Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

Low life | 20 July 2017

In the chapel of the Patriarch I nearly passed through the gates of damnation

Valencia was a furnace. During the short ride from the airport, the taxi driver supplemented his chat about the weather with a photo on his phone sent by his father-in-law. His father-in-law lives about an hour away. The photo showed a bus stop on a deserted street. Attached to the bus shelter was a temperature gauge with large green digital numbers showing 50.5°C. Little wonder, observed the taxi driver, that the street was deserted.

He dropped me outside the Sercotel Sorolla Palace hotel where Eva was waiting on the steps. Eva was the Spanish PR lady, or shepherdess, in charge of 13 travel journalists from all over Europe on a three-day cultural tour of the city. ‘Eva I am ever so sorry,’ I said. ‘Shit happens,’ she said pleasantly and idiomatically. We transferred to another taxi and set off to the old town to find the group, who this morning were looking at churches. At least I had turned up, said Eva in the taxi. A veteran Italian travel journalist had had a panic attack on the plane as it taxied to the runway. So severe was it that the plane had returned to the terminal and she was taken off. Two others had cancelled at the last moment because their publications had gone bust.

We found the journalists’ minibus parked outside the seminary and chapel of the Patriarch, founded in the 16th century. We entered through a small ancient door, passed through a dim cloister and entered the cool peace of the seminary chapel, lit only by sunlight filtered through a cupola. I flopped down in a pew beneath a gruesome painting of a man being burnt to death on a bonfire of faggots. He was reclining on these faggots as though advertising an extremely comfortable sofa and looking with compassion on his executioners, who were staggering under the weight of the extra faggots they were adding to the conflagration.

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