When I moved to Figueres in 2012, the first neighbor I met was a
little old lady called Inés.
She was petite, kind of cute, had short silver hair not unlike my
own, spent considerable time on a public bench in front of the
building, and was very talkative, except that I could hardly
understand a word. It wasn’t only that she spoke no Catalan, in
spite of having been married to a Catalan for over 40
years and having lived in
Catalonia for over 60. It
was because in addition to being from Andalusia, where they have a
strong accent, she spoke Andalus Castilian as if she had marbles in
her mouth. But she was friendly, the only person so far to
say hello, and so I made an effort to understand what she was saying.
It turned out to be terrifying.
told me that the former owners of my apartment had sold because some
of the kids in the
building were breaking in
through the window that gives onto the interior air shaft where we
all have a small balcony that houses our washing machines. These
were Moroccan kids, she said, little delinquents, and there was
nothing you could do.
Well, I know
something about that Spanish idea that there is nothing you can do,
but even so, I was upset. I had come up to Figueres to spend one day
looking for apartments, at the end of which I decided which one to
buy. I had little time and little money. Had I made a bad choice?
I was not only upset but also a bit frightened.
So the next day I
headed over to the gestoria – the management company that services
our building. I spoke with Catarina and told her what I had heard.
Who told you that? she asked. Inés.
Oh, well, don’t give it another thought. Inés
is always coming up with stories, always blaming people for things.
“complicated” is the word they use.
Ignore her. There was never any
When I got to know
her better it became worse. Inés
really did make up stories, all of them nasty. She blamed all of us
around her – even those
who actually tried to help her when she needed it. She complained to
the police that kids were throwing rocks up at her window from that
bench of hers, so the city removed the bench even though there were
no kids, no broken glass, and no rocks
down there to throw. So her story resulted in her losing her bench.
On the other hand,
she used to throw urine out her window onto the street. She did it
for years. She denied it but it always landed right under her window
and some of the neighbors said they had seen her do it. Apparently
she collected it in a bucket and then dumped it out. Why? Who
constantly that neighbors were trying to break into her apartment, that they were trying to get her out.
She accused her neighbors next door and others. She would stand in
the stairway in front of her door and accost anyone going up or down
with a tirade. They can’t drive her out of her home, she would
yell. And if anyone tried to engage her and tell her that no one was
trying to get her out of her home, she would argue and yell. You
could hear it throughout the building. When I heard those arguments
I would try to delay my going out so I could avoid running into her.
I got to where even when it was quiet I would look out my peephole
first to make sure that going out was safe and I wasn’t going to be
At one point I went
to the social services office to see if they knew about her. It
seemed to me she wasn’t really capable of taking decent care of
herself and could use some help. I gave them her details – name,
address, etc. and that was the last I heard of it although some time
later I would see someone who seemed to be a social worker going in or out of her apartment every now and then.
Once, on the
stairway, when she was totally out of it, telling me something about
how she felt she was dying, I called the emergency medical number.
Police and an ambulance came. Two people went into her apartment
with her, stayed for about half an hour, and then left. After that
told anyone she could find, even strangers on the street, that I had
sent the police to get her. I decided that from then on I would just
mind my own business.
I thought her
problem had to do with old age, dementia maybe, but people who knew
years ago told me she’d always been like this. Mala
llet, they said.
Whatever the cause
of her problem, it only became worse and finally, shortly after the Covid pandemic began, her sister had her taken to a nursing home. That was
about three years ago. And last week word came that Inés
Word came via a
notice that had been taped on the front door of our building by the funeral home. This is the common practice. When someone dies, the funeral home tapes a
notice of the death and announcement of the funeral service, held at
their facility across from the cemetery, on the door of every
building in the immediate neighborhood where that person used to
live. The notice gives the person’s name, civil status, age at
death, family survivors, and the day and time of the funeral service
– usually the next day because the Spanish do not wait around.
You’re dead one day and disposed of the next.
I first came to live in Figueres, from my apartment I heard, for the
first time, church bells tolling. I hadn’t noticed that in
Barcelona. This wasn’t the usual ringing that told the time or
announced a mass. It was slow, lugubrious tolling, and it went on
and on. The sound was so mournful that it didn’t take much
imagination to figure out that someone must have died.
In the Catholic
Church, bells represent the voice of God and are meant to remind
people of the existence of heaven. Historically, bells were used as
a clock (you might not be able to see a clock, but you could hear the bells telling you it was lunch time); to announce mass, baptisms, weddings, funerals, other
religious holidays; and to warn of fires and floods. For each
purpose there was a specific way of ringing the bells and everyone
When someone in the
community died, they would ring a death knoll. Three rings three times for a man (nine total), three rings two times for a woman (six total). Some professions also had special markers. Then the bells would toll, one
strike for each year of the deceased’s life. Thus people would
have a good idea of who had died.
I don’t know if
any bells tolled for Inés.
If they had, they would
have rung 91 times, a good long time.
If you like this post, you might like my book: No Regrets: A Life in Catalonia, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, and brick and mortar bookshops, etc.
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