The Real Sostavi

A reflection on the trip to Spain that inspired Fourteen Stones. My memories of Cudillero, the real town that became Sostavi, capital city of Namora.

The first thing I feel is what I wouldn’t give to do that again. We can’t have exactly the same experience back; if Paul and I were to go to Cudillero again, or to Noia to see the castros, or any of the other places we saw in northwestern Spain, it couldn’t be exactly the same as it was in the summer of 2015. But I can’t help but think that the same magic might still be there to meet us.

Cudillero, on the coast of Asturias. That’s the place we were able to imagine spending a week in, instead of a single night. The town with its houses clustered on the slope that ran down to the harbor. They were like crystals in formation. In the morning, we walked along the narrow streets, too narrow for a car to drive, threading from one level down to the next. The houses were tiny and bright: bright whites, vivid turquoise, raspberry-pink, butter-yellow. There were window boxes overflowing with color. Each of the rooftops made of undulating terracotta tile.

Down at the harbor: the turquoise water, the smell of salt. The sea in Spain seemed wilder and lovelier than it is here, except maybe along the coast of northern Maine. The bustle of the town: shops and businesses open, the little plazas, the voices and footsteps. That morning, Paul met a Romani accordionist and the two of them improvised together, Paul on his clarinet. They had very little common language, between Paul’s English and Alex’s Gallego; my Spanish couldn’t do much to translate. But they played, skirling and dancing lines, the two instruments’ melodies weaving in the bright morning.

The taste of bread. The shops so close together, intimate as hugs. The rich yeast scent of a panadería, timeless with its baskets hanging on the walls and bread piled in bins, modern with its refrigerator offering soft drinks in bright bottles. The long golden loaf of bread with its hard crust and soft white center, poking out of a brown paper sleeve. Tearing off pieces to eat as we walked across the sunny plaza to the nearby church. The shouts of children playing soccer and the ring of the ball against ground and sneakers. The intense whiteness of the sun on white concrete. The cool darkness inside the church.

It was nothing like home. And yet it woke my imagination and gave me dreams that came to life in a story, and to a part of me, it is home. What I wouldn’t give to go back and see it again.

Music-making at Cudillero harbor


Excerpt from Fourteen Stones, chapter 14:

In the sun, Sostavi Harbor was a spread of turquoise crowded with fishing boats and the pleasure craft of the city’s wealthy. Above the water, on the hillsides, the light turned the city’s buildings into clusters of white crystals. Ribas breathed the fresh cold air off the water and remembered why coming here had been worth it. […]

When he was eighteen, he’d had to come to the coast to see for himself what Kenavi had seen, what she had gone out to meet, when she walked into the water to offer herself to the old gods. He had seen the ocean in pictures and read countless stories and texts about it, about gentle Kenavi and rebellious Klaya both, but Ribas had still had trouble imagining those “fields of water” and believing in the power and authority of the gods of sun and wind and water.

When he saw the ocean, he understood. An infinity of water stretching away to the horizon. Waves rolling in, rearing up, crashing against the sand in a heartbeat huge enough to belong to the whole world. The size and power of it all took Ribas’s breath away. He had wondered, many times, what Kenavi had actually felt on the day she decided to lay her life down. The stories all said she did it with pure courage and self-sacrifice, to earn the reward the old gods had granted her. Ribas himself had always thought she must have felt afraid, even if only a little, even if she didn’t want to admit it to herself. When he saw the ocean, when he stood on the sand and let the wind tug at his clothes and rake through his hair, he knew he had been right. She must have been afraid, but she had also given herself to that water gladly. She had walked forward into that enormity and let it swallow her. In that moment, she had felt joy. Ribas knew it because he felt it himself.

Now, after he and Maryut and Gedrin took in the harbor, they went back up into the heart of Sostavi. Shoulder-to-shoulder houses and shops lined the narrow cobblestones streets, so close together you couldn’t see daylight between them. […] Some buildings had third and even fourth floors added: you could see the join work that linked new stories to older ones, like stacking books in a pile. Houses on top of houses, weaver’s shops with grocers above, wine sellers perched above jewelers. The shade of the buildings felt like a burrow.

It was Tretdina, Third Day, which at home would have meant a quiet village square as everyone went about their usual business. Here, people seemed to have time to run in and out of shops, gather in groups to chat, stop to buy apples and roasted nuts and tea from vendors with their carts and baskets. To Ribas, it felt like market day in Lida, except the market spilled into every street.

[For more about Fourteen Stones, including purchasing info, please visit the book’s page. If you’d like to receive regular blog updates, please consider subscribing. As always, thank you for visiting!]


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