Tuesday, 3 October 2017

October Insurrection

For the first time since we left northern France it rained overnight. Showers continued as we headed through the foothills of the Pyrenees towards our overnight stop in Jaça. It was not a long drive, we arrived at the aire on the edge of town in the early afternoon. This was just as well, as it soon filled up, mainly with French vans arriving for the weekend. Jaça has a number of well respected tapas bars and on Saturday lunchtime they were doing a brisk trade with visitors and locals alike.

So brisk in fact that we failed to find a table at the one our Lonely Planet guidebook deemed as serving the 'finest pintxos in Navarre', which seemed to me to be a bit of a backhanded compliment, like being regarded as the best Uileean pipe player in Rotterdam. 

Instead we ended up at a restaurant beneath an old arcade. It was only after a few minutes that we realised that this was the place where we had our first Spanish paella about seven years ago. We made a foray into Spain from St. Marie d'Oleron on the other side of the Pyrenees. Are we ever going to escape the sense that our past is stalking us on this trip? No matter, the thinly sliced beef with Port jus and the meatballs in tomato sauce were tasty enough for us to forget about missing the best tapas in Navarre.

Despite the chilly showers, I liked Jaça. It is stolid and uncompromising, a doughty hill-town, reminiscent of Buxton in a way. However, we are not seeking hiking opportunities, what we want are great vegetable markets, warm seas and blue skies. Catalonia here we come, tomorrow, October 1st 2017, the day of the region's 'unconstitutional' independence referendum.

The King of Aragon strikes a jaunty pose...

The news apps were somewhat gloomy, reporting thousands of Guardia Civil drafted into Catalonia to disrupt the referendum and hundreds of Catalan farmers driving tractors to block their progress and protect polling booths. Since the north of Aragon is a long way from the Catalan border it is little surprise that the roads were quiet - grey roads, grey mountains, grey sky.

We bypassed Huesca. It was only as we neared the Catalan border that we had any sense that extraordinary events were unfolding around us. A convoy of six Guardia Civil 4x4s overtook us at speed, otherwise the roads were empty, the increasingly blue-skied weather idyllic all the way to the Mediterranean coast at l 'Ametila.

This was at odds with media reports of an increasingly violent situation around polling stations across Catalonia. By the time we had installed ourselves in Camping Nautic it had become clear that it had been a dark day for Spain and a blow to European democracy. Over 700 people had been injured by deliberate police brutality in the act of attempting to vote. We went to bed thinking, what now?

Over the next couple of days the odd mix of uncertainty and normality continued. Campsite life went on, our rituals unaffected, - a morning visit to the market via the seafront promenade, an afternoon wander down to the beach and a long leisurely swim, Gill reading, me comatose under the shade of the awning in the heat of the late afternoon, disturbed only by loud exclamations in French of triumph and outrage - the habitual boules match continues..

The weather is summery, our pitch great, about 80 meters from the beach with our own personal olive tree for shade. So the political crisis here, so strident in the media seems distant and slightly unreal in everyday life. Occasionally it crops up in my Facebook exchanges, otherwise life goes on unaffected.

Facebook, October 2nd:

Sadly, on Oct 2nd, it feels a bit like adiós democrácia.....what next?

Facebook, October 3rd. 6:15 pm

It's been oddly quiet here today, banks closed, schools and other public services all on strike. Not the usual whoosh of the Madrid to Barcelona express on the railway at the back of the campsite. Already the election posters are beginning to peel on the hoardings. Where does Spain go from here? Whatever your view on the issue of Catalonian independence, the action of the national police was completely inappropriate in a democracy.,

Later on October 3rd. A reply to my good friend Janet Kenny on FB...
The thing that has surprised us here is the sheer strength of support for 'Si'. We passed through Catalonia two years ago at the time of the previous referendum. We sensed then the strength of feeling for secession was stronger in the North, near the Costa Brava and in Barcelona. This year, judging by the flags and posters on houses the pro independence feeling seems more widespread and evenly spread. We are staying in a campsite on the outskirts of a small fishing port and resort called L'Ametila, situated between Tarragona and the Ebro delta. Last night about 9.00pm. a cacophony of rattles and bangs struck up across the town. We walked in to see what the row was. Most of the population had taken to their balconies to bang on pots and pans, presumably to drown out the pro-Madrid address by the king - at least that's our guess. I think the response of the Madird government is reminiscent of the Franco era, and a reminder of how autocracy stretches back to hundreds of years of conservative Catholic absolutism. Our initial response was like yours, have the pro-independence​ leaders got the welfare of the Catalan people at heart? Right now though, it is feeling much more like a popular insurrection with mass support. No idea what will happen next...

A couple of days later - an exchange with my former colleague, Penny who pulled a FB prank while bored at Pisa airport - she posted a photo hugging a Meghan Markle look-alike claiming it was the real deal. Caused a stir among all her friends, except me, - I had no idea who Megan Markle was.

Me: It is somewhat embarrassing for an ex teacher of media studies not to know the name of Prince Harry's girlfriend, especially given the tabloid glurge. Right now we are camped in the south of Catalonia watching Spain's biggest political crisis since the failed coup of 1982 unfold around us. It's not boring.
Penny: Wow! Actually being there must be fascinating. I was stuck at Pisa Airport earlier today feeling mischievous ......hence the silly post.
Me: It is fascinating, we will probably move south tomorrow towards Valencia, not because we feel vulnerable, simply that's the way we were heading anyway.
So that's the plan. There is a site on the coast in a national park between Peniscola and Alcossebre, up an un-metalled track..'The world is too much with us late and soon'; time for some nearby remote.

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