Sunday was a very Galician day.
We ventured into rural -and I mean really rural- Ourense to visit Pablo’s father’s house. It’s only an hour away from Santiago by car, but it feels like another world. The village his parents live in, if you could even call it such, has exactly three houses – numbers 1, 2, and 3. The road is used more often by cows and pigs than by cars. It’s quiet in a way that few places today can be. This is the house Pablo’s father was born in, and the house he grew up in. Until fairly recently, it had a wood-burning stove (not like a cute little stove that warms a room – no, the actual cooking stove was heated with wood) and still has no other heat source. Of course, when Pablo’s father was young, the house was heated by the animals that lived in the stables on the ground floor. There is still a little trapdoor where his mother threw scraps down to the cows and pigs. The rooms are small and bare and the floor creaks and bends with each step. I loved it.
The house seemed like a step back in time, like the kind of place you visit on a historical tour or that you see pictures of in books, but that no one actually lives in anymore. And here was this house, full of life, sheltering new generations the way it had sheltered those who are long gone, without having changed too much in the process.
Places like this are dying; this tiny village of three houses will probably become abandoned ruins as older children grow up, move away, make their lives in the big cities where they have easy access to shops and schools and cell phone towers. When the older owners who have lived here forever eventually pass on, who will be left to take care of the land?
But it was exactly what I’ve dreamed of – old, made of wood and stone, peaceful, quiet, with a huge garden, and more importantly, a history. I would love to have a house like that.
After a huge family lunch of churrasco (pork ribs), criollo (sausage), empanada, and langostinos (prawns), plus coffee, dessert, and plenty of liquor, we took a walk in the misty, foggy afternoon, and visited Xandre’s father’s house just down the road. His house was very similar and had the same old stove, which was placed traditionally in the middle of the kitchen with a long bench on one side. It’s where people would sit to eat and especially to warm themselves in the cold bitter winters. How convenient to have your stove and table in one? We went out into the garden to collect walnuts, hazelnuts, and apples, and I made plans for batches of autumn applesauce.
Before heading home, we stopped in Cea, a town whose motto is Onde o pan e arte (where bread is art). The town is famous for its bread, which aside from being delicious, is said to (naturally) last forever without getting stale. We realized that all the fornos (ovens/bakeries) in this town are actually people’s houses, and the people live right next to their huge wood-burning bread ovens. We stopped at a tiny bakery but it was closed, and we were turning around when an older gentleman opened the door and asked us what we needed. We told him we wanted to buy some bread and he invited us into his living room (next to his giant commercial mixer and enormous bread paddle) and brought out the last loaf of the day. We could still feel the warmth from the ovens.
We headed back out into the gray rainy evening, feeling the warmth of the loaf under our arms, and the satisfaction of a simple day spent the old-fashioned way.