There are historic dates that are etched into the Andalusian landscape:
1492 for example, that year when the Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Isabella did not only conquer the very last bastion of the Moors (Granada) but also sent Columbus on his journey – propelling Spain towards the status of world power. In all Andalusian cities you see the palaces and mansions reminding us of that incredible wealth.
Or what about 1975, when Spain became a democracy and was the basis for that slow spiral of an economic boom, turning thousands of kilometers of fishing area into Costa’s.
There are dates that we cannot see – but for sure have changed the landscape:
1898, the year of the great Spanish trauma of losing Cuba, and immediately afterwards the Philippines, causing loss of the great standing and a national depression that for sure has made many a plan and dream come to a grinding halt.
Just as 1936, the start of the Civil War, it was a date to forget rather than remember, so all that is left are ghosts and whispers, stories of people old enough to be able to point at a hill or building and say: “This happened there“. It’s not in the landscape but hoovering over it.
And then, then there’s 2008!
The year the construction died.
Over the course of not 2 years thousands of Europeans shelved their dreams for a holiday home in the sun – causing hundreds of projects to run out of money: a change of life for tens of thousands of builders.
Even if it’s just saving 10 Euro on your holiday, if 400 million Europeans decide to do so, this causes mass unemployment in the south – and many a waiter or hotel employee could no longer even finish his own house, or think of renovating it, and forget about maintaining the second or third property.
And thus started the 7 lean years.
On the beaches it was as busy as always – but only because beaches are for free. In the side streets you couldn’t escape ‘el Crisis’: bowling alleys were shut, restaurants empty. When tourists at the coast spend less or no longer buy property, many an inland village becomes a ghost town. For that is where the workers and builders live.
You can only survive so long on your savings: with every year that passed by more builders decided to pack up and move to cities or other countries. Leaving even more empty houses.
And now, what now?
It’s still too recent. We might very clearly be again in the fat years, but that’s only since 2015 so the money and energy and investment has not trickled down to every corner of life and business.
Those who can come back to the roots are doing so, those who can afford to paint or renovate are doing so – there’s a pleasant psalm of painting hanging over the whole of inland Andalusia, and at the same time it’s too fresh.
So today’s era is one of industrial archeology:
You see them everywhere, the skeletons of buildings where birds nest, and the village youth steals kisses or organises a botellón (*).
All things come with a silver lining:
It’s right that Berlin Wall of unfinished construction around many a village, that makes tourists turn back…
Leaving the heart of the village as authentic as it ever was (I would even say: if you spot such an ‘unattractive looking village’, stop there! It will be the least touristy and most calm one! And the trendy one of the future).
It were right those 7 hyper calm years that caused the come-back of eagles, or the habit to just outside your door with all the neighbours and a bottle from the grocery store.
Just as it were those years that have made so many youngsters move to other countries, learn new languages and new crafts, youngsters that are now very much in demand in Spain itself.
The future of 2008
It goes without saying: in a country that uses the highest amount of bleach in the world, that is so focussed on cleanliness as well as craftswork, 2008 will join 1898 in being nothing but a story.
Me for one hope that some of these skeletons will remain. As monuments to changing times and human dreams – how we always stumble, always make the most of it in the middle of doing so, and always get up again. Or just as a reminder that we constantly live history, every day. It’s not a boring thing in books, it’s our life.
(*) un botellón: literally ‘a big bottle’, a social activity of gathering in a public place to share a bottle. In general only youngsters still do so, preferably in a hidden place and after midnight. With a guitar and letting it grow out to a true fiesta.