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  • Writer's pictureFogar Mozárabe

First time

It was an ordinary weekday around sunset, the cantina was closed and the church was closed. We had just hung the sign on the west facade of our rural house when they came to us, between amazed and incredulous, for the discovery of a village with so much charm. The middle-aged couple had just arrived in Peñalba by chance, without knowing that such a thing existed, that among those mountains could hide so much beauty and harmony. They came from Sanabria, as they told us, through the mountain range of Cabreira, through Castrocontrigo, Truchas and Corporales. They stopped at the viewpoint of Alto de la Cruz and the majestic view invited them to try the unknown following the winding descent. Who has not ever been tempted to leave the usual path and take a new one?

It was curious to observe, in this casual way, the reaction that arriving at Peñalba and walking its streets provokes in those who have no previous references. They had not heard of the place, nobody had told them about it, they did not know that its church is a jewel of Mozarabic art and that the whole is also catalogued, but as sensitive people they appreciate and value the conservation of the built as part of the heritage and of the landscape for which all protection is little and... they let themselves be carried away by the joyful contemplation while they promise to return, calmly and many times, placing the discovery among their preferences.

One inevitably remembers his first time in Peñalba. It was in the autumn of 1979 when we arrived at the Oza Valley in a yellow 850, attracted by the historical significance of the so-called Tebaida, but also by the rural paradise that the great Amalio Fernández had turned into a photographic chronicle of the highest aesthetic level or by the literary journey of Ramón Carnicer, walking through the neighboring region of Cabrera in 1962 (Donde las Hurdes se llaman Cabrera). I see myself as a very young amateur photographer, anxious to put in the film so many sensations knowing that it is mission impossible.

Those old images give us back a small part of what we experienced, they allow us to see how the village we knew and fell in love with at first sight was as fragile as it was beautiful, how isolation had made possible the miracle that such a place had come to our time. And we were afraid that this exceptional thing could be altered without remedy, as unfortunately happened in almost all our known environment.

In the autumn of 1988 our friend the photographer Manolo Rúa visits Peñalba and takes some images that he reveals in his impeccable black and white. In two of them the brothers Fran and Víctor (from the Cantina) play at sliding with a box along the road in front of the church. It had been a long time since we had been up there and that story encouraged us to return. We did so a few months later and ended up deciding to link our future to this haven of peace. We bought that house so well oriented and of good masonry that had belonged to a priest. The photos of Manolo, hanging in one of its rooms, remind us today how this whole story began.

Gustavo Docampo

Black and white pictures: Manolo Rúa

Coloured pictures: Gustavo Docampo


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