September 17, 2005

Roussilon and Back

We drove north toward the Pyrenees this morning -- were ging to the Costa Brava, but it was overcast and rainy and the coast wasn't well visible so we decided to keep going through the mountains into France, 150 km from Barcelona. The border crossing was about as complex as crossing from Oklahoma to Texas -- we only had to slow down enough to pass through an open tollgate. Went to Elne, a town in the Roussilon, supposedly the oldest continually occupied settlement in Western Europe -- since 800BC, the pre-Roman Iberians. Hannibal camped there once. Now there's a nice cloister and church.

On the Spanish side we stopped and walked in Girona, a charming town with upscale shops and a medieval Jewish quarter, El Call, that brings in a lot of tourist business today. The Call is situated on an steep, defensible hill with narrow cobbled streets, and there's a museum of Spanish Jewish life. Dan bought a book on the history of the Jews of Spain and I informed him of the various common spanish family names that were originally Jewish: Espinosa, Mendoza, Lopez, Perez, and of course my name, Colon. He's now eagerly searching for his Jewish ancestry under my tutelage.

Then drove back to Barcelona -- Dan's doing all the driving, by the way, because of rental insurance regulations, so it's lucky he's a former long distance trucker -- and explored a working class neighborhood on the Mediterranean shore, Barceloneta. It was a planned community for workers in the 18th century. Our ceramicist host Joanet had warned us it was very rough, very dangerous -- told us a story of an artist couple he'd hosted who had been beaten up there -- but we must have arrived too early in the evening for that. The place had a nice, homey feel -- we hung out in a bar watching clumsy basketball (Spain vs. Latvia) and good soccer (Madrid vs. Tenerife) on big-screen TV, then went to an overpriced Catalan seafoood restaurant. The neighborhood felt like what the mid-Bronx might feel like if it had narrower streets, was on a beach (which some of the Bronx is, actually), and for some unearthly reason became a tourist destination.

Tomorrow we're leaving early to drive to Madrid -- 8 hours of road time with nothing much of interest in between, sort of like driving across Texas -- so I probably won't be posting for a couple of days.

I found out that Catalan for ciao is "adieu."