P is for Progress

There used to be a dirt track into the village, Villager J tells me. They didn’t need a road because no one had cars. It was just horses and ox carts. No running water, the water came from their wells. Women washed the clothes in the washing tanks. People took their grains to one of the mills near the river and baked bread in stone ovens.

Progress arrived here eventually, reluctantly, but I can imagine at a devastating pace, because the remnants of life before progress are visible everywhere still.

Walk around the village and venture in some of the old  houses and sheds, long abandoned properties, of owners who have gone of to Venezuela, Mexico or Argentina, never to return again, and you can see the ancient relics of the past.

The roof of the shed might have caved in, crumbling mattresses piled on, but pull  those mattresses away and there it is, the old ox cart, one wooden wheel fallen off.

A dusty lead rope hangs on a nail of part of a wall which is still standing, and behind some old wine barrels a rusty plough. The partitions of the stable have nearly rotten through but it’s pretty clear where the animals would have been, cows most likely. In the corner a stone drinking trough. These go for good money now, people like putting them as ornaments in their gardens.

One of the old properties no longer has doors. Someone has wrecked the cast iron top and front of the old cooker in the room upstairs, the walls blackened with sooth, a bed without a spring in another room.  The spring would have been used as an alternative fence.

The gypsies, people say, the gypsies go in and take it all. They see them as despicable scavenging hyenas, dragging things off with their hunched bodies, not to a cave, but into their not so sparkly white vans. But according to Villager L it’s often Villager J who goes scavenging. Don’t trust him, he  says.  I trust Village J regardless. Sometimes it’s better the devil you know.

I make my way through an overgrown courtyard and peek into another shed, I adjust my eyes to the dark, in the middle there is a massive weaving tool, I can’t quite make out what it is, but there’s even still some wool on it.

Where have all the people progressed to?

There doesn’t seem to be an in between generation as such. The donkeys and horses were hastily replaced with cars and credit, things were whitewashed over initially, kitchens suddenly white rather than blackened with sooth and women had washing machines.

Recently the younger generation, out of nostalgia perhaps, have decided to pay homage to what was in the past, by placing the old ploughs  and ox carts as ornaments in neatly mowed lawns , memorials to the slaving their parents used to do on the land, their callused hands.  That land. I used to grow potatoes there. And they want grass to sit on. I guess that is progress.

Villager M’s previously plastered walls have been sandblasted to reveal the granite blocks behind it, granite which was removed by hand from the quarries in the hills, moved by ox carts.  Her son has made a coffee table out of a cut in half barrel, a glass top.

Rustic is suddenly in again.

Perhaps it’s never been out as such. They might have their pressure cookers now, but the older generation is still clinging on to the old ways. They demand their offspring to come home in the weekends and help them with the vinyards, the potatoes, the haying.

Yes, maybe they have machines for that now, and instead of ploughing with oxes they have tractors, they still demand it gets done. Tarmac or no tarmac, credit or no credit.

The good thing about progress, is that women have it a lot better now, I discuss with Villager E.  Yes, that is the case, but there’s this other problem, she says. Now there’s so much more stress. People are getting ill with it. They might have their washing machines and cars, she says, but…it doesn’t seem to be as what she thought she signed up for.

And while everyone is progressing, digressing and regressing, I keep a look out for old and trying to learn, taking in those old skills wherever I can.

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