Hilary and I have been living in our house, Casa Campestre, for nearly two months now, and we’re slowly beginning to understand who’s connected to whom. And I continue to be surprised by just how many family ties there are in our neighbourhood. Family connections tend to be strong and deep, with big family get-togethers on national holidays and feast days.
There are also big family gatherings for weddings, funerals, christenings, first communions and birthdays. We were recently invited to a neighbour’s birthday party and we went there with some trepidation. Because even though Hilary is pretty fluent in Spanish, I am not (yet!) and in a party environment with lots of noise and people talking with an Andalusian accent, we were worried that we would feel uncomfortable and left out. This couldn’t have been further from the truth!
On arrival, we were greeted warmly (and kissed by everyone …), drinks were passed round, everyone made a big effort to talk more slowly, more clearly, and with a real desire to communicate with us. Even though they were all family and knew each other well. It felt great, and with the wine flowing and the outstanding food (the jamon was the best ever from pigs fed on acorns), we had a fabulous time. After five hours we staggered home, exhausted, but with a warm glow of having been part of a lovely family celebration.
In talking with our neighbours, we’ve discovered that many of them (perhaps all?!?) are related to each other. Hilary has tried to put together a family tree based on the stories we’ve heard. Not sure if it’s complete yet, because every time we talk to different people, we hear of more family connections.
We’ve also realised that our cortijo is one of four very similar ones, all built at the same time, for 4 siblings. We were invited into one of these mirror images of our house, and noticed that even though it’s the same on the outside, the inside was entirely different. It had many small rooms, a tiny kitchen, a grain store in the loft and stables where in our house we have guest rooms. We’ve also discovered that many of our neighbours have memories of working or playing in our cortijo when they were young. Interesting, and it gives us a sense of belonging and connection with our place.
Changes in el campo
As is the case in many countries in Europe, Spain suffers from de-population in el campo. There simply aren’t the jobs, and there’s a big move from the country to the city. This is a major concern for local communities, and I’ve heard of entire villages being put up for sale at knock-down prices, and one day houses may even be given away to ensure the long-term viability of the countryside, as has just happened in Italy.
In el campo there certainly are a lot of interesting and inexpensive properties for sale, but also a lot of houses in a poor state of repair. This may be because homes in the country are often inherited by a group of relatives, who prefer to keep the house in the family rather than sell it. Sometimes for nostalgic and emotional reasons, sometimes because they simply can’t agree on the sales process.
The story goes that in one case a house was owned by 24 relatives who could not agree on anything and consequently it took more than 5 years and professional mediation to get the paperwork sorted and the house sold. Thankfully, this is an exception – most house sales go through within 2 – 3 months.
All Saints and All Souls
Another indication of the enormous importance of family are All Saints and All Souls Day (El Dia de Todos los Santos and El Dia de los Difuntos), remembering those who’ve passed away. Celebrated on 1st and 2nd November, these are national public holidays in Spain when people return to their home town to lay flowers on the graves of deceased relatives. Most shops will sell flowers, in particular red and white ones.
On All Souls Day, our local cemetery was teeming with people carrying enormous bouquets of flowers, standing by the graves, lighting candles, and chatting – lots of chatting – about days gone by. They do this type of commemoration so well here in Spain, with feeling but without sentimentality, involving both young and old. And for the not so young, there’s a lift to take you down to the lower end of the cemetery – what great service!
To round off El Dia de los Difuntos, Hilary and I decided to watch the film ‘Coco’ – a Mexican animated film all about remembering the dead: great music, great story, great humour. And we watched it in Spanish, so maybe I am getting somewhere with this language …