Robledillo is a typical Castilian village, where the old people sit out on any available stretch of thoroughfare, though not, if they still have their marbles, on the road that runs through the village, the N502 to Córdoba, birthplace of three B-list philosophers, Seneca, Averroes and Maimonides. People-watching, especially stranger-watching, is such a passion in Spain that one is tempted to wonder whether the spirit of the "neighbourhood watch" scheme set up by Franco lives on more than 30 years after the Generalissimo's death, or whether that was but a sinister temporary manifestation of the national trait of benign hyperperception?
Wherever you go, on foot or by car, in a Spanish village, you sense that you are under surveillance. Slow down at a junction for just a moment to consult the map and you will feel assorted sets of beady eyes scanning you from behind shuttered windows or from the ever present chairs set out on the streets. When a donkey wanders past, you do an instinctive double-take, in case it's a pantomime version manned by the old-timer in the beret and the old girl in black who were staring at you as you reversed back towards the fountain, having taken another wrong turn in your attempt to leave their village.
Robledillo has only one shop these days for its 200 inhabitants, the panadería, which has its bread brought in from Soltalvo, eight kilometres away, in the foothills of the Sierra de la Paramera. Sotalvo's annual fiesta, held against the stunning backdrop of its medieval castle, attracts people from villages for miles around.
Whatever the reason, she's open all hours: already open when the bakery opens at 8am and still going strong after the swimming pool closes at 8.30pm. Besides cigarettes, which still sell pretty well in Spain, the lady does a brisk trade in ice creams and gossip magazines, which rival Hong Kong for salaciousness, but outdo it hands down for mammaries.
Granted her tried-and-tested method of doing calculations on the back of a newspaper saves on a cash register, quite how she manages to make a living is a bit of a mystery. Away from the 10 percent of the shop where items move off the shelves – or out of the freezer – tins are piled high as far as the eye can see, which isn't very far due to the absence of windows, the minimum of artificial lighting and a strong antipathy to the Pledge and duster.
In response to my request for vegetables (the ultramarinos wasn't yet open), the lady disappeared from view into the dark hinterland of the shop for a good two minutes, her presence confirmed only by the sound of cans falling around her and a few muttered exclamations. In the end, I felt a bit of a cad when I rejected the proffered tin of verduras mixtas. I didn't know how to say it in Spanish, but I was thinking in terms of something more recently in a recognisably organic state.
Besides all the shops, Solosancho has a bank, where doubtless the tobacconist deposits her day's takings. Solosancho thus resembles just about every Asturian or Castilian village of its size, as Spanish consumer banking is still big on choice, with branches everywhere and a bewildering array of savings banks (cajas) available. The ones we saw included Caja Duero, Caja de Ávila, Caja de Burgos, Caja Cantabria, Caixa Galicia, plain old La Caixa, as well as the big boys, Caja Madrid and Caja España.
Returning to Robledillo, the heartbeat of the village is the