July 25, 2021

The ambassador’s bicycle | Culture

Hugh Elliott was given a bicycle by his grandfather. With her he wanted to know the world, from London, where he had studied Spanish. And set course for Spain. Cleansed fondues in Switzerland and he did other jobs that would help him reach the Camino de Santiago with his bicycle. In 1984 the holy way was still little traveled.

It still keeps, greasy and black, the little book that explained how to make that journey. The history of what happened later in Burgos is now well known. Hugh found himself in need of accommodation and a young woman from Burgos stayed at his house for free. He is now a British ambassador to Spain. This December she reminded her benefactor telling the story in social networks. However, she, Lourdes Arnáiz, had died of a neurodegenerative disease. From that story remain the melancholy of its outcome and the great repercussion in the media and among the Spaniards, with hundreds of affectionate messages.

In 1984 Hugh barely had money. In London, he fully loaded his vehicle. Finally the bike broke in the middle of nowhere, under the heat of the Leon plateau. Behind a door appeared a deaf mute who understood his signs and appeared with the biggest spanner he had ever seen. The remedy worked, but he wanted to change course. He took trains to other places in France and left Renfe with the task of returning his bicycle to Burgos. He spent five days without a bicycle. It was at that time that there was a favor that looked like a miracle. The importance of such a favor never left his mind. She could be wishing she left. And until this December that disappointment was not only in his journal but in his conscience. That’s why he wanted to remember her publicly.

Hugh is the son of parents who knew languages. The father was a language teacher (and spoke Spanish, French and Catalan), and the mother, who died a few years ago, spoke French and German and was a social worker with young children. He studied at Cambridge, taught English in Salamanca, where he learned the great Spanish he speaks, met his future wife Toñi, and extended his Spanish passion by reading books that, written down to date, dominate his library. It is so high that none of the books resists its hands as a cyclist. Readings (The Song of Mine Cid, The Knight of Olmedo…) they opened their eyes to the world, people and languages. These shelves are very tired, as Borges said, books by García Márquez and Vargas Llosa, read in Salamanca when the boom It had not begun to crumble between us.

García Márquez, for example, taught him that reality also explains the impossible. Literature, in short, pointed out that everything has shadows and lights, that everything is gray; and that, that everything is gray, it is impossible for politicians to understand. That is why, without a doubt, he is a diplomat … and a reader. Now he lives in Spain as an ambassador, and it is not the same as seeing this country as a student. He was struck by the teaching that was for him to recognize here that human value, generosity, in the gesture of Lourdes. That generosity is surely the reason for Spain’s success as a country. There is one last book he takes out of his bookshelf. Torzar’s guide. A short book that explains human nature in a brutal way. The reading that teaches you the most in Spain. He must be 16 when he bought it. Why do you keep so many old books? “The books are not thrown away!” Nor the memories.


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