CANDELEDA, Spain – Country boy, meet city girl.
Inspired by a Hollywood western, a Spanish dating association is trying to slow a population drain from the country's beleaguered central villages, introducing bachelors to women bussed in from the big city of Madrid with hopes of ending a bride shortage.
Candeleda, a town of 6,000 on the banks of the picturesque Lobera River, hosted a weekend fiesta to welcome 68 women for a meet-and-greet with the village's single men. Ancient cave paintings show Candeleda has been inhabited for some 5,000 years, and resident Jose Miguel, 67, said he would hate to see its population dwindle after such a long history.
"I've checked out the few widows and single women here," said Miguel. "I signed up for this to meet new ladies and to hopefully show them the beauty of my town."
The group, Asocamu, was set up in 1995 to promote rural re-population by organizing parties for single men and woman, but Spain's painful financial crisis and the lure of city jobs has made the need more pressing than ever, Manuel Gozalo, one of the organizers, said Sunday.
Many villages are falling into ruin, with national statistics showing that of Spain's 5,000 villages up to 100 are under imminent threat of abandonment.
Large swathes of central and northern Spain are at risk of depopulation. In the small agricultural communities of Spain's central plain single, male residents were finding the loneliness too tough to endure, Gozalo said.
Asocamu credits as its inspiration the 1951 film "Westward the Women," starring Robert Taylor and Denise Darcel, which tells the story of how the American west was populated by organizing wagon trains of women to provide company, and brides, for lonely pioneers.
In the red-roofed village of Candeleda, men and women danced, flirted — and considered their prospects. Blanca Fernandez, 52, works in sales in Madrid and was attracted by the idea of a nice day out and a chance for romance.
"I know it's difficult to find the love of one's life, but some of these meetings have led to marriages," she said.
Heckle reported from Madrid.