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 happen.
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 it.