OK. I’m a freak for obscure, random knowledge. Things that matter to no one else. It’s why I went to the Salt and Pepper Museum and the Micro Museum in Guadalest yesterday. Am I interested in either of those things? Not really, but who knows what you’ll learn that you’ll store away and pull out at a dinner party? You don’t know, until you go and see it for yourself.
The area south of Valencia is covered in olive groves. Lemons and oranges are verdant. And they also have thousands of trees bearing a fruit I only know by the name ‘Acideni’. It’s the name of the fruit in Arabic. Lebanon, and the campus at Stanford University, are the only two places I’ve ever seen them. I don’t know what this fruit is called in Spanish or English, but it’s sort of like an apricot and has black seeds instead of a pit. It’s yummy. Suffice to say, the region is an agricultural paradise.
As we were coming home from our tour of the Alicante region yesterday, our tour guide directed us to look off into the distant farm lands and to observe the canals that edge the fields and clearly cut the landscape, denoting one field from another. Water is, of course, the most precious commodity of farming and when there is a limited resource, competition and some disputes can arise. Enter the Tribunal de Agua.
What is that? You may ask. Well, it’s apparently the oldest judicial body in Europe, going back to the Moors and perhaps, even the Romans. And it’s pretty cool. The regional of Valencia is broken up into 12 Asequia (sp?) – water areas. These are presided over by a ‘Judge’ who is elected by the local farmers in that Asequia, and is a farmer himself. If there are water disputes, these guys are the arbitrators of the dispute and they levy fines or make judgement relating to agro water rights. Interesting? Sure, but it gets better.
What happens if these two farmers don’t agree with the Asequia judge for their region? They take their dispute to the Tribunal de Agua. It’s kind of like the Supreme Court of Water here. Who is on this tribunal and where do they meet? Some lofty mahogany room wearing robes and banging gavels? No, they do not.
The Tribunal is made up of all the water judges from the 12 Asequia. And every Thursday at 12 noon, they meet on the ‘Left side of the Church’ in Valencia – the big Cathedral. About 10 minutes before they are scheduled to meet, someone comes out with 12 folding chairs and puts them outside the ‘big doors’. They put up stanchions around them so keep the riff raff away. Then, precisely at noon, they file out and take their seats in a circle, dressed in their tradesmen smocks. A guy shouts out to the crowd gathered and basically asks if anyone has a water dispute they want these judges to hear and waits for them to come forward.
The shouting sounded like a formality to me. Sort of the ‘All rise, all who has business before this court shall come forward and be heard’ type of deal we do in the US in some of our commonwealth states. I mean, of course they know in advance via some sort of filing or paperwork, email, phone call, text message – that there will be someone coming to dispute the regional Asequia judge’s decision. But no. They don’t know. It’s a total surprise. And they gather on those 12 chairs every Thursday at noon and they don’t know who will show up or if they’ll hear a case.
And when they do hear a case, all parties just do whatever is determined in the outcome. No appeal. Everyone just agrees that these 12 guys on these chairs outside the Big Doors are the deciders. And there’s no filing. No court reporter. No one records the proceeding. It’s out in the open, and because it’s out in the open and anyone can come watch, its viewed that this is a fair and balanced hearing and thus ruling, and so everyone walks away and abides by it.
How’s that for random facts. Imagine if all our justice systems worked this well? Total transparency and no fighting. No judges that sat above their peers. Just an open hearing in, essentially, the town square and everyone walks away satisfied. It boggles the mind. But random fun facts usually do. I’m very sure this isn’t the last of them.