Got a skin complaint? Chris Stewart recommends the healing powers of The Bath of the Sows. Just make sure you get there quick ...
There’s a place a couple of miles up the river from where I live called Baños de la Marrana – Baths of the Sow. Long ago, so the story goes, there was a family living in the next village, Puerto Jubiley, who had a breeding pig of which they were very fond – and this is where I smell the first rat, as a sentimental attachment to animals is not an Alpujarran trait... but I’ll go along with the story anyway, because I like it.
This beloved pig produced litter after litter of the most succulent piglets and was the envy of all who saw her. Little by little though, as the ravages of time took their toll, the pig became horribly disfigured with lumps and blotches and warty excrescences all over her body. Eventually, the family could no longer bear the presence of the hideous old creature, once the apple of their eye, so, instead of killing and eating her – which would have been the normal and logical procedure – they turned her loose to fend as best she could in the gorges of the Cádiar River. There, amid the thickets and the canebreaks, she vanished from sight and was soon forgotten.
There’s a note here, in the margin of my jottings, which says ‘Ozymandias’ but I can’t for the life of me remember what Ozymandias had to do with the story; it can’t have been the name of the pig – she was, if you remember, a sow. But on with the tale...
Some weeks later the family were working in their fields down by the river, when they were surprised by the appearance of the most lovely pig. On closer examination they realised that it was, in fact, their abandoned sow, but now pristine, pink and without blemish. By sundry signs they established that she had spent the intervening time rolling in a mud-hole down the river.
Soon, as is the way with these stories, people were travelling from all over Spain with their skin disorders to wallow in the noisome grey mud of the Cádiar River. Little by little, the place was developed and the fame of the baths spread even to distant lands. I smell another rat here, as there is not even a trace of former glory in the river, even the spring has gone – perhaps this is the Ozymandian aspect of the story? But no, said my informant; the whole lot was destroyed in the Civil War, so that barely a trace remained. Then, in August 1976, there was a terrible storm that, as well as washing the unfortunate village of La Rabita into the sea, obliterated even the spring.
There’s another thermal spring not far from here, in Santa Fé, which advertises itself as the ‘Cradle of Hispanicity’. I think this is because it was here that the Catholic monarchs set up camp prior to taking the nearby city of Granada. If you walk out through the back streets, on past the town dump and off into the countryside, you eventually come to the most enchanting bathing spot. A hot spring burbles from a rock into a slightly sulphurous pool, pleasantly shaded by poplars and willows. It’s one of those magical places, and one much enjoyed by the locals and those few fortunates who know how to find it – it’s considered too unimportant to warrant a sign.
Think, then, of my horror when I read in the paper the other day that they plan to incorporate this spring, that has for so long served the pleasure of the common people, into a luxury housing complex, a gated community with electronic surveillance and all the other stuff to keep out the proletariat. Where will we, the commoners, go to get a hot bath now?
Chris Stewart is the author of Driving over Lemons and A Parrot in the Pepper Tree. He lives in a farmhouse in the Alpujarras, Spain
Main image: Spanish pig foraging. (Shutterstock)