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Lorenzo of the Mountains.

Descending mountains on a bicycle is as intensely cold an experience as I ever wish to have. To go instantly from maximum exertion and no wind-chill to freewheeling in 40mph winds does not make one toasty warm. No glove yet invented or shoe cover yet produced is enough. No amount of facial hair is protective. (I have plenty now) One time, my glasses iced over. Anyone who does this with only a newspaper shoved up their lycra top has my total respect.

Spartacus being nails

It was in this sorry state that I arrived at Lorenzo’s door, in a tiny village in the shadow of the fearsome Porte Belate. I was welcomed by his wife, who used my pitiful Spanish and her expressive gestures to usher me into the shower and fetch me a beer and pistachios. Now there was a Warmshowers welcome! Logs flickered and embers glowed in both the fire and the stove. The place felt like home instantly. My bicycle found a home in the only vacant corner of a stuffed woodshed. Wet things were hung over the local iteration of the AGA, my shoes stuffed with newspaper and placed beside it. The scene was perfect in winter, but sadly my language skills were not sufficient to ask, “This is all very well for December, but how do you cook and avoid boiling alive in your own home in July?!”

On Lorenzo’s return he set to work preparing the salad to accompany the meal. Not a salad fan at the best of times, let alone after the day’s riding I’d had I watched with suspicion. To my visible relief calorie-rich anchovies and olives went in alongside the leaves. Then began the almost ceremonial dressing. Dark olive oil poured on and on into the bowl, with balsamic vinegar, then a taste. Somehow more oil was needed, along with some cider vinegar for sharpness, and some salt. The resulting salad was the best I’ve ever tasted, and would have made a whole meal even for a starving cyclist. Praise indeed.

Lorenzo’s son was something of a guitarist, and musical instruments littered the house. After my failure to find a way to bring the Martin Backpacker along, and my unsuccessful attempt to learn the ukulele while living out of a one-person tent, I could not resist, and we shared music which crossed cultures and languages all night. At a late hour, Lorenzo and I chatted about my future, and I commented that my delicate musician’s fingers mark me out as using my brain, not my hands, to make a living. He gestured to the guitar and said, ” Maybe you can use your hands to make work. I think it’s better…”

Encouraged and affirmed by an encounter only hours old, I slept soundly. I’d hoped that this trip would allow me to find confidence to face the future, and though I’m not naive enough to think I’ll walk back into England a professional musician, maybe music can be part of what I do next.

At breakfast the next day Lorenzo gave me more local knowledge about a bike path into Pamplona. It turned out to be ace, for most of the way…

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He also bestowed me with a couple of gifts. Turron is a marzipan/fudge hybrid which is a popular Spanish Christmas gift. Though not so popular in Lorenzo’s house cos this stuff was from four Christmases ago and three years out of date. I tried it, but the sugar had leached out and it tasted rank. And I got some dried fruit, which I poured into my porridge the next day. But the raisins had pips in! Deseeding raisins an unexpected addition to my morning ritual then…

Lorenzo of the mountains. Great guy. Amazing salad. Crap presents. Cheers.