Thursday, November 1, 2012

Trasulfe, the Village We Love

Trasulfe in the far upper right; lower, to the left is a neighbor's farm. (The neighbor who brought us the quemada described later in this post.)

When people learn how often we go to Galicia, Spain, they often just hear "Spain", and ask us if we've seen Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla . . .  No, we haven't been to any of those places (except for the Madrid airport).

Somehow Galicia has cast its spell over us, and, except for two short trips to Portugal (which we loved, and I'll write about in a later post), we haven't gotten out of Galicia. There is, of course, the famous city of Santiago, destination of pilgrims from all over the world, with a beautiful cathedral and an interesting old part of the city (as is the case with so many of these ancient cities in Galicia.) And I wrote about Lugo my previous post. But what captures our hearts so completely is the tiny village of Trasulfe. We bought a restored house there from friends, and the people of Trasulfe and their way of life have become an integral part of our lives.

One of the bends in the road on the way.
The road we take is on the other side of this building

And there it is: The village we love.

Trasulfe once had a population of 84 people (counting the children) and a couple of grand houses that have fallen to ruin. Many of the stone buildings are in ruins. It is a rural area, and for years young people have left for the big cities or even gone out of the country to find jobs. Our neighbor across the lane worked for many years in Switzerland before returning home to care for his mother, and now he tends sheep. The couple down the hill lived in Barcelona for many years, but are originally from Trasulfe. The man who built our garage lives in a nearby town/village of Turiz, (or Toiriz in Gallegan), but his wife is from Trasulfe, and he tends his cows in a pasture nearby. And our neighbors down the lane who have had such an impact on us, Eva and Manolo, are both from Trasulfe. All of them have siblings, cousins, or grown children, who are living in places like Madrid or Barcelona or abroad in Argentina or Venezuela. The old villages are emptying out, and it's a shame.

Originally, as I said, Trasulfe had a population of 84, and now it has a year-round population of 8! This is the story of a lot of the hill towns of Galicia, and also other parts of Spain. The village populations are aging, but they still carry on their way of life, keeping chickens, pigs, rabbits, sheep, cows (never a huge herd), and growing crops and vineyards. When we arrive, our neighbors bring us wine and eggs regularly, along with whatever is growing that time of year. (We go in spring and fall, so it can be anything from tomatoes, walnuts, chestnuts, peaches, figs -- whatever they have, they generously share.)

One of our neighbors' vines.

Our neighbor across the lane and his sheep.
Gary Larson cows, gossiping.

From our galería window.
From our galería window.
Despite the hardship of small rural villages (always, always they are working), there is a sense of peace and tranquility, of going with the seasons, of the cycle of life, that restores us while we are there. It's "hill and vale" country, and the land slopes down beyond our small fields into a valley, sloping up again on the far side, where we can see small villages akin to ours: white plaster walls, red tile roofs, varied shades of green due to fruit trees (apple, peach, figs), nut trees (walnut, chestnut), and low rock dry walls covered with brambles. Because of the elevation and the vales, nearly every morning begins with mist rising, sometimes an ocean of fog lapping against the far slopes; sometimes a veil over all, making the view haunting and mysterious. Galicia has two coasts, the Atlantic to the west, and the Bay of Biscayne to the north, and consequently it is the wet part of Spain. It's been called "green Spain", and you can see why.

Piñeiro, a village on the far slope.
Another day of mist and sunlight.

Another view from our galeria.

Spooky chestnut forest.

One of the turning points on the way to Trasulfe is a hunting preserve filled with chestnut trees. It always freaks me out, because it reminds me of the forest in Disney's original Snow White, when the trees seemed malevolent. But actually neighbors from all the nearby villages go there to pick chestnuts. The chestnuts were late this year, due to a very dry summer.

Galicia -- all of Spain, in fact -- abounds with festivals and fiestas, and we missed two crucial ones this year: The festival in Toiriz Santa Maria which ended the day before we arrived is one we usually go to. It is not related to the wine harvest at all -- it's a saint's day fiesta -- but it follows the wine harvest (or vendimia), so it's always associated in our minds with the vendimia. But the festival at Santa Eulalia is actually a festival of the chestnuts, a one day festival that had an orchestra this year, and it was on the very day we were leaving, sad to say. The fiestas are so much fun. Orchestras and dancing mostly, but people come from nearby villages and it's an opportunity to catch up on talk.
You can see why these good people have stolen our hearts.

Another moment of great sociability at day's end is gathering at the bench or some convenient group of rocks to just sit and talk. We look forward to this, despite our broken Spanish, and each year we can understand more and more. The picture to the right is from a couple of years ago, as we haven't yet downloaded all of this trip's pictures. It is always such a pleasure to see them again.

 This photo is from our very first fall trip, which coincided with the vendimia. Friends and relatives were helping to make wine -- a wine that is very low in alcoholic content, as they don't add sugar when making it. They've been making it in their families for centuries, and every household has its bodega with a store of wine.

What does have a high alcoholic content is the aguardiente, a clear brandy they distill, similar to grappa in Italy. All the neighbors make it in small quantities for home use, and sometimes they keep it clear, and sometimes they make herbal or coffee liquors from it. But it's always strong: A little goes a long, long way! We have a bottle going back years, because we drink it once or twice only, when the neighbor who gave it to us comes over for meriendas (snacks) a couple of nights before we leave.

This year we had a delightful surprise: I call it "The Night of the Quemada". We invited our neighbors down the road in for meriendas one evening, as they had given us a lovely lunch one day, and they brought the quemada and invited our neighbor across the road too. Quemada is made in a special clay bowl and prepared in a special way: You peel an orange, an apple, and a lemon, and put only the peels in the bowl, along with some sugar, then a generous handful of coffee beans.

Quemada bowl with peels, beans, and aguardiente.

Then you pour a generous quantity of aguardiente over it -- and set fire to it! The fire burns a soft blue with some yellow, and it has to burn for a few minutes so that the drink picks up all the essence of the fruit peels and beans. It's a marvelous aroma! (Our little dining room smelled so good afterwards!) Then it's served in very small cups -- and for good reason!
The fire burned . . .

The fire was set . . .

Everyone was merry . . .

And I was more than a little surprised!
I hope you've enjoyed this little taste of Trasulfe life (pun intended).

Now, a question for you: Where is your dream place you would like to go if you traveled away from your usual walk of life? What would make you return to it again and again?


Anonymous said...

Trasulfe sounds like a place I'd enjoy visiting. Thanks for sharing, Elizabeth. :)

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, LInda, thanks for stopping by. Yes, I think you'd enjoy visiting it. The people are so open and warm and kindly. You feel immediately welcome.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Oops, it was removed because somehow I said it twice.

Rosi said...

No wonder you fly away twice a year. It seems a lovely place with lovely people. Someday we are going to get to that part of Europe. Glad you are home.

Tanya Reimer said...

This sounds like my type of place. Wow, what an experience.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Oh, Rosi, I hope you do. You're such a people person, you'd enjoy it. A lot of walking, though!
Meanwhile, it's also good to be home. I'm almost over jet lag.

Tanya, knowing your personality that comes through on your cool blog, you would love that area.

Victoria Lindstrom said...

Thank you so much for allowing my imagination to visit Spain! The photos of the people in the village are so touching. Take care, Elizabeth.

Anonymous said...

This is amazing :) Thanks for sharing such a wonderful place with us! Love the photos!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Yes, Victoria, I know what you mean about touching. The local people are so sincere and open-hearted. Really gracious in spirit. It just yanks us right in!

Catherine, I'm glad you liked the photos. Most of them are by my husband. He goes wild with the camera over there.

Tanya Reimer said...

I tagged you on my blog if you wanna play writing-tag.

Teresa Cypher said...

Such a wonderful post, Elizabeth! I so enjoyed experiencing this world through your words. It all sounds so fascinating, from the day to day life your neighbors there live, living by the work of their hands, to the drink made in the clay bowl. Wow! Thanks for sharing this. I'll be back again and gain to read more of your adventures called life. :-)

Julia Hones said...

Wow, Elizabeth. What a lovely interesting post! I will come back to it later to "savor" all the details. I love traveling with my imagination.

Theresa Milstein said...

Wow, what a different way of life. I can't imagine being in such a tiny town. The pictures are gorgeous. Thanks for sharing this little part of the world.

I haven't travelled much, but I've visited Paris for 2 short visits and wish to explore it more.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Julia, what a lovely way to put that: "Traveling with my imagination". That's what makes us readers, isn't it!

Theresa, we went on two short visits to Paris, and I just love that city! It's so full of history and atmosphere. I think you would love Cara Black mysteries, because they are based in Paris, and she makes the city come so alive!

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Oh wow, after reading your post I think Trasulfe is a place I'd LOVE to visit one day. The photos are wonderful.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Thanks for stopping by, Lynda. Glad you liked the photos. Most of them are by my husband who is really into photography. He's setting up a website for black and white photography that I will post about later.

Lydia Kang said...

Beautiful pictures! But the Gary Larson cows made me LOL!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Lydia, thanks for stopping by. Re; Gary Larson cows: That's exactly what I thought of when I saw them. They really looked like they were gossiping about humans!

Rachna Chhabria said...

Great pictures, Elizabeth.

Carol Riggs said...

Wow, lovely virtual tour, thanks! Only 8 people is definitely a small town. Sounds nice and peaceful, a great place to write. :)

Vicki Tremper said...

Well, no wonder you never venture beyond Galicia - it's gorgeous! That quemada sounds like something to try. My husband and I are partial to a particular part of the island of Crete and hope to retire there one day.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Rachna, thanks; most of those photos were by Rajan, and I have a post coming up soon about his photography.

Carol, it was! I'm always surprised how much writing I get done there, even though we entertain a lot and go out with friends a lot. But in two trips there I rewrote my MG mystery three times! (My agent says it's finished now, and she's submitting it.) I also write poetry when we're there -- not surprisingly, poems about Galicia. :-)

Vicki, Ooh, the island of Crete. THAT sounds like a fascinating place. I hope you blog about it at times. I'd love to read your posts.

Shannon Lawrence said...

That all sounds delightful. What a wonderful slice of village life. I'm intrigued by the final drink.

There's a little mountain town here in Colorado that I enjoy. I haven't had the opportunity to travel out of the country...YET. When we want to get away, we head into the mountains and let things slow down a bit.

Shannon at The Warrior Muse

Unknown said...

What a wonderful surprise I had finding this post Elizabeth!!.
I am Begoña (Elias'daugther).
Thanks for sharing our way of life from Trasulfe to the world.
wishing to see you soon there again!!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, Bego, so glad you liked the post. We just returned from a longer trip this time. Two months. And the time just went by so fast!

Anonymous said...

My grandad is from trasulfe, and Raquel is my aunt.
Trasulfe is a beautifull place to relax.
But in winter... is very cold

Unknown said...

Hi Elizabeth, I stumbled across your blog by accident. I googled "living in Trasulfe" and there you were which is serendipitous because.... We are in the process of buying your little house in Trasulfe! We have dreamt of moving to Galicia for so many years but work and waiting for savings to mature have kept us in the UK. Now we are about to realise our dream and live in this beautiful and magical. Please do keep in touch and we can keep you up to date with the daily goings on in Trasulfe. I do hope if you ever come back that you will call on us for some "snacks" and perhaps a glass of wine or two.
Nina and Johnny

Unknown said...

Hi Elizabeth, I stumbled across your blog by accident. I googled "living in Trasulfe" and there you were which is serendipitous because.... We are in the process of buying your little house in Trasulfe! We have dreamt of moving to Galicia for so many years but work and waiting for savings to mature have kept us in the UK. Now we are about to realise our dream and live in this beautiful and magical place. Please do keep in touch and we can keep you up to date with the daily goings on in Trasulfe. I do hope if you ever come back that you will call on us for some "snacks" and perhaps a glass of wine or two.
Nina and Johnny