Dateline – Ronda and Granada, Spain.
I had breakfast as the sun rose over the Mediterranean, promising another lovely day on the Costa del Sol. However, I and my traveling companions had a schedule to keep so it was back on the bus. We left the environs of Marbella and soon found ourselves climbing a winding mountain road over the original Sierra Nevada Mountain Range which backs up on the Spanish coast line. At first, we were winding through neighborhoods of opulent villas, reminiscent of Malibu or Bel Air. The occasional Lamborghini or Maserati cruising by completed the picture. Eventually, we were far enough a way from the sea that the cars turned into Renaults and Peugeots and we passed over the crest at about 3000 feet in one of Spain’s National Parks – forests and the occasional white washed village. We then descended into an agricultural plain, mainly ranching rather than crops and were soon in the town of Ronda. a small fortified town on top of a bluff riven by a small canyon formed by the Guadalevin river.
Inhabited since it was first settled by the Celts, centuries before the Romans, it has been fortified, fought over, changed hands, and been the scene of general mayhem many times over the years, most recently in the Spanish Civil War when the Fascists and the Nationalists spent their time tossing each other into the gorge (an episode made famous by Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises). Now it’s relatively peaceful and sleepy, only besieged by hordes of tourists who come to see the gorge, explore the old town, and see the famous bull ring, continuously operating since the early 18th century. We peered into the gorge, took in the stunning views of the Sierra Nevadas, had a guided tour of the back ways of the town and ended up in the bull ring (Pepe our local guide being something of a bullfight fanatic). One of my trusty New Balance sneakers decided to separate from the sole halfway through the walk and it detached completely in the middle of the bull ring. I’m sure there’s an omen in that but I don’t think I want to know what it is.
After a leisurely lunch (I had the local specialty – oxtail stew) at the edge of the gorge, back on the bus for a few more hours and to the old Moorish city of Granada. I was on the fatigued side so I did not explore much beyond the immediate surroundings of our hotel as we will be here tomorrow as well. Our hotel, the hotel Alhambra Palace, is on the same hill as the palace itself (being visited tomorrow morning) and has the same spectacular view out over the city. The hotel was apparently designed and decorated by the same people who created the great Moorish 1920s movie palaces in the USA and is delightful in a rather Arab kitsch fashion. Can’t beat the views though and the room is comfortable, although I’m not sure what to make of the combination toilet-bidet that has a control panel more suitable to the Space Shuttle than a bathroom fixture. I’m really afraid to push too many buttons. We all met up for dinner at a charming restaurant just down the bluff from the hotel where we all overate and drank too much wine on the terrace watching the sun set. (Lamb shank with couscous).
I dialed into the American news as I was curious to see what had happened with the DC rally in support of those arrested for the January 6th riot at the capitol. It looks from the coverage I’ve seen that it was a complete fizzle with more security present than protestors. I’m wondering if the MAGA movement is beginning to lose steam, what with its leader out of power, sane adults in power helping keep the economy on track, and finally an awakening that being a contrarian in the face of a deadly virus may not be the best strategy for one’s health. I don’t think it’s gone by any stretch of the imagination and it will only take the right cultural fertilizer to have it blossom in some new malignant direction. Those sorts of antiestablishment feelings are as old as the country. They need to be acknowledged and their energies channeled in ways that can benefit rather than destroy.
As a physician, the thing I worry about most is what happens when the next pandemic hits. Pandemics are the easiest of natural disasters to predict. They have always happened and always will. We can accept that inevitable truth or ignore it at our peril. We got away relatively easy with this one as, to date, it’s only killed about 0.2% of the population. What happens when the next one comes – a decade from now, two decades from now and it has a mortality rate of 5 or 10 or 20%? The rancorous distrust of the government, basic public health precepts, the medical system, and the scientific medicine that has now become firmly rooted in the culture will hamper our ability to deal at that time in new and unknowable ways. I worry greatly that Covid, as bad as it has been, is not going to be the real problem. The next pandemic, a more serious disease still, hitting a rickety health care system and a population primed for rejecting the most basic of precautions, is more of a worry.
Here in Spain, with vaccination rates now over 75% and case rates falling, the rules are changing. Masking is no longer required out doors in any circumstance (although most people do it in crowd situations as a courtesy). Masking is still universal indoors unless eating or drinking – and the climate is such that most of our meals have actually been out of doors. I feel perfectly safe moving around the country. I’m not sure I’ll feel as safe back home next week. Our local bell weather school system, where the parents fought back against a ‘conservative’ school board and got them to require masking has noted a significant drop of cases over the last few weeks since masks went into effect. So, of course, they’re lifting the mask rule now. Cases to spike up again in 3…2…1… And the parent groups, full of physicians and university professors, are marching on the school board again…
But that’s not my problem today. My only issue is getting a decent night’s sleep before exploring Granada tomorrow.