A finca, a masia and a dream of long ago
When I first came to El Maestrat 15 years ago (where has the time gone?), I photographed masses of old masias, most of them crumbling into the ground, and many for sale. There was one masia in particular that drew me, but sadly it was not “se vende” – for sale – and as romantic as it was, I was reliably told it came with no land to speak of. “You don’t want that finca”, the local unofficial estate agent Ramon told me – he is always to be found in a random bar nursing a café solo – “not only does it have no land but the fields surrounding it are sprayed with every chemical you can think of”.
Still, I passed it occasionally over the years and several times stopped to take another look. Due to the chemical warning, I was a pre-Covid purchaser of face masks. However, as I never once saw a tractor or any other farming equipment, just beautifully tended almond and olive trees, the face masks languished until last year in my glove box. In fact, the surrounding trees added to the masia’s romance. Once I became excited because a “se vende” sign had been hung on the main door. Alas, it transpired that this romantic dream was in fact owned by 4 to 6 family members. The bit to sale was but a flake in the middle.
Two years later I made another pit stop, thinking maybe the “se vende” had extended itself across the multiple ‘segments” of this obsession of mine. The masia was really sizeable and even had a romantic inner walled garden scattered with unkempt fruit trees. How had I not noticed before? However, the building had declined further, notably so. Where once the vegetation around the walls had been kept in check, now nature was climbing unrestrained up them. Brambles, ivy and shrub oak were pushing their invasive roots into the compliant cracks between the stones, intent on reclaiming them for their own. The “se vende” sign was slowly disappearing under the assault.
There were cats everywhere, and not feral. Strange. This was explained when I came across a curious young man living in a run-down camper van to the side of the land, as shambolic as the finca, and surrounded by an assortment of non-eco junk. Mostly tins and plastic bags. Inside his van he proudly showed me a huge flat screen TV and on the van’s roof a solar panel and antenna just for this. His modus transport was a bicycle. The rest I did not want to know about.
I retreated hastily and crossed that off the list. It was a silly unrealistic fantasy anyway.
7 years passed. Last Sunday, exactly 14 years after having bought Masia Lavanda, I was invited with Miguel to lunch high up above in a really wonderful finca. It was a stupendous occasion with stupendous wines to match. The owner, Jose, is an amazing cook. On top of this the views were to die for, extending all the way to the sea. What more could you ask?
On the way back, we passed the object of my erstwhile fascination and I asked if we could stop to look. Miguel turned his 42-year-old very noisy Seat obligingly up the bumpy drive. How fitting that this was our transport!
Of note was that now all the doors but one were open. The “se vende” sign had disappeared. Whether various visitors had broken in, or what, I could not know. So, being perhaps a bit foolish and definitely tipsy, I ventured in, not one, but every single accessible door.
The cats, young man, camper van and most of his rubbish had gone. The masia was in a sorrier state than ever; there were even what appeared to be warning “dangerous building” tapes stretched across one door. Or perhaps it was for a fiesta? Joke.
Once inside, I was reminded, perhaps bizarrely, of Frank Sinatra who famously said during a live gig at Las Vegas, “I have to say this. Sammy Davis Junior wrote a book and said yes I can! And when I read it, I said no you can’t!” My dream was an utter “no you can’t do up this wreck”.
Why? Well, there were holes in the floors, not to mention the roof of course, far too low ceilings, dead ends and detached layouts that would challenge the best of architects. Utterly unsuitable for modern use, even though it did have a somewhat evocative fireplace. Occasionally Miguel, who wisely stayed outside, called for me to get the hell out. But I persisted, examining every nook and cranny, careful on the various crumbling stairs with their short treads and steep risers – another non-starter for 10!
Outside the secret garden was secret no more. The walls had collapsed. Nature had accomplished her mission and spread her tentacles triumphantly across the piles of rubble.
I took one more long shot and we left. That was it, the end of a saga, the end of a collection of buildings, mostly conjoined, that would never be again.
I felt very sad. It was sad. This was one of the rare Castellon masias with a tejado a dos lados – double-pitched roof. In its day would have been permanently occupied, as opposed to being a temporary place in the country to stay when the land needed tending. Once it must have bustled with life and families. As each offspring married, another segment would have been constructed to house them. There would have been babies and births and deaths. Joy and heartaches. Fiestas and wakes.
My imagination ran wild, then stagnated and petered out, much as this masia has been doing for God only knows how many decades. Now it could only continue to its final death knell and I do not want to attend that moment. The only saving grace is I doubt, as happens so often, that what remains will be removed to make way for a spanking ugly new house at odds with the essence of el campo. The dream lacks land and this makes it unviable…ojalá – let’s hope! In the meantime I leave you with an image of how I prefer to remember my magical masia whose real history I will never truly know.
P.S. in this area of Spain a masia generally means a farmhouse. A mas is usually a large farmhouse. A finca is the land it sits on. At least that is how I have come to understand it.
P.S.S. Any input here welcome!
To see more old finca photos click here