I was just sorting through memory cards full of photos that I have yet to organize or do anything with, when I came across this one. I took it on the 8th March at 8 am (The wonders of modern digital photography triumph over my innate forgetfulness.) That means I was on my way to the school bus stop with my son. The simply stunning morning light made me forget the usual morning scurry and sent me dashing back indoors for my camera. (Child abandoned on the street, swinging his rucksack in the air.) Sometimes the beauty of nature really does just stop you in your tracks.
Just as I was wondering how to catalogue this snap and musing on how I might use or share it somewhere, the daily prompt from WordPress popped up in my reader. Idyllic. It seemed perfectly in step with my response to this photo. I clicked through and discovered that the prompt related more specifically to what your ideal community looks like. How it is organized and how community life is structured. What values does the community share?
Then it struck me, this photo shows exactly what my ideal community looks like. It’s a community based in nature and shaped by nature. A small community but with strong ties. On the horizon you can see the small cluster of houses perched atop the hillside, mirroring our own hamlet, dwarfed by the scale of the mountains behind and the expanse of green stretching between tiny, scattered villages. It could feel lonely but it promotes a depth and strength of connection between neighbours that doesn’t naturally occur in places, such as cities, where you can maintain a lofty self-reliance and independence.
The Spanish refrain goes: ¿Quién es tu hermano? El vecino más cercano’ meaning, your closest family is your nearest neighbour. This is never truer than when you live in a small community in the country. We rely on each other in a myriad of ways, both practically and socially. From borrowing a pint of milk rather than making a 20 minute trip to buy one, to sharing a cup of coffee and a chat on an otherwise solitary day.
Even our water supply (the very staff of life!) is community managed. This means periodic village meetings, the occasional Saturday morning spent clearing brambles on the hillside where the pump-house is or, in times of emergency, days spent chasing and fixing leaks in the pipework. I’ll be honest, sometimes it’s a worry and sometimes it’s a drag but it teaches me a darn sight more about personal and environmental responsibility than paying a quarterly water bill ever did!
So there you have it. My country idyll. Just right for me right now. But what about you? What’s your idea of an idyllic community? And are you lucky enough to already live there?
By the time the month of March comes around spring is well and truly on the way in Asturias. Winter is behind us and while we can still spy snow on the high mountain tops we have long since had our one annual day of snow cover here in the hills close to the sea.
So you can imagine everyone’s surprise when, last Wednesday, we woke to this:
And it wasn’t just a light dusting of snow that had fallen overnight. It was this deep:
The morning air was subdued and still and not a soul stirred in the village. Well, until the little boy from next door caught Jack’s attention window-to-window.
Then it was time to dig out our snow gear and head out for some fun.
With no power and no chance of the internet repair man making it for his designated appointment (after a week of waiting for him!) it was destined to be a day of play for everyone. Kudos to our electricity suppliers however as somehow, despite the treacherous weather conditions and our remote location, they managed to restore supply before nightfall.
We’re back in the UK for our first visit in nearly a year and once again we chose the ferry to get us (and all of our many, many bags) here. As our family love affair with ferry travel continues, it seemed rather appropriate (although entirely coincidental) that we set sail from Santander to Portsmouth on Valentine’s Day. Particularly so as it was on February 14th some seven years ago that we first voyaged in the opposite direction, in a hired van laden with all of our worldly possessions, hearts full of excitement and heads a-whirr with the adventures that awaited us in our new life in northern Spain.
I can’t quite believe that a full seven years has passed since we first abandoned British shores but it has and I am very pleased to report that there is no sign of a seven-year-itch on the horizon. Asturias now feels very much like home.
That said, a trip to the UK does paradoxically still feel like a return home. Familiar faces and places, precious time spent with much-missed loved ones and the chance to stock up on some old stalwart products that you just can’t get in Spain. All the space in our car that the distribution of a few cases of Rioja and Albarino wines to our hosts in the UK has liberated will be occupied on the return journey by cases of peanut butter and Marmite, securely packed in place by sacks of teabags. We are living the expat
In fact, in this bi-located life of ours it’s fair to say that the decks of the Pont Aven ferry itself are also beginning to feel a little like home. Or should I say, ‘the big boat playground’ as Jack has taken to calling it.
The soft-play area is certainly the place where I invariably spend the most time onboard. Luckily it has some comfy seats for adults and I always end up enjoyably whiling the time away in conversation with other parents as our offspring bounce riotously around in preparation (hopefully) for a good night’s sleep in the cabins below.
I love hearing these other travellers’ stories – from that of the Spanish family who have swapped the sunny skies of Andalucia for life in a cold and draughty Scottish castle that they are renovating as a hotel to that of the mother who only holidays in destinations reachable overland or by boat because of a particularly vivid dream she had 20 years ago in which she both had a child in her forties and also perished in an air crash. When she unexpectedly gave birth to a son at the age of 42 she instantly forswore air travel. To be fair, I think I probably would have too!
Meanwhile, the highlight of the voyage for my other half was the fact that the Manchester United match was being shown on the big screen in the bar. That was my cue to retire to our cabin with an exhausted, blissfully sleeping toddler and a George Clooney movie on the laptop. A perfect Valentine’s Day all round.
Disclaimer: this post was sponsored by Brittany Ferries and we received a discount on our sailing. All words and opinions expressed are entirely my own.
Until today Jack had only ever seen snow either on the far-distant mountain tops or on Caillou (a Canadian kids cartoon that airs on Spanish tv.) Today the snow line was forecast to dip to 300m above sea level (we live at a little over 400 metres). And dip it did. We woke to this.
In retrospect it was just as well that the ferry we were planning on taking to Portsmouth today had been cancelled due to gales in the Bay of Biscay. It could have been a stressful drive to the ferry port, assuming we were able to exit the village in the first place. As it was, instead of rushing to Santander for 12.00pm we had plenty of time to indulge Jack’s wonder at the white stuff.
When we ventured outside there was some initial
whingeing surprise at just how cold it was. That’s the crucial aspect that you miss when you’re just looking at snow, whether it be on the horizon, the silver screen or just through the window. Still, once friends from next door had been drafted in for a snowball fight the cold was forgotten about. At least until the hot aches kicked in. By then it was time to retreat, dry off and warm up in front of the fire.
By the time the hot aches had subsided more friends arrived – this time with sledges. They live just 5 kilometres down the road from us but a crucial 150 metres nearer sea level. No snow at all had settled there and so they headed up the hill to ours in search of some sledging action.
And find it they did. There were thrills…..
And finally, more hot aches. Which signalled time to retire indoors once more. By this stage the snow was rapidly melting anyway. Tomorrow the snow line is forecast to be at 500 metres. With a steep uphill walk we should be able to find some more sledgeable hillsides. And then on Wednesday, storms at sea permitting, we shall be on our way to the UK, where more snow may well await us.