#31 (Le Pennes-Mirabou, France - Ventimiglia, Italy)

So, Lauren's in the hospital.

It's a big, imposing hospital in the center of Marseille. This is, apparently, the only place certain to have the heavy-duty machinery required to drill through the blockages of hardened wax that have lodged themselves in each of her ear canals. Lauren has spent the past several days stoically managing the discomfort and difficulty hearing, and today is the day she gets her sense of sound back.

I, meanwhile, am playing the role of concerned and attentive partner quite well. I am several kilometers away on the Marseille waterfront rifling through items in the first Patagonia shop I've seen since leaving DC. I am like a kid in a candy store, oohing at the new line of backpacks and aahing at the latest edition of full-zip jackets.

#30 (Montpellier, France - Les-Pennes-Mirabou)

Lauren's ears are blocked. Severely so. You might say deafeningly so. Lauren's in pain, and she can't really hear, and not being able to hear on a bicycle isn't just unenjoyable, but dangerous.

We stop in Arles, a sizable town on France's Mediterranean coast, and visit an emergency health clinic. We wait for an hour, maybe more, and the doctor calls Lauren into his office. There is an attempt at removal, but it's a failed attempt. He simply doesn't have the tools to handle an ear blockage of this magnitude. This is a big-city sort of job.

#29 (Barcelona, Spain - Montpellier, France)

We pedal through Catalonia and it is awash in yellow ribbons. Small streamers tied to mailboxes an multi-story tapestries billowing off the side of buildings. Free our political prisoners.  In America citizens call for their politicians to be locked up. Here they hang yellow to bring their parliament home.

Because the parliament is, indeed, in exile. Those that weren't arrested and imprisoned for organizing a peaceful referendum fled to Belgium, and will surely be thrown in jail if they return. This isn't a fringe affair in Catalonia; this is the story. We pass through towns with the faces of the jailed painted on walls. Enormous ¡Si! flags (yes, for independence) hang from balconies. These people don't have a parliament. It's been stolen from them.  We find ourselves in the Occupied State of Catalonia, and it's a very strange place to be.