Clambering Man – and Woman

Miguel always referred to our third day as the “large walk ”  – 11 miles through the Garrotxa, an area of forested, ancient volcanoes and a renowned beech forest – with several “steep ascents.”

In his giant book “Barcelona” (which I read on the trip and wish I’d read before), Robert Hughes describes Catalan art and life and people. He tells of the isolation of these foothills and mountains, and says communication was only possible at the speed of a “clambering man” – not climbing exactly, but requiring stretched thighs, well placed feet, and a slow pace.

On the third day, a dark cloud moved close while we ate a lunch packed by Carmen (sandwich of cheese and ham or fruit paste on crusty, chewy bread). Raindrops began with five miles to go, so we pulled out jackets – and got soaked by hard but never cold rain.

Maybe the rain made the approach to ancient Santa Pau perfect. In the distance, from the field where we stopped to share the second of our tiny bottles of Ratafia Russet (bought at a local Farm Co-op earlier in the day – along with cherries and chocolate), we could see Santa Pau’s 15th century castle and church tower through rain and mist. It was easy to imagine being footsore travelers of old.

The young people high-fived at the door to a small hotel in converted country house, and we all celebrated in a restaurant with low ceilings and thick walls, on the main square of the oldest part of town, ancient setting with upscale dining.

The rain passed in the night and left a morning all sunshine and summer – silent in Santa Pau save birdsong. At the 100-year old alimentacio where I went in search of beans, I stood and waited my turn and tried to take it all in – a small space, by modern super market terms, high shelves with more storage reached by a ladder like an old-fashioned library. The shopkeeper had one or two of everything.

I couldn’t understand a word – in this part of Catalonya only Catalan is spoken – and that’s when smiles and nods and hand gestures become language. I wonder what they are talking about – but mostly just relish the differentness of such a familiar activity – finding groceries, planning dinner in this place with a real scale in use, bill toted up by pencil and paper. Each woman had a big basket into which she tucked slices of cheese or meat wrapped in brown paper.

No beans though, at least not packaged for tourists – so I bought Ratfaia Russet – and located fesols in a shop in the main square.

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