Road’s End

Around 8PM on the evening of the Monday June 17th 2019, roughly 46 years since first reading As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, some 4 months after walking down the road from Laurie Lee’s house in Slad, 7 weeks after coming to Spain, I arrived in Almuñécar.

 And after the commanded journey, what?
Nothing magnificent, nothing unknown.
A gazing out from far away, alone.
Seamus Heaney, Squarings

My son Daniel –for very good reasons, my nephew couldn’t make it – and I had walked from the far side of Málaga, through the Alameda, jungle-thick with impossibly large palm leaves, then down along the paseo marítimo. Stopping to rearrange our baggage, kicking shoes off to cool our feet, we were enjoying ourselves but making slow progress. From El Palo we decided we had to speed things up, a late morning sun burning. We caught a local bus to Rincón de la Victoria – last time I had been there was with Eddie and Liam on our Andalusian cycle tour. We walked a few more miles before the 35º sent us looking for shade. Once the esplanade runs out walking is difficult, on a busy main road. Passing resort after resort the route became boring as well as over-heated. Tourism has changed Spain’s south beyond recognition. It took Daniel and me over 12 hours, with only the odd short stop for a caña or a coffee to travel the 60 miles, by local bus and on foot.

Lee doesn’t mention the journey at all which makes me think that he didn’t walk it himself. If he did he did it, sensibly, in early winter.

They were working on the esplanade where the plaque to the writer stands, so my musical tribute got lost in the drone of the cement mixers, pounding and hammering, a back-up band for the scrape of my violin. Still, I played Danny Boy, Loch Lomond, Granada… your tunes, Laurie. And, in honour of my cycling partners, Mairi’s Wedding; for Brendan and Brian and Ana, O Andar Miudinho; for Ethel and for all those who keep alive the memory of a lost but noble war, the Freedom Come-all-Ye.

The older of the two inscriptions on the plaque reads: From the people of Almuñécar in recognition of the great writer Laurie Lee who lived in our town in 1935-36 and 1951-2, immortalizing it under the pseudonym “Castillo” in his books “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning”.

Below, the hotel Laurie Lee worked and played violin in 1936. Now gone, and about a hundred uglier hotels in its place…

Can’t be absolutely sure this is Almuñécar but it does look like it, and the two hotels that were there in Laurie’s time. Early tourism before the Costa del Sol was invented…

Perhaps the greatest civilian massacre of the Spanish Civil War took place along the road from Málaga and Almería, where Almuñécar lies. Over 20,000 people lost their lives.

In 1937 Franco’s nationalist army broke through from Málaga, causing thousands of civilians to flee in panic, along the narrow coastal road. ‘The persecution was merciless, with the column of bedraggled civilians mixed with retreating Republican militia being shelled from the sea by the heavy guns of a rebel cruiser and strafed and bombed by rebel aircraft.’

Martin Myall
Victims of Franco’s advance
The horses are black.
The horseshoes are black…
They have leaden skulls
so they do not cry.
With souls of leather
they ride down the road.

Federico García Lorca

A tragic history, wherever you go in Spain. Hard to connect what you are seeing with what happened, and within living memory.

We did some walking on paths behind Almuñécar and Salobreña the next day. Beautiful, even if we both did get burnt…

So, having crossed the breadth of Spain with two wonderful friends, 1142  kilometres in all, over 60 Category hill climbs, reaching an overall height of over 11,000 metres, then a few miles walking… I finally finish something I began nearly half a century ago. And I wondered how the teenage me might have been if he’d got to Almuñécar in 1975…

And was he there, waiting?
Where have you been, old man,
what happened to you, along the
Way?
Oh this and that. Lost some, found some, y’know.
And what about you, kid? How’d it go?
Same. Won a few, lost a few.
How’s Paul? We both ask. And Maggie and Mark and Brian
and the rest?
Answers lost in the continuous drilling,
like machine gun fire.
You’re looking tired, we both say
together.
Perhaps we see something of the other in
the young man holding the mic.
What’s he doing?
Oh it’s for, well, this… thing.
And we nod to one another, Okay.
One a ghost on a road he never travelled,
the other, a shadow moving uncertain
somewhere further along
that same road.
Buen camino.
Buen camino.

This post is late, I know. But I’ve been obsessing over the book of the trip, but am finally home now in Scotia. Before I left Spain, I had one last – ever, in my life! Promise – busk…

Photos by my Relleu friend Ton – love Moira in the wine glass. More or less how I see the world!
The Last Busk.
One day it’ll be up there with The Last Waltz…
‘I know who I am and who I may be, if I choose.’  
Don Quixote / Cervantes

And finally, to go back to the start. Another version of Auld Lang Syne / Los Viejos Tiempos with Maeve Mackinnon, Eddie, Liam and Moira. It’s good to be home…

Los Viejos Tiempos #2
And it is not particular at all,
Just old truth dawning: there is no next-time-round.
Unroofed scope. Knowledge-freshening wind.

Seamus Heaney, Squarings

Two beginnings …

4 months ago as I walked down the path Laurie Lee did that Midsummer Morning
Busking 1,000 years ago
 Agur, jaunak,
jaunak, agur,
agur t´erdi.
Danak Jainkoak eiñak gire
zuek eta bai gu ere.
Agur, jaunak,
jaunak, agur,
hemen gire.
(Traditional Basque song)
 
Weelcome, freends.
A weelcome and a hauf.
We’re in it thegither
wan and a’.
Weelcome, and
haste ye back.

From Alicante to Malaga

From before it even began, this journey of ours has had amazing coincidences and strokes of luck (and some bad ones too – sorry Eddie!) My life in Spain began in Galicia 45 years ago, with Brendan and Brian Hughes. I ended up, by chance really, in Alicante, and met with Brian’s widow Ana – another friend from long ago. Then, another happy coincidence, I come here, Relleu, to write. A place I’ve never heard of, only to find that Christopher North, who owns the flat, knows of Brian’s work…

Memorial books for Prof. Brian Hughes, found in Christopher North’s library here in Relleu

Ana has just recently retired. Fantastic seeing her again. She’s been very kind, putting me up and putting up with me. Here’s a (not very good photo – she’ll kill me) of her with some of the many books she’s translated (inc. Henry James):

Ana Hughes Eiroa, with some of the many books of her own

So much of this journey has been about music – Onwards, through Spain, Song and Memory. And books. Laurie Lee, Quixote, Jackie Kay, Machado… This is a song about books, written and sung by my pal Paul Cuddihy (I’m on fiddle and backing vocals). Bit of a rough recording, on a phone at my kitchen table in Glasgow. So it also serves to remind me of home, and friends:

Read all about it

Valencia is famous for its oranges. Not bad here either , in the Province of Alicante, …

Oranges a few paces from my door

Christopher is a great host. He’s introduced me to friends, interesting locals and locales, taken me on fascinating walks – made all the more educational in the company of Chris Lambert (it’s like the Monty Python ‘Bruce’ sketch round here) who is a geologist and expert on the area. From Manchester – good by me!

Oddly I had just referred to Bernard MacLaverty in the book I’m writing, when I met them for a drink and Chris returned a book Christopher had lent him…

Christopher and Chris. And Bernard.

At the end of the month I’m delivering a lecture at the University of Alicante. We’re working on a number of projects and proposals with them, so my friend and colleague, Mark Anderson came over for a series of meetings at the uni. He took an afternoon off and took me, with his wife, Izzy, to a great eatery in a village near here.

Apt that Mark should appear towards the end of this journey – I started it with him, in Laurie Lee’s Slad, Mark being a Cotswolds lad too.

Alicante, and its mountains, are beautiful – as you can see. But its Civil War history is tragic. The city was, brutally, taken by Italian forces given to Franco by Mussolini. In exchange, Franco gifted him more than half of Spain’s olive production – the main crop in this area, and an important source of employment and income. In Italy it was repackaged as ‘Italian’ olive oil. The ‘deal’ – Trump would have liked it – lasted throughout Franco’s reign, and beyond. It’s only now that the industry is beginning to recover.

This village, Relleu, continued to suffer under various Francoist mayors and politicians. Sometimes a PSOE (Socialist) mayor would fight back. I’m talking to and interviewing locals with personal stories to tell. As soon as I can, I’ll upload them.

Relleu. About 15 miles north of Benidorm. And on another planet.

We started out in Vigo on the Laurie Lee route – and I take it up again tomorrow, when I make my way from Malaga, to where Laurie finished his trek, in Almuñécar .

My son and nephew – son of my brother Paul who played a crucial role in my teen (mis)adventures in Spain – are coming out to join me. Emma, my daughter, hoped to come too, but this is a decisive time in her academic career, and couldn’t. Daniel and Mike have busy lives too and can only be here for 5 days. Not enough time to walk it all. A mix of walking, busking, local buses. (First I’ve got 9 hours in buses from here to there! Starting 6AM….) The odd cafe, and Caña, no doubt, memories and reflections.

The last tranche of Laurie Lee’s travels

See you at the end of the road, amigos. Thank you for now.

Welcome to El Brigadoono

… In the middle of nowhere. (I imagine the inhabitants of the beautiful village of Relleu in the Alicante mountains might disagree.)

Miles up a remote, winding road, scary steep drops at either side. Impossible to get out without a car (which I don’t have). I rely on the kindness of strangers (in a Southern drawl).

Mates gone. No Moira, no family. Very little internet, dodgy signal. All on my wee ownio. Which is why this song. Written for my Maddy Shannon novel, Potter’s Field, it’s about my distant, wonderful Glasgow, and it’s healing to hear Moira’s lovely singing voice….

But don’t send help.

If only Liam and his camera were here. I can’t capture the breathtaking beauty of this place.

Christopher and Marisa’s flat, across from their home, is perfect to write in. And they are lovely people, with shared interests. Here are a few foties of my working environment….

Where I’m spending up to 10 hours a day
The telly is for videos only. But I’m far too busy working.
Reading Cela, Machado, Heaney and Burns at night

And here’s a local street, and a hill I’ve now climbed…

La Divina, 1100 metres high.
Been there, done that.

A week here already. Another week to go, then I meet Daniel, my son, and Michael, my nephew, in Malaga for 5 days. They’ve kindly agreed to help me walk the last tranche of Laurie Lee’s route in 1935.

Then back here for another week, before Moira comes out. Yay. Though I’ll keep on writing for another three weeks after that.

Blog after this…. Less personal stuff. I’ve been talking to locals, and researching Historical Memory archives here. The Civil War and its aftermath still very much a live topic. What to do with Franco’s remains. How to recognize the soldiers who bravely defended the Republic – and their international comrades in the 15th Brigade. Franco hated the Alicante region – the last to fall. They fought the Rebels to the bitter end. And suffered terrible damage, often at the hands of Mussolini’s troops. Rellleu has its own dramatic story too tell.

Plus some images and sounds Eddie, Liam and I couldn’t get in to previous blogs.

Stay with me and keep me company?!

Cuenca

We took a rest day in Cuenca, where many years ago Chris lost a fiddle. He didn’t find it while we were there but he didn’t lose another one either, so that has to count as progress.

We loved Cuenca, a beautiful city, off the beaten track but well worth a few days’ visit. For this blog, we decided to say little and just show photos.

Near Huete: it felt like we had stepped into a painting.
Just before arriving in Cuenca
A city of many colours.

3 (mad) Gentlemen of La Mancha

Segovia to Cuenca

…there is no way, my comrade: trust
your own quick step
‘ Don Paterson, ‘Road’ (re-setting of Machado’s ‘Cantares’)

And indeed there was no way … Even our old friends in the Guardia Civil (!) couldn’t show us the way forward….

The Guardia Civil find us on yet another motorway!

So we became proper Knights Errant, erring our way through lanes and woods and scrubland, tackling giants (boulders), muleteers (mountain bikers), castles (barns), enemy armies (sheep), and fording deep dangerous rivers…

Adelante, Rocinante!

But the three gallant caballeros won through and entered the city of Cervantes himself – Alcalá de Henares. It’s good to see that the great writer is still very much part of the community. Statues to him everywhere, streets named after him and his characters. His house is a museum… except we don’t think there’s a single remnant of the man himself there; perhaps not even the bricks themselves… (Years ago, I went on a Quixote tour, with promises to see the actual windmills he fought – except he didn’t, he fought giants, or imagined ones, and anyway the mills weren’t nearly old enough to have been around in the 17th century. Oh and the Don didn’t exist himself either… Quixotic or whit?!)

First Communion day photos, kids clambering on the plinth, Liam pondering – Miguel de Cervantes is very much alive.
I shake hands with Sancho and Don Quijote… Eddie feels him up

‘I know who I am and who I may be, if I choose.’  Don Quixote / Cervantes

Here’s a short (irreverent, and slightly updated) audio portrait of one of fiction’s greatest characters…

Quijote pen portrait

It must be the enchantment of La Mancha. It drives us all mad. (Although there is a very real reason why we’re singing this song… Points for anyone who can deduce what it is. And points mean…)

‘Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.’ Quixote / Cervantes

We are cycling such beautiful roads, watching the landscape change from the misty mountains of Galicia to the flat arable fields of Leon, rugged Guadarrama tumbling down into the vast central Plain, the rolling expanse of the Alcarria and La Mancha. But everywhere there is a repeated sad story.

A day or two ago, after a hard hot cycle, we needed provisions. We were relieved to arrive at a little village. Our hopes were soon dashed – no bar, no shop. Only one elderly man who told us forlornly that there used to be all of those things. The Spanish interior is emptying out, and in every region. Our destination for the day was a larger, and pretty town, Estremera. We met María (below) who told us the same story. All her family have left for the cities; Estremera is dying on its feet.

Maria in Estremera

‘A decade in the country can slip down the gullet with the deceptive smoothness of an oyster. Yet the last ten years have marked rural life more than anything done to it for centuries ‘ Laurie Lee, writing about the Cotswolds, but tragically applicable to Spain

It seemed to Eddie and me that the Gran Organizador had managed to disprove the universally accepted maxim that What Goes Up Must Come Down. Until we came to this magnificent descent. Three things to note: we’re trying to go slowly so Liam can film us; Eddie and I never pedal – for the first time in a month- exhilarating but scary! And El G. O. films the entire thing with only one hand on his handlebars, wheeching round steep bends….

‘…there is no way, my comrade: trust
your own quick step, the end’s delay
,’ Paterson / Machado Cantares

More often than not, the Sexygenerians played to adoring throngs in towns and cities. Aye we did. But for some obscure reason we were often directed to remote spots out of hearing to do our set. Perhaps they reckon it helped they hay mature and soften…

(Rockin’ and) rollin’ in the hay

Spain is not Europe. It is not even Africa-in-Europe. It is an island cut off by pride and geography.’ Laurie Lee

You may have noticed that these blogs are getting backlogged. The honest truth is, as we near the end of a month’s cycling, interviewing, discussing, blogging, busking we’re running out of time and energy. The next blog will take us to the jewel that is Cuenca, and nearly up to the end of our tour. Stuff happens, I can promise you that. Not all of it good – tiredness catches up with the Tres Locos Hidalgos! But we will try and bring you up to date as soon as we can.

Over the Sierra de Guaderrama

Between the blogging, and busking, and bantering, and bevvying (not Liam of course), this is also a major cycling expedition. The run up over the Sierra Guadarrama was long, high, cold, and just about did for us (not Liam, of course).

Just a short blog, and we’ll let the pictures speak for themselves….

We is total heroes, by the way….

Segovia – ‘Whaur extremes meet’

We bade farewell to Valladolid, a little tired for lack of sleep, the town being in uproar for half the night. But the next day’s journey was a balm. Smooth roads, six knees and legs all still spinning smoothly enough too.

It was about this road that Laurie Lee wrote one of our favourite quotes:

Never in my life had I felt so fat with time…so free from the need to be moving or doing.’ Laurie Lee

We resolved to busk again in the city of Machado, and had a couple of practices en route. This photograph is by Eduarduco ‘Man Ray’ Morrison:

I’m too sexy for my uke…

Our lodging for the next two nights is a lovely old hotel bang smack in the Plaza Mayor – El Gran O never lets us down. (Having said that we had to cycle up about 200 feet over cobbles and between cars to get there. He gives us our sweeties, the Boss, but we have to earn them.) If you’re going to make a public display of yourself, then you might as well go for broke. And, as usual, our screaming groupies followed us. Sexygenarian-mania is alive and well…!

That was us at the high end of the legendary Aqueduct – ‘both benevolent and mad’ as Lee put it. An engineering wonder of the world it worked up until the beginning of the 20th century, almost two millennia after the Romans built it. Elegant, silently towering over the bustle and tourists, it’s essentially a ridiculously ambitious dry-stane dyke.

It was under the beautiful aqueduct’s arches that we met up with Robin Cunnighame Graham. He is the great nephew of Don Roberto Cunninghame Graham. This journey of ours has several ghostly guides – Laurie lee, of course, Rosalia de Castro, Antonio Machado (who wrote Cantares – scroll down to hear Liam and Eddie sing it, and my rough translation of some lines). Soon we’ll be entering the land of Cervantes and Quixote. For me, Don Roberto and his partner Gabriela have long been guiding spirits, and particularly so for this venture. So it was a joy to meet up with Robert’s descendant, a fascinating and charming man.

There’ll be much more of Robin in later podcasts and writing. For the moment, three short clips we’ve run together. An introduction to Robin and his remarkable family; and how neglected his great-uncle is:

Clips from interview with Robin Cunninghame Graham
Don Roberto. If Robin dressed up like this, he’d be his double!

Ours is a period of writing particularly devoted to the facts, to a fondness for data rather than divination, as though to possess the exact measurements of the Taj Mahal is somehow to possess its spirit. Laurie Lee

The following is a pen portrait of Gabriela de la Belmondiére Cunninghame Graham. (It was written and recorded before speaking with Robin who had some different data but, as you’ll hear, it’s not just about the facts…’) It’s nearly 10 minutes long – sorry about that. But she is such an fascinating woman that that’s as much as I was prepared to cut the sketch down! I reckon she’s worth the time.

Gabriela / Carrie
The amazing Gabriela

‘Facts are not the truth, though they are part of it – information is not knowledge. And history is not the past…Hilary Mantel, in her Reith lecture.

Segovia is a crossroads for us. Our next steps will lead us out of the Campos de Castilla, to La Mancha, where somebody long before us took an even madder and more comical journey. But we say farewell, for the moment, to Laurie Lee. For our leave-taking, here is a terrific poem Eddie wrote before we even left Scotland. After our adventures so far it feels even more apt and perceptive:

Eddie’s poem

Just Like Laurie Lee
Cycling oot one bright spring day
“Just like Laurie Lee”, you say.
For wan, he did it on his ain
Nae bike, nae pals, nae plane tae Spain
“He had a fiddle!” Aye, ah know
Is that the only string on yir bow?
“He wiz a writer”- oh aye, so are you
But he wrote stuff the school weans knew
“He spent a year in the world of  Don Quijote!”
Exactly. No 30 days ya donkey. “Go tae  
his books you’ll see whit ah mean;
It’s full of hopes and fears and dreams
And memories of a land he loved
The people, places, wine and stuff
The dusty roads that wind forever
The blistering heat that gies ye fever
The place that seeps intae yir veins
That’s what ah mean by Laurie’s Spain.”…..
Cycling oot wan bright spring day.
Just like Laurie Lee, I say.

Eddie Morrison 2019

‘We’re all more multiple than we think we are and we all have things that we either do, or wish we had done – they form part of who we are.’ Jackie Kay in conversation

I will return to Laurie’s path next month, ending my journey where he did his nearly 90 years ago, in Almuñécar in the south. So it’s not adios, Laurie, just hasta la vista. Guiding lights and chasing ghosts, time getting ever thinner.

We arrive at who are first by following, then by divergence.’ Andrew Greig, The Loch of the Green Corrie

If you want to see more photos and clips of our journey so far, here’s the link to Liam ‘Annie Leibovitz’ Kane’s album:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/gKAG8RueaNXWr7rg6

Valladolid

Laurie Lee’s Valladolid, 1935: ‘… a shut box, full of pious dust and preserved breath of its dead….’

What we saw, cycling in in 2019: A warm inviting city, busy with colours and daily business; a statue to the poet Zorilla. Cafes, families, buses, sensible and elegant architecture.

On an evening of ‘red stale dust’ Lee found little life. We arrived in a city gearing up for a grand fiesta (what Spanish town isn’t, ever?)

For Liam, Valladolid is especially important. We met friends of his here and this is the town that first started his love affair with the entire country. So, let’s hand over to El Super O for the rest of this blog….

HOLA EVERYONE!

When I finished 6th year at school in 1974 I bought a European railcard and took off with my pal Hugh Mallin (sadly now deceased) to go round France and Spain and visit the many pen pals I had at the time. Mary Drummond (now Byrtle), a Glasgow University student recently back from a year in Valladolid, gave us some contacts there in case we passed through. So we planned a three day trip … but stayed for nine! It was our first contact with non-tourist Spain, we loved everything about it – the people, the lifestyle, cold Spanish tortilla – and it impacted both our lives for ever. (And I would never have learned Spanish without Mary Drummond’s help either: cheers Mary!)

Out with Buendi and Marivi, Mary Drummond’s friends.

Two and a half years later I was driving overland in a Citroen Diane to spend my own year in Spain, in Guadalajara, not far from Madrid. I stopped en route in Valladolid and again had a great time, not least because I was enjoying the company of a girl from Coatbridge who had cadged a lift from me at the last minute. There was no romance involved – she kept putting me off, implying she had more than one boyfriend at the time – but something must have clicked because six years later we got married: cheers Anne!

Times move on, my children too have now learned Spanish, are travelling extensively and have benefited from the hospitality of others. Periodically they ask us to house someone who has helped them out and around a month ago Lucia, a wonderful young woman from Valladolid, came to stay for a while. So we end up meeting Lucia’s parents, Angel and Marta, who invited us for a brilliant meal with their friends Arturo and Rocio and Lucia’s sister, Marta. We had a terrific laugh and some serious discussion. We felt right at home in the company of people who could argue with each other vehemently, throw in friendly personal insults and come out the other end still laughing and the best of pals. Here’s a part of a discussion about Catalan independence, a hotly debated topic in Spain today: when Eddie and Chris struggle to get a word in, you know something is amiss!

So, unlike Laurie Lee, we had a ball in Valladolid. It was the feast of San Pedro Regalado, the city’s patron, people were in holiday spirits and the place was buzzing. Though it kept us awake at night, we loved how the main square was given over to free, public, musical performances, from opera and classical music to rock and roll. I leave you with a clip from the main square where, unusually, flamenco dancers are accompanied by an orchestra – or is it the other way round?

So, why DO they speak Portuguese in Brazil? … The Town of Tordesillas

Maria, who read the poem in the last blog, said to us before we said goodbye, ‘Tomorrow morning, cycle over the bridge and see just how beautiful my town is.’

It didn’t disappoint. We stood gawping. It was like a photo-shopped Spanish Tourist Board fantasy of Spain. Castle, cathedral, Moorish-influenced architecture. Under a crayon-blue sky. A stork sailed over our heads to its nest on a high tower. The morning sun poured fresh as an invigorating shower. You felt you could scoop a cup of the Duero and savour it like Verdejo wine.

The fantastic view of Zamora Maria had promised

That stork was the first of many. In every village we went through they sat on their thrones, high above spires and towers.

Liam had been looking forward to Tordesillas since before we left. El Gran O has lived in Mexico as well as Spain, and has travelled widely in Central and Latin America. I’d never heard of the place, but he knew we had to visit.

The castle and church in the 15th and 16th centuries were used by the Catholic Kings – and that, as we’ll see, had an impact that still affects us all. We went to see the chapel first. Drenched in gold leaf, the insignia of the Inquisition on display, a surprisingly gentle light, and softness in the cool alabaster walls and statues. But it’s odd how one vision of the past can lead to another, more personal one….

Liam remembers a different church….
One of the statues that scared wee Liam
I fancy one of these for wur hoose, Moira eh?
The Palace where the treaty was signed;
and the Church of the Catholic Kings

Then we went to the Palace where a momentous agreement was negotiated, then signed, by those Catholic Kings and their Portuguese counterparts. Liam explains:

Liam on Treaty
The treaty of Tordesillas

Unfortunately the main museum was closed for repairs. But there was a guide there, Patricia, who knew some more about the history of the treaty. What she and others said got the three of us talking (not hard to do!)…

A quick resume on some thoughts we had in Tordesillas
The demarcation lines drawn up in the Treaty

Coming out of the palace, we came across a statue of St Francis. It’s great being wi’ intellectuals, they always have a fitting and uplifting lesson wherever you go:

Eddie tells his St Francis story

So finally. While I was trying to make sense of all this, the boys found an old Bluegrass song that got to the heart of the matter. This version, in my opinion, is soulful, insightful, and performed with surprising artistry and feeling….

And THAT is why they speak Portuguese in Brazil!

Zamora….

We’re that ahead of our time we were in Zamora yesterday…. (A wee joke for those who speak Scots and know that Z in Spanish is pronounced ‘th’.)

Our last blog was a light-hearted one. But it was about memory.

What is remembered, and how we decipher and use our stories, is central to what we’re doing here. In Spain, a country we love and which continues to astonish and challenge us, memories and what’s done with them is of continuing importance. Our chance encounters in the city of Zamora were both happy and revealing. Listen to how we met the lovely Visi….

Visi’s story
Visitacion Lastre (front, right) and her friends in Zamora
The statue that amused Visi so much

Not long after, we met other new friends. With different but equally revealing stories to tell. The setting couldn’t have been more fitting:

Liam reading Zamora’s poetry wall
Angel’s story
Angel remembers

The day we met Angel and his wife Maria was by chance the day Perez Rubalcaba, the ex-president of the Spanish Socialist Party was being buried. Maria and Rubalcaba had been students of chemistry together in Madrid. The two of them had fought, and won, for the rights and payment of early academics. Her old friend was very much on her mind all evening.

Maria with Eddie
Maria reads ‘La Tormenta‘ (The Storm), on the Poetry Wall

Here’s the poem. A lyrical verse on reviving love at each meeting (If, when I’m with you you don’t see me / if my love cannot reach you / if the weight of my presence is too much to carry / then let’s pretend to ignore one another….)

An extraordinary day, after a cycle of memorable beauty – drifting easily down from the hills into a sea of wheat fields and cloudy meadows.

An equally gorgeous cycle took us to our next stop, Tordesillas. If, Faulkner is right, that ‘the past is never dead, it’s not even past’, then what happened 500 years ago in Tordesillas might just as well have been yesterday. Or Za-mora.