10 Jan On first impressions..
We walked today, a walk we’ve done at least three times on each visit here, so today we clocked up perhaps number 7 or 8. It’s a walk with all the right ingredients – spectacular long views and fascinating close-up detail. The Route of the Mines (Ruta de las Minas) runs for about 8km through landscape of scarred beauty near the village of Bedar, where we are staying. Iron ore was wrested from the hills here for about 100 years up to 1970. In the far distance the hills intersect each other reaching inland to snow-topped peaks. In the near distance, holes issue darkly into the rock faces as they tower above the trail like ancient petrified mastodons with their eye sockets empty and their tusks ripped out. Here men hacked away deep into the hillsides, hour upon hour of hard, exhausting labour.
Returning to walk it again prompted a conversation about the potency of first impressions. Jim reflected wistfully on the first year we came to this south-eastern corner of Spain, how he had found the landscape enchanting and how you can never quite regain that sharpened sense you had at the first encounter. He’s reading John Banville’s Thought Pieces inspired by Dublin where he spent his boyhood; meanwhile I’ve just finished Olivia Laing’s To the River, an elegy to the River Ouse in Sussex with which she had a childhood acquaintance. So maybe we were both primed for a conversation such as this, a nostalgic reflection on the intensity of first impressions, so often recalled as magical or summoned up from a precious store of childhood memories. What we lose.
Yet as we walked on and the Ruta unfolded underfoot, I thought that there is something gained by familiarity as well as something lost. Back here once again, on the stony trails through the scrubby sierras that lie between whitewashed villages, seeing the old wooden sleepers and the low, dark tunnels, remnants of the little narrow-gauge railway that used to take the mined rock away so the iron ore could be extracted, coming again to the point where you look down to that silvery sweep in the bone-dry riverbed where a ruined house still stands, more depleted than last year no doubt, I relish the sense of getting to know, of becoming intimate with the landscape, greeting it like an old friend. There is a reassuring joy at recognising the grove of olives or almonds that will be around the next corner, of anticipating the big panoramas before you reach them, readying yourself to meet them again. And though they are familiar on the whole, in their detail they are different each time, as I am in my detail. For each time I bring new eyes. This year the shrubs by the side of the trail are drier and dustier than I have seen them before, the colours more muted, the flowers fewer. This year I am a little melancholy, or is it pensive? In any case, more mindful of time passing. But the familiar vistas have a kind of grand constancy that lifts the spirit. I find them comforting in a way. They remind me: for all that changes in life, much stays the same.