Don’t travel by public transport in Spain on a Sunday (unless you’re going from one big town to another). When I arrived in the small town of Linares, between Madrid and Grenada, I was told that there was only one bus to the next town on my route, Ubeda, although on weekdays there were several.
On the night train, someone had knocked on the door of the compartment, announcing vingti minuti before Madrid. Plenty of time to collect toilet bag, water bottle and notebook from the little pouch beside the bed, rummaging around in the dark, to pack everything away, and visit the wash room before emerging onto the dark platform.
Remembering other European train stations, I’d imagined Madrid Chamartin to be a heaving hub of people but I’d quite forgotten it was Sunday, and the station was almost deserted. It was also very clearly signposted, with an escalator to the salle, where departures were displayed in bright lights. Each platform also has its own entrance from the hall, so there is no – go here for platforms 1-5, go there for platforms 6-10, go downstairs for 11 & 12, the kind of complex information that requires careful scrutiny, that I’m used to in French train stations.
I had over 3 hours to wait at Linares-Baeza, so I walked from the station to a tree-lined avenue, where a café-bar was open and there were some signs of life, and sat down on a bench. The sky was clear blue, the sunlight delicious. Within about five minutes, a car stopped and I was asked for directions. This always happens to me, I must have the kind of face that looks unthreatening. And since I’d noticed the road signs to Ubeda, I was able to tell them, or rather, gesture to them, where to go. Later I walked along this road and tried to hitch-hike but there were very few cars and I soon gave up. Walking back towards the station I discovered a shop that was open, bought some fruit juice and biscottes and when I arrived back at the station, there was a bus standing in front of it so I asked, hopefully, if it went to Ubeda. No, that would come later, as the man in the train station had said. So I sat down on one of the benches in the near deserted square, and pulled out a book from my backpack, Winter in Madrid, by C J Sansom.
It takes place during WW II, just after the revolution in Spain and is a gripping story that highlights the suffering of the people during the Spanish Civil War, includes espionage and underhand dealings of various kinds, love, imprisonment, and plenty of nail-biting danger. Through its characters it confronts such issues as belief or faith, portrayed by different organisations or factions, such as the Catholic Church or Communism and how far one’s adherence to tenets or dogma can take you away from compassion for other human beings. Set in the 1940s, still, such issues of fervent or fanatical belief and its results, are just as relevant nowadays.
I looked around me at the quiet, sun-struck square, with its benches shaded by leafy palm trees. Someone was sitting on another bench at the far end. A taxi was parked at the side of the pedestrian area, just in front of the station, with its hood up. The man was talking into his cell phone. I’d seen him come out of the taxi and raise the hood. Of course he must be the driver and there was something wrong with his vehicle and he was trying to get a mechanic to have a look at it. There again, this was pure supposition and I had no idea who he was talking to or what he was saying. In the book I was reading, so many people were pretending and playing parts and assuming roles, spying and being spied on – and apart from us, the whole town seemed to be deserted or having Sunday lunch or Sunday siesta ..... A couple of very large and lean stray dogs slunk past (a pack of wild dogs also figures in Winter in Madrid). I began to imagine all kinds of things, including no bus ever turning up to take me away from here.
|The road from the station, Linares|
I noticed the taxi driver filling a large container of water from a slender iron pole which I realised must be a fountain. So I went over with my water bottle and pressed what I took to be the right button, but nothing happened. The taxi driver then came over, and showed me that you had to press something on the ground with your foot, to make the water flow. I thanked him for that and returned to my bench. I was to discover that Spanish people, at least in the area I was in, which is off the usual tourist track, have a natural willingness to help, which made me warm to them immediately.
Despite this helpfulness, I decided not to read any more of the novel until I had arrived at my final destination, two or possibly three bus journeys further on, in the safety of the whitewashed walls of the house where I would spend the next few days. Half an hour or so later, a van appeared and pulled up behind the taxi. It was clearly a breakdown van, with Juan Montes written on the side. He peered under the taxi’s hood, talked to the taxi driver, extracted some jump leads from his van, and soon after that, both vehicles left the square. I went for another walk around the block. The sun was now decidedly hot. A brown butterfly landed on the earth around the palm tree bole and instantly disappeared into background. The brittle palm leaves barely rustled in the still air.
Then a background sound got louder and the peace and silence was broken by what sounded like a roaring noise. A bus appeared, like a monstrous visitation from another world. I have a sudden illumination into why Don Quixote charged at windmills. Followed by a feeling of relief, for this snorting mechanical dragon is my saviour, it’s the bus to Ubeda.
|en route Linares - Ubeda|
At last, I’m going somewhere again, and we travel through a landscape of red earth and olive trees, under a deep blue sky.