I started writing about Spain way back in January, as a way of distracting me from the Long Winter (aka the second wave). And it worked, for the most part. But I never could have guessed I’d still be writing these posts near the end of 2021. (Or that we’d be in the middle of a fourth wave.)
What can I say? Pandemic brain is real.
But yes, all things must come to an end, even my reminiscing about Spain, and so I’m going to finish off the series with this photo of a street corner in Madrid. It’s appropriate as a metaphor, I’m thinking, because in many ways we are at a crossroads as we look ahead to our second pandemic winter and all the uncertainty that comes with it.
Spain is all about the number three for me. I’ve visited it three times, and on two of those trips I visited three cities each. I’ve spent three days in Barcelona and I’ve been to Madrid three times. All of that was a happy accident, but I’m glad my trips to Spain covered such different regions: Catalonia, Castille, and Andalucía. We Canadians tend to think of European countries as tiny and uniform, but they’re not. The culture and geography between regions are often as varied as different parts of Canada.
On my last ever night in Spain, I was wandering aimlessly through the centre of Madrid. It was a chilly night near the end of November and the streets were teeming with people. I never did figure out what the crowds were about, but it made for a festive evening. I had that sad melancholic feeling I often have on the last night of a trip, and I was delaying my return to my hotel.
Then, softly, gently, it started to snow. And I knew it was time to go home.
The stooping figure of my mother, waist-deep in the grass and caught there like a piece of sheep’s wool, was the last I saw of my country home as I left it to discover the world. … At the end of the road I looked back again and saw the gold light die behind her; then I turned the corner, passed the village school, and closed that part of my life forever.
Laurie Lee’s memoir about his walk across Spain just prior to the start of the Spanish Civil War is a classic. If you are looking to read some quality travel writing about Spain, this is the book for you. I was a recent university grad when I first picked it up, the title catching my eye because I had a strong urge that summer to go on walkabout.
Exploring the world the way Laurie Lee did rarely takes place anymore, and reminds us all that whatever inconveniences we might experience on our travels are a cakewalk in comparison to his trek across Spain. Find the weather a tad uncomfortable? Laurie Lee endured heat stroke. Don’t like the food? Laurie Lee subsisted for days at a time on wild grapes and figs. Think travel is too expensive? Laurie Lee paid his way by playing his fiddle for pennies.
Don’t like going through multiple security checks? After a year in Spain, Laurie Lee finds himself in the middle of a war and has to leave the country, with just an hour’s notice, on a British destroyer sent out from Gibraltar to pick up stranded British citizens.
Laurie Lee didn’t gloss over the poverty he witnessed and described the people he met in a non-judgmental way that is refreshing. But as the months and the miles go by, with the rumours of war increasing, you know it’s a walk that might not end well.
At the end of the summer I first read As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, I did the sensible thing and found myself a job. But the job didn’t stick and within the year, I had bought myself a rusty, years-old Honda Civic, packed it up with everything I owned, and drove across the country to start a new life.
And as I said goodbye to my mother, it was the first and only time upon leaving home that she cried.