This is Ana Luna.
Her character is as warm as the bread she bakes, and her heart is as full as the moon will be tonight (27th July). She sells her pan from behind a small counter at number 37, but photos of her bakery at the back are offered for free.
Ana lives two doors away from where we are staying in Algodonales, a lesser known Andalucian white village (unless you’re a paraglider). Her panadería is three doors away – although a few weeks later, when we have to leave and want to keep in touch, she tells us that the postman will know how to find her, for her home and her bakery are as one.
Ana arrived in Algodonales with her family 57 years ago or in 1957 – depending on how good your Spanish is (but the difference is only four years).
Her son is a professional horse rider, and we admire her small grandson’s cuddly toy horse which he can’t sleep without. The little boy is sweet, shadowing his grandmother’s panadería tour with serious brown eyes.
Less than one tenth of what Ana says (in a lovely rich voice but with a speedy Andalucian accent) means anything to me, but these two things I think I understand:
1. She shuts her panadería at 1pm, has a long lunch followed by a siesta and grows fatter with each passing day (did she really say that?).
2. If we need anything at any time of day or night, we must ask her.
We like Ana Luna.
That was our first meeting.
Our second takes place on the pavement outside our houses. The kids and I decide to hang out, Spanish-style, in the late evening. First we perch on the step, still warm from the day’s heat, but when darkness falls over the mountains behind us, we decide to do it properly with chairs.
Ana Luna is sitting with her neighbour. We wave “Hola!“, and my sons walk over to tell Ana they are seeking the blood-red moon. She sends them higher up the road for a better view.
Then she beckons to my daughter and me; we should join her and her friend. We have chairs, and we will carry them.
The conversation is limited to our smiles of “sí” in response to their kind questions, but it doesn’t matter. Ana and her friend are patient and fun. They don’t mind if we don’t understand; they just repeat at the same quick pace until I give up and nod “sí” again (whether or not it’s appropriate).
Occasionally I brave a pre-prepared, laboriously constructed sentence that doesn’t really link in with anything at all, but uses up words and phrases I know. Ana and her friend answer with either another flurry of fast Spanish (to which I can only say “sí”), or puzzled looks and a quick conflab between themselves as to what I must have wanted to say … and so we go on.
Our not very mutually intelligible conversation is punctuated by our new friends’ exchanges with neighbours passing by and flamenco-like calls of “Hola Guapa/o!” (Hey gorgeous!) for those who have dressed up for the Feria, and are heading to the town square to party.
We see Ana almost every day, and each time she gives us more bread, and another lesson in how it’s made, never forgetting to give my youngest son a big squeeze, “Hola guapo, mi niñito!”
I’m glad that Ana talks to us as if we understand every single word she says. In the cities, it’s too tempting for some people to try out their English when faced with my incompetence.
And with each conversation I grasp a little more: Ana’s husband died at 73, but her father lived until he was 94, baking bread right up until his final days (she’s proud of this). But she reveals that many people have now left the village, including one of her sons, whose home is now in Germany (Ana seems pragmatic but resigned about this). I tell her we love Algodonales, and she points up and down the street: there are plenty of empty houses – come and live here!
One day, when I ask Ana how she is, she touches her side and shakes her head: she’s undergone some medical treatment and isn’t feeling too well. She gives us a little more detail, but I don’t understand – I wish my Spanish was good enough for my sympathy to fit with her prognosis.
When it’s time to say goodbye, we give Ana a letter to say thank you for her plentiful pan and her kindness. She shrugs and says that she hasn’t been kind; that’s just how people should be with each other. We say we will return, “Volvemos!“, and Ana dispenses advice to the older children: next time they must find amor here in Algodonales – then they will want to stay forever. She laughs away their blushes with a determined “Sí, sí!”
With a final squeeze of my youngest son’s cheeks and a last gift of bread, it really is hasta luego. My daughter thinks she sees tears in Ana’s eyes.
Ana isn’t the alone in our affections. There’s Elena – the grocer, baker and tortilla maker, the piscina café family, and the man with the German Shepherd (it ran with me once – a memorable run as I’m scared of dogs). And each of the male patrons of the workers’ café must have his own story too. We just don’t know them yet.
Volvemos; we must return.