viernes, 14 de mayo de 2010

Memories of Alcalá 35: The Alameda

Spanish original and photos

Central to my memories of Alcalá is, without doubt, “La Alameda de la Cruz”.  The main streets of the town met there: Nuestra Señora de los Santos, Rio Verde, Calle Real and Calle de Los Pozos.  These were the principle routes to the north, south, east and west from the old town.  In the early morning could be seen going down these roads sure-footed muleteers and day-workers refreshed after a night's sleep; in the evening they would come back, pensive, calling in at the first tavern they came to.  Many did not return, spending the week in the fields and coming back on Saturdays for a change of clothes. 

Before that Alameda, there was another one called “la Alameda Vieja”.  Jaime Guerra Martinez told us about it.  It was located on the road to the wells [pozos], on a plot later occupied by the Juan Armario primary school, between El Lario and La Vereda del Lejío (El Ejido).  That 19th century park was always crowded, especially on summer and autumn evenings.  It extended over a natural water source coming from the Lario, covered with verdant trees and surprisingly cool.  Water-carriers and suppliers of that precious liquid passed by there daily.  The children went running down there, freezing cold, on afternoons invaded by the winds that came down from the Sierra del Aljibe.  Lovers met there on calm nights; it was a romantic sort of place.  With the arrival of the new Alameda, that park was abandoned and died of neglect.  In the last years of the 19th century, the post of Mayor was occupied by an outsider, Don José Galán Caballero.    Romantic sentiment, together with a desire to improve the conditions of our streets and squares, made people look again at that idyllic spot.  From then on the park was named “Parque de Galán Caballero”.

The new Alameda, the Alameda de la Cruz or just “the Alameda”, was constructed in 1885.  The children of the town would gather there almost all year round; sublime spring evenings, hot summer evenings and pleasant autumn evenings.  We played the same games as always; catch, skipping, hopscotch, marbles, football, leapfrog … Oh, those spring evenings in Alcalá!  Our mothers had to call us in for dinner, because we found it so hard to tear ourselves away from the Alameda.

The men appeared at dusk from the four streets, after working all day long.  They cleaned themselves up and met in the bars, or sat in the doorways chatting.  The square took on an amazing vitality from eight to eleven at night.  After dinner the women sat on the pavements outside their houses discussing the topic of the day.   It could be said that they whole town met up at that time.  The young men went to the Calle Real to watch the girls go by.  The bells in the tower of San Jorge emitted sonorous chimes for the evening service, which hung in the air like a host of angels clothed in moonlight.  The bells in the Victoria belfry had a more metallic sound, scaring the pigeons from the vault and jangling all round the square.

The Alameda, fortunately, has retained almost the same structure as then:  a raised area surrounded by a long stone bench, with an iron back-rest.  But the paved surface isn't as good, for I can remember that in those days it boasted large earthenware tiles from Tarifa.  All around it were the buildings and streets which formed the square; the Town Hall, the alley of José Tizón, the Espinosa pharmacy, the bakers' bar,  the church of La Victoria,  the house of Pedro Garcia Mariscal, the social club, the house of the Puelles, the Calle Real, Vicenta's shop, the Calle la Amiga, Vicente's bar, Antonio Visglerio's haberdashery, the hunters' bar, Calle Galán Caballero, Dominguito's bar, another shop, and Calle Nuestra Señora de los Santos.  An old clock on an iron pedestal presided over the square and marked the hours.  In autumn, the swifts and swallows played tirelessly around the entrance to the church. 

The smells of the square were unmistakable.  From Vicente's bar came the scent of coffee and anis; from the hunters' club, sherry wines and game from the shoot; from Dominguito's, marinated offal; from the pub, seafood and beer; from the bakers' bar, fried small birds …  Each bar had its speciality.  In those days, wine from Chiclana and tapas from Alcalá were favourites, good and cheap.   The men would say that for five pesetas you could feed yourself and get tipsy.

In autumn and winter we spent more time indoors than outside.    But in spring and summer everybody liked to go out and enjoy the tranquil hours at the end of a long day.  Alcalá because one big “paseo”, for in those days it had around 12,000 inhabitants.  It was a young population, because families would have five or more children.  My parents had thirteen, but that was nothing exceptional, in fact almost all families achieved similar numbers.

The street-lighting was poor.  On many summer nights the full moon made an appearance and the Alameda would be flooded with silver.   Other nights were dark with an immense array of bright heavenly bodies.  Then the sky would appear studded with stars, and it was an indescribable spectacle.  One of those nights, something marvellous happened and nobody could give an explanation.  Suddenly, from the Alameda, we saw a star with a long tail go across the sky from east to west.  It was like a comet.  It was followed by many others going from one side to the other with no fixed path.  The sky was lit up alike a distant firework display but without the noise.  The children were left open-mouthed.  The stars appeared to fall into a great dark void.  Many people witnessed the spectacle.  Some people who saw it as an omen of misfortune, because it was only a short time since the war had ended.  I can't remember how long that stellar display lasted, but it had a big impact on everyone in Alcalá. 

Don Manuel, the schoolteacher, tried to explain to us that there were stars that had no light left, which died and fell into an abyss without limits.  They travelled unfathomable distances, light-years, and when they reached us they had been dead a long time.  He couldn't tell us much more than that.  Today I know that there exist “certain objects called shooting stars, with luminous bodies that appear suddenly, move with great speed and are soon extinguished”.  This description coincides with those stars which appeared in Alcalá in the 1940s.  Both explanations are close to what we saw, but the details are hard to recall as this happened more than seventy years ago.

Translated by Claire Lloyd

Photos from the Alcalá Ethnographic Museum: 

The Alameda today, still a meeting place for people of all ages:

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