In Spain's lonely countryside, a Cupid crusade
The women stand on one side of the village's only restaurant, chatting and primping. Their potential suitors - sheep farmers, wheat growers, and truck drivers - lounge in a row opposite, mumbling and gawking.Skip to next paragraph
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Marifé Castejón can't stand it. "I came here to meet a man!" she yells out to the assembled bachelors. "Are we going to stay divided like this, or are we going to mingle?"
This is courtship in the dying Spanish hinterlands, where middle-aged men still live with their mothers and single women are so scarce they have to be imported by bus, in this case from Madrid.
The imports - most of them immigrants to Spain like hospital janitor Ms. Castejón - come to these sleepy hamlets hoping to walk down the aisle to a better life.
For their part, the men hope to recover from the romantic disaster that Spain's modernization and urbanization have wreaked since the 1960s. The so-called "economic miracle" lured most of the rural population to the big cities, including the suddenly liberated women of the post-Franco era.
Some of the menfolk left behind in places like Fompedraza (pop. 143) were simply paralyzed by such major change, sociologists say.
Others were elder sons who had inherited the family farm. But whatever held them back, these rural Romeos shared a common bond: loneliness.
"I had girlfriends who would spend summers in town, but come winter, they would all leave to work in Zaragoza," cattle herder José Serveto recalls wistfully.
Mr. Serveto was among the bachelors in his Pyrenees mountain village, called Plan, who helped organize the first of these so-called "caravans" of imported potential brides, in 1985. Their inspiration was the 1951 American film "Westward the Women," whose Spanish title is Caravana de Mujeres. Serveto found his mate, as did three other men.
Since that first successful venture, enterprising farmers around the country have been organizing the collective blind dates, where lonely hearts mingle over roasted lamb and a halting pasodoble, or two-step.
But the demographics are dismal: 922 hamlets, most of them in the arid central plateau, have fewer than 100 residents each, according to the National Institute of Statistics. So singles from neighboring towns must band together to throw just one bash.
The early caravans attracted mostly Spanish-born singles, working women like Serveto's wife, Maxima Matías, a maid in Valencia who says she felt "overwhelmed by city life."
But today, the cupid crusade has been hitting the road to a salsa beat, as immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Colombia board the bus. Mostly housecleaners and nannies, the new recruits say they're willing to trade city life for stability and companionship.
"I know the guys in the pueblos are gruff and unpolished, but at least they're hard-working and serious, and they don't mind if you already have children," says Doris Ortiz, a Dominican housecleaner who left Santo Domingo in 1992 with her two daughters. "You just have to watch out for the machistas who think we're prostitutes and that all they have to do is dance with us and we'll sleep with them."