Travel is something we indulge in - in gap years, in time out from reality. There are bite-sized chunks we cherish, snapshots of another existence, in villas, in chalets, days beside crystal tides and palm-shaded, white beaches. In Veil of Light life is where it’s lived. The day-to-day is far from routine. We are drawn through time and place on the Grand Tour of Rofé’s life driven by an impulse and an adaptability that sustain his enquiry, taking him across continents, his consummate flair for language smoothing the way as the world unfolds before him. Entering his hotel room in Ceuta - a Spanish protectorate in North Africa - he sees ‘a very beautiful brand new ship, glistening spotlessly clean in the bright summer sunlight. The hotel manager told me it was sailing to the Canary Islands and would leave in just over half an hour.
I took an instant decision to travel by the small liner, cancelled the room and rushed to the port by taxi. The price of a cabin was quite cheap and I shared one with a bullfighter for the 48-hour voyage to Las Palmas. My Spanish had become good enough for him to ask me,‘¿De qué parte de la península vieneVd?’(What part of Spain do you come from?) I did not regret my sudden decision to board the ship and found comfortable lodgings in the Hotel Atlantic, in the beautiful garden city area. Nearby there were two beaches and men were allowed to appear in ‘topless’ costumes at only one of these. Even at San Sebastian, I had noted how old fashioned Spain was in that respect. People said the Catholic Church controlled la Señora de Franco and she controlled her husband’ - this was a man he’d earlier come across when ‘Franco’s car pulled up almost in front of me and I got quite a good picture of him, which I still have’ and, with characteristic pragmatism ‘could see there would be trouble if I tried to get the film developed in any commercial establishment but Dr Beinert quickly solved the difficulty and took it to Hitler’s former official photographer, a now unemployed German who delivered it back safely with good prints.’
In Morocco he finds that, although of ‘tremendous appeal to the tourist’, it lacks variety. So he heads for the Sud-Oranais of Algeria and to Oran where he ‘boarded an early train for Colomb-Béchar far to the south, at the end of the railway line and on the edge of the desert....At my destination, I booked a seat next to the driver of the huge Trans-Saharan leaving for the oasis of Beni Abbès the next morning. Transport cost more per km than plane travel as tyres are huge and specially made, most costly to replace if they explode in the heat. I entered the only café, where an Arab offered me a drink and spoke ill of the French but luckily I did not; I spotted that he was an agent provocateur, sent by the military to spy on me.’
People and places and events, some, he believes, predestined, are considered with detachment and a discerning eye.
This is the way of his life. He inhabits each place and speaks in their language to those with whom he shares this time.