Taking time to breathe… a 3 week respite before returning to NYC… things got pretty tense by the time I left the island 10 days ago – solitude long overdue… so… I hopped a plane to Toulouse, France (yes, the upside of summer tourism is a direct flight from Mahon to Toulouse, for poco dinero), rented a car, and headed south. Ist stop: Joy Askew’s beautiful house outside Castelnau-Magnoac in Haute-Pyrenees/Gascony (D’Artagnan country!) – lush French farmland with incredible views of the really-quite-close massive mountains. After a couple of days’ recuperation (long sleeps in the princess bed, great vegan cooking!), I headed into the mountains proper, to the Pirineos Catalan – to Farrera, long wished for and finally achieved… 4 wondrous days deep, deep in the mountains, in this tiny hill village (permanent population 18) where Lluis and Cesca have created the Centro d’Art i Natura… a place for artists (and scientists, and philosophers) to come and create, deep in nature… the day after I arrived there was a concert in the little church of two of the Bach cello suites, preceeded by a conference on Music (Bach), Mathematics (fractals) and Philosophy – standing room only in a small meeting room in the centre (which afterwards became my studio) – all in Catalan, of course, but I understood most of it, even if I can’t speak it… great communal dinners (10 the first night, 20 the 2nd and 4 the 3rd!). I found a great rhythm: up at 8.30, breakfast of melon and coffee, hiking by 10, ending with a ceremonial creek dip in a freezing cold mountain stream, and at work by midday. a half hour break for lunch around 2.30, then back to work until around 6, in time for another short walk, a short siesta and then dinner, made by Lluis’s youngest son Arnaud, an incredibly imaginative chef, followed very shortly by bed! Yes and again yes…. Two hermitages sit on outcrops of rock on opposite sides of the valley – both great destinations and great places to sing… I even lugged the mandola there one morning – hard going coming back up!
I had to leave after 4 days because a) there was someone booked into my room (the place holds about 8-10 people, I guess) and b) I needed – and wanted – to spend time with Joy, who was originally expecting me for the full 9 days. So I rather reluctantly headed down out of the mountains, back to Cizos, where I had a further wonderful couple of days – joy was a great tour guide… highlights were a lunch with her friend the painter Richard Hoare, in a small village restaurant which turned out to be THE gourmand experience – incredible – followed by a visit to his house and studio up on a ridge with a 360 degree view to die for… and later the Abbaye de L’Escaladieu – stairway to heaven! – where there was an exhibition inspired by trees that was a total wonder – extraordinary art on the walls and outside in the grounds (see photos) – inspirational… but we also swam in a lake, and spent an afternoon in the shade of the giant tree in her garden, first at lunch and then in the deckchair, feet up on the giant slate – heaven….
And so to Sicily, Palazzolo Acreide to be precise, where I arrived at 1 a.m. last night to the biggest and loudest fireworks display directly overhead – how nice of them to welcome me so enthusiastically! In reality it was the grand finale of the festival of San Sebastian, with millions (literally) of lights in the Piazza Populo and arched down the streets, the whole town out in force including all the kids, the brass band playing furiously, following the statue as it circled the square 3 times, hefted on its pallette by 20 strong Italian men, and finally all the way up the massive stairs back into the cathedral – glad I caught at least the tail end….