Chapter 7: Virgin of the Mountain, the long way home

Huckleberry stopped into café bar Africa on his way home from school, a place he frequents without ever gaining the ability to read the air.

“Isn´t that right, Paco”, the barman placed a caña of cerveza overflowing onto the counter for Huckleberry. Huck´s name wasn´t necessarily Paco, but it wasn´t necessarily not Paco. They were talking about the icy rain weather on the television providing us a glimpse into the publicless stands of the Barcelona versus Levante game, and they verified that -at least- it wasn´t nearly as cold as it was in his Wisconsin hometown.

“Effectively” Huck responded, “Some days it gets down to -30 Celsius.”

“wwoooooo! How do you leave the house? You wouldn´t even have wrinkles!” the waitress imitated walking into the face stretching frio of the upper midwest.

A little codornizo egg fried easy and served on a patatera mini-toast helped wash down the cervecita.

It was chilly though, in Cáceres. An engaging and amiable sort of chilliness. Enough to keep the locals from coming to the bar to watch soccer, which by local standards is quite enough.

Cáceres has slowly won Huckleberry over and his life is starting to take some sort of defined form. Switching between languages, he no longer short circuits. Less and less people are talking to him like he´s a complete idiot. He´s methodically meandered to just about every street whose inviting characters he knows well but whose names still politely evade his blind right eye. The regal storks have finally arrived and hang alluringly in the near skyscape under the white weight of the Extremaduran January sun. After giving visual integration a try, and learning that it just wasn´t for him: the full beard is back in its rich bitonal splendor. While he misses his family, he greatly appreciates the spanish and sometimes not so spanish friendships he has. The initially shocking melodrama of the general character here has long worn off, and is now rather quite an amusing spice to the otherwise daily-daily that goes unchanging pleasantly into the always nearby future.

There were still really difficult days, that´s for sure; but, not quite like before. Every time he returns to Cáceres from a trip, it feels more and more like a home.

This day, Huckleberry looked up into the morning sky. The blue left of the sanctuary on the mountain looked blue like the blue painted tiles downtown. The low sun to the right seemed to be hammocking in the horizon of the treeless but magnetizing green pastures of the hills surrounding the city. The giant yellow yoke´s nearness made the sky dense white, and seemed even nearer than the tile blue sky out beyond them: la montaña, el sol, and Cáceres. Otherwise inexplicably familiar, the sun made one thing absolutely clear – take a walk. From its stratosphere stretching repose like a monkey on a flexing branch, it offered a view of the fetching hillsides. No man is contest for such advances.

After dropping off his morning reading on the bed of his fresh off the press quilt masterpiece, he stepped back outside and decided which direction would be “the long way home” for today.

There.

There´s a little park called the Park of Mark with a tiny pond nearby a university horticulture building. From there you can walk up a ways outwards to the radio tower and double back along the dorsal of the hill-line towards the sanctuary of the Virgin of the Mountain Sanctuary. Granted, the mountain was a hill; but after time with her, and many walks up her flanking rural roads skirting down, Huckleberry began to understand why she´s indeed a mountain. Even the Virgin of the Mountain has gained somesort of personal meaning for him. There are no words, but it´s a friendship in formation and he looks forward to every 1-2 hour trip towards her sanctuary.

At a comida (meal during siesta) in a nearby vinoteca (“Wine Club”) called Potosi, Rafa said once, “I´m not a religious believer, but I do believe in the Virgin of the Mountain.” He pulled gold chained belief out from his shirt to show the beautiful figurine of the nice lady. This, Huck thought, was both admirable and understandable. Who knows if he would have thought so at journey´s beginning.

Nonetheless, there he was taking the long way home from home, down to the Park of Mark up to the radio tower, to the sanctuary, down to the conservatory, and up the hill by the Park of the Rodeo.

Once at the beginning of the sheep and waist high stone wall stradled country road and olive tree speckled grassy green dunes that waved out into-and-through the near sun´s whiteness interrumpting the country view, there was a reigning quietness. The composer Olivier Messiaen would be enthralled by the birds that substitute, moonlighting for the otherwise continuous gig the city noise entertains. A lamenated green paper sign bold prints out “at your own pace” with an arrow below indicating the nearest path leftwards the sanctuary. Not today for Huck, but a good reminder, and well noted as he walked in the long way right direction. Somewhere near the red earth quarry on the outskirts of New Cáceres heading out of town, the patiently ascending path rockens and reddens in parallel. There are no more fences to keep people out from the olivares and private property. Dogs bark, some timidly some wildly enthusiastic in their welcoming hoots and hollers.

Huck came to a dead end under some sheered rocks, and thought of a fantastically surreal time he spent in 9 Mile Canyon in Utah two years ago. An ancient silence quelled the dry air in those rocky ledges. Seemingly engorged by absence, here was a miniature space alike in character minutes from “home”.

Huck left the flies to their rock bordered and development forgotten hideout, and headed back up the rural road leading to the tower. Noticing the seemingly back lit shallow light of the entire morning countryside was an incessant affliction for his unfocused attention.

Huck recently found out that the next 10 days were – due to exams for the students- liberated from his presence, and having the opportunity to travel, hoped that somewhere in his paseo he would accidentally stumble upon the deeply honest desire to title and confirm his next travel destination.

After coming up top the hill, and paying his respects to the familiar sculptures and regular kittens decorating the parking lot of the sanctuary, Huck descended down towards the often bamboo hugged stream that runs along the backside of the town near the “Old Historic Part”.

On the way he passed a family all bundled up for the “winter cold” and man playing with his dog out in the hill nearby. Huck couldn´t get over how luminescent everything was, for January. Hopefully, it would never get old. Nearby, Death´s horse munching on grasses makes the flat cresting hill look that much more full of tiny, insignificant little yellow petaled wild flowers. In apalling abundandance, Huck fought the hunch that he should pick – just a few. Unfortunately, the quest to find an edelweiss flower in the pyrenees wilderness stung him from inside the cobblestone streeted untouched mountainvillage of “Ideal” lodged in his consciousness. But, still, the human wanted to pick up at least one of the unending multitude defining minutiae in bold cuts and swings of crisp yellow. Sometimes, this wildflower and grass filled sunny hill backdropped by the empty, monochromatic blue sky seemed more unreal than images taken on the far off moon.

Storks on a windy winter day hoisted by nothing other than majestic air impress his imagination and obliterate all memories built on books and photographs. They were truly “something else”, as they say.

As he arrived at the park of the rodeo he saw an old woman, sitting on a bench doing nothing but, as describes Bernando Soares ” bending (herneck as if to bear the weight of some huge yoke.” She was clearly out in the sun, all bundled up, to take it in, soak it up. But, she did not look altogether happy, or alive. Huck suddenly felt like an inconsiderate idiot for not having grabbed the clearly not endangered wild flowers who, for all we know, may have loved the opportunity to leave for a bit, to accompany a stranger on a sunny bench, and take the long way home. Next time, perhaps.

Chapter 8

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