Out of the farmhouse and in to the village


Since last fall, I’ve called the village of Porrera in Priorat, Catalonia, home. This came after living in a Catalan farmhouse or masia for nearly two years. One would think that moving to a village in a region that has maybe 1/4 the population it had 100 years ago would be an easy thing to accomplish. It’s not and trying to find a place to rent took nearly a year. What people remained after phylloxera and general desertion of the interior scooped up the houses that remained and while there are countless that are empty, they neither want to rent nor sell, just cling to them like depreciating gold.

As the search took so long, many friends in the region would tell me how difficult various seasons were with the winter being the worst. “Oh, the cold! Just you wait, the cold here is terrible!” Ironically, it has been one of the more mild winters on record but they spoke of it as if Priorat had a lock on sharp, cold winters. The truth is, the farmhouse in Girona was frigid as well as damp and I grew up in the interior of California which is no beach party.

Beyond seasons, everyone talks about how cut off the villages of Priorat are. They obviously live under the delusion that we still take the old road out to the coast which took longer than an hour by car. With the new road, the nearest large town is 20 minutes away by car and in general the villages of this county have most of what you need except for bread which, like most all of Spain is completely unappealing. But, to go to a decent-sized nearby town is nearly the same as going to the capital of the county, Falset. Things are indeed far but it’s more that everything in the county is far from everything else. Going to any other village takes 20-30 minutes. You spend a lot of time in the car or you spend a lot of time staying put in your village.

Again, having lived in Girona, in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, it took about this much time to go get milk. Or, in my hometown, it was 9km in to the center of a town that couldn’t even lay claim to that American dream of having a Starbucks which thus denotes “town” status. Or then there was San Francisco where, despite the tiny distances, it took over an hour to cross that little peninsula on a bus.

While I knew it from having spent time in the Priorat villages over the last few years, the one thing that is hard to get used to is ironically, the early morning noise. People have this bucolic notion that life in a village is peaceful, the silence only being lightly rippled when the farmer from the next pasture over passes by with his sheep and tells you, “Good day”. Let me emphatically tell you, this is not village life.

First, there are the church bells. What I wouldn’t give for a minaret only calling out five times a day. The bells on the church clang out every quarter hour. Then they clang out the hour, twice, in case you missed the first un-missable sonic bomb. Then of course, this goes on, every hour, throughout the night. On some level you do get used to it as the villagers claim. On another, you don’t and you do what I did and rent a place as far away from the church as you can. Again, it’s the friends with dual-paned windows don’t understand why I take such issue with the bells.

Buy overall, there are just a lot of cars, tractors, and activity very early and if you’re not in to getting up at 07:30 (earlier during the harvest), you will be or you will go insane. Villagers, even today, still get up at first light and get to what needs doing early in the day. Ironically, you then hear them stumbling back from one of the bars at midnight. I don’t know how they do it and oh yeah, that’s another thing, villagers drink a shit tonne.

These are but the actual downsides that I already knew and have accepted. Sure, living in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere if considerably more tranquil, even if you have a small airport 5km away. But more than a weekend of solitude makes you batshit crazy. You talk to yourself too much and find yourself changing out of your clothes outside in the summer because fuck it, no one is around to notice.

Everything is noticed in the village and honestly, living in one is more like living in one big giant house where everyone has their own room and moderately tolerates on another. They know what you’re doing and they butt in to your business but the trade-off is acceptable. I can only imagine growing up in a village as a kid must be hell on earth but if you move to one in your late thirties after getting burned out on invasive neighbors and the drunken idiocy of living in the center of Barcelona or San Francisco, you can find it to be quite all right.