TRYING TO find a parking place can be hell in most modern cities - road rage is an accepted part of life and everyone has their own way of coping with the tedium of traffic jams. Sitting in a stationary car, between a rubber bullet and a Molotov cocktail, however, is far from boring.
It was a Saturday evening in the beautiful Basque seaside town of San Sebastin, and the locals were out on the promenade; bourgeois families, light summer sweaters tied smartly around necks, greeted each other against the idyllic backdrop of a perfectly formed Atlantic bay flanked by pert peaks. My sister was in the driving seat, while I was in back-seat management, scouring the narrow streets around the edges of the Parte Vieja for somewhere to leave the car so that we could set about the serious business of eating and drinking our way through the gastronomic capital of the Iberian peninsula.
We had noticed that there was some sort of a demonstration going on in the main boulevard as we passed, but in our innocence, thought nothing of it. I saw no parking space, just a couple of middle-aged women scurrying out of the street, and I grumbled a little while my sister was quiet beside me. It took me a moment to register that we were at a standstill, then I saw them - half- a-dozen or so figures running out of the market building. I didn't notice their clothes, just their Balaclavas and the flaming bottles they carried as they ran in our direction. "Just drive! Now!" I said steadily. With remarkable restraint she hissed back "I can't."
I turned round to look at what she had been watching for what seemed like an age but can only have been a matter of seconds. Van after van of "Ertaintza", Basque riot police, was tearing into the boulevard, leaving its cargo to block our escape route by pointing what looked like flame- throwers in what seemed to be our direction. Gone were the friendly red berets they sport on traffic patrol - a bank of them stared our way through riot-helmet visors and down the barrels of their guns.
I think we were both too frightened to cry, although that would have been the most natural response in the circumstances. Instead, we bonded through discussions of the merits of being from the Isle of Man in zones of nationalist political conflict, and dimly remembered physics classes as we pondered whether it would be safer to have the windows up or down when the petrol tank of the conveniently labelled, upturned French car next to us caught on to the Molotov cocktail thoughtfully placed under it. We plumped for having them up just as the sea of security forces parted and the car in front started to move. My sister slammed her foot on the accelerator and we sped through the crowds of families who had interrupted their afternoon stroll to watch this familiar show.
We had crossed the bridge into Gros when, seconds later, we heard the bang and saw the plume of smoke rise above the roofs in the market-place. We decided to park on the Gros side of the river.Reuse content