Sunday, 24 May 2009

Old Stuff

Today was pretty dull. We trudged 17km in a straight line down a flat gravel road, between fields of unrelenting flatness which stretched to the horizon in every direction. The content of the fields changed: wheat, peas, maize, barley, but that´s all. A change of the shade of green every 10 minutes or so, and coarse gravel underfoot. We will stop here tonight, our last night in an albergue, and early tomorrow walk the 20km to Sahagun and catch a train for Madrid

Last night we went to a mass and a pilgrim´s blessing in Iglesia Santa Maria, an eleventh century church with bits and pieces from other centuries added on. It was highly decorated, as Spanish churches are, with a thirteenth century madonna and child parked in one corner. The madonna was a lovely little statue, very well executed and superbly preserved, just sitting there on a plinth with nothing much to protect it despite the fact that it would be enormously valuable. The Spanish seem very blase about their old things, but then again, if we Kiwis were surrounded by these things in the way that they are, perhaps we would be blase too.

I think that there are two things which affect the sense of the value of old things. Firstly, there is the sheer number of them. The most unlikely looking little places will have inside their churches enormous gilded altar pieces, or bits of ancient statuary, or perhaps a painting by Goya. And the villages themselves will have a row of terrace houses, some of which are brand new, joined to others that are five hundred years old and in ruins. A new house will have a three hundred year old barn out the back, and in one place we saw a thousand year old monastary being used as storage space by local farmers.

Secondly there is a timescale which is scarcely comprehensible to us antipodeans. Near Najera we passed an archaeological dig where they are extracting some of the earliest human remains found in Europe. Apparently, when our ancestors thought the rift valley was becoming a bit crowded they headed North, and when they got to Europe hung a left and ended up in Spain and settled there while property prices were still low. There have, in other words, been recognisably human animals in Spain for about a million years. We have passed dolmens left from when our species began making things out of a sense of mystery and meaning. I guess when you live amongst that, the need to preserve a pretty mediocre old house purely because it is old becomes less pressing.

But perhaps there is another reason as well. All around the place are ruined abbeys and castles and houses. They are mute reminders that nothing lasts: neither the castle, nor the king who built it nor the kingdom he ruled over. So why fight the inevitable? Let the ancient ruins gracefully return to the soil from whence they came, as we, and all that we build shall do one day.

1 comment:

Alden said...

Your comments made me think of the poem 'Ozymandias'