Archive for September, 2017

228401493_54bf1f1a6b_oSpain’s normally wet northwest corner is in trouble amid the grip of a third year of drought which threatens profound consequences for the region’s economy.

Average temperatures are up, rain levels are down and the expected meteorological trend is for that to be the new normal.

For farmers, who have suffered dry winters and parched summers it’s a disastrous outlook.

For the tourism industry based around the Camino de Santiago it means increasingly tense discussions over allocation of water resources.

In 1986, the number of pilgrims completing the walk and receiving the Compostela certificate was fewer than 2,500, according to the Confraternity of St James.

Last year that number had risen to more than 270,000; thousands more either didn’t finish in Santiago or didn’t request the Compostela.

The city of Leon, where I’m based for the next three months, is one of the main stages on the Camino. Its principal reservoir, the Barrios de Luna, is currently at just 7% of capacity.

Cuts to some 35,000 hectares of irrigated crops have already been initiated and even where they can be saved, lower yields will mean higher prices.

Water scarcity is an increasing problem across the country. This year has been the third driest on record, after 1981 and 2005, and the conflicting needs of agriculture and tourism are set to become ever more contentious.

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SPAIN’S northwest corner is riddled with “ghost villages”, former communities where the people have gathered their most precious possessions and gone.

Homes are abandoned, tended land runs to weed, and livestock is absent.

There are around 1,500 such villages here out of 3,000 across the country, an exodus towards greater opportunities and an easier life.

Economic migration from rural hardship is nothing new; it has gone on for centuries and is not just confined to Spain.

The Irish, the Portuguese, Italians, Poles, Romanians and many more have seen mass movements of populations in the past and in present times.

The United Nations expects almost 70 per cent of us to be living in urban areas by 2050, up from 30 per cent in 1950.

Hiking through the Apuane Alps in northern Italy a few years ago I saw first-hand the reality of this transitional tide.

Passing through a beautiful stone village I met the only inhabitant, an old woman who kept a couple of dogs for protection and company.

The sense of isolation, of loneliness, of vulnerability was palpable.

Scan the internet on the topic of the empty countryside and you’ll see it’s rife with stories of villages for sale and properties that can be bought for a pittance for those willing to rough it.

Managing without running water, mains electricity and the support infrastructure of the modern world is unthinkable for most of us.

The dream of a pastoral idyll pales quickly when the reality of life without immediate access to supermarkets, healthcare and communications kicks in.

Perhaps the demise of rural communities is inevitable, even desirable when it comes to the efficient delivery of goods and services.

But there are social and societal consequences that have value beyond the balance sheet.

Pride in locality, in connection to the land and to its history helps define who we are. Losing rural communities tears at the fabric of culture.

As villages wither the rich diversity of dialects, foods, music, dance and dress are replaced by increasing homogeneity – and that leaves us all the poorer.

Spain still has strong ties to its folk culture and isn’t embarrassed by its agrarian roots which may be why it’s one of the best places in the world to eat.

Here in Leon we’re coming up on a festival of morcilla, a week-long homage to blood pudding in all its wonderful, grisly forms.

Like it or loathe it, it’s a reminder of a time when most people made their living from the land, hunger was commonplace and nothing was allowed to go to waste.

Rural living still has many lessons for the modern world.

Use your loaf, buy village bread

Posted: September 23, 2017 in Food, Spain
Tags: , ,

The little panaderia round the corner from our temporary home in Leon, Spain sells bread by the names of the villages where it’s made.

It comes in a variety of forms – plump cushioned domes, low-rise pads, crispy truncheons, long and short – and all are delivered daily.

None last more than a couple of days because of the absence of preservatives, but taste trumps shelf-life in this part of the world and frugal habits of the old Spanish cocina mean there’s always a use for stale bread.

Made with only four ingredients – flour, water, salt and yeast – it’s at its best, like all breads, while still warm; definitely not more than a day old.

It’s pleasing, too, to entertain the notion of buying into a traditional, artisanal way of life, that supports a rural community and helps a village survive.