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Autobiographical Essays

Beate Caspari-Rosen, MD (1910 - 1995)


An Excursion to Andorra

On our trip to Southern France we stayed in an unpretentious hotel in Foix at the foothills of the Pyrenees. It was, however, highly recommended in the Michelin, boasting three crossed knives and forks, a sign for a highly superior restaurant. After we settled in our room we went to the dining room, when in the flickering candlelight we were seated at our table. All through the trip my husband had indulged in eating his favorite food, trout. After a while I asked him not to order truite bleu again, since the recipe calls for throwing a poor live fish into boiling water and when it is brought to the table its body almost forms a ring, and it appears to look at the diner reproachfully with its dead yet expressive eyes. As he had in the past, my husband ordered trout, but the trout was fried and covered with almonds. In the flickering candlelight we could hardly see the other guests, when suddenly two strong waiters brought a large wooden basket and put it in front of my husband's feet. We looked in consternation at each other. Did they observe a strange custom in this locale where you had to wash your feet before being served? No, there were several large and small trout swimming in the basket and my husband could choose one. We both began to laugh and could not stop, until the whole dining room joined us in our laughter without knowing what we were laughing about.

The next day we decided to make an excursion to Andorra. The Pyrenees are a forbidding mountain range covered with eternal snow, that divides France from Spain. In contrast to Switzerland’s toy-like villages, which make that country so picturesque and paintable, none enliven the somber slopes. The Pyrenees, except for the lower slopes which are covered with forests, are barren, rocky and  strewn with boulders.

We started driving along the only road which leads to Andorra, which is the smallest state in Europe, except for the Papal State. Its principal city is Andorra Lavella, which had 2,500 in inhabitants when we visited it. The road was steep with sharp curves. Soon we ran into heavy fog. We met numerous large trucks which were carrying enormous plate--glass sheets up the road as returning trucks sped down the curving road. The drivers had a nasty habit; they turned off their yellow fog lights when driving down the perilous road and turned them on only when they were close to oncoming cars. This was one of the scariest rides we took in Europe. But suddenly we broke throughout the fog and were greeted by sunshine and a  deep blue sky. The view of the snow--covered sharp mountain ridges was breath--taking. There were no houses to be seen, and the landscape was empty, except for wild horses galloping on the sparse grass--covered fields. We crossed the border into Andorra and followed the main and seemingly only road through the empty landscape and then suddenly the town appeared like a “Fata Morgana” after crossing a bridge over a wild mountain stream; it was then that we understood the puzzling glass--laden trucks. The road became the equivalent of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan; it was lined on both sides with business houses with large glass enclosed storefronts. The finest furs, clothes from the best-known Paris designers, wools and cashmere from England, jewelry stores and silverware boutiques, extraordinary crystal, perfumes and cigars from all over the world were sold there. Since Andorra has no taxes and most of the goods are smuggled on mountain trails, prices were low and bargain hunters filled the streets.

Little remained of the old city, only a small plaza and a small sixteenth-century palace used to house the administrative offices of the state. Thirty years ago when we visited Andorra it was an unspoiled wilderness except for this small city, but today it has become a fashionable winter resort with numerous hotels and condominiums, I am sure.

The difficulty is not getting into Andorra but getting out, for the border control to neighboring Spain and France is strict, and cars are lined up. But not for us; an American passport worked like a sorcerer's wand, and we could drive through the border control without stopping.

I had bought a cashmere sweater and a cultured pearl necklace, my husband, a pipe and some cigars.

Several years later we again passed through Andorra, that time coming in from Spain and staying overnight in a lovely hotel outside the city and exiting into France.

 


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