El Parral has finally become a hermitage
I spent such a long time thinking about it, over the years and have written about it here regularly, but the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic was responsible for the final implementation. Now it’s official: El Parral is a hermitage.
The gate is closed to the outside world except for a fortnightly shopping trip – to become monthly – and for donkey walking up the valley road. I cycled down to the coast for a last summer swim a few days ago. Last month I visited my friend and ex-teacher colleague Steve for a drink outside a bar. But most days I just see people driving past or sometimes wave to neighbours and I don’t speak to anyone.
I’m OK with that. In the 1980s I took to contemplative silence in Glasshampton monastery like a duck to water. Some of the most memorable times living in the Communauté des Beatitudes in the Pyrenean Abbaye de Saint Martin du Canigou in the 1990s were the silent days together with a couple of dozen others, doing everyday garden tasks with only the sound of the waterfall on the sheer rock face opposite cascading down the mountain. A decade ago, I was in hermitage “P” in the Great Cloister of St Hugh’s Charterhouse in Sussex and the only low points in the day usually came when having to join the rest of the Carthusian community in choir or take part in the regular panic around the kitchen, in my monastic porter role, delivering meal boxes to the hermitage hatches.
So, a hermitage in the Costa Blanca uncomplicated by other hermits is a luxury! I am fortunate.
I had all the life preparation needed for the Covid lock-down; but it was nevertheless interesting to learn that the very phrase “lock-down” comes from an Enlightenment-age prison system based on the solitary monastic life. For details, listen to last week’s episode of Thomas Dixon’s A Short History of Solitude, the excellent Radio 4 series which I thoroughly recommend. (Thomas Dixon is Professor of History at Queen Mary University of London, where he leads a research project entitled “Living With Feeling: Emotional Health in History, Philosophy and Experience”. )
The point of solitude is self-evident when you have spent years practising it in various forms, but I’m conscious that most people are always puzzled about it. The first thing to learn is that’s it’s far from anti-social! Professor Dixon packs a lot into his three programmes and for the first time taught me the contemplative connection in Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”.
Here in El Parral solitude is an established way of life now. The legal measures and Covid-19 impositions can come and go in the communities outside, but it makes little difference to the life here: I just need to keep up with the news on the latest regulations ready for the next time I go out shopping.
Spain has been out of full lock-down since May (or was it early June? It seems years ago!) Various barrios in Madrid are now going back into lock-down and I would not be surprised if this region is back in some sort of partial lock-down before too long. The short-lived mistake of opening Benidorm to tourism brought thousands of irresponsible people here from the UK and also from Madrid. Many of them will have cross-infected each other before travelling home again, going by the behaviour I saw on one socially distanced bike ride along the coast. Why anyone thought opening up to mass tourism in the summer was a good idea, I really do not know.
If you must come to Spain, you won’t find many hotels open in Benidorm now. So get yourself some donkeys and find a hermitage in the mountains, and that way we all stay safe. You might even see the shadow of the wind.