More about those ancient regions of the brain where pleasure resides


In January I spent a week driving through Upper Alentejo – a rich, agricultural province of Portugal, dominated by the dehesa landscape.  Dehesa (in Spanish), or Montado (in Portuguese), is a multifunctional agro-sylvo-pastoral system typical of southern Spain and Portugal.  It is a five thousand (or more) years-old system of land management which combines tree cultivation (olives, oak, and cork), herding (sheep, cows, and black pigs), and hunting (it leaves enough tall grass and mid-sized bushes for quail, hare, and the occasional wild pig — which last sometimes manages to enrich the herded black pig stock, too) to thrive all side by side, all on the same land.  In January, it is green with winter rains and bursting forth with wildly blooming fruit trees.  Cows, horses, black pigs, sheep and goats roam the landscape, mooing, lowing, bleating, and ringing their bells.  Hare skip between bushes, quail and pheasant shoot up startled from tall grass, hawks circle above and literally thousands of mating storks stalk in tall grass, performing their mating dance.

I cannot begin to describe the intense — no, the overpowering — at times I felt myself faint in the knees with contentment — sensation of pure, unadulterated, thick pleasure which looking at this land gave me.  I have never seen this landscape.  Except for childhood summer holidays, I have never seen farmland, and I have certainly never looked at it with any degree of farming interest.  But here I was responding to it like my genes had determined I would:  like all East Europeans, I carry seven thousand years — 210 generations, or more — of agriculture in my genetic make-up.  Looking at a piece of land and realizing unconsciously, unawares by the signs that every farmer reads unconsciously and unawares: this is rich, fat land, it is teeming with four-legged food which will breed, it has the right sun exposure and the right amount of rainfall and subcutaneous water it needs to yield abundant crop; I was… in heaven.

And, predisposed as I am, to seek immediate gratification… I have closed the Lisbon operation am moving there, to the dehesa, as soon as my feet will carry me —  next Monday.


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