Flight: Spain: Mysterious Agricultural Basin & New Year’s Sardonicism

While I may get passive-aggressive around Christmas, I get cynical around New Year’s. First of all, who needs an excuse to get drunk? Just get drunk already if that is what is desired. Secondly, there is all of this whitewashing of graves: recasting the prior year in a bath of bulleted positives, and setting resolutions for the next year, heralding in an era where things will somehow be better because we passed an arbitrary point in the orbital path of the earth around the sun.

For me personally, I will only note that 2016 was the year I lived in three countries. Three. I did NOT see that coming.

For the rest of the world, there is the matter of the handwriting on the wall. We tend to look back on historical horrors such as the world wars, autocracy, and various human rights travesties and console ourselves by believing that, if we just knew beforehand, it would have been different (at least that is how world history was presented to me in grade school). The horrors of the 20th century weren’t mysteries beforehand to many; the specific trigger was. The handwriting is on the wall again about our future; there is not much reason to assert that things will be rosier when those of us who are alive review our 2017 in 365 days, when we are at the same point relative to the sun on a two (but not three) dimensional Cartesian grid. Let’s not even begin to talk about our solar system’s galactic orbit (much less our galaxy’s general motion, but I digress) and how that throws cold water on the logic behind our cultural suppositions.

That depressing, condescending, and sardonic reality aside, what about Catalonian New Year’s traditions? As literally just happened a few moments ago, the new year turned over in Catalonia and church bells rang 12 times, for which people traditionally eat one grape for each toll. Its fast, and I wonder if anyone tallies how many people die from choking? According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in the UK, at least one emergency visit per year to the hospital is made in Great Britain due to someone trying to photocopy their ass in the office; I can only imagine the effects of a fast, collective, and mass grape eating orgy by an entire separatist region late at night. But hey, its Spain, and people are happy, everything else be damned.

As for the flight in question, it was the beginning of what has turned about to be the War Against the Inversion. That damn airmass is not a transitory condition dependent on weather systems; it is a nearly permanent fixture. The only question is: how high does it go? Is it confined to Lleida, or is it allowed to rise over the Pyrenees? Time and season determine that factor, though not the existence of the inversion itself.

I decided to go to a mysterious agricultural basin in the southernmost section of the foothills of the Pyrenees, betting that the inversion would be kept out of that area. You’ll have to see how things worked out.

Looking back on La Cerdanya – quite pretty.

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That damn inversion! Rrrghhh.
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The eternal question of if this clarity will be in the mysterious agricultural basin.
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Looking back where on historical flight path.
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This looked better on Google Maps than in reality.
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Entrance to the mysterious basin.
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Victory! No inversion here. Note green tarp – I believe that to be olive harvesting activities.
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It is due to this ridge that the inversion is kept out!
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This appears to be a sinkhole, nicely adorned with some autumn.
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Agricultural breasts.
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Autumn in a tree farm.
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This is me sneering at the inversion!
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Inversion left, no inversion right. And that is life in Catalonia with an old airplane and a camera.
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Looking down on the inversion. 
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Carsickness highway.
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Interesting rocks.
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Cadí-Moixeró
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Two bovines, of unknown gender. The ladies have horns here in Spain.
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Flight: Spain, Andorra, France: Mid-mountain Snow & Airing of Grievances

I’ll warn in advance: I get very passive-aggressive around Christmas. In honor of Festivus tradition, this is my Christmas “airing of grievances.” For those that don’t give a hoot about my philosophical sardonicism, there are pretty pictures taken from the airplane at the bottom like usual. If I am going to spew vitriol about misleading tradition, I shall at least keep my traditions going.

This year’s rampage started by watching some of our regular TV shows. Of course, the Styrofoam snowflakes fall as actors stroll down magic streets in media sets in Los Angeles, bathing in the romantic warmth of friends, family, generosity, good tidings, and hope portrayed as some location in the Northeast that looks exactly nothing like those places.

Really?

More than half of people that fall in love end up hating each other so much that they get divorced. For those that can stand the marital union, has anyone thought how many families actually like each other? Who thought mixing family with happiness was a good idea? Perhaps the ideal of Christmas only works because it is lubricated with massive amounts of alcohol.

Our lovely entertainment industry also fails to consider how many people spend Christmas alone while drinking and farting on the couch, forgotten by all of this pseudo love and bliss circulating around.

Then there was the matter of the fact that the entire world does not do Christmas like it is done in America. It has been eerily quiet here in La Cerdanya, and I was vaguely aware that we are about to embark on a massive orgy of merrymaking, though that starts after the 25th. I also recalled a friend of mine noting Muslim women in Malaysia, in a full black head covering, shopping with a Santa hat on. Of course, our lovely plastic snowflake movie set hides anything other than a scripted stereotype, so we had to go looking to find out how things are done here in Catalonia.

Literally, holy shit.

Catalonia has a tradition of the “caganer” in Nativity scenes. It is a peasant with a traditional regional hat, squatting, pulling his pants down, and taking a dump (the word translates “shitter”). It sits not too far from Jesus in a Nativity and depicts gifts and generosity and all that happy horse human shit (though I can’t find one even though I am looking). To quote an editorial in a Barcelona newspaper, “A nativity scene without a caganer is not a nativity scene.”

Add to that the caga tío, the “shitting log.” Yet another tradition of Catalonia, a wooden log is filled with candies, adorned in mild costume, and ordered to defecate them out. When it does not, it is beaten with sticks by everyone present at the gathering until the candies come out of the rear end. This is done while singing a song, for which I have pasted the lyrics below. Aside from the jaw-dropping oddity at play here, I can’t help but note the cultural ramifications of programming children to act like a pitchfork and torch brigade. We wonder why Latin America has regular explosive orgies with people shouting “Viva La Revolución!” at the slightest provocation? When compared to angrily beating a log for not shitting candy, I am not sure which is more rational.

“Caga tió,

caga torró,
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues bé
et daré un cop de bastó.
caga tió!”

shit, log,
shit nougats,
hazelnuts and mató cheese,
if you don’t shit well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
shit, log!

All of the above amusement leads me to another misleading bit of nonsense. What the hell is with a white Christmas? Has anyone ever looked at a weather map before dreaming up the plastic snowflake fantasy?

A shockingly small surface area of the globe regularly has snow on the ground in the winter. Even less has fresh, happy powder. Having grown up in the “Snow Capital of the US,” Buffalo NY, I was treated with more mud, slush, rain, and miserable weather that was anything other than the real version of plastic, fluffy snowflakes, even in the middle of winter. Of course, since family life is generally a pain in the ass for most of the world yet is packaged as brimming with romanticized bliss by the entertainment industry, it would be foolish to think that the weather would be left alone by the same purveyors of falsehood.

With that being said, we got our first mid-mountain snow some weeks back. Instead of being isolated to the summits, snow levels came halfway down to the house, creating some beautiful scenery, so I naturally took the plane up to check it all out.

Perhaps this is my passive-aggressiveness coming out again, showcasing the white Christmas most of the world doesn’t get.

On a side note, I am considering creating a ranking system for each post, depicting the probability that my wife will read it and proclaim: “You’re an asshole. I can’t believe you expect people to read your blog.” This is a 5 out of 5.

Cadí-Moixeró

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Some sort of deer equivalent, above timberline in Cadí-Moixeró.
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Crossing over clouds created by rotors, en route to Andorra. This is not the most well-thought out plan. 
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Note how rock textures are cleanly visible. This is associated with early season snow. Mid-winter, the depth of snow obscures subtle texture, and in spring, rocks start poking out with residual snowpack. I prefer early snows the most.
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Andorra left, Spain right.
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Someone snowshoeing with his dog.
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Looking toward Andorra. Got caught in a downdraft here.
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Spain, France on the horizon. Wind is going left to right, which means those clouds are a sign of “unexpected rough air.”
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France. It was quite windy over here, creating the requirement to figure out the easiest way to get back to the airport, as I would need to cross to the downwind side, which is no good.
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As the ridge line here is much steeper, and the clouds smaller, I fell back on my experience in the Tetons and Glacier National Park that, while severe terrain can have more vertical wind patterns, they also tend to be slower as the terrain itself disrupts them. Time to cross and see what happens!
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It was fine. Just a few bumps.
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Pass to Perpignan. The Mediterranean is visible on the left horizon.
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Was someone having a seizure when property lines were drawn? France.
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Really long final, runway 25, LECD. I had flown to the right of those clouds in the mountains. 
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Flight: Spain, France: Vanity of Chasing Autumn

It has been some years now where I have a predictable routine. I move somewhere new, fantasize about autumn in upstate New York while I was young, and vow to take the flights I didn’t take when I was too young to pilot an aircraft, chasing fall colors in whatever locale I am wandering around in.

Just about every time, it doesn’t work.

Yet again, the enigmatic mystique of youthful nostalgia mixed with the soulful presence of the Iberian Peninsula, beckoning me to chase deciduous leaves in the final stages of life.

The plan flopped.

One of the realities of a high mountain region on the dry side of the Pyrenees is that there are not many deciduous trees. While there were some in full color, it wasn’t enough to compete with the vibrant, contorted fantasies spewing forth from my hippocampus.

On the other hand, there is a maxim about flying around with a camera: I tend to end up with something other than intended. As the following photos will show, this was another flight to add to the quiver of proof for my witty and cynical aphorism. A few weeks later, when I thought autumn was dead and buried, I set off looking for something else, and got bathed in a fire hose of autumn. You’ll see that in a few blog posts.

Not exactly an autumn photograph, though pretty.
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Finally! Some autumn….and its in a trailer park.
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Many of the fields in La Cerdanya were tilled and prepared like this.
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I think this is France, though it might be in Llivia, a bizarre Spanish exclave surrounded by French territory, a hangover from a poorly written treaty about 500 years ago.
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Flowering plant mixed among the field.
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During some Napoleonic battle, the locals fled up to this church to take refuge (there is even a local holiday dedicated to it). We decided to drive to it, and there was *allegedly* a sign saying it was forbidden, for which I am American and intentionally dumb and kept going, which triggered a lovely marital “discussion” in the car. 
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Cattle in France. I can only wonder if they take on any French behavioral characteristics, such as a more nasally moo.
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Road to Perpignan.
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Autumn in the French Pyrenees.
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Yellow trees next to the famous French “Yellow Train” line.
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Larch trees (pines that change color and drop needles) with Font Romeu ski area in the background. I drove to the larch trees a few days later, only to be surrounded by pines that looked brown and dead, while getting an extraordinary amount of needles down my shirt while walking through them. Perhaps this is why I like flying? Life is better, from a distance and above.
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For a day that had no wind, it was intriguing to watch dust blow around. 
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Flight: Spain, Andorra: Highest Point in the Pyrenees

Yet again I schemed to go to Montserrat, though I was faced with the pilot-photographer-author’s dilemma: do what has been nagging me, or do what is possible. The forecast indicated an anticyclone directly overtop Pico Aneto, the highest peak in the Pyrenees. If there was a time to barrel into some unwelcome terrain, this was it. I opted to go with what nature would allow and save Montserrat for another day.

The flight turned out to be just fine from a weather standpoint. Armed with confirmation that there were locations to land, albeit spotty, I felt more comfortable over this silly terrain than the last time I peered over the cliff edge. In the end, it was a banner flight with spectacular results. Since I am binging on the photo count, I’ll spare any further words (that nobody reads).

Lower Cerdanya

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Crossing into Andorra
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VERY Andorran…
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Autumn bliss
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Autumn carsickness…
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Notice the lack of a driveway or road.
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Parque Nacional de Aigüestortes aka “stupid ass restricted zone.”
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A rather significant pass for which I cannot find a name.
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Pico Aneto (11,165′ / 3.404m) in the rear left.
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Where I came from.
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Northern ridge of Pico Aneto with Monte Perdido in the background (another stupid ass restricted zone).
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Pico Aneto – while this is the highest peak in the Pyrenees, it is only the third highest in Spain.
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Rock that looks like wood grain.
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Context on aforesaid rock. Did I mention this is in Aragon now, and not Catalonia? I can sense the resignation in the air, as opposed to virulent regional independence.
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Pico Aneto
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Of course, there is a cross on top (and a human).
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Border of Aragon and Catalonia directly below the airplane, looking into the Catalán section.
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Ski area.
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Same ski area, looking back toward Aneto.
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Red rock glacier.
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Lonesome yellow trees.
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Note the chalet in the lower center. 
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Chalet is virtually under the airplane, looking back toward Aneto.
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There’s Montserrat on the horizon!
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And the Pre-Pyrenees….again. Pedraforca upper left.
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Serres d’Odèn-Port del Comte – note the warping of rock in center left.
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Pre-Pyrenees giving way to Catalonian plains. This is a diversion from my flight plan. It was too pretty to pass up.
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That damn Catalonian inversion, yet again!
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Though it can be a little pretty. 
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My flight path consisted of most of everything you see here including the horizon.
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Forestry.
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Estació D’Esquí Port Del Comte
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Pedró dels Quatre Batlles
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Cadí-Moixeró with Pedraforca
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La Cerdanya, long final runway 07 with a sore ass, full bladder, and worn out mind.
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A farm field…. I just had to.
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