Sketches of Spain
My life, like any other, is merely a collection of the places and people I cannot remember all that well, of times I can barely recall with the same clarity as when they had occurred, and of people I have all but forgotten. It is these vagaries that collect in most people’s minds; not being able to remember events or people as they once were, but rather as how they remember knowing them. And so, I shall delve back into my mind’s recesses for something I had intended to be far more accurate than it is today.
It was at this time that the cloudy Spanish sky looked down upon me as I inhaled a cigarette, admiring the setting sun, drinking a glass of red wine. It was reminiscent of Chris Isaak’s Blue Spanish Sky with its languorously lingering strumming.
I was on the roof of my hostel, for some reason; it seems lost to me now – perhaps there was nothing else to do, or maybe the cleaning woman had kicked me out of my room momentarily. I would sometimes go up to the roof and wait for the cleaning lady to fix my room up. Sometimes I would read, or stand there and watch the city pulsate. That day, though, I was playing my guitar.
Now I remember. It was sometime in the late afternoon, shortly before evening was setting in; I had gone to the roof to relax. A young girl waved to me from another building as I strummed the Spanish guitar I had bought there. The wind was rustling around me.
Clothes hanging on the clotheslines waved in the wind from the rooftops, as a family hung up a few more pieces of the day’s laundry. Tibidabo was off in the distance. I poured myself another drink. It was said that Franco built Tibidabo to remind the people of Barcelona of their terrible sins. Now it loomed off in the distance, merely becoming a wonderful piece of scenery. I toasted to no one but myself thinking I never wanted to leave this place.
A few days prior, some travelers had heard me playing outside their window. One woman told me she and her friend had just arrived and were quite tired. They sat for a moment to rest while my guitar playing drifted into their room. I apologized, as I believed my crude skills may have disturbed them, but she said it was quite soothing. Perhaps she was hitting on me. Or maybe I was just better than I had ever given myself credit for. Or possibly both.
Alas, the bottle was emptying and I was feeling a decent buzz. I looked around briefly, holding my guitar in silence as I sat on a dividing stoop. I could hear the neighbors talking.
I tried to take all of it in, as I knew I would never have this moment again. So I began playing something classical, something that I had learned a long time ago, in fact, it seemed like it was from another lifetime. All I knew was that I still had it
Leyenda, by Issac Albeniz. One might recognize the beginning as The Doors’ Spanish Caravan borrows a bit from it. Clumsily plucking the strings from months of having not practiced the piece, I shamefully stopped when reaching a point I could not play fluidly. Ah well.
Perhaps tonight I would be found drinking at some terrace table with others, smoking, always smoking, as this was Europe, and maybe eating some sort of tapas, as this was Spain. I eagerly awaited a casual walk among the thief-filled streets of Las Ramblas, leisurely eating a piece of fruit.
At this time of day there would be many street shows that captivated the many tourists while covert acts of theft went on around them. It could be a man asking for directions, or you, carelessly placing your bag on the ground momentarily – just the same as putting your wallet in your back pocket.
It may have been the day I ended up at a bar that played old-fashioned flamenco – not the nouveau flamenco that I listened to on the roof of La Pedrera while I drank cava, Spanish champagne. That was a special occasion. No, the only thing of note that was to happen next was I had stained my ornate white shirt with the wine bottle. Quel dommage.
Carrying the remainder of the bottle down to the dining room, I had a meal of pork and rice. I talked to a few people I had known there before setting up shop with another bottle of wine and my cigarettes. Later that evening I was joined by two Texans and two Alabamians. We drank wine, smoked and acted surly, well, some of them rather. A poor Spanish fellow just happened to be in the area for the random antagonizing. He may not have had any idea what was said, but unfortunately, the tone was universal. Lo siento por mi amigo, I said to him apologetically.
I forgot about that fellow as we opened another bottle and drank it just as quickly. There were five of us. We talked about where we were from and the lives we had led, as the staff cleaned and closed the kitchen. They didn’t seem to mind our loud and boisterous behavior. I was enjoying myself immensely.
Soon, we made it up to one of their rooms for an impromptu Ho-Down. One of the Texans whipped out his guitar while one of the Alabamians played his harmonica. The other Texan tapped his cowboy boot on the ground rhythmically while he sang what must have been a bluegrass song. Pouring a glass of wine, I nodded my head in approval. Ho-Downs are fun. All that was missing was a large empty jug for someone to blow on.
When the Ho-Down simmered and the wine was nearly empty, everyone decided to go to a bar. I politely asked to come along in a purely perfunctory manner. We walked along the streets, drinking the last of the wine before arriving at our destination. As usual, the streets were alive with people. It was mid to late August and quite hot. It was always hot, and you were always sweating.
The bar specialized in Mexican food and minored in air conditioning – a quaint place with a bar in the front surrounded by tables, which led into a back room. We sat at the bar for there were no tables available. I quickly began smoking as they ordered Coronas and food. I waved my hand in agreement, gesticulating wildly at times, as I didn’t care much about what was ordered. We were eating some appetizers, nachos if I recall correctly, and drinking while we smoked and talked.
It was at this point that I got myself into a lengthy conversation with an old Irishman who was on holiday. I have a predilection for starting long insane conversations with complete strangers on topics that are wholly inappropriate. Then again, I’ve made some very good friends this way.
The conversation led into politics, work, and family life. The old Irishman lived somewhere in the Canary Islands. He had two daughters who recently bought homes in London. I fondly recalled my time in that dank polluted city. It was during Thanksgiving of 1999.
Time flew as I inhaled drink after drink, debating with this fellow the difference between the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs Invasion. He believed they were one and the same. One certainly led to the other, but that really wasn’t the point. I wonder if he is still among us today. That was almost three years ago.
In my drunken state, I neglected the rest of the company. When it came time to leave, I looked around in amazement. The place was ready to close down. We made our way to one of the Texan’s apartments, carrying supplies we had picked up at the bar. Since the stores were closed, we had to take precautionary measures.
The apartment was nice, his roommates were gone, so we were loud and crazy. We lounged in the living room that was decorated with a green floral tapestry. A tapestry can go a long way in terms of decoration. I remembered that I had brought a few with me so that I had a thing or two to hang on a wall. I’m not quite sure anymore if there was a television or not. It doesn’t really matter.
We talked and listened to music and smoked cigarettes and drank the Coronas we bought. The night turned vaguely violent between a Texan and an Alabamian. They simply smacked each other in a friendly way. I hoped it would not escalate, and fortunately, it did not. I suppose they were just being Southern, or assholes, although I had concluded in which class some of them belonged.
They began discussing their plans for the next day, about going to a bullfight, though I wasn’t very interested. I started thinking about what I was going to be doing in the next month or so. I wondered if I would still be in this marvelous city in a year’s time. Thinking about one’s future is quite exhausting. And exciting. And disgusting, particularly if it’s never realized. Then there was a loud crash. Someone dropped an unopened bottle.
“That’s a crime against humanity!” someone hollered.
And so the night faded into existence, and soon it was time to go. Before leaving we had another smoke. I thanked the Texan for his hospitality and made my way with the others back to our hostel.
We stopped at a gay bar and watched one of our party fumble with the cigarette machine. At that very moment, with each dying brain cell, particulars of that night were slowly removed from our memories. We would now forget details of the places and people we had met and spoken with. We perhaps would even add details that had never existed during that night when we would eventually reminisce about it. And so, those things would eventually exist, because we had recalled them to be true, regardless of their actual occurrences.
Back at the hostel, a 12-pack magically appeared. We drank in the darkness of the dining room. There was talk about going to a brothel, and all I thought was that I couldn’t drink anymore. My body wouldn’t allow it.
They decided it would be too expensive to go and I remembered the roof with the young girl waving at me as the clothes waved in the wind. I said goodnight to my party as I remembered waving back, playing something on my guitar and then staining my shirt. I opened the door to my room, stripped and drunkenly plopped onto my bed. Now curled into a ball, the only thing I had to do was resist the urge to vomit-reversal of fortune averted.
And soon, the darkness overtook me. I didn’t even notice the heat.