Between #VanLifing and House-Hunting: Was That a Vacation?

I’m becoming an expert of the towns in southern Lugo. Silleda, Melide, Bóveda, Pantón, Sarria, Láncara, O Incio. But before we left a week ago to celebrate Patricia’s mother’s birthday, we thought we were going to A Coruña to visit Fragas do Eume, or perhaps some of the province’s incredible beaches and forget about fincas and casas rústicas.

Nature had a different plan for us, however. The tropical storm Kyle came, producing an almost ciclogénesis explosiva. Next, we thought of heading east towards the Navia Valley in Asturias (which Galicians consider as part of Galicia or Galicia estremeira) but short on time and in a different mood, we decided to stay closer to the area between Sarria and Monforte de Lemos.

After a day or so around Silleda and Melide, and learning about marian apparitions, their inspired movements, and seeing el Santuario de la Saleta, we started visiting some of our favorites from idealista, the zillow/Redfin of Iberia.

And as probably anyone who has been in a position to buy land or a house can tell you, it is not a walk in the park.

There have been a few places, affordable for us to in need of lots of time and work to make them habitable, with their different and respective pros and cons.

  • In Ver, Bóveda, we discovered a mini-oasis next to el río Mao, a parcel that was so fertile from the wells that it was like a fairytale. On higher land, there was complex of stone structures, a small workshop, an attached narrow stone house with an incredible veranda, and a huge traditional casa grande that was a bat guano factory. The owner’s father lives up the hill, in a sixth-generation Galician ironworks and casa rural that he inherited. After a tour and a nice conversation with him and his wife, we returned to camp on the property. But my love is a notorious mosquito magnet and we had to flee in the evening, back to Vilasouto reservoir in O Incio.
  • In a small aldea close to Oural and Sarria, we returned to see a house we’ve been thinking about for a month or so; an old stone house with an attached brick barn that could be transformed into a very open floor plan with lots of natural light, enough land to create a rural tourism/workshop space, a small lake, and a grove of castaña, apple, and pear trees. Coincidentally, we met the owners taking a day to weed the area.
  • After Patricia’s macramé workshop in O Garaxe and one shower in the last week or so, we drove south, back to Ourense, to enjoy our own bed and kitchen. But not before momentarily stopping in a small village near Pantón. We’ve been around here before. Perhaps it was the light, a little after golden hour, or the road we were on. But the meadows and forests became enchanted and we saw the area with much different eyes than previously. As we followed Google Maps to a house in which the owner and I had been in contact for a few weeks, we met the neighbor, a woman who was actually born in that house. In the meadow in front of the house were horses and llamas, a nice reminder of Peru en plena Galicia.

While all of these were special in their own way, we’ve also talked to owners and neighbors who have different pieces of advice for us; don’t restore, it’s a money pit, build something new, etc. All of which is great advice but produces a headache and a feeling of vertigo in the beginning of this process.

Whatever happens, it will be a long process. But one advantage of this impromptu trip was solidifying our search area. Now, it’s time to talk to an expert in bio-construction, as we continue to dream of an ecological, and economical, project.

Thinking Degrowth, With Eyes Toward the Sacred Riverside

Day 24 here in Spain and the coalition government under Sánchez a few days ago announced it will extend the state of alarm until at least 26 April. After that, there might be an easing of restrictions until we’re out of the peak. The daily casualty rate is still high but has been going down for a few consecutive days. In the mornings, I don’t at the numbers like when it was still new and shocking.

I support as little movement as possible. Just writing that feels strange, because my position on travel and movement has shifted so considerably. I am one of the global 20% of the world who has ever flown on an airplane. Comparably, I guess I used to fly regularly. Now, it’s been 17 months since coming to Europe.

My livelihood doesn’t depend on going out on the streets. I’m not an essential worker nor a healthcare professional on the frontlines. Aside from the massive casualties COVID-19 has inflicted upon this country, the economic aftershock will stay with us for quite some time and I really worry about the social and political consequences. This is true for the world.

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

The troika of crises we confront; coronavirus, capitalism, and climate have further pulled me into a web of poignant questions. It’s Phase II; a shedding of what was considered normal before this, accepting new paradigms, and being prepared for either the coming socialism (it’s visibly obvious capitalism is incompatible with low-carbon future survival) or the coming barbarism.

Today was windy and rainy and it was easy to stay inside. I’ve been reading Kropotkin, waiting for a few other books to arrive. I hate Amazon, more so hearing about Chris Smalls being fired and the lies they spun about him, and really work to not rely on them as much as possible. I ordered about 8 books, most of them well over a thousand pages each, I don’t see myself using them soon. I do not link to Amazon in any way on this blog.

I was also reading about degrowth. I first heard the word in Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. It’s a critique of our globalized overconsumption. Why is it that the economy crashes when people only buy the things they really need? Most of us understand, communicated by scientists, that the planet has a few years before we head into unforeseen climate tipping points. We acknowledge that we shouldn’t fly so much anymore and we should buy more locally.

If COVID-19 and other animal viruses were caused by the human-animal interface, pushed ever more closer by deforestation practices and rapid industrialization, then we should all be thinking very seriously about how to scale things back, and fast. The myth of “infinite growth on a finite planet” has been shattered. A tiny virus has brought the whole planet to our knees with humility (with some exceptions).

In an article in The Ecologist to promote an upcoming book on the topic for Pluto Press, Anitra Nelson and Vincent Liegey write:

Efforts to slow the spread and contain this coronavirus highlight the fragility of urban living, massive socio-economic inequities, of production for trade, a fragmented and globalised supply chain and just in time supplies — all characteristics of advanced capitalism.

Neoliberalism has led to under-resourced and overburdened health systems relying heavily on global supply chains that have fractured and warped as borders and work places close — colliding with urgent and massive demand.

No crisis could so sharply throw into relief the fragility and precariousness of capitalist societies characterised by globalised production for trade and profits; weak states led by bureaucratic elites; and a citizens experiencing anomie, individualism and alienation. But this is not a wholly new crisis, rather just a variation on an old capitalist crisis theme.

The problem is that the ruling class will have very little incentive to change course. Businesses and governments will try to bring us back to normal. But what is normal and should we even try to go back to it? This is my issue with one democratic presidential candidate who thinks of Donald Trump as some aberration. Normal is untenable.

I live in the privileged rural. Actively choosing to de-urbanize from Los Angeles and Cologne in search of a closer relationship with the natural world, not enticed by centers of culture, maybe this line of thinking comes easier to me than others.

The article finishes with this:

Degrowth advocates using one’s legs, bicycles and, to a small extent, public transport. In contrast the current coronavirus pandemic has clearly been spread much more rapidly due to travellers using aeroplanes and cruise ships. In short, another world is not only possible but also preferable.

With all this, I think of A Ribeira Sacra, the sacred riverbank in the heart of Galicia. The Ribeira Sacra is a canyon carved out by the the Sil River that straddles the provinces of Ourense and Lugo. It’s called the Sacred Riverbank in Galician because the once isolated region is home to many Romanesque monasteries from the early Middle Ages, whose monks and hermits continued cultivating vineyards and producing wine, like the Romans before them, on terraced edges of the canyon walls. It is also shortlisted for a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2021.

Source: Viña D’Mateo Wineries

I’ve had the pleasure to a twice; once the first time I came to Spain and the second in January; camped near Parada de Sil under a meteor-showered night sky, hiked to the hidden Mosteiro de Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil, entered the castle of Castro Caldelas, passed through Monforte de Lemos, the unofficial capital of the region on a very cold day.

My partner and I rent a house now. It’s difficult to find rentals in Galicia outside the major cities; everyone is selling. We’ve looked at a few places to buy. While both of us have that nostalgia of traveling, living in West Africa, being free and untethered, it runs against our longing for land of our own to care for and the acknowledgement that the earth cannot sustain that lifestyle on a grand scale.

Since moving here, we’ve vacillated on the question of proximity if we were to ever purchase something; how close to a town (and ease of socializing) or how far? We have friends in Allariz now and we were looking forward to the weather turning better so we could gather outside. But we also want space to garden, and the available options with an adjacent plot of land and within walking distance are slim or unaffordable.

But now, we don’t go to town anymore, save for a weekly trip to the market. And this will ease up. Of course at some point the current situation will end, but with what consequences? What will be new forms of normal? Will I so carelessly dar dos besos to friends of friends when I meet them? Can we anticipate another autumnal virus outbreak?

Which is why I think of the Sacred Riverbank. A refuge, still populated, but less so. And perhaps this future was written for us over there; quietly cultivating a small garden, telecommuting, with an occasional bike trip to town for groceries. It’s good enough for me.