Maybe you think I don’t notice that bruise on half your face. You light the room with a smile and a dignified calm.
But I wish I could grab him by the throat and not let go until I know that he will never touch you again.
Except with love.
But how can I know unless you tell me? And how can you tell me unless you trust me? And how can you trust me when you just met me and he calls your phone and you need to go before we even know each other?
We say goodbye with an embrace, two kisses, and a few besides.
Then I stand and watch you walk away, wishing I knew the you behind that sparkling smile.
I meant to start out earlier than I did. But I didn’t. I meant to take a morning tour of the bell tower of Murcia’s cathedral. But I didn’t. Instead, I read a sign that said tours were offered October through June and said nothing about tours during tourist season.
I gave up that plan for the time being and wandered over to the bus stop in time to climb on a bus to Rueda de la Ñora, a water wheel located in an otherwise unremarkable village outside of Murcia.
Still sleepy, I yawned the whole way out of the city. It would have been easier had I worn a mask that allowed yawns and didn’t grab both my nose and my chin in a vice grip. It was unfortunately one of those city buses that didn’t bother to say where it was or where it was going at any given time. Enter Google maps.
The water wheel was worth the visit. However, there was no shade and it made my visit shorter than I would have liked. I was the only tourist there. The wheel was commissioned in the 1400s although it’s been replaced various times.
On my walk back to the bus, a dog gave me a series of ferocious barks from a terraza overhead. The sun tilted just right so I could see the gray shadows of his snapping jaws on the street beside me.
I stumbled across a bakery on my way back to the bus. “Why not?” I thought and stepped inside. It was a real bakery, one where the cashier came to the counter with her hands covered in flour. She was brisk but kind as I carefully selected a chocolate-filled pastry.
The bus deposited me at Circular Square, which is more or less a giant fountain in the middle of a roundabout. It was unoccupied, making me wonder if anybody in Murcia appreciates their own landmarks. (And do I appreciate the landmarks of Mytown?)
The Archeological Museum of Murcia was free so it was worth a look, I decided. I’m not much for museums and the history here in Spain is so ancient it becomes unremarkable after a while. I skipped the evolution of man section which put me ahead of the only others in the museum. So I basically walked through the museum alone except the security guard who greeted me every time he circled past. I should have tried to make off with a Roman pillar to give him something to do.
On the way back to the cathedral tower (by this time, I had bought a tour ticket online), I passed through Plaza Santo Domingo and found a startling human rights monument in the middle of the plaza, like a silent scream.
I arrived early for the tour, which didn’t bother me. I plopped down in the shade in front of the tower and people watched. We were a large group, not my favorite way to tour, but I had already decided that the pros would outweigh the cons. The tower’s history was fascinating, from how the construction paused for 200 years when the tower began to lean or how the resident rats nibbled the edges of the old manuscripts to avoid the poisonous ink.
The group was frantically taking selfies at every turn as I cruised past, photo bombing everyone. (Okay, that’s probably just what it felt like.) Tucked inside the walls, there was the impression of coolness, but it also felt muggy. But however hot and sweaty, we all made it up the 17 ramps. The quarter hour chime at the top was exhilarating. The bells thundered inside of my head.
After lunch in the air conditioning at my Airbnb, and some time to unwind, I tried to go to a coffee shop which was closed. “August,” I grumbled as I meandered through downtown and eventually ended up at CaféLab again where they recognized me and spoke to me in English.
I picked up snacks at Día and then spent the evening on the couch with guacamole, fresh mozzarella, and a show on the fancy-schmancy TV that the Airbnb host had painstakingly explained to his clueless guest.
Although August in Spain is not the best time to be a tourist, Murcia is a city I could easily fall in love with, even in August. You could argue that three days is hardly enough time to fall in love. And spending those three days almost exclusively downtown–only glimpsing the outlying barrios from the bus window–you could argue that I don’t even know her. So we’ll call it an infatuation.
I arrived in downtown Murcia close to three p.m., perfect time to check into my airbnb, eat lunch, and rest on the couch in front of the air conditioning. (Aaaah, what luxury to control the temperature!)
My apartment was within a few minutes of the cathedral and well, pretty much all of downtown. Downtown was full of churches. As the hour changed, bells sounded from every corner, clapping through the narrow streets. I stood, enchanted.
I parked in CaféLab, an utterly charming coffee shop. The aromatic ambiance made it hard to choose what I wanted–one of each? I finally opted for the mango smoothie.
As a non-Catholic, I am fascinated by cathedrals, but I also find them a little creepy. Like, I didn’t come to church to see a mural of Saint Bartholomew being skinned alive. I toured the cathedral, reading the signs, staring at the statues and paintings of saints, and wondering what the cathedral builders would think if they saw all of us walking around in sneakers, snapping pictures.
I walked along the river, enjoying the view and the parks I stumbled upon. Eventually, I rested on a bench to listen to the gentle clacking of loose bricks as feet passed over them.
Pasarela Manterola, a pedestrian suspension bridge, moved as we walked across it, just enough to make me wonder if my mango smoothie had made me tipsy–Am I imagining this mild motion sickness? A young man serenaded us with “Stand By Me” while ducks below fought over the bread crusts someone had tossed to them. When I peered over the railing, they eyed me expectantly.
“So darling! Darling! Staaaaand by me. Oh, stand by me…”
I strolled through the Paseo de Malecón and tried to snap a photo of red red roses that decided not to be photogenic in the blazing sunlight. And there was a catalpa tree with long beans dripping from it. I would have studied it more had a man not been lounging in its shade.
From there, I circle back to find the Arab walls. The smells began to overwhelm me in the way that they often do when I allow myself time to smell them. I smelled chwarmas before I passed the chwarma shop and then a spice that transported me the North African old medina. Shadows grew. Men with fat, unlit cigars dangling from their lips crossed my path.
Somehow, with a malfunctioning sense of direction, delayed maps app, and winding downtown streets, I ended up in Plaza Mayor instead of in front of the monumental Arab walls. There in the plaza, the silence was astonishing. Someone with squeaky shoes left squeaky echoes after she had disappeared around the corner. I just stood there and listened for long moments.
I made another attempt at the Arab walls. And another. At my third pass-by, I realized street work hid the walls from view and made them inaccessible. Apparently, the “open 24 hours” listing on my maps app doesn’t apply to August… or maybe I still didn’t find the right spot.
On my way back to the apartment, I crossed through Plaza de las Flores where everyone was in slow motion, eating an early dinner or meandering through the warm plaza. And me? Enough exploring for day one. I had an evening date with the air conditioning.
A few months ago, I mentioned that I hoped to share with you some of what I learned while writing an essay on hospitality. In May, a day trip to a mountain town with my neighbor’s family jogged my memory. My memory continued to jog, but only in place as the busyness of June took over.
Now here I am at last with my hospitality essay at my side. But my mind keeps returning to that mountain town…
As I sprawled out on the little sister’s bed during siesta time, my eyes roamed the room, spotting things stashed here and there. A rickety binder that looked as if it had been tossed on top of the wardrobe and promptly forgotten. Broken drawers in a dresser decorated with childish markers. An abandoned attempt at decor.
The untidiness spoke of things not cared for.
Yet there I was, a stranger to the family, welcomed into their home and offered a bed. Rather than buy expensive things and focus on protecting them from harm, this family created a space that said people mattered more.
The women set up a chair in the narrow kitchen doorway for me to sit and hold the baby and then spent the evening tripping over me as they bustled about. And they didn’t mind.
As we finished dinner around midnight, a deep weariness came over me as I looked around at the pile of people in the living room. As soon as they left, the cleanup would need to begin.
And then they left, and rather than being overwhelmingly dirty, the house looked almost clean. As I helped to stack the green plastic chairs and fluff the postage stamp pillows, I wondered why.
It was as if the people who had been in the room were the only decor. The room was serviceable not beautiful, because the emphasis was on the relationships of those who gathered rather than the things they gathered around.
I don’t believe that hospitality and taking care of things are mutually exclusive. However, coming from a culture that often values possessions more than relationships, I appreciate the reminder to engage the relational side of hospitality.
Oops. I’ve been rather long-winded and I haven’t even started my essay summary. Maybe next week? 🙂
As I prayer walked the streets of my city, I came across many murals, on the sides of businesses, on crumbling block walls, around the corner of an apartment building where there was no street and no one to see it.
Some of the murals were funny. Some were really odd. But then there were those that made me stop and wonder: What was the artist trying to say?
Over the next couple of months, I’ll share some of the murals with you. You can wonder with me or leave an interpretation in the comments below.
Sometimes beauty gets lost in the daily grind of life until I hardly notice it anymore. Noticing the beautiful things in life generally doesn’t happen unless it’s intentional… at least for me.
Many days, I would notice the trash, but not the snail.
This week, I want to be intentional about noticing beauty. I propose one photo or descriptive scene each day.
I’m making the “descriptive scene” an option because sometimes the best photos lodge themselves in my mind and never make it to my camera. Sometimes because pulling out my camera would detract from the beauty. Sometimes because the moments happen too fast. Sometimes I am trying to be culturally sensitive.
(Pictures speak a thousand words, but sometimes words can speak a thousand pictures because words come from human perception rather than a camera lens.)
So for one week, I will look for beauty in every day… and give you an update next Thursday.
“What has been happening recently?” you ask. I’ll tell you, even if you didn’t ask.
One of my favorite big events was getting my residency card, my tarjeta. FINALLY. All of the paperwork, the trip to the Chicago consulate, the phone calls that drove me close to insanity, the corrections, the visa, the move to Spain, the various trips to the extranjería (and the wonderful roommate who accompanied me on all of those!), and finally… finally… on the last trip, the man across the counter handed me my tarjeta. “Perfect.”
We celebrated with a trip to the mall, coffee and tostadas, and getting lost (as is our custom while on foot in Almería).
Last week, my roommate and I took a trip to Berja, a small town in the province of Almería. Away from our immigrant town, we noticed a more defined Spanish flavor, especially in the thicker Andalusian Spanish.
At a bus stop in the middle of nowhere, a man (one who would fit nicely into one of those “anti-smoking” commercials) climbed on board our bus. He sat in front of us but hollered over our heads to the man sitting directly behind us. After several minutes of thick and raspy Andalusian exchange, he turned to face forward and lean back in his seat. The seat was broken and little by little, it voluntarily reclined so far that soon there were three of us in our seat. I giggled. I couldn’t help it! The day was going to be an adventure…
In la villa vieja, we freely roamed the Roman and Arab ruins and enjoyed the silence of the forsaken countryside.
We walked part of “the route of fountains” to find the oodles of little fountains throughout the town. But more fun than finding the fountains was seeing pretty pieces of the town I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.
We topped off the afternoon with a sumptuous “choto al ajillo” (goat in garlic sauce) which we bravely tried… and liked!
Of course, lots of other things have been happening too that I haven’t described in detail here (at least not yet), such as:
setting up a library corner at the store
watching a bus driver threaten to call the police to remove a disruptive and cussing passenger
walking with a friend in time to a spiritual discussion
seeing God working miracles through brothers and sisters in Christ who are willing to be a channel of God’s power and love
multiple trips to the bank to set up an account… to no avail until the fifth time I tried and the bank teller threw up his hands and hollered, “IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT!”
And more. Much more. But that’s enough for now, because I’m off to have another adventure. After all, there is an adventure in every day if we remember to look for it.