The village of Torre del Compte is the reason that we live
in Spain. Our estranged daughter, Sheena, lived there for some years and became
the landlady of the local bar. We rediscovered her, came to visit, and fell in
love with La Fresneda – a nearby village - our village. Sheena found a house for
sale there and we bought it.
Sheena left, but we remained. It was partly in her memory
that we bought a huerto (smallholding) on the banks of the Matarranya River
looking out towards her village. This is where I do my stonework. Sheena used
to say that we were ‘stealing’ all her friends and it has turned out to be
true. Tonight we went to a performance of Shirley Valentine by Dolors her best
friend and we regularly dine out with her and husband Willy. On Wednesday next
Amador, the village mechanic, will call in for whisky and dinner: he too was a
close friend of Sheena’s.
The village of Torre del Compte has an aging population of
less than one hundred people including just one child of under fifteen years.
There is little reason to go there and many reasons to leave. I like the place,
particularly the church, and of course it has these associations with our
daughter and her sons. We spent a lovely fiesta night there a few years ago:
following a group of guitar playing minstrels through the streets, stopping at
friendly open houses for a drink, dancing in the plaza – cherished memories.
It still has a little-used bar - nowadays run by a pleasant
Rumanian lady who does not even live in the village. It also has a shop and little-used
swimming pool. The school closed years ago, probably as a result of my daughter
leaving with her three sons. The streets are currently lit for two weeks at a
time, on rotation, to save money. Spain, as you know, is in financial crisis –
not a day goes by without at least one mention of ‘La Crisis’ in the news.
So why, oh why, is Torre de Compte getting a new access road?
Nobody knows. A mammoth crane with a gigantic jackhammer has been cracking away
at some solid limestone cliffs for all the time that I have been here this
year. Slowly, very slowly, it is cutting off the sharp corners which gave the
old road character and never, to my knowledge, led to death or injury. Slowly
the stone is carried by a small fleet of lorries to fill the gaps between the
old curves, gradually creating a straightened, widened road leading to the
dangerous corner which provides, and will continue to provide, the narrow
entrance into the village itself.
The road to nowhere will not create jobs, attract tourists,
or stimulate the economy of the village in any way. In China we saw many new
roads being built apparently to nowhere, but nowhere rapidly became somewhere
as apartment blocks, shops, schools and industrial buildings followed the
roads. Here, in a declining rather than booming economy, that is not going to
Of course, there is a short-term effect. The road workers
spend their pay in the bar and the shop, local people hopefully get some temporary
work, the crane and jackhammer are kept busy.
In the long term I will benefit. Here in Spain non-degradable
rubbish can be taken to the local village dump and discarded. Every month or so
a digger is employed to push the stuff over the hillside where it adorns the steep
slopes. Here there are dump-combers: cheapskates like myself and other incomers
call around to see if anything jettisoned is worth reclaiming. Just last week I
lassoed a good strong door and pulled it back up the slope from the Torre del
Compte dump and it now acts as an excellent platform from which I do my
stonework. The village has my favourite dump and soon, when the road to nowhere
is complete, I will be able to shave at least half a minute off my journey to