While it seems that small town America is dying, los pueblos of Spain are alive and well. During the summer, children, grandchildren and often great-grandchildren come to visit these villages that still retain the flavor of life from generations ago.
It is often in these small communities where unique festivals take place annually.
Some of he homes on each street are more than one hundred years old. The beginning of one and the ending of another can only be discerned by examining the stone surrounding each set of doors and windows and of course by the number above each door. As in typical Spanish tradition, the names of las calles (the streets) are found if you look up at each corner, high on the wall.
The doors of the houses are wooden. Some of the windows have iron bars while others have more modern windows and shades. In the summer, doorways have plastic ropes hanging close together in the front as a sort of screen to keep the flies out. Small balconies are filled with terra-cotta pots of geraniums and petunias. Rose bushes climb the walls like the magic bean from the children’s classic, Jack and the Beanstalk and fill the streets with colored blooms in the summer.
The streets are narrow and some do not allow the passage of cars. Locals and visitors walk along the paths, sometimes reuniting with one another after years apart. During holidays and special festivals, the paths are filled with people on their way to la iglesia. Even if the people do not regularly attend church, the pews are filled during mass out of respect for the culture and the traditions of the region.
Castrillo de Murcia, the pueblo I visit each year has changed very little over the years in some ways. The more than 400 year old church stands tall behind the homes. Its stone interior and ornate alter decorations take my breath away each time I step inside.
It is a pueblo populated by the aging. If it weren’t for the modern cars parked nearby, I would certainly think that I was visiting another era. Old women are often found playing a game of cards at a table set up outside. None of them wear pants. They are all in long dark skirts that fall to their mid-calf. They wear blouses that button up and are of a solid light color or of a fine, delicate print. If there is a coolness to the air at all, they will have a sweater fastened around their shoulders. Their faces are filled with wrinkles that tell the stories of their long lives in this pueblo. Their bodies fill the church unfailingly for every mass.
The old men sit in groups on benches to warm themselves in the sun if the North wind is blowing down. Upon their old heads perch berets and they too dress in trousers, shirts and sweaters. Some have canes in their sun darkened hands. I often wonder what they talk about after living together in the same community for so many years. I know that some of them are old enough to have been alive during the Spanish Civil War, perhaps young boys. Some of them never learned how to drive a car because they didn’t need to. Life was different in the pueblo back then.
For as much as these residents seem to remain the same, little by little there is change in the village itself. I notice new homes each time I come back to visit. Some of them are more grand or modern in style than the original homes. Some are on the property of their families in the space that once housed the farm animals. Many are summer homes for middle-aged children who left the pueblo long ago, but still feel connected to their roots.
The local park adds new swings or climbing structures as needed. As benches become worn and rusty, new ones replace them, courtesy of Caja de Burgos (a local bank) All who live here and visit use the park, depending on the time of day.
If I stand at the entrance of Castrillo, which now has new benches, a fountain and a map of the area, the view is still beautiful. I can see an archway to the original village, terra-cotta roof tops, the towering church and up on the hill Santa Barbara. It is a little piece of Espana that I feel belongs to me too after all these years.