To the ends of the author
Part 7 of a 2006 Cataluña/Pyrenées/Roussillon travelogue
by Thor Iverson
A warning: the delicate of constitution may want to skip ahead to the first wine note.
19 October 2006 – Andorra la Vella, Andorra
It’s not anything I ate last night, because I was already sick at that point. It’s not something I ate yesterday at La Boqueria, either – even though it seems the most likely candidate – because I was already beginning to get sick as I sat down to lunch. Which means it’s either from the previous day’s visit to La Boqueria or, almost incomprehensibly, that smoke-filled night at Gaig.
Can’t I just blame it on the guy with the cigar?
Whatever it is, it’s the worst food poisoning I’ve ever had. Or, the shortest and strangest virus I’ve ever had. It started two days earlier, with body aches and a throbbing head, then a nose emptying itself in rivulets. That’s gone now, and I miss it. Because in its place…
Well, let’s leave it at this: 23 iterations of the same, um, activity later, our lovely hotel suite has run out of one specific but very useful type of paper product. A call to the front desk – thank goodness they speak English – provides the supplies for 15 more identical activities, as I wait against hope for this particular symptom to abate. Given my issues, and my near-complete lack of sleep as a result, I’m thankful that we don’t have a long or difficult drive today.
Somewhere in the Pyrenées
The road from Andorra la Vella finally works its way free of clinging commerciality to rise and wind along desolate mountainsides haphazardly strung with power lines and spindly chairlifts. The temperature drops to somewhere around freezing as we ascend, and the wind feels more solid than gaseous. And then, a descent…we’ve chosen the open-air road, rather than the somewhat quicker tunnel…until, without ceremony, we’re in France.
The only thing that changes is the signage. Catalan, at least for a time, is left behind.
And here, I meet a well-known problem head-on. Or, I guess, the other end-on. For France, whatever its other positive qualities, must be the most backward of any otherwise developed Western country when it comes to sanitation facilities. Cafés, bars, restaurants, the occasional public restroom…it doesn’t matter where I stop, there’s never anything better than a powerfully malodorous chasm in the ground. No paper products. And never any running water. How could the Romans, two millennia ago, be more advanced in this area than modern-day France? More relevantly, how can the French stand it? Remind me to keep an eye on who handles my cheese.
Having assured by…various actions…that I will never be invited back to certain towns along our route (sadly, Foix – which is rather pretty – is one of these villages), we finally come to a stop, laying out a small picnic of various incarnations of Ibérico, some Spanish cheeses, and a little wine. But not too much. Liquid is not my friend at the moment.
Albert de Sangenis “La Xarmada” 2001 Conca de Barberà Criança (Cataluña) – A blend of syrah, cabernet sauvignon and mourvèdre. Good, if basic, and done in the international style, with all the required elements present. It’s pretty dull, but it’s at least wine on some sort of mindless level.
St-Savin, France – The roads along the northern border of the Pyrenées – whether D, N, or autoroute – are virtually devoid of traffic. And by the time we get to the latter, even the scenery’s not that interesting: gentle, rolling farmland, with the mighty snow-capped mountain ranges too far to the south to provide much backdrop. We stop on the outskirts of Lourdes for some supplies (not knowing what’s available at our remote destination), and delve into the increasingly precarious roads leading south into the mountains. Finally, we come to a very small village clinging to a hill…its town hall doubling as a post office, its local bar, an artist’s studio, and one country-style restaurant the only local businesses…and we’ve, at long last, ended our drive. Various parts of my body offer a sincere thanks.
Our gîte is cozy, and the owner leaves us a little homemade jam to brighten our stay. It’s a downstairs apartment, so there are fewer windows than there otherwise might be…a shame, since the scenery is among the finest I’ve seen outside New Zealand.
Theresa puts together a terrific salad of fat duck breast (extracted from local ducks used for foie gras production) with figs, plus cheese. Our lunch wine has faded underneath its structure, but I don’t know that we’re carrying any wine that will stand up to figs. I open another anyway, which is a mistake.
La Viña la Font de la Figuera “Sequiot” 2004 Tempranillo (Valencia) – Horrid, undrinkable, over-manufactured swill. After a few sips, this gets poured down the drain.
Oh well. At least I have my health.
Copyright © Thor Iverson.