far too much writing, far too many photos

[Continued from entry of 12 March.]

The dessert course appeared as soon as Curtis ditched the joint. Two courses: a big basket of walnuts and a plate holding alternating slices of cheese and something Marco and Jim thought might be conserve or preserve of quince, which grows wild in the mountains locally. The walnuts: not the large, perfect specimens one sees in a supermarket — Marco thought they might have been grown at this farm. As we dug into them (the management thoughtfully provided a nutcracker, Jim and I immediately struggled over it), I discovered that the more I ate, the more delicious they became. We quickly hoovered them up, leaving the table strewn with mounds of broken shells.

Between the four of us, we’d gone through a pile of food. The bill amounted to 100 euros, about $90 U.S., dirt cheap considering all the entertainment that came with the package. Coffee didn’t seem to be available, however -– astonishing, that, considering the way Spaniards normally toss down espresso. We decided to find another site for after-dinner caffeine, Jim saying it needed to be a place that also had cigars (called “puros” here).

We paid up, had a few last words with the proprietor –- a genuinely hilarious individual. When we stepped outside the day had become, if anything, grayer, damper, the air more cool and tangy.

Jim pulled the Fiat into the parking lot of a restaurant by the highway, we wandered inside to the small bar area where coffee and Jim’s cigar awaited. As we stood around, sipping espresso, Marco noticed a wooden display case positioned atop a refrigerator that sat by the wall to one side of the bar. Containing arty postcards, all shots of local, rustic scenes, including a particular one that caught his eye, a picture of a hefty guy lifting a large, heavy, square object, apparently as part of a traditional competition, the way Scots fairs have the log throwing thingy. He reached to pick that card out, and with his touch the display shelf fell behind the refrigerator, producing jarringly loud clatter. All action in the bar stopped, all eyes turned to Marco. Curtis and I quietly disassociated ourselves from anything but innocent, unobtrusive coffee sipping. Marco and Jim got the display shelf back up on top of the refrigerator, collected the postcards, put them all back in the display. Except for the one card Marco wanted -– there had only been one of its kind -– which had slipped under the refrigerator, out of reach.

Back in Pamplona, Marco and Jim dropped me and Curtis off where they’d picked us up, way the hell across town from where I was staying, though not far from Curtis’ place. Great for him, as he wanted to take a nap. I wanted to hit an internet joint I’d found the night before, so grabbed a taxi.

A local quirk: for some reason, you can’t hail a taxi on the street in Pamplona. You have to go to a taxi stand, which means you have to know where they’re located, information a furriner like myself might not have. Curtis pointed out a stand, in a driveway in front of a hospital. Without that help, I might have been up the proverbial creek.

I spent a good long time at the internet joint, during which a loud, insistent political demonstration started up, began making its slow way through the local streets. Curtis and I had come across another one the night before, that one looking like a large squad of cheerleaders, done cheerfully up in clown wigs, doing moves to something they chanted I couldn’t understand. The kids were high school age, so the cheerleader thing seemed like a possibility. Curtis disagreed, looking a bit intense, we let it go at that.

The Saturday night demonstration: larger, very different, consisting of two long columns of kids –- again, high-school age -– done up in traditional folk outfits of some kind including, for many of them, two long bells tied around them so that the bells hung out from their backs, like long, rigid, brass breasts. The kids moved in a slow, trotting cadence that rang the bells loudly in a pronounced rhythm, punctuated by chanting I couldn’t make out and horns that other kids blew. This was all done by teenagers –- no grown-ups were involved. In fact, the grown-ups I saw seemed to purposely keep their distance, mostly looking anything but amused. There was something oddly, subtly aggressive about the demonstration, and I made my way quickly by, glad to be past it and off into other, quieter streets.

The point of these demonstrations, I was later told, was support of ETA, and in particular the pushing of a particular cause: the return of imprisoned members of ETA to Navarra, so that they could serve out their sentences there. It’s apparently being promoted as a humanitarian idea — i.e., so families could visit more easily — that would also be a blow against the Spanish government’s “repression” of ETA “freedom fighters.” (Why the quotation marks? Because the whole thing has the distinct feel of what I can only describe as extremely partisan propaganda.) The members of ETA who are in prison are generally there for assassinations or bombings, or for activities in support of same, and the atmosphere that I encountered in Pamplona around all this felt intensely charged and unsafe. Apparently, it’s not considered wise there to express one’s sentiments if one does not support ETA as it can result in violence and intimidation. Or so I’m told.

Pro-ETA graffiti/posters/handbills were ubiquitous in the old part of the city, some bars had pro-ETA literature and posters prominently displayed. In talking with Curtis about all this, he clearly seemed to tap into deep emotions of anger and frustration. The same is true of most Spaniards I’ve heard talk about it. I can only listen and watch, thinking of the long years of IRA/UDA violence in northern Ireland (my father’s side of the family all having come from the south of that green island) and the pointlessness of it all.

I don’t know what I expected to find in Pamplona, but it wasn’t such a sharp sense of danger and paranoia. The juxtaposition of that over a beautiful, lively city, abundant with blossom-covered cherry and almond trees, felt strange, a little unreal.

[Continued in entry of 20 March]

Leave a Reply

Proudly powered by WordPress. Theme developed with WordPress Theme Generator.
Copyright © runswithscissors. All rights reserved.