A day with a sculptor in Ayllón

Ayllón is a village which lies 140kms North of Madrid. Situated in the province of Segovia, this place is known for its nature and historic buildings, which include churches, monuments and palaces. What’s less known is the history behind the name of the village. That’s why (on the day I flew to Brazil) I was lucky to visit Ayllón with José, who has a very unique relationship to its name. 

Ayllón: the story of a Jewish family

Now home to 1,250 inhabitants, the village of Ayllón once used to be home of a big Sephardic family who went by the name of Ayllón. As Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, this family emigrated to various parts of the world, most of them ending up in Egypt. Centuries later, the family was forced into exile again, this time spreading over more than 12 different countries.

More than 500 years later, a man named Jack Aghion, was conducting a study on his genealogy. Merged into the study of his ancestry, he came across the village of Ayllón and decided to do a massive search on everyone with the same surname as him. He managed to find and contact over 50 Ayllóns, nowadays scattered around USA, Latin America, Canada, Europe and Australia.

In 2014, these people came together in Ayllón, to celebrate the family and to pay tribute to their ancestors. On the emotional occasion, they e.g. visited the old Jewish cemetary of El Pinarillo and were given gifts by the municipality. Jack Aghion was handed a bundle of keys as a symbol of the home and garden of his past. What’s more, the family of Ayllón donated a monument to the village as a commemoration of their visit. This monument was realized by two artists, of which one is…guess who? José!

José: sculptor from Madrid

IMG_2111A sculptor from Madrid who studied at the Academy of Fine Arts of Madrid. He spent two months at a residence in Ayllón, working e.g. on the monument in the picture (it’s situated right next to the beautiful historic square, so if you ever visit Ayllón, don’t walk past it!). When I met him, he had just been to the Antarctica for 1,5 months for an artistic project, staying with the military and eating almost only meat. “The life there is harsh and amazingly calm”, he recalls. As for now, José lives in the cozy, cobblestone neighborhood of Malasaña (btw. this, La Letras and Lavapies were the neighborhoods that also Marta mentioned when talking about her favorite places in Madrid). When home, the thing he enjoys most is the company of his friends: sitting around with someone playing the guitar. One thing we did together in Madrid, which I definitely recommend to anyone going there in the summer, is the open air cinema in Parque de la Bombilla!

Alejandra: textile artist from Burgos

IMG_2130José’s flatmate Alejandra, originally from Burgos, visited Ayllón with us. About her new home city Madrid she says: “Up till now there’s nothing I dislike about the place. It’s big enough not to feel stuck and there’s always something interesting going on”.  A scholar from the Academy of Fine Arts in Bilbao, this lovely lady does textile work and is fascinated by the powerful status traditional handicraft has amongst women in Latin America. Yet, also her own work is beyond interesting. Like, have you ever thought about those sentences that turn you from a lover into a stranger? When you’re crazy about someone and all of the sudden that someone goes: “I don’t want anything serious”. Alejandra has. She has been dumped with such absurd sentences, that some time ago she decided to create textile works out of them. The result? A collection of quite hilarious explanations of why it just wasn’t meant to be. My favorite: “had we gone anal, this wouldn’t have happened”.

Juanma: gardener from Ayllón

IMG_2132During his sojourn in Ayllón a couple of years ago, José met Juanma – a local working as a gardener for the municipality. In his propriety this talkative bachelor has chicken (and a pet duck that follows him around wherever he goes), a swan, a vegetable garden all kinds of fruit etc. and a beautiful view on the Torre Vigía La Martina. When visiting his lands, Juanma taught me how to shoot (apparently as an act of self defense when cycling), yet quite contradictorily to this, what he said he loves most about Ayllón, is the calmness of his village. Although this man is born and bred in a small village, he gets by with English and has traveled to New York, Ghana, Senegal and Romania, among others. What struck me about Juanma was his curiosity for the minds of people who live differently from him.

Strangerless: how I met José?

I met José briefly when cycling through Bariloche, Argentina, in December 2015. I was couchsurfing with a local tango dancer and she had made plans to meet up with two Spanish guys at a milonga de tango. One of them was José. We talked a while, had a walk the next day and as happens with most people you meet when cycling, I thought I’d never see this dude again. Ah, these wonderful surprises of the universe!

Written by Sissi Korhonen
Exploring, interpreting and understanding cultures through local languages and people. An advocate for intercultural communication as a basis for diversity acceptance and human equality.