If we consider the wise words above by Andy Warhol to hold true, then the pueblicito (little town) named Consuegras that 88-year-old Antonio lives in with his four chickens, three goats, and one horse definitely charts itself proudly on the map of being deemed a party town. If you count the chickens, goats, and lonesome horse then you might even get enough of a population to hold elections for a mayor, soon. In this Spanish rural village located in the outskirts of Madrid, Antonio may be in the running to rule this pueblo, as he is considered the oldest member of this village and the only person who has lived in Consuegras for his entire life, but he wouldn’t accept the challenge at governing a town now. “I like to live and do things by myself,” he said to me in one of the thickest countryside Spanish accents I have ever heard,“and anyway, we don’t need a mayor…we do just fine helping each other out.” His old age doesn’t help project his voice when speaking to me, nor my short-lived life in Madrid as an accentuated Spanish-speaker to catch everything he says and understand it well. Often times, I nervously laugh in response, as one does when it’s futile to continue attempting to understand what someone else says, and my host father Jacobo’s younger sister Petusa saves the day every hour or so by helping repeat what Antonio is saying in slower and louder Spanish.
Okay, but really: exactly how many people live in this “little” village? Antonio’s older niece Margarita, a 65-year-old or so nurse that lives about an hour away from her uncle in a larger town named Segovia, tells me there are a full eight people that live in Consuegras (if you countla casa rural (the farmhouse) where an elderly couple live), although they are technically outside of the town limits to be considered a part of Consuegras. “Sometimes the number drops to six people in the winter, when the weather gets bad and you don’t have many crops to rely on.” In the summer time, folks that have rented homes here come by for the weekend, but kids have stopped living here about eleven years ago, and it is mainly the elderly that tend to the land and care for the village. I ask Antonio if he knows the names of each of the members in thispueblicito, and he tells me he would be a bad resident if he didn’t. He lists off each member without hesitating, then follows up by proudly telling me the names of his farm animals as well. Antonio may walk with a crane and have lost half of his teeth, but neither of those could stop him from beating me in a 5k run around this village or recite from memory information like the names of his chickens and village members.
Today is a special day in Consuegras because it is the Día del Festivo del San Antonio, meaning the festival of the patron saint in this town. Every year, Antonio graces this day with his village-wide famous cordero, a delicious lamb that is cooked in a dome, wooden-fired oven sitting right inside the elderly man’s house. Margarita tells me her uncle woke up at 6am this morning to begin preparing the lamb, having cut it last night and hanging it to dry overnight so the skin would become hard and be easier to peel off later on. This morning, Antonio cut the one and a half month old animal into four parts and placed each quarter of the animal on a large plate that he then put in a large oven, which occupied a third of the entire house. Antonio sits in a chair and has been tending to the lamb for fifteen-minute intervals for the past six hours. It’s a long, hard job to make the meat warm and tender to perfection, but Antonio does it every time there is a special occasion in the town, and Margarita mentions that this special occasion can be anything from a birthday to a wedding, and obviously the annual Día del Festivo de San Antonio, summing up to a total of ten times per year.
When my host family invited me to come to Consuegras for the day, I squealed of excitement and immediately accepted, not even knowing what or who Consuegras was. Jacobo later explained me to me his relationship with Antonio: when he was about thirteen months old, Jacobo’s mother was summoned to Consuegras to teach the children of the surrounding villages, about 50 students in total at the time. She was la maestra (the teacher) and stayed in Consuegras for about a year and a half before leaving to go back to her hometown of Segovia when she was pregnant again with who is now tía (aunt) Petusa, Jacobo’s younger sister. During that time, she formed a great bond with the people living in the village and became close friends with Antonio, a young lad at the time. Ever since then, Jacobo’s mother would return each summer with her kids to visit Antonio and Consuegras, and they have remained in contact ever since. Although Jacobo’s mother passed away eleven years ago, their family has remained very close to Antonio and has always had a special place for Consuegras in their hearts, so much so that they come back every year to celebrate the Festival of the Saint Antonio and eat the best lamb in the world.
In total, sixteen members were in attendance at Antonio’s house, making for quite a bustling little village that Saturday afternoon. After lunch, we all sat outside and enjoyed the cool breeze, warmth of the Spanish sun, and beautiful scenery that the village had to offer. After chatting with various members of the family, I finally got a chance to sit down with Antonio for a bit and ask him about life, although aunt Petusa helped me translate a bit. He was a feisty man of sorts, ready to tackle on anything and anyone who came his way and very protective of the place he called home. Yet, he was also the most loving grandfather in the world, and after about ten minutes of talking to him, he mentioned I should consider staying in Consuegras if I don’t have much going on back home. “How old are you, pretty girl? Doesn’t matter. There is a great priest here, I’m sure you could marry him and stay here. He’s quite young and a handsome lad.” Antonio started laughing, as I nervously imitated his response by laughing too, and I thought he was serious before his niece mentioned that priests couldn’t get married so Antonio was only poking fun, to which he reiterated that living in his little pueblicito was a whole-hearted offer. Thankfully, my host mother saved me by mentioned I was to return to the US in a couple of weeks, and the two of us chatted some more about “home on the range.”
Suddenly, Antonio looked at his niece Margarita and told her that he needed to get going, as it was his time to get ready for the procession that evening at 7pm. I looked at my watch: it was 5:38pm. Margarita told her uncle to calm down, as he would have plenty of time to get ready and look super guapo (handsome). At 6pm, Antonio stood up and escorted himself to his bedroom, to which Margarita finally decided to get up and lend him a hand in preparing his clothes for the procession. The church bells rang 7pm, and soon, tons of children, adults, and elderly people all filed through the main street in the village to head towards the church and begin the official procession. The patron saint was carried out as Margarita told me they would take it all around the village (which takes about fifteen minutes in total) and then begin dancingla jota, a popular footwork-based dance of the town and northern Spain, similar to what flamencois to the southern half of the country. The procession flew by and children dressed in red and black long skirts began dancing and cheering along the tiny alleys of the village. Thirty people had come in total, which Margarita said was a great turnout for the year. It wasn’t everyday you see this many people in such a small, rural town, and soon we saw Antonio proudly standing at the front of the procession and leading the festivities, walking cane in hand and all.
The festivities came to a close, and the goodbye’s filtered in. I hugged and thanked Antonio and Margarita for all of their hospitality and love that day, letting them know I would never forget such an incredibly beautiful town, as my host family and I filed back into our van and headed back for Madrid. We arrived back into the city at around 10pm, but the sun still hadn’t set, letting me hold onto the lingering memories of such a sweet family living in a rural Spanish village that I would hope to never forget.
The experience was indeed unforgettable, although I am sure ten years down the road I would forget it, but that was not what I carried with me on the hour-long drive home. What I did know was that no matter how much I hoped to never forget Antonio, Margarita, or the little village of Consuegras, it’s charm had made my world that much smaller and my insights that much larger. And that’s all I really hoped to seek out from my study abroad experience. I didn’t necessarily want to fall in love, climb the social ladder, or even assimilate myself into a new culture. All I really wanted from this experience this entire time was to be humbled, to be grateful for all that I have been given, and to remember that there are people out there with less than myself who live happier than I could ever be. That’s what makes this experience worth it, and I think it was a lesson waiting to be found in the little pueblicito of Consuegras.
Antonio taught me more about life that day that I could have ever sought out myself, and to him, I was eternally thankful. Meeting him had indeed made my world just a bit smaller and my experience in Spain that much more meaningful, and no amount of thank you’s would be able to convey that. En fin, you may forget the story, but you’ll never forget the lesson. Although I do hope I never forget this special day in little, tiny Consuegras, I know my outlook on life has been ever so slightly changed, giving me the courage to keep seeking out the road less traveled. That is inevitably what we all seek for: a path that differentiates us from others, makes us our own person, and widens our world to encompass more of our external environment each time. In Spain, it’s never adios, always hasta luego (see you later). So as I reach back home to Madrid this evening, I can only say hasta luego, Consuegras. Until next time, when my world will hopefully be even smaller and my insights even larger than they are today…