Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Dying Villages of Europe, with soup

Rain in clouds, light and tempestuous as I headed west to Gatehouse of Fleet last night.  In the warm of The Bakehouse (and a grand smell of soup) was Tom Pow and around a dozen people gathering to consider the evidence of Europe's dying villages that Tom had brought back for us in his suitcase.  A bit like Marco Polo yarning in Venice, just substitute a gilded apple-mouthed pig's head for the soup.

Tom had a series of framed photographs on the wall behind him (at the head of a very large dining table) and introduced us to characters he'd met, which included a lady from Russia who lived all alone in her village.  When he asked why she didn't go to the city and live near her daughter, she said she liked village life.  And a fine poem about a herdsman who lived on the Alta Plano in Spain, for 3 months of each year entirely alone with the cattle.  And Father Georgio, who is a priest in Russia (somewhere, geography gets hazy now) and builds churches for surrounding villages, with the help of ex-convicts, they being the only available labour.

Signs of dying villages include unpicked fruit, Tom pointed out, and unpacked a case of bronze apples made by Elizabeth Waugh, sculptor of Eskdalemuir.  They were exquisite, weirdly like apples in the hand, but for the weight.  When we'd got over ourselves a bit stroking apples, he produced bronze blackberries too. 
Then stories about the camino, that fiercely Spanish concept of the road, and its baggage of adventure, departure, challenge.  In which the village stands for home, security, continuity.  I remembered how in deep Spain the village are built facing inwards, the houses packed closely together as though to keep warm.

All in all it was a bravura performance (and bravura soup too). 

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