To an outsider, it may not seem like there’s much to it: a group of mainly elderly villagers grab a chair from inside their homes, sit together outdoors to get some respite from the heat and gossip the evening and night away.
But to many Spaniards, this scene brings back memories of their childhoods and evokes the most quintessentially Spanish image of summertime: family members and friends gossiping and laughing al fresco to take their minds off ‘la calor’ (the heat).
For most of the 1,400 people who live in the village of Algar near Cádiz, it’s a tradition that’s worth preserving and protecting.
Concerned that this face-to-face form of socialising is dying out among Algar’s screen-obsessed younger generation, the village council has called for Spain’s al fresco summer chatting to be granted UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage status.
As Unesco puts it “cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts”.
Examples of other intangible traditions with Unesco status in Spain include the whistling language of the Canary island of La Gomera, Andalusian flameco dancing, Valencia’s Fallas festival and Catalonia’s Castellers human towers.
“I saw that the tradition was getting lost,” Algar mayor José Carlos Sánchez told Spanish online daily Nius Diario.
“The elderly maintained the tradition but a large part of our population didn’t.
Photo: Cristina Quicler/AFP
“I got the idea for the initiative from an article online titled ‘Al fresco with Unesco’.
“I quickly gathered my team and the first thing we did was get in touch with the Andalusian regional government to make sure no other municipality stole our idea, and we’ve already sent in the application for UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage status”.
Sánchez and his team are now encouraging locals and visitors of all ages to take part in this open-air habit to strengthen their cause, which in Covid times not only offers cooler temperatures than staying indoors, it also lowers the risk of infection.
“Our take is that social media shouldn’t be the end of popular traditions, one thing shouldn’t take away from the other,” Algar’s mayor concluded.
So even though the campaign may seem far-fetched for those who are unfamiliar with Spanish culture, for many Spaniards it represents a worthy attempt to stick by the habit of spending time outdoors and in the company of others.
Is this al fresco gossiping one of Spain’s secrets for a long and happy life? We believe so.