Thursday night in the Bar Mundo, had become our spot for post Salsa/pre-weekend random discussions covering business administration, domestic chores, artistic projects, artistic anxiety, frustrations, humiliations, observations and anything else that comes to mind. We’d more or less finished the renovation project. True, the unfinished entrance hall, half-stripped staircase, naked light bulbs and a dozen other minor goblins lurked around the house to spook us into action but they were generally of minor importance and could be easily ignored. We were both back at work, extremely busy and the coffers were being replenished. However, a bit of unease was beginning to edge back into our lives. We hadn’t had a full blown holiday for four years and the return to the daily grind had reduced our artistic pursuits to a sluggish drift. We’d built our dream bedsit with two full size studios but had little time to work in them. After all the dust, sweat and tears of the previous two years the spectre of us returning to the drudgery we’d hoped to escape loomed closer and closer. We needed to clear our heads. We needed to go to Spain.
With that decision planning began. The selection of a farm in the country and a house by the sea, a week in each, was quickly settled. A car was hired and rest stops in each direction reserved. Logistics organised, our attention turned inwards towards what we each hoped to achieve during our break. My personal plan took on the telltale signs of the aimless direction that had installed itself inside my head and was festooned with timelines, milestones (or perhaps millstones), quick wins, medium term objectives, long term objectives, and all the other lifeless features of a modern business plan. It seemed like a good plan at the time. It was practical. There were achievable goals. Minor encouragements to initiate and accelerate momentum. But, to be honest, it was bland. Still, it was a plan and a start.
And with that we started. Early Saturday morning we hit the road with only the buzz of a dozen challenges, problems and arguments from work swirling around inside my head to disturb the quiet. We never listen to the radio while in the car and, although we always try to remember, we always manage to forget to bring any music from the house along. Our journeys generally contain long periods of reflection occasionally punctuated by a short conversation. During these periods of reflection the issues of the day begin to find their natural position in the order of life. Workplace gremlins soon reduce to irrelevances and shuffle away to be forgotten while new and much more interesting pixies take up residence. The ubiquitous tension that comes with work dissipates, the tightness in the shoulders evaporates, breathing becomes more rhythmic, the hands on the steering wheel relax and guide rather than force, reactions become more measured, and the world becomes a better place.
We hit our first rest stop checked in, dumped our baggage and went for a walk. We’d stopped on the edge of Valence, a small city on the Rhone. The walk into town started along a fairly long stretch of road graced by neither footpath or sidewalk. Cars bustled and scurried uncomfortably close by in the evening rush to get home. Eventually the unnerving start led onto a park full of spring flowers, a murmuring waterfall, and whispering trees wrapping verdant lawns.
The city, on the other hand, was fairly nondescript. At the least the part of the city we explored was. We wandered aimlessly for a short while and then headed back through the enchanted park.
Our route took us past a committee of trees. The positioning of the two foremost suggested a portal and for some reason I stood transfixed for a long time. We finished the walk in silence.
The next day we returned to the rhythm of the road. As the Mediterranean came into view the sun played on the water creating flashes like sprites skipping about their business. The outside temperature gradually rose bringing a cheer from both of us as it approached a shorts and t-shirt level. Eventually the blue haze in the distance crystallised into mountains as the Pyrenees edged closer. As we approached the border the might and mass of the mountains, the ragged skyline, and the chill from the snow capped peaks combined to send shivers down our spines. We ascended gently, twisting and turning sharply up the mountain road. Finally we reached the pass, turned one last corner and the vibrant green of fresh pastures, the rich browns of plowed fields dotted with bright green and yellow sparks of new life and the dusty water of the river as it meandered along the lowlands towards the sea hove into view. For some reason this song burst into my head….