I’m in a small village in northern Spain in the autonomous region of Navarra. I have been here two times previous. We just concluded a fiesta and all is peaceful now. Actually, compared to the United States, all was peaceful during the fiesta.
Life seems simple here, although I am sure under the surface it may not be all that simple. People tend to have the same problems the world over: money (never enough), family, illnesses, politics, and so on.
I won’t go into the whole story of how I came to have a connection here except to say that I was, am, acquainted with a couple (una pareja; I’m continuing to study Spanish) who currently still have their official residence in Tempe, Arizona but who also have a home here in Olite, Spain. The man was born here. The woman’s parents were from Mexico and she was born in Texas but grew up in Arizona.
At any rate, they introduced me to Spain and this village three years ago, and then the following year I traveled to Madrid and took a month-long Spanish language course. I had previously studied Spanish in college but as anyone who has studied a foreign language in school knows, unless you get out into the real world and use it, you never really learn it at all. I’m still working at it, with continued successes and failures — but my failures are not as bad as they used to be.
Back home in the states I have worked as an over-the-road truck driver for some 20 years (a second career as it were). I should be retired by now but how else to pay for my travel or even rent at home? (Invest in your retirement young folks; it arrives quicker than you think). But anyway, on my job I come into contact with the Spanish language frequently. So dabbling in Spanish has been some help, both in getting the job done and learning a new language.
But back to life in Olite, population about 4,000 (not counting tourists): it seems so much slower paced here and more family oriented. And my friend the home boy seems to know everyone in town or I could say everyone knows him. We cannot walk down the street without people greeting him and most of the time stopping to talk and more often than not for an extended conversation. Since my Spanish is still at the fairly elementary stage I seldom know what they are talking about and like any conversation among acquaintances anywhere in any language there is a lot of short hand, left out words with much of it understood from past encounters or from a history of events.
As often as not if I am alone people ask me how he is doing using his nickname. As I understand it, all men here have nicknames from youth that follow them all their lives, some are cute or complimentary perhaps, some innocuous, and some even offensive, but they are stuck with them. I’m glad that I did not print his if I got it correctly because it is not exactly complimentary but he seems to take no offense to it. But I do not know him THAT well, so I’ll just stick to his official name.
He did tell me that although he knows the adults, a lot of the younger people he does not. He’s worked in the U.S. for several decades, visiting home once or more a year. He just recently retired.
Now he plans to set up permanent residence in his hometown once again. He already has a home in the medieval old city section, a four-story affair, kind of tall and narrow. It also has a basement and what we might call an attic (and I am not sure I counted the levels correctly). But in typical Spanish style it has little balconies one can walk out onto and see the street below. If you ring the doorbell you need to step back into the narrow street so someone can open a window upstairs and see who it is.
It’s Sunday as I write this. Lots of people are out on the plaza eating and drinking, often whole families. People are strolling around. Now this town is historic and has a castle so some are tourists yes, but the multitude now that the fiesta is over I believe are natives.
I’m not writing this as if I were any kind of authority on culture. And far be it from me to suggest that somehow things are so much easier and better here. One thing, I’ve been told, everyone knows your business, and sometimes they even suggest their opinions on that. Kind of like small towns everywhere.
But I do get the sense that the role of family and the feeling of togetherness, and sharing meals and just enjoying the natural surroundings, is surviving here better than at home.
My friend the home boy wants to get a little parcel outside the town like a lot of people have — probably no more than a garden plot. Not to live on but to enjoy nature and raise vegetables and fruit trees. Maybe have some animals.
He often remarks on how peaceful it is and how people eat and drink but get along with each other.
Like I say, I don’t know. but so far it looks and sounds good to me.
But alas I belong to another land and don’t intend to leave it. I might even appreciate it more — there’s no place like home.
I did not address the drinking of alcohol head-on. From reading Spanish newspapers and seeing the news on TV I know that the notion that somehow Europeans know how to handle alcohol better than us in the U.S. is a myth. They have all the same problems. Even so, in this little pueblo, I have witnessed more widespread and peaceful sharing of drinks than I do at home. It may well just depend upon where you are. But here, for example, drinking wine with meals is basically taken for granted.