A holiday in Spain, and a visit to the wilder shores of Marx, by Theodore Dalrymple – 2016

Another bit of travel writing and a book review from the past – to help us all while we are all still locked down. In late summer 2016, my wife and I and our oldest daughter took a short holiday at a little village in Nothern Spain. We flew from Gatwick…

…interesting to reflect, sat in LGW (North) at least following my recent reading of Theodore Dalrymple on Marxist regimes, that there are no policemen airside, at least none in uniform and none that I could discern in plain clothes. Although as John le Carre (I think) writes, in a civilised country you will never know who the watchers are…

The flight to Barcelona was harmless. Passport control in Barcelona took a while, which ired me somewhat, but we were through soon enough.  It WAS a Sunday. An unusually pleasant and flirty rental car lady took us through the details of the car rental documents, and soon enough we were on our way to Barcelona in an Audi A4 – a quite dreadful machine….

Dalrymple writes very well, kind of like a superior English version of Bill Bryson, humorous but not as flippant or as coarse as Bryson can be.  He puts into eloquent thought, what I have long felt to be true of myself: writing of a visit to some long-forgotten tomb in Vietnam, he notes something that applies to every experience of my life, great or small, banal or timeless and glorious. “It is the fate of intellectuals to leave no experience, however ravishing, to remain in the memory untainted by theorising”. Me, I must think. To think, is to be. To be unable to think, is to be nothing. And going on holiday, allows time to think, amongst other things.

Leaving the airport, we drove right into the centre of Barcelona, and parked up in a tiny inner city car park within a few hundred yards of the Sagrada Familia.  It was a very cramped car park and used only with some difficulty, particularly with a shiny new rented saloon car.  Next door we found a café and stopped for a very welcome brunch.  For me, a croque-monsieur and latte.

The Sagrada Familia was wonderful, everything I expected and much, much more in terms of light, colour, space, columns, stained glass, carvings and architecture.  Later we had afternoon “tea” of coffee and cakes.  Then we navigated our way of the city, and thundered along the coastal freeway north towards the Costa Blanca.  We arrived in the village and were taken to a little village square, where we were very fortunate to witness one of the those “people towers” in the midst of a little party or carnival.

We lazed by the pool over a few beers, and then, in the gloaming, had a light supper, bought in the supermarket back in Barcelona.  The supper finished by candlelight and was enlivened by some great conversation. A good start to a holiday anywhere in the world.

Next day, we had a pleasant morning; we bought some groceries in the nearby shop. 40 Euros including some amazingly cheap San Miguel, six huge litre bottles for 7 Euros. Then, another ham/cheese/tomato/bread lunch about 1p.m – a slow and languid day on holiday. In the evening we went out for supper, to a restaurant down the street.  Plenty to eat; meat croquettes, frittata, rabbit, chicken, and fish, all washed down with Sangria.  There was a downpour whilst we were there, and there was much lightning visible in the distance – but it was never a serious thunderstorm. During the night the wind got up and was banging doors, waking us all up.

Theodore Dalrymple has written a number of very readable works, including Our Culture, What’s Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses and Not With a Bang But a Whimper: The Politics and Culture of Decline, and my favourite, Spoilt Rotten: The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality. He used to contribute a rather dry and amusing, if somewhat distressing column to the Daily Telegraph, covering some aspects of his work as a prison doctor. His writing leans to the view that in the west, liberal views can have a tendency to minimise the responsibility of individuals for their own actions, and to lead to the creation of an underclass. I don’t think you’ll see him at the same parties as Robert Fisk or George Monbiot.

But he has written here a very humane and gentle account of journeyings in forgotten Marxist lands. Cuba. North Korea. Ethiopia. Cambodia. Albania. Some of them are Marxist no longer; others remain under the jackboot. His travel writing can be a little superficial, but it’s not less informative for all that. Reading it only serves to reconfirm my opposition to all forms of Communism – Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, Trotskyism, call it what you like. Heinlein called it “malevolent silliness.

Next day dawned very fresh and clear after the rain. After breakfast we hiked up to the local hermitage, and thence round the mountainside in bright sunshine to a monastery.  The views were wonderful.  We had an excellent lunch at the monastery; there was a set three course menu for 16.5 Euros, and some San Miguel. Very good service. And so back through the late afternoon to the flat at Palau, whence we three lazed by the pool and had laughter.  An excellent, first rate day of holiday.

Another relaxing morning with a “holiday breakfast” feeling.  I come down dressed to find my wife and daughter relaxed, taking coffee. I buy croissants and we have us a pleasant breakfast in this little courtyard, tastefully converted from some light industrial premises of the past. In this case, it was once a blacksmith’s yard. It is cool, it is clean and it is quiet, and it is private.  A little fountain provides a constant background tinkling. Outside an archway at the rear are some rather ordinary flats, and a terraced garden with a tiny swimming pool.  To the right, the hills.  To the left, the coastal plain. The property, says mine host, has been in their family since the 17th century.  Whilst it ostensibly sleeps eight, there is only one big double room.  Upstairs, two rooms, a double and a twin, a good bathroom and a large mezzanine lounge which could be used to sleep more people at the expense of privacy.  Downstairs, a good kitchen, an indoor dining area and lounge (although at this latitude dining indoors is probably only necessary from late November to late February) and a second lounge room with a huge futon.  There’s a delightful second bathroom, open to the sky (through a window of course).  The skylight opens on one of the three rooftop terraces boasted by the house, which would make some people edgy about using the shower. You would want to be careful if the house was full.

But all good things come to an end. We had to go home eventually:

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