Dreaming wide awake

11. Oktober 2016 § Hinterlasse einen Kommentar




I’d heard about the meseta, the decently high interior plain of Spain, but I needed to be here and cycle it to get a real sense of the lay of the land. Coming down from the coastal mountain range back of Bilbao, I had a wonderful overview over a corner of the La Rioja wine region.

Then I negotiated some low hills – the cliché of the backs of whales is not appropriate, because it’s actually a loaf of cheese with grooves cut by the taster who’s more eager than he should be. The villages are tucked away into the folds carved out over eons by rivers normally running dry in autumn. They shelter from the wind, which can be harsh in winter, I imagine, but now I benefit from its push in my back. Nine tenths of all the blinds in these villages are down as if they still needed to protect the inhabitants from sweltering heat. Or maybe they have all left for teeming urban spaces?

Cities like Burgos, Valladolid and Zamora, where I stayed overnight, are the epitome of Spanish social life: everybody and their children in prams are out for the „vaso de tinto“ and some pintxos or tapas after 7:30, and I’m notoriously early for dinner at nine pm. But twice now nobody turned up in my restaurant to eat after me: it may be the lingering crisis or then people are just happy to cook up a home-made meal after their evening promenade around the Plaza Mayor.

My daily work is to cover long distances. I find that little else fits into these short days. The day begins to dawn after 8 am out west in the time zone, then the temperature rises very, very gradually from 5 to a happy 23 degrees by 3 pm. I benefit from the oblique but warm sunshine, take few breaks (because the villages have little to offer except for huge churches and one or two bars with old men whiling away their time).

I try to get into a constant stream of pedalling and peddling thoughts to myself, sometimes great and creative ideas, then some trivia to keep me occupied for seconds (elderly racing cyclists that overtake me with ease, a totally exaggerated series of traffic signs on lonesome roads, announcing every bend and bump), and sometimes questions pop up which I will try to answer with the help of the hotel internet in the evening (1. Why do the new high-speed railway lines under construction only have one set of powerlines? 2. What did the old man in the bar mean when he said that one of the important agricultural products was alfalfa? 3. Was it in this region that Don Quixote fought against windmills, and if yes (or no), is the old phrase still appropriate in the light of all the wind propellers? 4. Does my favourite ecological purveyor of wine, Delinat, happen to trade with a wine grower in the Ribera de Duero region? 5. Does the seller of Navidad lots on the village square do this all year round, and what do people do when he’s on holiday?).

For some minutes at a time, I succeed and get carried away, dreaming wide awake, with the rustle of the entirely dried-up maize blades in my ear, or some bulbous green umbrella-shaped pine trees in the distance, a sky so wide and clear it seems to have sucked all the cars and trucks out of existence. This is the quality of loneliness in a vast landscape, the irresponsibility of just moving your own body with the help of the ingenious contraption that a bicycle is, whizzing past the red flashes of pepper plants and the yellow castles of heaped-up cubes of pressed straw.

Today the weather turned, and with it the wind, which now confronts me aggressively. Another day, another challenge, another opportunity to observe what happens to myself under the circumstances.

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