Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The House Next Door

The Peaceable is the yellow house behind THND.

I have lived only yards away for eight years, but I had never been inside the house next door.  Castilians mind their own business. They meet one another in bars or in the plaza, but almost never in each other’s homes.

Besides, there was hardly ever anybody home.

The place next door hasn’t really been a home for about 30 years, at least. Old Francisco raised his family here, but the kids grew up and moved elsewhere. When Francisco’s daughter married, he went to live with her in the city.  (It is a daughter’s duty to care for aging parents.) On holidays and sunny weekends we sometimes saw Francisco out in the driveway in his folding chair, watching the grain waving in the field over the road. He was small and stooped, but his eyes were bright and friendly. He told me once about serving in the civil war, that his military picture was on display at the ayuntamiento. 

Years passed, and Francisco stopped coming along when his daughter’s family visited town. The old man died this spring at the care home in Villada. His four children inherited the house next door. They agreed among themselves that none of them wants to keep the old place.

And so it is for sale. And so people like me, accompanied by others who might be interested in buying, can now see what’s inside the walls I walk past every day. And so on Sunday, when the daughter came to town, she showed me:
the patio

A patio paved in amateur concrete, streaked with rust and adobe. There’s a grey paisley wainscot of rising damp along two sides, and greenery is restricted to two neglected flower beds. It could be a lovely little patio. It may once have been, before sheep and cattle trumped hyacinths and hollyhocks.

A baking and roasting room, with two black-mouthed ovens built into the wall: one for bread, and one for roasting meat.  

An indoor well, a tiny room where the water comes in, a luxury in its time.  There’s a new water line and sewer line, too, installed a while back when Moratinos put in municipal systems.  Everything works okay, the lady said. They’re only here on the weekends in summer, and for the fiesta in August. They haven’t done much work on it, because it’s not really theirs.
The bathroom is windowless. Tiles, shiny, floor to ceiling, a pattern repeated over and over. A tiny tub, set up for showers. A pull-the-chain toilet. A derelict washing machine. A naked lightbulb overhead casting 40 Watts of gloom.

Not a lot of electricity. The wiring tacked-up and painted over.  

A kitchen, covered in funky 1960s tiles. No counter space, few cupboards – preparation and storage happen in yet another little room. A big, broad porcelain sink, a little fridge, a gas stove with the aroma of roasting rabbit floating forth -- Sunday dinner.
a beautiful, beautiful barn

Next little room in line, up three steps, the table is set for six. On a sofa pushed against the wall the little grandson naps. Fairies dance on the silent TV screen.  Up two more steps into an empty bedroom, cool and blue. The window looks out onto another patio, green and overgrown.  There’s a closet in this one, the lady says. Inside hangs a mop with a shriveled head.

We follow her down the steps, we turn a corner, and we’re in a sunny entry hall. Dark blue double doors open onto the sun-blasted patio; sunlight bleaches the throw rugs. It is airy there. Hydraulic tiles on the floors, moderno, very chic nowadays in New York and Barcelona. Four little bedrooms, low ceilings, small windows to keep out the cold in winter – they open onto the sunny hallway, onto another dining room, a formal room with a 1930s-era wedding photo on the wall. 

Across the patio and through a gate is another labyrinth, this one for animals.  Here is room for cattle, a mule, foals, chickens, rabbits, pigeons, tractors, wagons, hay and seed-corn.  The stalls look out on a little corral, space for another nice patio, perhaps. The walls are adobe brick, stacked and sagging, with elegant interlace of timbers, sticks, mud and tiles that make up the roofs.

And there’s the rub. This is not a large finca, but a massive amount of it is under roofs. And the roofs, neglected for decades, are failing. The timbers are riven with woodworm, walls and beams are jacked-up and coated with dove droppings. It is dusty and dark and well beyond redemption.

This finca, and thousands of others just like it in hundreds of towns in Castilla y Leon. For hundreds of years they sheltered farmers and carpenters, mule-drivers and wicker-weavers, but now that dark, grubby world is gone.

The family’s moved away, the space is useless, the maintenance and preservation too expensive. No one wants to live out here. No one wants to live in small rooms, heated by straw burning slowly in a tunnel underfoot. No one needs old fincas any more, and so they stand abandoned. They sag and leak until they collapse, and eventually the rain washes them away.

Unless a fool like me happens along.

The Peaceable was much like the house next door when we found it – just a bit smaller and less elaborate. We had to pull down the beams and ceilings, open little rooms into bigger ones, demolish the back barn, plumb and re-wire, put in windows, doors, a kitchen, floors, heating, roofs. It was a tremendous undertaking, expensive and frustrating and probably the biggest risk I’ve ever taken.  It turned out pretty nice in the end.  

It can be done. They are asking 72,000 Euro for the house next door. You can live in a camino village, or come here in summer, or rent it out to other camino dreamers. You can fix it up to whatever standard you like… you could bring your dog, your donkey, there’s lots of room for them. The place even comes with a bodega cave, albeit a broken one. Right next door to ours.   

And we will be here with all kinds of hard-earned advice and references, ready to remind you that Yes, it can be done, and yes, you really are insane to take on a great charming money pit in a tiny pueblo at the back end of the universe.

But this is Moratinos. Where the Big Fun is.  If you can stand the dog racket from the place next door, come and be our neighbour.  


Christine Adams said...

fun to dream about!

lisa hurlong said...

A great piece of writing. It is way over priced but that is the spanish way so you can bargain down. I'm guessing as I live in alittle town more or less the same the price of 35,000 is more like it 10 years ago it would have been 50,000 but now things are quite different. Anyway I loved your description un abrazo LISA

Jane said...

I have only just discovered you and your wonderful writing - a gift - both!
I am starting to dream of this property you describe so eloquently, already....
I walked the Camino Frances last May - and now about to walk on my own again ( as a very different person) from Madrid - starting perhaps Wednesday week...
may I IF I get as far as you - call in and drink tea and talk and perhaps see this falling down barn.... I am looking for a new place to live and love....
yours - in gratitude for being out there - Buen Camino - Jane