31.5.17

Day 14. A different story.


A different story today. Yesterday I was already wondering about our human interference, how we manipulate nature, how things slowly started to change after we settled down and became farmers. Until that "happened" we lived in nature, through nature, but we started to create borders between our own habitat and the places where trees and plants and animals did things the way they had been doing it for milennia. Of course you could say we are nature as well and natural forces also take back what humans claimed, creating new natural borders, but I think we all (well, many of us at least) agree on the fact that homo sapiens is the only species that is ruïning its own habitat and thereby doing the same to all the other species.

It wasn’t on my mind when I woke up though, surrounded by trees and plants and the soft buzzing of insects, the sky a light blue. I hadn’t found the river or stream I had promised myself yesterday and my small research into finding a communal swimming pool in the nearby village wasn’t succesful either: I had drank a beer on a terrace and chatted with two locals who seemed to be very happy to live there. I secretly hoped my question whether there was a swimming pool nearby would lead to an invitation to take a dive in one of the private pools I had spotted earlier on. It hadn’t. But the really hot summer days hadn’t started yet so the cold beer cooled me down sufficiently and I made my way back into nature when the sun set.
No tent. Trees for shelter. A sleeping bag to stay warm. Life can be simple. A long walking day through villages on the northern outskirts of Manresa was ahead so I went to sleep early and woke up when it was still cool.

The first part, walking from the two lonely towers, Les Torres de Fals, to Sant Joan de Vilatorrada along the GR3, dipped in and out of the woods covering a small mountain range. Even walking in the middle of nature I heard cars in the far distance, the buzz of a highway which strangely enough always sounds like the sea. It is quite interesting how you perceive sounds. Knowledge always directs our imagination and from there our emotions. If I would think there was an ocean out there, I wouldn’t mind the sound. Now I did, walking in nature but in a sea of cars at the same time. The C-25. I laughed when I thought about the pronounciation of “C”.

Views to both sides, into my past and into my future. The Pyrenees to my left and the Montserrat mountains to my right. Trying to not be in three places at the same time. Thinking that that would be impossible anyway. Or wouldn't it? What is place and what is time? Trying to get rid of those questions and just walk and smell and see.

Mindlessness.

From the last mountain top, the Collbaix, I could see the highway and the cars like tiny fish. The small plateau I was standing on looked manmade. I wondered if there once was a building here. Another castle maybe, overlooking the valley.
I ate my lunch sitting on some big slabs of stone, looking east, to where I was heading. The grey squares of concrete buildings, big roads sliding like snakes through the valley and forming circles where they met, fields in irregular shapes, the city of Manresa dominating the view.

Manresa. I like that name. I tend to think places look like they sound but I also know that doesn’t make sense. Still I have been disappointed often, visiting a town with the most amazing name, sounding like ancient history, forgotten dreams, birds with big wings floating through the air, laughter, and then finding myself in some ugly place with rude people.
From a distance it was hard to know if Manresa looked the way it sounded. But I didn’t have my hopes set high, knowing this is an industrial area. Textiles and fabrics. But with its heydays over which increased the chances of visual pleasure. Industrial heritage can have a beauty of its own. But so does any kind of ugliness. And I am not a nature walker anyway, not a walker for pleasure.

First Sant Joan de Vilatorrada. Downhill. The last bit of forest and then farmers’ fields. The first big building, low concrete halls. Storage space.
It was a bit of a shock to see the church but I guess I’ve been spoiled, walking through so many beautiful villages.

At the end of the fourteenth century the people in this village were mainly farmers, producing cereals, wine and olives. The textile production that became so important later in history was already present in products like hemp and flax. Things changed profoundly during the Industrial Revolution. An increasing population, increasing exploitation of the resources, mechanisation of production processes leading to more production of barley and decreasing cultivation of vineyards and olive orchards. A lot of immigrants arrived, big textile factories were build, a process that continued until the economical crisis in the 70’s put an end to progress. The former textile factory Cal Gallifa is a library now, organizing “activities to encourage reading, exhibitions, book presentations, conferences, literary gatherings (Reading Club), workshops, storytelling for children and adults”. I would call that progress.

No terrace or bar which was a pity. My coffee addiction is very useful during my walks since one of the essential things is to get into unplanned conversations with random people to hear strange and somehow informative stories that often tell me more about the history or current state of affairs than “official sources” would do. Bars and restaurants are perfect for that. There was a bakery though, the Forn de Cabrianes selling beautiful bread in many different shapes and with promising names. Small conversations with shopkeepers can be nice as well but they never have a lot of time and my Spanish asks for some patience so I just bought bread and tried to say how much I liked the smell of it but I’m not sure if she smiled at me because she liked what I said or if she had no clue and was just being polite.

The village was indeed not very attractive (and now I’m being polite). I walked out, walked through farmers’ fields and alotment gardens. The C25 was right by my side, sometimes left, sometimes right. I crossed it twice.
A big detour to cross another big road, I passed Sant Iscle de Bages and landed in a horrific but therefore quite amusing industrial zone just outside Sant Fruitos de Bages. More alotment gardens, the sadness of Sant Fruitos de Bages, another highway and finally some sense of nature again. Woods, El Pont de Cabrianes, a big river, a town called Navarcles, streets, apartment blocks, had I been here before?

I just kept walking, what else was there to do? Fields again, going up and down the hill, another hill and there it was. El Forn de la Calç. Centre d'Art Contemporani i Sostenibilitat (CACIS).

To be continued.




Day 14. Looking into the future


Montserrat mountains, planned arrival this Sunday (Day 17)

Where I am

You said once how memories also recall other memories, that is, moments of remembering particular events, spaces, in turn become memorable, contributing to an accumulation of details overlaid; memories that in fact produce their own memories. Phantasm. A recurring melody that begins to take on a life of its own, that echoes until the original soon dissipates, unfixed by a repeating continuation. Such echoes become their own body; a body ahead of and behind this one; steps that suddenly haunt my own, and that dislocate and displace the certainty of being here.

There. 

Nowhere.

A new itinerary.

-Brandon LaBelle, Handbook for the Itinerant

30.5.17

Day 13. Dusty feet


I got a lift back to the Observatori Astronòmic and entered the woods from there. A sand and gravel road, dusty, the rain from last night hadn’t left any traces. Walking through a small valley first and then along the hill, slowly going up. Now and then a farm and terraces, former woodlands now turned into arable land. The opener the landscape became, the more farms and houses popped up. Or maybe it was the other way around, maybe because the farms had established themselves there, the border between open land and forest had moved back. The village of Camps, a handful of houses a few hundred meters to the left of the road, didn’t seem worthwile making a detour for. The farmers were working hard, some of the fields had already been cut and big round haybails decorated the landscape. I like them and here they don’t cover them in plastic like they do in rainy countries: understandable but so ugly.
Some houses had a swimming pool. A swim would be nice now, but maybe I would be so lucky to find a river or a small stream at the end of the day.

Just around lunchtime the dusty slow road turned into a big and fast one. I passed El Molí de Boixeda, a former mill, now restaurant with a big vegetable garden in the back. It was too tempting not to stop and there were only one or two kilometers left to walk. And there were snails on the menu! A good excuse to slow myself down. I hadn’t expected so many people inside on a Tuesday afternoon in what at first seemed to be a lost corner. The road was a sign of many people passing by though. From where? Manresa? Where to? The geography of Catalunya is still a mystery to me.

The owner told me the mill was originally a saw mill and later on used for grain. He was mainly using local products in his kitchen and they baked their bread themselves. He brought me some cherries he had harvested in the weekend. My first cherries of the year.

The big road led to Canet de Fals, one of the least charming villages I’d walked through so far. A modern streetplan with a somewhat rigid grid, new houses with cars parked next to every one of them. Lots of swimming pools, little atmosphere. Apparently these houses were originally second homes of people who lived in the city, most of them build in the seventies. These days people live there permanently though.

I quickly walked out of it, back in the direction I’d come from to climb the hill with the towers, Les Torres de Fals. It was an odd sight. They are the only remainders of the castle that overlooked the village just over 1000 years ago. The old parish church of Sant Vicente and the rectory are still there, the two cylindrical defense towers are far apart, seperated by a small ravine and still give an impression of the size of the former castle by marking the space it once occupied. One was clearly older than the other. What happened here? There was nobody around to ask.

Huge black beetles moved from flower to flower. The swallows were back. The mountains seemed far away but only a week and a half ago I was 2 kilometers higher up than I was now, wearing socks as gloves and thinking of logs burning in the fire instead of dipping my feet in cold water.

I had promised myself a river. Let’s see if I could find one. The sky was clear. Maybe I could sleep under the stars.

Day 12 (night). Two eyes



It was an easy walk to the Observatori Astronòmic de Castelltallat. Still warm and long before dark. The opening hours depend on the sunset and in May you are welcome at 21.30 but on weekdays by appointment only. I was lucky I’d bumped into a small group of enthusiastic amateur astronomers on the campsite and was invited to join them. They all went by car but I wanted to go on foot. Preferably under the stars, so originally I had planned to walk back but it promised to be a dark night and I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to find my way without a light through the woods and I don’t like using one when I’m walking in the dark.
There was some discussion before I left about whether it would make any sense to go there since it had gotten quite cloudy but everybody seemed to be wanting to give it a try. I left before seven, they waved me out.

You can sense it when nature is getting ready for the night. Birds get louder, the scent changes. I thought I felt raindrops now and then but it remained dry. Two deer crossed the path, standing still in the middle. I stood still as well and we stared at each other for a bit. The trees were mainly pines and gave off a strong smell after the hot day. While I walked the colours disappeared slowly and when I arrived at the observatory everything had turned from green into grey. There were no stars in sight. But the onservatory was lighted beautifully and it was still possible to see the outlines of the Pyrennees on the one side and the Montserrat mountains, my goal, on the other.

I was too early and I walked around the white semi-sphere. There was a small complex of old historical buildings, a big contrast with the observatory itself that looked like a spaceship. I was hoping for the sky to open up, most nights had been clear and filled with stars in the last two weeks but of course tonight everything was covered up.

The cars and the men - why are astronomers almost always men? - arrived and I joined them. They came from different parts of Spain and met up once a year to look at the sky together. In a way a very romantic thing to do (which of course I didn’t tell them). The tour was going to be in Spanish but I was mainly here to look at something I didn’t understand anyway, not in any language. We might have given things names and calculated distances and sizes but the universe and any part of it is still ungraspable for our human mind, even when we think we do know about it because we can photograph it and measure it.

There was an exhibition about the proportions of the solar system with a huge (not talking universal proportions) gleaming yellow ball in the center. I was surprised to find out that this permanent exhibition originated in the place where my journey had started, at Nau Coclea, the Art and Residency Center that had sent me on this walk. In 2006 the sun was standing in the basement studio where now swallows live and artists present work. Other planets were located in the area, Venus 126 meters away, Mars (only 8 mm. big) 245 meters, Uranus 3 kilometers, Jupiter (2 mm.) 6,5 kilometers from the sun, in a nearby village. You could move through the whole solar system by biking or walking through the countryside around Nau Coclea. I wondered why Clara, the director, hadn’t told me but I guess she was curious what I would find out on this walk myself, just following her route without too much knowledge about it, the same route we will walk in August and September with a number of people.

The men admired the big microscope on the roof but there wasn’t much to see looking through it. It was a pity but I suddenly remembered an e-mail I had received last week. It was from a friend who is a doctor, haiku poet and amateur astronomer, somebody I have never met but communicate with ever since he started supporting my walks. I had sent him a small paper boat and a photo of all the boats I had folded out of trash I had found on the road while walking from Barcelona to Paris in 2015. I had also included a story I wrote about “The one million star hotel”, a night I spent sleeping outside under a first cloudy but later on clear starry sky. He wrote me: “I like your story about the million-star-hotel ... And I understand your disappointment with the cloudy night ... If that should happen again, I attach a photo of the "Heart and Soul" nebulae (and the "Double-Cluster" in Cassiopeia like two eyes). They are SO beautiful. And there are LOTS of stars around. You can save the photo on your iPad and then point it towards the sky."

So that is what I did. It was beautiful. And when I showed it to the men they all recognised it and smiled.

I drove back with them to the campsite. It had started to rain softly. The headlights of the car scanned the road. The men were a bit disappointed but I wasn't.

Back in my tent I held my iPad up again, wandered around in the amazing photo until I got lost and fell in a deep sleep.

(Photo: Henrik Bondo)

29.5.17

We are all the same but in a different way

It happens often. I meet somebody who asks me where I am from and when I say I am from the Netherlands - with hesitation, I don’t feel too connected to that country, usually I say I am born there and my roots are there but I lived in and learned from other countries the biggest part of my life - and minutes later I hear the same person tell somebody else I am German. The Netherlands and Germany are completely different countries with two completely different languages. Yes, there are cultural similarities but also many differences. And yes, they are both Germanic languages but I still had a hard time learning German and most Dutch, especially the younger generation, speak English far easier than German. It might be confusing that “Dutch” in English sounds like the German “Deutsch” which means “German”. But still.
And I don’t mind when people make a mistake or don’t remember correctly but I do mind when, if I correct them they just laugh and say “Ah, but it is the same, Dutch or German, the Netherlands or Germany, isn’t it?”

It happened again yesterday. In Catalunya, where I am very aware and supportive of the struggle of the Catalans to have their culture and language respected and cared for, where most people want to be independent from Spain. Where most people speak two different languages but have a preference for what is really their language, Catalan. “Where are you from?” he asked and I said “From the Netherlands”. And when a friend of his arrived he introduced me as Monique from Germany. Somebody else corrected him and he laughed and said: “But it is the same thing, isn’t it?”

I laughed and replied, in my best Spanish: Yes, it is the same thing. Just like Spanish and Catalan is the same thing.”

Day 12. The Cosmos


 
Practising being slow at campsite cal Paradis (Salo). No walking until it gets dark, to reach the Observatori Astronòmic de Castelltallat before midnight and look at the cosmos through a big telescope. A perfect day to make seed balls, small nature bombs with a variety of Cosmos seeds in them. My favorite one is the Cosmos Daydream, the pink one.



(last photo from: http://www.observatoricastelltallat.com)

27.5.17

Day 10. The ordinariness of true miracles. Solsona - Santuari del Miracle

"Es geht also nicht darum, an ein christliches oder in irgendeiner Weise spirituelles Ziel zu gelangen - sondern darum, auf eine bestimmte Weise zu gehen und zu sehen."

"So it isn't about reaching a religious or somehow spiritual goal - but about walking and seeing things in a specific way."
- W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn 

I didn’t leave Solsona without a last stroll through the beautiful historic center, still quiet on a Saturday morning. I filled my water bottles with water from one of the gothic fountains, wondered if I should find a place for an early coffee but decided to get on the road. The route to the Santuari del Miracle mainly follows the GR7 and the distance to that what I read to be a “magnificent place” is only 11 kilometers. I left the castle of Castellvell behind, walked through farmers fields and crossed roads and entered woods that are still recovering from a big fire in 1998 but are doing quite well thanks to succesful regeneration. More than 25.000 acres got burned that year, unfortunately not a very rare event. There are said to be up to 20,000 forest fires in Spain a year, killing uncountable trees and animals, sometimes people as well.
For nature it doesn’t always have devastating effects only. Nature renews itself, sometimes flourishes even better, bird species that haven’t been around, even in danger of disappearing elsewhere, benefit from new circumstances. But some plants and trees have a hard time surviving or returning, a whole ecological system can change. Some tree species suffered severely here and are struggling still.

I left the trail to walk through the village of Brics but nothing much happened there. Which isn’t a bad thing. Just outside the village there were two ponds and I made a stop there to see if I could spot any exotic (for me, not for this place) animals. I peeped through the window in the wooden structure that kept me out of sight of the animals (a reversed world!), some ducks were splashing around and even not seeing anything out of the ordinary, there was still something extra-ordinary about it. A dreamy atmosphere, maybe because they were so small and relaxing after all the overwhelming views. I read the information panels, looked at pictures of all the animals I hadn’t seen but now knew were there somewhere sometimes and continued. After all the climbs and 20+ kilometer walks this felt like a Sunday stroll. I walked slowly and now and then other walkers or strollers passed me by, surely heading for the same place I was aiming for.

Of course always when you think the walking is easy something comes up, but the steep slope just before the Sant Jaume ermitage was short enough to give me the feeling again I am doing something serious and short enough not to get really tired. I could almost see the place where a miracle happened more than 500 years ago already.

It is said the first church or hermitage was built here in the beginning of the 16th century, probably a simple construction. The miracle that was at its origin, as it often is, was the appearance of the Holy Virgin  to two boys who were herding cattle at the outskirts of Riner. The current church was built in the 17th century and the Baroque altarpiece that is its artistic highlight, was sculpted in the middle of the 18th century by Carles Moretó and in its center is the image of the HolyVirgin, as seen by the two kids.

I read that “the monastery fell into decadence at the end of the 18th Century” and that “from then the Miracle entered a decline from which it did not emerge until 1886”. I’m not exactly sure what that meant but in 1901 the old secular administration was replaced by a Benedictine priory connected to Montserrat and a convent was constructed. Since then a small community of monks has taken care of the sanctuary.

There are only four of them now and I would have loved to talk to them about walking and the meaning of pilgrimage but I am not sure if it is the right moment, being there unannounced and so limited in any non-English (or non-German, non-French or non-Dutch, I do have some language skills and hope, prey, haha, Spanish will come, and I hope I don’t offend the Catalans by putting that lower on my list) so I just wandered around, hoping for some chance encounter.

The courtyard inbetween the plain stone buildings was an oasis in this austere and dry landscape. I sat in the shade and watched other people wandering around. Parents with children, romantic couples, heavy duty walkers, a runner even, strollers and wanderers and some lost souls.

Of course I had a look at the famous baroque altarpiece in the church. The word big is too small to do justice to its size. Enormous suits it better. Meters of gold and ornaments. 23 meters high and 12 meters wide to be precise. But I was more impressed by the glitter of the big round silent waterbasin outside. 
I thought about the young boy who had had the vision. His name was Jaumet, he died a few days after he saw the apparition, he was 10 years old. He wasn’t the only one. A plague epidemy was raging through Catalunya. Visions often happen when times are tough and people feel God is testing them. The two juniper trees that marked the spot where Jaumet and his older brother Celdoni shortly before him had seen the young Virgin didn’t last long either, after crowds of pilgrims started to visit the location. The gothic cross that was put there to replace the trees was demolished during the last Spanish civil war. Now a new cross replaces the cross that replaced the trees in the old meadow of Bassedòria, a stonesthrow distance away from the convent.

In the restaurant there is the miracle of food. Local products are being sold as well and the chef tells me proudly about their biomass heater. I taste his love of the land in what’s on my plate. For some people cooking is almost a religion. Or eating.

But the true miracle happened just before sunset. I walked a big circle around the Santuari and stopped to look back at where I had come from, to see myself walking there again. The solid harsh mountains had changed colour and had become transparant. Blue in different shades. 

I remembered reading earlier today that Crayola is turning the first new blue in 200 years - discovered by a chemist by accident a few years ago - into a crayon.


26.5.17

Day 9. A small eternity


Somehow this turned into a day about flying. Maybe the seeds I sowed in the last 8 days wherever I went have been sprouting. Cosmos Daydream seeds. A resilient plant with a beautiful name that doesn’t need much care, thrives in difficult circumstances (heat and little water, soil with little nutriants) and flowers beautifully. Or maybe the length of the walk today, only 7 kilometers, made me stand still more often to see what it was I saw moving. Black and yellow swallowtail butterflies, finches, a medium sized bird with a yellow back which I’d never seen before but was too fast for me to identify properly, are there Orioles around here? The swift movements of swallows, a few birds of prey far away, a giant dragonfly with a metallic green glistening body and delicate yellowish wings. Big eyes. They see the world in ultra-multicolour: where we humans have tri-chromatic vision (we see colours as a combination of red, blue and green), dragonflies have a minimum of 11 (and up to 30) light sensitive proteins in their eyes. They can see ultraviolet for example. Until today I never wondered what I looked like in a dragonfly’s eyes.

My thoughts went flying as well, back and forth, back to Núria and Gósol and the mountains Picasso crossed with a mule and the ravines that matched Caracremada’s desired burial place, back and forth inbetween then and now, not going foreward, or whatever direction it is to where the future lies in waiting. Nine days, a small eternity …. does that exist? I guess it does. Because I just walked it.

Walking makes time disappear.

Today I walked from Lladurs to Solsona. And in case you are wondering what happened yesterday: the report isn’t written yet but present in notes and in my memory: somehow I always underestimate how much has to be done (and seen and listened to and waited for and not to be forgotten: walked) in a day and sometimes when I am ready to start writing my story, there is nothing of the day left. It will come. I am trying to stay in the day as much as possible so yesterday has disappeared already and will pop up in words here at some moment.

I lingered in Lladures for a bit in the morning. I enjoyed the energy of the place and it had been wonderful to camp in nature and not in an official place. The pleasure of opening your tent in the morning and not having to think about time has been a rare one: the walks so far have been long and not the easiest ones. Some people would pack and start asap anyway, to have the walking part over with, but I don’t really see a difference between walking and waiting, dreaming and seeing, moving and standing still. Walking can be many things and many things can be walking.

Furthermore Solsona was in the well-connected world again and Lladurs, even though these days easily reachable by car, was connected a bit more to the quiet world it had existed in for centuries.

It was hot already when I finally started walking. But my way was downhill, through farmland and woods, nothing to worry about. And I had fresh water from the fountain in front of Lladurs’ church.
I passed the ruins of the castle about which I had heard a most wonderful story. I am not sure if I got all the details right because it was told to me in Catalan but even if it isn’t historically correct (with or without my possible misinterpretation) it is a great story. Apparently during the Carlist War in the 19th century, some soldiers went up to the castle to kill the commander and he escaped by jumping off the cliff with a big sheperd’s umbrella. That must have been quite a spectacle.

The path followed the road closely but there was hardly any traffic. The birds produced the loudest sounds, taking turns with the wind that got quite strong around midday.

The historic walls of Sonsola came as a surprise. Although small, it is a proper city with city rights and many historic remains of its rich past. I walked around and drank water from an old fountain at the Placa Sant Joan. I hesitated in front of the cathedral, but I didn’t enter. I felt too small for a building so big with next to it its equally impressive brother, the Bishop’s Palace, one the most important examples of Catalan neo-classical design. It is a museum these days and I did enter there, but mainly because I was curious about the salt sculptures: a priest who lived in Cardona in the 19th century devoted himself to making scale models of castles and other buildings, carving busts and statues and reproductions of objects out of rock salt. When he died, the collection (including works from other artists) was auctioned and brought to Solsona. Salt has been on my agenda as a material to work with somehow (or maybe I do already, sometimes photographing the salt stains in my black shirts after long walks) for a while.

I didn’t last long. I’ll come back one day to pay it a proper visit. Sonsola’s historical buildings deserve the right attention. But mine right now needed to be unfocused. Floating around on some old Plaça in the shadow, looking at people passing by, maybe doing some writing.

And my wishes were fullfilled.

Dreaming = holding seeds before they fly.


24.5.17

Day 7. The nature of culture


Such a contrast between the rough gravel and the soft roundness of the mountains. A long slow descent today but first wandering through a kind of moon surface landscape. I see more people than I’ve seen in the last week. Most of them speak Catalan. I exchange a few words in Spanish with a happy couple dressed in almost similar outfits. Matching jackets, trousers, similar shoes. They tell me they always come here in May, after the winter season and before the summer crowds arrive. I only understand later what those summer crowds are doing here.

I have to stop writing how beautiful the views are. I can’t help myself though, having been born in a country with no views like these and the only elevations in the landscape being under 100 meters high. I love forests and I still have a soft spot for endless corn fields but I can’t resist wide open views.

In the 19th and eary 20th century these roads were used by the “trementinaires” or “turpentines”, mainly women who came up with a creative but also indispensable idea to survive in these valleys that had seen so many people leave to find seasonal labour elsewhere. The trementinaires produced medicinal remedies from herbs and turpentine extracted from trees, to treat all sorts of ailments, from aches and pains to infections and insect bites. They travelled around Catalunya on foot to sell their products in villages and farmhouses at faraway corners. Some of them were on the road for months on end, usually repeating their journey once or twice a year, often following the same route and selling to the same clients.
The most requested product was turpentine, a red pine resin. Each trementinaire manufactured her own turpentine, and every turpentine had a  different texture, colour and fluidity. Turpentine patches were used against pain, to cure spider and snake bites, to heal ulcers, serious infections and simple colds.

Most of the women were illiterate and knowledge was transferred orally from mother to daughter or granddaughter. Everything we know about turpentines these days is what is left in the memories of their descendants. In the museum in Tuixent there is a Turpentine botanical garden and in summer they organise courses and create potions based on old recipies but I prefer walking though their working territory and finding useful plants and herbs here over museum input. (Not saying it isn’t wonderful that they are keeping this history alive and teaching people about wild edible and medicinal plants, on the contrary.) There isn’t much to find plantwise up here, even the pines are small, but plenty of forest and fields on lower levels.

The top of el Pedró dels Quatre Batlles is an odd spot. I catch a small group of kids accompanied by two adults taking photos of each other in the landscape. They enthusiastically read the signs with the images and names of all the mountains in the far distance and point and shout. We are at 2386 meters here. The map I was looking at on my iPad looks like a drawing. Lines in different colours show the skiing pistes. Here in nature the lines are being formed by the metal cables of the skiing lifs. There is nothing left of the Catalan flag that once waved proudly on this mountain top. No deeper meaning in (writing) that but I have to admit I don’t like flags. I admire the Catalan culture though and it is wonderful to learn more about it by climbing these mountains and getting a little bit closer to it wandering through this land and meeting people in woods, village cafés, on street corners and on mountain tops. I wish I spoke their language but I can just about manage in Spanish. Knowing a language always teaches you a lot about a culture. I am still wondering about and struggling with the two ways of saying “to be” in Spanish. A permanent way to be (ser) and a temporary state of being(estar).
I am quite happy on top of this mountain, even more when the small crowd moves on and I am alone here. A temporary state unfortunately. Estoy feliz.

El Porte del Comte is a bit of a shock although I should have known something like this would have been waiting around the corner in a major skiing area. It boasts an Adventure Park, golf courses, “tubbies” (sliding down a slope in a thing that is something inbetween a big tire and a round rubber boat, an activity for the whole family, haha) and a whole range of other things you can do when you are tired of nature. A massive hotel and a hostel. But also coffee with a view so I shouldn’t complain. I am happy though I wasn’t here in the weekend. There are quite some people around for a weekday but mostly walkers like me.

It is still another 7 kilometes to Sant Llorenç de Morunys and the more I descend, the bigger the trees get and the denser the vegetation. I look for wild edible greens and nibble on some flowers and leaves.The Ermita de Santa Magdalena is a small oasis. I try to go inside but the door is locked and there are no windows. The mystery of what is inside remains.

The campsite is the portal to the civilised world. Neat rows, bungalows. In the distance the village with what looks like a big lake but is actually a water reserve. I dreamt of swimming in the last days and the massive water surface looks tempting but my legs prefer to take me to the swimming pool. Small dreams are nice as well. And there is always tomorrow. Although there is also a new route to walk tomorrow. With less organised family fun & well planned adventure probably. For today I give in and eat a pizza. I am only human.

When I walk to my tent with a cheese and dough filled and very satisfied belly I can’t help thinking about wild asparagus and lambs quarter. The fake lake is still trying to seduce me with glimmers of light on its dark blue surface. In my tent I read a chapter from “Tourism and the power of otherness. Seductions of difference”, Camila del Marmóls “The politics of heritage and the past in the Catalan Pyrenees’ in which she mentions the turpentines. It reminds me to remember that when I am walking through what I sometimes think is the past is really the past seen through the presence.

"Many people who live in or are frequent visitors to the area quickly gain vast knowledge about older times. Comments on how old cooking methods gave food a better taste, on the happiness of festivals after long hours of work, and on the beauty of the landscape when it was cultivated rather than left as woods are not just official discourses promoted in institutional contexts such as museums. Rather, these opinions are frequently expressed in bars and at family meals, during the most daily routines and recalled by different sectors of the population. In the case of elderly people, the new relevance of the past is confronted with the memories of their experienced history, in which the territory was considered to be abandoned and fallen into neglect. In many cases, the appraisal of the past reaches high levels of consensus due to its ability to empower old inhabitants who can relate their experiences of these former ways of life. Jaumet, who was in his early 80s, told me about old songs that were sung in the village and that were forgotten for decades until new attempts were made to recover traditional music. Every time he is asked to sing them again, he remembers the time when no one was interested: “This country used to be so lonely…”, he expressed in a weary tone of voice. Official uses of the past within the politics of heritage and time became hegemonic not just as a consequence of institutional discourses but also because, beyond criticism, they can be thought of as ways to thwart the oblivion to which the territory had previously been condemned."

The present past


Something to remember when I am walking through what I sometimes think is the past but is really the past seen through the presence (from "Through other times: The politics of heritage and the past in the Catalan Pyrenees", Camila del Mármol):

"Many people who live in or are frequent visitors to the area quickly gain vast knowledge about older times. Comments on how old cooking methods gave food a better taste, on the happiness of festivals after long hours of work, and on the beauty of the landscape when it was cultivated rather than left as woods are not just official discourses promoted in institutional contexts such as museums. Rather, these opinions are frequently expressed in bars and at family meals, during the most daily routines and recalled by different sectors of the population. In the case of elderly people, the new relevance of the past is confronted with the memories of their experienced history, in which the territory was considered to be abandoned and fallen into neglect. In many cases, the appraisal of the past reaches high levels of consensus due to its ability to empower old inhabitants who can relate their experiences of these former ways of life. Jaumet, who was in his early 80s, told me about old songs that were sung in the village and that were forgotten for decades until new attempts were made to recover traditional music. Every time he is asked to sing them again, he remembers the time when no one was interested: “This country used to be so lonely...”xviii, he expressed in a weary tone of voice. Official uses of the past within the politics of heritage and time became hegemonic not just as a consequence of institutional discourses but also because, beyond criticism, they can be thought of as ways to thwart the oblivion to which the territory had previously been condemned."

Full text in "Tourism and the power of otherness. Seductions of difference." Edited by David Picard and Michael A. Di Giovinecan Or download the article here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/262953541_Through_Other_Times_The_Politics_of_Heritage_and_the_Past_in_the_Catalan_Pyrenees

23.5.17

Day 6. Small steps, a black dog, layers of time.


Layers of time, manifested in the rocks and soil and remembered in the stories of the people who walked on these roads. When Picasso arrived here, the anti-Franco guerilla Caracremara wasn’t born yet and in the year Ramón Vila Capdevila (which was his real name) was killed, Picasso was at the top of his fame and the Picasso Museum in Barcelona opened that year.

I am not sure if I am walking in Caracremara’s footsteps today. The route is part of a bigger circular route that moves through the territory where he lived, survived, operated. He must have remained out of view during daytime most of the time, staying away from roads like this one. Little is known about how he survided, what his exact movements were in the years before he died. It must have been an extremely tough life, only possible because of a strong commitment to his goal, undermining and bringing down the Franco regime. There is a list of the items he carried with him when he was killed, shot in the heart by the Guarda Civil who made him suffer extra by letting him slowly bleed to death. Weapons and tools, handy things like string, plastic cloth and matches, some sanitary items, a pan and pencils, a watch, a sleeping bag, peas, rice, sugar and salt, old trousers, two pairs of white and pink socks, money and a small photo of himself. He carried everything he owned with him.
He was nicknamed Caracremada, burnt-face, because of the scars a near struck of lightning, that killed his mother, left on his face when he was a child. Personally I like his other nickname more, “Passosllargs”, big steps.

I left Gósol and reached the Ermita de Santa Margarida, where Picasso frequently went, after a couple of kilometers. A small group of people on horseback passed me when I was trying to figure out how old the chapel could be. It looked well maintained, possibly restored.
The valley stretched itself out in front of me, walking through it I saw hawthorn, gorse, thyme and lots of yellow flowers I don’t know the name of. I was heading towards the Cap del Verd, the highest point for today, a 1000 meter climb over 9 kilometer. It was still cloudy but getting warmer again. There was some thunder yesterday but not too close to get scared after reading about how Caracremara got his nickname.

Did he enjoy these landscapes or were they just a refuge, a hiding place, an area so familiar and at the same time so full of danger that he didn’t see the beauty of it? Maybe it is a stupid thing to wonder about. He had a completely different reason to be in these mountains and he spent years and years of his life here, fighting. But the hawthorn and grasses I saw are the same plants he wrote about in the only known poem from his hand, titled “To be buried in the mountains’ which he wrote when he was recovering from his injuries somewhere in hiding and in which he describesd his aversion of the modern world and the hypocrisy of many people. “ I want to be buried/Far from those fake places/Where people come all year/To shed their tears ….. I want my grave to be/Covered in the thorns/Of big and prickly blackberries/Hawthorns and wild thistles … All around/Grass for lifestock will sprout/And in my shadow/A tired black dog will sleep.

I thought about the black dog while I was walking. Throughout European mythology, dogs have been associated with death, in some way guardians of the underworld. At night I sometimes hear it.

When I saw deer in the far distance I forgot about the black dog. This is my walk as well, my steps, my hours, shadows are shifting, the mountain top, a mountain top, is getting closer. I wonder if I will ever get used to these views, they keep amazing me every time i stand still. Coll dels Belitres, Coll de Veis, Coll de Port.

The Refugi coll de Port, surrounded by big pine trees is closed. Tarmac roads are back. This is skiing area. I walk the road that leads toTuixent-la Vansa, a skiing piste. We humans sure know how to mess up a beautiful landscape. It is still quite harmless here compared to other places but I consider every road that hasn’t been made by animal or human feet a scar in the landscape.

When the night falls over the Refugi de l’Arp the black dog comes back again and licks my hand. I go for a small nighttime stroll, taking refuge in the night, far away from “el bullicio humano” as Caracremada calls it. My steps are small.

(Caracremada's poem in Spanish HERE



The only poem by the last Spanish guerilla

Que me entierren en el monte

Quiero tener mi tumba
Lejos de los campos santos
Donde blusas blancas no haya
Ni panteones dorados

Quiero que a mí me entierren
Lejos de esos lugares falsos
Donde la gente al año viene
A depositar sus llantos

Quiero que a mi me entierren
Arriba en el monte alto
Junto aquel pino blanco
Que solo esta en el barranco

Mi tumba quiero que este
Entre dos piedras de canto
Compañeros míos han de ser
Pintadas culebras, verdes lagartos

No quiero que a mi entierro vengan
Curas laicos ni romanos,
Y las flores han de ser
Un manojo de punzantes cardos

Tampoco quiero que vengan
A decir discursos y salmos
Con banderas i oropeles
Vicio del mundo civilizado

Para discursos los graznidos
De los cuervos y los grajos,
El aullido del zorro viejo
Cuando ciego es abandonado

Ni luz de cirios que dan
Unas claridades de espanto
A mí me alumbraran
Las centellas y los rayos

Quiero que mi tumba sea
Cubierta de espinos altos
De zarzas grandes y espesas
Abrojos y salvajes cardos

Que brote a sus alrededores
Hierba para los ganados
Y que descanse a mi sombra
El perro negro cansado

Quiero que mi cuerpo repose
Lejos del bullicio humano
Junto al pino grande que hay
en el barranco solitario

Ramon Vila Capdevila
"Caracremada"


Ramon Vila Cadevila wrote this poem while recovering from wounds in a farmhouse after fending off a Civil Guard attack. The last anti-Franco guerilla died in 1963 after being shot in the heart. He was nicknamed Caracremada, burnt-face, because of the scars a near struck of lightning left on his face when he was a child. His mother was killed by it. More about him and the Ruta Caracremada here.

22.5.17

Day 5. New colours

"Gósol was a marvel. There on the heights, in the midst of an air of incredible purity, above the clouds, surrounded by friendly people, hospitable, unselfish, most of them smugglers, we found what may be happiness.“

(The Private Journal of Fernande Olivier)

Casas de Gósol, Pablo Picasso

The road to happiness isn’t an easy one. It is cold and steep and slippery. Fernande Olivier, Pablo Picasso’s lover and muse, almost fell from the mule that was carrying her when it slipped next to one of the big cliffs. Picasso and Fernande travelled to Gósol around the same time of year I am walking there but 111 years before me. Picasso was in the early stage of his career, he was 24 but already becoming succesful, the two of them had left Paris to this then unknown corner of the world, now visited by tourists partially because they were there but also because it is great walking territory. The village hasn’t changed much though, although now it is easy accesible from the other side of the mountain I came from - the first cars arrived in Gósol in the early 40’s. And those mountains have changed even less. “The little Catalan Rockies” I heard them being called in the Refugi I left this morning but I prefer “la Serra de Cadí”.

The fear I had felt yesterday, which wasn’t the fear Fernande must have felt when the mule almost threw her off and the dark space far down the cliffs was lurking, but the fear of not being able to pass the mountains, the fear of defeat (although there is no shame in being defeated by a snow covered mountain) disappeared the moment I started walking up. When you are climbing a mountain there is nothing but the mountain. Exhaustion and focus on putting your feet in the right place take away all space for worries of whatever nature. I wonder if that is one of the reasons polar explorers and mountaineers do what they do. I like it off and on but it isn’t really my kind of thing while walking. I don’t need to reach the top, the farthest point, make the longest journey, although I would be lying if I would say I don’t get pleasure out of it when I do.

It was sunny in the beginning and the snowy parts weren’t too tricky. They reflected the sunlight magnificently and I could see the footsteps of people who had been here yesterday or the days before. The blue sky slowly turned greyer but nothing compared to the deep shades of grey of the rocks. Drops of rain, but not enough to consider putting on my rain coat. It was cold up here, maybe 8 or 9 degrees but the wind I had heard in the night had calmed down and I had to tell myself not to stand still too often because of the beautiful views. It is hard to take them in when you are moving, even when you are in walking speed.

The Comabona, over 2.500 meters hiigh, was on my left. The Vulturó, the highest peak with 2.648 meters further away on the right. The Pas del Gosolans was used in the past by seasonal labourers and intensively by smugglers. The Parc Natural del Cadi Moixero is where the first wolf has been seen in Catalunya since the last native wolf was killed in 1929. This animal was not a member of the Iberian subspecies though, but an Italian wolf (Canis lupus italicus) migrating from France. Since the first sighting in 2001 there have been more wolf encounters but mainly in denser forest areas.

I saw Gósol long before I set foot in it. The ocher colours Picasso started using while being in the middle of this scenery weren’t as vivid as they are in his paintings but I’m sure that on a sunny day it is a perfect match. Here Picasso left his melancholic and sentimental Blue and Rose period paintings behind and apart from the colours of the earth and houses, it is said that the12th-Century wooden Madonna, with a strong, expressive white face with big, painted eyes, which he saw in the village church, altered his approach to painting. And there was also his friendship with the old innkeeper, Josep Fondevila, a former smuggler (of course) whom Picasso greatly admired. His  ascetic appearance was an inspiration source so contradictory to his other beloved main human model of that time and it remained a touchstone until his death.

Picasso stayed in the village center: the Hostal Cal Tampanada, in those times the only accomodation for strangers, still exists. These days there are hotels and a campsite, an ugly bungalow park and there is the Molí de Gósol Hostel where I would be staying tonight, the ancient mill,15 minutes outside the village. It was still cloudy and was tired and eager to take off my shoes but first I wanted to visit the Picasso Center. There are no paintings of him in Gósol but there is a lithography collection and the “Carnet Català”, his Gósol notebook. I had a look at the exhibition about life in those days and smiled when I saw lantarns that were used to scare off the wolves. Maybe they will need them again in the future.

I was hoping to see the wooden Virgin and look into her big, painted eyes but she was no longer there, in fact she was in the city where I had set off to start this journey, in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona.

Outside I wandered around for a bit, looking for people who resembled the old Vondevila. It wasn’t difficult to seperate the locals from the foreigners. The colour of their skin had a hint of ocher.


21.5.17

Day 4. Because it is possible


Last minute change of plans today. I heard Masanobu Fukuoka’s wise words in my head: “The best planning is no planning” and although I usually stick to that in my walks, this walk is a different story. The route I am walking has been prepared thoroughly by Clara Gari, the director of Nau Côclea, a Catalunyan art organisation and artist residency. It is a pleasure to walk in a different way for a change, to follow a route that is set out by somebody with a lot of care and with storylines branching off everywhere along the road. I still stick to Fukuoka’s advise by not looking ahead too much and trying to be in the day as much as possible. Planning takes time and things are always different than expected, often asking for replanning which then takes up more time. No planning at all asks for improvisation and also means things go wrong and take up extra time but at least you don’t have the planning and replanning stress and things going wrong can lead to beautiful surprises. But of course in this walk I didn’t have to put any energy into planning my route and unlike other solo-walks I don’t spend the nights in a sleeping bag under a tree or in an abandoned house. This walk feels somehow as a gift and I hope I am a good receiver of the gift by passing on the stories of it to you, reading this.

Today was supposed to be a tough day, 27 kilometers, 1000 meter ascent, 800 meter descent. Not something I would be too worried about myself but there are other people to take into consideration. This walk will be repeated in August and anybody can come along for a couple of days or just one or even the full 18 days. In a way I am already walking with these ghost walkers. Or maybe I should call them differently. The ghost walkers are the ones who walked this route before. Picasso will be one of my ghost walkers these days.

Clara wrote me to suggest two alternative routes. One would go around the mountain range, the other one would cross it. I checked my online maps, I looked at the huge mountains in the far distance, covered with snow. I checked the two refugios on the two different trails. I figured it would be wiser to walk around the mountains and not make things too complicated for myself. A much longer walk but easier. I tried to imagine the views from up there. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that. But it was too late already. I heard somebody say “Let’s go up there!” It sounded like my father’s voice. Of course. Some ghosts always walk with you, because you walk in their footsteps wherever you go. Or maybe I am deceiving myself. His cells are in mine so it could just as well be my own gut feeling speaking. 

No time to waste. I checked to weather forecast to see if it would at least be doable and it said sunny with a small chance of rain for tomorrow. Today wouldn’t be a problem anyway. The Refugio Prat d’Aguiló is situated at the foot of the mountains.

I had a last look at the Bellver village square, where I had seated myself on an edge just under the arches next to the church. It was quiet, Sunday morning silence. It wouldn’t be too far to the Refugi, just over 16 km which was good because making up my mind where to go had taken some time. 16 kilometers and another one going up, elevation almost exactly 1000 meters.

The first part, through fields, brought me to a tiny village with the beautiful name of Pi. My delay in Bellver was a fortunate one. El Nou Cal had just opened. A sign on the bar inside said “Lo único impossible es aquello que no intents”, “The only impossible thing is the thing you don’t try” (I hope I translate it correctly). Café con leche in the sun. “Cafe amb lett” I should say here.
Yes, it would be possible to cross those mountains.

Another small village and after that no sign of people apart from a single building in a clearing in the forest that only opened up from time to time to reveal meadows with spring flowers. I had heard there where wild boar around here but you rarely see them at daytime. I hadn’t seen too many animals apart from the tiny ones anyway. Today the most impressive ones were ants carrying red petals three times the size of their bodies across the road to put on their nest as if they wanted to embellish it. I tried to not look at the mountains too much because I had a faint feeling of fear but there was no way I couldn’t. The seductive power of mountains.

The Refugi Prat d’Aquilo was situated in a small paradise. They served cold beer. I toasted to the mountain. I was tempted to ask some tough guys who seemed to have come from the other side how hard it would be to cross but maybe it was better not to know. There was no way back anyway.

Later on the man running the place told me about some mountain bikers who had crossed the mountain in early spring one year, carrying their bikes most of the climb and descent. "Why would you do that?" I thought straight away. But I had seen the answer already earlier today. Because it is possible.


(t)here

"I am never here only, as this encapsulated body; rather, I am there, that is, I already pervade the room, and only thus can I go through it."

- Martin Heidegger, Building Dwelling Thinking

Inbetween

Birds singing all through the hour of the wolf, fearless.

20.5.17

Day 3. The man who lived like a snail but wanted to fly like a bird


You have a responsibility when you walk through somebodies life. If there is anything the walking taught me, it is exactly that. You can’t just barge in, wander around, take pleasure in what you see and then leave without saying a word.

I headed off today to walk through a big valley dotted with small villages, to see the sun slowly warming up the earth again after all the rain that fell last night. Moisture turning into clouds, rising up from the soil. Colours becoming visible again. Blue and red and orange and green. Grey and black and purple. The tiniest of creatures and the biggest of mountains. And in-between all of this I just put one foot in front of the other. Carrying the loneliness that is the main baggage on a solo walk always. Heavy sometimes, but usually light and at night something that keeps me warm, especially when I am the only human creature in a big forest after a day without having met a human soul. You have to try to be comfortable with every part of you and maybe our never-ending solitude is the biggest part of us. The part we are most afraid of. The part where we are not. Where we are nothing. Where the world doesn’t exist. It is the thing that resembles death more closer than anything else I can think of. It is the negative of our presence, it is the absence inside us, it is our truest mirror. We always carry it around and somehow I always felt comfortable with it, especially in nature where you can’t get away from it even if you would want to. Where it becomes such a natural thing that you start to love it.

I crossed the border again, I changed “Bonjour” for “Bon dia”, I saw Puigcerda in the distance, I heard roads and the weekend soundtrack: a kind of humming that is a combination of gardening tools, cars moving slowly through the countryside, farmers working because animals and vegetables don’t do days off and now and then a cheerful human voice. The walking was easy. No snow, no big climbs, no freezing fingers (I can’t believe I removed my gloves when I changed the content of my bag last Monday, making a quick stop-over in Barcelona in-between Scotland and the Pyrenees: fortunately socks can be gloves as well), no heat.

I bought some food in a shop, sat down at a café to drink a coffee but I ordered a small beer instead and seated myself on the side of the building at some distance from the only other table that was occupied. But the man at the table started talking to me straight away. He asked me if I was on holiday here or just walking through. I told him I was walking and working. I tried to disappear in my own world, keen on being with myself but I had entered his by walking through his village and seating myself at his local café. He asked me what sort of work I did and I told him I was an artist. He told me he was a painter and from there he put all the weight of his life on my table. I always find it astonishing how people are capable of telling you their whole life in the time it takes to drink a beer. A small one even. The death of his mother, the hardship of trying to make a living as an artist and craftsman, a two year old son who doesn’t want to live with him but is with his mother in the city, holidays in other countries, a long time ago when he was still happy, and again and again how hard it is to live. His despair of living in a capitalist world, his fear of the future, how life was just passing by.

He lived like he snail, he said and I only understood it properly when I saw him driving around in an old camper van later that afternoon. I told him I like looking at the swallows. He told me he had six dogs but he’d rather be a bird. I said I preferred the speed of a snail and do the flying in my head. He said there was no happiness in his life and I told him big happiness is an illusion, happiness is in a small beer in the sun. In a single moment. And he smiled and walked inside and came back with two beers and joined me at my table. We toasted.

My Spanish is bad but you can say a lot with little words and understand almost everything when you allow yourself to listen and look carefully. He wanted to get me another beer but I told him I had things to do.

So I left. And walked. And thought about all those lonely people I’ve been meeting on the road in the last years, usually stuck in a place because their loneliness is too heavy to carry around. Waiting for somebody to pass by who can take some of it. But it doesn’t work like that.

Food for thought



Free shopping while walking. Lambsquarters (aka wild spinach), plantain (leaves and buds, lovely mushroom flavour), chickweed, borage flowers, daisies, ox-eye daisy.

19.5.17

Day 2. Of course there is snow.



It is cold at the campsite in Err. Err. It sounds as if the village is hesitant to exist.
The record label I helped founding years ago and still do the photography for is called ERR. Evil Rabbit Records. Every word represents many worlds. Earlier today I read "When you lose a language, you lose the world view that it encapsulates.” It was an article about the Gaelic language. But it goes for any language. Any part of a language. A single word even.

The language I am surrounded by here, on my walk, has had some hard times. It was banned in the early 18th century, saw a literary revival in the 19th century, received an official status during the Second Spanish republic (1931-37) but was banned in schools and in the public administration during Franco's dictatorship (1939-75). Since the transition to democracy, Catalan has been recognised as an official language and these days there is no parallel in Europe for such a large bilingual community.

I still don’t hear the difference between Spanish and Catalan when I don’t listen really carefully. I often just focus on trying to understand what is being said and my old knowledge of French (which is closely related to Catalan) and new knowledge of Spanish is mixed up in my head, the words I hear just land on this texture of language knowledge and my brain is more keen on making sense of it than working out what language it is. Maybe that’s odd and when I say this to Catalan friends they seem to be a bit offended, as if I’m saying there is no real difference between the two languages but I guess it touches upon an old pain and doesn’t have anything to do with me. If there is anything I value it is language and the differences and similarities between languages.

I walked through the snow today. I could have known but when I started out on this walk, when I packed my things in Barcelona, I hadn’t thought about it for a minute. Of course there is snow. I am in the Pyrenees and the highest point today, the Coll de Finestrelles, is 2.744 meter.
Before I left Núria I had a last look at the Playpark. It was completely deserted. Yesterday I was a bit annoyed by it but today I thought it is actually quite nice that a place where people used to go to ask the Holy Virgin to give them children now is flooded with children in summer time. You always have to be careful what you ask for.

It was a beautiful walk, not easy, but not too strenuous. I’m not sure I have the proper words to describe the amazing views. The clouds veiled some of it from time to time but their movements presented a spectacle in itself, as if they were performing for me. Big birds of prey, stones that had been tread on by uncountable people, the feeling of being part of eternity and of being nothing more than a coincidence in time. Most of the trail was quite barren, rocks in every shade of grey, some pine trees and sturdy grass and complete silence most of the time. I saw a walker in the distance now and then but most of the route I was alone in the landscape.

I met Antonia and Juan at the highest point. They were walking the same road. Their big smiles made me realise I had been smiling as well walking through the landscape. Smiles like thresholds between the outside world and our own inner selves. She took off her sunglasses so we could look each other in the eye and she wished me a safe journey. 

I hadn’t realised I had crossed the border, somehow I thought I would stay on the Spanish side. I never pay too much attention to borders. Made up lines to devide, only existing as a line on a map or as a natural feature like a river in the best case, manmade out of stone and fear in the worst. And I also found out too late that the warm sulphurous baths of Llo were on my route. If I would have known, I wouldn’t have lingered so much. My limbs hated me when I continued and I promised myself I would come back some other day. But I remembered all the other times I told myself I would come back to a place I loved or didn’t have the chance to visit ……

Err in the rain. I was too late to visit the Museum. I had read about its garden where old and local vegetable varieties were being kept alive and where workshops are being held to inform people and teach them about medicinal use of plants, but when I walked by and stopped to read the info on the door a man opened it from the inside and invited me in. He showed me the last Catalan gourds and told me about Salvador Sampietro, the last manufacturer who died in the 1990’s, with him a centuries-old tradition.

I thought about him when I walked the last bit to the campsite. These things always make me sad but maybe it is a false sentiment. We can’t keep all traditions alive. Just like we can’t stay alive ourselves forever.

Stories are like seeds from the cosmos


Planned route for today


 https://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=10540201

18.5.17

Day 1. Sowing daydreams. Queralbs - Núria


There are only two ways to get from Queralbs to Núria. My two favourite ways of travelling. There is the rack railway, the Tren Cremallera, covering a distance of 12.5 km over an incline of more than 1,000 metres and the only other way is on foot. It is an easy choice. Even if it wouldn’t have been my plan anyway.

May is a beautiful month to walk, especially in Spain. The air is soft and it is much colder than it was in Barcelona, in the city at sea level, but the temperature is perfect for a walk.
The train station is huge for a village so small. The stone building matches the other houses. When I walk through the streets memories from a residency in a small mountain village in Portugal return.  One corner is almost similar to this goat flooded Portuguese haven where I tried to be a farmer and an artist at the same time.

I see a few other walkers wandering around and even four mountain bikers. Maybe there is a third way to cross the mountains. They are posing in front of a small shop selling bread and cheeses. I almost feel sad about having brought enough food to get me to Núria.
I am in no hurry. And even if I would have been, the energy of this place would have dissolved it straight away. I walk through the portico of the roman church of Sant Jaume that was built here more than 1000 years ago. The columns house fantastic creatures, my favourite one depicts what seems to be a man swallowing the wings of two griffins.

The route is well sign-posted. There are flowers everywhere, ash trees and hazelnut trees and some cream coloured cows to make it even more idyllic. Forest at first, then open meadows and space opening up. The big mountains around the valley are still covered in snow. At some point I think I hear a big animal behind me but it is only a runner,  a speedy walker, more keen on being somewhere in as little time as possible than being as slow as daylight permits, which is sort of my speed. More time to enjoy the amazing views.

It is an old road I am walking and I am aware of all the other footsteps that have been left here through the centuries. Sometimes I even forget I walk through the modern world until I find myself on a paved bit again or bump into the railway track.

I meet a man on the road. He is a walker from Barcelona, my age. He has the light tread of an experienced walker. He doesn’t like circular walks, he prefers to walk from here to there, from one point in the landscape to another point, far away. He walks in summer and winter, he wouldn’t even know how to not walk. Restless feet. Eyes eager for new horizons. He tells me Núria is a river. Its best known waterfall is called “ponytail”, Cua de Cavall. I ask him how I can recognise it and he tells me I will when I see it.

I do.

I take off my shoes and stand in the small pool at the foot of the ponytail, close enough for the waterdrops to land on my face, far enough not to get too wet. I wouldn’t mind in summer but temperatures aren’t that high up here in spring. The altitude is close to 2.000 metres.

The road zigzags down, a building that tries to be as big as the mountains but has no chance pops up in-between some rocks when I least expect it. The circular lake has a beautiful blue-green colour.
The Sanctuary of the Virgin of Núria is massive. It was the venue chosen by the Republican Catalan Government to draft the "1932 Statute”, also known as "Núria Statute". It used to be a popular place of pilgrimage: San Gil, bishop of Nîmes, carved an image of the Virgin out of wood while living in a cave in the valley around 700. He enticed local shepherds to listen to the word of God by sharing the food he prepared in a copper pot, ringing a bell to alert them when meals were ready. Giles preached Christianity to the local populace for four years, until Romans threatened religious persecution. He fled, but not before hiding the pot, bell, cross, and the icon of the Virgin Mary.
It was found again in the 11th century by shepherds who then tried to carry it in procession to Queralbs, but failed "because it wanted to stay at Núria.”
The image of the Virgin of Núria suffered exile from 1936 to 1942 because of the Civil War and later remained kidnapped (1967-1972) by Catalan patriots. It is back now and I spent some time looking at her. The colours on the walnut wood are still vivid. Baby Jesus is in a somewhat awkward position leaning on her lap. She looks very solemn and somewhat sad.

I don’t know what to think of this place. It is gorgeous but the tourist energy defiles the pilgrim spirit.  The most beautiful places become the most sought after ones. Once couples who couldn’t get children came here to pray to the image of the Virgin of Núria. The shepherds regarded the Blessed Virgin as a patron saint of fertility. Now the Playpark is the most important activity in Vall de Núria. It is an area designed for children and families. It includes: mountain karts, circuit of scooters, sensory pool, balance games, elastic beds, slack line, rock climbing, tyroline, tubbings, conveyor belts

It makes me feel cold after the wonderful walk but it might be the low temperature as well. It will be close to 0 degrees tonight. But I’ll be in a warm bed.

Early start tomorrow, 17 kilometers to a place with the wonderful name “Err”. But no rest until I left some traces. I brought Cosmos seeds. The pink one is my favourite, “Cosmos Daydream”.



how to walk in different worlds


Let the walk begin!


17.5.17

Trying to walk

 
I don’t want to deceive you. I am not really out there walking. I am in a small house about 5 kilometers from Figueres, just outside the village of Camallera, in the Nau Côclea residency. I will spend 18 days here, staying inside and walking through the internet every day, imagining I am really on the walk I will make for real in August and September, accompanied by different people daily. There will be two stories of the same walk, both real in different ways, both walked in different ways.

There is a word that looks similar in the Spanish and English language. Pretender. I embroidered it on the walking suit I wore for a year in 2015, the year I decided to have Barcelona as my base. In English it means “to pretend”. In Spanish it means “to try”.

The route I walk now is the same route I will be walking in summer. I am using the information from webcams, other peoples’ blogs and Facebook, wheather forecast sites, Google Earth, websites about places we will visit for real, anything I can find online. And I will use my imagination. That will be the most important source.

What is real? What is reality? What does it mean when we say we “walk through”? What is walking? I hope to touch upon all these questions in the next 18 days. And I am curious how the two stories of a similar walk done in different ways will overlap, touch upon each other, differ.

I will spend every day in the next 18 days as many hours as the “real’ walk is expected to take online, walking there as if I am walking through the real world. I will start every day at the time we will start walking on the corresponding day in summer. I will write a story of the walk every evening.

Let’s see what happens. And you are very welcome to walk with me. Here in the next 18 days and from Queralbs to the Montserrat mountains (or any stretch of that road) in August/September.