Chapter 16: On Learning, On Lists, On Easter Week

Huckleberry learns a lot while travelling, and one of those things he learns more and more of, are the things he learns when travelling. A new friend asked him, “What have you learned this year? How have you grown?” A beautiful question, from a beautiful girl. Since that he’s been thinking about the girl with her wonders and wonderments. What had he learned, thus far? In the moment, he told her that he had learned to be good friends with people he otherwise might never befriend. This is, without a doubt, the truth.

What else? Ah! Of course, our favourite four letter word: a “list”. Huckleberry has never, ever, not once, not even upon a whim tackled the art of list making. The very sound of the word hisses like the devil in his innocently unsystematic conciousness. Lissssttsssssss. What an irritating noise! You can just hear it going on and on forever and ever in futile delusions of productivity.

Huck was in luck, as we shall see shortly, for his generation is highly adept in making L!$*$. The throng of blogs, newspapers, twit clicks, facebook hits, and seen it 2 “Reddit-years”-ago-ups sit on his research table. He eyes them over. He fingers through them. He gets his nose right up in there and tests the waters with his toes wondering if facing this challenge, triumphing/failing, and then growing will go over well. In his research he found a great ponderous volume of L!$*$, but he found the listed tirades rants and ostentatious triumph-fests to be lacking in details as to how these things get accomplished. Here’s what he produced.

1. It’s hot. Streets where even shadows fall vertically, hugging the city walls in admirable effort. It’s cold. The apartement flat is always, always an ice box. In this moment, Huckleberry learned secret handshake number 45. How did he do it? With ice cubes swimmin in Rosso vermouth, fresh squeezed orange juice, and a smirk of angostura bitters.

2. These extreme dry heats to damp frisky-chillies between the day’s in’s and out’s helped catch a fever for young Huckleberry. He learned how to teach on his feet without passing out in a little old town called, Trujillo. Risk serious head injury in a classroom: check. How? Using his mild fever-induced amnesia to his advantage: ok kids, Who am I? Where do I come from? Kids say the darndest things. Other games like, “describe my dream woman” always go over well. According to nearly every class, Huckleberry’s dream woman is a “Typical Spanish Woman.” Huh. Well I’ll be. I wonder if our jury is biased. That, or the verdicts are reached by..personal interests.

3. This year, above all years (chronically), he learned to cook with whatever the hell he had at his disposal. An oven? Nope! Gas top stove? Nope! How did he learn, and grow? He learned how to smooth talk, flirt, and chat up the electric stove getting it to join in on the fun, heating up the evenings. Food is expensive, and it goes bad. How did he learn to avoid potential bank account damages? Cooking with whatever he had left over. Its the most dangerous of aleatoric games. What’s in the fridge now, you ask? Well, presently we can cook you a dish with the following: olive oil, a smidgen of balsamic vinegar, white wine, oregano, feta cheese, sprouted lentils and spinach. Slow and low, my friends, until a creamy and herbalicious dinner appears in the cazuela. That is the art of Ceramic Cazuela cooking. (Which, by the way, is highly satisfying.)

4. He learned how to stomach a shitty shandy beer. How, you ask? Here they mix Lemon Fanta and lightly fermented barley juice into something called a “Clear.” How do you stomach it? Perhaps I failed to mention before, but it gets really hot here and you will drink just about anything that’s cold for the body and alcoholic for the mind in hopes that both will, if for a moment, forget the tyrranical Telluh Tubby baby in the sky, assailing you with heated radiation in a naked fury.

5. Learning to be assertive, truly assertive, was a good lesson. Who knows if anywhere but Spain would be so good at putting Huck to the test on this one. This item, Dear Readers, will go without excessive detail; however, after the events of last year, Huckleberry didn’t necessarilly arrive to Spain with patience in reserve for those that would try to take advantage of him be it intellectually, emotionally, physically, or socially. Needless to say, here – in Spain – Huck learned to swing that hammer and let it fall appropriately.

6. Learning to accept Spanish hospitality and generosity, on the other hand, was easy. How did he do it? I’ll tell you what, sit down – eat this ham – drink this beer – and don’t think twice. I don’t want to hear a Thank You or whatever or blablabla, just enjoy yourself and that’s good enough, ya hear? Moving on.

7. He learned to strum chords and sing songs by people like Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews, David Bowie, The Wood Brothers, The Drunk Irish Peoples’ Front, Cesar Chico, Some Crappy 80’s Spanish Bands, Joan Baez, Gotye, That Dear Delilah Something or Other Song, Coldplay and the list goes on. How did he do it? By putting his ego and pride aside, shutting the F&%$ up, and learning something new mainly for the benefit of others. Fun stuff.

8. He learned to fix the zipper for his fly, on the fly, because one night wwoooooaaaah sorry, too many details. How did he do it? Patience. Patience, my friends.

9. He learned to put himself in vacuum so as to absorb everything he could from this new environment. How? For the first 5 months: No computer-laptop-brain sucking machine, no iPod, no TV, no Radio, no old books, no manuscripts of music to read, no Gringo food, no Gringo drinks, no Gringo Gringosities (what a beautiful word, “It was a complete gringosity!”), no cell phone internet, and generally as few crutches as possible. Eventually, the vacuum did the trick and Huckleberry decided to buy a small laptop so he could start the next project on his bucket list: Learning the Art of Writing. He then took advantage of every Famliy-Catch-Up-Newsletter-Blog-Entry as a means to practice a different element of writing. In the end, once a musician always a musician, and the end result looks to be very much like a book of musical etudes written on digital wordpress staves and sounded by those profoundly articulate instruments, the imaginations of readers.

The list went on, but due to my narrative limitations we’ll have to move on, Dear Readers for at this moment Huckleberry is in Salamanca, España and the time is Easter Week.

Easter week may be one of the most iconic events of Spain. In fact, Icons (Saints, Virgins, and Messaih’s alike) can be seen strutting their stuff all week long with beds of flowers at their feet and incense swinging behind their step. The processions can be haunting and beautiful, and at other times noisy and uninspirational. It depends entirely on the crowd.

It is a time of year when many Spaniards go home for a week or two, wherever that may be, and a time of year when resident aliens like Huckleberry normally go travelling. Huckleberry decided to make some plans for Salamanca, Zamora, and La Coruña after deciding that time was too short to visit France. Then, after booking the Salamanca trip, he decided to nix the other plans as well because deep down he really just wanted to relax for a bit and simply enjoy La Semana Santa at home in Cáceres. Travelling isn’t his priority here, anyway. Travelling to Salamanca would be more than enough viaje for him this week.

On the bus, he looked stage left and saw the most beautiful metaphor just hanging over the landscape. Out the right window was the land and sky of northern Cáceres with green mountain sides and river valleys. Superimposed on that reality, was the view out the left window. On this one window panel Huckleberry could watch two opposing horizons pass simultaneously in the same plane of view. A marvel. Like experiencing time. So many reflections plastered to our absorbent minds. The road to Salamanca from Cáceres unraveled like a yo-yo along the ground. Do you remember playing with Yo-Yo’s as a child? Do you remember watching them bounce and roll as they traversed apparently flat black tops and porous cements? Like a wizard who takes a clock’s pendulum and creates joints in the limb causing the moment to displace while preserving motion. A marvel. Time and Place were on their way out, on the window to the right, in the ALSA bus headed in an opposing direction to the aforementioned heroes.

He got off the bus. Extremadura gets a lot of shit for being in the middle of nowhere, but the landscape surrounding the universtiy town of Salamanca was nothing to write home about, so Huckleberry decided not to jot anything down in his 80 sheet Wexford ruled composition book. Just move on and as Thompson once wrote, “ignore the nightmare in the bathroom”. The best advice often comes from the strange places.

The walk from the bus station to the Plaza Mayor was a piece of cake. The beer not so much. In no plaza, should a beer cost 3.5 euros. Unpardonable. The plaza was gorgeous, though. Paintings of famous Spanish men hovered over the tops of the arches. There didn’t seem to be any women, but there were also plenty of empty slots so – perhaps the future holds other portraits in store.

The relaxing glass of beer in Plaza Mayor allowed Huck some long overdue people watching. Immediately Huck spied one of the most “telling” images about Spanish culture. A mother in high heels playing soccer with her kid while friends and family continue drinking or eating whatever happens to be set at their table. These mothers are dedicated, and heels don’t seem to be an issue when passing on this extrememly Spanish heritage – Soccer.

Wherever families go, you can bet your bottom that a soccer ball goes as well. Forget pets, bring on the domesticated Soccer ball. It’s generally accepted to allow kids play with a soccer ball downtown in the streets or in the plazas. Huck liked this.

Next to High-Heeled-Soccer-Playing-Mama, there was another sight typical to Spain. Groups of no less than 4 students from abroad sticking out like the devil at a baptism. Parachuting into the plaza with maps the size of Big Ben and backpacks which are best described as inside-out versions of Mary Poppins’ purse. Sometimes, Spain is at the mercy of two relentless and merciless groups: “Forever Young” party hard Spaniards, and “We’re only here to party” foreigners. Spain is a great place to party, but let’s all have a bit more respect for this wonderful place, shall we? Then, who knows, things might turn around for this country.

While people watching, Huckleberry was reminded of how lucky he was to be in Cáceres. Salamanca was beautiful, gorgeous, historically rich, ornate, visually stunning but also very touristy, overrun by foreigners, and all at once liberated and oppressed by the university atmosphere. All things considered, it was a thousand times more interesting than Madrid and walking around Salamanca one gets an idea of what Old Spain may have looked like before monstrosities like Madrid took their current form and colour. Further, Salamanca seemed to be full of cultural happenings, goings-ons, and shin digs. It must be an exciting place to be for the university crowd and Salamanca is known to have quite the night life.

Something else that stuck out in the plaza, were the first tie dye clothes he had seen yet on his journey. Crazy. He also saw an old Spanish man sit down to chat with two beautiful blond girls no older than 20; this, however, was not so surprising.

When one looks up from a terrace seat in the plaza, they see the celestial clouds framed by the meticulously detailed buildings. From his seat, it wasn’t so much a square frame, but a rhombus. The red stone of the barroque buildings played well with the far blue winking time to time behind wispy coquettish grins.

Suddenly a window opens from one of the balconies and table crumbs shoot out onto the ground from two stories up. Huckleberry unlocks his trance and sees an old woman shaking out the table cloth. La Comida of Siesta must be wrapping up around the city. Maybe he’d start heading towards his hostal and check in.

He unlocked the door downstairs at his apartment building, and then looked across the street. Maybe, maybe he’d grab a caña and a pincho before unloading his backpack full of souvenirs.

Sitting down at El Fogon out the door through the zebra crossing to grandma Maria-Jesus’s Fogon we go, Huck got a caña and a pincho of potato salad. It was nice to be back in a place where this only costed 1.5 euros.

While he basked in the afternoon sun he thought about his trip to Salamanca. Then he looked at his shoes and saw that on each foot there inscribed were the words, “日本へ”. He smiled, and reflected on the plans he had for the rest of La Semana Santa here in Spain. Wednesday – the Cristo Negro procession at 1 in the morning as silence passes through the Parte Antigua. Thursday – to be lost in Reverie. Friday – A full day of food and drink among good friends in the countryside of Extremadura. Saturday – practice writing. Sunday-prepare classes. The beer in the sun post travel was extremely refreshing. Cañas, or 5 ounce beers, made a midday refresher easy without the burden of having to buy a full pint. Here, it’s also socially acceptable to drink them from noon onwards. Spain for the win.

Something else that can be found in Spain: creamy, stinky cheese spread on a piece of bread all sprinkled with a proper dusting of cinnamon on top. Creamy cheese and cinnamon: an extremely delicious surprise.

Friday, Hucklberry was in for another delicious surprise: his first chance to eat REAL paella. Not the Paella you see on television or in the restaurants. The paella of Valencia. The ingredients are primarily Rabbit, Chicken, Grean beans, (sometimes a white bean) and Bomba rice. No shrimp, no shellfish, no tonterías ni porquerías. Huck’s friend Rafa spent 8 years studying to become a dentist in Valencia and there he learned the art of preparing legitamite Paella. God was it good. The Bomba arroz is essential, because it absorbs more water than other types of rice without breaking apart and the texture of this cooked rice seems to make all the difference between a commercial paella and the real deal; that, and the mix of rabbit and chicken greases that make the rice oh so sticky.

Apart from the rrriquísima paella, homemade wine (Pitarra), cold beer, pinchos, iberian ham, olives, clams, Spanish Tortillas (oof, I will be making these for the rest of my life), and other digestibles – the day out at the Chalet near Montanchez was blessed with merry weather and merrier company. A few married couples and their kids were Huck’s companions for the day and he did his best to take part in their lightning speed conversations. His spanish has definitely improved, but keeping up with three simultaneous criss-crossing conversations still bakes up a nice humble pie for Huckleberry. Best to eat it with gratitude. This was really what Huck needed: a change of air, to be out of the city (even though Cáceres is a small town, it has the feel of a city – a curious place), to be among friends and leisure.

While sipping his whisky on the rocks and looking up into the 88 degree dry sky, he counted his luck and made an attempt to keep some of the moment for his memory bank.

-Little yellow flowers which little girls once called, “Bunnies”

-Strong smelling purple flowers used to make closets smell fresh

-Rain and lightning shelters made out of giant stones for farmers, pastors, and passersby

-Near blind labrador retreivers and their sloppy smiles

-Acorns on the ground giving up their moisture so that the dehesa retains a modicum of humidity beneath the surface before summer inundates it with heat waves

-Vibrant moss fighting with everything it’s got

-Kids throwing pond weeds at each other with wicked laughter

-The encina and oliva flowering away

Looking up, and grabbing his sweater for his brief pre-sleep walk through La Parte Antigua, he saw her there – observant. It was a beautiful day, and in a blink came night’s fall. At noon, it was in the 80’s, now, having arrived home at 10 o’clock it was a bit chilly. Just another spring day in Spain. Not just another moon, however; she seemed more attentive than usual.

In fact, this full moon seemed to last several nights long this easter week, and the view from La Parte Antigua towards this beacon was pure enchantment; it’s appearance above the medieval rooftops, abrupt and pleasureable.

 

 

 

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