I disagree with Darwin. Evolution is overrated. If man descended from the apes, then why are the apes still here?
Hence in Gibraltar, I felt no kinship with the slightly menacing monkeys who were poised to roll me for my travel wallet and passport. All around me, they loped and clambered aimlessly about the surreal Rock, like the pointillist splotches of a celestial Seurat.
These were the legendary “Barbary Apes,” bold exclamation points stranded upon the boulder, maybe delivered to European shores by the Romans or the Moors, if not by playful, pernicious pirates.
Weird. It was as if all humans had vacated this lonely spit, a British Crown Colony and fortress (since 1704) in less capable hands, all opposable thumbs and inarticulate shrieks.
The silence was indeed deafening; my mind supplied a soundtrack: peradventure, Peter and the Wolf or one of Bernard Hermann’s best film scores (maybe something from Citizen Kane or the Psycho shower scene).
My Ipod suggested mood indigo: low, gravelly, and apocalyptic.
Any way you looked at Gibraltar, you felt like you were in Spain and England at the same time. According to my leatherbound encyclopedia, in 1878, Ramsay and Geike (whoever they are) elegantly descried it thus: “The Rock . . . forms a well marked promontory that trends in a direction south by west into the Mediterranean.” With its “special” status, the place had sort of a split personality: both bagpiper and matador.
Certainly modern Gibraltar, almost entirely rebuilt after the Great Siege (1779-1783), is populated by Spaniards and Brits who say “Sorry” when they pass and make telephone calls from red phone boxes. In town I went looking for a phone so I could call and reserve a space in a hotel to recover from a dizzying fact—somehow I was positioned at the very bottom of one continent, looking across the water at the top of another.
I spotted a teenaged Spanish girl in school uniform, and I asked if she knew of a place where I could make a call. “Perhaps you could try at the Wimpy’s!” she answered (no: insinuated) in a posh upper-crust English accent, with drilled received pronunciation.
The emphasis was on the “Wiiiiiiiiiiiiimmmpyyyyyyyys!” In that way which always happens when you meet somebody who speaks English better than you do, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit slighted.
About the author
John M. Edwards has traveled worldwidely (five continents plus), with stunts ranging from surviving a ferry sinking in Thailand to being stuck in a military coup in Fiji. His work has appeared in such magazines as CNN Traveller, Missouri Review, Salon.com, Grand Tour, Islands, Escape, Endless Vacation, Condé Nast Traveler, International Living, Emerging Markets, Literal Latté, Coffee Journal, Lilliput Review, Poetry Motel, Artdirect, Verge, Slab, Stellar, Trips, Big World, Vagabondish, Glimpse, BootsnAll, Hack Writers, Road Junky, Richmond Review, Borderlines, ForeWord, North Dakota Quarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, and North American Review. He recently won a NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) Award, a TANEC (Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay Contest) Award, and a Solas Award (sponsored by Travelers’ Tales). He lives in New York City’s “Hell’s Kitchen.” His future bestsellers, Move and Fluid Borders, await publication. His new work-in-progress, Dubya Dubya Deux, is about a time traveler.
photo by coda on Flickr