A new day dawns in the ‘barrio’

Waking up in our neighbourhood, one can hear birds and bees and other country-like sounds, reminiscent of Grieg’s ‘Morning Sonata’. Usually there is a stray dog out in the campo barking into the wee hours and sometimes an entire canine choir joins in. Every so often one can discern the bleating of grazing sheep on the slope beneath the city wall. In between are moments of serene silence, interrupted by a heart-wrenching wail of the burro (donkey) at one of the surrounding farms. Every quarter of an hour the bells chimes from the ‘Inmaculada conceptión’, the old stone church built upon the site of a mosque in the 15th century, just over the city wall. This is our neighbourhood, Barrio San Francisco,

Having lived in Vancouver, where either church bells are outlawed or otherwise deemed undesirable, I am so thrilled to hear bells now at all blessed hours. We missed them so much in Canada that one new-year Jaime and I went to a ‘world peace meditation’ supposedly with 100 church bell chimes. It sounded very impressive. We got to the church and the priest’s helper held up a small hand-held bell. This was the great vessel that was going to chime for world peace. Luckily there was not a war going on, in case people actually would have to hear the bells beyond the walls of the church.

Back to our barrio, people are starting to stir, water running through the pipes of the rows of white houses in this pueblo blanco. The doctor next-door enters the shower just after seven bells, his wife following, stepping straight into her stilettos. Their 15-year-old daughter has learned from her mom and puts on her steel-toed combat boots. Contrary to common myth that Spaniards talk all the time, our neighbours barely exchange words as they clamper about for their morning rituals. They march out at eight bells, welding the door in their wake, not to be heard of until they return twelve hours later.

In the next hour, the barrio becomes a beehive of activity. Moms hurry their uniformed children to schools with names of virgins and saints. Cars inch out from impossible tight bumper-to-bumper alley parking. Workers get rides to town or wait for the bus. A boy runs to the panaderia to pick up bread for his lunch. A nun in full habit drives by (the latter always surprise me, as in North America the only time one sees nuns out and about is during Halloween.) The sun is up and the palm trees alongside the Arab city walls cast tall shadows on the golden rocks. In the central square, old men watch life pass by as fall leaves sail down and fill the central fountain. A new day is rising, yet much has ben same for centuries, certainly the cries of the lonely donkey.

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