Pinning down a wanderer

October 26, 1998|By Joe Murray

BARCELONA, Spain -- On the day I met Douglas Foley, he was a street musician playing Irish tunes on his guitar at the juncture of a couple of ancient walkways that wind, labyrinth-like, behind the streets of Barcelona.

Another place, another time, he might have been a shepherd, construction worker, factory manager, bartender, agricultural worker or salesman.

At age 46, he has been all of those things in most all of the countries of Europe.

For the past 17 years, on and off, Douglas Foley has been a vagabond, a wandering minstrel, writing songs and poems as he makes his way through life on his own terms.

Nowadays he is living in Barcelona, though he qualifies the term.

"Trying to survive," he said, "is more like it."

"People have a romantic idea that you play music on the street and you get a load of money," Mr. Foley said.

It's anything but that.

"The competition is fairly fierce, and there's always the police sticking their nose in, moving you along."

Mr. Foley had been in Barcelona for three weeks. He said he hopes to stay a year or two, and will be looking for work playing in bars.

"Barcelona isn't the worst place I've been," he allowed. There was Paris, and before that, Amsterdam.

But in the beginning, there was Ireland, where he still has family.

Tall, thin and brown-haired, he also still has Ireland in the lilt of his voice and in the twinkle of his eyes.

How did he come to be the way he is?

"If you've got four hours or so I could tell you the real story. But let's just say something changed in my life, and I decided to get out of the system."

The real story is being told instead in the book he is "trying to write -- something personal, philosophical, biographical, whatever comes out."

And is this the life he likes best?

"No, not really," he said, smiling for a moment.

Mr. Foley said he has spiritual reasons for doing what he's doing, which defies logic, if not sanity, at times.

"No logical, sane person would take off for Barcelona with a guitar and no money.

"You pay a price for everything. For me, it's penury, poverty."

And in return?

"You get a certain freedom. But, then again, how free are you if you don't have money for your ticket out of here, or the price of your next meal?

"But I suppose I am free to say what I think. I am very much myself. I don't have to be like anyone else."

He paused a moment and then added:

"It is what I choose."

I had to ask: But don't you ever get lonesome?

"Yeah, of course," he said, brightening as if the thought had just now occurred to him.

What do you do when you get lonesome?

"Cry," he said, laughing.

Joe Murray, editor-publisher emeritus of the Lufkin (Texas) Daily News, is senior writer for Cox Newspapers. He has been writing about his travels around Western Europe by train.

Pub Date: 10/26/98

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