This blogpost contains scattershot impressions of three weeks in England, Spain, and England again.
Zipping along curvy country lanes near Salisbury, England in a car confidently driven by a denizen — hedges whip past on both sides of the road as it becomes clear to me what inspired Kenneth Grahame to write of Mr Toad’s wild ride. Two-way traffic is an art because narrow village lanes require one car to huddle against some shrubbery as the other travels by. I don’t get how they know who gives, who goes. Nor do I want to. My job while being driven in England is to resist screaming.
A Meditation on Cows
Downtown Boston, Massachusetts is said to have been laid out by cows. Lower Manhattan in New York appears to be the same. Meandering streets mark the best way a bovine could get from hither to yon — around rocky outcrops, at the shallow ford of a stream. Measured-out rectangular blocks came later, the rectitude of Reason riding the ill-tamed steed of Technology.
Grahame’s Wind in the Willows depicts an England designed first by animal instinct, at the time of the first automobiles. Hedges block your view, you feel the roll of the hills under you while traveling down a green chute. Toot-toot!
Cows need bulls. Spain has a thing about bulls, just ask Picasso. At the first of three Paradores we stayed in on our way back from Bilbao to Barcelona, the event of the day was a running of the bulls. About eight motley taurines clattered into the square looking bemused. One had a clanging cowbell around its neck. None ranked as a ferocious toro. Just country bulls looking forward to a peaceful night’s sleep.
The square held an odd metal contraption in the center, a circular platform surrounded by a wall easily jumped. Here the fearless bullmen retreated for safety. (I should mention that before we walked to the festivities two ambulances pulled up close by.) We the crowd were penned behind prodigious barricades made of metal pipes and lumber the gauge a karate master might splinter for tourists.
The bulls milled around the square and then got shooed down a side street. Only one returned for our entertainment. His expression read ‘Huh?’. Brave men dressed in the red-accented white of the holiday came and waved red capes to enrage the bull. Sometimes magenta. They yelled, they leaned over their metal wall and pulled on its horns. A few times the bull charged at some man who leapt nimbly to safety as the pasture-raised bull skidded on paving stones, kept his balance and again puzzled at the situation.
More hoots, more red cloth. Only one among them (hired for the occasion?) seriously worked at rousing the bull’s anger. But Ferdinand is Ferdinand. We, amongst others, broke ranks and headed back for refreshments. My feet hurt after the interminable wait on paving stones, the bull was unscathed, we were bored. I raised a bubbly glass of cava to bedeviled bulls in a snug tapas bar.
The Paradores in Spain are state-run mildly-luxurious hotels sited in old castles, convents, fortresses. The venues are glorious settings to wander and imagine earlier times. They also provide income to preserve historic architecture. I felt it was a hallway between between a fervent past and a tourist-driven present. Ruins both noble and ruined serve ‘traditional’ foods you can wash down with Coca-Cola. And yet run your wondering hands along walls steeped with historic goings-on.