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.

Ourense to Mombuey

“The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time.”  

Friedrich Nietzsche

In the blog after this, an extraordinary Spanish memory by a beautiful 91 year old lady Visitacion, in a chance encounter… By way of introduction, how lesser memories play havoc with 3 lesser beings! (Aye, us.)

Starting off with some notes on the road. Listen to El Super O giving a cycling update, somewhere in the hills of Galicia:

Liam among the Cowbells

Viaxeiro, que vés de lonxe
e vas de paso….
Repudio as inxusticias
i a liberdá procramo

Words by Celso Emilio Ferreiro; Luis Emilio Batallan‘s song ‘Viaxeiro’
Turns out, St Christopher was soon to be
de-canonized.

Eddie and I felt we had just cause to confront the Great Organizer. Liam, however, remembers conversations and agreements Eddie and I had seemingly, conveniently, misrecollected:

El Super’s Performance and Development Review

It’s not all talk. This was about the third time we’d cycled up the equivalent of a Munro:

So cold, so high, Eddie’s got his oxygen supply

That tête-a-tête seemed to have cleared the air. But, the very next day, a slight mistake of mine (which admittedly added about 10k to our journey to re-collect a forgotten item) inspired the Whistlin’ Duco to poetry doggerel:

Lament for a Lost Violin
by Edward Topaz McMorrison
(Write in, those who get that!)

For those who wish to ponder such profound verses, here they ur….

Lament for a Lost Violin.

See ma pals?
See ma violin?
I pit it in ma room
And they cycled oot a toon.
See they hills we didnae waant tae climb?
Ah said, ‘fancy goin back doon, lads, and dain them
wan mair time?
Eddie said, “Qué pasó, macho?”
It’s ma fiddle and ma bow.
Ah pit it in ma room
And youz cycled oot a toon.
Liam said, “Ye left your fiddle in Ourense?
Chris, have you NAE common sense? Eh?”
You pit it in your room an’
WE cycled oot a toon?”
Frae now oan, Chris, you cycle in the middle!
So at least wan of us can clock it
If you huvnae goat yir fiddle!”

After Margaret Hamilton’s Lament for a Lost Dinner Ticket.

Unfortunately, the instrument was recovered, so the world must suffer again:

In my defence, it’s hard to keep a tune when you’re feart of slipping on wet tiles and falling, oh, a couple of hundred feet… And geez, ain’t everyone and their dug a critic:

‘In the street I take my stand / with my fiddle like a gun against my shoulder….’
(Laurie Lee: Music In Spain)

Coming out of the Spanish Celtic lands we met some fellow Celts. The Power brothers and friend from Co Cork. On their way to Santiago, on mountain bikes, off road, they were covering as many miles – from Seville to Santiago – as we were, in less than half the time. Show offs. More from Dan and his pals and family to come….

Power-cyclist

And so, finally, we leave Galicia, where it all started for me. Also where the three of us first cycled together. Beautiful country, fantastic people, music, food and roads. We’ll be back, Galicia.

Below, Liam’s map. Where we’ve got to – slowly by the Powers boys’ standards. But they ain’t carrying laptops and camera equipment, fiddles and ukes, and the weight of the world’s problems on their backs…

The final note from Galicia’s great poet, Rosalia

Adiós, ríos; adios, fontes;
adios, regatos pequenos;
adios, vista dos meus ollos:
non sei cando nos veremos.
Miña terra, miña terra

Rosalia de Castro (From ‘Goodbye rivers, Goodbye Fountains’)

We’ll post the next blog very soon. Get ready to meet Visitacion Lastre and her memories of 1936, and our new friends Maria and Angel, and the poetry of Leon and Castile. Hasta pronto, amigos.

On The Road to Ourense

‘Hi Chris – I’ve just read your blog. What a lovely nomadic adventure – I’d love to slow down and do a journey like this. Have a wonderful time! All the best, M.’ Mark Beaumont

Yes, THE Mark Beaumont, round-the-world cyclist, broadcaster, endurance athlete, and general pin-up boy for us old mamils. Slow down, Mark? Try telling two competitive OAPs that…!

‘I see my path but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.’ Rosalia de Castro

Life on the road appeared to have settled. No 10 tonne trucks threatening to flatten us, no highway police, no sirens…. Until the bullets started flying.

We’d been cycling along pleasantly enough, Liam quizzing Eddie if he had any idea where we were (Eddie has form on being a bit vague about location – or country for that matter)….

In the firing line

We worked it out immediately. Who’d be so stupid to think they were getting shot at?! ‘Course, we knew all along it must be a fiesta… Or ‘Festa’ in Galician. We followed the noise of the fireworks, until we came to the village green, and a party in the making, the band just striking up:

Maria Cristina me quiere gobernar… the sexist song wasn’t our choice
Terrific local musicians

And the band played on, while folks gathered from every corner of the village.
Journeys are all about chance encounters. Those fireworks led us to what might become one of the highlights of our tour. Here’s Eddie setting the scene:

Eddie doing his David Attenborough

Ahi ven o maio de frores cuberto…. Luis Emilio Batallan (great Gallego singer songwriter from the 70s.)

A fantastic occasion in itself, it took me back 45 years. I learned to sing the Galician song ‘O Andar Miudinho’ in my teens. Wonderful that here they’re still singing it – young ‘uns and all. A drinking song, in fact everyone here – despite what it sounds like – was perfectly sober, the day’s festivities just starting:

Maria tells us all about the Festa
O Andar Muidinho!

‘‘All times are beautiful for those who have joy inside; but there is no joy or beauty for those with sad and orphaned souls.’ Rosalia de Castro

What they sounded like later that night – well, maybe it’s best we’ll never know. To be fair, though, they were giving it laldy for their unexpected Scottish guests. They asked us to sing, so we got the fiddle, uke and whistle out and gave them a few songs.

Our first proper busk – and it went down well…. if a bit chaotic by the end. We finished with Auld Lang Syne, in 3 different languages, and 4 different keys:

The Sexygenarians live!

The Sexygenarians have arrived!

For us all it was fun and a lovely experience. For me it was a big deal. Busking again, where I first started in Galicia, nearly 50 years later. Memories of Brendan and his family, my family, my first big adventure, and all that it meant.

Time collapses

‘Es feliz el que soñando, muere. Desgraciado el que muera sin soñar.’ Rosalia de Castro. (Happy she who dies, dreaming. Sad, he who dies without dreams)

We were invited by everyone to come back and join them for dinner in the village hall that night. To party and play on. But the road always calls.

So we wended our way towards Ourense again… But, as Liam explains, and Eddie demonstrates, it’s always a slow start for old geezers on bikes:

Correction from Eddie:
‘I am NOT in my mid 60s!’
Yet.

‘All times are beautiful for those who have joy inside; but there is no joy or beauty for those with sad and orphaned souls.’ Rosalia de Castro.

I’ve changed the quotes in this page. The last lot done in a hurry. Much more appropriate are the words of the wonderful Gallego poet Rosalia de Castro. More to come, and from the songs of Luis Emilio Batallan. His album Ahi Ven O Maio is a love letter to Galicia – I’ve been listening to that record ever since (Thank you, Carlos Cotovad Tombo). Check out both Rosalia and Batallan if you get the chance.

Next time…. That promised poetry by The Whistlin’ ‘Duco, wisdom from El Gran O, more, and less haywire, music… 100 miles in, over a 7th of the journey behind us.

Vigo to Vilasabroso

Los Viejos Tiempos

We’ve been saving this up. It’s a treat…. The music you are hearing (if you have the sound on) is the alternative and prettier tune for Burns’s Auld Lang Syne. The extraordinarily beautiful voice is Maeve Mackinnon. This project is in part a celebration of friendship. Maeve – as a person and and an artist – enriches so many of our lives. Thank you Maeve.

Also not only can I now say that I have co-written a song with Robert Burns, even better I’ve duetted with Maeve Mackinnon. (If you don’t already know her, check her out, she’s a genius)

The new words are a reflection on a lifelong fascination with Spain. Hopefully Maeve’s contribution, and the backing vocals (Liam, Eddie and my terrific singer missus Moira thanks Mo!) calm the soul when I reflect on our first day’s… adventures:

The past is never past  (William Faulkner)

Being stopped by the police within the first hour of our journey maybe isn’t such a bad thing. Travel is all about new experiences. That said, it’s encouraging that at 61 I’m still bothering the polis the way I did (or wanted to) at 16…

Liam had done the research: cycling on an autopista is illegal in Spain; cycling on an autovia isn’t. The officers of the Guardia Civil disagreed.

There was no other way out of Vigo that we could see, but it was hair-raising (well not in Liam’s case, obviously) pedaling along the narrow hard shoulder of a busy two-lane carriageway. And it was no great surprise when we were flagged down.

I think we made those Guardias day. It would have been just another boring Thursday till they were alerted to three old men cycling through the traffic laden to the oxters, carrying fiddles and ukes. We’ll be a thigh-slapping story down the officers’ mess for years to come. ‘Mind that day, Manolo, we stopped those crazy Scots guys?’

They were great. Instead of ordering us off the road and saying they couldn’t care less how we got to Valencia, which they were perfectly within their rights to do, they did almost the opposite. They gave us police protection. Lights flashing, rushing us, priority, along the road for about another 5 miles, keeping the traffic at bay, then setting us on the road we were aiming for anyway.

They did, though wallop pell-mell down that road. We had to pedal like crazy to keep up… Bringing about the unusual sight of three Glaswegians chasing a polis car.

The Guardia Civil, when we caught them

“I spent the rest of the day climbing a steep terraced valley,” says Laurie Lee on leaving Vigo. Well, that’s something we can agree with. Our first day hasn’t taken us far – less than 40k, but seemingly directly upwards.

Still, with the traffic behind us, we began to feel the Gallego charm. Green and wooded, silver granite rock glittering in the houses and horreos – the ancient-looking little granary stores on stilts so typical of this country – and in the hills high over the trees . Everybody friendly and helpful. A bowl of caldo gallego – a stew-soup with tatties, beans, veg. A cyclist’s dream.

Back in ’35, the first non-Spaniards Laurie Le met were German musicians. Today, we met Sabine and Egbert, a delightful and fascinating German couple, touring the Visigoth churches of northern Spain. They were clearly scholarly and discerning people – they liked our music! These pilgrimages are all about meeting, discussing, learning, changing…

Sabina and Egbert….
… and one of Egbert’s great photos.
More of his videos to come.

So here we are, 5% of our trek done. Liam, at arriving at our destination – rooms in a casa rural – declared that the day ‘bodes well’. Seemingly forgetting about nearly dying on a friggin motorway, killer hills, and getting pulled over by Spain’s infamous Guardia Civil. He’s a glass half full man, el Super O.

A couple of hard days cycling through the mountains coming up. We’ll give you all a holiday from this blog – be in touch again soon. More music, from Gilbert Macmillan and others, reports from the road….

Thank you all for your support.

PS: For cyclists and others who might be interested, you can download this document to see the day-by-day details of our planned journey.

Three go to Vigo

…. But before we do, one last flashback to a piece of nonsense on a previous outing. It tells us a few interesting things… Two of us don’t like hills, and one of us is either a filmic genius, or an idiot….

Still not quite in Spain yet… A conversation in Dublin airport. In the last vid Eddie tested Liam. This blog is all about stories, and here Liam turns the table on Eddie….

Liam sets El Duco a challenge

Finally we arrive in Vigo.

Laurie Lee talks of his first sight of Spain almost in fear and despair. A barnacle of a town, he called Vigo, where only the beggars move, and slowly. The harshness of the tongue, the bleached stone of the city…. I saw nothing like that in 1975, and today we experienced something different again. A creamy light, the smell of Celtic rain in the air on a fine Spring day. Flax coloured buildings with red tiled roofs. Galicia remains one of Spain’s poorest regions (Gallego nationalists would say, Country), though today we came across only two homeless men.

My visit in ’75 is actually longer ago now – 44 years – than between that and Lee’s first encounter – 40 years. Back then I was astounded by the poverty on the streets – the beggars, the disabled, babies in homeless mothers’ arms.

We live too far away and know too little about the complexities of Spanish politics and life to make easy judgements. The fact remains that Vigo looks and feels a good deal richer now than in either 75 or 35. But both the Vigo I first knew and today feels welcoming, the language sweet, the people vibrant and happy. As everywhere in Spain, families and friends go out in groups till late in the night, kids running happily and safely under your feet and around the square, looked out for by everyone.

It’s a joy to be back.

But it’s also a harsh reminder of the ravages of time… On the first of these blogs I posted a picture of me – probably 1977/8 – busking in Vigo. The lads thought it might be fun (!) to recreate that image. I recognized the street where I used to busk, and found what might have been – much changed, not unexpectedly – the shop I stood in front of. Here’s me again as a young ‘un, before Vigo had seen many buskers….

Late 70s

And in roughly the same place, as an auld git….

2019

‘Juventud, divino tesoro / Ya te vas, para no volver….’ (Ruben Dario)

This is a coast-to-coast pilgrimage. So we have to start off by – or even in – the sea. And end the journey 700-odd miles away on the east coast.

It is a challenge full of difficulty, danger, and ambition, proving that we are three intrepid, resourceful characters. Or maybes a trio of bamsticks. You decide….

(Tomorrow, the first cycle. Some beautiful singing from Maeve Mackinnon, poetry by Eddie…. Stick with us, it’ll get better – honest!)

And we’re off…

Okay. Thank you, caballeros. But that’s it – No more Mr Nice Guys. That’s all the (deeply qualified!) mutual backslapping done. Every man for himself now….

Spanish elections not as bad as they could have been. The weather is looking good. We’re packed, prepared, honed and oiled…

Manana, Vigo. Dip our toes in the west coast, and in a month, a swim in the east.

Here’s a recent example of our navigating and cycling skills – just so’s you know the company you’re keeping….

We’re on our way! God bless all those who sail in her. Adelante…!!

Fears and Hopes

The 3rd blog post and we’ve three bits to it – hopefully you’ll find them interesting, or funny. But, in the first one, very worrying.

After a moving short video about Spain and memory, made by Christine Jones, we’ll look on the brighter side again: a piece about our cycle in Extrmadura last year. Then a couple of sound pen portraits of my fellow cyclists, Liam and Eddie. (You’ll be devastated to hear that there’s none of our music in this blog – but plenty of that to come!)

The Spanish general election takes place today. The result could change the nature of our journey pretty profoundly.

When Laurie Lee travelled through Spain in 1935/6 the forces of the right were on the rise, and he had to leave when Franco’s forces attacked – ushering in 40 years and more of brutal oppression.

2019 and, horribly, the right is on the rise again. Most of our friends in Spain are still hopeful that Vox – one of the most extreme right wing parties in Europe – will not gain power. But they will gain influence.

This blog is already making fascinating links. We’re now in touch with Christine Jones, an artist and filmmaker who produced this revealing little movie about memory and the civil war – an issue at the heart of the national election today….

Thanks, Christine. A key part of our project here is to ask people along the way about their memories – often evoked through songs. It looks like we’ll be in for a very interesting time. Here’s hoping the election today has a better outcome than is feared.

Our trip last year was more of a holiday. But like any journey – especially when you get to our age – life can be complicated and memories, old and new, can play their part. This article appeared in The Herald last Saturday (and has confused people who thought we were already on the road. Back then, the Adelante! project was a mere fanciful idea.)

https://www.heraldscotland.com/life_style/17578019.three-sexagenarians-discover-spains-costa-interior-by-bike-and-say-farewell-to-a-dear-friend/

And here is a wee video than Liam made one day on the road in Extremadura – me and Eddie being most unkind to folks working away back home in the rain. We have no excuse for this whatsoever….

A moment of schadenfreude in Extremadura last Autumn.

Pen portrait: Eduarduco

Throughout these blogs there will be pen portraits of people who have been important along the road. From Laurie Lee himself, to my my friend Brendan Hughes and his family who first introduced me to Spain – but also of Gabriela Cunningham Graham, St Theresa of Avila, even Don Quijote himself! But to kick off, here first, is my take on Eddie Morrison.

El Gran O

And Oor Liam.

Two more sleeps, and we’re off. We’re packed, done the research, got all the recording gear, tried it out. Got a route and a timetable….. But we all know, we haven’t a clue what we’re doing. As Long John Silver said…. ‘And them that dies’ll be the lucky ones!’

We look forward to your comments, criticisms, suggestions, insights. We’re a’ in it thegither.

Bienvenidos…. to Chapter 2

Our latest logo…
By Stephen (The Skrynk) Skrynka

‘It was a world that I wanted to record because it was such a miracle visitation to me.’ Laurie Lee

Fittingly, the Second Blog has two parts… Kicking off with Laurie Lee, and the start of his – and our – journeys. (Before getting back to cycling and Spain.)

First edition of this beautiful book

This recording here is me, having discovered Laurie Lee’s childhood cottage, with old friend and Cotswolds lad Mark Anderson. The locals in the beautiful Slad valley like to keep the place secret. So I’m not saying exactly where it is either….

the road on which Laurie waved goodbye to his mum that midsummer morning

‘Spring in England is like a prolonged adolescence, stumbling, sweet and slow, a thing of infinitesimal shades.’ Laurie Lee

We’ll be going back to Slad, and Laurie and Rosie and Annie et al at a later date in this blog. Mark and I explored the Cotswolds valleys, Mark’s own memories of the place, and why young Laurie at 19 left, not to return until he was an older man.

For the moment here’s some wee lines I wrote for Mark’s mum, who loves her Cotswolds…

 Valley Talk
 
It came as no surprise that the
valleys communicated.
Ruscombe and Slad babbling in
the morn,
or that Painswick gossips misty to
her neighbour.
They speak of the Now before now in
Words before words,
tracks of tears in
rivulets,
Crow’s feet and wisdom etched on
rock face.
Mystery in clay.
 
But we did not expect
that they talked
in colours.
The burr of perfect
pale pebble,
the gold, rhotic gossamer
tight over evening -
meadow and chalk.
Primrose dialects,
confabs, in colours as yet
unnamed
that strum and
lull
the soul.

Now, getting back to Cycling (and other demons)

This project, as it rolls along, will have its own wee obsessions – memory, songs, Spain of course, cycling. And friends. I’ve been lucky – hopefully you have too – with the people I’ve known and who have helped me along the way. There will be a series of ‘pen portraits’ in blogs to come (you might even be one of them!) Starting in the next update with, naturally, Liam and Eddie.

The podcast here below was made by Peter Murray. He’s an expert, running podcasting courses, and other forms of journalism, at Manchester Metropolitan University. Pete’s an old friend who gave his time and came out cycling with us, to help us record and make the sound files we’ll be posting here for the next month or so.

Pete’s Podcast

Pete’s lovely wee mixed bag of a podcast tells you, amongst other interesting Scottish stuff, a bit more about the origins and the point of this trek across Spain…

Next update due at the weekend. We’ll hear from more fantastic friends and talented people, including music by Maeve McKinnon. And, at the other end of the scale, perhaps us practicing one of our busking routines!

Aye that’s Eddie behind..
The One who’s supposed to be in touch wi’ his spiritual side!

Please feel free to comment on anything you read.

Click on ‘Follow’ (below, right, on your screen?) and you’ll get automatic updates.   

We are going, as it were, on a series of seasonal journeys, the climax of which is simply returning home’. Oor Laurie.