Thursday, 29 June 2017

Galician Interlude

"A slip-road is a road which cars use to drive on and off a motorway."/
"It is a great temptation to want to make the spirit explicit."*/
Talking about absolutely nothing

Accidental selfie. Captures the overarching theme.

There are a couple of words that trigger a surge of dopamine in my head. One is 'Patrick', a hangover from my formative years as diligent accomplice and hagiographer to my closest brother in age, whose ability to roam the house each night stealing food to order was one of the several things about him that filled me with a reverence that lingers. I can remember the long minutes waiting in fevered hope for him to come back to our bedroom with the peanut butter jar and some spoons. He'd reappear, tiptoeing through the door gingerly, neck stretched and ears straining so as not to fuck up the last few steps. As soon as he closed the door the cautious look changed into his trademark beam of victory...admittedly it was the victory of the axis of liquid modernity and corn syrup over our metabolism and our parent's sanity, but that beaming smile was like the sun returning anew. He's still mythic and continues to pollute reality with sparks, much to the confusion of most friends we introduce him to.

The second word is 'slip-road'. Dear god. A slip-road is such a beautiful thing.
Accessible, usually on the edge of a town. The bandwidth of a motorway without threat of arrest, close enough to civilisation that there's always a plan B. Basically a legitimated spot in an edge environment. All roads lead to Rome, but often there are barriers, tolls, police or no place for cars to pull over. A good slip-road with space for cars to stop makes it feels like mercy is alive and well in the world, hiding in planning oversights and maintenance access.

I was recently in Galicia on a four-day trip. I'm not going to go blow-by-blow because I think my approach to chronicling these trips is changing a bit. I don't want to write a directory of kind or helpful humans, but have another go at seeing what happens to my brain at the roadside.

On Saturday in Ferrol, Galicia, I was looking for a place to get a lift out in the direction of A Coruña to see the famous 2000 year-old lighthouse I learnt about whilst researching Roman Hispania for my history classes this year. I stood by a zebra crossing for twenty minutes or so until a local man with a great bristly walrus moustache and blues brothers shades came over and told me that despite my waiting in the right place for the motorway, nobody was in that much of a rush and I'd be better to wait on the other side of the city center where the national road headed east before going south. 

"Thank you, sir."
Cue discovery of a slip-road (!) heading out to the FE-14 and my next interaction some time later, a dog-walking man with hair like white seaweed draped over a rock raising his finger to tell me how I'd be there all day. Poor guy was interrupted by a car pulling over beside us and he waved bye as I ran up to it.
Me: "Hola! Dónde vas?" (Hi, where are you going?)
Bald, round faced sea-eyed man with cold expression: "I'm going to Vladivostok."
Shit, I thought I'd found the motherlode there. Hard to turn down a lift that long. He seemed Russian, but Jesús turned out to be a retired Galician shipping captain on his way to A Coruña. A man who loved his 45 years at sea and missed it dearly in his retirement. 'I used to travel the world. Now I just travel from Ferrol to A Coruña and back.' A conversation held together by reflections on the radio station M80 and its pop songs. Jesús told me about an interest in travelling around Russia in the 80s using his four months on, two months off schedule. To do so he had joined the communist party in Galicia, got a letter of recommendation and managed to travel from Galicia to Madrid to Paris to Moscow by train, followed by 16 days on the train to Vladivostok. He spent a week there and came back. This story was interrupted by Sheryl Crow's 'All I wanna do is have some fun'. As soon as it came on he fell silent and turned the volume up as far as it would go. 

The trip didn't go as (un)planned in the sense that I'd meant to be there longer but hadn't packed properly for the occasion. The heatwave fell apart and the rain returned. I'd brought a guitar for the first time, but hadn't realised how damaged my boots were. I think when I stepped on a nail two years ago the change in my gait introduced sore spots. Having walked in comfortable boots for so many years, it's hard to see the point of giving myself blisters when it's something I'm lucky enough to be able to change.

From A Coruña I had a great lift with two Dutch surfers/vagabonds in a van who came back from a roundabout to pick me up because one of them had spent time hitching in the Andes where you can wait 5 hours for a single car to reject you. And where a single lift could often last a day. That night I ended up in the campsite on the beach where they'd heard the surf was good.
I realised that night that it was probably the last trip I'd have using that tent. I wasn't prepared for how sad that made me.
I don't tend to think of myself as someone who gets that attached to objects, but that thing has kept me out of heavy rain and snow for five years. There have been so many nights where you wander around alone at stupid o'clock trying to find a place to sleep, or you get that last extra lift and suddenly you're deeper in the countryside and can pitch it where you like. You fall asleep genuinely laughing because you're so happy to be safe and dry for the night. There was a week in 2013 when I was able to share that nightly relief with a man I was travelling with on foot, but apart from that I've been alone, and I associate that sense of utter joy with the green walls of my tent.
What killed it is three cumulative months over three years of being absolutely hammered by UV, dust and storms when working at a festival in Aragón. The mosquito net is torn in places, all zips are broken and the hole in the fly is starting to spread. 

I'll move on and keep on finding that sense of joy in shelter in and out of other tents, and I suppose it's really just the ratio around body temperature, dryness and lack of foreign organisms in your personal space that ticks the 'you are saved' box. The tent is the skin around that experience but you can find it in other places.

My beloved on Yakushima back in 2012.

I think the last thing I want to mention about the trip is the last day. I said the heat wave fell apart and things got very rainy. I had a brilliant morning travelling through the Cantabrian mountains high up in the passenger seat of José's coal truck pointing out birches and talking about vegans and people who look unrelated to their other family members. I love the north for the thick vegetation and biodiversity. If water be the food of plants, rain on. Completely worth it when you're prepared.

Galician woods as I last left them.

By the afternoon I was back down the mountains and onto the yellow table of Spain, where I waited here for three and a half hours. Not my own photo but it's exactly how it was:

Dead road at 3pm. I'd tried hitching further up the road where all possible routes converge but had no luck, so went to the garage to escape sunburn. I met the station attendant, Gabriel and we had a protracted conversation backed by three hours of glacial clouds and tilting shadows, and interspersed with him filling up petrol for the odd car that rolled up.
He told me about the feeling of racing his lithe leaf-green Kawasaki, and proudly talked about his four American Staffordshire terriers. They have their own swimming pool and he spends €280 a month on dog food. I wish I had a photo of his face when he spoke about them. Pure sunshine.
He kept asking if I was bored, and seemed puzzled that I wasn't disappointed when people passed on.

What I was thinking about and couldn't express to him in my bad Spanish is that one of the odder modes alive and well in my head is where one treats everything in one's current plot of physical reality as a personalised metaphor or poem. In an effort to glean value out of the terrifying raw drone of time, you basically act as if you are inside an idiosyncratic world that you've created. 

As if your own thoughts had origami-ed themselves into matter.
I'm not solipsistic enough to actually believe I live in such a world, but I find that to entertain that model once in a while gives me a great sense of peace and allows time to pass. It is because it imparts any situation with a sense of curation. Anything can be looked at and examined and analysed for symbolism and comparison. Oil is a theme that often comes up, ever present in the circulatory systems of both roads and the network of Chinese manufacturing that beats its plastic blood throughout the world. The latter network is something I call Pulmonary Sinensis and I got it from standing at garages looking at cars and trash.

In reference to the second sub-title of this post, I feel I'm close to tacking directly into the wind so I'm going to stop. All I wanted to do was add a little bit more to the chronicles of how waiting at the side of the road expresses itself in my organism. I remain an addict of and prisoner of the sensation, so this is just another leaf of the jail diary.

*Ludwig Wittgenstein


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Your post reminds me of this video, which is great:

  3. Worked out how to do it as a fancy word-linky thing, hence deleting the original comment!