Victoria Burnett reports on a novel initiative which helps to repopulate rural Spain and find love for the country’s lonely farmers
RAMON SÁNCHEZ is not a great believer in the powers of Cupid. But when the wiry 54-year-old bachelor heard dozens of women would be arriving in the quiet village of La Viñuela for a blind date with the local men, he happily signed up.
Sánchez, who lives 13 miles away on a farm with no telephone and only his cat, sheep and cattle for company, said he went along in the hope of meeting somebody with whom he could spend his old age.
“It would be nice to have a woman to share things with,” he said, his dark skin polished by wind and sun.
“Really, what I want is someone to take care of the house. Not so much me. I have been doing that all my life.”
At lunchtime, Sánchez stood with a throng of single men awaiting a bus that would bring 62 women from Madrid for an evening of dinner, dancing and – all involved hoped – a little romance.
As the bus rumbled to a stop next to the village’s stone church, the crowd pressed around, cheering and whooping. Firecrackers split the air. The 66 local singletons from La Viñuela and nearby villages, who each paid 50 euros to take part in the mass date, presented their guests with red carnations and led them to a marquee hung with brightly coloured bunting.
“Let’s hope we get some results this afternoon,” said Serafín García, 48, who helped organise the date in the hope of finding soulmates for some of the 15 single men – including himself – who live in this village of 137.
A migration of young people from rural areas to cities in the 1960s and 1970s led to a scarcity of potential spouses for the men – now middle-aged – who stayed behind to farm in Spain’s rural areas. Women, drawn to the cities by the lure of non-agricultural jobs, left in larger numbers than the men.
“Women did not want to live here any more – they did not want to marry us farmers,” said José Valiente Pérez, 60, a farmer with a ruddy face who lives with his 63-year-old brother seven miles from La Viñuela. His four sisters moved to Madrid and married, while his third brother lives alone on a nearby farm.
Local residents said La Viñuela, an unprepossessing village set among gently sloping olive groves and fields of wheat and barley in Castilla la Mancha, is deserted during the week and desolate in winter when relatives, now living in cities, stop visiting.
The village has three bars and a bakery.
Inspired by a village in northern Spain that staged a women’s caravan 20 years ago, Manuel Gozalo set up the Association of Women’s Caravans (Asociación de Caravanas de Mujeres) in 1995. The events have gained momentum in the past two years as word has spread and local governments eager to breathe life into their communities offer subsidies, he said.
García said the local council provided a band and portable toilets, donated 300 euros and charged nothing for the marquee and outdoor bar.
Donations from local businesses included a wild boar, a sheep and about 2,700 euros in cash.
Gozalo, who has organised more than 30 caravans, acknowledged that, with their middle-aged subscribers, the events were unlikely to set off a rural baby boom.
If the men who signed up for La Viñuela’s blind date represented dying rural Spain, the women who drove in from Madrid for the day were the face of its thriving cosmopolitan cities.
Overwhelmingly Latin American, they reflect an infusion of more than four million migrants into the country in the past 10 years.
On the surface, the women in their sparkly Lycra tops and high heels looked out of place among their simply dressed hosts. But many of them said they grew up in villages and would be happy to exchange the grind of urban life for the security and peace of the countryside.
María Elisbe García, a well-turned-out 55-year-old with peroxide-blonde hair, seemed hopeful of success as she sat down to dinner, hand in hand, with Candido Cubero, 51, an elegant widower from the nearby town of Puertollano. Unstinting supplies of beer and a dancing contest had lifted the collective spirits and several couples seemed on the verge of taking the plunge into romance.
“I came here to get myself a boyfriend, a good, loving man and I think I have found one,” said García, whose husband left her shortly after she moved to Spain from Colombia eight years ago.
“I like chickens. I like flowers. I would happily come and live in a village like this one.”
Sadly for Sánchez, his lack of romantic expectations appeared to have been accurate. As he munched on wild-boar stew, surrounded by other men, he confessed to being disappointed so many of the women came from overseas and said he was too shy to approach them anyway.
“I am not very self-confident, I guess,” he said with a smile that revealed a jumble of crooked, yellow teeth. “I am just a farmer.”
This article first appeared in English in the New York Times
The association’s next event is in Cabezuela, Segovia on August 5