I Walked Into a Pole

Travel Blog 9: There’s Water Under the Ocean

Today I walked into a pole. It was a street lamp, to be precise. I was strolling along while watching people play tennis. Then I walked into a pole.

Normally, I am more animal than man. I live in fear at consistent intervals. My senses are built for sudden movement. I would rather quake in fear than eat at the sight of food if the lizard part of my brain senses danger. Instead, today I walked into a pole, a scene straight out of a cartoon. I even heard the thronging clang of skull on metal. I reeled back, shook my head, confused. Normally I would be angry, but today I’m nonplussed. My only thought, “who does that? Who just walks distracted into poles?”

This kind of man. The one who finally arrives in Spain, but more particularly Basque country only two days ago, rounds the corner onto the famous beaches of San Sebastian that by 3 p.m. were swarming with people, and has an immediate inclination to get somewhere high, like a bird trying to escape predators. 

Monte Urgull is one of the three main sites in the Bay of LaConcha, a part of the area that represents some of the oldest parts of Donastia-San Sebastian. Feudal lords long recognized the strategic importance of the site. It contains the old relics of a 12th century stronghold. It was a major site of battle during the Napoleonic Wars during the Peninsular Campaign of England’s Sir Arthur Wellesley during their last efforts to excise the French from Spain. It took two separate sieges, and after the final assault by the English and Portuguese forces, the soldiers sacked and razed the city to the ground.

At the top of Urgull now stands the remains of the battery, as well as a massive statue of Jesus installed in the 1950s. Under  the site of Christ’s blank gaze there’s a small bar serving local craft beers and wines. It’s better up there, sitting on old stone as the afternoon drifts into evening. And it’s not just the lazy sun that hangs on a loose fulcrum, waiting for some great, invisible force to plunge it finally to the horizon. It’s not the guitar and soft vocals that always seems to sound better in a language you don’t know well, nor the alcohol starting to flow through the veins before settling in the empty stomach. It’s not even the view, that great vista that abuts the ramparts on the other side of the bay, that long edifice leading to the buildings built into the hill, their clay-tiled roofs framing the green mountains to the southeast and the endless Atlantic to the North.

From up high, the world is better, because from here we don’t have to be reminded of our insignificance. The mountains aren’t so tall. Man’s structures aren’t so imposing. The people down there are just drops of color roving along the sand.

Tomorrow I’m leaving and going back to France. I was planning on going to Barcelona and potentially even Madrid, but as soon as I arrived I read the news that Germany had placed small restrictions on travel to the country from Spain, and that France was warning people against entering. 

As Spain sees a continued growth in the number of COVID infections, I really had no better option than to immediately book a return bus into France before any new restrictions come up. It’s a shame, especially because I’ve longed to visit Barcelona ever since I’ve read “Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, which paints the city in a sweeping, gothic tone. I wanted to visit places referenced in the book. There’s even an entire special Google Map I was going to use. So it goes.

So I didn’t want to immediately run back into France and give up what little time I had here. I’ve swam in the strangely cool, navy waters of the bay and turned my face as crimson as a strawberry from being out in the sun. I watched people on the beach, men and women both going topless. I watched and saw ways people express their love that goes beyond physical intimacy, or even words. 

On Donastia’s beaches, a common activity you’ll see people doing is paddle ball, just hitting it back and forth with the leisurely nature of a game of catch. One man, an old fellow who had a laborer’s wide body and had become a little paunchy in his midsection as he’s aged, paddled a ball to a woman, younger than him, it seemed, a black one piece bathing suit decorated in vines and flowers. Is it his wife? She seems a little young for him, but that doesn’t mean anything. It could be his daughter, or maybe even just a friend. The one thing that I know about this man is that he loves this woman, in some way. It’s the way he hits the ball to her, always to his left side, every time. I look at her, trying to tell which is her dominant hand, and she holds the racket in her left. He’s precise, always hitting it to the same spot on her side. She tries, but less skilled, it comes at him at strange angles. He hits a high lob to her, and she sends it to the ground by the man’s feet. An “eyyy” of disappointment, but he’s not blaming her, he’s blaming himself for not being fast enough. It’s like that for every ball that lands a bit too short.

There’s a lot of those emotions, of young couples sitting together, holding hands, arms, each other. It’s not hard to see why Spain’s COVID numbers are going up when I walk down one alleyway in the Old Town, where there are a huge numbers of tapas bars (in Basque country the tapas are called pintxos and they’re slightly different from their Spanish counterparts) and there was a wall of young people lining the thin street with beers in their hands, practically all without masks. The COVID numbers are allegedly rising, according to Spanish officials, because of young, unvaccinated people trying to enjoy summer delights despite the pandemic. It is a shame then, because I won’t be enjoying it with them.

So things have changed pretty significantly. My new plan is to go to Toulouse and then to Marseilles before going north into Switzerland, starting with Geneva. After that it’s onto Germany and then north and north until I hopefully make it to Copenhagen. Let’s see if it works out.

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