Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Faces From Before

Nobody remembers who shot the photographs. Nobody even remembers the names of some of the people who were there that day. 

One shows a four dozen country people standing outside a church. The other shows a similar, smaller assortment, tumbling out the door of a crumbling schoolhouse. There´s a sameness to their features, like most of them were related to one another. It was a happy time. Most of them smiled. They were well-fed and comfortable here. They were home.

The photographs were taken in August 1979, thirty years ago, when the people of Moratinos took a break from the annual fiesta to pose for two big group photographs.

I know some of these faces. Pilar is there on the left, the same pretty woman from two doors down. The little girl in her arms is grown up now, moved away south, a mother herself now. There is Loli, young and pretty in her Farrah Fawcett hairdo. We only ever saw Loli on holidays, when she and her husband and son zoomed into town for weekends. She wore fabulous cocktail dresses to the Fiesta Mass, and she and her husband knew all the complicated steps to the tangos and foxtrots at the dance afterward, when everyone else just settled for polkas or paso dobles. They were a breed apart. It´s her family home that was sold last week to an Italian Confraternity of St. James.

Estebanito is there in both photos, flashing a crooked little-boy grin, wearing espadrilles and shorts and a button-down shirt. His knees are dirty. He is our mayor now. In the photo his little brother José wears an identical outfit. He snuggles up against Eduardo, the bachelor farmer who knows everything about the weather, and grows the town´s finest figs and apricots. Adults were affectionate with children in Moratinos in 1979. The photos show fathers, uncles, and neighbors holding babies and toddlers and kids up to the camera. The village raised all its children. When a child stood near, it was a natural thing to rest your hand on her shoulder, to touch his hair with your fingertips. There was no fear. The camera knew that, and caught that.

I do not know many of these people. Their names are a catalog of the strange and ancient: Pompeyo, Clasica, Agripina, Parmenio. But these streets were their streets, my house may have been theirs once, or their cousin´s, or brother´s. Their fingerprints may be on the adobe that makes my barn. I may still be sweeping their dust from my floors.

Indeed, in the shadow of the schoolhouse door is the face of the man who last lived in the house that is The Peaceable. His family members died and moved away, and he lived here alone with only fields and orchards to occupy him. The loneliness was too much for him. He walked one morning out the front gate, down the drive, and a few steps across the field. An irrigation well glistens there, in the middle of a fertile strip of green garden. Deep, silent and dark. 

Plenty more of those in the photo now lie quiet in the cemetery up the camino. All these jolly old men in their black berets: Elias, Claudio, Eutimio --  and the women in dour black dresses: Auria, Enriqueta, Victoriana. The old men smiled for the photo. The ladies faces are masks. It is impossible to tell if it is kindness or cruelty, laughter or faith or illness that engraved the lines there.

In 2009, thirty years on, the streets and plaza are paved. The schoolhouse is pointed and rendered and remodeled into a fine Ayuntamiento building; the teachers´ house, standing proud in the photo background, is fallen to ruin. The children are grown and gone to the city. Waists and faces have widened, hair gone white, beards and Afros cut away. 

They don´t take these big group photos much anymore. I wish they would.

Last week I took the two small originals to the last remaining photographer in Sahagun, a man who now scrapes his living by snapping ID photos and making copies and enlargements of old photos like these. He loves these, he told me. He has dozens of them, from all the pueblos just like this one: Joarilla and Villapeceñil, Bustillo and Rioseco and Lagartos. Hundreds of faces, hundreds of names, vanishing slowly away.

Today I finished the project. Now copies of the old pictures, blown-up to a size where all the faces can be seen, (more or less) are keyed to the peoples´ names, framed, and will hang on the wall of the Ayuntamiento meeting room.

A room you can almost see in the schoolhouse picture. It´s there behind Angel´s angelic smile, the same one he wears today. The same one his brother Manolo is wearing, back then and now, too. And Segundino, too – they have their father´s smile. His name was Ciriaco. In the photo he sits sprawled front-and-center on the ground, smiling so wide his eyes are hidden in the folds.

He looks like the king of the world. 


The Solitary Walker said...

Oh, that was such a lovely, affecting post. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Lovely post.

M.A. said...

Lovely post, Reb.
I love these old photos and used to store them in albums with some label below. After all, I'm historian.
Now, I don't know where my collection has gone, after some sad house-changes and people lost.