Mon 20th May
Roadside strip clubs, Girona and conversations about Catalonia.
In the morning, packed up as normal leaning my bike against a tree. When I started loading the bike, I noticed strange black marks on my hands. I thought nothing of it, then I noticed more. I inspected the tree and got a handful of it. I then noticed the tree was black. I stepped back and noted that all the other trees were the same. They all looked like they had been burnt and what was left was a charcoal like residue on the surface. The dew from the night had made it easily transferable.
The sky was grey again which added to the sinister feeling of the place.
Had these trees all been burnt for some reason, to be removed or destroyed? I hadn’t witnessed anything like it before.
I accelerated my plans to leave.
On the way out I noticed all the trees on the road back to the main road were the same. All black and dead, with a little life left in their leaves.
I saw signs on the trees that had an image of a match and a flame and some text I didn’t understand. What I had suspected had been right. But why? Perhaps a site clearance for building purposes.
I was intrigued.
As soon as I entered Spain and for many miles ahead, there was the same style of ‘Bar-Tabac’ and ‘Presse’ shops, but Spain was home to many more strip clubs, sex shops, dance shows all bunched together, with hotels and restaurants in-between to cut it up. It seemed funny that there was no attempt to mask the seediness of these establishments.
I felt they were probably offering the truckers a slightly more interesting alternative to beers, coffee and roadside food, but it didn’t make it feel like a nice place to be alone on a bike. I was surprised that just minutes from France it was already this different.
Girona was far away and a had plenty of work to do before getting there. Unfortunately, I was stuck to main roads, although a benefit was you tend to do your best to keep up with the traffic, so you rode quicker, but nowhere it was nowhere near as safe or enjoyable as the smaller roads. Spanish drivers were also a bit quicker and less generous with cyclists space.
I got caught in a downpour the clouds had promised. I had been soaked in the while finding a bus shelter to hide under. This one was really aggressive and heavy, but within twenty minutes, it passed.
“I’m in Spain?” I thought. It was clear that I couldn’t rely on stereotypes to keep me dry.
To my surprise, I got to Girona on good time. I had organised to stay with a host while there, Pau. He and his family were at work until 6. I went to a McDonald’s for the obvious vices, coffee and wi-fi. At the counter I realised I hadn’t spoken Spanish to anyone yet, and I was locked in French mode.
I stumbled and hesitated when ordering and got as far as “Uno cafe”. The guy spoke English and took the order. I sat down and realised I would have to switch over to Spanish at some point but wasn’t sure how. Not that I knew much Spanish, but I knew enough to get by. It was a sensation I’d never had before and was difficult as I’d built a fairly decent archive of French vocabulary I was using.
Pau and his family lived in an area called Salt in the west. It was a nice area in a nice city, it had a strong identity that I would associate with Spain; tiled pavements, orange and peach pastel coloured buildings, Bodegas and a few trees on the pavement.
I arrived at Pau’s for about 7. He was a giant of a man with a big black and grey beard and strong voice. Probably about 6’3 tall. He took me in and was very jolly welcoming.
He lived in a small apartment with his wife and son, who looked about 19. They were a Catalan family and proud to be so. We had a Catalonian meal, potatoes, sausage, onions and a red wine (Catalan) to go with it. I was very happy.
I was keen to learn more about the Catalan region, its culture and what happened when Franco’s Spain wrapped its teeth around the country and consumed it, turning it into the eastern region of Spain. Eradicating its independence and suppressing its culture.
I was curious to know if there was tension between Spanish and Catalan people after all the years. Naturally there is a difference, but to live in a state of tension wouldn’t benefit anyone it seemed. Of course this is a vast subject to cover in one evening.
One of the first things I asked was if they minded if I was to speak Spanish with them. His response was very plain and clear. “We are a Catalan family, we speak Catalan, we live in a Catalan city. But we understand Spanish, we have too, everybody does.”
There was no sense of resentment, but it wasn’t their language or culture was my impression.
Shortly after, Pau told me that Catalonia was petitioning for its independence with proceedings being revealed in 2014. Something that Catalonian people had felt very strongly about for a long time. The decline of the Spanish economy since 2008 was also a major catalyst for independence.
Pau told me that Catalonia was really the engine in the Spanish economy. That the Catalonian people were proud and hard workers and they were being weighed down by the rest of Spain. Similar to how the north of Italy powers their economy as London does with England’s.
Catalonia been keeping Spain afloat and the separation would reap numerous benefits, primarily the boost of their economy was their firm belief.
This was all new to me, so it was hard to have an opinion. But it certainly developed my perception of Catalonians and gave me some knowledge that I could begin building upon.
They all left for work at 7:30am and said that I would have to leave with them. This suited me well as I was over 100km from Barcelona and needed to get there by tomorrow evening.