Empty Chairs by Yellow Fields

Exploring the Costa Brava a year ago Lee and I were under the spell of abandoned villas, sea and mountain landscapes, living medieval towns, highways that turned into dirt roads no wider than a private driveway, wisteria laden stucco walls – my list could go on and on.

It was Lee’s first visit to Spain.  Actually it was his first visit to Europe.  It was his first passport.  It was a delight to relive the excitement of my first European visit through him.

We spent a few nights in Barcelona and then drove north to L’Escala, our base for the rest of our stay.  We gradually approached the coast, winding our way through the mountains and the sea.  Lee had brought me out to California and taken me for my first drive along the Pacific Coast just a few months before.  I ooooohed and aaaaahed my way in California but I OOOOOhed and AAAAAAhed on the Costa Brava, stopping here and there to eat, walk and look.

We spent a day in Besalu, and one driving up to L’Alt Emporda and through the Pyranees to Cap de Creus where the Pyrenees drop precipitously into the sea. Our plan for the next day was to “do” the  Dali triangle but after the open road we found the congestion of the streets of Cadaques uninviting and instead of a quest for Dali, we traveled to France on a quest for the perfect patisserie.  Unfortunately we did not find one, but perhaps we will make that the focus of a trip to France in the future.

Puente de Besalú – 12th Century

Saturday’s article in the Times about the trafficking of foreign women for prostitution in Spain brought back the good memories of this vacation but also the puzzling ones. While driving through the Costa Brava we kept coming across two unusual images.  One was of yellow flower fields.  We kept thinking goldenrod or yarrow, wildflowers familiar to us.   But the fields appeared very neat as if cultivated, and we speculated on the commercial value of goldenrod and yarrow.

Català: Camp de colza, amb la muntanya de Montserrat al fons

Empty chairs along the highway were the other strange image.  We’d drive along and see a folding chair at an intersection or under a tree.  Was it’s someone’s chair left there while they were waiting for a ride or for the bus?  Was it a place where a farmer would arrive to sell fruits and vegetables?  Later we saw provocatively dressed women sitting in chairs along the road, and even though we found it hard to believe, we surmised that these women must have been prostitutes. We wondered about their safety.  Where were their pimps or madams?  Who watched after them?  Who came to their aid if they were in a dangerous situation?

When we came home we checked online and learned that indeed, prostitution was legal in Spain, but pimping was not.   In my naiveté I wanted to believe that these women, having no other source of income, turned to prostitution as their livelihood.  Perhaps their brothers protected them?  It seemed from the articles that someone in the establishment had their safety in mind.  A 2004 law required pedestrians on roads to wear reflective jackets and the prostitutes were fined 40 euros if they did not.

Reports since the Times article have detailed the sordidness of the sex business in Spain. It is not unusual for the women to be tattooed with barcodes that show who owns them and how much money they owe to their pimps.

Doing research on the yellow flowers I learned that they are fields of rapeseed.   Searching more I find that these fields have attracted others’ attention also and they appear in literature and photo logs.  Rapeseed is grown as a feed for livestock and its oil is used both for human consumption and in the production of biodiesel.  In 1981 more than 350 people died from ingesting rapeseed oil that was produced for industrial use but was sold as vegetable oil – not a mistake, but a scandalous abuse of power by the government and business.

Sadder but wiser.  Perhaps I should just let the unexplained go unexplained, stay away from google, and live in uneducated bliss.

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