Even with directions, the mechanic’s workshop proves tricky to find. After the sports hall take a left, go down the cobbled slope, turn right at the salón de fiestas, along the street, and it’s down there somewhere on your left.
The premises, when I finally track them down, hide behind two adjacent garage doors in an old residential terrace of unremarkable, white-rendered buildings. The doors are open, a radio is playing fuzzily, and a couple of vehicles stick their rumps out on to the poorly-surfaced street.
I make my way inside, tiptoeing over pans of noxious and unidentifiable fluids, compressed air lines and open tool boxes. Faded, nostalgic advertisements for Elf, Peugeot and Michelin look down from grease-stained, painted brickwork. The aroma in the air is a disturbing mixture of tobacco smoke and petrol.
As my eyes adjust to the gloom I see that couple of men are in there, amiably squabbling about some recent football match while perched on piles of old tyres. One of them I recognise as being from a neighbouring property in the campo. We wish each other good day, and he explains with a sideways nod to the adjacent vehicle that he’s “getting the wheels sorted out” on his battered Renault 5-based van. Maybe that’s the extent of his understanding of the job; more likely, he supposes that it’ll be mine.
Every surface is covered in disassembled pieces of machinery. I try to picture them whole and see chainsaws, rotovators, a strimmer, a moped. There’s a weird little tractor that articulates at its centre; it’s been separated from its small diesel motor, which squats on a nearby crate. Something in the corner might be half of a quad bike. Don’t press me on which half, or what might have become of the other.
The chatter on the radio gives way to some lively number by La Oreja de Van Gogh, and one of my companions reaches over to tune to another channel. The mechanic who at that moment appears from a back room is presumably Francisco, whose services have been recommended to me. He’s a stocky man, perhaps in his forties, clad in faded blue overalls and wiping his hands on a rag. It’s a waste of time, those fingers are oily to the bone.
I’d like my car serviced and taken for its annual ITV test, I explain in response to his polite enquiry. At his nodded invitation, we clamber to the paper-piled desk at the back of the workshop. Files, catalogues and newspapers are thrown aside or piled on chairs until a desk diary is uncovered, and we agree a day for the work to be done. He recognises me, he says – we’re neighbours of the family that owns the fruit shop, aren’t we? Yes we are. It was they who recommended that I came here and, this being so small a village, I suspect that Francisco has since then been expecting my visit.
He takes a quick look at the car before I leave, kicking tyres and switching on lights and wipers – OK, that should all be fine. Bring it in on the agreed day, and he’ll run me home, then deliver the car to me later with the work done. As we conclude our business, an ancient Fiat coughs to a stop nearby, the cue for Francisco to jog back to the workshop, emerging immediately with a cardboard box containing who-knows-what to tackle this next automotive ailment; the Fiat’s bonnet is already open as he and its owner exchange greetings.
* * *
As I arrive at the same address precisely one year later, pleased that the faithful old workhorse has made it to another inspection date, I’m met by a felt-penned sign on the closed garage door. It explains that the workshop has recently relocated to the poligono industrial, a newly flattened area at the far side of the carretera where some steel-framed units have lately appeared. I turn around and drive the five minutes or so.
The philosophical or metaphysical argument over whether a single line of 4 or 5 units can be a poligono, I’ll leave to others. I can’t argue, though, with the term industrial – the metal fabricator, the carpenter and the mechanic have all moved out of their backstreet premises in the pueblo to occupy shiny new units here. The remaining occupied building is the recently built tanatorio, or funeral parlour. Is that an industrial business? The more I think about it, I suppose it is, and wish I hadn’t.
The echoing hall of the new taller mecánico is spotless in polished pale grey, and inside I recognise the ageing machinery; the hydraulic lift, the air compressor, devices for fitting tyres and balancing wheels have all been brought from the old workshop. But they are now spread around the outside of this cavernous, neon-lit space like gallery exhibits, the taped yellow lines on the floor outlining the officially sanctioned safe distance for all but the overalled curator.
A new, modern desk in one corner is surrounded by the vintage signboards from the previous workshop. They are clustered together, as if corralled into that one section of wall by the “signs of the times” that occupy the other areas; fluorescent, officious euro-cartoons depicting ear defenders, trip hazards and emergency exits. The science of compliance.
I wonder whether I’ve by chance caught the workshop in a quiet moment? There are vehicles here to be worked on, but they’re all late models whose diagnoses will be done via digital displays and umbilical cables. Owners are noticeably absent; perhaps the concept of ‘popping round to see Francisco’ with an ailing machine has disappeared with the old premises. Gone too is the jigsaw of mechanical parts, the miscellany of half-machines and pans of fluid, the chaos of socket spanners and clamps, the melee of neighbours coming, going, or simply hanging out, the coffee mugs and newspapers, and the ambiance of oily, conspiratorial machismo.
When Francisco appears, I’m gazing upward into the huge space like a tourist who’s just walked for the first time into la Catedral de Sevilla. I’m amused to see that he’s once again vainly wiping his stained hands with a rag. Looking around, it’s hard to imagine where he got them dirty.
He smiles warmly, and seems genuinely pleased to see me. I assume from his grin that he’s proud of the new workshop, but he doesn’t seem to want to talk about that. “It works fine,” he shrugs. “There’s a bit more space.” Our footsteps echo as we walk back to the desk, where he’ll fire up a laptop computer and book online the required ITV inspection.
Maybe, these days, he’s genuinely pleased to see anybody.