Friday, May 7, 2010
80 Years Young
Besides having good health, Manel also has the good fortune to have kind and generous friends who had offered to put on a party for his birthday. But the party would follow on the weekend, and I will talk about that in a minute. The first question was what to do on the actual day. I decided to invite him for a day trip to Horta de Sant Joan, one of our favorite villages in the Terra Alta, land of good strong wine and wonderful landscapes with strange rock formations, where Picasso visited and worked for some time and where they say he found inspiration for his venture into cubism.
All of that notwithstanding, what I wanted to do in Horta was to go and see Lo Parot, the 2000-year-old olive tree. If Manel thought that at 80 he was old, this tree could help him put age into perspective.
In July 2009 at the outskirts of Horta, there was a huge forest fire fueled by high winds where 1200 hectares were burned and five firefighters died when the wind changed and they became trapped. This was very big and very grave news within Catalunya, a relatively small community, and everyone grieved, including me. They had originally announced that the fire had been started inadvertently by a lightning strike, but later it was discovered that it had been intentionally set, leading to the recent arrest of two young men who had worked in fire prevention, making the whole tragedy even more grievous.
Picasso spent two periods in Horta: the first as a young man when he stayed with his friend Manuel Pallarès from summer 1898 to February 1899, and the second when he came with his lover Fernande Olivier and stayed from May to August of 1909. Although Horta has no original paintings, they have many facsimiles and together with text, they explain a lot about what Picasso did and what he saw in Horta. I personally enjoyed the paintings from his first stay, when his style was natural and flowing and the pictures beautiful, before he started in with geometry. All around they plaster the quote: “Tot el que sé ho he après a Horta” (All I know I have learned in Horta). But I’m suspicious. In what context did he say that? Surely it is an exaggeration, unless it refers to his learning Catalan. Nevertheless, the center was well worth the two-euro price of admission.
Lunch was in a nearby restored masia, a rural farmhouse now turned into lodging and restaurant that was a little disappointing both for the food and the fact that out in the countryside, we had no view. But the ride back was unforgettable. We took a different road back and drove for about half an hour in second gear on the narrowest winding road I have ever driven. Luckily we only met one car and that was on a straight stretch, otherwise I have no idea how we could have passed by each other. Many of the sharp curves had mirrors up so you could see if someone was coming, although God only knows what you were supposed to do if there was.
The high point of the ride was when we were leaving the mountains. We passed a wildlife warning road sign illustrated with a deer, and Manel wondered if there really were any deer in the area. We have never seen one in Spain. And while he was saying it, I interrupted him shouting, “There’s one! Look! Look there,” pointing to the left. Just a few feet up the hill and quite close to the road was a grazing deer. Then, two minutes later, I spotted, also to the left, what looked like a wild dog coming down the hill towards the road. Manel saw it too and thought it might be a fox. But it was too big, and when I looked it up later on the internet, I found that it was clearly a jackal. What a day for wildlife. Having seen none (other than birds and rabbits and lots of abandoned dogs and cats) in the nine years that I’ve been here, I saw two wild creatures in one day.
Carol and Lino live in the hills (they are called mountains here) outside of El Perelló in a casa rustica (sometimes a euphemism for a ruin) overlooking the sea. They did indeed buy the ruin of a former 375-square-meter farmhouse sitting on 6 ½ hectares of land, but after two years of work, they turned it into the dream casa rustica of style and living magazines… literally. It is an exceptionally beautiful eco-friendly house that uses solar panels and wind generator, they recycle their water whose source is the rain (and a nearby Roman well when rain isn’t enough), and they use no fertilizers or pesticides on their olive or fruit trees.
Besides being imaginative, industrious, talented, and extremely generous, Carol is also a brilliant cook while Lino can also hold his own wielding the cooking knife and spoon, thus lunch was fabulous. And let me make it clear, this wasn’t a birthday party with some fingerfood, birthday cake, and cava, which also would have been great (and is what I did when I turned 60). It was a full sit-down, three course meal, served by a hired helper, preceded by appetizers and followed by the most incredible chocolate trifle I (or anyone else there) have ever seen.