the town of dogs
I’ve never stopped off here for the night before, or anywhere near here – smack bang in the middle of the plains of La Mancha. Leaving just before midday and pulling in here at eight, I’m about halfway with another 600 or so kms to go tomorrow to get to Sagres.
Driving up through France, finding a little spot around or within a village just off the autoroute is one thing – the middle of Spain is quite another. I am not far from Ciudad Real where I spent a year as a language assistant during my third year at Cardiff. Down here, south, south of CR, Toledo and Madrid – it’s flat. Not in all places, but most of the time it’s just flat flat flat in several directions as far as you can see. There are a lot of vines of course, producing that quaffable Rioja known and loved, and the towns are a non-glitzy, tumbleweed, poor and destitute version of Las Vegas, without the bright lights or music, in fact the only similarity is their existence in the middle of a vast expanse of nothingness. This town I’m in doesn’t even show any signs of life, except for the dogs.
Driving past turnings in the grid work of streets here, there is always a dog padding across, some of them ignore me, others stop to look at, others bark, others chase snapping at the tyres and looking up at my visage in the window above. I feel like an intruder, an observed, barely tolerated one. I keep driving around the dry roads – there really is tumbleweed blowing across in front of me – looking for a quiet corner to park up and there seem to be more and more dogs, I’ve seen a few bipeds also but they too look haggard, searching for something they have never found – maybe they have glimpsed more, but not here. It strikes me they are dogs disguised as humans, their stares are as blank yet questioning as they fellow inmates.
I start to become a bit flustered: where to entrust myself for the evening in this kennel town without fearing for my ankles should I step outside the van’s protective shell. I park, decide against the spot and reverse hard into a car behind. No visible damage. Dog humans looking, laughing, barking, I make an escape. I find another park-up at the end of one of the roads where the tarmac stops abruptly and the dirt landscape to the horizon begins, I tentatively step outside and the stillness is shattered by barks, first from behind bars on one side of the street and then taken up by another caged-in dog on the other. I figure if I just stay put they will get used to me and stop, but they don’t – I become insignificant as they go back and forth between each other, apparently locked in a competition for who can have the last bark. This won’t do either, even if they can’t get at my ankles, off I drive again.
Finally, here I am – no dogs, no cars – just a line of houses on one side and emptiness on the other, here I can rest at last although I don’t go outside much. It is not the cosy little park up I often find but we are, afterall, in barren territory here and it’s important not to get lost along the way.