Cous and Rain get to gettin'
September 30th to October 12th
Cinque Terre and Ang Chapin are in our rearview. So is Italy altogether. The roads suck there, no kidding, and Hajji is pleased that France lays on the horizon. Another EU border crossing, which means that the road continues and nothing changes except the language of the signs. Here we are in France!
The sun is going down, revealing the Mediterranean as more gray than blue. Hajji has had a long day today, and she needs a rest. "Whaddya say, first town we hit, we stop?"
Not far down the road, that first town turns out to be...you'll never guess...are you ready?....Monaco!
Hajji rolls down the smooth, rich roads which weave down the smooth, rich hills which shield and insulate the haughty principality. And our first and most prevalent feeling is that we don't really belong. But it's a good feeling, one that we have been married to for months now, like when you go to a party and you're dressed like a bum, but a cool and hip bum, and you're out of place in a sea of preppies but in your mind you know you're obviously way more righteous than these lousy squares.
So we try to get in to the Monte Carlo Casino, but they can smell our poverty. We use their gilded bathrooms and wash ourselves but it's no good, they see right through us - off we go...to the Marriott, a more Hajji-friendly (sounding) establishment. Here's a taste of what we got in Monaco: at the business centre at the Marriott, we inquire as to the cost of the internet; the lady's reply: €12...for 15 minutes! Off we go again.
On the left, the Casino, flanked by Hotel de Paris.
Hajji got teased.
France is a blur the next day, what with 10 hours of driving through the Cote d'Azur and then South towards Spain. We need to get to Barcelona by tomorrow morning, to catch up with my sweet Mama and my new dad David, (hereon he shall be referred to as David, or simply ND). Go Hajji Go, you robust and puissant and sexy stalwart you, Go! Barcelona waits for us, and opens its infinite riches to us...Go!
Barcelona is a definite babe, effortlessly attractive and deliciously unattainable, just like a muskrat all slinking around and inviting you to stare at its strange beauty. We are cautioned to leave Hajj outside the city limits, on account of Barca being a savage place to drive, but we disregard this unworthy advice, flinging it from us with disdain and disapproval, as if it were a suffocating cape and we the all-talented magician. The Hajji has driven the mad streets of Belgrade, Thessaloniki, Istanbul, and damn the heck all over Albania - blow me down if we aren't gonna let her loose at Barcelona.
We glide down Las Ramblas, Ren in her deadman pants and a new pair of Spanish boots and me in a new-to-me pair of mini small swim trunks and a €1 dress shirt, peering and leering at the food various well-to-dos are having in the sidewalk cafes. We spy a couple's plates, anchovies and calamari, big beers to boot, and move to keep walking, but stop after chancing a look away from the food and into the faces: it's my Mum and ND! Rejoice!! A meeting, months in the making, finally coming to reality!
Let me stop here, to congratulate these two lovers on the right, on getting engaged to be married! Everyone's invited - June 2010. Love you guys! (Note to the reader: Alright, Rain's not actually wearing her new Spanish boots, but I swear they're in the bag under the table.)
We pick up my brother Simon the next morning at the airport, spend the day wandering and flea-marketing, and the following day, at dawn, the Hajji is pushed up the ramp from her sleepinghole under the hotel by my Mum, David, and Manuel the Peruvian bellhop, and starts her slow jaunt South, towards the hill-town of Antequera, and the summer home of some incredible family friends, Winkle and Philip Haworth.
Can't drive with ruddy teeth.
960 kms from Barcelona to Antequera...that's two full days in Hajji-speak.
The drive with Ren, Si and I is nice and uneventful, save for when the load is bumped up from a nice round 3, to a smelly round 5. About a hundred kms North of Valencia, at a regularly-scheduled pit, I am approached by two young fellas who are definitely not Jehovah's Witnesses. They have a bag of vegetables they have just pilfered from an adjacent field, a guitar, Bavarian accents, and are looking for a ride South..."No problem!" I say. "Hop in."
Jonas and Lukas...or Lukas and Jonas...the one on the right wearing that poncho I found behind a bin in Portovenere.
Turns out they are travelling Europe relying completely on the kindness of strangers - they have only 20 Eurocents between them. (Unlike us, who only depend on the kindness of public toilets, friends and family, and free internet at municipal libraries.) We end up driving them all the way to Granada, over two separate days, to a hippie hoe-down in the city. But with not enough time of our own to join, we have to leave them there and proceed to Antequera. We arrive at the marvelous villa, recently erected by Philip and Winkle Haworth, near sunset on the second day.
The next four days are spent in the supple and bountiful and sweet-smelling hands and pockets of people older and more financially secure than ourselves. With my Mum Elizabeth, my ND David, Winkle and Philip there to greet us, the few days promised to be wonderful and comfortable. So it was that every meal was a mouthful and bellyful of bonanza, every drink like a drop of honey, and every sleep a rest deeper than the blue of my eyes.
The spectacular maison.
The magnificent piscine.
But like a dream, it had to end. On the morning of the Friday, a work-week's worth of suckling comes to a close. We pack up, say a thousand thank-yous to the terrific Mr. and Mrs. Haworth, and make further inland toward Cordoba, and the arms of Alvaro, Ben's Spanish father who you will remember from our time spent in Prague, and the entry entitled "Western Europe Bonanza".
From L to R: Simon, Alvaro's brother Chico, Alvaro's mum, his dad the Professor, Alvaro himself, and me.
His beautiful family and beautiful house and smelly beautiful dog make us all feel like princes and princesses. We get there, go swimming, eat delicious typical Cordoban foods like salmorejo, (pictured above it is the red mixture in the bowl, and is perfect...look it up), and then promptly proceed to glutton down a bottle of Four Roses bourbon and many jars of burr. My brother and I, you will see in the photos below, quickly go from mild-mannered champions of calm and correctness to the drunkest men in Europe - Alvaro is forced to tell us a dozen times to stop acting like children, as we roughhouse in the car on the drive home from the bar early the next morning.
Si, taking advantage.
Nice young men for sure.
Three Canadians and a Spaniard - Si, Rain (also looking good), myself and a top-notch friend of Alvaro's.
But on the Sunday, we have to say another goodbye to another friend. We leave Alvaro and drive back down South to drop Si off at the Malaga airport, from where he is to return to his life in Vancouver. It was really a super nice week we had with my brother, and I got a kick out of him every day. Ren and I are totally excited to be moving to Van in the New Year, and a major reason is that we'll be closer to Si.
So now, with Hajji only carrying two, the obvious thing to do is go to Africa. We gain Gibralter, that odd outcrop of British jingoism, later that same evening. Unlike Spain in almost every way it is: the architecture and city layout, the immigrants aren't from former Spanish colonies but from former British ones, and obviously the language. Even the weather is different from the country that surrounds it: the clouds hang over the Rock and nowhere else, and it really feels like we are in the UK...strangest place we have been in a long time. But wait, things are soon to get even more wacky - Morocco!
- got ran out of Monaco on account of being paupers
- met up with the family in sexy Barcelona
- spent 4 perfect nights in Antequera with the Haworths
- saw wonderful Alvaro in Cordoba
- lost Si to the skies
- went to Gibraltar, and readied ourselves for North Africa
The Hajji is strong, and thinking of you all, past participants, absent friends, and well-wishers.
Talk to you soon.