They were everywhere. We didn’t have one. Everyone else had them. Wherever you went, they were there. Living moveable creatures that showed up at every function and gathering. Nothing was personally distinguishable about them, no hats or specially coloured bridles or saddles.
They were cursed by a sameness that left them anonymous until death. If anything, they might be recognised by their unkempt situation. Some were just plain filthy. It was a long time between cleansing rains.
They were the quiet standard, as much a part of Spanish life as modern media communications are today.
The village burros were the water carriers. In the mornings they took the women down to the fountain to do the laundry along with the children that filled up the clay jars with water. While the mother laboured the children directed the burros back home with water for drinking and cleaning, quite often selling a jar or two along the way to friends and neighbours.
This parade of animals and children ran through the day while the sun was up. It was the life line for the entire town and their way of life.
Across the road from our office was the landmark building, Cueva del Lobo. Antonio was the resident burro owner. He came daily, left, came back always without words, but a friendly smile and nod.
My one and only confrontation with him was when I asked him what his burro was named. He shrugged his shoulders indicating that he didn’t know, then flashed that toothless smile.
That broke my heart. How could anyone spend 18 hours a day riding on the back of his most naturally entwined companion and leave it nameless? I mean, what kind of a nation survives a cultural unfurlment without gifting a name to a lifelong companion of consequential services?
This troubled me a lot. This same ubiquitous beast was the reason that it is popularly accepted for all nationals to arrive at any fiesta when they get there (late). You see, back in those days, you couldn’t celebrate a birthday party or BarBe setting a time. All you could do is invite and suggest that day. People would arrive when they wanted, or could.
This was not to say there wasn’t traffic. Most never witnessed it unless you spent a Friday night on the tiles drinking and then racing home to beat the dawn’s glow. I have guesstimated that more than 3,000 hardy folk lived in them thar hills and would set out at 4am or 5am to get to the Vera market.
These processions followed a strict regulation of protocol. No one ever passed another. Who rode or walked behind firmly holding the animal’s tail was an essential inner family secret.