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Driving from Bordeaux to Barcelona

25 July, 2008 (02:13) | Living in Europe | By: admin

On the drive home from Bordeaux to Barcelona I ask Nicole for her quick impression of the party and she replies:

“hospitality in perfection…without being formal or intrusive…super relaxed hosts…and fun..with lots of humor and passion for people and food…all the kissing posed a bit of a problem for us people coming from “non-kissing’ countries…sometimes 3, sometimes 2 to say hello and good bye, and to everyone! and everyone starts kissing on different sides…lots of involuntary nose rubbing and excusing smiles….all fun though….although in the end i just blew a kiss in the air to everybody to say good bye, which might have seemed rude to them….never been to a party where people come for 3 days and stay!! lots of time to talk…no rush….lush gardens..fresh crisp winds…clear light and happy smiles…felt totally at home..”

I ask Mark and he says “This trip is one of the most fun and decadent, food-wise, that we’ve ever been on.”

It is Bastille Day, so rather than get caught up in various traffic jams getting out of Bordeaux, then out of France (Many families go to Spain over Bastille Day) and also so as not to come head on into the Tour de France which begins today along the road we took getting here, we choose the very much longer but oh so gorgeous circuitous drive home through French Basque country with villages so tiny they wouldn’t be considered a village if they didn’t have the necessary little church to declare it so. Mark does most of the driving while Nicole reads maps, but every so often she will take over the driving for an hour or two to give Mark a break. I sit in back, summarily swallowing a drammamine (motion sickness prevention pill) and taking in all I can see from my suitcase obstructed total view. We all agree we’d like to come back here to the French Basque country to stay sometime, it is so perfectly lush and well manicured. We try to stop in a village for a meal but on Bastille Day there is nothing open, not even the church. They have all fled to bigger towns to celebrate, I presume, and this proves to be true as we pass tiny spurts of life along the way – we pass a discoteque along the road which reminds Nicole of her childhood in Germany in a small village. The only place to go was the one discoteque, so they all did, of course running into the same kids over and over gain from all nearby villages, but at least it was somewhere to go to get away from parents. Occasionally, but not often, a new face would flow through town. She laughs as she thinks back to those days.

We pass through a slightly larger small town and there is a band doing a sound check at a park along the road. People of all ages sit around, colorfully dressed. We are only half way home after five hours, so we do not stop. We continue on until we have to do the inevitable crossing of the Pyrennes, which looks like a straight line on the map but of course is very windy. More drammamine for me. Nicole again takes the wheel, “I was raised on these kind of roads – I don’t mind driving” she announces.”
Mark is happy to sit in front and take it all in.

Suddenly we approach a castle with Catalan flags draped all over it, and everywhere we look we can see a catalan flag hanging. The Fortress in Foix is impressive and I´m sure we’ll read up later that it was some sort of battleground site. Welcome to French Catalunia! Wow! Do they speak the same Catalan here as they do in our neighborhood in Gracia? Unfortunately, this drive is more of a teaser, if we stop too much we won’t make it home by dark, which is our objective. We do stop to let the dogs run a few times and to snack from an odd self-styled pizza truck. We are in Catalunia, but it still looks very French, everything you see is perfect. There are two more hours of driving through the Catalan French Pyrennes before we finally hit the border with Spain, which in the new “borderless Europe” is simply the act of driving past a sign that says “Bienvenido a España” with the iconic EU stars circling around the words.

When we drive through the French catalan village, with all of its cuatro barras (Catalan 4 red stripes over yellow) flags hanging from every available spot, I am the first to notice and Mark agrees that something has changed. There seems to be life here, not that Bordeaux and and the people of ‘regular’ France don’t know how to live life (they most certainly do) but there is something different about the Catalan version of France that reminds us of home (in Gracia) and why we love it there so much. It is indescribable but has something to do with family and community, a feeling of belonging no matter who or what you are. There are people everywhere, of every age, together doing all kinds of things; sitting in cafes, taking a stroll, riding a merry-go-round, listening to the musicians, standing around talking, arguing, laughing. It is like a little slice of Barcelona.

The crossing from France into Spain through the Pyrennes is not a subtle one. From tiny perfect little villages with no people immediately into the ubiquitous Spanish construction cranes building yet another concrete vacation home monstrosity. I am glad to be home but am a bit embarrassed at the stark contrast of the two countries in this particular passage across the border. Nicole puts it nicely:

“It may be ugly but unlike France it feels like a country filled with possibilities” she says.
Mark and I agree. We speed up a bit to head home to Barcelona.