Thursday, July 12, 2007

El Gran Regreso

"No sigas las huellas de los antiguos...
busca lo que ellos buscaron."

-Matsuo Basho

Eleven months after I'd waved goodbye to my family at SeaTac, the impending arrival of the only member I hadn't yet seen (the mater) was enough to make me need adult diapers on the eve of the 3rd, when Anita was to land in Dublin. I had an alarm set for 4:45 am and a suitcase full of dresses, and sure enough slept right through my alarm, got a full 8 hours of sleep, and was 3 hours late to pick her up at the airport. Pathetic daughter that I am, I also forced her to wander in the rain and gloom of Baile Atha Cliath for most of the day (though a highlight was at the pub that night, when she sang 'Que Sera Sera' while waiting to pay, and was backed up by a feisty five year old who knew every song on the jukebox from Toto's Africa to the Irish Call and proved it loudly and off-key). Mother/daughter vacay was off to a rolicking start, and by "rolicking" i mean "so tired the morning we left for Spain that I left all my toiletries and my favorite earrings in the bathroom." Ah yes, a good omen to be sure.

Landing in Alicante was a sunny relief from the nonstop rain that Ireland has been calling summer. When the bus closed its doors on our faces at the airport (I mean, what is the deal with that kind of thing?), Mom and I met Ted and Rory, two hilarious Irishmen who had a deal for us: I use my Spanish to commandeer and direct a cab into Alicante, they pay for it and entertain us with Frasier impressions, Belfast mockery, and heavy sarcasm the entire way. I think we came out on top with that arrangement, and we now have a place to stay in Galway. Good omen #2.

As I found my bearings in Alicante's Barrio (which can only be described as loud, seething with people from all over the world, and one of the places I feel most at home), who leaned out of a window and yelled my name but Kyle, my North Carolinan friend and 1/3 of the reason I came back to Spain (the other 2/3 being Carlos, an Albacete transplant who has been previously mentioned as the Sonnet Writing Spaniard, and Eija, my Finnish roommate and defender of my sanity for Autumn 2005). Finding Kyle within ten minutes of landing in Alicante? Definitely good omen #3.

Now the next incredible thing to happen was that my boys Fernando and Javier, who I tutored/nannied when I lived in Alicante, were having a birthday party and their mom Pilar went out of her way to invite us, so naturally it was a crucial component of the trip. Thanks to Carlos, who led us to the biggest and most miraculous toy store ever, I found a sweet remote control car and dragged Mom, Eija, and her friend Jenni deep into backwater Spain: Muchamiel is serious desert territory, where jolly old ladies joke with you as they lean out of their windows, where the dusty Spanish hills are the only backdrop, and where everyone is just NICE. Just seriously NICE. As I awkwardly followed the map I had sketched and thanked God for my Spanish, limited as it was, to ask for directions, we had serious doubts about our ability to find the place. But sweet relief, we did, and had an absolutely incredible time with one of the best families I have ever met: three adorable boys, two parents who would literally do anything for their friends, and table filled with incredible Spanish food and surrounded by their equally wonderful friends. I'd been nervous that the boys wouldn't even remember me (a year and a half is a long time if you're five) but the reunion was sweet and the party was one of the best things I've done in a long time. Life just keeps rolling along smoothly...

One should never live in wait for the other shoe to drop, but so many good omens had to be tempered by disaster. So I will skip all the parts of the trip where we were utterly relaxed on the beach, eating paella and tapas to our hearts delight, wandering amidst the chaos of the mercadillo, and laughing with really good friends until we peed a little. Those were good times, but they weren't as memorable as the event I like to call: More Proof That Laura Isn't Quite a Grownup.

It all started in Desden, our favorite bar, where we were trying to order our old standby chupito Cuarenta y Tres. However, after an unfortunate incident involving some drunk breezy setting fire to the floor, they don't offer them anymore. Our shot ordering was cut short, though, by a boxing match that was about to break out in the middle of the bar (nothing unusual for the Barrio... close quarters and lots of alcohol don't always bring out the best in human nature) and our denim-vested bartender went out with a baseball bat to see what the story was. Hoping for a legit fight to provide some entertainment, we were instead left with a dispersed shouting match and two loud, sarcastic, and generous Brits Simon and Steve, who, with their grownup jobs, could buy three girls' night's supply of vodka tonics without much thought.

*Right. The vodka tonics. Which brings me to my next point: how we make decisions is dubious at times. Specifically, how spending six hours in Alicante's Barrio with old friends and new boys will lead to a reduced capacity to choose wisely.*

Fast forward to five am, when I finally got to make use of the bikini I'd been wearing under my dress all day. Simon and I took a dip at Postiguet and swam out to a raft 50 yards from the shore to play on the slide and the diving board. Swimming at the pre-dawn lull, when the quiet hum of the beach Zamboni-type machine is accompanied only by the comforting repetition of Mediterranean waves hitting the cooling sand, is definitely a good and pleasant thing. Leaving your clothes, shoes, money, camera, cash and credit card on what you thought was an abandoned beach is maybe not such a good idea. It is actually an extremely unwise and immature move, as Simon and I discovered as we emerged, still slightly tipsy, to discover every single one of our posessions GONE. From cell phone to ID. Unwilling to admit out own idiocy and naivete, we paced the beach a number of times and I grilled the Zamboni man in angry Spanish about our stuff, only to be answered with a blank look on his face: "Robados. Estais robados." I chose to believe him, for the time being, but I really think he held our stuff in the back of his cab (including: 5 credit cards from Simon's wallet, my Mom's card and drivers license, my favorite dress, my camera which was filled with photos of situation that are unlikely to happen again and now must be stored in the amygdala or wherever stores memory, because they sure won't appear on Shutterfly anytime soon, my lucky flipflops, and our wide-eyed trusting natures). Yep, the sneaky beach cleaner told us we'd been robbed and went on his way, but I couldn't exactly split hairs with a man when I only had a swimsuit to my name. Instead, we went home: shoeless, trouserless, relieved of possessions as well as our happy buzz. Joder, digo yo.

Noon that day saw us in the lobby of the boys' hotel, on Simon's Blackberry with Visa USA, cancelling our main source of expenditure for the next month through a woman whose retainer continued to disconnect with her teeth, making the verval transfer of a Belfast post-code nearly impossible.
But this is also where the story that was just your typical "idiot in Spain whose luck was up" tale to that point, began to shift. As we shook our heads and laughed together over the night we'd left behind us, a middle-aged woman in a knee-length skirt hovered, wandering back and forth through the sliding doors and murmuring something about a "crisis of her own." My mom, ever the willing party to befriend a stranger, asked "Did you lose something as well?" The woman's answer was not the "room key" or "passport" or "Fendi purse" I expected. It was heavier, and much less fixable than a lost credit card: "Yes," she said, "My husband. He left me this morning. Actually, no. I left him." And that is how we met Barbara, who had, just minutes before, discovered her husband texting his girlfriend yet again and had walked out of their hotel room for good. As one would expect from someone who was on the verge of a broken marriage, Barbara was out of sorts. So this is why, our third day in Spain, Mom and I ended up out to lunch with Simon and Steve, random thirty-something bachelors, and Barbara, fresh off her 50th birthday and facing singledom once more. It was an unexpected yet totally welcome meal, one which allowed a random group of people who were strangers twelve hours earlier, to commiserate over what it actually means to "lose" something and, in Barbara's own words, begin to restore her faith in humankind.

I was so thrilled to leave the chill of Ireland for the balmy bliss of Espana, I didn't think much about what it would be like to return to a place that I had once called home. Coming back to Belfast was a firm reminder that cities, like people, are not static, and it's impossible to come back to the same place twice. However, this proved to be a huge benefit in the case of Alicante: all of my former frustrations and annoyances seemed to have become minor in the year and a half since I left. Even the creepy men who follow you home from the beach and try to coerce you to sleep with them right then and there just seemed funny, rather than the horrendous and misogynistic nightmares they had once appeared to be. Spain and I were friends again, and I left happy.

The return to Northern Ireland for the 12th has been an experience like no other, but description will not suffice unless I have pictures to coincide with the words, and at this point I don't. More to come, but for now we are heading on a little jaunt around Ireland (I'm driving again after a year of being a passenger, and actually think the lefthand side of the road is more familiar than the right, which scares me) and then on to Croatia for a wee dander. So many more thoughts and wonders at this point but will have to save them for a time when my word count isn't already through the roof...

1 comment:

Mercurial Dreams said...

Not sure how I found this blog...they have a way of finding me sometimes, but I have so enjoyed the stories of your travels and adventures. You write with an ease that often belies your razor sharp intellect which can't help but oooze out as your words dance about. I've also enjoyed your reading list and found many a favorite book of mine listed. Travel on...