When traveling through Europe, I marvel at the span of history I can see after studying these civilizations and cultures from my reading chair at home. Sometimes in one location there is documented evidence of pre-historic peoples, the Romans, and then buildings and artifacts from each century after that. It’s layer after layer of history.
But there is another kind of history that I am experiencing. And that is the history of individual families over time in the same location. I had the privilege to experience this in Morgarraz, Spain, just 7.3 km (4.5 miles) from where I was staying this month in La Alberca, Spain. Once again, I participated in the Diverbo Program’s capstone week of immersing Spanish students in English with the help of a variety of English speakers. (See my post from 2017, Free room and board in Spain for a week with Diverbo.)
All week long, the “Anglos” had one-on-one or one-on-two conversations with the “students.” After a while, we got bored with the same locations: sitting on the hotel terrace, wandering into La Alberca, or walking on paths in the nearby forest. Mid-week, five of us chose to join two groups, creating one team with two Anglos (Kira and me) and three Spaniards (Borja, Sonia, and Isabela). We piled into Borja’s car and drove to Morgarraz, talking all the way. La Alberca is tiny with its population of 1107 (2018 estimate). But Morgarraz is even tinier: 275 (2018 estimate).
This village certainly gave us something new to discuss. Above street level, 388 paintings of the residents hung, watching over all below. The photographs that were the source of these paintings were originally taken in 1967 during an economic downturn. A local photographer, Alejandro Martín, took them so that his fellow residents could have a National Identity Card, which they needed as they considered emigrating for work.
Fifty-plus years later, artist Florencio Maíllo transformed these photos into paintings on metal. While his paintings appear on Google images, very little can be found about him on-line in English. Besides painting, he appears to be a professor at the University of Salamanca, the large city in this region in the western mountains of Spain.
To learn more, we asked a local couple sitting out on their doorsteps, enjoying the sun in the late afternoon, she quietly doing needle-craft. We were delighted when they pointed out their photos hanging on the wall of the building with their home, back in 1967 and now.
The gregarious man was happy to have his photo taken with his painting. He told us that all of the paintings hang on the walls of the buildings where the people or their relatives still live. So in cases where the resident was quite old in 1967, their painting would be on the building where their children or other relatives now live.
A large building, the local church, near the town plaza held many paintings. These were people whose homes were now occupied by someone else, or their buildings no longer existed.
This experience created a feeling of wonder in me. Most of the Spaniards I met on this program had a strong sense of belonging to their hometowns, their regions, their local cultures. One woman who had moved away from her small hometown moved back, and now meets with her sisters and their families at their mother’s home every weekend. Another talks with her parents every day. Others told me about local festivals only enjoyed in their hometowns where everyone turns out, and if people have moved, they return to participate. These behaviors are not typical of Americans who move across our vast land for schooling, jobs and adventure.
I wonder how many Americans still live in the city of their birth. Of them, how many still live in the same house they inhabited 50 years ago? It is rare these days. I am lucky that my sisters and cousins still live in my hometown of Manitowoc. They gives me a reason to visit this important link to my past. But given how much I moved around with my daughters, I wonder which city they will ultimately consider their “hometown.” And will they ever have a reason to visit and connect to it once again?
What do we American miss out on, given our penchant to move so often? I wonder…
For other essays about La Alberca, see:
For other essays about my summer 2019 Europe trip see:
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