I still remember so well my first visit to Belmonte de Campos*, Palencia, Castilla y León. It was September 2001 and I stayed for a long weekend at my friend’s family home. I remember the delicious food I ate and all those new flavours I could not yet describe. When Araceli asked me, Do you like it Gerdita, I answered, Yes, but what IS this taste? The new flavours were, amongst others, that of pimentón de la Vera and cumin, that Araceli used in many of her dishes. But then I also remember the stillness that surrounds this small place and the seemingly infinite days. It appeared to me then, that the sun would never set**.
In A Magical Place I tried to recreate the mental images that pop up every time I think back to that very first visit.
A Magical Place
I went upstairs after lunch to rest. Only twenty minutes, I told myself. Well, on second thoughts, no more than thirty minutes, I am on holiday after all. I took my shoes off and placed them carefully on the floor at the far end of the bed. At the same time I briefly considered taking my clothes off, too, and slipping underneath the freshly-washed-and-of-fabric-softener-smelling-pinker-than-pink bedspread. But then I feared I might fall asleep and instead laid myself on top of the bed. I closed my eyes, folded my arms lightly over my belly and listened to the cheerful voices coming from the kitchen downstairs, where three busy pairs of hands were tidying the long wooden dining table and washing six wine glasses and tiny coffee cups and the plates and bowels, that not long before had been filled with warm thick vegetable soup and fish, beans and meat. To the rhythmic sound of a brush sweeping the stone floors I must have drifted off to sleep. The next I remember was hearing my friend’s soft call, Gerdita, the sun’s shining, why don’t we go for a walk? At that particular time I was uneasy about time passing too fast, and I think I might have replied, slightly irritably, because of my annoyance that the maximum allowed thirty minutes rest had sneakily expanded into an hour-long siesta, But do we have time? Isn’t it too late? My companion’s voice reassured, We have time, Gerdita. There’s time for everything. Here time stands still and days last forever. Let me show you…
Belmonte de Campos
This is a magical place.
A magical place?
This is where time stands still.
Where time stands still? Is there no race?
There’s no race. Take off your watch and place it on the table.
Let time be and it’ll take care of you, heal you.
…and then I placed my watch on top of the small round table next to the window and walked outside, no longer following the forever-running dials, and days turned into one endless ocean and suddenly I’d become the captain of my small boat and I decided to steer towards the sun and look for calm waters and suddenly I had time to see and to hear and to smell and to taste and to feel … and to be free.
* Today, the village is permanent home to less than a dozen men and women, numerous sheep and dogs.
** Days are longer because sunset occurs some 80 minutes or so later than in the UK