Well, it was more like a few hours in Madrid (!) – a perfect interregnum between my month in Istanbul and the upcoming academic year in the States. It was hard to tear myself away from World House International but time pressure facilitated.
The first culture shock occurred immediately after Taoufik (driving for the hotel I booked on spot at the airport) collected me. Some congestion of busses and minivans prevented forward movement. Nothing happened. No honking. No swearing. No maneuvering onto the sidewalk to pass whatever fool had blocked the road. I’m not in Turkey anymore!
We sat in silence for a few minutes. Eventually we begin talking and I realize here is a man who has stepped outside of the (dialectical) trend of colonialism. He’s from Morrocco, speaks Arabic and French, yet came to Spain.
After a sound sleep, a quick blogpost, a brief ‘good morning’ chat with Taou, and a delicious breakfast I set out for the Real Jardin Botanico. In reality, I have one to one and a half hours of quality “tourist time”. My chosen destination is 30 or so minutes on the metro plus 15 minutes walk. A brief wait between #5 and #2 allows me time for a journal entry. I debark at Ventas and several sights greet me, including the Puerto de Alcala.
The bliss of this interlude of a day is the time it allows my mind to drift over recent memories and interactions, consider particular comments, and process the emotional mix of departure (so final-seeming) and impending arrival (with its own anxieties). Fatih had commented the other day on my writing about a lucky feather. At the time, I just said I like feathers….but today I wondered what makes a feather lucky? It seems to me that of all the things I will remember about Turkey, the most important one regards a marked improvement in my skill at reading signs.
So here I am, walking rather briskly but alertly down Calle de Alfonso XII, keeping my eyes more-or-less fixed on the architecture, including woodwork, grillwork, and urban views to my right, reserving the Parque del Retiro on my left for the return. I’m thinking about signs and codes – what is it that brings a particular sound or view into focus? I’ve already tipped a couple of musicians playing happy jazzy music in an underpass at the beginning of the walk. I chose to hear their tune as prelude. Beauty abounds and distant views entice. I’m resolute – I picked the botanical gardens because I imagined that there I will be able to hear birds.
The indeterminate future worries me somewhat, yet its unknown qualities no longer weigh me down. I am pleased with the evidence of self-healing. A tower catches my eye and I stop for a photo.
I notice the tree in front of it, then the tree layered next. Three layers, coming into consciousness from the top-down, most distant to closest. Hmm. I start to continue walking but … perhaps I should note this location – what about these three layers? Start on again, but now I notice an intersection ahead, at an odd angle….it doesn’t seem to conform to the map but why hasn’t the Garden hove into view?
Ah. I need to turn here. Was the tower a sign? It visually interrupted my thinking. I had shifted into automatic pilot; it took three “signals” to break me out of it, to draw me back into the immediacy of the moment, here, now, where I am. How far might I have gone before realizing the error? Perhaps not so far, who knows? As it was, I lost a minute only instead of ten, and it was hardly a loss as it illustrated phenomenologically, in its unfolding, precisely the puzzle I was working in my mind. What causes one thing rather than another to be imbued with importance?
I believe it is a combination (for me) of timing, location, object, and thought. These things must converge in a pattern that has relevance for me, whose individual symbolisms can be perceived or interpreted in a cohesive whole. So the feathers are “lucky” – more precisely, significant symbolically – because, for instance, they come into view precisely when I am thinking of someone or something special. Another comment that has remained in mind was when Umit said he knew my age (but wouldn’t guess, smile), adding something about “the game” I was playing with it. Maybe it’s time to stop coming out about my advanced years? 🙂
Anyway. It turned out I was right next to the Jardin but didn’t know it. 🙂 I strolled down around the corner, seeking entry, and discovered the Feria de Libros where I located the current Economist, several postcards, and a used photobook of the city. FINALLY I found the entry to the Jardin. 🙂
Time progressed; I headed for the Parque.
The central pond stirred a memory of my brother losing his glasses one summer day, right over the edge of a paddleboat in Denver. I remember lunging for them as they began to slide . . .
Details of this fountain are terrific: frogs alternate with turtles and children ride sea creatures (I imagine fanciful dolphins). 🙂
I would dally but Taoufik “That’s how I am” awaits. We go for a fantastic Spanish meal of morcilla and tabla de quesos washed down with clara, beer with lemon.
At one point Tauo said, “Wait.” Can you imagine why? 😉