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jueves, 4 de febrero de 2010

Memories of Alcalá 27: Farewell to Alcalá

Spanish original + photos


One Saturday in September 1944, just as the school term was starting, my father said “On Monday we are going to Jerez for good”.  We were all troubled, because although we knew we would be leaving on that day, pulling up our roots from the town was a big upheaval for us children.  Our father had told us many times that we would be moving;  in fact our older siblings – Jacinta, Cristóbal, Carmela, Patricia, Catana and Gaspar – had already been in Jerez for some months.   The girls worked in the telephone exchange and the boys worked in in the Town Hall, a chemist's and a textile shop respectively.  Now it was the turn of the younger children and the parents to leave Alcalá: Pepe, Juan, Santos and Lourdes.  María was born a year later in Jerez.

Our parents went in the furniture removal lorry, with Rafael in our mother's arms, and Salvador, who was then three or four years old.  The rest of us children went in Fernando Muñoz´s taxi.  When we left San Antonio behind and the town disappeared from sight, the four of us remained silent.  We didn't know what to say or do.  Our eyes were brimming with tears, but none of us could express what it meant to leave the town.  It was the same story for many other families; but our parents acted with the best motives, looking for a future for their twelve children.  Alcalá was living through the most pernicious effects of the Civil War.  The author of Mío Cid described emigration and separation as a pain of the soul, like pulling a fingernail from the flesh.

The taxi driver broke the ice by playing little tricks on us.  In a serious tone he said “Where should I drop you travellers off?”  That made the situation worse; we all looked at one another and none of us knew where we were going.  The man realised this and said “Don't worry, we'll find it.”  After a while he asked another question:  “Who's going to pay for this trip?”  Again we were perplexed.  Nobody dared answer.  We didn't have a cent between us.  Once more the man joked “Don't worry, we'll find out when we get to Jerez”. 

The new house was in Calle Arcos, No 9.  The older children were already there waiting for us.  We breathed a sigh of relief when we saw them.  Later on, when I was older, I have thought that a child without a family is nothing, an adolescent without a family is a tragedy, an old person without a family is a disaster. The family is thus society's most important institution, and it must be conserved and cared for, being of fundamental value amongst peoples of all nations.

After a few days Father took Pepe and me to the school of the Salle del Mundo Nuevo, and took Santos and Lourdes to the Colegio del Santo Ángel.  Father presented us to the Director of the Colegio, Hermano Ginés de María, who asked us “Where are you from?”  “From Alcalá”, we answered, with a certain pride.  “But which Alcalá? Because there are many Alcalás – Alcalá del Valle, Alcalá del Río, Alcalá de Guadaira, Alcalá la Real, Alcalá de Henares ...”  “Er .. from Alcalá de los Gazules”, I answered timidly.  Although I was eleven years old I had never crossed the border of the Province of Cádiz.  I had heard mention of other Alcalás, but for me the most important one, without doubt, was Alcalá de los Gazules – the prettiest, the whitest, the highest, the most natural, the most desirable.

Some time later our class was asked to write an essay entitled “My town” in less than ten lines.  And I still remember some of the things I said - “My town is beautiful and completely white.  It is situated at the top of a hill, next to a castle and a church.  The tower of my town stands above all the houses.  The houses are built on top of each other.  Sometimes it seems like there are donkeys walking on the roof.  My town has many rivers but the one with most water is the Barbate.  Flocks of birds are seen in the skies all over my town.  Also there is a Sanctuary and a pilgrimage for the Virgin of the Saints.   Its name is splendidly octosyllabic: Alcalá de los Gazules”.

It has been said that Alcalá is an essentially Andalusian town; its architecture, its many levels, its open spaces, its streams, its streets, its mountains, its natural park - Los Alcornocales, its people … It was declared a site of artistic heritage [Conjunto Histórico Artístico] because of its churches, neoclassical houses and vernacular architecture.  In Alcalá no two houses were the same, because the houses made up the town and the town doesn't repeat itself.  But then the building contractors arrived and created a hideous belt of neighbourhoods where all the houses are identical, indistinguishable, built in rows, badly designed …   Alcalainos living away from the town would like its heritage to be respected and the architecture to take account of the geography of the land, not the whims of the developers.  There are three towns in the Province competing to be the most beautiful: Arcos de la Frontera, Vejer de la Frontera and Alcalá de los Gazules.  Nobody should be allowed to threaten its architecture.

JUAN LEIVA
Translated by Claire Lloyd

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