The Essence of Spain

A year ago, I became convinced that I should spend the rest of my life in Spain.

I made up my mind to find the true, true essence of Spain.

I decided that, until I got to Spain, I would listen only to Camarón.

I purchased maps, because I had decided that one of the important things I had to do was walk the pilgrim road to Santiago de Compostela.

To prepare myself for the Spanish time clock, I disciplined myself not to eat until 10 p.m.

To get used to the idea of “siesta,” I imposed a daily two-hour nap on my hectic life, which resulted in my employment being terminated, which made me happy because I had become extremely worried about exceeding vacation limits. Now, I could just go to Spain and stay as long as I wanted.

I imagined myself in a square surrounded on all sides by buildings with iron bars over the windows. At the very center of this square would be a fountain, and at the center of this fountain would be the statue of some eminently great person: Blas Infante or Julius Caesar.

I decided I would use only “usted” when addressing others, even if the other was someone obviously younger than myself.

I learned that in Spain they care greatly about appearances. I read this in the Travel section of The New York Times, which I bought at least once a week, to keep myself informed not only about Spanish customs, but about life in Europe in general.

I imagined myself threading through calle after calle after calle.

Once, on the subway, I sat across from a man who was reading El País. I stared at him so long that eventually he looked up. When he saw who was staring, he lifted his newspaper so that it almost covered his entire face.

I will learn to make the sign of the crucifix every time I pass a cemetery or a church.

I will be wary of Gypsies.

I will travel to Cordoba, Granada, Majorca, and Valencia. I have no interest in Barcelona or Madrid. Or even Seville.

He is there, somewhere.

He was in Cordoba for three days. He wrote that there was a beautiful Moorish bridge spanning the Guadalquivir River.

Then he was in Majorca, which I saw from my map was an island. He wrote about the Serra de Tramuntana, and about a Carthusian monastery. He wrote about a museum that contained letters from the writer George Sand to her lover, the composer Frédéric Chopin. What did the letters say, I asked him. But he never replied.

The next I heard from him, he was in Alcoy, for the annual fiesta.

And then he was in Granada and wrote about the River Darro.

And then I waited. And waited. And waited.

And there was nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

I thought he had probably run out of money, which was why he could no longer afford the Internet cafés.

At one point, I even entertained the thought that he had been murdered. I imagined his body lying by the side of the road. I imagined a red rose blooming from his throat.

I didn’t want him to die. Not, at least, until he had reached Segovia, because I so longed to read his descriptions of that ancient town.

But now I will never know Segovia. Unless I go there myself.

I will never see Romanesque churches. I will never see Gothic cathedrals. I will never see the Costa del Sol. I will never be able to sample the local rioja, which he once told me had the aftertaste of honey.

And then Casares, with its whitewashed houses. I will never see that town, as well.

Or the Rock of Gibraltar.

Never to know these places would be a tragedy.

I would like to travel. I would.

When I have arrived at Frigiliana, which I understand is a very beautiful town, overlooking the Costa del Sol, I will think of life, and flamenco, and sun. The white will hurt my eyes, and I will taste the fine local wine, which will float over my tongue, smooth as truth, lovely as honey.

Marianne Villanueva was born and raised in the Philippines. She is the author of the short story collections Ginseng and Other Tales From Manila, Mayor of the Roses, and The Lost Language, as well as of the novella Jenalyn. Her work has been included in a wide range of anthologies and publications, including The Threepenny Review, PRISM international, Phoebe, J Journal, Juked, Hotel Amerika, Wigleaf, The Asian American Literary Review, and Word Riot. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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2 Responses to The Essence of Spain

  1. Pingback: The Essence of Spain | Kanlaon

  2. Pingback: “Essence of Spain,” 699 Words, Eunoia Review | Kanlaon

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