When You Have to Shoot, Shoot. Don’t Talk…

That morning I packed an overnight bag, not knowing whether come nightfall, I’d be sleeping in Africa.

One of the best things about this ‘travel’ thing, which everyone seems to aspire to, love, seek, comment on, ponder, dream about, look forward to, budget for, write about, has to be just how easy it is to do. I am grateful that sometimes people need a gentle hand, some history, assistance or pointing in the right direction otherwise who knows what I’d be doing for a living?

DSC00316

I fear after 22 years of it, travelling is really the only thing I might just be good at.

Now as much satisfaction and pleasure as ‘guiding others’ gifts me, when I travel, I want nothing of the sort – I need to be entirely unguided and as this involves very little effort indeed, it is, as I claim, blissfully easy for me to achieve.

sergio_leone_tribute_design_by_epyon5-d64alvh

So that morning with said overnight bag and lack of target in mind, the second I stepped out of my front door, it felt like I was already travelling. You know, actually one really should not call it that. ‘Wandering’ is a much better term. Before I tell my tale, just bear with me and we’ll get our definitions straight. Semantics, when talking about just about the best thing one can do on any given Sunday, matters. So, take for a second the word itself; ‘travel’ – with its French origins of ‘travailler’ – to work.

DSC00272

Hmm, a bit arduous that and to boot doesn’t sound like much fun; certainly not what I’d set out to do that day. Much better is to take Germanic inspiration on this morning and seek our linguistic origins here where ‘wandran’ supposedly describes someone who ‘roams about’. I was extremely ready for some real roaming about. It felt cool – good word – not to know on which continent I’d be sleeping twelve or so hours hence. I might not have tried that before – save for cancelled or delayed flights, which is very much not the same thing.

DSC00466

But where to wander? I love letting fate or The Universe decide on occasions where it truly doesn’t matter. This lack of destination had admittedly complicated packing a tad, but how much does one really actually need? Who ever said, I wish I’d brought more stuff? My cousin used to say in Danish; ‘remember the 3 P’s and you’ll be alright’; Pas (passport), Penge (money) and, well as there is no rating on this site, I’ll let you imagine the last one – which to give you a hint, also starts with P in English.

2175_1024267699

Checked on all of those and with little space for much else, I couldn’t see reason not to simply set off. The plan, such as it was, was to roll out of Guajar Alto and down the hill to the nearest port from where daily ferries leave for Morocco. Failing to coincide with one in less than a two hour self-imposed waiting time limit, I’d simply turn East along the coast and head to ‘Hollywood’ and hopefully the fulfilment of a long held dream of being a cowboy for a day…

DSC00465

In one pocket I carried a scrap paper with three things I’ve been meaning to buy in Morocco (a Hamsa door knocker, a new Shisha and two lanterns also for my door); in the other I had a different scrap, on which I’d scribbled the address of a place I’d heard of where I’d be able to walk through swinging wooden doors and order a whiskey in a saloon, in the footsteps of Clint Eastwood. I cannot stand ‘management speak’ as it just a substitution for real thinking and the death of articulateness, but I can’t seem to improve on the overused ‘win-win’ to describe what I was feeling.

DSC00319

As it turned out, the eight hours required to attend the next Africa bound ferry, was more of my life than I was prepared to set aside for such an activity and so along the AP7, the beautiful Autopista Mediterráneo, windows down, sun up and the sea to the side, radio on very loud (I love, just love driving alone without too much direction and the radio on max volume – ahh ‘cockpit karaoke’ and ‘steering wheel bongos’ – I don’t know of many occasions where I feel more alive, literally that, alive) first one of my favourite tunes of all time, The Stone Roses ‘Fools Gold’ (“the gold road’s sure a long road – winds on through the hills for fifteen days” etc) followed then incredibly for Spanish radio by Adam Ant telling me to “Stand and Deliver”. It was as if the Universe approved of my wandering that morning. And on top of it said, ‘You know what I’ll play you some cowboy style tunes’ to show just how much.

DSC00559

Along the highway I played ‘tag’ with a white car containing three girls. Another of my favourite driving games. I passed them near Almeria and they seemed to be listening to the same radio as me, certainly singing along as loudly. They then re-passed me shortly afterwards, grinning as they did so. For an hour we chased each other – taking turns to overtake – on the deserted Sunday morning highway, eventually off this and onto smaller mountain roads. Could they be ‘cowgirls’ I wondered? Alas no.

DSC00486

I turned below the huge ‘Mini Hollywood’ sign and they wound on into the hills (for fifteen days?), smiling and waving goodbye as they did so. Cool, again. They were wearing bobble hats – it was warm. I pondered where they might be headed. My roaming had reached a destination and I stepped out of the car with butterflies in my tummy. On my backseat, as I believe a gentleman should wear a hat, was one such garment. I was sorely tempted to put it on, especially as it had something of the cowboy about it, but remembering how I felt on an occasion when I was forced to wear a necklace of garlic cloves whilst visiting the awful, so called, Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, I thought better of it. I sort of wish I hadn’t now as you know what? F – it, who cares?

DSC00536

It was not long before I quite literally felt my skin prick up into goosebumps. Oh my goodness, this might actually be the best place I have ever been I thought. Really. Yes those words. Exactly. In 1965 and returning in 1966 Italian movie director extraordinaire, visionary, pioneer and sheer genius Sergio Leone, of Spaghetti Western fame, recognised the resemblance of this corner of Andalusia to the barren American landscapes he’d envisaged for For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly respectively. He built a Mini Hollywood, Western style town here and used this set for all his outdoors shots (the indoors were filmed in iconic Cinecitta in Rome).

DSC00389

January is rapidly becoming my new favourite month for roaming. European roaming anyway. How long has this month been one of travel’s best kept secrets I wonder and why am I only finding this out now? There is simply no one, no one about and provided things are open, and admittedly the weather helps out too, the experiences waiting are tenfold for just that reason. I will never be able to put into words how I felt when I turned the corner, my feet treading a mixture of sand and dirt, and looked down the main street of ‘El Paso’. In the distance I could see only a solitary horseman and ‘parked up’ was cowboy on a carriage, to which a single horse was harnessed, stationary. As for life that was literally it. Amazing.

DSC00473

Maybe you need to be a fan of these movies, to feel as I did, but I am and so I did. Goodness I love them. The stories are timeless, the characters have a way of revealing everything about themselves in two sentences and then the casting, oh the casting. Tell me Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes, is not the single greatest piece of casting of all time (black and white photo above), any genre, full stop. What am I forgetting? The music of course. Ennio Morricone. If Van Cleef is a ‘full stop’ then Morricone must be an ‘exclamation mark’. And here, in Mini Hollywood they had certainly not forgotten the music. As I walked down main street, a camera, admittedly not a gun in hand, the haunting tones of the opening of A Fist Full of Dollars were being piped out over loud speakers. I doubt I will have a travelling experience this year to top it. And, nope, I really can’t describe what it felt like.

DSC00355

Want to see what I mean? If you are unfamiliar with it, just watch the opening one minute and eight seconds of For a Few Dollars More. It has to be one of the greatest opening scenes of all time. Totally pointless and yet perfect. If this doesn’t hook you, don’t worry, just move on. Maybe Clint Eastwood is not going to be your cup of tea. I’d asked a couple of good friends in the village, seeking their opinion of Mini Hollywood as the set is now called – assuming they’d been and intending to hear their thoughts, prior to making it a destination of my own one day. Both dismissed it out of hand.

DSC00503

‘Argh, it’s just Hollywood’ they said. It’s not. It’s history, it’s beautiful and magical and allows you to dream and escape whatever might be inside your head for a day, it allows you to drift off into a more simple time, a time where as the great Tuco surprised in his bath tub by a would be killer (in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) says – after firing first; When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk. Beautiful no? And what’s more, neither of my friends it transpired, despite their adamant condemnation, had been. Nuts. Well, perhaps let’s settle on each to their own.

DSC00488

Critical reception of Sergio Leone’s films was mixed at the time of their release. Since then, everything has changed. The man, his cast, sets, choice of composer, angles whereby what the camera cannot see, neither can the characters, have surely all combined to make his films, the best attempt by any European to represent and some would say – better – the Western genre. Quentin Tarantino recently called The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, the best directed film of all time. Leone showed better than any other perhaps how The West was made by violent, uncomplicated men, and tried to capture the strength and simplicity in this.

DSC00278

Perhaps from these men, these characters and these plots there is even a lesson for would be ‘wanderers’. ‘Travel’ has a danger of over-complicating things. Itineraries, bookings, plans, time tables and schedules risk turning ‘German’ wandering into French ‘traveille – ing’. You don’t need to do much to travel – the first step is right outside your door and why not alter the words of Tuco to; ‘When you have to Wander, Wander. Don’t Travel‘.

This could have been just another Sunday, that turned out to be anything but for me… brilliant!

“ Yet vagrancy is a deliverance, and life on the open road is the essence of freedom. To have the courage to smash the chains with which modern life has weighted us (under the pretext that it was offering us more liberty), then to take up the symbolic stick and bundle and get out.” – Isabelle Eberhardt

(I’ve put lots of photos – but must have taken close to a thousand – in this piece to hopefully give you a little taste of what the place looks like. Later that day, before eventually bedding down in Europe,  I visited ‘Fort Bravo’ another film set, just four kms up the road – some photos are from here).

Below is the wonderful poster Rich sent me – a photo he took in Mexico… just shows, the American Dream is alive and well..

_RLM0008-Spaghetti Western Poster

~ by 2ndcupoftea on January 14, 2016.

5 Responses to “When You Have to Shoot, Shoot. Don’t Talk…”

  1. Ah, yes, living the American dream right in your own backyard. Thomas, I am sending you a photo via email that I am sure will thrill you. It is a poster that I photographed in Oaxaca, Mexico advertising a “Spaghetti Western” festival that was being shown at a local movie theater. Sure enough, “El Bueno, El Malo Y El Feo” was being shown along with about two dozen other American Western movies that were shot in Spain, France, Italy, Germany and even Japan. So, check your email for that astonishing poster. I especially liked the graphic on the poster of a hand gun (a six shooter, as they say) shooting a wad of spaghetti at the silhouette of a man’s head. Simply priceless.

    • Hi Rich… I hope it’s ok that I have copied your photo into this post. I love it. Great design actually. And the wall behind looks pretty cool too. The spaghetti is a great idea. I need to look out for more ‘Westerns’ shot in strange – or unexpected locations. Thanks for sharing. Hugs 😉

  2. When Vic and I head out like this for a day, a week or whatever, we call it ” meandering”. No timetable, no agenda and definitely no interstate highways. You have inspired me to go a-meandering sometime soon.

    • Jody ‘herself’ – love it! 😉 I like ‘meandering’ – much better than wandering actually. I can think of no better people to meander with than you and Vic – give him my regards. (I see there is an email from you, so will reply over the weekend). Many hugs from, as it happens, the land of Spaghetti. 😉

  3. Thomas, I am glad that you posted the photo of the poster. It lets everyone else in on that little gem. By-the-way, did you know that Clint Eastwood once owned a pub in Carmel-By-The-Sea, California. Its name: Hogs Breath Inn. Clint also was elected Mayor of Carmel in 1986 with over 70% of the vote. He served a two year term and did not seek re-election. Enough history for today! So long, padner.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *