On Christmas Eve 1986 heavy snow fall covered the roof tops and narrow streets with a deep blanket of white in a tiny village in the Pyrenees that I prefer not to name. When the storm was over many children ran out into the streets to play in the snow. That white paste was fragile, fleeting and inconsistent, just like the peace that reigned that one day, and it melted by the minute, without anyone knowing when it would return.
We were all young and innocent then and on a day like Christmas Eve, when all children are full of excitement, surely their parents preferred to leave aside the resentments that had existed for decades between the families in the village.
As soon as the sun’s rays melted the frozen layer that had bestowed that mysterious and unusual atmosphere upon the village, the thaw uncovered the old grudges and hatred. As was custom the village square was empty once again as a huge snow man that had once symbolised the unity and effort of the village’s younger generation bit by bit melted away.
That snowstorm will be engraved in my memory forever, because many of us children from the village met that day, due to the fact that many young families no longer actually lived in the village, but would go there- back to their roots- at times like Christmas, Easter or in the summer. Unfortunately, over time that meeting turned into a weapon of identification and recognition of those who were fated – according to some unwritten script- to become potential enemies.
In fact, after that gathering no other like it was to take place and small conflicting groups were formed inspired by meaningless reasons that for time immemorial had perpetuated historical resentments, stopping people from healing old wounds and taking the situation to the verge of total decadence.
This lack of peace and old grudges being passed on didn’t just trap certain collectives in confrontations with no way out but also drove a generation- that had been kept divided by some of the adults so as to safeguard their arguments- to the point of exhaustion and they stopped visiting the village altogether, even on special holidays.
More than ever, this made it obvious that if it was to survive, concordance had to return to the village because it had shrunk so much that not a single family that could procreate or pass it on.
Although the wounds have never totally healed, when the elders of the village realised that village’s very identity was at risk of extinction they took to the effort take a sort of unwritten pact so as to not meddle in the younger generation’s relationships. The village appealed to new families to come back and populate it once again, and redirected its economy towards tourism. Under this new climate of concordance some of those children that had been immortalised in an old shot of a snow ball fight in 1986 began slowly to return to the village.
The majority of those youngsters, now adults, had decided not to return to the village for years, due to the pressure created by the constantly tense atmosphere, the fact that they were identified with actions that they themselves had not committed and the general lack of freedom and personal, academic and professional opportunities.
The last time I went the panorama was very different to the day of the great snowstorm, but the spirit of the “borrufa” -as the first snowfalls of the year are named in certain areas of the Pyrenees- seemed to have magically returned. The towels on the lawn by the public pool were testimony to the coming together of enemy families. Some used the village as their holiday home, others had got together and formed couples and there were even a few children playing out in the village.
Amongst the familiar faces, I recognised one boy that I hadn’t seen for a long time. He was the eldest child from a family that had traditionally been in conflict with mine and as we talked I discovered that chance had brought our lives together more than we would have imagined. We had both come back to the village after spending years living in foreign countries, he in Australia and I in Greece. Those resentments no longer separated us, and instead a new friendship grew out of our desire to erase the villages shady past and build a future full of light and prosperity.