A Snapshot: La Contraviesa Mountains, Spain by Bob Manning
The rhythmic peal of the bell drifted down across the village, carried on the light breeze. The first of the day! The clock on the town hall gave a silenced respite during the sultry stillness of the night. My gaze was drawn up to the sound, as it beat the hours in quarters attempting to give order to a populous lost in time.
The Pueblo towered above me, clinging resolutely onto the steep contours of the mountainside. Two dogs scrapped noisily, their rantings pierced the murmurings of the waking inhabitants. The goat herd was already jangling its way over the rough scrub on the far side of the valley moving in and out of long shafts of thin morning sun, which created colours and patterns that could only be seen at this time of day.
I took a long draft of thick percolated coffee, the making of this being the first stage of my morning ritual. I laid the mug upon the low stone wall upon which I was sitting and studied the intricate interlocking structure proudly. It had been erected more out of the need to clear the rocks of a tumbled down chicken shed than the desire to enclose the small patch of ground that had come with the cottage, but it was a source of great joy to create a small colourful patio on what was a dusty stone strewn obstacle to accessing the house.
An age-old grapevine had hung limply on the rubble that now stood nobly on its rustic pillars and beams. The vine had the perfect attribute of providing dense shade in the searing heat of the summer then graciously shedding its foliage to allow the winter sun to warm the morning chill, then slowly blooming with pace of the springtime.
I turned to face the cottage now bathed in light, pulled the heavy studded wooden door shut and headed out on to the dusty lane. This led down the side of the homestead to the stone built shed at the end. This lane was officially a village street, boasting both a street light and a name, but, being the last property at the bottom of the village, funds had not stretched to surfacing it. In fact it was still some one hundred meters away from the last hard surface.
Upon reaching the shed I untethered the twine that held the door fast to the wooden peg that was driven into the wall, simple but effective! The door burst open to an explosion of fluff and feathers, all part of the morning ritual as the dog and the cockerel fought to be first out of the door, claiming top place in the pecking order. The ladies followed cooing and scratching the parched earth.
This scenario was being mirrored by the wizened old lady from the neighbouring whitewashed dwelling. The two flocks mingled on the rubble scattered wasteland that separated our homes. The opposing cockerels immediately squared up to each other, the puffed up alpha male conflict was their contribution to the morning ritual. This confrontation was skilfully resolved with a precisely aimed stone whizzed from the gnarled hand of the black widow. The cockerels scattered squawking their protests and perched on opposite sides of the ground to crow their commands over their harems.
“Buenos dias”, the morning greeting was beamed at me. Her eyes held the sparkle of a love of life that can only be seen in a truly fulfilled soul. ‘La Lisa’, as she was referred to by the villagers, was as old as the hills, and her frame was racked by years of poverty and hard labour. “What a glorious day God has given us, my son” she exclaimed with a wide sweep of her leathery arm, encompassing all that could be beheld. She tottered across the divide in her bow legged stoop and we sat together on the on the wall and silently surveyed the wonder of it all.
My thoughts drifted on the blessing breeze, back to the time when La Lisa had found out that I had bought the cottage, and was to not only renovate it, but to take up residence among this small rural community. She had chortled her delight with a childlike passion and immediately took me as her prodigal son returning to the fold.
A mule, laden with firewood, appeared from a narrow track that bare hands had carved out of the side of the mountain. The animal’s hooves powerfully pounded the dry terrain with each step raising small clouds of fine dust. The beast appeared to be making its slow ascent unaccompanied, however, its custodian came to view hanging on to the tail to ease his own ascent. With a click of the drovers tongue the mule halted. He bade us good day and engaged us in trivial conversation, which, was cut short by the renewed pealing of the bells.
We stood speechlessly frozen in time, staring wide-eyed towards the square aged tower that dominated the centre of the village. This was not the ringing of the town hall clock, but the painful slow mourning of the church’s twin bells. La Lisa fell to her knees repeatedly making the sign of the cross across her body, finishing with a kiss to the thumb of her clenched fist. She offered the kiss to the sky and mumbled “one more soul for you my lord!”
Just another morning in La Contraviesa.