I remember the eagle. In the Corbières.
The road climbed towards a high cliff, irregular and jagged. At its foot a chaos of boulders and scree merging into impeccably ordered vineyards.
Suddenly the great bird appeared from the face of the cliff. With what seemed effortless ease it quartered the ground below, scarcely a movement of a single feather. Majestic. Awe inspiring. Total control.
Then suddenly the sublime disintegrated into farce. A gang of rooks rose clumsily from a small stand of trees. Ungainly, wings flapping furiously, they struggled to reach the eagle's height. He seemed unperturbed, no deviation from his pattern of flight. The rooks harried and harrassed, cawing, flapping, a great commotion. At last all the activity had the desired effect. Without any appearance of surrender, the eagle changed its direction of flight and glided at extraordinary speed to an area further along the cliff face. The rooks subsided, dropped back to their trees. Mission accomplished, their nestlings safe.
I remember the Sardane.
Not the splendid affair of 2000 bedecked dancers in the big arena at Céret. Elne on a Wednesday evening, the people of the town dancing for their own pleasure. We two the only tourists.
Very informal. The cobla started playing and gradually small groups formed circles and moved into the intricate steps of each piece. At first mostly the more elderly, the younger ones standing in groups around the square, talking, laughing, mingling.
One such group near us, the young men affecting the universal macho attitude. One of them had apparently been recently married and he had brought his new wife to be introduced to his friends. She was obviously not a local girl. Not a Catalan. The man had not joined the dancing but gradually his feet started to move in time with the music and matching the steps of the dancers, seemingly of their own volition, his macho air maintained. It was obvious that the music was bred into him and soon he was making little leaps. His new wife was astonished. Her macho man light-footing it like a ballet dancer! Unable to contain herself she shrieked with laughter. A bad mistake. Cutting looks and the group of friends formed their own circle and joined the dance.
Some light rain. The leader of the cobla, "Il pleut!" No problem, the Salle Hélène was opened up, everybody trooped in, chairs hastily arranged around the hall. The music resumed, louder and even more piercing in the confined space, and the show went on. Less room, perhaps a little jostling, but no diminution of the high spirits.
It was still going on as we left. Perhaps with a little feeling of envy of people so determined to hang on to their culture, not in a dogmatic, aggressive way but naturally and joyously.
I remember the storm.
High up near the head of a valley. We sat in bright sunshine and watched, across the valley, great black and purple clouds forming, breaking and shifting. Rumbles of thunder, coming closer. Lightning. Still the sun shone on us. Thunder now deafening, echoing around the mountains.
Another valley opened off the side opposite us. The storm seemed to centre there. Clouds filled that valley, then moved. Slopes came into view then disappeared. Extraordinary colours. The proverbial devil's inferno. We sat transfixed.
Then the rain hit us. We ran for the car and headed back down the valley. It was like driving down a waterfall, visibility about ten yards. Unbelievably, an ancient Citroen 2CV overtaking, forging ahead, creating a wave.
We reached the town at the foot of the valley. Floods, roads awash. The 2CV dead in the water. I am ashamed to say that we gave a little chuckle.
I remember the eagles in the Albères.
We sat on a crest, right on the border at something over 3000 feet. To both sides a huge panorama. In front of us Spain with a long stretch of the Costa Brava and inland beyond Figueres. Behind us a comparable view of the Roussillon plain and the ruler-straight coastline.
It was windy, we huddled against a rocky outcrop. Suddenly a pair of eagles, below us, we looking down on them, sharing the same view but sadly diminished. Dense forest below, what quarry did it hide?
With the same effortless flight we had seen in the Corbières, this pair covered the area, flying parallel to the ridge of the mountains, gradually moving in the direction of the coast.
We watched till they were almost out of sight then they moved further away from the ridge and gradually back towards us.
We watched for over an hour. It seemed like five minutes.
Roussillon is like that.
CCA competition winner, 1999
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