16th September – That night: Refugio Siurana
The Spaniard goddess1 looked down at me as I sprawled in the dirt like a spider in a bead of water. I began a rally of back-then-breaststroke in the disturbed dust at her feet, hoping to impress her with my athletic prowess, or at least distract from the histrionic hissy-fit (complete with fist pounding of the ground, tongue gaging and some eating of dirt).
‘So do you come here often? Ah Spain that is – well you’re Spanish right – so-‘
‘¿Cómo?’ she replied quickly.
‘I want to be bathed in the sweat of something pure’ I said as I look up into the ethereal beauty of her Ibex doe eyes. It was fairly clear that the glutinous concoction of pharmaceuticals I’d ingested were in no way performance enhancing.
‘Recomiendo que vaya al hospital’ she said and pointed at the blush of dirt and chalk over my entire body, even into the creases of my eyelids.
‘I’ve been climbing’ I said to her total unrecognition, to her determined ambivalence. ‘I um almost died-‘
‘Why die?’ she asked in faulty English. The question totally dumbfounded me, it was really, a very good question and it lathered my thoughts into a neurotic void.
‘Escalada’ I whimpered, and though the germ of recognition pearled in her eyes and her radiance washed over me in a palpable aura of possibility, I had veered off-course, into the bad lands of introspection. Gang way, baton the hatches and abandon the compass, he who sails here severs his anchor. Were I a lesser man I may have uttered ‘mummy?’
By the time I’d emerged from the amniotic pool of introversion, the fawn skinned faun had been replaced by the benign bratwurst-like girth of Tix, my climbing partner/photographer, my voice of reason and my free ride. The old black and white dog, brown-patched by the sun, Carla Bruni stirred from her nearby repose, typically unimpressed.
‘I wasn’t sure if you’d come back to your senses’ he panted and handed me a wet cloth to wipe the grime of dirt-turned-mud by tears that caked my face. He was referring to that afternoon’s ‘incident’, which left me clipped in to the wall swiping at the winds, keening and convulsing at the end of a rope, searching for meaning, gnashing my teeth and spitting pig-latin curses at the inequitable and inhumane condition I was in. In my mind I was a thousand meters in the air in a stormy gyre of ill sentiment dread and hateful energy, at the whim of humanity while wailing at the abeyant heavens held me in a malicious limbo-vertigo, everything just too far away for touch no matter how I strained and begged2. In another reality, I was ten meters up having caught my pant-crotch in the quickdraw, screaming and sweating like an epileptic tea bag.
‘I have a doctorate I’ll have you know-‘ I said with heroic defiance.
‘Oh yeah?’ Tix humoured me ‘What in?’
‘So you’re uh a doctor of nothing?’ he said, suddenly disgustingly pleased with himself.
‘Of Nothingness. Thanks for the wet towel.’ I said as I stalked back towards my bungalow, considering howling at the scimitar moon as I went. Back at home base I had a rum and crawled into a foetal position on my vinegar-stench mattress and tried to reconcile the day’s events. Why die? In a dire year3 that crept in under your skin, into your strobe-blind eyes like the End of Days, it was an almost perfect question.
1 A lesser goddess, not of War or Famine, but probably good hair, or morning glory.
2 At some stage in my delirious entrapment I would consider, ala Simon Yates, shearing myself to freedom and would bring my teeth earnestly to the rope. Though I could not sever the thing, some gains would be made and thus my first gear review of the trip. Mamut Vertex 10.1mm, having a firm but responsive texture, a robust earthen flavour (a hint of grass and cuttlefish), gets a chewability index of 4/5. Bested, in my knowledge, only by the Beal Joker, which I had previously encountered in a AEA incident.
2.1. Auto Erotic Asphyxiation
3 A year the word “Truthiness” entered via journalists, through the media and into popular vernacular. A word that signals with the white-flag of surrender the forfeit in the war for Value in human expression.
16th September That day: Piqui Pigui Siurana.
At the base of the crag a small gang of local youths assailed us, gawking and making exaggeratedly aggressive gestures, tinnie hip-hop emanating from cube speakers, it sounded like a war-drum mixed with subliminal instructions to eat their parents. One of the youngsters pointed and laughed at my stylish and environmentally adept attire (I had donned a floral woman’s blouse over my khaki shorts, that I reasoned was the perfect twill for the conditions).
“Grandes muñecos de trapo sin vida” he gobbed. He bore a greased mullet and some form of grief-inducing hiking-sandal.
“What’s that Smiley?” I asked in English, and at that point the rest of the gang’s interest was piqued. They began to loiter in enclosing circumference.
“He said you look like a hanky’ one of the offsiders translated and they all laughed like a blood-crazed death squad, the poster children to Facebook’s dissociative disorder, prancing about, clapping and chomping at the air. Right here stood The Yawning Abyss, this was iTunes, self-serve check outs, automated phone recordings, threatening to swallow up culture, erase the Great Names or overcrowd them with underwritten emoticons. These teenagers were so deviated with hormones that a frenzy was coasting around air-borne, swooping out and back to hover in their pheromone swollen lungs. One of them wore a long-sleeved Atlético Madrid jersey, in a heat that teetered towards thermodynamic immolation, no sweat – they had no sweat, while I was standing there as if a B52 bomber had just delivered its entire payload of sweat-balloons directly to my brow and chest.
“We’ve hit critical mass of over population, we’re lost in a labyrinth of trenches, it’s every man for himself-” I said as I began scratching at the rock, head tilting back to watch the inevitable surge, the one that swarmed and writhed in my concussive-skull, but behind me everyone was eerily still, casual stances, distant looks, some even had the skill to appear disinterested. These delinquents were looking for a free meal, a meal of primped and proffered white-flesh, their mirthless eyes told tales of sharks in shallow waters, listlessly swimming and eating purely out of boredom. No wonder Prime-Minister and all out fall-guy Mariano Rajoy had uttered the one-word plaintiff speech to his increasingly despondent people; ‘Work!’
‘Vapid promises, mockery, chaos-‘ I muttered under my breath, as I butted my swollen, elephantine feet against the rock.
‘Hey you okay? That looks more like fleeing than climbing-‘ Tix said with his best dish-licking grin.
“All climbers are trying to escape-’ I crowed. I need to get inside I thought as I stared at the speckled limestone. I briefly considered coating myself in Vaseline and wriggling around in search of an invisible orifice, not so much into the rock itself – that would be too easy, I wanted to get much deeper. I had to find a method of passage inside the heart of the country, the kernel heart of hearts, a distended unformed infant, a glazed thing foetally coiled inside the lunacy of climbing compulsion.
‘What’re you trying to escape?’
‘The Past. Now quickly get on the end of this damn rope, I have a thirst for something I can’t quench.’
‘Are you going to climb like that?’
‘Like what?’ I said with a psychosis tremor in my voice. ‘I’ll have you know these sun-glasses are top of the line, I have a peculiar intolerance to bright light-‘
‘No I mean with the backpack’
‘Yes.’ I said as I clutched the pendulous sack hanging like a growth down to my lumbar. ‘These are my – my writing supplies.’ My canvas con-joined twin, my love was true.
The pock-marked limestone, arcing up in bulges and straps of grey, orange and Russian blue, resembled an old man burned or scared skin clinging to his stringy muscles, in ribbons or globs. I climbed the muscular wall with a compensatory pleasure. At the top of the climb I bellowed to Tix to wait while I prepared to belay him up, then I opened the pack, randomly popping the foil packaging on a selection of each and every type of medication I’d stolen from Tix’s toiletries bag in the hostel. Briefly I craned my head over the edge with a gob stretched-full of slathering chemicals, something like a mouthful of bleach. One of the empty blister packs fell in a pirouette down to Tix at the ground.
‘What the hell are you doing? Are those my pills? They’re prescription!
‘I need release from this sweltering stench. I’ve got to break the bonds of corporeality.‘
‘What? What the fuck! They’re not going to get you high, they’re medication! Some of them are for my-‘ he paused and bug-eyed I spied down on him as he took in the audience and thought twice of decrying his shames. ‘They’re not going to get you high!’ he repeated slightly windless.
‘I’m on a vision quest – don’t try to break my spirit. Besides, I feel confident that if I combine enough of them in exacting doses, they may have a synergistic effect.’ I stared out and the meandering brown hills and stacked cornice stone-houses gilding the furrows of green4. It was as if someone had tuned us into an alternate frequency, one larger, more expansive and saturated but less real.
Towards the top of the next pitch (after pulling through and falling off a move around nineteen times) I first noticed the enraged throbbing in my loins. As if someone had poured honey inside my snake-eye and a battalion of fire-ants had marched inside to begin stinging at will.
Looking down at the site of my distress I was pleasantly surprised, then panicked by a looming bulge that circus-tented my much-too-tight combat shorts.
I dangled and rotated on an axis so that my agitated member could do a round-house sweep through Tix’s field of vision. I struck a curious silhouette against the background.
‘You ate my Viagras’ he murmured instinctively.
‘Do not fear me’ I responded desperately. ‘Perhaps, in times like these, this is exactly what is called for. Perhaps this will propel me to The Next Level, a crux-move-Nirvana!’ I chanted with ejaculation-maddened jerks as I hauled my groin towards the rock face, pumping and throttling my muscles and flexing my abdomen and there-attached burning penis hard against the rock wall.
I made some very exciting movements, some of poetic beauty, not so much the E. E Cummings ‘I opened like a flower’ kind, but the staunch and sublime Russian nationalist kind, of shackle-shattering revolutionary strides and supermen. I was a Hercules, a Titan, an invincible pervert with a gamma-radiation crotch, and I would not be stopped, not by gravity, by the weight of expectation, not by fear, regret or the cruelty in people’s predatory hearts.
It was somewhere amongst this uprising that I snared my warped shorts in a quickdraw and came to a shuddering halt.
“El tiene su pico atrapado en la cinta!” one of the terrible infants whooped from below.
I attempted to mime5 ‘call for help’ as I dangled, then tried to imitate an ambulance, making a morose whimpering siren that petered out almost immediately.
Clearly there had been a fair proportion of sleeping tablets and perhaps anti-psychotics6 in the off-the-cuff-alchemist transmutation I’d gorged on. At the point of total constraint, hallucinatory demons assailed me and I fell into a form of sleep walking, a goldfishes’ nightmare on an electro-shock fishhook. Up there, in a torrent of shame and wish-thinking, I had time to watch the Golden Eagles soar concentric patterns in the vortex overhead7, and wonder why the hell I do these things to myself.
4The green river through the gorge, so calm and green that I can only imagine (incessantly) that they must be oh so deep, oh so welcoming.
5 Communication’s encoding and decoding is always exercise in Hermeneutics 5.1 but never more than when you’re a tassel curiosity hanging from a string in a foreign land.
5.1 An elegant axiom, a potential antidote for the poison-in-the-well of the term Truthiness.
6 Anti-psychotic to some, anti-anti-psychotic to others.
7 Slow motion convection circles. Such beautiful animals weaving a circumscription between worlds, too beautiful to be solid material things, and as we all know, such beauty is nothing but the smuggling vessel for terror. Shock and fear can come suddenly, bluntly, but true terror, that comes insidiously. The conduit will make you want it first. It presents you with such beauty, that you will pine for it, you will dream, hope and behold that desire, deep and intimate in your heart, or the pit of your stomach, and then, it can break you When you have so much to lose, then the beauty unburdens its contents of terror; directly inside of you.
These furling eagles are nothing but feather-winged, unwinding reapers, and any enchantment-shed visionary or Cartesian revealed traveller knows this. These birds subtle spiral, is, not meant for this mortal world.
7.1. That’s what makes someone believable, that they’re broken. Never allay your trust in anything pristine.
So there I was, somewhere between prayer and prey.
Some other time: somewhere staring at a laptop, where-ever, you pick.
Why climb? Why do anything? Every second rate hack and half-witted introvert has tried to dismantle that question and rebuild it with scaffolds greater than its preconditions, the rearrange the overwhelming awe of climbing in a jigsaw puzzle of words, have they failed? Not in the way a goat fails to hold a glass, but the question is still there, even if we’ve given up asking it – it’s still asked of us, in a form easier to comprehend than Schrodinger’s cat in a box, simultaneous states; half full and half empty.
In our mercenary world, where people’s ‘doors to perception’ are so hopelessly cluttered with obsolete consumer goods, a garbage tip, morose enfeebled horrific remains of modern day, it’s vital to keep questioning; are we nearing The End8 , is it nigh? Or is it all in our heads? This is another Schrodinger’s cat in a box, only we’re the cat and the poison is our own lack of imagination.
Climbing is a distillation of all the world’s colour and movement through a magnifying-glass into a single searing pin-point of purity, just a pitch of rock, the temperamental air and you. It’s the suspension of niggling demands, a return to the tactility of childhood when you held all that matters in immediacy with sticky fingers. The swirling chaos of other questions all go on hold, they turn still.
8 It’s not over until the fat lady chokes, that being said she just swallowed a whole chicken wing.
To read the first part of Gonzo’s bizarro journey download issue four of Vertical Life here
Link to The Prequeal, Gonzo Does Australia