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Cuatro Gatos y Un Burro...or the tale of Four Stray Cats and a Lonely Donkey


Writing in the local paper. Local issues with a global take. I never translate literally and the editor trims at will to make it fit. Here's my version, then theirs.


A few years ago, shortly before the outbreak of the neverending civil war, I found myself in northern Syria tracing the footsteps of the sixth century monk and embryonic travel writer, John Moschus. In his book, Spiritual Meadow, he had recounted his travels through Byzantium and I was looking for any remaining trace of his trail more than 1400 years later. Back in Juan’s day, the stylish Stylites were in fashion and the monastery where Buñuel’s Saint Simeon once predicated from his pillar is just a short trip away from Aleppo. The ruins are quite impressive but what struck me most about the visit wasn’t the monastery itself, but the abandoned villages that dot the surrounding countryside between it and the border with Turkey. Entire villages of Byzantine-era stone houses that reminded me of Alcuescar's Santa Lucia del Trampal pepper the Mediterranean landscape. Their open doorways gave the impression that their owners had just stepped out to buy bread, yet their homes now lay empty, deserted and doorless among the olive groves. The only sign of life was a lonely donkey tied to a tree, its owner nowhere to be seen. The area had been abandoned when it was the back and forth frontier between Christendom and Islam and since then, only the donkey has returned. A hollow museum of fifth and sixth century buildings that slowly crumble into oblivion because people chose, or were more likely forced, to live elsewhere. While the experience was interesting, I didn’t have to stay more than a few hours. I took my notes and pictures and left the ghosts behind, happy to return to a cold beer at an open air cafe in the warren of life in the old town of Aleppo. I sometimes fear that something similar will happen to my adopted home of Caceres. The give and take of the religious wars have long since passed on the Iberian peninsula but new foes have lately appeared. Ever increasing restrictions and calls for our UNESCO core to be turned into an open air museum, fit for films and festivals, might make for better pictures of stone but what about the people? Quaint medieval towns can be found all over this peninsula but few, if any, can boast of a still beating heart. You come for the palaces but you stay for the people. If it’s a choice between sword shops or hanging laundry, I’ll take the socks any day. 

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