Remembering Spain

Valencia

On Malvarrosa Beach in Valencia, I was asleep—but only just a little bit. I could hear the guy stacking the plastic lounge chairs he rents for four euros a day. It sounded like bowling pins crashing, like the end of something. I had fallen asleep to David Rakoff’s Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, and it twisted my thoughts into verse:

VerseTo be honest, I was awake. But, in keeping my eyes shut, thinking in a loop of anapests, I was taking a stand against time, the way it just goes on.

*

Recently, my friend Sarah blogged about everyday things suffused with meaning. She wrote about an assignment the poet Marie Howe gives her students. They must write observations free from metaphor and interpretation. She urges them to endure the thing itself—the glass of water, the way light moves through it—and describe it as it is. I should either take her class or definitely not take her class. I’m always looking for metaphor, for a way to make the thing other than itself and incorporate its substance into my newest big idea.

In Spain, I split my attention between experiencing and making meaning, between enduring the thing and understanding the thing. My inclination to make meaning always rubs up against an absence of meaning. More often than not, even abroad, even on a trip I’d rather think of as a journey, life insists on being nothing but itself. The towel flapping in the breeze is nothing but the towel flapping in the breeze. The red wheelbarrow, nothing but the red wheelbarrow.

*

I was already several shades of ridiculous—extra, my Texas friends would call it—on the flight over the Atlantic. Flying through turbulence, I mused that it’s not the turbulence itself that scares us but the way the turbulence forces us to feel how fast we’re moving. Much like in relationships! Or in life itself! I’ve gotta write this down—pure metaphor gold.

By the time we reached Barcelona and took a number in La Manual Alpargatera, I was trying to see all those stacked espadrilles as something else. Poker chips? Morse code? This Bernard Frize, turned sideways? I feared my metaphor mojo had dried up on the plane.

La Manual

But then, on the ride to Valencia: My forehead bangs out a rhythm to the rails. The horizon–no more or less distinct, no more or less straight, than a line drawn freehand across a page–pulls us along. I look out until I’m looking at nothing but darkness. (I’m back, baby!)

Line

In Granada, I hypothesized that my urge to make metaphors is really a desire to have the thing, to keep the thing, long after the moment has passed. I’ve visited schools so beautiful I wanted to hang them on my wall, met people I liked so much I wanted to mainline them, skirts so terribly flouncy I wanted to eat them. At Alhambra, I couldn’t figure out what to do with all the beauty. I couldn’t figure out how to have it. So I followed the herd and took blurry, crooked photos that would later disappoint me, photos that would amount to nothing but shards of that experience.

Alhambra

Some moments begged to be had, and I feared I’d forget them as easily as I’ve forgotten the name of the town in Maine I visited last summer (it sounds like Algonquin, but I can’t, for the life of me, remember it).

I wondered when I’d forget about the arrangement Rachel and I made at Parc Guell: to get up from our shady spot and push through the midday heat once we saw three people wearing cute outfits. How will I remember that parade of off-brand Tevas and bunchy walking shorts? If I do remember, will I remember just how long it took and how the time wore away the edges of our good taste?

What about when, after too much paella, I discovered I could puff my belly out and look pregnant? Sure, boys the world over have been doing this trick since the beginning of time, but would I remember just how special and hilarious it felt to discover I could do it too?

The last day of a trip gets about as big of a to-do as a last-born child. No one cares much to take photos anymore, there’s no talk of grand plans, and the purse strings get mighty loose. There’s no more meaning to be made, but the trip keeps right on insisting on being the trip, presenting problems to be solved, even after we’ve moved on to other things in our minds.

*

When I opened my eyes, the colors were all different. I got to wishing I’d never driven a Volkswagen the exact color of the Mediterranean, the darkest blue-green. I wish I hadn’t gone around, being cute, telling valet guys that it’s “the darkest blue-green, the exact color of the Mediterranean” because—who knew?— it actually was, and, at that moment, I wanted the sea to be the sea and nothing else.

Maybe I should heed the advice of Derrida or Gwyneth’s gurus: best to live in the moment, to let the thing be the thing, to unburden myself of the anxiety over what this moment means and how it will be remembered. But I’m leaning toward doing it my way, planting one foot in the moment and the other in making meaning of the moment. I’ll take two parallel journeys, thank you—one of the body and one of the mind.

The day was nearly over for the family at the umbrella next to us. The impressively tanned parents perched on the edge of the lounge chairs, surrounded by the kids and all of their cousins. They had thought ahead to bring ham sandwiches. While they ate, one of the kids, if my Spanish serves, was trying to make the others call him Manuel. I watched as the kids, in silhouette, lunged and stumbled and pounced. Their limbs were all over the place. Punchy and a little sick of each other, they were still quick to laugh, quick to shriek, quick to invent games that would fizzle out almost as soon as they started. I was betting that, by that point, there was some truth to their lazy taunting—truth that, in the light of midday, would have given way to tattles and tears. But, in that moment, they were probably too drunk on sun to notice.

Spain 2013 Photos

6 thoughts on “Remembering Spain

  1. Joan Didion:

    “We tell ourselves stories in order to live. … We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely… by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria—which is our actual experience.”

  2. Mia,

    It gets better with every post. The final paragraph is sublime.

    Not that it matters, but was it Ogunquit?

    Dad

    From: Dinosaur Sweaters Reply-To: Dinosaur Sweaters Date: Monday, August 12, 2013 6:16 PM To: Bob Hood Subject: [New post] Remembering Spain

    WordPress.com Mia posted: ” On Malvarrosa Beach in Valencia, I was asleepbut only just a little bit. I could hear the guy stacking the plastic lounge chairs he rents for four euros a day. It sounded like bowling pins crashing, like the end of something. I had fallen asleep to D”

  3. Pingback: A Story in Four Parts (Part Four) | Dinosaur Sweaters

  4. Pingback: A Fire in the Distance (Can One Trust a Happy Writer?) | Dinosaur Sweaters

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