Three months in, and it becomes nigh time to escape the clawing clutches of Madrid’s cluttered calles.
A bumpy bus ride would save me 20€, but I opt for the comfort offered by a sleek Renfe Alaris train, connecting Madrid’s Atocha hub station with Valencia’s Estación del Nord. Hector’s invited me to a talk on Lorca he’s giving in his poetry class tonight, so afterwards I chug eastward under a thick cloak of darkness, delightfully entertained by a dubbed Meryl Streep.
Memories prickle the edges of my vision at the squeal of the brakes. I’ve returned.
Alex has managed to convince me that this will not be a regression, this will not be a replay. A place, a combination of X-Y-Z coordinates in space, only holds whatever meaning you assign. Today’s Valencia is not yesterday’s Valencia is not tomorrow’s Valencia. The inhuman neon glare of the bright lights, the push and shove of departing passengers avoiding contact, my shoulders are blasted through with poor-posture’s knots, and what’s happening in Madrid without me tonight? – boding pessimism beckons.
I spy my suddenly long-time friend break out into a huge grin at my arrival, and the wicked spell breaks. It’s 1 AM, and we’re going for cañas.
Valencia is eerily tranquil on a Friday night, particularly against a backdrop of Madrileño Malasaña. But we three – Alex has brought along a friendly beanpole known as Feno – are undeterred, and march determinedly northward. Destination: “El Irlandés,” which turns out to be a wonky sort of Spanish bar that has nothing remotely Irish about it, save a few strings of green Christmas lights. Other than two girls roosting in a corner, we are the only patrons – but the barman appears to be well-acquainted with my entourage. We are served icy Carlsbergs, which go down marvelously after our trek across the entire city, along with all variety of bar snack.
The elongated marshmallows – “nubes” – are the best. You are meant to roast them little by little with your lighter. Although the photo appears to suggest otherwise, I do not recommend consuming them with tobacco paraphernalia.
The night is seriously Spanish. At some absurd hour, we join forces with the roosting girls and enthuse about Galicia, and shrimp. Also engaged in the rapid-fire conversational swings, the barman nevertheless notes the clock with slightly more practicality than his patrons. Perhaps around 4 AM, he switches the lights to a “time to scoot a boot” deep red. Ambientación, anyone?
In this park, we hold a discussion regarding the lesser-read works of Foucault, and the growing relevance of the modern sense-datum prison.
Wakefulness arrives, beautiful and sluggish. Coffee and mini-croissants coax it along.
The months I spent in Valencia several years back leave me with little residual desire to seek out tourist destinations. Instead, and refreshingly, we simply have a weekend together. We hit up Mercadona for pasas and caldo, which I combine along with various other items rummaged from Alex’s kitchen to concoct a highly satisfying lunch.
A few unearthed items are best avoided. One plastic bag holds a mottled green sausage, which upon closer inspection appears to have at one time been bread. This, also:
Oh, Spain, honey. No.
The afternoon slips into night during a viewing of (dubbed) Malibu’s Most Wanted, highly recommended if you get your kicks from mass slaughter of your own brain cells. We meet up with a pair of Alex’s friends at a Wok that’s just opened in the neighborhood – think Mongolian BBQ but minus any trace of Scoville points – and then are joined by two more for a cortado digestif. It’s a sleepy night all around, and just the two of us end up back at El Irlandés for a tranquil beer before bedtime.
This Sunday is Loi Krathong. One year ago, I found myself lighting a banana leaf raft in the company of Alisa, Carlos, and several whiskey-swilling Thai men down a construction-laden alleyway on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. After paying due respects to the water goddess, we clambered up to a particularly attractive hotel rooftop thirty-some-odd stories high. Gobs of fireworks bloomed over the water, and Northern-style floating paper lanterns melded with the stars.
Yesterday’s Bangkok is not today’s Valencia. However, the idea that occurs to me of being the only one in this Spanish city celebrating the Thai festival is too intriguing to let slide. Alex and I hunt the chinos until deciding on a balloon raft as our best bet; I nix poinsettia leaves in favor of burgling a few specimens from Valencia’s finest foliage. Flowers are in short supply, so “yin-yang” candles will have to make do for beautification. The water goddess knows our hearts are in the right place.
My original plan is to release my krathong into the Mediterranean – I’ve been really feeling the pull of the sea as of late – but it’s way too obvious that our fragile vessel won’t fare well given any sort of aquatic turbulence. We visit a park near Alex’s place instead, where we follow our instincts – and ears – to the calmest of fountains.
Alex, professional mechero man, lights the candles, then places our makeshift krathong on the water’s glassy surface. She only lasts a minute before being capsized by a stray gust, but it’s time enough to reflect, to give thanks, to consider what it means to be open to that which is gifted. I give voice to my gratitude:
Gracias, o diosa del agua.
Gracias por el flujo en que andamos todos.
Gracias por el cambio, por las diferencias, por insistir en movimiento.
Gracias por lo complicado que ha sido ayer,
y gracias por la infinidad de posibilidades que nos presentas para mañana.
It feels unabashedly good to give thanks for these regalos de la vida. More soon to come – after last year’s passivity, I’m ready to dive into some serious seasonal cheese.
Massive gracias must also go to my host and very good friend Alex, who entertains my whims even when clearly fueled by a lack of logic.
O Valencia. Hold tight. I’ll be back in December, and with family.