Part 16: A Change is Coming
Today is Palm Sunday. Neither Cheryl nor I attended Mass at the village church, but plenty of people did. As we finished our Sunday morning constitutional, we saw them leaving the ceremony, dressed up to the nines, some of them still holding olive branches, there being too few palm trees locally to desecrate in the name of religion.
Next week is
Easter Week and the hotels in Mérida are already fully booked by people keen to see the eerie spectacle of the various pasos – images of various virgins, mounted on platforms and upheld by the sweaty, straining shoulders of the penitents beneath. Silently they trudge round the city, perhaps fervently hoping that a few hours of hard labour can be swapped for a year of sin.
Our village is too small to have organised processions, or anything much more than a few extra church services. Nevertheless it is at this time of the year that I am reminded of how life is changing in even the most remote of Spanish pueblos.
The village now has broadband internet access (although at our house we still have the slow version) and the new highway that recently opened has reduced the commuting time to Mérida to about ten minutes. I spoke to an estate agent recently and he assured me that Aljucén was now, to all intents and purposes, another barrio of Mérida.
The capital of Extremadura is growing so rapidly, that it resembles an enormous building site. This is a shame, because a city with so much in the way of Roman monuments is somehow diminished by the presence of so many tower cranes and concrete mixers. Nobody can halt the march of progress, but I wonder if in some way a few places could not be preserved like some sort of living museums.
Here in the village people for the most part leave their front doors open until they go to bed. Many of them still choose to greet even unbelievers like us with the words “Vaya con Dios”. And on the main street there is still a great tradition of sitting outside one’s house and watching the world go by. Judging by the smells, in some households they must be cooking from morning till night. This can only mean that the woman of the household has decided to confine herself to the upkeep of the house, rather than to work in Mérida or Badajoz.
A mere 16 kilometres separate Aljucén from Mérida, but the cultural gap is still significant. I know of very few women in the city who would describe themselves as housewives. Here in the village there are very few who would describe themselves as anything but.
In time there will be no gap between village and city. When the old folk have gone to their final reward, the village will fill up with advertising executives and civil servants who work for the all-important Junta de Extremadura. The doors will remain closed from morning till night and people will withdraw behind them, retreating into that fortress mentality that seems to be so much a part of modern life. Few people will keep chickens or rabbits and even fewer will know what to do with a pig when it comes time to turn it into chorizo. The per capita income will certainly rise, and it will become impossible to encounter people who have never seen the need to venture outside the province of their birth. As to whether these changes will make the village a better place, that remains to be seen.
Round and round they go, up and down the main street, perhaps thinking that if they only wish it hard enough, a sophisticated centre will spring up, complete with shops offering microwaveable vegan meals and holistic centres specialising in shiatsu massage, tai-chi and herbal tea. After half an hour or so they usually resign themselves to the fact that the only thing waiting for them is another cold beer.
Articles in the series:
Introduction to Pete's Tale
Part 1: Village Life
Part 2: Bichos
Part 3: A Two-Bar Town
Part 4: Fruit and Veg
Part 5: Summer
Part 6: Politics
Part 7: Noise
Part 8: Our natural park
Part 9: New Year's Eve
Part 10: Timetables
Part 11: The Land Where the Pig is King
Part 12: How Not to Buy a House
Part 13: That First Winter
Part 14: The Extremeño Spring
Part 15: To be a Pilgrim
Part 16: A Change is Coming
Part 17: Wine Talk
Part 18: Free For All
Part 19: How Do You Spell Asparagus?
Part 20: Designer Peas