By William Markiewicz

In this August of 2000, Vagabond begins its sixth year and from now on I'll stop counting its age. As August is a vacation month, let's have a vacation souvenir topic:

Almanzor's revenge? Of course not! But this comparison came to mind as an analogy to 'Montezuma's revenge' which afflicts tourists in Mexico. A strange incident which occurred in the mountains of Alpuharas, Spain, might look like a manifestation of Almanzor's burst of bad humour. But if Montezuma has his good reasons for revenge, Almanzor could have nothing against me -- on the contrary -- as the rest of the story will explain. In my view, what happenned, was a sort of communication, a magic message that added color to my souvenirs ...

I was travelling through Spain on a Lambretta. La Mancha, Don Quixote's cradle, is a gate into a magical atmosphere; countless windmills covering an immense plain, their winged wheels turning majestically, appear to be phantom rows of giants threatening an invasion. It seems natural that Cervantes was inspired with the vision of Don Quixote charging windmills. While filling the motorcycle at small gas stations on the crossroads, I was always treated to generous gulps of a wonderful homemade red wine, from the porron. A porron is a bottle made of goat's skin with the hair inside. You drink at a distance, head tipped back, a thin stream going directly to the throat. The wine in a well-cured porron never goes bad and in all temperatures remains cool.

Heading south I reached the mountains of Alpuharas where Almanzor, after escaping from the final lost battle, returned self-inflicted with the plague, to transmit it to the Spaniards. The 19th century's Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz consecrated a poem to Almanzor's sacrifice, within a longer epic poem called 'Konrad Wallenrod.' I don't remember who added the melody, turning the poem into a song. It starts: 'In ruins are the Moors' redoubts - their nation carries irons (chains) - the fortresses of Granada still defend themselves - but in Granada, the plague -- the towers of Alpuharas still defend themselves - Almanzor with a handful of knights - the Spaniard raised banners at the city's outskirts -- tomorrow he will attack...' This poem nourished my childhood

I was driving through the dusty countryside; the spirit of the epoch took me under its spell. The dust, blinding sun, heat, talked to me about death, cruel times, supreme sacrifice... There was nobody around, I was driving, singing with full throat: 'In ruins are the Moors' redoubts...' and the tears and dust were smearing my face. Suddenly I felt a strong pinch inside of my ear. I didn't pay attention, overwhelmed by emotion, and the pinching became rhythmic. Pain and noise like a drum's beating filled my head. I was more curious than scared. I couldn't compare what was happening with anything I had experienced before. The miles were passing and I was expecting this sensation to disappear at anytime, but it didn't. Finally I stopped, took off my helmet, and a dying bee or wasp fell out of my ear. At first I thought it was a bee, but the bee stings once and dies while I was pierced like Saint Sebastian. How could I have withstood this invasion of pain and noise inside my head while driving the motorcycle, all wrapped up in the old saga? Perhaps the spirit of Almanzor helped me to overcome the venom and pain.

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