This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Earth’s history like pages in a book

Flysch-5One sunny afternoon after class I, my classmate, and two lovely Catalan ladies crammed ourselves into a car and headed out to the Flysch UNESCO geopark. Our guide gave us a walking stick each, brought us up a hill with a magnificent view over the coastline, showed us the hiking route across the rocks to a beach we could not quite see, and said “agur”, which is Basque for “adios”. “See you when you get there.” Then he turned on his heels and walked away, back to the car.

We ladies began our trek down the hill, along the beach, with some trepidation that we’d lose the way because there were so many trail options and markings. Finally we understood that “our” trail was the red-yellow-white detour trail of the Camino del Norte (the North pilgrimage route to Santiago) and we lifted our eyes to enjoy the landscape.Flysch-1And stunning it was: soft, undulating grassy hills that stopped short as if cut in half, with a rock face plunging straight down into the ocean. Horses with bells and lots of flies, green grass, blue skies, blue ocean water, and white froth. And several pairs of backpacked people walking the Camino, more or less worn out and sunburned.

The Flysch geopark is like an open book of the history of our Earth. Each vertical slab running from the hills into the ocean is like a page, a fossilized fold of the surface of the Earth. Once upon a time these pages were laid one on top of the other, but then the continental plates moved and forced the ocean floor to turn sideways, like a book standing on its spine. There are “pages” of yellow sand; others with ammonites trilobites, and other sea life; and surprisingly many black bands from volcanic eruptions. Together these layers form millions of millions of years of history. The reason for the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago can be confirmed here: the black band sitting in the right place “in the book” contains traces of extraterrestrial material, from the ash cloud that killed the sunlight and much life on Earth for years after the meteorite hit. Flysch-2Good shoes were needed, as well as a good head with two functioning ears. Our guide spoke with an Argentinian accent (which I find the most difficult Spanish accent). Somewhere along the tour he must have forgotten that I and my classmate were estudiantes de español, possibly because we nodded our heads too vigorously. And so the guidance of the second half of the tour was lost to us.

As I sat in the shade of the striped rocks I marveled at the age of our Earth: the time and effort needed to slowly create these deposits of animal fossils and dust and silt which then became band structures. The Iberian peninsula was once upon a time far adrift, and only when it floated back into contact with continental Europe the Flysch formation was squeezed and rotated into view. Could this stunning geometric structure have been a holy site for humans living here tens of thousands of years ago?
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(Flysch Geopark, Spain; August 2019)


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Beach day and time-traveling in Spanish

Flysch-4Today was a beach day. I also got sufficiently much sand in my notebook. I found myself needing a new pen and finally located a stationery shop 10 minutes before siesta closure. I then proceeded to spend five of those trying to explain to the shop clerk what a rollerball pen was. “No es una pluma, y no es un stylo o biro. Es un otro lápiz. Más fácil para escribir…” I finally dug out my current pen from my backpack and showed it to her. “Ah!” her face lit up. She did have a Stabilo Worker, although what “rollerball” is in Spanish I still do not know. I missed my heavy, clunky Faber-Castell but as it is too showy outside of the office world I left it at home.

I briefly encountered my landlady again today. “Muy mal!” she scolded me and my housemate, Swiss Patrice, as she walked into the kitchen. “You do not learn Spanish if you speak English” she added, and bullied us into another early-morning brain-numbing conversation in Spanish.

Today’s class was all about the imperfect past tense. “If the time is not completed, you should use this tense” explained our teacher. For example, today is not yet over and neither is this week. Makes sense. But it turns out that for Spaniards, “a while ago” or “five minutes ago” is also not a finalized time or activity. “Pues sí, está finito, de verdád?” I tried to argue. “No, pero it is still part of today, and today is not finito…”

The Spaniards seem to consider time within a day a dimension accessible for back-and-forth time travel.

(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)