Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Spanish Pueblo

This last weekend, our good friend Lola took us out to visit her pueblo. (Sorry, no pictures this time…we didn’t think to bring the camera.) Many of the people here in Córdoba didn’t grow up in town; they grew up in some pueblo, and came to the city to find work. They still go back to their pueblos for the holidays, to visit with their mothers and fathers and cousins and nephews and nieces and so on and so on. Lola’s pueblo is actually an aldea. (This doesn’t translate exactly…it’s a small village that is under the jurisdiction of a larger town. Not exactly a bedroom community, because the aldeas are generally agricultural.) The aldea is called El Garabato (literally, The Scribble. Cool name!). It’s under the jurisdiction of the pueblo La Carlota. La Carlota was one of a series of pueblos founded in the 1700’s by King Carlos III along the royal highway from Madrid to Sevilla. He wanted some more population in the area to discourage the “bandoleros”, highwaymen who were causing headaches for travelers. Lola told us this to explain why there was nothing really old in the pueblo. I don’t know….for someone from the United States, something dating from the 1700’s seems reasonably old.

El Garabato is about 30km out of Córdoba, in a lovely green area of rolling hills covered with orchards of olive trees. Lola seemed to know, or to be related to, everyone we saw there. She was waving to people from the car, and stopping to chat with people on the street. Very soon, we gave up trying to keep track of who was related to whom. We drove out to an olive orchard owned by a brother-in-law, and found the family out picking olives. (It’s harvest season.) The ground seemed pretty rocky for a cultivated field, but I guess the trees don’t care. Tonya got right into the spirit of things, and pitched in to help pick olives for a little bit. The brother-in-law finally insisted that she stop before she stained her clothes…we weren’t exactly dressed for olive-picking!

We also visited the factory where they press the olive oil. Again, it helps that Lola knows everybody; this was not a place set up for visitors, but we got the grand tour. The olives are dumped from trucks onto a conveyor belt, then dropped through an air stream to separate out the leaves and a water stream to clean them up. They are crushed in a big machine…I couldn’t tell if it was hydraulic or not. In the old days, they were crushed using huge cone-shaped millstones, some of which could still be seen near the factory. The resulting slush of olive and oil and skins and crushed seeds went into a centrifuge to separate out the constituent ingredients. None of it goes to waste; the crushed seeds are used as a combustible like coal, the meat of the olives is used for animal feed, and the oil is the main cash product.

When we were talking later to Lola’s mother (a very nice old lady, but with a thick rural accent that made her very difficult to understand), she was lamenting the changes that had come about as a result of the machinery. When she was a child, her father was a fairly wealthy landowner, and agriculture was very much a community activity. During harvest season, everyone would turn out for the picking. With everyone helping, the work wasn’t onerous, and there was lots of time during siesta for socializing. Lots of manpower was needed to move the olives about, and to handle the harnessed burros turning the millstones. Nowadays, the factory runs with a staff of about ten men. Lots of people have to leave the pueblos to find work; you simply don’t need as many people to work the land. It sounds like the transition that happened in the USA in the late 1800’s, but here it didn’t happen until the late 1900’s. This is at least partially due to forty years of dictatorship under Franco.

Some of Lola’s stories also underscore how much Spain’s development was delayed in comparison to the rest of western Europe. When she was a little girl…this would have been in the 1960’s….they still pulled water in buckets from the well. Her father would fill huge earthen jars (sort of like the old Greek amphorae) with water, load them on the burros, and take them down into the pueblo. It was a real treat for Lola to get to perch on top of the mules during the water-carrying trips. Charred pieces of olive branches, called picón, were used as fuel in the braseros; electricity was not easily available at the time, and why would you use it to heat a home? Lola would play in the picón bin, and get in trouble when her mother found her all blackened with soot. Washing clothes was also a community activity. We saw the old community laundry area; washtubs in a huge slab of concrete, with channels for the water to come in one side and drain out the other, and a ridged part where you’d rub the clothes. All of this sounds like something from the 1800’s, rather than the 1900’s.

We’re certainly getting views of Spain that you wouldn’t get on the typical vacation trip!

1 comment:

weakeyes said...

I found your olive picking/crushing process quite interesting. I was wondering what they did, or how they got rid of the olive seeds. Now, I'm an expert!