Oh, but I just thought you might want something fine
Made of silver or of golden
Either from the mountains of Madrid
Or from the coast of Barcelona
Oh, if I had the stars from the darkest night
And the diamonds from the deepest ocean
I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss
For that’s all I’m wishin’ to be ownin’
Boots of Spanish Leather by Bob Dylan
Today is my 47th year of life and it is fitting that I am writing today’s entry on several trains back to Salamanca. This journey, like all journeys in the literal and figurative sense, is made up of stations, connections and transfers. Each stop brings you closer to you ultimate destination, a specific goal.
I am thinking about the many stops I’ve made to reach 47. The places, the people, the realized and unrealized destinations. I would love to see a map of it all. Then again, I remind myself I am that map. Every story, happy, sad, painful and hopeful is contained within.
At this moment, I just pulled away from one such station, one such story: Samuel. I woke up next to him this 47th birthday feeling a sense of peace and unbridled optimism. I wasn’t afraid of what I would feel today. It may be the last time I see him because this Spanish adventure is almost done.
Next stop, Week 4…
Today marks the start of week 4. Three more days of lecture. One day of exams. One day to revel in the accomplishment of being a student at the Pontificia. It will be the end of that line before making my way back home the following Monday.
I write about not being afraid because the hard part has already occurred. I wasn’t closed off to the prospects of this surprise journey. My friend Mark worried that in the weeks leading up to Spain, my building expectations would end in disappointment. He was right to feel that concern. Given my penchant for overthinking things, it was a very real possibility. In the end, as this blog has testified, Spain has been nothing but inspiring.
I discovered the way to walk these streets with my head up. I walk with purpose and, most importantly, with the confidence of knowing who I am. Hell, I even smile at strangers, not caring if they think I’m mental. And more of often than not, these salty, direct Spaniards smile back! Hahaha. Whatever fears I had, I know now what strengths I have in reserve to make this kind of journey work. I am not afraid of altering my narrative, at least in this context. It can happen and it will happen again.
I did have one moment this weekend when I saw a piece of my past, which stirred some of the unresolved feelings I still harbor. I was compelled to hit “Like,” even though I didn’t like how I felt at that moment. Fucking Facebook. Raining on my parade and shit. Then I heard Samuel cooking in the kitchen, making me a Mexican style birthday almuerzo and I found my resolve again. That was the day’s best gift, finally understanding what it means to live in the present.
The pleasure seekers
Back in the 1960s, Fox remade one of its famed “three gals” movies, “Three Coins in the Fountain” as “The Pleasure Seekers,” trading Rome for Madrid. Here, Ann-Margret samples it all, modeling, dancing, going gypsy, “just about everything!” Yeah, she sang that fall down funny title song and no other cue fits at this point.
Sam and I laughed a lot this weekend. Saturday was spent walking all over Madrid. Not the official tourist trek, but Madrid our way. We walked for hours. (Note to self: alpargatas are for the park and beach, not 5 hour urban hikes!)
I kept flubbing words, using Mexican and awkwardly translated Jorgeismos that would bring Samuel to tears. But he loved the Castilian tacos or palabrotas I would use oh-so right. Every step we took together was as absurd as the last, but it brought us closer. We didn’t talk about what was going to happen next. “Next” was just space dust, time yet to be realized. It had no bearing on Present “Us.” Neither of us wanted to spoil the now with any talk of Future “Us.” We were “friends with benefits” or as Samuel said, “Amigos con derecho a roce.”
No, were having too much fun taking photos with the bottle of water that cost three euros. Or taking photos and talking shit about the Spanish royal family as we stood outside the Palacio Real. Or trying to find the souvenir plate featuring King Felipe and Queen Leti. (So Mom, thank him as he found the only plate with the official photo of them as a couple.)
Or enjoying the “Mitos of Pop” art exhibit where the only painting tucked away with the expected Warhols and Lichtensteins that we agreed was true art was La salita, Equipo Croníca’s complex parody of the sacred painting of Diego Velasquez’s Las meninas.
He was with me when I found a copy of Julio Cortázar’s masterpiece of literary innovation, La rayuela. It was Samuel who took my theme of the water bottle further by taking a picture of it in front of excoriated Madrid mayoress Ana Botella’s office. (Get it, bottle = botella?)
We enjoyed tortilla, gazpacho, coffee, churros and porras. How about the world’s biggest Big Macs? And don’t get me started on the jamon y queso flavored Lays potato chips! We made Madrid our bitch in the end, thanking God the heat took a holiday. (Even if my too close shave resulted en una cara hecho a un Cristo.)
De puercas a putas
We went back to his apartment in Meco, sated and sore, but continued to laugh hysterically all the same. He made a cena of morcillas and we watched “Aliens” in Castilian. (I love how he meticulously he places a table cloth for each meal.). I fell apart when “Reepley” screamed “Quitaté de ahí puerca!” instead of “Get away from her, you bitch!”
We followed that up by counting how many times was Julia Roberts referred to as a “puta” in the dubbed version of “Pretty Woman?”
It seem pigs and whores are huge in this country and do not offend. Thus is Franco’s legacy?
As we hung out and enjoyed the late night, it seemed my whole world was held by a modular sofa. Life was happening. No one was forcing their hand or even raising expectations. We were just two men living in the moment.
He offered and I accepted his care and intimacy without wanting anything else from me. And I returned it in kind, not because I felt starved for something that I haven’t been able to nurture is so long. I miss being someone’s partner, yes. Very much, in fact. And for a moment, I thought that I was just using Samuel as a proxy to stave off a sense of loneliness that has stayed at this fair too fucking long. I know some snarky cunts out there are thinking: “Bitch, you got got horny. Don’t confuse getting laid with some moment of truth.” But he kissed me with purpose. He wanted to make sure I felt welcome in his home, not just his bed. He held me in a way that made me feel safe and secure. Even mouthy little Dali contributed to my being back in Meco, sitting next to me as if we’d been friends forever.
Nos hicimos sofa all day Sunday, my birthday. I pushed aside the inevitable and enjoyed the food, la telebasura, la siesta and all else in between. Then, we gathered up my stuff (including a new suitcase. Don’t ask.) and drove back to the Alacalá Renfe station. As to what happens to us next, as to what station is next, I just know it will involve me going from Chamartín to Salamanca today.
I am not afraid.
My birth day ends in three more hours. By the rules of magical realism, we are born, we die and are reborn. I love that symmetry. It means our existence never ends. As I write these lines, and read all the wonderful birthday notes from all over, I am awed over the gift of this experience.
My dear friend Alan sent me a heartfelt note, hoping I am celebrating “a great life.” I am, Alan. But I am wonderfully aware that a celebration of life does not happen alone. We are all the singular achievement of two lives brought together by fate. And fate will be our closest companion for the duration of our lives, so you have to be able to travel well.
Fate is extraordinarily fickle, changing your itinerary without a moment’s notice. At times, you will take issue with where it chooses to lead you, even feel absolute rage. But we do get to choose some stops, the unscheduled ones that offer such beauty, you learn why they never appear on a map in the first place.
It is so true that it isn’t the destination that defines us, rather the journey itself. Spain has already revealed more than expected. (Some of which has surprised more than a few of you as documented in this blog. Cue “Don’t Tell Mama” from Cabaret!)
I don’t mind the reaction. I’m just as surprised as some of you. But this journey is not quite over yet. As long as there is road ahead to trek, I will keep respecting my road dog named Fate to keep leading me to all destinations unknown.
And, I am not afraid.
Sunday, July 20. Started on the Alacalá de Henares train to the Chamartín station in Madrid and completed on the way back to Salamanca. Posted from Manoli’s house.