I’ve been internet absent for a while but everything is good over here, all told. Our house search is finally over. A couple weeks ago, we bought a small late 18th-century stone house with some adjacent ruins. They sit on 1,800 square meters of land in a depopulated village close to Monforte de Lemos, a town of around 20,000 and the capital of Ribeira Sacra. The area is filled with oak, chestnut, cork, and other plants native to Galicia, as well as pine for paper pulp.
It’ll be a few months before we’re able to leave our rental in Allariz. So on Wednesdays, our day off, we drive the hour up on truly one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever seen in Spain and do whatever we can.
Yesterday, it was sweeping, fixing the door, and temporarily closing one of the windows so we can start storing tools there.
As the first trip out of our town since the quarantine, we started north to Ourense, then headed northeast to explore the towns just before Monforte de Lemos on the lucense side of the Ribeira Sacra. The weather was mostly dry but a little chilly, the end of an unusual cool streak.
We passed the small railroad town of Canaval (or Canabal in castellano), right off the highway near Ferreira de Pantón, quite a few times this week. Along with the train station and a cluster of old homes was an old brick industrial smokestack that reminded me of Cologne. For whatever reason, memories of driving through rural France on the way to Germany came to mind. The town felt forgotten, but in peaceful way. Perhaps its train service and proximity to Monforte de Lemos.
After Doade, a touristy town dedicated to the area’s signature viniculture, comes the Lookout of Souto Chao with its great views of Canón do Sil and its granite statue of a grape picker.
We bounced around between lugares and parroquias in Sober, Pantón, and O Saviñao looking at different houses from idealista, talking with neighbors, and getting a feel for the rural life in this corner of Galicia. On the way, we found a lake near Rosende. It turned out to be private property but we still managed to have a nice lunch and walk around without disturbing anyone, or them us.
Alqo has been getting braver with going into the water and swimming a bit since we showed him the Arnoia river by our house. The last time he swam was in Long Beach and I think the waves scared him!
Van camping is fairly easy in Europe. While not exactly legal, if you’re off private land and and not conspicuous in you’re vehicle, you shouldn’t have a problem. When you camp off-season and in less-populated places, this becomes easier.
Alqo and I are almost always the first out of bed.
Many of the fincas we looked at have been long abandoned. Occasionally all that is left is the stone foundation, like this house that was built in the 19th century. Other times, we’ve seen houses with the bedspreads still on and knickknacks on the bookshelves. The older generation emigrated out of necessity. The Galician land inheritance system of minifundium prevented families from growing enough to sustain themselves, so they left; to Cuba, Argentina, to Catalonia or Basque Country. The younger generation inherited these places but either can’t or won’t live in the rural world for myriad reasons. No jobs, no option to telecommute, used to city life, etc.
Perhaps there will come a de-urbanization phenomenon due to the pandemic and financial crisis that pulls young people away from the cramped city life back into España vacía, empty Spain.
This mirador is actually on the Ourensan side of the canyon. Our last night we decided to cross over the river and camp near Paradela and Castro Caldelas. The mirador As Penas de Matacás offers a stunning view at sunset. I don’t think it’s possible to tire of looking at the canyon walls, the vineyards, and the villages nestled close to them.
There’s been a lot going on in the world, and I need to disconnect a bit. So I brought Castelao’s Sempre en Galiza, translated by Craig Peterson, with me on the trip. It’s a very interesting book. The publisher Francis Boutle sums the book up quite nicely:
Forever in Galicia is the most extensive account of Galician identity ever written, an idiosyncratic text that spans and erodes the traditional genres of memoir, political treatise, historical essay and revisionist analysis.
I’ll share more after I’ve read more, but suffice it to say that it’s a compelling read for another interested in the history and cultural diversity of Iberia.
Lastly, on our route home, we saw a few reservoirs on the map. We stopped at the small beach near the town of Pradomao and found a great potential camping spot for the future.
The trip was both refreshing and intimating. Refreshing as it removed us from the monotony of the quarantine life while still being safe and socially distant. But intimating as it made us confront new potentialities.
How big of a rehabilitation and agriculture project can we both handle?
How far is too far removed from nodes of denser society for economic and social futures?
What will the area look like in ten, twenty, thirty years?
And so many more. Patricia said it didn’t feel like a vacation since her brain was in constant overdrive with possibilities. I agree.
Next week, we head back to the Rías Baixas area for a few days to visit family and plant a small garden.
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).
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.
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.