The Spanish Village That Wants Outdoor Cats to Achieve World Heritage Status | Culture


It has been two weeks since residents of the village of Algar in southern Spain won € 20,000 in the lottery, a topic that was discussed in detail by locals during their nightly talks on the sidewalks of the city. “It was juicy news,” says Antonia Aguilera, sitting in a circle of chairs with six of her neighbors. “The baker won as well as a lot of people who needed him. “

The manna attracted a brief media circus to Algar, which is located in the province of Cadiz in Andalusia and is home to 1,400 people. Now when the sun goes down, locals gather to talk about a different topic – the call to get charla outdoors – or open-air discussions – recognized by UNESCO as a cultural treasure.

We stay until dinner, we go home for that, then we go out until midnight

José Ibáñez, 81 years old inhabitant of Algar

“My mother is 82 and sits on her street every day,” said Algar Mayor José Carlos Sánchez, who announced the idea on the local government’s Facebook page on July 28. “There are days that I spend after work, I sit and catch up with us. It is the most beautiful time of the day.

The mayor could hardly have imagined the fuss his Facebook post would cause. Ironically, Sánchez was partly encouraged to apply for World Heritage status after seeing the negative impact of social networks like Facebook on tradition.

Sol d’Algar Street is steeply sloping and has 124 steps. Thirty years ago, José Ibáñez, 81, counted them to see how many neighbors could care for them. “Every afternoon the steps were filled with families chatting, playing bingo and dining. We had a great time, ”he says. He or his wife, Francisca Sánchez, or his neighbor Catalina Sánchez rarely missed a conversation on a summer evening. “We’re already out as the sun goes down,” Ibáñez said, relaxing in his plastic chair. “We stay until dinner, go home for that, then go out until midnight.” He knows, however, that this is a dying tradition. The week before, only them and four young people were watching him.

It is difficult to trace where the tradition comes from. Anthropologist Gema Carrera thinks it stemmed from a need to cool off in the evening as well as to be social, while Isidoro Moreno, anthropology professor at the University of Seville, says: “It was a meeting spontaneous with neighbors after dinner both before TV and air conditioning. What is clear is that it is not exclusive to Algar; rather, it is linked to a rural and quieter way of life, although it also persists in some towns. “The custom is Mediterranean because it also occurs in southern Italy and Greece,” explains anthropologist Eva Cote.

Algar, a town in the mountains of Cadiz, requested that the outdoor cat be recognized as a cultural treasure. “JUAN CARLOS TORO”

“To attribute it to a city or a region seems absurd to me,” says Moreno. In Algar, they are well aware that their custom is not theirs. “It’s not unique to here,” said the mayor. “Discussing outdoors is everyone’s heritage. I wouldn’t mind sharing the initiative, just have it come from here at least. The City Council has already sent a formal request to the provincial delegation of the Andalusian Department of Culture, which is the first step in the search for World Heritage status. The process can last for years, requiring anthropological reports and, above all, a lot of public and institutional support, until it is finally proposed to UNESCO, where it will rival a multitude of rites, festivals, customs and knowledge from everywhere. Spain, like the Carnival of Cadiz.

Tradition in decline

Côté believes that these open-air nighttime chats began to wane in many towns in Andalusia in the early 1970s, when urban development began to replace one-story homes with apartment blocks and single-family homes. . In Algar, the decline began decades later with the emigration of many residents to surrounding towns and a heightened sense of insecurity, forcing many neighbors to keep their doors closed. Nonetheless, Sánchez says there are still many locals who continue to congregate outside in this way and believes that UNESCO’s protection could help revive the custom among young people. “Today it’s the older men and women who come out,” he says. “It depends on the streets and neighborhoods, but there are areas that are still full of groups chatting. For many, it’s a time to tell each other about their day – it’s almost therapeutic.

There is no shortage of open doors or collections of colorful chairs on the sidewalk of Antonia Aguilera Street. That is, until someone comes out and shouts: “It’s already midnight, come and put the washing machines!” as one local explains with a chuckle. When the sun was at its highest in early August, the white-painted houses deflected the heat by 34 ° C. By sunset, it was barely 23 ° C and was going down. The twenty and over Olga and Celia Lobato were the only young people, along with their partners, sitting on the steps of rue Sol. There was a lot to discuss; In addition to winning the lottery and the subsequent influx of journalists, vandals had pushed the sailboat out of town into a nearby swamp. “We all know each other very well,” laughs Olga. “We are united but we also criticize each other. The truth is, it’s more entertaining than social media.

english version by Heather galloway.

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