I’ve been reading A Castle in the Backyard: The Dream of a House in France. This is a book I picked up from the library last summer when I was looking at Spain books – I guess that France is right next to Spain in the Dewey Decimal system, and it looked interesting. I never got around to reading it, but it had looked interesting enough that it stuck in my memory as something I wanted to read. It’s the memoir of two middle-aged English professors who bought a summer house in France during the eighties: the story of their decision to buy a house, their search, and their adaptions to French life. It’s somewhat ridiculous, but it appeals to the part of me that likes spontaneous ridiculous (although it’s a rather prolonged bout of spontaneity, as the process happened over two summers).
It’s a story very much about France. They talk about french food, french neighbors, french countryside, and the french language. But at the same time, it reminds me powerfully of Spain. They turn a corner to discover a castle, and I think of the spanish castles. Little french towns remind me of little Spanish towns, of Portugalet and Toledo and Getxo and the town that we went to to look at countertops, and the town with the castle on the spur of rock. I think of long drives along winding roads through olive groves concealing nested hamlets, and a soundtrack of Abba and Jane Eyre and The Wailing Banshees and The Music Man. I remember riding with Pepi back from Torre del Mar, and the castle near Bilbao that we didn’t go see, despite a fabulous picture, because it wasn’t open and we decided that it wasn’t actually worth walking six miles each way, even if it looked amazing.
It’s funny. Much of my time in Getxo was spent overtired, sick, vaguely hungry, with sore feet, not sure that we would find somewhere to eat supper, and desperately needing a bathroom, not to mention a harried run back to the metro, not sure that we would catch the last train to catch our bus. I know all this, conceptually, and if I think about it I can remember the dark and cold plaza where we huddled, trying to kill time until it was acceptably late to eat dinner – but all the same, Getxo is softened in my memory to a charming, lovely town (which is was), full of lazy sunlit days strolling along warm promenades where the bike lanes have crosswalks (true, but those were the only two sunny days they got that season, or so I’m told), a tourist center with a pleasant woman who showed no dismay at discovering two cheap college students eating bread and chorizo on the front step of the cute little tourism house, of wind turbines churning away along the horizon of a sunset that outlines the statue of a sardine seller.
I find that other things blur, too. Just now I couldn’t remember the word for chorizo, though I could conjure an image of it in my head and almost taste it again. I’m aware that my Spanish is not quite as good right now as it was when I left Spain.
Not, mind you, that I intend to forget everything. And journals are good for refreshing faded recollections.