This weekend was a dream. A dream that has helped cement one of my waking revelations a few months in the making: I am so over big cities. I just don’t like them. I found Stockholm draining, Oslo was pretty but a bit much, even Cáceres is a bit big for me. They are all too large, difficult to navigate, expensive, and unfriendly. But I find Plasencia to be juuuuuuust right and the finca I went to this weekend even righter.
It all started with a casual introduction. A friend of a friend from Michigan knows a woman here who works in the fancy cheese and olive oil business and suggested we might like each other. Her name is Mar, and, with typical Extremaduran (or maybe it’s all Spaniards? Yet to be determined) kindness, she invited me (over email) to come spend a weekend at her family’s finca. (“Finca” is a Spanish word that means “cottage,” “summer house,” “farm,” “mill,” “ranch,” all rolled into one.)
The finca was absolutely stunning. But what made the weekend so magical was not the powerful scenery, but the kindness and tranquility of the people with whom I shared it. Mariano and Teresa are an older Gallego Spanish couple who remind me of my grandparents. Teresa is always poised and relaxed, ready to neutralize any situation her excitable husband might put himself into. Mariano is an ex-politician and businessman, proud leftist Spaniard, and exceedingly kind soul. He has blue eyes just like my grandfather, and I found his to be equally compelling. He loves to complain about how much work the finca is (but also knows he would be bored without it), and is constantly worried about where the dumb but lovable dog went or if the pigs will be cold.
They not only gave me delicious home-grown-at-the-finca meals, but so much insight and knowledge about Spain. I had the privilege of hearing from Mariano and Teresa firsthand about all the things I had studied in school. They taught me about the corruption of the Spanish government, the everyday realities of living under Franco, and a radical Basque terrorist group that menaced Galicia while he was in office and how that made him a more empathetic person. I also learned that his tongue had never encountered Coca Cola and his skin has never felt the pure joy of a nice pair of blue jeans. He had rejected these U.S. icons since his youth, deeming them representative of hyper-capitalist America and all its associated evils. He has since renounced such radical opposition, and now maintains these customs purely due to habit. Pushing my luck, I couldn’t convince him to drink Coca Cola, but he promised to try a s’more when I visit next time.
From this discussion came one of the most interesting things I have heard in a long time. And he said it so nonchalantly: “hay que analizar una persona dentro de su contexto.” (“One must analyze a person inside of their own context.”) Mariano has since seen the error of his close-minded ways, but he is kind and understanding enough with himself to respect the decision made in his youth as right at the time.
He said it so simply. Why is this a concept we find so difficult to apply?
The next day, Mar, Teresa, and Mariano sent me home with a bag full of fresh-picked green peppers, tomatoes, pomegranates, and home-made apricot jam, completely unaware that they had also given me life-changing advice that I will strive to keep in mind during all of my future travels.