Tomorrow begins the second part (the first was on July 1st) of the summer exodus in Spain, when everyone flee from the cities to the countryside or the beaches (me too). I thought of writing another semblance of what used to be my summer vacations in the village of my grandparents.
One of the most interesting activities during those endless summer days was to look for Roman remains.
Sometimes I went to dig in the outskirts of Astorga, competing with the gypsies and the occasional amateurs like me to find a coin, or pieces of glass, brick, tile, stucco, or red pottery called “sigillata” often decorated with beautiful reliefs. One of the best pieces I found –actually my father did it– was decorated with a row of deer jumping one after another in a circle.
My grandmother never understood our strange hobby. I remember the laughter of all present when one afternoon, while we were carefully washing the spoils of the day, she (arms akimbo) said, “What an awful wish to work … wouldn’t be better off to break into pieces a pot?”
The hilarity of the matter lay in the sincerity of her suggestion. But her following comment wasn’t so funny, “While plowing the Mount Moracales, sometimes we found entire pots, so old that we broke them right on the spot.”
That mount is not far from one of the pre-Roman forts we also went to dig, where an Asturian king called Magarzo ruled before being defeated by the Romans. The fruit of the effort was always lower there than in Astorga, but the reward could be the statue of solid gold that, according to legend, that king hid in those lands and has never been found.
The fort is located on one side of the narrow valley through which flows the River Porcos. In the nearest shore to the fort, the stone remains of a very old bridge can still be seen, but only if you get into the water. I know by heart every one of the stones of the river as it passes through my village because I used to walk it from the bottom up with the determination of Captain Ahab of fresh water searching for the great speckled trout. I could fish trouts as heavy as two pounds, and my father even bigger. Indeed, next to that bridge, one night my father speared a catfish of nearly four pounds, while I lit it with a lantern.
It’s a long time since we abandon those furtive activities. Now, when we go to the village, instead, we go out with my mother to hike in the surrounding hills. One of our favorite routes ends in a small shrine dedicated to the Virgin, near King Magarzo’s fort. When we pass out flocks of partridges or quails, or a hare or fox, we aim them with our walking sticks that neither spit fire nor end in a deathly trident.
“Look, a deer!,” says the first who sees it, and we enjoy the view, while it jumps away to the bushes of the next hill.