A strange transformation takes place when you live in a small Spanish village for some time. When we first came here we were both appalled and amused by the nosiness of the locals: they stared at us so openly, they peered through the windscreen as we passed by, they walked so slowly past our open garage door that time seemed to stand still, they asked us highly personal questions. Now we behave similarly.
Twelve years ago we were the newcomers, the first English people to live in the village of La Fresneda. We were exotic plants imported from foreign shores. Now we are part of the flora and hence of little interest. “Los ingles son aqui tambien,” they might say: The English are here again.
We once felt like outsiders. Now we view the people who have family homes here and travel down from Barcelona for the main fiesta in August and other holiday weeks as intruders - even though they have ancient roots in the village. We stay for months, they for weeks.
There are three houses undergoing renovation in the village at present (there are still a number of houses that are wrecks, supported only by their better preserved neighbours in the terraces that characterise old Spanish villages) and we study them avidly. What is happening? Is it simply a repair or complete renovation, who owns it, who is doing the job? The answer to the last question is usually simple: the workmen are Rumanian immigrants and the builder is Senor Enfadafo. His real name is Boris and he is the angriest man in the village and gets all of the contracts, but is still angry. He treats his workers like mierda and they love him because he provides work.
Today Margaret witnessed the kept woman who lives near us buying cheap boxes of wine. According to Louisa, the owner of the least gossipy of our two shops, the kept woman buys two or three litre boxes of gutrot wine each day. Margaret tells me that she (the kept woman) smells strongly of tobacco and our Swiss neighbour tells us that she is pregnant with twins! The father is the brother of the local bruja (witch) who used to run the bar in the plaza and bewitched the carpenter so that he moved in with her leaving his wife (Louisa of the shop) distraught – the shop was closed for weeks. What’s more the keeper of the kept woman has been in prison and recently threatened a neighbour with a long carving knife over a parking dispute! Crikey, who needs a TV that broadcasts soaps that we cannot understand?
Some years ago a man was taken ill in the bar and the ambulance was called. When it arrived the ambulance men had great difficulty getting out of the bar with the stretchered patient due to the villagers crowding the exit. We were not amongst them, but if the same thing happened now…
I peer into the trailers of cars and tractors as they pass below my little building site. What are they carrying? Olives, firewood, almonds, furniture, stolen cement mixers, stones… It is all so interesting. I watch the ants carry the crumbs from my packed lunch as I sit in the sun. Where are they going, do they gossip, why do the prefer cake to bread, how much can they carry?
We have lost our intellects and are now led by our noses. We are curious about things that seem trivial in frosty Stow-on-the-Wold and more so in cloudy Oxford . What is happening? Is this the first stage of dementia or a new awakening?
Anyway, after much Internet based research into where we should spend Christmas (ranging from Casablanca, Madeira, Cadiz and San Sebastian) we have decided to stay in our village of La Fresneda. We just have to find out what goes on here during the festive season. The lights went on yesterday!