10 Feb 7-minute walk
Saturday morning. Yin yoga class at the gimnasio in the village.
I walk there from the house where we’re staying. It takes about 7 minutes. I leave my private, early-morning world of gradual consciousness, barely-remembered dreams and scattered thoughts, climb 30 steep steps and cross into the Calle Mar, the narrow road with just enough room for a car and a pedestrian, that runs into the village. And into another world. Past the Ayuntamiento where the mayor, the police and the doctor share a gracious whitewashed building with bands of yellow around the window recesses and Spanish and Andalucian flags fly above the doorway. On up past the church with its bloody history, wonky weather vane and eternally closed doors. Past the memorial to the nameless miners who died or were injured digging lead and iron out of the hillsides around the village, each one surely etched into someone’s memory. Gazing left now for the view down to the plain and the sea.
I could go by another route, past the tree that grows oranges, lemons and limes thanks to deft grafting by its owner, through tiny alleys and up hidden stairs, a shorter, steeper, more tiring route. Depends on my mood. I arrive at the gimnasio and go down to the basement, stepping into yet another world, a subterranean British world populated by sixteen people braced for chakras and asanas as described by Peni, long-term resident here though Wolverhampton still inflects her gentle instructions.
On Saturday morning, for some reason, I felt the otherness of these two worlds more intensely.
Both worlds seem largely populated by women. You pass men only occasionally, or they pass you in old cars with dusty bumpers, some on their way to the fields or to repair roads or houses. It is women you see at the doorways along the narrow alleys, washing the step or sweeping the street in front of their houses, watering their potted plants, huddling in rapid and earnest conversation at SuperClara, the little grocery store near the church. “Hola, bueno dia,” they reply to my greeting, quietly.
The sixteen women I joined in the class live hereabouts. I don’t pass them on my 7-minute walk. Most of them come to class by car; few of the British expatriates live in the village. They have bigger houses scattered across the hillsides. I know some of these women, know them just a little. And I like some of them too. But I don’t know what it is to live here, a guest in another community with neither roots nor branches nor much prospect of belonging. I struggle to understand how they survive or thrive here. They, too, have earnest conversations after class, over a coffee, ordered and delivered in English, at the bar next door to the gimnasio.
I rarely stay for coffee, preferring to ease my stretched body back, retracing the 7-minute walk across the village and retrieving a sense of its otherness, its fragile authenticity. I usually drop into SuperClara, to hear a little Spanish spoken, to speak a little myself and to soak up the smile of Clara herself, a short, bespectacled, sixty-something woman with a kind, straightforward face and a hairdo straight out of Hollywood in the 1950s.
This morning ritual, this 7-minute walk, repeated three times a week, is the distillation of the cultural divide in the village. A segregation that doesn’t appear hostile. Just sad. It is also a reminder of why, despite the charms of this place, its glorious winter climate, its clean air, the almond blossom sprinkled like confetti across every hillside, the silent, black nights with their canopy of a million stars, the smell of smoke from the wood fire, the creamy avocadoes from a neighbour’s tree, the tomatoes and oranges that taste as you dreamed they should, and the melodic birdsong in the barranca, I would never want to live here.