Notes from Andalucía
By Parson Thru
Looking out at the moving landscape of mountains and olive groves north of Málaga, I see a beautiful but poor country.
I think about the turmoil this land has seen and I look at the train in which we're riding. It's fast, modern and comfortable. It runs on an infrastructure that cuts through what were feudal lands, owned by wealthy landowners and the Church.
Anyone can ride this train, providing they have the fare - it's affordable compared to the faster AVE. All of Spain is easily reached. People can move for pleasure or for work. Those who can't afford the train can take a bus along the broad autopistas to stare, detached, at the scenery.
It's a detachment that comes from freedom. Freedom from ownership by landowners and from the tyranny of the Church. It wasn’t always so.
Less than a hundred years ago, the poor were tied fast to tradition, bound by landowners and Rome. Tradition was the continuity of a way of life that maintained wealth for a few and condemned the rest to poverty.
Urban industrialisation began to shake the old system. The Church lost its hold over both the working poor and educated liberals. But Spain lagged behind its neighbours and the demand for change became more radicalised and violent.
Spain's struggle through the 19th and early 20th Centuries was the bursting of a pressure-vessel, held back for too long.
Liberals, socialists, communists, syndicalists all attempted to define and codify the problem and its solution. Monarchists, falangists and the Church attempted to thwart them in the name of tradition - in the name of the status quo.
The Civil War was the final act of disaster and tragedy. The horrors of that period are still largely unaccounted for and yet the country now lives a life comparable with its neighbours. Perhaps, the envy of many.
There is a general will for peace, economic well-being and a continuation of the liberalisation begun in the 1950s and celebrated from the 1970s and 80s.
The old differences are there but, from the end of Franco's rule, Spain has found its place in modern liberal Europe and the liberal world. Its institutions have learned to tolerate each other and to find a path of moderation.
I really love Spain. The empty landscape moving past the window of the train reminded me of something. It reminded me of two old friends standing beside a grave on the edge of a small town two hours from Madrid.
I've looked for the town on the map and it isn't there. I've journeyed out by bus and have so far found neither the town nor the men.
They are an enigma. They are sitting in the bars and plazas of Spain's towns, cities and villages, nursing cañas and tapas. They hold onto their friendships and are grateful for what they have.
But, as they contemplate the open grave baking in the morning sun, they are unsure who they have just buried.
Maybe it's for the best.