Village life

May 09, 2016

If you happened to follow this blog during my time in France last summer, you'd have perhaps seen that towards the end of August I was almost hallucinating the lights of a city; desperate for the mess of a municipality. Being the brat that I am, I've changed my tune. Now, I'm not saying that Ourense is a city so busy that I can't catch my breath, but sometimes, just escaping from the continuity of a metropole to a seclusive sanctuary in the absolute middle of nowhere is just what one needs, and this week-end just happened to be one of those times. Step in my fabulous mentor and friend, Manuela who so kindly took me for a visit to her village, Congostro.

I can't say for certain whether it's just a Galician thing, but a very curious thing happens in this region of Spain, whereupon the majority of city-goers also have houses in rural villages nestled away in the provinces. Manuela, for example, lives and works in Ourense from Monday-Friday but spends the weekend with her family in Congostro, a 45-minute drive from the city. Much like a holiday home, the Galicians certainly are lucky people. "Why don't they just live in the villages full-time?" I hear you ask. Unfortunately, there are little to no career prospects when living in a village; in Congrostro, there isn't even a corner shop, the only bar-come-café closed down recently- you get the idea. I can't really think of a British comparison, because most villages are indeed equipped with the basic starter kit of a post office, corner shop, tea room etc. In Congostro, a measly 50 inhabitants can be seen roaming the cobbled passages during the week, a number which multiplies by around four over the weekend.

Being the foreigner (both to the village and the country) I was worried people wouldn't want to talk to the infiltrator. However, things were quite the opposite- people were so excited to talk to me (albeit in Gallegan) and incredibly welcoming. Gallegan is a good mix between Spanish, Portuguese, French and Latin, and having studied at least a bit all of those language, I can almost get by in written Gallego. Speaking on the other hand- well, my tip is to laugh when they laugh and nod from time to time.

One thing I couldn't quite believe was how well people looked; I'm not certain that I've ever met anybody over 90 before, but my day in the village would change that, where a good 50% of the village were nearing 100. There must be something in the water, because none of them looked a day over 75. Manuela's Dad, at the ripe age of 93, not only looks fantastic but also still maintains an allotment and chops masses of fire wood every day. Give me what he's drinking!

Walking around the village was like taking a step back in time. As soon as we arrived, we went to straight to mass in the tiny yet beautiful church. Not attending mass, Manoli told me, would be considered rude as meeting for church each week is also a social gathering for the community. I found the relations between people bizarre yet endearing; you know when you go to a family 50th birthday party and you just know everybody and have that big old catch-up? It was like that. But I suppose they have that whole chin wag most weeks, and they’re not family. My stretch around the commune saw me witness the school (which no longer functions as a school, due to a paucity of students), a plethora of hórreos- elevated granaries typical of Galicia- and a few stray chickens. And for the most part, that was it.

Manoli’s Mum had very kindly prepared dinner for us and it was nothing short of delicious. I wish I had a better adjective than delicious, because it was better than that. Galicia upholds a very strong reputation for having some of the finest food in Spain- sea food being the most famous. Pulpo (octopus) is one of the most traditional dishes you can eat, and despite insisting that I hate food that squeaks when I eat it, Manuela insisted that I try it. You can keep your avocadoes, I’m now a pulpo convert; low in fat and rich in flavour, it just speaks to me. We feasted upon lamb with roasted potatoes and dates, alongside plates of chorizo, cheese and ham. All locally sourced, of course. For dessert we ate flourless chocolate cake (not traditionally Spanish, but mouth-watering, nonetheless) and a dish that was somewhere between a flambé and upside pineapple cake. I walked rolled away, side splittingly full.

Another of my favourite things about the village was the ability to live off the fatta’ the lan. Manuela’s parents grow most produce on their allotment and anything they don’t have I believe they trade with neighbours. How wonderful life would be to have your own chickens (egg addict over here) and limitless quantities of fruit and vegetables. I was sent away with a jars of home-made preserves and tomato sauce, all of which tasted incredible.

Whilst I could never see myself living in a village, I envy the fact that Galicians have such an identity; in the cities they speak Castellano Spanish and in the villages they speak their own variation of Gallego (dems the rules); one day they’re plucking potatoes from the earth, the next they’re working in an office wearing Zara’s latest. On the other hand, I can totally comprehend why young village people head to the bigger cities in search of a busy new life, especially if they’ve spent a good eighteen years in the same routine.
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