With the present economic situation in Europe, Spain has thousands, if not millions of properties for sale. Anything from mansions to flats to utter ruins are at offer for those who have money to spare. Especially on the coast they are literally trying to pass on beach properties for almost nada, but the expat-infested, developer-ruined, party-going coast is not our cup of tea, in spite of the Mediterranean lure.
Earlier this week we visited to a small town called Alcala La Real to look at houses. The town lays just within the province of Jaen, where 13% of the world’s olives are made, so the surrounding hills are covered in olive trees. On our first visit to Alcala, we were astounded by the fort and Arab city wall that literally cap the town. Being smaller and less known than Ronda, Alcala has lower house prices and also more for sale (We are mostly in the ruin market here…), so we thought it was worth the trip.
Our friendly realtor Antonia took us around to see a handful houses following our specifications: an old pueblo house with thick walls, terra cotta floors, beamed ceilings and ideally a patio or roof terrace with a view. Of course, asking for anything ‘old’ puts one at risk of seeing some shall we say quite quaint and rustic abodes.
In the older sections of Andalucian towns the houses are generally attached together, so all you see from the street is a wall, a front door and maybe a couple of windows. There are few indications of what you will find on the inside. The building may be only 3 meter wide, but it could tunnel on forever, though room after room until you end up in some kind of yard or patio area. The latter may be a sunny spot with a beautiful olive tree or a mess of corrugated metal sheds with trash abound.
One of the houses we visited was still inhabited by the family who probably has lived there for centuries. The husband opened the door, trying to conceal the blood on his hands, which we later realized came from just having wringed the neck of a chicken. He brought us into the hall with traditional doily curtains and stairs leading up and down to various levels. Since rural Spanish households generally used to include a husband and wife, their 9 children, their old parents, unmarried siblings, as well as several domestic animals, the houses were divided into as many rooms as possible. You can usually find ample bedrooms, though rarely more than one bathroom.
We entered the kitchen which had a lovely open fireplace. An iron pot with meat was boiling on a fire of olive wood. The wife and an aunt were sitting at a table, stuffing pigs-intestine with meat from an absolutely enormous bowl of raw sausage filling. It was just like a live painting from the 18th century. And the smell, though I am not much for pork, was divine!
The husband brought us out back where the stable used to be, and indeed still was. We were shown where the horses used to feed and the upper area, still used for hay and storage of old farm equipment. (Never mind the house, I wanted to buy the pitchfork!) The stable section itself would be an ample home for us, though it would be a costly and timely project to bring it into a livable state. In addition to completely renovating the stable, we would need to tear down the two hen sheds that they had managed to squeeze into the intestinal back yard, and the not completely appetizing bathroom that they had conveniently built beside the chicken coup. Since the neighbor also had chickens, you would still get the smell and other joys that that comes with living at close quarters with feathered creatures.
It was in the attic where it all came together – the secret of Andalucian sausage making. Maybe the airy coolness of the open attics offer the perfect maturing conditions for meat, but the ceiling beams of Andalucian attics are where the best homemade Chorizo sausages are hung to dry. A month or so should do it, we were told. (In another house, shown to us by an old woman with a stubby dark moustache, the whole attic was filled with raw chorizos. We asked her if they were selling them. No, this was for their own consumption, she told us, likely helped by the four savage dogs running wild in the back yard)
Returning to the kitchen, the family asked how we liked the house. We told them as truth was that we loved it, their mouth-watering cooking certainly weighing heavy in. Jaime, who LOVES sausage, suggested that we just move in with them…