These photos are from the beginning of the 1980s, when the economic crisis that hit us after the huge, sudden rise in oil prices in the second half of the 70’s was felt in Europe. It affected the market for Lagarteran embroideries, but as there were fewer opportunities in the cities, the crisis halted the emigration that had emptied the village in the first half of the 70s. Villages tend to be refuges in bad times. Almost all the women in Lagartera were still embroidering. They earned little, but it was better than nothing.
During the winter they sewed in the upstairs ‘solano’ (a room that caught the sun) because it was too cold to embroider outdoors. As the temperature rose, it was more pleasant to sew outside. You could choose to sew in the casapuerta (a covered entrance between the street and the courtyard), where there was shade when it was hot, in the courtyard itself, or in the street. The casapuerta and the courtyard were more public than the solano, because normally the casapuerta doors were open, and more people could fit in than in a solano, but courtyards were more private than the street, where there was even more space, and any neighbour could join a group of women sewing.
I started sewing in the patio of my Lagarteran teacher, Magdalena. We also had neighbours sewing with us, like Sara, who’s so pretty here!
And we were also accompanied by our neighbour, Olvido, and of course, Dyc, Magdalena’s dog. Embroidering together was more enjoyable than working alone.
From time to time we had visitors. Here you can see Olvido, and her mother and grandmother, with the little son of Maria Teresa, daughter of Aunt Petra, Magdalena’s aunt.
And here you can also see the baby’s father.
Aunt Petra lived next door to Magdalena, and used to sew in her casapuerta. Here she is with Aunt Maria, Aunt Leoncia, Aunt Amalia (in the background) and Maria Teresa, her daughter. (The older ladies were all called ‘Aunt’, and the older men were ‘Uncle’).)
And when Aunt Filo (Magdalena’s mother) was there, she said the rosary prayers. Aunt Filo could no longer sew, she was blind, but she could participate in the group like this (leading, with a rosary in her hand, and the other women giving the answers).
Uncle Emilio had his stone seat, next to the women, and commented on what was going on in the street.
Aunt Maria sometimes sewed garments for the traditional costume, here a shoe.
Here, Aunt Leoncia was making stockings with five needles.
I also sewed with Amada, who is seen here in her casapuerta.
And we often sewed in the yard of her neighbour, Pilar, because her courtyard was bigger. Here you see the neighbours, Pilar’s mother, Aunt Rita, and her husband, Pedro, resting.
And, from close up, María Antonia, Irene (Amada’s aunt), her mother, Catalina, and Pilar in the background.
Here Amada is doing fine, complicated, work, with her aunt Irene. You can also see part of the stone basin in Pilar’s courtyard.
Pilar is in the foreground. You can see the good humour she shared with others.
Aunt Rita, Pilar’s mother.
Aunt Petra the Morgaña (Spider Woman) was Amada’s neighbour. She was amused by my hat. Morgaña/o’ is a nickname. In villages, nicknames help us to identify a person when many people share the same name.
From time to time, I went to see Trini, whom I first met when we walked to San Pedro at night on a pilgrimage to Arenas de San Pedro, with people from neighbouring towns. Many of the women wore slippers because they were comfortable. Trini and I shared a bed when we arrived at San Pedro, and when she got into bed, she exclaimed, “How wonderful!’’ Trini made me laugh a lot with the jokes she told.
If a woman was wearing curlers, it was a Saturday, the day we washed our hair, and the single women went out. Since most women sewed during the week, almost all of us men and women led separate lives, the woman ‘at home’ (or close by) sewing, and the men in the fields, construction or other trades. At the weekend, we talked to the men, the single women at the disco, and the single and married women in the bars after mass ‘taking the vermouth’ on Sundays.
Here are Sister Francisca and Sister Carmen, with Aunt Eugenia, Trini’s mother. Aunt Eugenia had asked me what God was like in my country, something that was hard to explain. ‘In my country’ there is more than one religion, within Christianity there are Protestants and Catholics, there are many agnostic people, and we don’t usually talk about religion as much as people do in Lagartera. So I told her that, in my country, God was a woman. As though by divine intervention, just at that moment, the nuns arrived, and Aunt Eugenia explained to them what I’d told her. Sister Francisca looked at me, and then explained to Aunt Eugenia that God was neither a man nor a woman, He had no sex. When the nuns left, Aunt Eugenia commented that, since God the Father is a man, and God the Son is also a man, what was in my country must be God the Holy Spirit.
Here, Aunt Eugenia with her granddaughter, Ana, Trini’s daughter, and a little neighbour, Elena. In the second photo, Elena is alone, looking at a wicker apparatus that was used to teach little ones to walk.
Going down to the house where I lived, I greeted Paula (on the left in the first photo), with her neighbours. The woman displaying the scarf is Gloria, the one sitting down is Teresa, and the one in the background is Pura, the mother of the latter two. And in the second photo, a lady who is visiting stands in the doorway.
And I greeted Conso.
The women who sold embroideries knew how to present a picturesque image, as well as embroider.
Here (on the right) is Aunt Monica, one of the pioneer entrepreneurs, with her neighbour, Aunt Segunda, the mother-in-law of Ernesto, Trini’s brother.
It was a world that has now disappeared, a world that would surprise some of today’s young Lagarteran women. They study, many emigrate, they have more opportunities and more freedom than young women had before. Despite the restrictions, the old way of life had its advantages. There was more space for children and old people, and there was more conversation with the neighbours. And the courtyard was a refuge, with its plants, the spreading vine for summer shade, and the high walls that protected us from the heat. The patio was also like a room that you could open up, to share the hours of work and rest with your neighbours.
Alison Lever, Lagartera, April 2022
Thank you to Amada Lozano and Ana Pascual, for helping me identify the people in the photos, and correcting mistakes, to Will Guy for sharing his knowledge as a photographer, and to Jackie West, Mick Lineton and Margaret Kenna for helping me place the Lagartera* study in an academic setting.
*Lever, A. 1984 Agriculture, Handicrafts and Migration in Rural Spain Ph D dissertation, University of Bristol