Gilipollo on the Back Steps

The name of the rooster is Gilipollo (pronounced hilly poyo). It’s a play on words, really. Gilipollas is a derogatory term in Spanish, meaning in the most polite translation, pompous ass. Pollo, of course, means a male chicken. So Gilipollo is a pompous chicken, you might say, as roosters are wont to be.

He has grown to be quite a big fellow, and when he runs ahead of me down the path behind the house, he makes a thumping noise. He has a way of growling which I have never heard in a chicken, and he seems to have a sort of speech impediment; it’s never cock-a-doodle-do, nor even the Spanish equivalent, ki-ki-ri-ki-ki. He makes the most mournful sound, often in the middle of the night from his roost in the orange tree – maybe having been disturbed by some animal in the night – and more normally at dawn, as well as many odd times during the day, especially if one of the other roosters in the valley decides to crow about something. He says something like kuruku – could he be of oriental heritage?

Patrick and Remedios

We bought him at the Sunday market in Santa Maria. Remedios for some unknown reason had decided she wanted chickens, so there we were jostling among the throngs who were buying vegetables, skinned rabbits, olives in brine from the Mallorcan farmers, sunglasses from Africans, and at the far end, pigeons, canaries, and finally, one guy just packing up his chickens. Remedios wanted a hen, but as it happened in this day there were only speckled roosters, small, about the size of a hand. There were perhaps a dozen in the cage, and to me they all looked pretty much the same – nervous, suspicious red eye looking at you sideways, all of them retreating to the far corner – but she pointed to one with a slightly more gypsy color to his feathers, and next thing I knew it was in a box and in the back of the car.

At this stage he was making only the cheepcheep of chicks, which would definitely attract the falcons or chicken hawks that hunted mice and even rabbits in our valley. So the afternoon was spent improvising a pen to protect him and keep him from running away. Sometimes I wish he had escaped, before I had my accident, but no such corrections are allowed in real life.

Soon afterwards Remedios had to go to Sevilla on family business. In the meantime I was going to buy chicken wire fence posts, etc. to make a proper chicken run on the upper terrace, between the avocado trees and the mandarin orange.

One of my neighbors, Juan Deya, also keeps chickens, and when he mentioned he would be going to Santa Maria himself the following week, I told him we still wanted a hen. He bought a red hen, the beak already snipped to keep her from pecking her mates. She’s due to start laying soon, he told me, and I gave him the six euros he said he had paid for her. He reached into the wire dungeon where he kept a least a dozen birds and pulled mine out. At least, he said it was one he had bought that day, but now I suspect it was one he had exploited already, maybe she was nearing the end of her production?

Gilipollo and Hens

When Remedios returned, that is what she concluded immediately, questioning once again my competence in decision making. We agreed to return to Santa Maria ourselves when the chicken pen was finished, and she could choose her own. In the meantime, little Gilipollo stuck to the hen like glue, the two of them roaming free during the day to peck at seeds and insects in the garden. For Remedios, that was the whole point. She had recently discovered several small scorpions in front of her apartment, and hoped that chickens would dispense with others, if they existed, as well as snap up the snails and other enemies of tender plants in the garden. At night we locked them into the minuscule cage outside the kitchen.

My only previous experience with chickens was back in the East End of Oak Hill. Our neighbors, Bill and Lorena Rhodes on the one side, and Bill’s parents Lee and Carlee on the other side each had chickens. All our kitchen scraps we kept in a lard bucket and once a day one of of us, usually me as I was taller, would toss the scraps over the fence were it bordered our back yard. The chicken wire must have been at least seven feet high, to keep the birds from escaping. Some people clipped their wings, but that was awfully cruel, it seemed to me, and in any case Bill and Lorena didn’t do that.

When Remedios started to build the pen – she wanted to do it on her own – I discretely kept my distance at first. In the meantime, Chingo’s dog had chased our fowls over to the terrace of one of our neighbors, giving a little more urgency to getting the enclosure done. Gilipollo came back on his own, but the hen stayed away, foraging on the neighbor’s terrace. This neighbor was not often in town, living in another village. Only when he visited friends in Deya and stayed too late would he sleep here. He is a bad humored young man, and Remedios had no doubt that if he discovered our chicken making a mess on his doorstep he would wring its neck.

So on that fateful day, I took wire-cutters, a hatchet for driving pegs into the ground, and the chicken wire from the now dismantled temporary cage up to the top terrace. Gilipollo was strutting about inside the half finished cage. When I walked inside to inspect the progress, he flapped his wings twice and was out of there, right over the top of the wire. It was obvious we were going to have either cover the whole thing, making it awkward for us to walk inside – it was only about four feet high – or buy more chicken wire and put taller posts in the ground. Remedios didn’t agree with that and wanted to try it out as it was, but with one corner of the pen boxed top and bottom.

I needed to wire the top piece to the back where it touched the stone wall. The wall is only about three feet high, but to climb up was awkward, so I pulled a metal lawn chair up close and, tools in hand stepped up. The legs of the chair dug into the earth and toppled, and to catch myself I thrust out my right foot and landed on the heelbone with all my weight.

Terrace Steps

Now, to get to my house from this terrace, under the best of circumstances, is a challenge. There are two alternatives. You can sidle down the narrow stone steps built into the retaining walls from the avocado terrace, then walk across the next terrace with the orange trees and down another dozen or so stone steps to the cobblestones that lead to the entrance to my house; once in the house, you must climb a flight of steps to the living room.

Or you can cross under the avocados, climb a rickety set of metal steps to a stone irrigation channel. Stepping into the channel you step up again onto the intervening terrace belonging to my eighty-year old neighbor. The next ten yards are full of obstacles. One of the retaining walls from above her land has fallen down and the stones lie in a heap nearly blocking the narrow path across her property. She has given me permission to use the path, but Francisca, that’s her name, suffers from severe curvature of the spine, and is so doubled over she easily passes under the branches of her apple tree, the orange trees whose low hanging limbs she has propped up with forked poles, and most annoying, the pomegranate. The prickly pomegranate leans over the tricky moss-covered steps leading down from her land to yet more steps, leading to the left down the two terraces and onto the other end of the cobbled path at the entrance to my house; and to the right up onto my own land, behind the living room and the kitchen. I know it’s confusing, but the lay of the land here is that. Even drawing a picture is difficult.

Suffice it to say that no matter how you look at it, as I said, it was going to be a challenge. There was no way to stand, even with the makeshift crutch which Remedios brought. There was nothing for it but to sit down and scoot backwards up the iron steps, then crawl on my left side to the pile of fallen stones, on hands and knees to the pomegranate, sitting down again for the steps. I would estimate thirty minutes from the snap of the heel bone to the moment I fetched myself up on the sofa. It was after lunch, but not yet dark, as I recall. Yet it was nearly midnight before the ambulance showed up.

It so happened that an old friend had arrived up unannounced, Vera is her name, and was looking on as Remedios called Urgencias in the Palma Clinic. There was some difficulty there because the dispatch service was not sure my insurance would cover their picking me up. The insurance company thought that Social Services should pay for it, but Social Services, when they found out I was not a Spanish citizen on Social Security, insisted that it should be paid for my the insurance company. To complicate it even further, Remedios had called an emergency number earlier, and there was already an ambulance on the way from Soller. But if they were to take me to Soller, where they only have a first aid station, then eventually we would be back where we started – arguing with the insurance company.

Vera seem quite impressed with the tenacity that Remedios exhibited. Of course I had suggested that if I could get down to the parking lot, maybe Vera could drive me to Palma. Remedios does not have a license. Vera insisted that if anything was broken, the swelling would be more.

To make a long story short, eventually two guys showed up with a wheelchair to take me down the steps from the living room, through the back room, down the cobbles to the front of the house and more steps to get to the parking lot. The ambulance was not there. They had parked it two hundred yards away, afraid they could not negotiate the unpaved road to my place. They had a devil of a time dragging the wheelchair over the stones and potholes, but eventually they put me on a gurney and stuffed me into the vehicle, the guy at my feet shoving his chest against my broken foot, where else? If they hadn’t already strapped me to the gurney, he might have lost a couple of teeth.

And so began two months of plaster casts, then two more months of rehab, which meant driving to Palma five days a week. First walking on crutches, and then about the time JP came in November, with a cane.

Building a Chicken Coop

Shortly after JP arrived, Remedios had to take off for Seville for family stuff, and no doubt to get away from the grouch with the crutch. The chicken pen was still not finished. The errant hen had not returned, but she had been seen, as we suspected, hanging out next door. While Reme was gone, JP and I made a few improvements to the work in progress, which by now was looking like a makeshift gypsy construction. When Remedios returned, all that was lacking was a door to close them in. She finished things up, but saw no reason to lock them away just yet.

In fact the flock had grown while she was away. I had been throwing corn out the back door of the living room plus whatever kitchen scraps I hoarded from my cooking. Three bantam roosters and a bantam hen that belonged to Chingo – you remember it was his dog he chased off our red hen – had joined the party. When she complained to Chingo, he said those guys were going to end up in a pot, but made no effort to take them back. In fact they were absolutely wild, and no way could Remedios catch them.

Chicken Coop

That’s when she began a cat and mouse game with them. She began designing traps to catch the intruders. She tried attracting them with corn under nets hanging from the apricot tree, with a long cord that reached into the living room. She stood there ready to yank the cord and capture them one by one or hopefully in a group. But after they got away from the net the first time, flapping and squawking, making a godawful racket, they would never venture beneath it again. Then she tried a net on the ground, hoping they would walk onto it and she could snatch them up. No way.

She waited a few days and cleared away all the evidence of the traps until they once more joined Gilipollo at feeding time. Next she propped up a heavy metal bin used for mixing cement with a bamboo rod. Almost! The creature got out by the skin of its teeth, if you can say that about a chicken. It was so close that the red comb of flesh on its head was torn and bleeding.

Remedios felt a little guilty, but the same determination that got me the ambulance showed itself again. She set the trap up once more, and while the previous victim wouldn’t come anywhere near it, the other bantam rooster did. She yanked the rod, the cement bin dropped and she rushed outside to extract her prey.

Alas, the apparatus had broken its neck, and she came into the room with the animal hanging limp from her hands. She was desolate, not wanting to assassinate him, as she told me in Spanish, only to get him out of our life. There was no chance of plucking this dwarf of its feathers and shoving it into a pot. Finally she walked down toward the sea and tossed the creature into the ravine where the ravens or hawks would have a feast.

The other bantams disappeared after a while, I believe because now that Gilipollo was fully grown he towered above them like a monster. His head came nearly to my waist, this guy, it was unbelievable. And if there was a bantam nearby he established the pecking order immediately. The bantam hen was the last to go, but we believe she was stoned by kids down on the path to the beach.

So now finally, Remedios was ready to fetch her red hen and set our little family up in housekeeping. But it was too late.  On the path between my house and the neighbor, there is a patch of brambles, and tangled among them was the red hen, a great hole in her side, her entrails hanging out. Maybe Chingo’s dog was responsible, but somebody must have flung the hen onto the brambles, and the hole in the side could just as easily been a kick. And wouldn’t the dog have at least eaten the guts?

At this point comes what might be construed as a happy ending. There appeared on the scene another hen, black and white, who made herself quite at home. She and Gilipollo are the best of buddies and I think he has taken advantage of her. Here Remedios and I disagree as to the manner of

Gilipollo and Zebra

reproduction amongst chickens, but anybody can look it up on the Web and see that while she maybe right that roosters have no penis – have you ever seen one in the butcher shop? she says – nevertheless they do something, and the proof is in the egg.

Remedios says the hens are born with a row of tiny eggs the size of pearls, and as they mature, they drop them one by one. That may be, and she insists she has seen this as a cook disemboweling chickens on the farm in Andalucia; but I read that the rooster deposits his semen and she can keep it and fertilize each egg as it is produced. If that sounds like a fairy tale, it may well be, but there are stranger things in this world than that – for instance, syzygy among snails.

Maybe I mentioned that every day Zebra, as I call her, sets under the rosemary bush outside my kitchen and lays an egg, conveniently around breakfast time. For the first month, the eggs were pristine, yolk and white without a blemish.

But since I saw Gilipollo and Zebra stretched out side by side in the garden under the lavendar bushes – how romantic, I thought – every egg is fertilized. What I don’t understand is why she doesn’t gather up her instinct and try to make them hatch. She just lays them and walks away, her cackling, him crowing.


From JP: I found several versions of this story. This one is the one called gilipollo_revised.pdf, but it’s file date is earlier than the one called gilipollo.pdf, and much earlier than another called gilipollow.pdf. Go figure….. I decided to use the latest version, from a file called gilipollo_revised.odt.