“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting, he thought, as he looked again at the position of the sun, and he hurried his pace. He had suddenly remembered that, in Tarifa, there was an old woman who interpreted dreams.” [from The Alchemist].

The little town of Tarifa sits on the southernmost point of Spain (and thus Europe), where the Atlantic ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea.  Tourists flock to its ancient city walls for two main reasons: the world-famous kite-surfing, or the ferry, which is a quick way to get to Tangiers for a day trip.  Few of them probably know the historical significance of this tiny town, which has occupied its magical spot at the nexus of two oceans since 700 A.D.

For centuries, Muslims and Christians battled over Tarifa.  It’s city walls — remnants of which can be still be seen — were constructed between the 10th and 12th century.  The castle of Guzman the Good (I think of him as Guzman the Bad Dad, since he allowed the Moors to behead his infant son in the streets below the castle rather than surrender) was built in 980 AD.  The castle still stands watch over the city, casting shadows over the rooftops of the surrounding houses where modern-day folk hang their laundry out to dry.  The city, and Guzman’s castle, suffered many more sieges over the centuries, the last in 1812, when it fought off an attack by Napoleon’s troops.

Tarifa has long been a place of comings and goings, of leavings and of home-comings.  Just inside the city wall at the entrance to Guzman’s castle, archeologists recently unearthed a tiny chapel, where travelers and local fishermen stopped for a prayer and a blessing before setting out to destinations near and far.  What more appropriate setting for Santiago, the main character in The Alchemist, to struggle with the choice he has to make for himself — to leave or to go, to give up something he has for something he wants?

And what more appropriate place for me to find myself in, after my meltdown last week?  As my friend Frankie reminded me when I wrote that post, “it’s impossible to make a choice without a corresponding loss; everything we choose entails losing what we did not choose.”

I honestly did not remember that Tarifa was featured so prominently in The Alchemist.   Oddly enough, I hadn’t thought about the book in many years, even though the story resonates with me so much.  (If you haven’t read this novel, pick up a copy.  It is about a boy who longs to travel and struggles with his desire to create a “personal legend” by following his dream.)  Funny how the universe sends little messages of support when you least expect it.

And I thought I was stopping in Tarifa to check out the kite-surfing.    


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