In Summer of 2018 I stayed at an Airbnb in the countryside outside Valencia, Spain.
My marriage was coming to an end and with it my professional life since I worked for the business I’d co-founded with my then husband. You could say it was a cross-roads in my life. I wasn’t sure where to turn.
So I looked for a cheap and cheerful place in Spain where I could go for a week or two to get some rest and clear my head. My budget was tight and I chose somewhere safe but economical. A private room in a house owned and run by Trixie, an English septuagenarian who’d retired to Spain. There was a swimming pool and pretty views over the valley. I felt comfortable I’d be able to get the R&R I so badly needed.
When I got there I was greeted by a handsome young Brazilian guy named Luis. There was no sign of Trixie, nor anyone else. The room was fairytale – white linen and mosquito nets. The countryside, breathtaking. There were cats and dogs everywhere – for me, always a massive plus. But I wasn’t in a good space mentally and that manifested in a nervousness about being alone in the house with just Luis in the middle of Spanish nowhere. My first night was spent tossing and turning.
However it soon became apparent that I needn’t have worried. Luis was the sweetest and most gentlemanly young man, played piano professionally and spoke about half a dozen languages. In fact, it later turned out everybody was just a little bit in love with Luis.
On my second night there was an invitation to the house of a friend of Trixie’s. The invitation came via Luis. You must come, he said. It’s going to be so much fun, he said. I was surprised. I hadn’t been expecting to be included in the social plans of the other people in the house. But I was grateful and in need of good company and so I went along.
Luis and I shut the dogs in behind the rickety gate to Trixie’s garden – two Ratoneros (a Spanish terrier traditionally kept for hunting rats in the wineries of Andalusia) and Trusty, a Labrador cross Spanish Mastín, a gentle giant of a dog. Nobody was at all happy about being left behind. A cacophony of canine yelling and escape attempts. But finally everyone was behind the gate and we were on our way.
It was a forty minute hike across fields and wild country paths to get to the friend’s house. The sun slid gently behind the gorge as we walked through the hot evening. Half way there we were joined by two noisy ratoneros and a mastín. Regular Houdinis all, determined not to miss out on a social occasion.
Upon arrival we were warmly greeted by a jovial lady from Newcastle who made me feel completely welcome and at home. There was also a bunch of her friends and several more dogs. We shared the wine and the cooking, chatted and swam under the stars. It was lots of fun. Luis and the dogs and I walked back to Trixie’s place around 1am in the 30 degree heat under a full moon. I could feel the stress melting from my body. I was happy.
A few days later Trixie returned. Over a beer in the garden she told me her home was situated along one of the lesser travelled ways of the Camino de Santiago. The Camino de Santiago, if you’re not familiar, is a pilgrimage across Spain ending at the town of Santiago de Compostela. The Cathedral holds the tomb of the Apostle St James The Great. Santiago de Compostela meaning St James of the Field of Stars.
All along the Camino you find the symbol of a yellow scallop shell on a blue background. It indicates that you’re on the path. There was such a sign at the entrance to Trixie’s house. She told me her home is open to anyone needing somewhere to stay for a night or two. That any animal or human that turns up needing food or shelter is welcome to stay for as long as they like.
This was an eye opener for me. I wasn’t brought up like this. I was brought up behind a wall. Literally. My parent’s large Cheshire home sits behind a high brick wall and a set of electric gates. People didn’t come in to our home. Not really. Not friends, not family. Hardly ever. It was just me and my mother. My Dad was always at work or travelling for work. As a family of three, we went on holidays to the Caribbean or the Maldives, 5 star resorts walled off from the locals. God forbid you should encounter a local unless he was wearing white gloves and serving you a gin and tonic.
At boarding school I was also walled in. Fiercely protected from the outside world. From chavs, from the boy’s college on the other side of town, basically from anyone except other private school girls.
Trixie’s way of life was the opposite. It felt open-hearted and generous and like what life is supposed to be. Trusting and kind. There was literally a bed for anyone, a meal for everyone.
I’d booked five nights at Trixie’s Airbnb. When my five nights came to an end I wasn’t ready to leave. Trixie wouldn’t hear of me paying for extra nights and said I must stay on as her guest. Quietly, Luis mentioned there’s a hat on top of the piano and if I wanted to I could leave money there for Trixie, that this is what people sometimes did when she refused to accept payment. And so, very happily, that’s what I did.
For the rest of my stay Trixie and her husband and Luis and I, and anyone else who cared to turn up announced or otherwise, cooked together, ate together, had movie nights and beach afternoons and beers at the chiringuito together.
Trixie showed me a different way of life. She showed me how to trust and how to give with open arms and with no expectation of anything in return and I vowed to myself that at some point in the future my life would look something like Trixie’s. A safe and welcoming refuge for passers by to stop a while, to catch their breathe before heading out on the next leg of their journey.
Thank you Trixie. You were a gift when I needed it. The world is a better place because of people like you.