Spain, December 2013
We took the train to Seville on Christmas Eve. I toted a wobbly suitcase I’d borrowed from Maria, who hadn’t told me about its broken wheel. It rolled for only a few seconds before having to be stopped, considered, and repositioned. It was one of those things you know you’re going to remember.
In Seville there are no points of reference; streets narrow and coil of their own accord. Charlotte navigated, even with our maps turned at ninety degrees, because she’s the math major and her brain excels in ways that mine doesn’t.
We wouldn’t be there very long, but we would see and eat and drink things and go to a flamenco show with bright purple lights and claps so roaring and sharp that even though you want to cover your ears you still want more. We sat below the stage and I watched the singer’s wide mouth and sealed eyes as he hollered in reverberating tones, up and down and across, like a castrated cow. Other things were happening, like stomps and frilled dresses and snapping necks, the sweat of a man in all black, someone in a chair with a guitar, but I watched the singer’s wide mouth as agony poured out of him, rich and sweet.
On Christmas Day it rained. It was the only day of our whole Spain trip that it rained. I had forgotten to pick up Champagne and orange juice the day before so I pulled my boots over my sweatpants and went out to get some. Nothing was open and the streets were empty. I wandered far enough that I found a shop and asked the nice woman at the counter in the little Spanish I knew if she had Champagne or where I could find some, but the answer was in the lot of Spanish I didn’t know so I bought two croissants and she wrapped them nicely in parchment paper and tied them with a bow.
Charlotte didn’t care too much about the Champagne and was happy about the croissants. It was a taste of France. I think we both felt a little bad about having talked so poorly about the French earlier, when we were reveling in the rejuvenation of Spanish everything.
I made breakfast for my family of five and after Charlotte and I were full the rest of it lay out all day and browned at the edges. We didn’t leave the apartment. We curled on the bed and drifted in and out of sleep, in and out of our phones and books, until at night we went out into the rain for a flamenco class, which wasn’t really a class but a thing in a hostel where a Spanish guy pushed tables and chairs out of the way and played a song on the stereo and did claps and movements and made us do them too.
We flung across the room trying not to knock anything over. He lost his patience at our inability to spin, we being two six-foot-tall white American girls with little dancing experience and little capacity to capture the true essence of flamenco, which, as he insisted, was “not a dance, but a way of life.” I sort of just wanted to grab a beer and watch him swim through the air with his suave, burning limbs.
Charlotte and I stayed as the influx of Christmas travelers trickled in for the dinner the hostel was hosting, in which we were not allowed to partake consumption wise, as there was a limited offering for registered attendees. So we just drank.
If you know how the brain works, you know that a memory is a pathway. When you learn new things, you create new pathways; you remember things by going over them again and again until the pathway is more like a street. You can make streets in your head on purpose. To keep away from bad memories, you just focus on other things. The things that you like. The things that make you better. I was going to remember the suitcase and losing the button on my pants and the way I held my arms close as the music played but I was going to remember more the man with the wide mouth and the orange trees and sleeping all day on Christmas with the window open and the way those guys smiled as I covered my bread with Nutella.
Or something like that. I was drunk, not having eaten. But it was good — it was Christmas. And Charlotte and I were together, thousands of miles away from our families and friends, tucked in a dark Andalusian alley on the third floor of a hostel that was not ours, the rain strong and smooth. We drifted through conversations with vagabonds and psychologically questionable veterans and Québécois with indecipherable dialects of a language we thought we knew, and all the girls and boys looked fine, generally, neither emptied and tired from the loneliness of displacement nor bright and merry with the promise of discovery and “self-actualization.”
I was somewhere in between.