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Vignettes from Chinchón: First Week in Spain, January 2012

Limestone caves underlie all of Chinchón, where my friends live. Every family had its own cave–no need for boundaries or laws because they Knew. In the center of town, the sloping Plaza Mayor where in the winter people park, and in the summer they fight bulls, and everyone watches from the surrounding balconies. Except that the balconies don’t belong to the people who own the apartments behind them. They, like the caves, have property lines going back centuries. You could say the homeowners have an easement to the balconies, which are attached to their dwelling but are not theirs. Once the season of the bulls begins, the true owners take possession. If that means they come through the front door, into the living room, then so be it. Do the homeowners invite them to a drink, a café? Probably. It is better to feel you are doing a favor than being victimized by fervent corrida-loving hordes.

And speaking of that, there are still engravings that mourn those who died “for God and homeland” killed by the “Marxist Hordes.” Yes, the Civil Waris very much alive. The locals refer to the still-present Franquistas as “fachas” or, in English, “fascists.”

In the small taverns that ring the plaza, you can’t really tell who’s who. There are older men and woman, not a glamorous one among them, all bundled against the winter chill. There are young couples, one with a baby buggy and, of course, a baby inside. But no one really cares or should care now. No smoking anymore in the bars or restaurants. And no one is getting drunk. Mainly they all drink small glasses of draft beer and talk: about the taxes and fees that creep up, about La Crisis, which has touched everyone.

But some things never change: the gigantic wine vats in the caves beneath the town, still in cobwebbed evidence beneath Taberna el Duende, as you climb down crumbling stairs to more and more profound depths. If the bombs fell in Chinchón during the war, these caves would have provided excellent shelters.

Above this village, stars crowd the sky, seem to almost touch the earth in these cold months. I marvel until my neck grows stiff. Everyone else seems to take their nearness for granted.

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