The Fiat and the fig tree
and 5th gear
We’re in 5th gear! My mother’s triumphant cry from shotgun. Celebrating what was to be victory 1 of many.
This was progress from the 10 minutes prior as we sat in the baking fiat, contemplating our options.
…..well, can you get a refund on the hotel?
…well, what could we do with it overnight?
Find a parking garage.
Can you drive?
I can’t drive a manual with a cast
We had in our charge a micro European fiat with a very European manual transmission. I assured Manuel at Avis, and my mom that yes- I do know how to drive one of these. My high school boyfriend taught me how, and that beat up old Plymouth truck in New Mexico. Sure. Yea. This is fine. No sweat.
This was not fine.
It worked out ok though. Mom and I make a good team. She provided step by step dictation. Clutch shift gas. Before we knew it (actually after what felt like an agonizing amount of time), we had made it to the highway and out of the stop and go traffic.
Cruising up A7 toward Girona, reflecting upon the state of our competency, we did some refiguring of the weekend agenda. Initially, the plan was to head up to the Temps de Flors- an extravagant annual spring festival where the old town streets of Girona are covered in fresh cut flowers. It came as a recommendation from a colleague and being reticent to lose a valuable 3 day weekend, I booked Mom and I in a small B&B in northern Catalonia for the day after she flew into Barcelona.
Given the circumstance, we felt maybe it would be best to hang out in the peaceful countryside for a couple of days. No Pressure. No schedule. No crowded narrow streets.
Our stay was at Encis de’Emporda. Once we saw the villa in the Spanish countryside, no regrets were had. The owner, Jordi, came out to greet us, opening the heavy metal gate. He was a tall, still young man without much hair and eyes predisposed to humorous squint. Handsome. He asked about our trip and shared sightseeing recommendationsand medieval towns to peruse. I joked that all this was missing was a horse- to which he quickly insisted to call over the neighboring stable to arrange something.
‘It’s a manual transmission’ he warned me with a wry smile as we gathered our bags and took the keys from the table. (The teasing began even before we managed to lock ourselves out of the room with the wrong key- by wrong key I mean we were trying to open the door with the wrong key. They key was also a manual, he chided us).
The rooms in the hotels were themed for guests that may have stayed, the sailor, the poet, the lord and lady- we stayed in the Artista’s room.
Over the next couple of days out there we wandered through the countryside behind the village- with views of sweeping poppy fields, ruined hilltop castles, and the Catalan Coastal mountain range. There was an ocean breeze even though there was no water in sight.
These are the things that stay in mind, more so than the order of events (I’m sure the time elapsed between happening and writing have no bearing).
A restaurant in Corçà called Raku with small plates of Sea Bass cous cous with wasabi, black chanterelle croquettes, a duck breast burger and a frothy desert of candied pineapplein melting cardamom ice cream. Jordi had picked well for us. We spilt a bottle of Catalan Cava and waited patiently in the fading light for the bill (Spanish pastime second only to futbol).
A memorable meal.
The second morning, much like a kid on Christmas, I crept out of bed to see how the sunlight looked on the stones. Mom was still asleep in the giant comfortable bed when I grabbed my camera.
Crowing roosters and song birds were the only sounds. As I walked back behind the town, rattling cowbells on the goats and sheep started to stir, with waking hopes I was bringing breakfast. Sorry sheep. Not today. The herd dog watched me with terrifying and silent focus as I passed.
Later that day we made the 40 minute drive to the infamous Costa Brava. White shorts, whiter smiles, and sapphire water all sparkled in painful perfection. Splashes of color from umbrellas and brightly painted doorways on the white stucco walls marked the cliffside coves. A time bending portal to 60s yacht club on the French/Spanish border had opened, and mom and I had come screeching and bunny hopping through it in our little manual chariot.
The sun was hot.
The stable Jordi made arrangements with is where his wife Mireia rides the horse she cares for. Mireia is a little pixie of a woman with a short, choppy blonde hair-do who studies your face as you speak. She was theatre major and her staging habits endure as she creates a vibrancy for each meal- placing the woven basket of bread with local apricot preserves on the table. She assured me the horses were well treated as she set down our café con leches. Jordi returned to the dining room with a slip of paper with the number for EDUARD scratched in square figures.
To get there, he said, is very easy. Illustrating for us-
‘First you go straight’ he walks away from the table.
‘then you follow this curve around’ now wheeling a bit and leaning to the right, bumping a table.
‘there is a dip’ he ducks, still walking
‘then up again’ straightening again
‘follow the curve and’ cranking his hands to the right ‘voila’
Standing now, by the door on the other side of the room ‘You see? Easy’
Clear as a map.
At 18h I gently parked the car without it dying first at Hipica la Clau.
The was no one around but two horses stood saddled and tied to a hitching pole. Looking around we were greeting by the old barn dogs. Looking at the horses, I guessed the larger, lighter bay on the right was mine, given the string of yellow twine tied over the pommel of the saddle- in case the rider needed help holding on.
A motorcycle buzzed past and honked. It was Jordi, checking in. He gave us a thumbs up and drove on.
Soon after a man with a wheel barrel walked up and shook my hand. He did not say much-
Si. Hablas Espanol?
He pointed to my horse. Angela. He is very good.
(An-hela, is a he)
We mounted up without much circumstance and headed toward the small town of Ullastret. Mom waved me off and headed out to explore by foot (broken arm and all)
Now, it has been some months since I have ridden, and I can’t quite put it to words. Joy wouldn’t be quite right, but there is a feeling of rightness, a sort of big enveloping OKness when riding. The world makes more sense viewed through the frame of a horses ears and thoughts of personal concerns feel tiresome and trivial.
Angela was/is a good steed, albeit a few paces slower than EDUARD’s Laredo. We would trail behind until I squeezed my thighs around him until he moved into a trot forward. It was a fun game for speed for a while.
EDUARD and I didn’t speak much. After we cleared the city streets I brought Angela up next to Laredo and asked for the Spanish words for trot/canter/gallop. It’s just trot and gallop here. So, I asked, Podemos trot? He didn’t reply immediately but looked at me a moment and nodded his head. Laredo, a much more responsive creature than Angela, moved out easily.
Before I knew it, we were Spanish galloping across L’Emporda. Between stretches of galloping, I found out that he is a polo player, and Laredo is a polo horse, which accounts for his dainty collected ‘gallop’. He also told me the stable was his, and we remarked on the cornfields and wildflowers. I said I wished I could stay out there, with the horses. He told me to come back. I think I will.
As we slowed and returned, we turned through the cobbled streets of Ullastret. We walked by tables of people eating outside the Cerveseria and children waved.
EDUARD and Laredo were a bit ahead of me, and, I will never forget, as the evening light silhouetted his figure swaying with the gait of the horse and painting the stones around him as they walked through a medieval archway, he lifted a cigarette to his lips.
How he managed to light the cigarette with one hand always on the reins, I may never know. All I knew is that I longed for my camera. It’s alright though, when my mind is a brittle and fragile web of incoherent memories, I have faith that this one will be there.
Eventually we returned the Fiat to Sabadell, almost successfully. A grandmother yelled “you drive bad!” at me in Spanish.
We made it back to the apartment she had barely been in since arriving, and after a glass of wine, began planning the trip to Southern France for the next weekend.
Car booked. I confirmed
To be continued…. In Provence!