The Trans-Cantabria first runs through, then alongside the Picos de Europa en route to Leon. It is a landscape so beautiful as to warrant cliché, and forgivably so. At Leon, the conduttore makes a fuss about sitting in the allocated space. Not that the passengers pay any attention to seating arrangements, which they treat with characteristic scorn. Lovely people, the Spanish. Proud.
The Asturian scenery is very picturesque – green and lush, it is a mountainous landscape that is a series of serrated granite peaks. Unquera… Llanes… Ribadesella, it's all beautiful. Down to the ancient-looking small wooden houses, which have a mushroom shape and are apparently used for curing jamon, it's all rather Asterix, with cartoonish houses lining the road and backing into the slopes above that are rustic and come in a range of shades of ochre stone. Yet, as with elsewhere in Spain, the call for 'More!' has been heeded and it's counterpoint of 'Build!' has been heard loud and clear, and the comically perfect pastoral scenes are rent asunder by the hunger for stone and the love of money.
Spanish developers are a busy bunch – no vista of the Spanish countryside is free for long of the sight of ever-present cranes, steel superstructures, rubble, processing plants or mills. Despite a stringent ethic of keeping the centre of towns and cities spotless (to the point that these look positively artificial and remind you of ersatz piazzas replicated in casino's back home), those administering outlying areas harbour no such niceties. Thus the rolling green hills of the north bear the unsightly brunt of the boom in building and industry. And what a boom it is:
'Build, boys, build! I got six chicos that need new Nikes and a beautiful chica who's sitting her psychology majors in Madrid! Don't listen to those fuckin' hippie tree-huggers – what we need is more housing estates, and a shitty strip mall to service its shitty inhabitants! Screw the chestnut trees – the days of idealised comic book verdure are over! Build, boys, build, in the name of progress!'
'But señor, what about the housing glut? King Carlos is concerned –'
'Housing glut? What housing glut, cabron? Don't listen to that maricon Carlos; he's fuckin' loco from all the whores and sherry, every puta in the country knows that! You keep that up and it's back to Manila on the next tuna boat outta here for you, you illegal Phillipino imbecile! Build!'
Oak, plane, chestnut, hickory, poplar, holly, poppy, daisy, wild fennel, elder, dog rose…and quarries. Lush green hills, majestic granite peaks, dark ravines - none are safe from the lust for rock. Black stone, yellow stone, red stone - ripped and blasted from the sullen earth and leaving startling scars torn into the mountainsides, the lot of them –
'Blow it out, chop it up and ship it out, boys! No time like the present – we got kitchen counter-tops to get to the home-maker, flagstones for the plazas, marble for the snobs, cement for the developers and it ain't gonna haul its own ass down this godforsaken mountain!'
'But señor, this is a protected area, the environment –'
'What's that, Lupé? Destroying the precious Picos de Europa, eh? Am I spoiling your view, señor? Get lost, hippie – this industry puts food in my mouth! What, have you run outta trees to hug? Shame, did we cut them all up? Take your new-age jabbering to the city, boy – this is the countryside, hijo, and it's no place for your sentimental whining!'
Yes, it's awfully romantic, Spain.