These PROFILES are literary insights into the personalities and traditions of timeless Andalucian men and women. They serve as character studies and attempt to capture the essence of some of our favourite people from rural Spain.
Anita is almost 80 years old. Her husband passed 26 years ago and since then, she has lived alone in a little white house in a farming valley in the heartlands of Andalucia. It´s not a very big house but big enough for her tiny frame, her cats, her tinkering shed, olive and fruit trees and several washing lines, where garments and sheets dry in the gentle breeze. She is Andalucia personified; natural and lyrical with an original and sunny personality. Words flow out of her in melodic bursts and her memory enjoys word perfect precision. Her house is as tidy as her mind and brims with icons of Old Spain. She rises with the sun and lives with the ebbs and flows of nature and the changing weather.
I had driven past her house countless times and it had always filled me with intrigue. One day I caught a glimpse of her at the gate, stopping the car to introduce myself.
“Hola Señora, we are the new neighbours from the house in the corner of the valley.” …and she was off. Her staccato speech ricocheted around the quiet lane as she recounted her memories and connections with the farmhouse we had just purchased. I only wanted to listen and was struck by her phrasing and use of refrains that were peppered with rural wisdom. It seemed as if her very speech was lifted from a play by Federico Garcia Lorca. He always said he fell in love with the Spanish language through the words and stories of her nannies, cooks and workers of his childhood homes. He would have loved Anita. He might have been inspired to create a character around her.
After several months of conversations at the gate, I invited her to come to our house for afternoon tea. I had only ever seen her in her glorified pyjamas but here she was looking so well turned out and pretty; hair combed, pearl earrings, woollen skirt and jumper clutching a little cardboard gift bag that held her keys. Her smile was as wide as the valley.
“Hola Anita. Don´t you look lovely!”
“Lovely? You should have seen me when I was 20.” The glint in her eye tells you she´s not lying. Her past punctuates her present and fuels her future. She is quite timeless.
“Do we have Royalty coming for tea?” she asked as she viewed the table we had laid for her. Once seated, with a second cushion to prop up her delicate torso to the table´s edge, she refused all excesses. Only a little milk and a little sugar in her half cup of coffee. “Not too much!” she chastened, “I´ll be up all night.”
She must have been desperate to see the house and in particular the old goat farm in the out buildings. No sooner had I suggested it, she was vertical, out of her chair, taking my arm.
“I haven´t been back here for 30 years. Now you have this place, you have to bed down here and be happy, all of you together. Bring it back to life – enjoy it. That´s what you need to do.”
It dawned on me that Anita and Antonio had worked here, but she hadn´t been back since his passing. She wasn´t prepared for the impact of the visual and spatial memory, for as we stepped into the pack patio, a thousand memories buried for 30 years burst to the surface of her mind. Conversations, word for word, resurfaced. Only Anita knows what she remembered. She didn´t share any details. She simply crumpled before me. All tension left her limbs and she began to shudder with muffled wails of high pitched suffering.
“Dios Mío. Dios Mío. My God. My God. Madre. Por favor. Madre mía.”
She was wrecked with anguish as reluctant tears slipped down the creases of her face.
I would have let her wallow and prolong the moment but the Andalucians are made of strong wills and resolute determination. She mustered the resolve to dust herself off and cling to the positive. No emotional indulgence. She pulled herself together almost as quickly as she had fallen apart, chastising herself. It was impressive to watch.
As we stood waving her goodbye at the gate, her neighbour´s car disappeared around the dusty corner. We could hear the engine revving as they climbed the hill on the other side of the river. They came back into view for a short stretch of track that took them through the olive groves. The car looked like a chariot, bathed in the golden light of the setting sun. I could make out Anita´s profile, just visible through the car window. Grey hair crowned her face and she looked straight ahead, in the direction of home.