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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part I. North West

Celtic Stones?

Steve Porter
Smaller text sizeDefault text sizeBigger text size Add to my bookshelf epub mobi Permalink Ebook MapOporto, Ponte Dom Luis

Hamish and I visited the remnants of a hilltop settlement near the border with Portugal. We wandered through the former living quarters, a maze of incomplete stone circles, standing strong against the bruising wind. It wasnít too difficult to imagine this fortified area full of people, with the smell of roasting wild boar, the stench of pig and goat shit and the fear of attack. At the summit we looked down into the River MiŮo and wished for the day when Kane would play no further part in our lives.

With a long weekend ahead of us we continued south to Oporto. On the bus, I asked Hamish if he knew anything about the buildings on raised pillars that were scattered around the countryside. “One of my students told me about those. I think they are used for storing grain. In the past these stores were owned by Parish priests who were allowed to help themselves to a share of the village harvest. Thatís why the stores have a cross on top. They look like giant mushrooms, donít they?”

Hamish asked for a go of my headphones. “No bother,” I said, handing him the personal stereo and a couple of tapes. One was a new recording by Hevia, a young piper from the neighbouring region of Asturias. Celtic music was in vogue, and Heviaís single Busindre Reel, from the album Tierra de nadie (No Manís Land), had even made the Spanish charts despite being an instrumental composition.

Hamish listened to one side of the tape as the bus crossed over the border south of Tui.

“What do you think of Hevia?” I asked.

“Itís quite similar to Scottish or Irish music,” he said, before adding “but I think there are some African rhythms in there too.”

He may have been right. The music of these parts provides a link between the North Atlantic and Spainís Moorish past. Hamish thanked me and handed back the personal stereo. I put the earphones on and let the eclectic sounds of Manu Chao flood into my eardrums. Born in Paris, with a Galician father who fled Francoís dictatorship, his music is a mixture of hip-hop, and Latin American and European styles. His lyrics often have a political slant. He sings in Spanish, French, English, Portuguese and Galician. Although Galicia is referred to as a Celtic region, the language is closely linked to Portuguese, and not to Celtic languages like Gaelic, Welsh or Breton.

We soon arrived in Oporto and took a stroll up to the cathedral. Stopping at a street market to buy some oranges along the way, a couple of tourists asked Hamish how to get to the centre. I pointed them in the right direction.

We arrived at the cathedral and paused under a large cross. The old quarter was spread out below, with its red roofs and palms trees, the sherry houses and the Sandeman, still drinking. A light frost was only a few hours away. It was clear you would have to travel a lot further to escape the winter cold.

“I think Iíll go to the deep south after Christmas, Hamish.”

“Canít blame you,” he said, zipping his jacket tighter round the neck.

“Hello. Itís yourself.”

This other voice came from behind us. The accent was soft and Irish. Who did I know in Oporto? I glanced over my shoulder.

“Eh, hello. Havenít seen you for a while.”

“This man has friends all over the world. I’m impressed. How do you know each other then?” asked Hamish.

“Oh, he works in my fatherís school.”

Hamish looked as if he had a bone lodged in his throat and was about to breathe his last.

“Your father owns the school!” His voice ascended the cross and nailed itself there. “Then what are you doing here?”

“Oh, just down from Vigo for the weekend, like yourselves I suppose. Have a good time then. See you later.”

He strolled off into the cathedral. Hamish said, “Letís go and find a place to kip down, before we bump into any more of your friends. Thatís just too much.”

“Oh, heís alright,” I said. “He canít help being the son of Kane.”

On the way to the hostel Hamish was asked for directions again.

“You must look Portuguese,” I said.

We were taking photographs in front of the tiled faÁade of a church while a workman was busying away on the pavement with a brush and shovel.

“Doesnít seem a bad job, does it?”

“No preparation or difficult questions,” said Hamish. “You do the work, go home, have your tea and watch telly.”

“Oh well. Only three weeks to Christmas. Kane will get a shock in the New Year when has to get out from behind the oak desk and take classes himself.”

The workman opened his bin and shovelled in more paper and dust. A woman approached and asked Hamish how to get to the station. She was in a hurry to catch a train to Barcelona. I couldnít understand it. Hamish looked more like Paul Lambert of Glasgow Celtic than Luis Figo.

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationMay 2006
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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