The Parable of a Parador - part one: No Pasarán!
How did we get through?
Harry turned off the engine, thumped the steering wheel and shouted,
“You wanted to come here. You get us out of it!”
My stomach was gripped with that sickening feeling of panic as I tried desperately to hold back the tears. A thousand tiny needles pricked my eyes, and the saying, “Beware of what you wish for, it may come true” began to echo though my mind in an annoyingly smug way. To stay in the Parador(1) of Arcos de la Frontera had been my wish. That lovely dream was rapidly turning into a nightmare.
This fateful discovery of the Parador happened during a language class at our local college. Little did I know, as the tutor put the video in the slot, that my life would soon change forever. Well, a slight exaggeration, but I did become rather obsessive. The innocent scene on the screen unfolded in an effort to teach would-be tourists to ask if it was possible to do something - “Se puede…
… A couple sit on the terrace of the Parador at Arcos de la Frontera, perusing their guidebooks. A waiter arrives, obviously the genuine article since he looks somewhat ill at ease in front of the camera. They ask him if it is possible to have a meal out there… “ Se puede…” etc. The answer unfortunately for them, is in the negative, but they can have a drink!
All of this might sound mundane, but the setting wasn’t. The 80s-styled, shoulder-padded señorita presenting the video, wandered through the shady streets of the town of Arcos de la Frontera, one of the ‘white towns’ or ‘pueblos blancos’ of Andalucia. These towns are romantically set on top of a hill or a vertiginous cliff-face, and since all of the houses in them are painted white, it does not take a genius to see how they got their name. The Parador of Arcos sits on the summit at the edge of the high outcrop on which the town is situated. From below it seems to be in a precarious position, suspended like an ornament on a Christmas tree. The views in the video, taken from and around this lofty position, were spectacular and I was hooked.
While the possession of a guidebook can give a sense of security in that you think it tells you all you need to know, believe me, this is far from the case. Our Spanish guidebook had a lovely photograph of my imagined utopia, and the caption below the picture calmly stated:
“Precipitously situated Arcos de la Frontera, a challenge to motorists”
“Challenge to motorists?” I thought. “We’ve driven up and down Swiss mountains for years; this can’t be any worse! What kind of wimps do they think we British are? O.K. it looks steep, but nothing we can’t cope with, surely?”
However, whenever I use the word, surely, at the back of my mind I can hear the lugubrious tone of our history teacher at school. Not the most inspiring of teachers, and also not keen on the exuberance of youth, Mrs. Sacher would become exasperated whenever someone uttered this word, grimly admonishing,
“No-one can ever be that sure about anything!”
Like most things young people are warned about, we took no notice and deliberately used the word just to annoy the poor old thing. But she may have had a point after all.
“We could have a night in a Parador if you like,” my considerate Other Half said, “it’ll probably make a nice change from being cooped up in the van by then.”