These past few days I and the family have been in the north. When you leave a city whose name means strength for a the wide expanse of a wetland 300 kilometers away, you gain more than in the wheel rotation count of your automobile.
When viewed from space, the Ebro Delta looks like the geological capture of a primordial whale’s breaching. Driving up, the terrain I see only confirms this statement: neat squares of rice stalks separated by thin canals could easily be the interlocking cetacean vertebrae.
As we travel, the mountains that define my field of vision recede along a spectrum of color from charcoal to indigo to warm gray, with no apparent logical order in between. These chains of rock, I think, could be substituted for fins in my imaginary whale. Already I am imagining Oparin’s abiogenesis, and my huge aquatic mammal swimming in the soup, though this makes little sense from an evolutionary standpoint. When my brother asks who I named him after, when I am in a good mood I answer, typically, “Alexander the Great”. Maybe next time I shall say “Alexander Oparin” and instruct him to purchase spectacles and grow a goatee.
We emerge from the hotel every morning and drive around the coast. Our oldies station works, miraculously, even amid the teeming mass of mountain. One-hit wonders until the car strikes sand and we unload, bringing Pikachu towels and cheese sandwiches from the trunk and to the shore.
On the first day we visit a curious strip of land that cuts the Mediterranean so that there is visible water on both sides. “You can have your pick,” my father says, as though this lovely dual beach were the product of his own efforts.
After a swim it is decided that we simply must visit a bird viewing tower, and so when she is through with salt water my mother rises and the rest of us follow like a string of ducklings. The depressions her feet make on the sand give me a path and a pattern, staying much after she herself has disappeared from view.
Day before yesterday we returned to an aforementioned river. This time the trail was significantly less strenuous, traversing hills of rosemary and lavender, an occasional spruce of thyme. It’s green mountains folded clean as origami, and my shoes are brimming with water, squirming as I make my way around crags and gullies. I’m carrying lunch bags. Couscous and orange soft drinks perched on one shoulder, getting a better view of the countryside than I.
An hour and a half of walking: peacock blue bathing suit slick with sweat, hair down, knees up, one, two, I am called a city girl one too many times, lover of the chock-a-block, unappreciative of clay deposits. Oh, how harsh, how very harsh indeed.
But it soon becomes clear that suffering is not in vain. We strike gold, a veritable paradise. To the right of the trodden path, upstream, a little star that strayed from the confines of universe. Pool, blue, waterfall, butterflies, as close to a shiny Bahamas postcard as you’ve ever seen. It’s so great I pull off anything not water-proof, Superhero-style, and cannonball.
It seems impossible to me that engineers have found ways to blast holes through hundreds of feet of rock face. I don’t mean it in a sad environmentalist way, but in a does not compute way. How can you bulldoze through green slices of water, their cascading brethren so tough they throw me out when I try to climb up, the skinny cliffs overlooking houses and trees hundreds of years old? I can’t make it five minutes along these woods without feeling thorns. This mountain is greater than any of us.
We went on one of those river hiking thingamabobs today, five hours of trekking through glorious waters and golden views and continually falling on my face.
O grace, how you elude me!
By the end of it I had stripped to a turquoise bathing suit, sopping shirt slung over one shoulder, warbling the “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” song from Mulan in an effort to rally the family forces. BE A MAN YOU MUST BE SWIFT AS THE COURSING RIVER [cue fall in river – o grace!]
We crawled up the crags to the road, I on my hands and knees, no longer caring about the state of my abused attire. O a change of clothes, o hunks of bread fetched from the trunk, praise be!
At home I go out to the terrace and pirouette with dusty feet as my mother hollers “Emma! Eat your mushrooms!” My mediocre ballet distracts her, leaving me to prance around, legs covered in antibiotic ointment and still stinking of river. On the street in front of our building, someone has written “Felices 18 Amor 31-7-10” which, for those of you without rudimentary knowledge of Romance languages, translates to “Happy 18th Love”. It’s the work of the enamored hooligan, the combined victory for the beloved and against the authorities, the triumphant defacing of public property. I tell my mother and she laughs, suggesting that we go down and wash the birthday wishes off with a hose.
As I am exiting the Museum of Natural History, I pass a woman talking on the phone. She asks, “Is it wonderful?” and I think, “It is.”
I am in New York, buying English books (at the Barnes & Noble on Fifth Avenue, thoughts of Kelly prompt me to purchase “The Cave” to replace “Death at Intervals”) and eating cheesecake at Junior’s in Grand Central Station. I have rediscovered Milano cookies, Starburst and English muffins, which I eat in the mornings when jet lag forces me awake. English muffins, I have decided, are the pinnacle of good eating.