Marigold waiting for lunch to arrive
‘Hospes nullus tam in amici hospitium diverti potest, Quin ubi triduum continuum fuerit jam odiosus siet’
has been my view of visitors for many a long year.
Oh, sorry, one forgets we’re not all Latin scholars here. (Yes, of course I looked up ‘the Latin bit.’ I’ve not had many opportunities to chat to Ancient Romans since I first learnt this deadest of dead languages).
Anyway, here’s the best translation I can offer: ‘No one can be so welcome a guest that he will not become an annoyance when he has stayed three continuous days in a friend’s house.’
There’s an Indian proverb that’s even more restrictive: ‘The first day a guest, the second day a guest, the third day a calamity.’ Hmm, I can see the thinking behind that one as well.
With very good friends, we can stretch hospitality to a week or even two, but after that… We’re both accustomed to ‘just us’ and value our lifestyle too much to disrupt it by artificially doing ‘stuff’ solely to please or entertain others. Curmudgeons, both.
I’v been thinking about ‘hospitality’ as we went to meet up with some old friends the other day. Friends we met only briefly but they kept in touch, which is not easy given our propensity for wandering off on a frequent basis. Jean-Pierre and Marie are a young couple we first met ‘on the road.’ They're back in Spain, staying at a Parador no less, and wondered if we were close enough to visit. Well, we were not exactly round the corner, but close enough so we said yes. Every now and again we meet people whose company we value and the young French couple are a case in point.
Life on the road is far removed from conventional living. People tend to be friendlier. Possibly because we’re all just passing through. Travellers help each other out. In many different ways. One of the many reasons we like travelling is the number of friends we make. Not friends for life in most cases, obviously, but people whose company adds to an occasion. Conviviality is an ideal condition.
Being on the road brings fresh challenges, new vistas, every day. We like meeting new people. Chatting. Especially when we know we’ll almost certainly never meet again. That allows a certain freedom in a conversation. We like that. New places. Different countries. It wouldn’t suit everyone, this seeming rootless aspect of our life. We accept that. We've given up attempting to justify the reasons we do what we do to people who see us as ‘odd.’
We were in Tarifa at the time we first met J-P and Marie and it was cold at night. I remember that. One of the many reasons we spend so much of the winter months in Spain is the warmth, but a clear sunny day often means a chilly night and this had been one of those occasions. Not ‘England in February’ cold, but decidedly nippy. No central heating in our little van so it was back to ‘snuggling’ as a defence against frostbite. Our all-time favourite form of heating.
Two youngsters were sleeping in a tent, just up the road. Sheltered by a sand dune they may have been, but only the third tent we’ve seen since Christmas. One of those lightweight jobs you see at festivals too, not intended for roughing it. Okay, they’re kids; they’re tough, we thought, but even so. We shared a meal with them the next night. Jean-Pierre was twenty and wants to be a chef when he’s got the surfing bug out of his system. Good luck with that, mate, I thought. Once a surfer.... He’s from Biarritz, a great place for surfing, and has been across to Morocco already and is now out on the water every day here in Tarifa. As for being a chef: well, I can vouch for his chopping skills – never seen anyone chop a tomato into fifty slices in two seconds before!
Marie is a delicately framed nineteen-year-old waif. Far beyond pretty, and I still notice these things! She’s a surfer too, but without her boyfriend’s fanaticism. We talked about them in the night. It was pure ‘snuggle territory’ inside our van so what would it be like under cover of what amounted to not much more than a big umbrella?
Sunshine at dawn warmed everyone up and we were relieved to see our neighbours had avoided hypothermia. ‘I’ll make porridge,’ Marigold said. ‘Invite them over.’ My wife is kind to everybody. I’m more judgemental, to say the least, but with a surfer and a pretty girl involved I was straight off across the sand.
They turned up five minutes later, one bedraggled, unshaven and blokeish, one looking as fragrant as a vision – you’ll know by now which was which.
We scoffed obscene amounts of porridge, drank a gallon of coffee and chatted like old friends. They speak some English, we speak some French so it was one of those conversations we’d had many times on our travels. The ones where we start of in one language, end up in another or denigrate into that bizarre hybrid where I’ll ask a question in French and the reply comes back in English. Happens all the time!
We were going into town – the usual quest for Internet access – but decided to walk along the beach as the sunshine was so pleasant. ‘Keep an eye on the van for us?’ we asked and they nodded agreement. Porridge on a chilly morning secures massive amounts of goodwill.
Three hours later, we were back and from a hundred yards away I could see our van door was open and the tent was missing.
I’m not the runner I used to be – crap knees – but broke a personal best getting to the van. Had it been ransacked? Had the bastards taken all our money, found where I’d hidden the passports and scarpered? As I lurched to the door and flung it wide open, I was met by the sight of Marie slicing bread in the ‘kitchen.’
‘I was just making you some lunch,’ she said, brightly. ‘Jean-Pierre has gone to try to buy a new tent as I told him that one is no good. Pouf!’ She did that Gallic shrug thing and added a beaming smile to welcome my wife’s arrival.’
‘Bread?’ I said. Sometimes, I annoy myself at the way trivia comes to the fore. Quite often, actually.
‘Oh, J-P went into town for bread, salad and cheese. You like?’
‘Yes,’ my wife replied. ‘We like very much. Thank you.’
We met behind the van for a debriefing. ‘I locked the van,’ I insisted.
‘I always lock the van.’ Honestly, I’m obsessed with security. Van locking is my speciality.
‘Doesn’t look like it, does it?’
I was about to accuse Marie of being an accomplished burglar when she popped her head around the van and said Jean-Pierre’s car was on the way back. I looked at that face; the very picture of innocence, and concluded I must indeed have walked away without locking the van.
‘I had a lot on my mind,’ I offered in justification and received one of those ‘Marigold’ looks to which I’ve become accustomed over the years.
The new tent was a sturdy beast and we all scrambled around, erecting it. It only took us thirty five minutes. A label on the bag in which it came assured the purchaser it was capable of erection (ooh, matron!) in three minutes by one person.
Jean-Pierre offered to loan me his board, but not his wetsuit. In fairness, I’m a tad larger, he’s more of a Tom Cruise while I’m er, not Tom Cruise. The sea was raging in, huge waves pounding the shore. It’s the Atlantic so the water was also bitterly cold. ‘Thank you, but not today,’ I said. He shrugged and went off to surf. After all this time, I’m now officially nesh! Never thought the day would come I’d not take up an offer to go surfing as the water was too cold. Then, there’s forgetting to lock the van. Is this the slippery slope towards dotage?
About the same time, we met a very different friend. He was big, shaggy-haired and his tongue lolled out of his mouth when he walked. Yes, of course, he was a dog. Do you think we associate with weirdoes? He galloped up one morning, tail wagging furiously and forced us to notice him by charging into my legs and almost knocking me over. No collar, yet obviously well cared for and friendly, he hung around all day. As it grew dark and even spotted with rain, he was still there. He’d adopted us.
‘We can’t leave him out there.’ One of us said. ‘It’s raining.’
I looked out. It was indeed spotting with rain, but hardly a downpour. Common sense said the dog had a perfectly good home somewhere he could go to, he’d be missed, and our van was only just big enough for us. All valid points which I made with some vigour. So, obviously, we let him in, found him a blanket to sleep on and decided we’d find his owners in the morning.
Sleep didn’t come easy that night. Not that our new friend howled, fidgeted, or scratched at the door to go out. He slept like a baby on his blanket and never moved. He also farted.
Huge, rasping farts, loud enough to wake anyone from a coma. I could cope with the noise. The accompanying smell made me glad I hadn’t fitted one of those gas alarms that sensible campers have. The siren would have been going all night long.
The sheer unfairness of that first dig in the ribs. ‘For God’s sake!’
‘It wasn’t me.’
‘You always say… Oh!’ Another eruption assailed our ears, very shortly transferring to our noses.
We looked at each other in the darkness and laughed like drains at each offering from our blissfully unaware companion. The humour vanished after an hour or so, but we made it to dawn, somehow. The owner of ‘Jaime’ was heard calling out plaintively in the sand dunes. ‘Jaime’ pricked up his ears and when I opened the van door, bolted without a backward glance. Ungrateful beast.
‘I’ll leave the door open, shall I?’
‘Definitely. For about a week.’
Two very different friendships. A young couple who I was prepared to hunt down and kill after imagining our kindness returned by breaking and entering and a dog who’d abused our offer of shelter by farting all night long. Both friendships will linger long in our memory.
We've overdosed on Christmas markets by now so a trip out to meet old friends was welcome. J-P is a proper chef now, working ruinously long hours, so not much time for surfing. Or holidays. Marie is as lovely as ever, if perhaps a tad more sensible these days, but we both hope she'll grow out of it!
The upgrade from a basic tent to their present accommodation couldn't be more drastic. The Parador at Lorca is newly built and right next door to the massive castle that overhangs the town. We found the way in, eventually, and ended up at a metal barrier with an intercom. Marigold pressed the button and was rewarded with a barrage of incomprehensible squawking.
After a lengthy pause came an abrupt squawk.
‘What you want?’
Ah, the difficult questions first, eh? Marigold's renowned ability to talk to anyone, anywhere, at any time does not extend to inadequate objects like intercoms so it was a while before she managed to persuade the man at the other end of the line to raise the drawbridge, well a metal barrier, and admit us. We drove through a dark tunnel and arrived on the top of a hill with the castle at our backs and a stunning view before us.
We walked in, met the phantom voice at the other end of the line, who had a badge pinned to his jacket that said ‘miserable Jorge.’ Well, just Jorge (George) actually, but he was certainly miserable. We finally found J-P and Marie and spent the rest of the day with them. They're great company, even if my command of French has declined as much as their ability to speak English since we last met, but what does that matter? Marigold manages to make herself understood anywhere, even in the rural heart of the Ukraine, with barely a word in common so this was easy.
Archaeological excavations are ongoing and beautifully presented under glass for our inspection. The site of the castle has been inhabited since Neolithic times.
A fortress was first built on the hill in the 9th century, following the Moorish invasion by a Caliph named Theudimer who ruled seven cities in southeastern Spain including modern day Valencia, Alicante and of course Lorca.
During Muslim rule, Lorca Castle was an impregnable fortress and remained so until 1244 when it was conquered by the Castilian Infante Don Alfonso, the future Alfonso X. This area of Spain remained in a state of flux for the next 250 years and Lorca castle became a strategic point on the border between the newly reconquered Christian areas around Lorca and the Muslim state of Granada.
Due to this geographic position, the Castilian monarchs repopulated the town and maintained the defensive structures of Lorca. It's still impressive, even if the location mitigates against taking a photograph of the castle in its entirety. Perhaps we could park up on the motorway and take a quick snap from below. Okay, perhaps not.
There's a good wifi signal here so we decide against begging miserable Jorge for lodgings in his Parador and Marigold’s research finds us a monastery, with rooms, right in the heart of a town with a medieval market so that's tomorrow sorted out. More of that anon.