Galicia and It’s Hidden Doorways
For one long rainy winter, I called Galicia home, and was fortunate to be able to experience its different faces. Like many other parts of Spain, Galicia has a very distinct history, language and culture, and each city in the region has its own character. When I arrived, I lived in the city of A Coruña and was equally enchanted and bewildered by the culture I found there. The city winds its way around a peninsula that meets the Atlantic Ocean, and there is always a salty, humid wind blowing off the ocean and through the streets.
At one end of the peninsula is the glass gallery, a landscaped boardwalk, bordered by rows and rows of apartments with the typical Galician architecture of square, white paned balconies on the outer edge of the buildings.
On any given day, in the rain and wind, you can see a spectacle specific to A Coruña; grand looking matriarchs wearing pearls and fur coats. Surprisingly, in this very far corner of the world, every woman and her tiny chihuahua consider themselves fashionistas, for it is the home of fashion label Zara. They are integral to the economy and as such, have a monopoly on the fashion choices of the city. I was constantly bemused by the fact that in a crowded bar I could only ever find four colours of clothing, black, maroon, forest green and mustard, the colours of the season. My colourful dresses spent the whole year tucked in my suitcase!
Past the port, at the other end of the peninsula, is the roman lighthouse, the Tower of Hercules. It is the oldest working Roman lighthouse in the world, and really is something to behold. In Galicia there a several different legends surrounding it, but the most famous is that it is the sight of the battle between Hercules and Geryon, after which Hercules cut off the monster’s head and buried it where the lighthouse now stands. The emblem of the skull and crossbones representing this story can be found in little details all over the city, as well as in its coat of arms.
Somewhere in between all the mystery, myth and high fashion, there is the everyday, and this is where I found the joy of living there. I had my ritual of walking down the hill in the cold and the rain to the beautiful old train station, to get my morning coffee and if I had time, a tortilla bocadillo (Spanish omelette in a crusty roll, heaven!). I would sit in my toasty warm allocated seat for half an hour and stare out the window at the rolling green hills for miles and miles, dotted with quaint Galician villages and often covered in dense morning fog. It felt like a window into another world, and of course for me, it was. I would arrive in Santiago de Compostela and take the final leg out to the small village where I worked, Sigüeiro. At the public primary school where I was placed, I got to laugh, play and fight with kids, and each day they taught me the things that were important to them. First and foremost, it was always football players and Latin pop stars, but there was also a love of Galician literature, music, language and a deep pride of their heritage.
After several months of taking my daily train trip, I decided to move closer to work, and so the next leg of my adventure began. I moved to Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia and site of the world-renowned Cathedral where St James is said to be buried. While many pilgrims and tourists alike pass through Santiago at the end of their journey along the Camino (an epic hike that passes through France, Spain and Portugal), I took in the splendour of the cathedral every time I left my tiny cottage on the edge of town.
Although the rain and the cold persisted, the beauty of the forests and moss-covered trees, ancient monuments and cobblestone streets lifted my spirits. It was here that I found the magic, and a warmth that felt like home. When I stepped out of my front door I was greeted by terraces of vegetables, garden structures held together by twine, and a long path lined with roses. At the end of that path was a field where I could see the cathedral in all its glory. Around the corner a little bit further, was the edge of town and a bubbling stream that ran ice cold. In that place it was easier for me to understand how the pagan myths and rituals entwined with Galician culture, like Meigas (the Galician word for witch), hiding around corners causing mischief.
One of my most treasured memories of Santiago was having the opportunity to join a grass roots Galician women’s circle which played the traditional tamborine (pandeireta galega) and sang traditional folk songs. The group had a strong objective of promoting and preserving Galician culture, and so they met every week in a dilapidated old house used for community projects, to sing the songs of their ancestors, which they informed me were mostly about ‘rolling the hay’ and getting into trouble (*wink)! I felt safe and comfortable there, it was an unpretentious place where women sat around sharing home made cakes and smoking cigarettes.
From the outside, Galician winters can seem harsh and abrasive, but if you stay long enough to let the magic creep under your skin, you’ll never get it out, and maybe, you will see a Meiga whispering in the corner of a rowdy Galician bar.
Story by: Jessica Gauder
Jessica Gauder is from Perth, Western Australia. She is an intrepid explorer, curious about the world and all it’s corners. She is a student of Islam-West relations and is passionate about promoting appreciation, understanding and acceptance amongst cultures.