The Rumor Mill

Picture, if you will, wheat brought in carts by burros to the two mills in a mountain village. One mill is in the lower part of the village, another half the way up to the center where you find the butcher, the baker, the three competing bars, and Town Hall.

Each mill has its clients, not always because it is the nearest or most convenient; often, in fact, the carts  pass on their way other laden vehicles coming from fields only a hundred meters away from the destination of the one passing by.  This is often explained by the fact the a brother or other relation prefers to take his custom to a family member.

However and wherever they deliver their grain, the drivers will almost to a man make a stop at one or another of the bars, selected by the same system – family ties.  And there, in the bars, the gossip of the village is treated much as the wheat and oats, truth and fiction being ground between the teeth  and turned into loaves as necessary as bread to the the narrow lives of the townspeople.

There is a difference, however. If you take wheat to be ground, flour is inevitably the result; this is seldom so when men exchange words relating a scandal going the rounds – a new report of corruption in the handing out of contracts to the in-laws of the town secretary, or a boy seen fishing with the priest in a cozy little cove where it is well known no fish are ever caught. What begins as a grain of truth often ends in a loaf of malice.

Even though nowadays the millstones are no longer turning with the water flowing still in the canals around and down the hillsides on which the village is built, and the burros which remain are used for keeping the terraces trimmed of weeds, the older men still spend their late mornings as before, complaining of their neighbors and speaking ill of their wives.  Younger men join them in the late afternoon after working at whatever toil they have been able to find for earning a living, and they too have many tales.  All together they play at cards, gesticulating and slapping their clubs and spades on the tables, and the world seems as it will never change.

But who would have predicted the two essential changes in mid-century: the arrival of television, and the beginning of mass tourism? Now the grist will change the mill.

Small towns everywhere have at least one characteristic in common.  The neighbors know too much about each other, and what they don’t know, they invent.  What’s more, a rumor, once invented, becomes as solid as fact, with one important difference:  facts, once established, do not change. Rumors, on the other hand, evolve as rapidly as fruit flies.

As anyone who has lived in a small village knows, the closer geographically the neighbors, the more distant the relationship.  It is true that superficially they get on fine, but each watches the other askance, waiting for the inevitable offense, any small act that will set them to squabbling, sometimes for generations.

There are two churches in the village, both visible from the terrace of one of the foreigners who arrive with the first wave of outsiders.  He is known among the villagers as Joan, the local version of John, and this name is always preceded with en when he is spoken of in third person, as en Joan, just as women are called na Margalida, or na Joanna, or whatever the name might be.  He has lived here for half of his seventy years, and almost all of those years with na Alicia, though she lies now in the village cemetery. As a couple they contributed as much as anyone to the limited cultural life of the town.

On the left of John’s terrace is San Bartolomeo.  It is locked tight all week, except for festive days.. This was not always so, but in recent times there is not so much respect for the church as before.  Many objects of little commercial value but necessary for the services disappeared before the bishop agreed to let the parroquials decide when to open the doors.  Not so many of the villagers took notice.  It was mostly the widows dressed in black who went there every day to light a candle, and of them not so many remain, either.  Saturdays, not so long ago there were many who went to confession,  not only the gent gran, but these days futbol has been known to interfere with the practice of religion.  The bell no longer tells the hours, and is rung only when yet another anciano passes on to the reward surely to come after this vale of tears, as life is sometimes known

Sundays, one must admit, there is still a multitude strolling to the church where they will be regaled by the current priest.  These faithful are a bonanza for the little bakery on the way.  This bakery is one of three, a little out of the way, but becomes a center of gossip as the parishioners climb back up to the village proper. Many cocas de patata are sold, a favorite pastry not known in other villages, round as a mother’s breast and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar.

The other church, visible on the right from en Joan’s terrace, has been desanctified for over a century. It is used as a concert venue once in a while, but principally it serves as a passageway out of the former monastery, now a tourist attraction. 

When the wind comes from the east, gathering force as it is squeezed through the canyon down from the Teig, then the kitchen fireplace growls like a beast.  If there is a fire laid, smoke and sparkling soot are driven into the room.

It was yesterday the most amazing afternoon here.  At about three of the clock, the same brilliant sunshine as these last days.  But hark!  Down toward Palma, what’s that!  What seems to be a bikini lifting over the crotch where the mountains meet just below Valldemossa, a mist rises and covers the city.  I pour a glass of red and observe a while.  Nothing much, and what there is drifts along to the west up a neighboring valley where there are newly planted plums and recently renovated olive groves, part of the revival of the Vall de Muza taking place these last years.  Looks like the sunny brilliance here on Calle Rosa will continue.

The roast chicken from the Sunday market calls me to table, my back to the window.  Chomping one quarter of the bird and furthering my inroads into the Campo Viejo, I am reading In Wicklow and Kerry by Synge, his walkabout in old Ireland, at that point when he is caught in a mist on the verge of a cliff above the Atlantic, but finds his way on the now damp, slippery grass.

Placing the bones of what I judge to have been a muscular rooster into the rubbish, to my surprise it is now rather dark in the room, and more so by the minute. By the time I pour another drop in my cup, it is dark as midnight, and all the lights must go on.

While I was mentally away on an island in Dingle bay, that mist has surreptitiously invaded the whole damn village.  Pea soup.  Fog thicker than a murky sea.  On the terrace I can see, just about, my fingertips at arm’s length.  But Lo! Above the roof, the half moon still rides in what must be the blue, and the mountain below the moon is still as rosy as a coal in the hearth, skirted by the fog I stand in.  A miraculous moment, and I think of poor Chopin – if this is what there was about him in 1838, he must have had mildew in his very ears.  But if it’s true the preludes came from here, it was worth it – from my point of view, of course, not necessarily Chopin’s.

Tonight, again, this being Christmas Eve, at dusk a white mist is swirling up from the south into the valley.  Whether it will reach the village or not is to be seen.  It seems to be curling away this time into the neighboring valley.

There are few here in this hideaway from reality, whether male, female, or otherwise – of which there are more than a few – who would deny that we are a community of black sheep, to put it grandly, as well as other trippers not always perfectly welcome in other similar small towns.

O we are a rum bunch and that’s a fact.  A simple census of nationalities is proof of something or another: Germans (who are everywhere the sun shines in winter), English, especially but not only those whose families gladly send them a stipend as long as they stay away from the old family pile; Australians, who brought with them their disdain for New Zealanders, who swore that those from Borneo had ancestors who had eaten certain progenitors, presumably after they had sired more immediate grandfolks.  One could go on and on.   Swedish, English, German, Danish, American, Swiss, Hungarian, South African, New Zealanders, Chinese, Japanese, Icelandic, Egyptian, Israeli, Moroccan, Algerian, French, Irish, Welsh, Austrian, Italian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Indonesian, Greek, and various South Americans from every country there, and at least one Mapucho, if you can believe the Sevillana.

Here the more or less official population is 650 inhabitants, now more than half outsiders. 

As you can imagine each of us, like anywhere else on the globe, has his own peculiar story, most certainly a bit more peculiar than such as live, for instance, in Palatka, Florida, though there as well a few must come with tales attached, so to speak.

One of the neighbors, in this case not a foreigner, tells us she has had miserable luck with her children.  She is hunched over with her nose at the level of the handle of her cane.  One daughter committed suicide, she tells us.  Her older son mistook a couple of girls walking to the beach for rabbits, he told the police, and shot them in the legs.  Another lives in a shanty, and paints pictures and grows pot.  Her husband died last year.  She has to lift her dog up the stone steps to her garden, as he is too old now to climb himself.

Her painter son, Miguelito, a much appreciated primitive, sold every painting in his show last year.  He does not trust banks, and hid it under his mother’s bed.  She never locks her house, in the old custom, and, according to her, someone must have known the million pesetas was there, because it is gone.  We can’t tell if Miguel suspects her.

He has a festering sore on his lower leg since an accident several years ago, and may lose it from the knee down.  Recently he helped put his mother into a home, after she broke her rib and escaped from the clinic in the neighboring village.

Sunday he crossed the island on his moto to visit, and she had been bathed by the nurses, perhaps her first full bath in decades he says, and looked beatifically at Miguel, asking about the little old lady living in the village, referring to herself, and said she would like a visit, and maybe she could bring some of her famous tomatoes.

Not too long ago she sprayed water from the hose on us, accusing us of stealing her tomatoes.  It was Miguel, her son, who took the tomatoes, just as he takes our avocados and the occasional egg from our hen, if we don’t get to it before he does.

We have two brothers in the village, forasteros from the Basque country.  Both were assigned to our island when they were captains in the infamous Guardia Civil, the national body of military police.. It was a policy at the time to send members of this force far away from their native region.  This was probably meant to prevent favoritism in the treatment of local citizens, but sometimes led to more cruelty on their part and more intense dislike for them locally.

In those days, the Guardia had to patrol the highway from our village to the next, nine kilometers away, day and night, and on foot.  True, they sometimes flagged down a Seat solely in order to take a free ride part of the way, especially if the weather was foul.  Mostly they were looking for contrabandistas along the coast.  Smugglers put in at any one the innumerable coves carrying cigarettes, transistor radios – even refrigerators in the later days – whatever could be carried by donkeys over the ancient trails and goat paths connecting hamlets and farms all over the Tramontana.

They seldom worked the same shift.  So it was that for several weeks they were unaware that they had been courting sisters from the other village.

In the case of these two brothers, Fanin was less cruel by nature than Alfredo,  though he could turn steely eyed when crossed.

This is where Patrick ended this narrative, still incomplete. He added a subtitle note reading “Check Dickens (The Christening)” but I haven’t checked that reference.

I have three versions of this file. I used the newest one for this entry. I added drop caps in the places that he’d set off with extra blank lines.