The castell a fifteen minutes walk from Atzeneta was showing a small exhibition that took me by surprise. I do not want to do injustice to the castell for it has a fond place in the hearts of many, but this odd mixture of church and lord’s manor does not really lend itself to an exhibition. The objects on show were stuck on top of sideboards, under holy artefacts and generally placed about as if in a religious fanatic’s badly designed private parlour.
It was easy to miss them in the dark. But I did not for the helpful “house sitter” Paco turned the art works on for me one by one. Looking at the detail and the inventiveness all I could think was who is this man and he deserves a better showcase.
A few days later I went to see Miguel Trillo Muñoz. His self-built very individualistic home sits outside Albocasser, a stone’s throw from the newly built prison, but quiet nevertheless and with glorious views of Monte Gordo. I was surprised to discover that Miguel is not only an artist, but also a kind of nouveau-hippy-builder.
Before the crisis, he had for a while led a team of some 20 people, restoring and building mountain homes. There were a lot of grants about in those days. This enabled Miguel to build his own home while financing his passion for art.
The day I met Miguel he was pensive, yet agitated, and an air of sadness hung around him as thick as the clouds of smoke from his homegrown cigarettes. It transpired that his only son had died exactly one year ago, after suffering for years as a result of a tragic road accident. On the way to Miguel’s home high in the mountains, he lost control of his car on the narrow winding roads. As it was no longer a fit place for a disabled person in a wheelchair, Miguel was forced to sell his beloved mountain retreat.
He moved closer to civilisation and poured his emotions into stone, wood and tiles. There is an intrinsic originality in the nooks and crannies of his new build and also, though this might seem odd, in the crevices of his fingers. When not incessantly smoking, his hands gesticulate nervously, excitedly, only calmed when he sits down to work on his latest macramé sculpture. He picked up this craft while living in the Pyrenees, and then made it his own by weaving in rug making skills learnt in Morocco.
Talking of Morocco, Miguel has travelled much, but one of his more entertaining stories is closer to home, of the time he spent in Provence in the early 70’s. He chanced upon an unlocked house that the owners left open with a note “You are welcome to come inside, just look after our home and leave it well’. He did, and so did the many people he invited to join him. For many months. Or maybe even a year.
I remember as a young madam I could not wait to grow up and join the hippy revolution, but I was born too late. By the time I could vote, have sex, drink and generally disgrace myself, the age of peace and love had died, and had morphed into disco mania and materialism, aided by a bit too much cocaine.
Decades later, we are into detox diets and other extremisms. Here detox has always existed in that there are no takeaways, MacDonalds or the like (yet). Most people have allotments that they walk to and vegetables figure heavily at meals.
Just as old customs live on in El Maestrat, so does Hippydom, both preserved in a time capsule abetted by the lack of inland roads until recent years. It is not as it was, but in many ways has condensed itself into what was good about those years. No one is swinging from the trees on LSD trips around these parts. They do however believe in a simple life that embraces the natural world.
Recently my son Charlie turned up after euro railing around Europe for a month. “Mum,” he informed me, “I am somewhere between a hippy and a normal living person.” Then he paused while I looked at him quizzically, thinking about the park in Barcelona where he had spent the night singing and playing guitar with fellow travellers. “But I tend towards hippies”, he stated, “for they are much more interesting”.
Which brings me back to Miguel. There is gentleness, a kindness, and of course a certain sorrow surrounding him. He is here, a Madrileño, in El Maestrat, after having travelled and lived an adventurous life. Here he will probably stay, rest his wandering soul and continue interweaving his essence throughout his patch of land, ploughing it so to speak. I could not think of a nicer place to be.