With: HD (born 1976)
Date: 31 December 2016
Where: Valencia, Spain
On the final day of the year in which I turned 40 I take myself for a walk to explore Valencia and reflect on the other 39 walks I've written up during the year. I make no apology for the stream-of-consciousness!
Very unusually, I wake up to my alarm because I've arranged to Skype Sandra at 9am and need time to fumble around and make coffee with my camping stove because the 'hostel' (which is located inside Valencia's Estacio del Nord) has no kitchen! I drank three beers last night while Skyping Craig and feel more hungover than I'd have expected. The hostel is too hot, I didn't drink any water, and six hours' sleep isn't enough for me. God only knows how I managed to exist for decades getting so little. Talking to Sandra helps, but having the hostel guy come over and tell me the station security guy is freaking out about my bike being locked to a post outside pisses me off given the hostel's greedy policy that if you want to store a bike safely inside you have to pay for the privilege! I say I'll move it soon, which is what I also said last night, hence the security guy freaking out. Sandra and I cover a range of typically light topics from Spanish grammar to parental mortality. She's about to explain the subtle differences between 'te quiero' and 'te amo' when I announce I'm about to wet myself and need to sign off.
After a shower I set off for my solo walk, moving my bike to the station's official bike rack first. As I unlock it from its post the security guy comes over and berates me really aggressively, even though there is no signage saying not to lock bikes to posts. Two young Belgians from the hostel have overheard the incident and catch up with me to offer me some solidarity, which helps a lot. As I lock my bike in the proper place I realise the back tyre is flat. Since this has happened only once in tens of thousands of kilometres and the tyre is new I suspect sabotage. Not the most pleasant start to my New Year's Eve in Valencia.
As I start my walk - wearing, as usual, shorts, knee-length socks, my down jacket and sunglasses - I realise I'm really quite hungover and remind myself to mindfully notice the flat, anxious feeling for what it is. Avoidable though, and I'm old enough to know better! I decide today's definitely the day for my first slice of proper fresh tortilla (Spanish potato and onion omelette) and proper café con leche since arriving in Spain in early December. Sitting in the empty café I copy my list of the other 39 walks from my notebook onto a piece of paper so I can analyse them! I notice lots of things, including the following:
I actually did well over 40 walks: more than one with some people, and two that I had to leave out for reasons I'll come back to. During the year I managed to walk with almost all of my most important people and all members of my immediate family. I walked with seven new friends I met this year through OKCupid, three friends I met while volunteering in Lesbos last winter, and four friends-of-friends who of course became new friends. I walked in 17 countries, though only 15 of these feature in the written-up walks (sorry Denmark and Germany!). About a dozen of the walks were with friends and family who are straight; the rest with variegated queers! February and October provided one walk each; all the others provided two or more. At least ten of my accounts had some associated consent-related anxiety, which again I'll come back to.
Ten minutes later and passing a bakery I still feel hungover so decide to see if sugar will help and stand outside the central market eating three chocolate pastries one after the other. An older guy walks past, grins and asks if they're good. I notice once again what a big difference such micro-interactions can make to one's mood.
Inside the market I experience my usual 'overwhelmed-by-market' feeling. The no-kitchen-at-hostel situation diminishes this somewhat but I still wander and wonder around for about 90 minutes wishing I had a (kitchen and a) recipe. I set myself a challenge to find one specific thing: barley (which I found easily in France and love) - 'cebada' in Spanish. I find arroz, arroz, mas arroz and muchas lentejas*. No sooner have I decided to buy some Peruvian 'trigo mote' (green wheat) I find the same stall actually had cebada after all. Never mind, I'll give the mote a go.
*I just put 'many lentils' into google translate, then reverse translated the result and got 'many sequins'. Always check the reverse-translation, kids!
I watch a butcher cutting an enormous piece of beef with incredible skill until it becomes a single flat piece the size of a rug. I'd love to know how the customer will use it. Hopefully not as a rug. I catch his eye and applaud, then realise that's the kind of thing my mum would do. I want to buy some stunning olives on skewers with pieces of octopus but I just know all the oil will leak onto my Pema Chödrön paperback in my bag so I refrain.
All the Latin American produce intrigues and excites me though I find myself wishing Sandra was here to see it too. Other, more Iberian things catch my eye too, including hams, broad beans, wine (pero no hoy, gracias) and horchata, of which I decide to sample a cup (more sugar). For 3 Euros I buy a small piece of Cabrales (extraordinarily salty blue cheese from Northern Spain - Zoe and I visited the village in August 2010) and six slices of good ham to eat later at the hostel. Outside the market hall I splash out and treat myself to a new wooden spoon: 80 cents. I wander through small streets of the old town noticing the mostly really crap graffiti.
At around 2pm, still hungover (I swear it's getting worse) I decide I'd probably better sit down somewhere and have lunch, if only to get some water inside me. I find a menu del dia for 11 Euros and select revueltos (scrambled eggs) with mushrooms followed by Valencian (chicken and runner bean) paella and a passionfruit mousse. Stodge. A bottle of agua con gas and a small beer and finally I start to feel close to normal though rather full.
Strolling through the Turia Gardens (9km of park through the middle of the city) I briefly attempt walking meditation but soon notice I can't stop yawning and what I actually need is a nap, so lie in the sun for a while listening to a collared dove (or 'owl' as Alex prefers to call them). There are lots of interesting trees and people enjoying the leafy space. I'm feeling OK now but still pretty flat and a bit anxious, mostly from the alcohol I suspect but I'm also worried about my bike being parked outside the station. I've heard bike thieves sometimes let tyres down so people leave their bike for longer giving them a chance to come back later and nick it.
I fantasise about asking Sandra to help me translate the following, then graffiti-ing it onto the post where I left my bike last night: Please be warned, if you leave your bike here you'll be aggressively threatened by the station security staff who may also sabotage your bike. I'm soon distracted from this thought-loop by the sight of mini-golf (which in Germany they call midget-golf) and then by the 'enormous helmet' Craig has told me to look out for (opera house).
I start to wish I was at the end of my walk but I'm not, so keep going through some fairly uninspiring suburbs until I get close to the port and beach. Here I stop at one of the ubiquitous Chinese shops that sell everything in the world apart, quite often, from the thing/s I am looking for, in this case a large jiffy bag and a second pair of compression socks. I do however get a plastic princess crown for 1 Euro for the New Year's Day video address I might or might not make tomorrow, which I proceed to wear for the rest of my walk so it doesn't get squashed in my bag.
Finally I reach the beach, where I pass a large group of young people cruising around on bikes and - by the looks of them - pills! I decide to have the glass of cava I've promised myself at the posh Hotel Neptuno, to which I brought one of my first post-monogamy lovers in July 2012 to mark her 40th. Good memories, of at least one still unsurpassed sexual experience at that hotel, and of being told off for trying to go topless on the beach in front. I wonder if I'll feel any pangs of regret that I can't stay in places like that any more, but don't seem to. I wonder if she ever thinks of my rather fine beluga impression.
I endeavour to do my 30-minute daily sitting meditation there in the bar, with occasional lapses in concentration to sip my cava - which finally sees off the hangover (I feel Anne would approve) - and to eavesdrop on the stilted conversations of couples around me. I remember this cartoon. I reflect on how important contrasts are to me these days: solo time vs. time with my people, stretches in the tent vs. urban stop-offs (though this particular one has been my least favourite). I also notice the familiar 'relaxing-but-dulling' effect of alcohol on my emotional state, and recall what my friend Laura says about 'living life in High Definition'.
Taking the tram and metro back to the city centre I see a very drunk couple practically fucking at a tram stop and remember that Crocs with socks do tend to result in rather sore feet after a long walk. Back at the station I check my bike is still there and go to a Chinese supermarket to buy some rice crackers to have with my Cabrales ('fusion', innit), a tin of mangosteen juice and some weird Korean papaya milk that turns out to be delicious. Rock and roll.
The greedy hostel has rented the common space out for the night for a private party, leaving us residents with a dark 15x10 metre mezzanine floor in which to spend the evening, though it's later overrun by screaming children from the party. Though the private party is small the noise is astounding but, with my earplugs in, I'm happy enough tapping away at my keyboard and nibbling my ham and crackers. As prearranged I Skype Tobi between Valencia midnight and Yorkshire midnight, which requires me to go outside and results in our being able to watch a pretty good firework display over the city centre! It's really nice to see the New Year in this way, but I feel bad because I'm pretty distracted by all the drunken comings-and-goings and by wondering if my laptop is OK upstairs on the mezzanine while I'm outside. Note to self: take more care in future when researching hostels.
Back upstairs I find an elderly woman with her coat on and a handbag, just sitting there. Perhaps Tobi's right that she's a 'refugee' from the party. I decide there's no chance of my regaining enough concentration to finish this account so I go to bed at 2am and my bunk feels like a four-poster bed.
On New Year's morning I get up and go immediately to check if my bike is still there. I find the security guard did not simply let down my back tyre, he slashed it with a blade. It's a brand new, expensive Schwalbe Marathon. Of course I can't go anywhere until I replace it, so let's hope I manage to do that tomorrow when shops reopen. I'm so ready to leave this city! Though shocked and upset about the tyre, the incident does serve to remind me how rarely (touch wood) 'bad things' happen to me on my travels. The hostel guy and one of the Belgian guys are sympathetic; the former tells me the security guys are always 'going crazy' about bikes. All the more reason for the hostel to provide a fairer solution, I suggest. I resolve to leave a steaming review on Booking.com and TripAdvisor and go upstairs to make coffee in the dormitory with my camping stove. I find the last of my UHT milk has gone sour in the tropical heat of the dorm.
I said above that at least ten of these walk accounts had some associated consent-related anxiety. In each case (except this one and this final one) I asked people to check and consent to my account before I published it. When it came to it, a handful of folks felt uneasy so asked me to make amendments or to anonymise them, which of course I was more than happy to do. In a couple of cases I spent quite some time worrying someone was not responding because they felt uncomfortable and didn't know how to say so, only to have them eventually respond really positively.
I'm not able to include the original Walk #19 in this series; I never heard back from my friend after sending my account. It's possible something I wrote felt uncomfortable. What I think more likely is I completely forgot to ask if I could include the walk in this series beforehand, then sent her the account out of the blue. A bit like walking into a friend's bedroom with a boner saying 'so, sex then', without any prior discussion. If you're reading this all I can say is I am very sorry, for pushing whatever button I pushed. If you ever want to tell me I will listen. If you don't want to, that's also OK.
I also haven't included the original Walk #35 because I subsequently learned I was being treated less well than I deserved and simply don't feel like communicating about the walk or anything else. Which is a great pity for a host of reasons.
Applying the concept of consent to all relationships in various ways is something I will never, ever stop thinking about.
Notwithstanding these challenges, this project has been a joyful, humbling experience. THANK YOU ALL. As many of you know, I am obsessively interested in the paradoxical human tension between wanting to feel connected and known, and wanting to feel separate and free. Some people say you can’t have both; that 'you can’t have your cake and eat it'. Having observed many people - including myself - compromise one for the other to the point of chronic unhappiness, I now work hard at balancing the two; overall this project has left me with the feeling that I'm doing pretty well. <3
Index of all the walks
1: Noa. Montfort Crusaders castle and Kziv creek, Upper Galilee, northern Israel
2: Athens in January
3: AJ and Effie. Mytilini, Lesbos
4: Melody and Eddie. Asomatos to Lambou Myli Roman viaduct and back, Lesbos
5: Carolyn. Cihangir, Istanbul
6: Sandy. Hotnitsa Waterfalls, Bulgaria
7: Gabe and Rob. Bucharest, Romania
8: 'Flora'. Bucharest, Romania
9: Ben. Danube Delta, Romania
10: Laura. Five hour circular walk from Poiana Brașov, Romania
11: Meg-John. Apuseni National Park, Romania
12: Bella and Andrew. Circular walk to Polana Kalatówki, above Zakopane, Poland
13: Alex. Antwerp, Belgium
14: Sze and James. Clissold Park, London
15: Shama and Shay. Epping Forest, Essex
16: Lilith. Hampstead Heath, London
17: Uri. Borough Market, London
18: Emily. Near Llandiloes, mid Wales
19: Jen. St Werburgh's, Bristol
20: Caroline. Longleat, Wiltshire
21: Dad. Keyhaven, West Solent
22: Anne. Radnage, Chilterns
23: Friends and family. Radnage, Chilterns
24: Mum. Stratford upon Avon
25: K.. Carsington Water, Derbyshire
26: Mum and David. Falling Foss, North Yorkshire
27: Caroline. Craster to Newton, Northumberland
28: 'Fleabite'. Glasgow
29: Rachel. Barra Airport, Western Isles
30: Ben and Luc. An Sgùrr, Isle of Eigg
31: Sal. Richmond to Surbiton, Greater London
32: Folami. Zandvoort beach, Netherlands
33: Jude. Swedish coast between Helsingborg and Goteborg
34: Anna. Ål, Buskerud, Norway
35: Rosa. Camargue, France
36: Claire. Saint-Étienne-d'Albagnan, France
37: Tobi. Carcassonne, France
38: Sandra. Canal du Midi, Toulouse, France
39: Miguel. El Raval, Barcelona
40: Solo walk. Valencia, Spain