Last time it was all scorched earth and a sky the blue of blue flame.
This time: a smattering of rainclouds drifting slowly beneath a higher layer of white. Greener country, cooler temperatures – the green of the cork trees, for example, like the brush strokes of a painter on the tans of the summer grass.
Last time we played flamenco – Camarón and Paco de Lucia and all the rest of it as we set out on our first big jaunt into the interior of this intoxicating country.
This time: I’m woozy with words in the passenger seat, a headful of problems from the page. The music is americana – plucked strings as the forests slip by. The lakes, the oleanders, the country more colourful somehow this colder summer, the range of shades augmented by sunlight dapples as the heavy cloud lumbers on and breaks here and there.
A wind farm pops up, the turbines standing sentinel on the horizon. As we get closer we see that they’re spinning fast – dervishes, describing an incessant ‘now’ with the rotation of their blades over the ‘always’ of the timeless landscape. The sky over them a gun metal grey, a few rickety old horses grazing on the roadkill-peppered verge.
Finally, droplets on the windscreen. I open my window to smell the rain and stick my fingers out to catch a few drops. It’s cool out there, but as we near Seville the heat rises and the air-conditioning goes on. A brace of ducks flies overhead in such tight formation – a series of peaks and troughs – that they almost seem to spell a word, till it crumbles in the air above us. The sky is big and complicated, busy with cloud streaks and cumuli as we drive beneath a series of legoland bridges, passing the out-of-town silos and the factories, then over the suspension bridge and away from the city through cranes, business centres and retail parks, the old Expo ’92 site with its orbs and cubes and plastic ripples that refract the sun. On the other side a massive monastery and water tower as we join the Ruta de Plata, the ancient route along which silver was transported south form mines in the northern mountains.
We overtake an old Renault 4, a model I love beyond reason, that recalls my childhood drives across France and Spain, firing every nostalgia synapse in my brain as it does so. That such a thing can drive along beside us today is testimony to the fact that there are still people out there who bother to fix things. I look at the driver – a middle-aged man with grey hair and a short-sleeved, checked shirt – and admire him.
The earth around here is red and the country has become more hilly, draped in shady dehesa. It flattens out again towards Merida and a melange of dry grass colours. Not a single element of my visual field – the oleanders along the median strip, the crops, the hills in the distance, painted arrows on the road, the green bollard phalanxes at the exits, the blue and yellow roadsigns, the overpasses, the complex sky – fails to simultaneously lull and stimulate. There is no deeper connection a traveler can have than the one he has with the road in front of him: the black and white lines that compel him forward, the great tapering invitation of it, the a to b, the start to finish, the straight ahead, straight ahead…
I spot a large hunting bird, perhaps even an eagle, and it must have spied something on the tarmac because it drops down in a series of sharp twists and turns and disappears behind the barrier, then rises again with nothing in its talons, manouevering desperately to avoid the traffic. On to the A5 and into new territory; last time we spent our first night in Caceres, this time it’ll be Trujillo.
Something about the town’s central Plaza Mayor makes me want to call it a piazza – for whatever reason the palace towers and galleried walkways, the church and the central fountain, seem Italian to me, especially as night draws in and a few diners begin to take tables on the terraces. I’ve never set foot in Italy, but still.
We sit in a renowned bar of the town, enjoying their free tapas and afterwards we walk. At the other side of the square we take a corner and stroll into what seems to be a quieter part of town. The little wooden doorway – cut out of a much larger wooden doorway – of a grand old building is open and light pours out from the interior. A plaque on the wall informs us that this is one of Trujillo’s numerous palaces.
Built on new money from the new world, I can’t imagine it’s actually open at this time of night but my curiousity gets the better of me and I put my head inside. In a stony courtyard there’s a sandwich board with a poster on it. Something polyphonic. And then the music begins. Through a doorway in the corner of the yard, the sound of a choir. We sneak up to it and stand behind a huddle of other surreptious observers, tiptoeing to get a look over their shoulders.
What we see is an elegant patio on a grand scale, galleried above and adorned with two stately palm trees at one end – at the other end a choral group on a dais, around twenty in number, half of them men and half women. They have an informal look to them and a median age of fifty and would appear to be hobbyists if it wasn’t for the poise and control in their delivery as they rattle through a selection of short pieces, some of them classical and some of them not, all of them filling up the night air exquisitely. Nobody is taking any money or appears to object to our being here – we can’t quite believe we’re having this second encounter with unexpected music in as many weeks.
Trujillo’s little gift for us: a mesmerising surprise and this time just like last time – it both lulls and stimulates, soporates and thrills.
We step inside.