Friday, September 14, 2012

casa cuadrau, a special kind of bicycle

Casa Cuadrau, approaching the Village of Vio.

Casa Cadrau
When I first arrived at Vio, a small (and small is an overstatement here) village nestled within the Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park, my jaw dropped. The Valley of Vio is a throwback to another era, and its surrounding landscape, the majestic mountains and canyons of the Spanish Pyranees, inspires wonder.  

And the awe of first arriving continued in the day-to-day at Casa Cuadrau, a retreat center conceptualized and manifested by Daniel Benito Po, who fell in love with the beauty of the area nearly a decade ago. The lovely retreat center, which is run by Dani and his fiancé (very soon to be wife) Kalyani, opened its doors just four weeks ago.

And as the two planned their wedding, they simultaneously took part in the two one-week retreats that I also taught and participated in, as well putting together the countless finishing touches on the house (with the help of some beautiful souls) that has taken 5 years of Dani’s time, patience, and love. 

Ultimately, no words can truly express how special this place really is, for it is at once a gateway to both the old and the new: a retreat center built for inner exploration and transformation, evident by those who are drawn here. As a writer, however, I must give the job of trying to express in words this very special place, one that is best experienced, a decent try.

The Bicycle

Dani, on the soon to be terrace of Casa Cuadrau.
We shouldn’t just dare to dream, we should dare to make each dream, however crazy, a reality.

In Satsang, Dani shares a funny story from a very sad book, Pirineos Montes Tristes or “Sad Pyrenees Mountains”. The title alone says a lot about this region of Aragon.

Life was hard in the Spanish Pyrenees, even in the 20th century, Dani explains, people were poor and winters were cold. The village men either took their sheep down the valley for the entire winter or crossed over La Braca de Rodin on foot—three days trek from Vio—to the sunnier more prosperous French Pyranees, where they worked to bring back money—and something French made.

Wall clocks, which were totally novel in these remote parts, became a staple piece of utilitarian decoration in the homes of men who bravely crossed over to France. Fine proof of the work abroad. The mechanisms and pulleys, precious miniature cargo, crossed on men’s backs as they walked across the snow pass between the Spanish and French Pyrenees. Houses for the clocks were then hand-made in Vio with local materials before it could be proudly hung on the wall.

These timepieces were a good buy. The parts were light and easy to carry. They had real purpose. And they displayed French style and ingenuity.

The bicycle, then, was an unlikely purchase by a villager of Vio. It was an unquenchable fascination, so ill fitting for a place with no roads, only rocks and sheep. He struggled with the idea: the expense of it (an entire winter’s wages, a great deal more than clock parts) and, well, the logistics of transporting an entire bicycle across difficult wintry passage. Still he couldn’t get it out of his mind. All he could think about, dream about was a bicycle.

Until, one day, he just did it. Returned to Vio with, of all things, a bicycle. Somehow managed to carry the unwieldy thing across the steep snow-filled mountain passes. Everyone came to see it. To marvel at him demonstrating how the machine worked in his living room.

He was surely talked about. Even laughed at for his lack of practicality, for how he carried the bicycle across the steep and snowy mountain pass, for how—in Vio—he pushed and pulled on his bicycle in terrain so unyielding, how he walked, not rode, the bicycle alongside his furry keep.

The way Dani reads it, laughing out the words as he describes this man’s passion for the novel invention that represented the idea of France, which itself undoubtedly epitomized a richer, more colorful, more creative, more ingenuous way of living for one so used to humbler ways of life, so untouched by change or innovation, I am reminded that Casa Cuadrau is Dani’s bicycle.

I sit here, now, privileged enough to be a beneficiary of Dani’s crazy dream. Privileged because there’s a roof over my head and a wonderfully equipped kitchen, in which gifted Karma yogis produce nutritiously divine food, and a peaceful yoga shala on the top floor from whose windows the landscape quietly and majestically reveals itself.

When this dream began, Casa Cuadrau, originally erected 1515, was in ruins, leftovers of a house forgotten by time. It was in 2006 that Dani, who had been searching for property to buy in Vio for two years, first saw the for-sale sign.  Already he had a vision in mind.

Casa Cuadrau continues to be a work in progress.
And beautifully so...
Slowly, Dani breathed life into the old structure. It took five years, the sale of a Zaragoza apartment he inherited, the great opposition from his father who thought he was crazy, many cold winters (the summers are short in these parts, I’ve been told) sleeping in a drafty storehouse with all his clothes layered on, huddling tightly against a small heater, practicing yogasana restricted by his padded layers and by uneven floorboards. It’s taken much of his personal resources and a lot of volunteer work in form of karma yoga to rehabilitate the house using traditional architecture and materials, preserving the beauty of the structure and revitalizing it for its new use as a retreat center, a place for self-exploration, through the nature that surrounds this valley, through the art that it inspires and through whole-hearted yoga practice.

And so like a phoenix from the ashes, Casa Cuadrau returned to life. A bicycle of a very special order, bringing young blood into Vio, at first to help take part in building the dream, and now to help make the dream come to life.

Some might say that Vio has not changed much since the arrival of the first bicycle. The village is still remote. The Spanish Pyrenees continue to be magical, and mysterious, and the weather, unpredictable. Presently, there are only about 6 residents that live in the village year-round.

But life here nowadays is not like it was fifty years ago. The advent of electricity and running water has returned some villagers to their home. New ones have come to rebuild—and they come with new dreams, new ideas. Dani and Casa Cuadrau represent not just a revival of the old village, but also hope for its future. It represents a new way of living, and not just here, but everywhere.

I can’t help but imagine how the old villager might approve of Dani’s “bicycle,” how he might nod approvingly at the resurrection of the old house, how he might like to examine its new features, how he might like to try a yoga class or sit for meditation, sample some raw desert or join the kirtan (devotional singing). He would be pleased to see how Dani had turned something old into something incredibly innovative, that the wheels on Casa Cuadrau were really turning, moving—“moving” in every sense of the word, for this is a place of karma, of action (how else did it get built!), it’s a place for shifting and transformation, it’s a place for people to mix and come together, it’s a place that inspires and is inspired.  

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