Monday, 23 April 2012

L'Espagne autentico, as in La France Profonde - April 18

Of course with our very limited language we cannot really find the Spanish equivalent of La France Profonde; we struggle enough in La Belle herself! But travelleing as we do, with two week stops along the way we do have time to ignore the tourist trail and stike off into the back lanes. The first noticeable feature is that Spain remains clean and tidy for the most part, which sadly other nations' backwaters do not always achieve. The architecture remains generally very plain and even ugly, if entirely servicable. The churches are smaller and for the most part retain little 'romanesque', having undergone more sectarian changes than most of France of course. And the heavy 'marianization' of Spanish catholicism means fewer male icons  to fill the innumerable architectural niches of our own and even France's frontages  (where spared by reforming zeal of course!). So the churches are generally smaller and plainer than we are used to. But they do still dominate village centres.
For a country with so much space to use and such a small population comparitively the next noticeable thing is the way the dead are crowded together. Tiny cemeteries are crammed with large and even huge mortuaries, in turn equally crammed with the charnel or ashes of the ancestors. And then the houses of the living are usually crammed together with only a few scattered larger properties. Most of these villages show no sign of ever having had defensive works of any sort. The littering of ours and France's countryside with castles, forts, donjons, bits of wall, old mottes and abandoned baileys is absent. Indeed to some extent these Spanish settlements are smaller than we are used to. The 'big village/small town' is more or less absent. Its either a pretty big place or a very small one. Or even hardly a place at all.
Agriculture is small scale for the most part. Plots of land are either wasted or planted but big fields are generally missing. Of course northern Spain is a bit on the hilly side and i am aware that this is no way true of Estramadura or La Mancha where wheat fields are the size of small counties. But then that is a rich and developed environment; hardly l'Espagne autentico as it is here. They keep cattle, sheep and some goats but in small numbers generally. They grow cereals but again in small quantities. Judging by the general size of the horreos in which the grain was stored it has ben thus for at least 200 years. There are large, or rather long, horreos but they are rare enough to be tourist sights. The usual, three or four metres by one metre structure, with its steeply pitched roof and metre high piers to keep the grain off the ground, pests and predatiors are everywhere. In this western area they are usually stone; in Asturias they were wood and tile or slate. They are adorned with the protective symbols of the local religion - or cross as it is known.
This far west and thus south we are seeing the first grape vines, grown at waist height in the modern way but here I think to avoid ground frost and unwanted dampness as much as convenience in harvesting. No idea of the variety of course; probably white verdura or some red varieties of temopranillo or doura.
And they fish.Oh boy do they fish. Every potential harbour or port is a harbour or a port. Each is filled with the relevant mix of fishing craft. Sometimes big, usuall small. Even in the marinas most of the craft are actually small fishers. A lot of the fish here is line caufght - hundreds of hooks in the case of the professionals of course. There are so many craft that one is forced to realise the threat to our marine stocks. Then we notice how rarely many are at sea. maybe the quotas do have some effect then. South of here is Vigo with the largest fishing fleet in all of Spain - which means Europe in fact. We may get to see it, although Vigo does not get a good press otherwise and La Coruna would win out in a contest.
The people show interest in our passing, noting the registration - metriculato - and wondering  no doubt why the Inglis  so early! Most tourism starts much later in the year and a lot of the Brit contingent will be in motor homes which may not often venture onto these roads. The weather while wet has only suggested that 4x4 could be handy at times but I am daily pleased with having rear wheel drive not front - scrabbling in the Skoda would not have been as much fun.
But there is one crop that totally dominates and does appear in huge quantity - the inneffably aweful eucalyptus! Thousands of hectares of woodland across northern Soain and especially Galicia have been handed over to this tedious, rapacious and untidy creator of fire and ugliness. They are not green they are grey-green. They crowd out all below them bar a bit of gorse and heather.They shed bark continuously and this and theiur leaf litter bruns wonderfully well. They make fine papers in particular and of course eucalyptus oil - hence ho well they burn. Spain is Europe's lartgest producer. How wonderfulo the hills were before one can only guess - so far nothing natural has been seen. We live in hope.

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