The Adjusted Normal, 11 & 12. Puebla de Sanabria.

Since I've been writing every day, and using a number in the title, today's post has two numbers. I didn't write yesterday because I wasn't home, so today's post is a double feature, though talking mainly about yesterday.

I did my day trip that I usually do at the end of June. Back at the beginning of the year I had started to think about choosing between visiting Luarca in Asturias, again, or Porto during Holy Week. It turned out that I visited my garden. I was thinking I wouldn't go out this month, either, but the New Normal has come with a quieter virus, so I decided to explore.  

I did an almost three hour drive to the edge of Galicia, and over it into the province of Zamora, in the region of Castilla-León. All the times I drove to Madrid with my daughter, we passed the exit for Puebla de Sanabria, and I was always left with a little stirring to find out what it was like. So, yesterday, I found out.

Since it is listed as one of the Beautiful Towns of Spain, and people have started moving around, doing tourism, I feared it might have too many people. But, no, it was a joy to wander around, without having to dodge anyone or pull up my mask in the street. The only places I wore the mask were in the castle, the churches, the museum I visited, and the stores. I kept the stores to a minimum, and I was the only person in the churches and the museum. In the castle, I coincided with two young women, an older couple who was leaving, and a family of four that entered after me. It was easy avoiding them as I wandered the ramparts and the tower. 

That said, when I paid for the food I bought, or the souvenir, or the headache medicine (I left mine at home, and since it was a sunny day, I knew I'd get hit by one.), there were bowls or boxes into which I was asked to put my money, after some made a face because I was paying in cash. At the store where I bought the souvenir, an assistant was actually passing each bill and coin through a sanitizing solution. At the monastery-museum, I was assured that my change had been adequately disinfected. It was the first time I have seen that. Where I live and shop people are much more cavalier about cash. Scientists have mentioned that, while possible, no infections have been noted as having been incurred from handling money. 

You have to keep up with the times.
The castle was my first stop. It's huge, and it has stood on the tallest point of the town since the fifteenth century. Juana la Loca, daughter of the Catholic Monarchs, and her husband, Felipe el Hermoso, stayed there for festivities upon her return to Castile after her mother Isabel's death, as the new queen of Castile. Now, it has an exposition showing the history of the castle and the surrounding towns, life in medieval times, and explaining the biodiversity of the area. It also houses a hall and the municipal library.

The town itself, like all medieval towns, is built on a hill, and that means wandering up and down. It dates from the 10th century, but some documents refer to it in the 6th. Now, it doesn't look at all like it might have then. Most of the old houses have been reformed and made to shine. A great majority have window boxes full of flowers, predominantly geraniums. The streets are paved with clean bricks and stones, and, though there are cars, only residents are permitted to drive into the center of the old town. 

Beautiful, though not historically acurate.
To find a place to eat, I wandered down to the lower areas, where the commercial life seems to be centered. Along the way, I passed houses that sported the titles "Restaurant" and "Hotel" that were closed. I don't know if they're closed until next month, or if the devil virus has closed them definitively. Other than the local people, there were extremely few people around. Down where some restaurants and bars had their terraces out, there were more people, but not many, either. Plenty of the tables were free, even past one o'clock, lunch time. I popped into a bakery and bought a meat pastry and a water, then proceeded to eat it as I wandered along. When I finished, I bought an ice cream and then three plums for desert. Not restaurant fare, but not bad, either. 

I did notice one fly in the ointment. Outside a bank a man, dressed in camouflage, was waiting for two others who were inside, both also dressed the same. They were definitely not military (not with that paunch) and might have been hunters, though hunting season is definitely not open. The third option was that they were Vox members. That was brought to mind by the dark green face masks with a small Spanish flag in the corner, which is what so many Vox members of Congress sport. A shame I didn't have my pin of the Republican flag on me or my bag to flash past them.

After I finished my desert, sitting on a low wall overlooking a street below (do not lick your hands to clean them of plum juice after having used sanitizer earlier, not a good idea), I went back to my car and headed out for Spain's biggest lake. 

The largest lake in Spain.
It was a ten minute drive, at most, out to the Lago de Sanabria. It is over three square kilometers of water created by a glacier that left behind a bowl to collect the water. It's the largest glacial lake in Spain, so you can tell that Spain is not a country of lakes. Reservoirs don't count. There are at least a couple of beaches on the side closest to the road, though on the other side I think there are lanes that reach those banks. Again, despite being a beautiful warm day, there was a very manageable amount of people. Some were sitting at picnic tables, others were on the sands. No one was in the water, so I can assume it's pretty cold.

I continued along the same road and came to Ribadelago Nuevo. It was new, alright. It was a conjunction of modern houses that dated back to the sixties, and of no architectural interest whatsoever. After a kilometer I came to Ribadelago Viejo. This had more traditional houses, though a few were also modern tasteless. The road ended with the small town, and there I noticed a monument, all by itself to those who died in the catastrophe of Ribadelago. I did what I usually do; I looked it up, though I had to wait to get a signal on my phone.

On the night of the ninth of January, 1959, a dam upstream suddenly broke, and a torrent of almost eight million cubic meters of water washed down the hill and dragged the town of Ribadelago into the lake further below. That night, 144 neighbors of the town died, but only 28 bodies could be recovered. The rest still lie at the bottom of the lake. A few years later, government officials built the new town for those survivors who had been left homeless, which explains the lack of soul. The ones responsible for the shoddy work building the dam were condemned to prison, but their sentences were later revoked. The government announced payments to survivors who lost loved ones, but very few ever received payment. As quickly as possible, this was hushed up, as was just about every catastrophe during Franco's time.

One of the pictures at the exhibit from the 30's.
I then drove up above the lake to what remains of a monastery, San Martín de Castañeda. It had once controlled a good portion of the area, but the government expropriation of Church properties at the beginning of the nineteenth century left the monastery in little more than a façade, its stones having been taken for private construction. The church remained because it was the parish church, but, upon entering, the damage from rain and damp is very apparent. The monastery has been rebuilt in part, and now houses an exhibit with old robes priests wore in different times of the year, and an exhibit with photos and documents about the people and the history of the area. 

This area was in extreme poverty ninety years ago. People consider Las Hurdes as the most depressed rural area in Spain in the early twentieth century, mostly because of its inaccessibility, but the area of Sanabria was similarly dirt poor. In 1934, a group of idealistic young people from Madrid decided to go to remote villages in the area of Sanabria and put on plays from Spain's Golden Age, and play traditional music to help bring culture to out-of-the-way rural areas. What they found in San Martín de Castañeda was depressing. Years of bad crops had led to hardship and misery. Families sold off gold and silver jewelry that had been in their hands for generations. Goiter was common, and the children had one teacher in a dark, smoky, one-room building that doubled as the teacher's house. Behind the teacher's desk was the teacher's bed.

The people decided to do something about it. They came later, cleaned and whitewashed the school and found a small place for the teacher to live in. They set up a school dining room and arranged to have food delivered on a regular basis, making sure of financing from local institutions. At first, only twelve children attended the school, in the end, with a promised free lunch, the number grew to forty-five. This was the only pedagogic mission carried out in Spain. Once the Civil War came, two years later, misery descended once again. 

When I left, I drove around some other small villages, decided the lane got too narrow, and backed up till I found a place I could turn around. I'm glad I have a small car. As I was driving back in the direction of Sanabria, I stopped at a sight that had caught my attention on the drive to the lake.

I would have loved to be able to look around.
It was a junkyard. There are junkyards and second-hand stores. The one we saw in the south of France was more of a second-hand store, though overflowing with all different kinds of objects. This one in front of me was a junkyard of the junk variety. If you looked closely, you could find good objects, such as a cast-iron fountain, and things that would have been better off at the dump, such as old plastic flower pots. It was amazing. But it was closed. The entire place, the building, its contents, and a neighboring house were for sale. I would have loved to be able to enter and sift through all the different trash and treasure. If anyone has seen the American sit com from the 1970's Sanford and Son, they would remember the house the father and son lived in as being filled up to the rafters with all kinds of junk. This place in Sanabria would have done the real Sanford proud.

When I got back in the car, I decided to start the long drive home. I was tired, and along the way I had to stop a couple of times to wake up, but I got home fine. Let's see if the devil virus will allow me another outing in September.

Life continues.



  1. Puebla de Sanabria looks wonderful from the road. Several times I whis to stop and to have a look. Maybe next time.


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