Being half-Spanish, with a land owning family whose elder members rue the day Spain became a democracy (I heard three Zapatero jokes in one meal from my 73 year-old grandma) and have ultimate faith in the Catholic church, family is first. Yes I am obliged, but also take great pleasure, in visiting my mother's village to keep in touch with the family elders. These trips are a pause and rewind: pause, because everything stays the same, including the conversations that I have; rewind, because having spent all the summers of my youth in the village there are so many rituals and memories that are wrapped up in the place.
The first issue is always food, especially as I am one of the slimmer members of my (fat) family. When I got back from a year volunteering in Honduras, the first thing my great aunt (the one who rules over the family with the meanest humour imaginable) asked me was not how I was, or even whether I had enjoyed it, but whether I had gone hungry. So the time that I spend there is seen as a way of packing in calories similar to an Olympic rower before race day. My grandfather is a man who particularly enjoyed his food throughout his life, and so it has always been a particular challenge to be sat next to him as he will deliberately share a portion of everything he takes with you as a means of justifying his own extra helpings. Yet age is affecting them all now, so that yesterday I left the table after lunch able to sit up straight in order to commence my siesta in front of the Telediario.
The second issue is fruit/vegetables/wine. The Orero family seems to have made its name and fortune selling fruit trees, although now is trying to produce wine. So that is all we talk about, other than religion, politics and the family. Every meal is accompanied by a commentary as to origin of the fresh produce, its history, its name in Portuguese (I suppose we must have cornered the Portuguese market in the 1960s) and how it should be presented in the Paris food fair (which we could never have presented in as it is for French farmers surely?). Yesterday, like every visit during winter, my brother and I went clementine picking and then met San Pere who was the manager of the farmhands when all the new generation of the family did our fortnightly pear picking at the age of 15 (seemingly a passage of right), who still remembers telling us "unripe" jokes because we were so young.
And the final issue is family, and the one that creates most joy. My grandparents had 8 children, and they have produced between them around 25 children. Within that number it is inevitable that you have an entire scope of characters, especially counting for the additions through marriages and failed marriages. And the best is that even now the scandals continue, such as with my aunt. The one who was going to be a nun, but left to work as a nurse in Mozambique on a Christian mission, only to return pregnant (divine intervention?), before opening her own unregistered alternative medicine shop, then marrying the Argentinian musician who has long hair/dreadlocks and marrying him in 2008. And that is just one of my 7 aunts and uncles. So there is plenty of opportunity for catching up on lots of news, all whilst sat in rooms that were last decorated at the height of Franco's rule, with a cleaning lady running in-and-out as if it were an scene from an Almodovar movie. The key part to all of this is of course the women of the family: my grandmother who has guided everyone whether they liked it or not (this trip was the first time that it was not suggested to me that I become a lawyer for the European Commission), and my great-aunt who just says it as it is (i.e. your hair looks gay, here is €20 to go and cut it).
On this visit there was a double sadness: that the family that once seemed so impressive with its wealth and land was in fact a relic of its time. That same sense of pause and rewind which I feel when I go back to visit slowly accumulates, applies equally to the success of the family business. It thrived through the old political and religious connections and the backwardness of Spain, and has failed to keep up since. That has not outwardly affected the family spirit, and is matched for me by a sadness at the realisation that something which has continually been a huge part of my life, and one of its few constants, will not exist forever. But one thing that the family has taught me is that the best way to preserve it is through family itself.