San Sebastian

In the 1930s a young English writer named Laurie Lee walked from one end of Spain to the other, only to be evacuated by the British Navy when he made it to the southern coast. Realizing, once back in England, that he regretted his decision of leaving (it all happened so fast) and that he would rather join the fight than read about it in the papers, he returned to Spain by crossing the Pyrenees (the mountain range between France and Spain) on foot. He was inadequately prepared and equipped to do it, got caught in a snowstorm, and then chanced upon a little hut to shelter him from what would have certainly killed him otherwise, the crazy bastard¹.

Seventy-odd years later, after leaving Toulouse, I drove for ages alongside that same mountain range and wound up with a tan on only the left half of my face.

The idea was still to arrive in Madrid that same day, but given that I so rarely get to see the ocean I decided to make a short stop in San Sebastian. Emerging from the overpriced, central parking lot that my perceived lack of time and my real lack of experience in navigating foreign cities by car had coerced me into opting for, I found myself in the middle of a buzzing tourist trap. Expensive shit, fake tans, throw-away bikinis, and a million screens. I wasn't going to stay very long, clearly. But before I made like a tree I just wanted to get a good look at that wondrous, immeasurably vast, blue thing.

There was a broad cove containing a long stretch of beach right in the middle of town but it didn't really do it for me; not while the outer fringes of the cove promised bigger, more thundering, more Atlantic waves. So I took a hint from the big statue of some holy fella (Saint Sebastian?) and headed over to the hill he was staring down from.

During my ascent a young, shirtless man with bulky black sunglasses sped past me. He seemed to be in quite a bit of a hurry, or otherwise saw the climb up the hill as an opportunity to do some sports. The devil seemed, in any case, to be chasing this guy and I rather wondered why.

The hill stood out above the surrounding old part of town and after reaching a certain altitude, it offered a view beyond the city limits, towards the South. I stopped to take it all in: rows upon rows of rolling hills in the deepest shade of green rose up where the city ended, dwarfing it, and raising a curiosity in me as to what other landscapes I was going to be crossing throughout the rest of the day.

Suddenly Mr Topless popped up in the corner of my eye again, and I turned to face him as he came rushing toward me. When he arrived he planted himself right between me and what I was looking at, extended his selfie stick, put on his party face, took a picture of himself, and ran away again, giving no hint of even noticing my being there, and not taking as much as a second to look at his backdrop.

Somewhat perplexed, I remained standing where I was, and began surveilling the guy. Sprint, sudden halt, selfie; sprint, sudden halt, selfie.. he just kept going. If I was not going to assume that I was being subjected to some kind of elaborate joke, the mostly likely explanation for this bizarre exercise that I could come up with was that he wanted advertise himself on some social media platform. This meant that on his profile, and on his friends' feed, and on the servers and backup servers of this social media platform there would from now on exist photo evidence of him being on this hill in San Sebastian, which is crazy to me because as far as I'm concerned he was not there at all. Instead, this guy was frolicking around in a separate world of his own making, containing nothing but sunshine, a buff upper body, and bulky black sunglasses on a party face..

.. which, I guess, must have been a nice enough place to be. Nicer, in any case, than the world I was in: as I continued climbing my eyes saw nothing but people who were doing it all wrong; people who, like Lookatmytorso Selfieboy or like me, were somehow separated from the real thing, whatever that was, and thinking of the previous night only amplified the sensation.

Once at the top, from the wall of the castle, I got a fairly decent look at the sea (tall trees somewhat obscured the view). The waves were huge and they made a roaring, deeply satisfying kind of sound as they plummeted with impossible force against the big-ass rocks all along the coast. Foam. Physics. The original blue. That salty smell. It all took me away from the nonsense for a bit.

Then I remembered the exorbitant parking fees, and left.

  1. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Laurie Lee, Penguin Books (1971), ISBN 0140033181
San Sebastian .pat