From the organizers’ point of view this conference was staggeringly successful. Despite its two week duration, no less than ten percent of the registered architects in Navarro (the part of Spain which Pamplona is the regional capital of) signed up for the event. A local bank, the Casa de Pamplona, provided support in the form of a lecture theatre and conference chambers equipped very lavishly and with every presentational aid one could wish for.
Being linguistically challenged, it was some small comfort to me that the Navarrese are, apparently, almost as poor at foreign languages as we Scots – so translators were on hand to render foreign presentations into either Spanish or Basque. An affable Englishman called Paul carried out this duty for me. He emerged from the booth at the end of the evening dripping sweat and clearly exhausted. I felt he had worked very much harder than I did. The agenda was extensive and diverse with pan-European speakers. I shared that evening’s platform with Prof. Jean Paul Luc from Bordeaux University who spoke at length of his experiences in China over the past ten years. This was a wonderfully illuminating lecture which showed the considerable diversity of sustainable, indigenous architecture and agriculture in China and what efforts are being made in the face of rapid industrialization to try to retain it. He fears this is a losing battle. Within a generation or two machine power might so alter the face of Chinese agriculture and industry that the environmental consequences might be tragic and radical. Like much of the developing world this is very much a case of the sins of the fathers yet the West seems strangely reluctant to offer good, sustainable advice, maybe because we got the processes so wrong.
On one of the hills a few miles west of Pamplona is a row of 40 windmills sitting much as Cervantes would want them, like soldiers atop a ridge, pushing out a constant 600kw each. Surprisingly quiet even from close up they look so much better than what they replace – a coal or gas burning station somewhere coastal, and the mine or the gas platform to serve it. Oddly absent from the Spanish skyline are examples of solar panel installations. Pamplona itself has a great array of old solar windows. Stuck on the sides or corners of tenements and rising up several storeys, they are usually shuttered on the inside wall from traffic noise intrusion and excessive solar gain. They are often lavishly decorated with cast iron filigree work or a geometry of astragals with strong Moorish overtones.
Once the conference was over, I took a trip over the Pyrenees to Ronceval, St. Jean-Pied-de-Port then Biarritz where lunch at one of the seaside bistros was sublime. It struck me during the trip that a singular advantage the French and Spanish have over us is the paucity of Supermarkets. Instead, they have such a diverse range of street markets selling all sorts of food which one senses is grown sustainably in smallholdings and is substantially chemical free. It nonetheless requires rather more than this to explain the difference in the taste of food in France compared to dear old Alba. I’ve long had a hunch that the earth’s lay lines bring different qualities to different parts of the Planet and that France happens to be quite extraordinarily blessed by the fact that the lay lines enrich plants in some metaphysical way that is not connected to the species of plant or the richness of the soil. How else can their food taste so good? Makes me almost yearn for a shift in the magnetic poles until I remember it is just a hunch.