143 – Dove corrono, dolcissime, le mie malinconie…

As I finally managed to bring myself to tackle my tiny writer’s block, I am sitting at my bureau in my perfectly designed little apartment and contemplating the only thing about it don’t like: the view. I love my place. I probably pay too much for what it is, I could most likely find something cheaper and bigger, especially in this situation, but the fact is that my place is almost perfect. To start, I have it all for myself. For the first time since I left home, I am not sharing with anyone else. It’s only tiny, but the most cleverly designed 30 square meters I could possibly imagine. It’s the real estate equivalent to Mary Poppins’ handbag: somehow it manages to accommodate all my stuff without resembling a warehouse: my clothes, shoes, my bike (and the indoor trainer, surprisingly), my swords and tennis equipment (that I haven’t touched since I moved here, but maybe one day when they finally realise that there is no need for the commodity markets to be open Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm, as the traders are more than capable of creating havoc and losing the same amount of money in three hours a day, they will finally introduce a 4 days week and I will be able to dedicate my time to things I actually like doing; hitting a ball under the sizzling Spanish sun being one of them). I can still whip up fantastic dinners in my tiny kitchen, although the guests may be required to bring their own tableware. The location is perfect, too, in the city centre, within short walk of 5 different metro lines, 3 minutes walk to my fencing club, full of bars, restaurants, parks, you name it. I am not all that fussed about not having a terrace, as there is nothing pleasant about getting a heatstroke in Madrid summer (although it would have been handy in the confinement, but pandemics is not usually your first thought while flat-hunting), however I am rather disappointed by the fact that the highlight of my view is the window of my neighbour’s bathroom. Positioned in a way that I cannot actually see any action, so no joy on that front either. Now, see how quickly my writer’s block turned into an oral diarrhoea?

Sunset hike to Peña de la Cruz

Which brings me back to reminiscing about what being surrounded by beauty all the time I spent in the north felt like. Especially now, as Madrid appears to be slipping to another confinement. Well, maybe. Depends how wealthy you are and where you can afford to live. Because the new measures introduced by our genius President of the autonomous community of Madrid are a bad joke. In substance: she confined the working class neighbourhoods in the south of the Capital, except for people who need to leave that area for work. Which is basically everyone. And of course those are the citizens most dependent on public transport to get to work (which was promised to be made more frequent, but this, too, never happened, along with many other Covid-19 related measures that would have made sense). Basically, Isabela Ayuso, our illuminated leader, quarantined the poor people in their part of town, while the wealthy and the posh are free to crowd the bars, sip gin and tonics and share tapas in the noble districts of Salamanca and Chamberí. Oh and of course, her universal response to every emergency matter: the parks are now closed. That includes Madrid Río, 7+ km long cycling path that connects the southern neighbourhoods with the city centre and allows for safe cycling – in case people prefered to commute on their bikes and keep away from the crowded trains, which again would be a sensible thing to do, but we don’t do sensible things in this city. We shut the parks. Possibly “only” in the red zone, but it’s only a matter of days before she fences off every green patch in town. I understand why it is essential to keep the businesses open, I really do. I know that if we enter another full lockdown, the whole country will probably bankrupt. But it just sends the wrong message. Keep the poor where they don’t spread the virus among the “better” part of the population, as long as the “better” people can go about their leisure activities more or less undisturbed. And on top of everything, prevent the poor from getting some fresh air in the parks. “You can leave the quarantine if it’s to work in our shops, tend to our senior citizens and babies, or clean our houses. But you are not allowed any fun, including a walk in a park. Oh, and you’ll have a curfew at 10 pm, obviously.” It’s not a preventive measure, it’s a punishment. But then again, these are conservative values in a nutshell: shopping centres, nightclubs and discos reopened while schools, theatres and cinemas were still closed. “We don’t really mind if you catch the virus in a bar, as long as you buy enough rounds, but God forbid you’d want to walk in a free-of-charge public space just to avoid going insane. We are not in the slightest concerned about your mental well-being, we just want you to work and spend.” I don’t see a problem with that. Do you? Oh and as of yesterday morning, she asked the Prime Minister to send in the army to help reinforce the new measures (read: to keep the poor in their part of town). This is a revolution waiting to happen, especially in a country that only calls for the army when they seek to fast-track adjustments to the Constitution. So you can see how remembering times when the great outdoors were at my doorstep may seem appealing?

I will get to the serious hikes and bike rides in one of the next posts (I am sure I will get it by Christmas), but those were a whole day activities. I was however supposed to be working during the days (if occasionally), but spending my afternoons and evenings at home seemed a waste. These are a few tips for short walks in the valley of Esla, that can be easily done a in a couple of hours but still offer most amazing views.  

Calzada Romana – Via Saliamica was an ancient roman road that followed the rivers Esla and Sella and connected León with Asturias. Traces of it are visible to this day, and the best preserved part between the villages of Valdoré and Las Salas . It takes less than 2 hours to walk one way, the most stunning example of roman engineering is admirable at the path’s highest point, El Pajar del Diablo, carved into the side of steep rocks, offering beautiful views over the valley of river Esla. 

Peña de la Cruz is not the highest or most spectacular peak in the area, but it is the closest one from Verdiago, and it only takes about an hour to reach. You just start climbing from the village along the dirt road. It is also reachable by a 4×4 (which is the only way the locals ever go up there). Perfect destination for after-work pre-sunset walk, rewarded with great views over Verdiago, valley of Esla and the crest of Pico Morro. 

Finally, some local wildlife. I am very proud of the photo of the snacking lizard. It’s looking at me like: “back off, I’m not sharing.” Below, one of the better results of my fiddling with the timer. 

Being in Madrid right now feels a bit off, especially with the incumbent second lockdown seeming more and more inevitable, so I should probably start thinking about some viable fall/winter escape plan – within Spain, as at the moment we are the least welcome people in the world, or at least Europe. But it doesn’t matter. Spain is a stunning country. 

Peña de la Cruz


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