Writing and Running in Storms

By William J. Furney

Great clouds of atmospheric, moody weather are best if you’re planning to write something extensive and challenging, as in a major part of your life story that you started writing over a decade ago and have to finish for awaiting publishers. Which is what I came to Lanzarote several weeks ago to do, thinking summer would be calm, clear and hot, not knowing rolling storms, of the subtropical kind, had settled in for a lengthy, unwelcome stay. 

The brawny, scrappy wind is unrelenting and raring for a brawl; it tears at you and wears you out: a screaming stream of screeching air designed to torment and let you know it is king. No mere mortal can put up a fight. 

Such climes are not so advantageous if you’re training for a marathon and have to get out there for hours amid the churning, broiling, searing elements. Damn the crazed Greeks for inventing this insane endurance contest that many people, seasoned runners and racers like me or not, feel they just have to do, to “tick the box” and hopefully complete one of the biggest tests of physical and mental ability there is. 

Live Science’s Life’s Little Mysteries feature says: “In a nod to Greek history, the first marathon commemorated the run of the soldier Pheidippides from a battlefield near the town of Marathon, Greece, to Athens in 490 B.C. According to legend, Pheidippides ran the approximately 25 miles to announce the defeat of the Persians to some anxious Athenians. Not quite in mid-season shape, he delivered the message ‘Niki!’ (Victory!) then keeled over and died.”

Thanks a lot.

In the remote village of Charco del Palo that’s mostly cut off from the world, there was no other choice but to get out there in the turbulent air: either throw in the towel or get on with it, without a word of complaint to anyone but your coach (in explaining sluggish heart rates and times due to headwinds and volcanic terrain).

Which is what I found myself doing on this bereft Spanish island off the coast of Morocco in late July and well into August. 

The implacable gales were so strong that they blew down the village’s big welcome sign. 

Along with the daunting prospect of running a 42-kilometre race, in Gran Canaria in November (for which I’m fundraising for PETA), I am also bracing for the publication of my memoir, which recounts 14 years of my and my family’s life in Indonesia — an often turbulent and distressing time but one nonetheless filled with adventure and triumph. 

Sadly, and tragically, in this bohemian village-by-the-sea in Lanzarote, a hefty slice of the population is composed of plump Europeans, so giant you might think  they are expecting sextuplets — octuplets even. These are mostly middle-aged and elderly Germans and other well-heeled European males, and you might also think that the human species had somehow gained the ability for both genders to get knocked up and give birth. You would be wrong, however, because their enormous and alarming girth is merely the result of their voracious gluttony and avaricious sloth. 

It is likely none of them follow a wholefood, sugar-free, vegan diet, instead gorging on huge volumes of meat, dairy and other processed grub that are not only harmful to themselves but also the rapidly warming and emperilled world. The only restaurant here — currently “closed until September” — offers the kind of meat-heavy menu that certain Europeans go ape for; it’s an unending, vampire-like bloodlust that’s never satiated, rendering them slaves to animal flesh. 

So addicted are these vastly overfed people to their destructive foods that were you to suggest they switch to the health and environmental benefits of veganism — not to mention reducing animal cruelty in the process — they would laugh at you and tell you to get lost. All they can think about is the next gargantuan meat-feed, stuffing plates of decaying muscle, sinew and blood into bodies so stuffed and frames so strained they threaten to collapse at any moment. 

They are not walking health emergencies, because they don’t walk but shuffle, or plod along; and in the mornings they read the newspapers and say things like, “Isn’t it terrible that the climate is going crazy, with all these record high temperatures and storms and floods”, yet can’t work out the unmistakable connection that they are the root cause of our unfolding, collective calamity. 

Who cares about the climate so long as you can fill your plate right up with sausage and burger, and steak and cheese? 

Who gives a hoot about the state we’ll leave the planet in for future generations as long as our stomachs are full to the point of explosion with products that generate some of the biggest greenhouse gas emissions?

Who has time for climate change when this is my life and I’ll do, and eat, as I please?

At the only supermarket in the village, keeper Carmelo spies me as I enter and rushes over and greets me with a generous handshake and warm smile. “Welcome back,” he says. 

“Hola, Señor Carmelo. Que tal?”

“No, señor, only Carmelo.” 

This is my fourth visit to the village in a year, and he’s happy to see me, because I’m among his best customers, if not the best. Even though his prices are high, he makes the effort to bring produce along the only access road here, from a long way off, and so, for me, it’s worth paying more instead of me having to drive or be driven elsewhere. I don’t have the time, or inclination. So I load up my basket daily and support this sole Charco del Palo shop. 

“Not many people around now,” I say. 

“No, and it’s very peaceful.”

Despite the seasonal slowdown — summer in the Canaries, of which Lanzarote is one of seven or eight islands, depending if you count tiny La Graciosa, north of Lanzarote, is low season, only picking up when it gets colder in northern Europe — business is going so well that Carmelo has hired an assistant. She is frumpy, mildly cordial and has large, dark circles under her eyes. One mid-morning as I arrived, she was sitting at the newly extended cafe outside, having a beer and a cigarette. It pays to check your receipts. 

This artificial town of dazzlingly white buildings was founded by a German in the 1970s and sits on old lava flows careening into the sea; as well as holidaymakers, it’s also home to angry German residents. On a recent squally morning, cyclists stumbling past on the treacherous coastal path littered with sharp volcanic rock drew the ire of a naked, withered and bronzed old man who walks his aged dog to the rockpool outside my door. 

“Go away — go away! This is not for cyclists!” he roars at the stunned passersby idly walking their bikes over the rocks on a path popular for cycling as well as just ambling along and also hiking. They stop, arrested, and stare. 

“Not for cycling!” the venomous diatribe continues, and no one says a word, just looks and listens to the vocal eruption against a lycra-clad, helmeted man and woman enjoying the open air and doing nothing wrong. 

“Stupid Spaniards!” the curmudgeon bellows in his cranky Germanic tones, repeating the slur again and again and drawing onlookers to see what the commotion is all about. The bikers compose themselves, seem to shrug and move along.  

In the afternoon as I’m running through the village, I spy the crank up ahead, again with his mutt and wearing an old and billowing caftan for shopping in the supermarket, where nudity is not allowed.  

“Hola,” I say with a smile as I pass. 

“Hola,” he returns, and as I look at his face, folding into a grin, I recognise he’s just old and lonely and in need of a companion other than a four-legged one. He, now living on this barren, craggy outcrop, had mostly likely weathered many storms, and of all kinds, as have I. 

The next morning, I have the satisfaction of typing “The End” on the manuscript that details my many tempests.

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