I had all but given up on finding work here. Nonetheless, I’ve stubbornly continued to apply for jobs in Spain, despite now being on a farewell tour (the only thing to disappoint me more than not finding work here, would be to have not seen the country as well). Now, I’m happy to say the effort has paid off.
Last week whilst in León, I got an email from a prospective job opportunity, asking me when they could meet me. I emailed back saying I could divert to Barcelona from Zaragoza in a few days time, and before I’d finished my breakfast, I had a phone call to set the time and place for the interview. It was good this lifeline came my way when it did, because after an accident involving a few slices of bread and the toaster, the day could’ve easily gone in a different direction.
Yesterday morning I finally got a load of washing done. After more than a week on the road, it’s surprising how much something so trivial becomes important—and in all of Zaragoza, aside from them being as rare as hen’s teeth, the cheapest self-service laundrette (autolavandería) ended costing me the better part of €20—suddenly clean laundry got bumped up into the luxury category.
Whilst waiting for the cycles to finish, I visited the nearby Aljafería, a stout looking castle complex that is one of the northernmost former Muslim palaces in Spain. It’s the first example of Muslim architecture I’ve seen here, and I’m keen to see the much larger Muslim monuments in the south. It’s hard to believe that these highly detailed, interwoven arches are made from stone. Aside from this mesmerising courtyard, there was a small gallery with a variety of artwork, armour, literature and other relics from throughout the thousand-year history of the place.
It has always been a seat of power (including being a palace for Ferdinand and Isabella), and so it wasn’t unsurprising to discover that the Aragón parliament is now based here as well.
In the afternoon I visited Belchite, a little town to the south of Zaragoza, which used to be a monument to Mudéjar architecture, but now stands as a monument to the destruction of the Spanish civil war. The ruins of the old town, almost totally destroyed (in some areas, completely erased from the earth) during the exchanges between republican and nationalist forces, stand eerily beside the new town, built after the thunder of guns had passed, and Franco’s government decided the old town was too far gone to be rebuilt.
It’s hard to imagine how anyone survived the fighting, given the extent of the damage, yet whilst I was there, an elderly man was walking through the rubble strewn streets with a photographer, identifying what each pile of rubble used to be. As a boy, he’d lived in the old town, including during the civil war. Had I followed my initial plan of doing video casts to chronicle my travels here, I’m certain he’d have been on it.
Standing amid the ruins—particularly in one of the now decimated churches, where the faintest traces of ornate decorations can still be seen—I found myself thinking of how at one time, families would have gathered here regularly; and was overwhelmed by how any group of people could do this to another, let alone their fellow citizens. I’m from a country that has almost never experienced significant internal troubles, and a generation that has never tasted the direct hostility of a warring enemy. Prior to coming here, I new what a civil war was, but it’s only in seeing the direct impact of such a conflict, that I’ve come to understand what it means.
As time has passed, vegetation has slowly started to reclaim the ruins of the town. Piece by piece, it has begun to crumble and collapse, disappearing into the moon-like landscape that surrounds it. There are a few efforts at restoration underway, particularly on the shells of the old churches, however the greatest assault on these ruins comes not from nature, but from man, again. Whilst I was walking around the town, scavengers were picking through the ruins, taking the bricks that are still intact from the piles of debris and carting them off to be used in new construction projects.
Undoubtedly they justify this by telling themselves the bricks were left there to decay, and that they’re now being put to good use in a new construction—perhaps even being used in a house in the new town, and thus, being given a new lease of life. To me, they’re nothing but grave robbers.