Arriving to a place is like taking a water slide the first time. You’re wide-eyed, fascinated; you want to take pictures of the whole way down. But once you have been down it a million times and are exhausted and there’s chlorine-water in your nose and ears, you’re ready to lay shivering between two towels on the cement, and let your shriveled toes, shredded and fragile from scaling the bottom of the pool, explore the topography of sand in the cement. So it’s been, and I wish I could share the strange fascination I had when first entering the castle in Catalunya, my eyes adjusting to the dim light. A 12th century olive oil press was in the corner, yet a pair of volksawgen seats sat in the entrance next to a few boxes of recycling and donation clothes. I wanted to look around on arriving, but it was midnight. Then the 6-month old puppy came downstairs, wiggling like a tadpole, flipped onto her back at my feet and peed on her belly. She would have more fingers toes and shoes to chew for the next month while I worked with her master on a book he’d write. I was shown my room, tile floor, stark, bright, a two foot thick window reveal: Stone walls. An IKEA bed on a few wooden pallets and a small bedside table. A bed frame with many slats, leaning up against one wall would soon become my dryer for sweaty clothes when I came in from walks. We go into the kitchen and the living room and the dining room in one circle and I wonder when I will remember which rooms leads to which. I’m goggle eyed, there’s the cookstove I’ve seen in pictures, there is the masonry heater I hadn’t seen yet, there is the living room, just like in the pictures, a former terrace, when this place was a boy’s club, run by the bishop. And when it was thousands of other things for the previous hundreds of years. There is a smell of agriculture that reminds me of catshit. Now it will ever remind me of Girona. Pigs, in nearby farms. We sit at a long table in the dining room and chat about everything, from music to marijuana, stoves and their builders to district energy. He’s a story teller. I’m letting the dog chew my cowboy boot because this is keeping her from chewing my hands, pant legs, shirtsleeves.
I’m here and I’m of course safe and working hard on a little book: with a man who builds masonry heaters and lives in a castle in Catalunya with his partner, and a puppy dog. His first language is Danish, but he wants the book to be in English, thus more accessible to more readers; and while he hardly needs an English translator, I think he wanted me around to keep him on track with the book in his head that wants written down. We jumped right in to work, abandoning what he had previously written for the immediacy of the witness a writing partner can provide.
[As of writing this a month ago] I have been here in Europe for almost a month now, and it’s funny how it’s been hard to write postcards home. Usually I am all chatter when I get to a new place. I’m in an incredibly weird place but that’s not unusual for me. I think it’s that my language has become a broken English ‘cause that’s what I’m hearing. I have told you that I am too impressionable: I can’t even watch a movie or TV without taking on the characters. I want to post photos on Facebook, but even that seems inappropriate: This house/castle, the surrounding Medieval village doesn’t want to be broadcast: it’s too quiet and personal.
The village is like what Northern California’s wine country wishes it was, rolling grassy hills, olive groves, terracotta roofing tiles, terraces. But this shit is Real, and Real Old! The foundation of the building I’m staying in is 12th C. The carving of the date on the lintel over the door says 1649. The roads are paved but very narrow and TIDY! It’s dead quiet. I think these are retirement and vacation homes for super-wealthy people. You go out and don’t see a soul. The man across the road Guisepe, or Pep, was a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, but when he retired early (like my own dad), he went back to painting, which he was pretty good at when he was young. Look at his hands, and you’ll see signs, as in my father’s hands, that everything he touches turns to gold. Now slow and methodical, his English is just good enough for me to find out what a bad-ass he was in medicine, and his paintings bite you in the butt from a knowledge of what’s really under the surface, in all ways. When he saw my enthusiasm about art he invited me to help him hang a small show in a city center. Today he and his beautiful young wife host the football game, in which there will be likely more talking about art than slugging weak Spanish beer. It’s stunning. A fantasy house.