The scent of warm pine filling the air; dusty ground littered with browned needles that I scraped with sandal-clad toes as I rose and fell on the yellow painted metal see-saw; parents sat near-by with a jug of sangria as lizards skittered amongst the chairs.
They say that smell is one of the stronger senses for recalling memories. Every time I stepped off a plane in Spain and the smell of jet fuel mingled with that of warmed pines, the memory rushed back. I have been in love with Spain since the age of three – with the small coves where I roamed the beaches in search of pretty shells or sat in rock-pools commanding mussels and sea-anemone in my private kingdom – and my travels invariably took me back there.
Spain was not particularly free in 1973: Franco still dictated the lives of Spaniards. With his death came a more open Spain, one that northern Europeans flocked to for the sun, food and slow, welcoming pace of life. I returned to her shores at every opportunity, to a country where the young me, free from the worries and constraints of adult-life, had roamed. Then came my chance, and I grabbed it with both hands.
Forty, and tired of the treadmill of everyday life, I had the opportunity to take a year-long sabbatical. I moved to Spain, my belongings in storage in England, my two dogs and the necessary accoutrements of life loaded into the car. I drove from the centre of England, and the length of France and Spain, to make my home in the Andalucían mountains; to embrace the feeling of liberty that Spain afforded me.
From my mountain-side house where eagles and vultures cast long shadows over the valleys, crevices and dusty tracks, I explored. I explored my inner feelings, dwelling in my house of solitude. I explored the Moorish splendour of Granada, tracing the carved words of a language I do not understand with my fingertips, but whose sentiment felt clear to me. I let my thoughts run free in the cool, quiet patios of Córdoba where water glistened as it bubbled from spouts and filled the channels below. My spirit soured, the duende burned within me, as I watched and listened to Flamenco in the orange-filled piazzas of Seville. In the dark interiors of cathedrals and chapels, as the heavy, cloying incense spiralled towards Mudejar carved ceilings, I lolled in Spain’s warm embrace.
Climbing higher up my mountain, sitting on a soft bed of old pine needles as the dogs snuffled around in search of the wild boar whose scent lingered in the short spikey bushes, I looked across the water to North Africa. A land of adventure and discovery beckoned me to join her. I’ve tasted her culture, infused with the Spanish in Andalucía’s dishes – the warmth of the spices mixed with the olives and goat that can be found on the scrubby foothills. But Spain holds me close, whilst giving me space.
My one year turned to three before the call of a passion, greater than even Spain inspires, pulled me from her shores. It was not to Africa that I turned but Italy; from the mountains and coastline of Andalucía, to the flatlands of Polesine. I had left England, my home country, without a backward glance; no pangs of regret. I left Spain with deep sorrow despite the happy circumstances of my departure. Spain is where my soul dwells happiest – it is where I feel free – I will return.
About the Author: Deborah Cater is a travel writer, reviewer and blogger. She focuses her travels mainly within Europe, “it is one continent with a multitude of cultures and languages, yet histories that are interwoven tightly together.” Find Debra on her website, Facebook or Twitter @DeborahCater.