


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