As I was driving along the coast road to Garrucha on my way to today's funeral in Arboleas, there were three bulk carriers riding at anchor off-shore and one about to leave port. It's more usual to see one ship docked and loading and only occasionally another out in the bay. Why the increase in traffic? What's going on in another part of the world requiring so much raw construction material, I wonder? Or is this all a regular part of a cycle of commerce I know nothing about? It's intriguing.
I took the route to Arboleas on the back country road past Concepción and through Zurgena, having left early enough to have time to take photos on the way there and on the way back. The site of this rural village has been in occupation since neolithic times, with fertile soil, access to water and marble quarrying in the vicinity as an economic resource. It's the centre of a municipal area that reaches north across the valley as far as Llanos del Peral. Down on the floor of the valley is the village of La Alfoquia, which seems bigger. When the railway came to the Almanzora valley in the late 19th century there was a station there, a goods yard and warehouses. Some of the buildings survive, but alas, nothing more.
I arrived in Arboleas an hour early, found the church and a place to park, then had a coffee, in a bar nearby. In this place, and another around the corner, I heard mostly English being spoken, as I passed by. Indeed, since I've been in Mojacar, I've heard more English spoken on the streets, than Spanish, followed by French. The funeral director and his wife had arrived with the hearse by the time I left the bar. The church, however, was locked.
Slowly the space in front of the church filled with cars and people arriving for the funeral. Nobody seemed to know when the church would be unlocked or by whom. The widow and a few mourners were beginning to fret about not being able to get into the church. The funeral director called the priest with whom he'd made the booking and I gathered from him that he'd be along soon. It seems he was the other side of town officiating at a funeral in the Municipal Thanatorium, and was the only key holder available. I found myself briefly in the role of interpretor. It seems that few of the expats had more than rudimentary Spanish.
The young parish priest arrived at twenty to twelve and opened up. The churches in this area are fortunate to have young clergy, with so much ground to cover, so much to look after. We spoke in Spanish, and he was most welcoming, and expressed relief that a priest had been found to conduct an English service. He spoke some English, but like others, lacks confidence to use it unless really necessary. Bit by bit, however, necessity is proving to be a virtue for me, as I find that I can make myself understood quite well, except when I get learned vocabulary 'blank-outs'. The insistence to 'use it or lose it' is certainly true.
There was a congregation of about eighty for the service. The selection of popular songs from Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra seemed to fit, as a contrast to the quiet reflective mood it was so easy to facilitate in a beautifully decorated and well cared for neo-baroque 19th century building. There are rows of double columns in the arcades supporting the nave. Although painted to look like marble, these are made of local cast iron, a homage to local industry.
There was no gathering immediately after the funeral, so I took my leave of the widow, aware that she's living in a neighbourhood of expats that's long standing and close knit, so there'd be informal visits and socialising going on later in the afternoon. I re-traced my journey to the A7, and was back in the apartment cooking lunch by half past two.
I didn't go out for my evening paseo until it was almost dark. I walked as far as the Repsol garage near Garrucha and back, which took me an hour. As I passed over the Rio Aguas bridge, squadrons of egrets were flying in to roost for the night. Reed beds either side, nearest to the sea were a mass of white blobs, once they given up jostling for position or changing their resting place. It's hard to estimate just how many egrets roost there but it's got to be over five hundred.