I live in Asturias in the north of Spain. It is little known. Madrileños come here in the summer to escape the heat of the meseta because, when you pass through the tunnel linking León and the Principality of Asturias at Campomanes, the temperature can drop 10-15º. It is famous throughout the rest of Spain for its milk and, as you wander the mountain valleys, you are aware of the tinkling cowbells at every step.
Asturias was the redoubt of Christian kings in the ninth-century. Hidden in the valleys and woods they fought back the shivering, sneezing Muslims, who made annual raids against the pugnacious northerners. Gradually the kingdom spread to Galicia, Cantabria, and Álava. The Camino de Santiago brought armies of pilgrims to visit the shrine of the Apostle James in Santiago de Compostela making the frontier with Islamic Spain of significance to the whole of Christendom. The reconquest started here.
As the frontier moved south so did the centres of power. Asturias was forgotten. Then, in the 1830s, coal was discovered in the mountains. The steel and coal workers briefly rose up in 1934 in a heroic movement to declare Asturias independent but were quashed. Franco came along shortly afterwards and the pretty buildings celebrated by Palacio Valdés were torn down or allowed to fall in. Ugly apartment blocks were laid out in cities that prioritised vehicles over people.
Avilés has the same charms as Swansea. A steel plant stretches from here to Gijón. Industrial shrinkage has left some fossilised machinery along the edge of the polluted river where retired factory workers go out walking in the misty mornings under the shadow of the still-functioning coke batteries. The days of the revolutionary workers’ movement are long past. Steel is efficient and multi-national now.
The countryside is also efficient. Eucalyptus plantations ring villages with declining populations of hobbling pensioners. Young people do not want to work the land; they fill the bars in the cities with shouted conversations and head up into the valleys to hunt wild pigs with high-powered rifles at the weekends, if at all.
Rural tourism is the banner that development agencies wave for the countryside.
As I watch things change before my eyes, I am aware that I am witness to historical processes in action. In the village where we spend the weekends- www.fade.es/pisondefondon– I watch the population declining. In the wooded valleys where I walk I can see the remnants of country crafts of a century ago: stone walls and paths now overgrown with brambles and ivy; plantings of oak and chestnut trees that no one has the patience or vision to make today; abandoned cowsheds in fields of sprouting ash trees.
Reading enables you to put what you see in another perspective. The novels of the nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries give another vision of the world and society. The expropriation of ecclesiastical properties in 1835, for example, or the bloody Civil Wars that racked the nineteen hundreds have left telling indicators in the material and intellectual heritage of Spain. Tracing the present by its many threads into the past is a humane and scholarly discipline that broadens the mind and enlivens the understanding.
The translations on these pages are all my own work. They represent a sample of my reading. If you are interested in any aspect of this work, I would be delighted to hear from you.
All the art work is my own.
I am available for translation work in the winter: www.writingfingertranslation.com
This page runs parallel to my blog of poetry translations.
I also have a more descriptive blog called AsturiasCentral