Archive | Essay

¡Felicidades Canadá!

July 1 is Canada Day and this year marks the nation’s 150th birthday. To celebrate the occasion I thought I’d post the following essay, which I wrote in 2012 for the Canadian magazine Explore, edited by James Little. It’s a story about kayaking in Canada, but also a story about Spain. Hope you enjoy it. Happy Birthday Canada!

Not in Spain anymore: The gorgeous granite of Phillip Edward Island, Georgian Bay, Canada. Photo ©Mike Randolph

A few years ago, I moved from Toronto to Zaragoza, a city in northern Spain. Not long after, my friend Graham came to visit. Hanging out one evening, drinking wine on the terrace of my neighbourhood restaurant, he said something I still think about now and then.

“Do you ever worry that if you stay here long enough, you won’t really be from Canada anymore, but you’ll never really be from here either?”

I don’t know the answer to my friend’s question, except to say that when you live somewhere for a span of years, you can grow into the rhythm of the place and eventually it starts to feel like home. I was born in Spain, but we moved to Canada before I ever spoke my first word of Spanish. My family was a typically Canadian family in that our house was a small enclave of some other country. When I didn’t spend my summers in the Canadian bush, I spent them on Spanish beaches. It was never easy to choose between them. Continue Reading →

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The Cocas of Camarasa

A few years ago my cousin Jaime and I were looking for a river in Aragon but one thing led to another and we ended up looking for a pizza in Catalonia.

It all started because I had two inflatable kayaks and all the other bits of gear needed to paddle down a river, as long as the water wasn’t too big. But it was early May. All the rivers flowing out of the Pyrenees were raging with meltwater from the snowfields high in the alpine. It was a warm day but the river was only a few degrees above freezing. An unplanned swim would be pretty grim.

In the town of Broto, just outside of Ordesa (one of the jewels of Spain’s national park system, you really should go if you have the chance), we walked into a store selling commercial rafting tours. The guide said we might be able to pull off the River Ara, which flows right through town. Thanks, we said, and walked down the street to the bridge across the Ara.

The river’s roar alone was discouraging. And then we saw it. The water looked the way you’d expect it to look, considering the roar. It was very fast and technical, with lots of rocks sticking out. It didn’t strike me as a very good idea. That hasn’t always stopped us in the past, but this didn’t look so much adventurous as it looked just plain dumb. (There’s often not much difference between the two.) Continue Reading →

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Mallorca: Lost and Found

The GR221 trail is easy to follow, but only in some places.

My friend Guillermo and I are hiking the GR221, a trail that follows the northern coastline of Mallorca. At least we hope we are. We’re definitely hiking the coastline of Mallorca, but whether we’re on the GR221 is impossible to know. What is incontestably true is that we’re in a densely wooded valley and not where we want to be. It’s been a long day. We want to be in a town. Any town. Any town with a bar, I mean. One that serves cold beer and hot food and has a patio, preferably with a view of the Mediterranean since that’s why we came here, after all.

Instead of finding a town, however, we find yet another mountain. Worse, our mystery trail goes up it. We’re tired and sore and sweaty and so the thought of yet another uphill slog—there have been many—can only properly be described in language that I never use in public, but you get the idea. The only upside is that we must be fairly close to where the trail meets the road.

It takes us an hour to trudge up the mountainside. When we finally reach the top we can hear the traffic on the road–so close!–but there is one very big, very disconcerting problem. There’s a giant gate blocking our way, about twenty-feet-high and framed by two stone pillars equipped with a thicket of barbed wire.  Continue Reading →

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Remembering La Alberca

2014. Two women negotiate the cobbled streets of La Alberca, Spain. Photo ©Mike Randolph

 

When my parents came to visit in Madrid last year, they brought with them some of my old photos, a box of a few hundred slides I’d set aside years ago. It was a random sampling of the uncounted thousands of Kodachromes and Fujichromes I have sitting in the not-so-archival environment of my parent’s damp basement in Toronto.

There are a lot of things I prefer about digital photography over film, but film has digital beat when it comes to looking at old photographs. You get to hold the actual original thing, for starters, and you can see it without having to plug anything in. Slides can’t be perfectly copied in a keystroke, they’re one of a kind. And for that same reason, you see them only once in a while. They get put into deep storage and get forgotten about until they surface sometime later, like artefacts from the past.

There was one slide in particular that caught me eye. Continue Reading →

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Gone to Blazes

 Buy a limited edition print of this image

[Last year I was asked by the editor of Men’s Fashion, a popular Canadian magazine, to write a feature about Las Fallas in Valencia. Since tomorrow, March 19th, the fiesta comes to a spectacular end with the cremà, or burning, of the giant statues, I thought I’d post the article that appeared in last December’s issue. Here it is.]

It takes a little while, but during the fiesta known as Las Fallas, in Valencia, you eventually get used to the sight of four-year-old boys walking around with pieces of burning rope. At first I didn’t know what the ropes were for, but then I saw one little guy run up to his father and jump up and down imploringly until dad produced a few firecrackers. The kid then ran off to light them with the rope and then throw them pretty much wherever he pleased. Oh, I thought. I see. The ropes are fuses. Of course. I mean, you can’t exactly let a four-year-old play with matches, can you?

Ah, Spain. It’s fun for people of all ages! While the kids amuse themselves by lighting firecrackers in bars, in restaurants and throwing them at the feet of unsuspecting tourists (“Wow, that old man jumped a lot higher than I thought he could!”), some of the adults busy themselves with the final touches on the mascletás. Whole sections of streets are cordoned off and rigged with Continue Reading →

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