In the shadow of Tor mountain

Souvenir T-shirts; the bestseller Tor, treze caes i tres morts, by Carles Porta, and other books about the Ferrera valley and the Àneu valleys; crafts; tastes; infusions.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
18 August 2023 Friday 11:10
7 Reads
In the shadow of Tor mountain

Souvenir T-shirts; the bestseller Tor, treze caes i tres morts, by Carles Porta, and other books about the Ferrera valley and the Àneu valleys; crafts; tastes; infusions... The sprightly Pili Tomàs has set up a sort of small bazaar in the dining room of his restaurant, Casa Sisqueta. The visitor who arrives attracted by the morbidness of media crime or the routes of smugglers, in addition to tasting the specialties of the cook, will also be able to return home with a souvenir of a town with vicissitudes that have filled many pages. Pili, an indefatigable woman with character and determination, very determined, proclaims that her home is the one that keeps the fire burning most months of the year, even though none of the 14 registered in Tor resides permanently up here , at almost 1,700 meters.

Tor belongs to the municipality of Alins, but it has always been an independent republic that experienced one of its most disturbing moments in the summer of 1995, when the corpse of Josep Montané, known as Sansa, appeared. The victim maintained a fierce enmity with some neighbors over the ownership of the village mountain.

Pili has just collected the dishes, she says she has little time, as she has to go up the mountain to check on the cows before nightfall. Today, a Monday in mid-July, there were few diners; this summer is not as good as the previous ones. "I am the last person born in Tor, in 1968, I am the youngest of seven siblings. My father died when I was only three days old and my mother was left alone. With seven cows he raised seven children! She also prepared meals for fishermen, hikers, mushroom pickers... But the best time was that of the smugglers, until the mid-nineties they would stop here and eat something at home, this helped her a lot Now people are drowning in a glass of water", he proclaims.

La Pili is one of the eight houses in this village that are still standing. "My husband, Lázaro, and I go up from Easter to All Saints, we are the ones who spend the most months in Tor", he insists. The rest of the year they move to Ainet, another of the Alins towns, in Pallars Sobirà.

His restaurant only opens in July and August, and he regrets that it is becoming more and more difficult to keep the livestock going. “The price of a trailer of alfalfa has almost doubled; in addition to diesel, Social Security..., everything has gone up. My mother sold a calf for 100,000 pesetas (600 euros) in the 1980s, and now I get paid almost the same, 700, 800 at best, but the standard of living has multiplied. Even with subsidies, it's hard for me to survive"· It's not easy, but Pili smiles when she talks about her herd, her 80 cows, the Gascon, Limousin and Bruna breeds from the Pyrenees, and her three bulls She also takes care of four riding horses with her husband, one of the characters in Tor's reference work. "What I would like is to be here all year, this is the life I've always dreamed of, to be a shepherd and a cook, to climb the mountains, I have no fear of being alone here, no 'I never had, not even when they killed the two woodcutters. I have so much nostalgia for the Tor of my childhood."

Hatreds for the ownership of the mountain come from afar; in 1980 they already reaped the lives of two men trusted by Jordi Riba, Palanca, staunch enemy of the Sansa assassination.

Pili spares no caress to her dog, sick of the lungs, who laboriously descends the stairs of the house. "Today, after the cows, I will take him to the vet, in Andorra", he says. The relationship with the neighboring country is constant. Not so long ago, tobacco smugglers used to arrive by road through the coveted mountain, and paid a toll beforehand. Now it is the 4x4s with tourists eager to follow the tobacco traffickers' route, and in passing to satisfy their curiosity about Tor's disturbing reputation, who wander through this enclave. La Pili feeds them, serves them minced meat, stuffed lamb, venison stew, grilled meat... and they return to Andorra happy, with some syrup courtesy of the house.

Tor, a town on the border, can be accessed from Andorra and from Pallars. The truth is that driving along the track of about twelve kilometers that starts in Alins is not a relaxing task in a conventional vehicle, it is better to go there in an all-terrain vehicle. The first section is overcome without any surprises, later things get a little more complicated and the less dexterous at the wheel see it in all colors if they cross someone in the opposite direction. Tor people are amused by this. The narrow road runs parallel to the river, and a few meters from the entrance to the town a sign makes it clear that the outsider is on private land and that "the owners of the mountain are not responsible for the physical and material damage that occurs can cause people to circulate" there. It seems like a warning from another time, from the time when it was feared that the blood would reach - and it did - the river through the mountain and the benefits it could give. The perpetrator(s) of Sansa's death have not yet been revealed. The litigations have been repeated over the last few years and now, says Pili, it has been concluded that "the mountain is communal, of the twelve families who have houses there, eight in good condition and four in ruins, and of the bishopric of the Headquarters, with the church and the rectory".

Casa Sisqueta stands next to Casa Palanca. “It was inherited by my brother-in-law, Pablo, who has 200 horses; we are the only two who take the herds to the mountains and who pay the community of owners for the pastures”. "Now - he insists - the thirteen, the twelve families and the bishopric, we have the same rights".

Pili is the only one of the seven siblings – one of whom is dead – who has returned to Tor, a very gloomy, unproductive town with few permanent neighbors when she was a child. "During my childhood there were only five inhabited houses and we were the only children. I went down to Alins school, two hours there and two hours back, until the third year of primary school. Then I studied BUP at Pobla de Segur and, at the age of 16 or 17, I went to work in Andorra, in restaurants, hotels... Until I returned in 1998, when my mother was left alone after the last brother left ", he relates.

If it were up to her, she wouldn't move from here, but in winter the access track is sometimes impassable. The reputation of Tor, also the beauty of the place, is what attracts every summer quite a few curious, potential customers to its stoves.