Poblacion de Campos – March 12, 2017
“My name is José,” the man says, reaching out to shake hands, “but friends call me Pepe.”
He says it in a way that lets me know that I better call him Pepe. José is right out. We are friends now even though we just met. Daya and I had ducked underneath the balcony of the town hall to hide from the rain. It was quiet at first, but then people started pouring in for a meeting, Pepe with them. He tells us the meeting has something to do with the city pipes or agricultural canals. I don’t understand which, only that something is broken and the town has to decide if it’s worth fixing or replacing. Everyone has an opinion.
“You drink wine?” he asks.
Pepe pours out of an old juice bottle into two cups. It’s his wine, his own stash, grown in a field nearby and bottled in what he has around like the old juice bottle this one’s in. It’s perfect, my kind of wine, the kind I wouldn’t trade for any, wine with a story behind it, his childhood in the vineyards, his youth in Madrid, his return home for the love of the earth he knew growing up.
He hands the two cups over and we ask where his is. His blue eyes light up and he runs to get a third, motioning us over from the town hall to his porch. It’s right next door, ten steps away, but better for decorum’s sake. It’s eleven in the morning, after all. We share a few sips. His sister arrives for the meeting, every strand of her silver hair in place, a bright smile for her brother.
“Have you seen the monument?” Pepe asks. “The one by the church.”
We’d missed it, following the Camino past a street away. Pepe smiles at us. How many pilgrims have passed without seeing it? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? How many have sipped wine on his stoop?
“It marks an important event in this town,” he says. “It is not religious, not a person, not a battle.”
His blue eyes shine.
“This town used to be controlled by the lord in Castrojerez,” he said. “A count who lived in the castle there. Do you remember the ruins?”
I nod. The ones we climbed yesterday. The ones the kids climbed too. The ones that won me a bottle of wine.
“We petitioned the king for our independence, our own laws, our own judges, our own taxes,” he said. “And when it was granted, we built the monument to mark us as a free town.”
He says it like he was there even though it must have been generations ago. I think of all the little villages I have passed, how I barely glance at the surface, how each is deep in history that I’ll never know, but sometimes you stumble into the depth.
“You should go see it,” he says. “It is very special.”
We go. It is only a few blocks away, a stone pillar maybe twenty feet high. It’s the kind of thing you see in European squares, the kind that blur into the background after a few days. Another square, another monument.
But we stare at this one, we notice it, even as the sky opens up and hail rains down, pelting off our jackets, bouncing through the streets. The history brings the pillar to life, links it to the distant castle, to a city demanding its independence, to life, justice, and freedom.
Pepe is right. It is worth seeing, worth standing there in the hail, imagining a different world, a different time, a place, remembering the depth of the world we live in, the thousand layers stacked one on top another underneath each stone we take for granted, the frailty of it all.
It’s good to notice, to remember, to wonder what layer we will leave behind.