Once again, listening to NPR during my morning commute has yielded dividends for me, in the form of delightful information. It seems that the mayor of Algar, a tiny town in Southern Spain, is applying for UNESCO world heritage status for the residents’ tradition of sitting outside their homes in the summer, to have outdoor chats (“charlas al fresco” in Spanish) with their neighbors. Not a specific spot on the map, not an ancient building, but an intangible cultural gem nonetheless.
The mayor says this tradition has continued during COVID, albeit with masks and at a safe distance. He fears it will die out if it’s not officially recognized, however. More people are starting to stay indoors, engrossed in their social media and television. The loss of this ritual would be a shame.
According to this article, the mayor contends that the tradition provides the residents with many benefits. It bonds the community. They discuss the latest local news as well as events from around the world. It saves energy as they usually turn their air conditioning off when they sit outside. It also decreases loneliness. These chats can turn into a sort of free therapy session. And when someone brings up a problem, the neighbors naturally try to help them out, whether it be an elderly person who needs a small home repair, or someone who needs a ride to tomorrow’s job interview. There’s also an expectation of increased tourism to their small town if UNESCO approves their application.
We are losing so much as we rush toward the future. When’s the last time you saw kids outside riding bicycles? When did you last have to break up a game of kickball in the street so that you could get to your driveway? I’m seeing fewer and fewer picnics in parks. These are all intangible parts of human history. We keep forgetting, as we modernize, that it’s important not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. It’s rather heartbreaking.
I wish the people of Algar the best of luck in keeping their tradition of charlas al fresco alive. It certainly makes me want to visit them and have a chat. Imagine. Making new friends on a warm summer evening in Southern Spain. Sign me up.
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