Remembering Patricia Storms

Remembering Patricia Storms

Our contributor Paul Whitelock is still clearing out at home. He recently came across an article about Ronda, that was written by his friend Patricia Storms, an American who had lived in Ronda for over 40 years. The article was published in 1972 in the Toronto Star and the San Francisco Chronicle.

I got to know Patricia Storms in 2005 when my girlfriend of the time, Maude, and I were invited to dinner with my friend José María Orozco González, the then owner of the Hotel Jardín de la Muralla in the Barrio San Francisco in Ronda. Patricia was there, along with José María’s wife, Dori.

Hotel Jardín de la Muralla in the Barrio San Francisco in Ronda

Patricia had already lived in Ronda for over 30 years and had become fluent in Spanish during that time. Maude and I struck up a friendship with Patricia, who invited us to her home, a nice house in a comunidad, also in the barrio, where we enjoyed a very pleasant couple of hours chatting about our respective histories and lives.

A couple of years later, Maude and I had split up, I was in Ronda on an extended stay, being retired, and I decided to look up Patricia. She was thrilled to see me again (or so she said!). We began to spend time in each other’s company, purely platonic I must stress, playing Scrabble at her house, eating out, especially on Sundays when she would let me drive her car and we would go somewhere new and have lunch there. I began to do little DIY jobs for her and showed her how to get an English soundtrack for English language films shown on Spanish TV.

She kindly offered to become the keyholder for my flat, Piso Blanco, which back then was booking well. With me still resident in the UK at that time, having someone to meet and greet my clients was a great bonus. Patricia even used to take them out on excursions, which was way beyond the call of duty, but she enjoyed showing people her “home town”.

After I met Rita, now my wife, Patricia and I sadly had little contact.

Two years ago I was shocked to be phoned by a neighbour of Patricia’s to be told that she had passed away. That was a real shame, for someone who loved living in Ronda so much and was no great age.

Recently I have been tidying up at home and going through my things. This weekend  I came across mine and Patricia’s correspondence from that time. Included in the file was an article about Ronda, written by Patricia in 1972, which was published in the Toronto Star and the San Francisco Chronicle.

I find the article fascinating because it talks about a Ronda of long ago. Secret Serranía is pleased to be able to offer it here in full for readers to enjoy and to contemplate the differences with the Ronda of today.

Spanish town that invented bullfighting lets the swinging 20th century pass by

By Patricia de Ronda (Patricia Storms)

Special to the Star

RONDA, Spain – Behind the bar a man serves small glasses of sherry to a sombrely dressed, noisy congregation of old men. In an alcove at one side, several teenaged boys gather around a table playing dominoes and drinking beer.

An ordinary scene for Spain yet this is a very special bar. For it is located in the catacombs of the Cathedral of Ronda.

Would the Romans have believed their pagan temple would some day house a bar? Or the Moors, who built a mosque over it 1,200 years ago? Or the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabel, who ordered the construction of the present cathedral?

This entire town seems to have been completely bypassed by the 20thcentury. Yet it is a mere 35 miles from the swinging Costa del Sol where an increasing number of Canadians and Americans are fleeing the ravages of winter these days.

Beside the main entrance of the cathedral the daughter of the sacristan-turned-bartender practises the castanets. The sacristan’s family lives in the steeple which was the minaret to the former mosque.

Inside, in a far corner of the sacristy, the main entrance to the mosque has been preserved. The high altar in the Renaissance section at the back of the building is a striking piece of 18th century baroque carving. In the centre of the edifice is the choir; a massive, intricately carved baroque box, still bearing scars from the Spanish Civil War.

On a side wall is the altar of St Anthony holding the Christ child in his arms. He is the patron saint of lost causes and widely popular in Spain for finding the fiancés for the single girls. The really desperate ones snatch the baby from his arms and take it home – and keep it as a ransom until he finds them a fiancé.

Many such customs survive in Ronda, although some have undergone curious modifications. The women still dress in black for deceased relatives. But the younger ones now wear mini-mourning dresses; while the men have switched from black armbands to plain black ties.

At edge of cliff

The near inaccessibility of the town helps preserve its ancient flavour. Ronda is built on the crown of a high plateau, balanced precariously on the edge of sheer cliffs. Long before the Celts, who were the town’s first inhabitants, built their castle here in 122 B.C., nature had created an awe-inspiring natural fortress.

A visitor can easily imagine the dismay of an invading army upon riding out of the mountains and seeing before them a gigantic fortress rising nearly 700 feet from the floor of a valley.

Staying aloof at an altitude of 2,500 feet, Ronda is the Spain of travel posters, a journey into another age.

The most dramatic aspect of the town is the jagged chasm splitting it into two separate parts. Some 650 feet at its deepest point, it breaches the heart of Ronda. On the east side is Moorish Ronda; on the west, the Christian.

The two parts are connected by three bridges. The oldest and lowest is Moorish, located near the ruins of the Moorish walls and the 13th-century baths. The middle one dates from 1616 and was built on the foundation of a Roman bridge.

The 300-foot-high “new bridge” was completed in 1793. Over its centre arch is a large chamber originally built as a prison for bandits and smugglers. Now it is the site of a restaurant that serves good regional dishes.

Bullfighting, as we know it today, was born in Ronda. In 1785 a carpenter’ assistant named Pedro Romero converted the old jousting ring into the present bullring, drew up the rules that still govern the spectacle, and was the first man to fight bulls on foot.

Romero was the first of many great bullfighters born here, giving Ronda the proud title of “the cradle of bullfighting”. Antonio Ordoñez, Spain’s top classic matador today, is from Ronda, as was his father Cayetano who was the bullfighter in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

The scenery around Ronda changes constantly. In winter the valley looks like a giant green velvet carpet; in spring, a patchwork quilt in greens, golds and browns.

In April the hills blush with wild red poppies; in May the gardens are overrun with roses. There are white almond blossoms for St. Valentine’s day, pink flowering Judas trees for Easter and golden sycamores in autumn.

Few dollars a night

The traveller will find it a delightful and economical place to stop. It has a fine first-class hotel and many comfortable pensions where you can stay for a few dollars a night. There are several good inexpensive restaurants in the centre of town. Everything is within walking distance.

There is a regular train and bus service to Ronda from several nearby places. Five roads lead from the town to San Pedro de Alcántara, Málaga, Sevilla, Granada and Algeciras. None is a superhighway. If one were, this would cease to be the authentic Spanish town.

For, as yet Ronda has surrendered neither its charm nor its flavour to the modern world.

Where else can you eat lunch in an 18th-century prison inside a bridge, while watching eagles soar far below; or be served a cognac by the sacristan in the catacombs of an ancient cathedral?

Paul Whitelock

About Paul Whitelock

Paul Whitelock is a retired former languages teacher, school inspector and translator, who emigrated to the Serranía de Ronda in 2008, where he lives with his second wife, Rita, and his dog, Berti. He spends his time between Montejaque and Ronda doing DIY, gardening and writing.