On Thursday morning last week I left home, as always, with the profoundest of misgivings. I consider it unwise to leave home and go travelling at the best of times; you might come across somewhere nicer than the place you live… and then where would you be?
I drove west for a couple of hours, dumped the motor, flew north for an hour, then took a train due north from Sants station in Barcelona up a long forested valley to Vic… pronounced ‘beak’, it said in the notes. In Beak there was only the last bus, and the last bus didn’t go all the way to where I wanted to go… but it went to L’Esquirol, and I liked the sound of that, so for two Euros eighty I signed up for the trip. L’Esquirol turned out to be a dead and alive sort of a place, and still eighteen kilometres from where I wanted to be, which was, as you might have guessed by now, Rupit.
So, hitching my bag on my shoulder, I stepped out onto the highway. It was a warm evening and a pale ribbon of road wound with no fences through fields of green corn. The sun was setting behind me and a few indeterminate birds gladdened the evening with their song. Sod’s Law says that when you are enjoying a walk like this some cabrón * will stop and give you a lift. (*Cabrón is a term much used by the Spanish; depending on tone of voice it can be affectionate or an impardonable insult, fighting talk. It means ‘cuckold’.)
After ten minutes on the road a grubby old van rumbled up behind me. I stuck my thumb out in half-hearted fashion… and it stopped. Santi was a crazy old guy like me, with curly greying hair and round glasses, the sort of cabrón who gives people lifts. He wasn’t going to Rupit, but he took me there anyway. As I waved goodbye to him on the outskirts of the village, we vowed undying friendship. I felt good; one forgets how good it feels to go hitch-hiking and get a lift.
Rupit… I looked down at it with suspicion. Something was wrong. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. And then I got it: I cannot ever remember seeing a village or a town that was not spoiled by some disfiguring excrescence. It’s the way the modern world is; we have come to expect ugliness, mediocrity and disneyification. Where people live and work is generally hideous, and when we encounter something that doesn’t fit this norm, we feel confused. I thought for a minute that I had slipped through some glitch in the warp and weft of time and entered a parallel universe. Perhaps there had been more to Santi’s van that met the eye.