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and have a listen to the post, as narrated by… me!
Tuesday, April 25, 8:30pm. Two Doors Down…
“I want to ask you something.”
Wrenching my eyes off juicy burger en route to mouth, I give my dinner pal full attention. Knitted brow indicates 50/50 the question is not the usual mid-meal inquiry “One dessert, two forks?” Crossing fingers and toes, I hope I’m right, cuz hey, I prefer one fork per dessert, even if he only ever has a couple bites.
“Would you like to come to Spain with me in May?”
What??? Wait… did I hear what I thought I heard? I mean, the restaurant is super noisy, ‘specially at the bar where we’re sitting. Nah… couldn’t be.
“Um… Did you just ask me if I wanted to go to Spain?”
“Ya,” he says, his brows returning to calm while mine slide into a furry mash up.
“Wait. Spain? You’re serious. You’re asking me to go to Spain? With you?”
“Yes. You like adventure. You’d have fun. All you have to do is get yourself there. The rest of the details are taken care of. Think about it.”
Spain on a whim? Spain, less than three weeks from today. I wasn’t expecting Spain. Goddess! All I wanted was my own dessert.
Pre runaway to Halifax, the only answer to such a question would be instantaneous, nope.
I’m not that woman anymore.
“Uh… lemme think about it,” I answer as the server hands me the dessert menu.
“Hey. Wanna share a piece of pie?”
Home post dinner, I initiate the usual bedtime regime and crank my electric blanket to its highest setting. While the bed heats up, I flick on a teeny space heater and undress directly in front of the hot air blast to avoid full body shakes as I switch out day clothes for the necessary layering that gets me through the night—leggings, track pants, tank top, t-shirt, hoodie, jacket, thick socks, bathrobe, an extra blanket tucked round my middle and bootie slippers.
In case you’ve missed it, my room has no heat, and my home is a shed. Drafty and cold all the time, the house repels heat. Furnace-warmed air whooshes out through the un-insulated roof, un-insulated front and back doors, rubble basement foundation, and every whistling gap round every window. Essentially, on a good day the temperature hovers at a steady 56 degrees, barely warm enough so the pipes don’t freeze.
Sh-sh-sh-sh-shiver… sh-sh-sh-shake… such is the life for me.
Tonight being an I-can-see-my-breath-inside evening, I suit up lickety-split, turn off the spacer heater and yank back the duvet. Right before I sausage-roll myself between the sheets, I remember. Oooops. Almost went to bed without checking the buckets.
Yah… April showers and all that nonsense about bringing flowers. Turns out the roof happens to be a sieve, and rain pours from outside and through the ceiling into the one room almost capable of retaining heat, nicknamed The Cave in ironic homage to the Portland Place Cave. My old flat had a constant, steady temperature of 90 degrees, while in the Duncan Cave, a balmy, almost bearable 62 degrees is achievable in the room through a combination of body heat, insulated curtains and candle burning.
You take what you get when you live in a shed.
Grabbing a towel to mop overflow puddles, I pad into the room, relieved to hear the sweet night lullaby of … drip… drip… drip into four strategically placed buckets. Hallelujah. None have overflowed.
I swipe my laptop off the desk, and when I’m tucked back into bed, my frigid fingers (too weird to wear gloves when sleeping), well, they tip-tap on the keyboard to summon the almighty, all-knowing Google just to see how much might a flight to Spain set me back.
Sure, it would be crazy to go.
But it’s April, and the Duncan shed is hardly a notch above freezing, even with furnace on. Even on the odd day when the sun is hot enough to burn my face when I sit on the deck sucking in heat, the house? It’s still Arctic, and I’m sick of being cold.
Sucks to be me, and though I wanna be warm, logic deems this is not the time for Spain.
Friday April 28, 6am. Bedroom temperature 51 degrees,
$1200. Air Canada can get me to Barcelona for $1200.
Self, be responsible. Self, think this through grown-up pro/con style.
Okay… Pro… Spain in the spring.
Con… going on rogue Spain trip with still wet-behind-the-ears new friend.
Goddess know, travel brings out the ugly at the best of times. But besides that, I’m a high maintenance travel partner. Ya know, like, I never bring my own toothpaste (cuz can’t I use your toothpaste?). I get you to hang on to my passport (so I don’t lose it) and ask if you could please lead me to where I need to go (cuz I don’t much feel like making decisions today). I’m a special brand of annoying, and mostly the only person able to put up with me is my BFF, Leslie.
And then there are those other things, lest I forget… book pitches to send, MFA graduation in May, upcoming visit times two brothers. And, oh yah, I have no job.
Drip… drip… drip…
8 days of warmth. 8 days to forget leaky ceiling. 8 days of adventure.
I book the flight.
“So, what exactly are we doing in Spain, anyway?” I ask over the phone.
“Didn’t you read the PDF I emailed you?”
“PDF? What PDF? There was a PDF attached to the email?”
Saturday May 13, 10am.
As the plane touches down on the Barcelona-EI Prat airport runway, I mentally exchange pumpkin life and slip on glass slippers, praying to Goddess they are sturdy enough to withstand Spain’s cobblestone alleys and the next eight days.
Lemme get to the point… one room. I said one room.
“But mama! We don’t even know him!” one of my Toronto sons had screeched when I shared news of the trip and answered his questions on accommodations.
Look. Not that I haven’t done an overnight room-sharing gig with a guy friend before. I’ve always had male buddies… Rick at 13, Frank in 1st year university, Michael right now in Waterloo, Bob in Halifax. I do platonic but good. Heck, I was best (wo)man at friend Jim’s wedding back in 2001.
Four years, and I’ve yet to wrestle over covers except when my friend Sabine came to visit last summer. And FYI, we were excellent bed-sharing mates, respecting each other’s side of the bed, though I did hog the covers.
At least I arrive in Spain two days earlier than him, providing a window to stake a my-side-of-the-bed claim, not to mention figure out how to negotiate the challenging art of changing, showering, snoring, and everything else, gulp, with a man in my room.
Monday May 15, 11:30pm. Hotel room.
Back from a tapas eating extravaganza in the Gothic Quarter, it’s well past midnight, and severely jet-lagged, I just wanna go to sleep.
And then I remember, horrors. It’s the unavoidable hit-the-hay in one bed together time.
“Uh… do you want to use the bathroom first,” I ask, though what I really wanna do is recite the line-by-line dialogue of Steve Martin and John Candy’s infamous “Those aren’t pillows!” scene from the movie Planes Trains and Automobiles.
He goes first, then me, and after our separate nighttime regimes instead of getting into bed, I elect to organize papers on the desk, poke about on my computer, check my cell phone for the umpteenth time, and generally utilize the rituals of the mundane until, yah, he’s in and it’s now or never time. Flicking off the light, I duck, cover and hide ‘tween the sheets.
Gawky silence. Clumsy toss’n and a turn’n. Dag-nabbit, I figure may as well get comfy the way I like since we’re stuck in permanent awkward-ville until one of us falls asleep. And so I initiate the sleepy-time sequence whereby I splay arms and legs north, south, east and west to all four corners of the bed, my go-to for settling into nighty-night time, figuring best he gets the drift on bed hogging and sleeping oddities from the get go. And holy moly, geez-louise, through some miracle or maybe cuz the bed is plain gargantuous in all its blessed King-sized glory, even when fully extended not a limb touches his bed-half or nudges into his body hula hoop.
“G’night.” I mutter.
In minutes, his breathing is deep and even, and I relax, revelling in a night of no drip-drops, no shivers and somehow orchestrating through what could have been a horrifically incompatible moment. Happy, I drift away to Spanish slumber land and fairytale dreams that I am, indeed, Cinderella, dancing at the ball.
Tuesday, May 16, 10am. Hotel room.
Apparently I snore. I counter if I do it’s because I drank wine. Since we are in Spain and likely to have wine every day, he can’t prove me wrong though I can’t prove me right.
I offer him first dibs on the bathroom for as long as he wants, provided he leaves me ten minutes getting ready time before we scoot downstairs for our bicycle tour. When he emerges all sparkly and shiny, I ask if he minds if I use his shampoo and soap, mind you his toothpaste remains safe since I remembered to bring my own.
24-hour assessment… So I snore and he smells better and cleans up way prettier than me, whatever. Thank you Goddess for last night and this morning, and the fact we are still laughing. First night over and all is well. Phew.
On a wooden pier sitting at the juncture of sea, sky and land, we get off our bikes and gather round the guide. Blue water, dusty yellow sand, and grass-coloured palm leaves are captured in click after click of electronic, handheld shutters. In the distance is Frank Gehry’s Piex (Fish), and the sun bounces golden dazzle glimmer shards off its metal scales.
As my eyes feast, I listen to our guide explain that for millennia Barcelona’s waterfront was a manufacturing mecca, with a conglomerations of brick and smokestacks blocking sight of and access to the Mediterranean Sea. In aesthetic protest, generations of city planners deliberately designed built structures to face away from the misappropriated sea, toward the hills.
The expanse of sea, open beach and a wide wooden boardwalk that stretches into the horizon make it hard to believe this as truth.
“Barcelona reinvented itself for the 1992 Olympic games, relocating the manufacturing outside the city and transporting millions of tons of sand from the Sahara Desert to make these beaches,” our guide explains of the transformation.
Ah, so that is why the sand felt so rough beneath my feet when I’d walked upon it yesterday. It came from the world’s biggest sandbox, where sand was made of rocks and silica, quartz, dolomite, calcite and billions of years of hot and dry. It was so unlike the soft white sand I’d traipsed upon in the Cayman Islands back in January. That sand was made of silica, sea creatures, shells, and the gentle flow of water and waves.
Only yesterday, before I knew any of Barcelona’s story, I’d walked down La Rambla to this beach and this boardwalk. I’d happened upon marinas with row upon row of sailing ships, fishing boats and cruising vessels meant for the lazy life, dropped coins in hats for artists when I’d gazed too long upon their sand sculptures, and at an outdoor beach gym, stood transfixed by the beauty of bodies in motion. Beneath an awning, I’d stopped to watch four Spaniards and their game of dominos, and though we knew not each other’s languages, we made do with smiles.
And when I’d become weary and hot from the walk and ready to test the Mediterranean waters, I’d traipsed upon this sand and laid my towel down on the beach. Surrounded by women, men and children, the young and the old, bodies basking topless or naked or all covered, I fell into this Spain and doffed my own suit.
This Barcelona was a dream.
Wednesday, May 17, 8:30pm. Torres Winery.
“How about you and I switch seats?” he asks.
I get it. He’s tired of my hair sweeping across his salad as I stretch my head over his plate to yak with Mark Tewksbury, so we switch up seats.
Though I’d only just met Mark, Project Friend is about honing in on like-minded souls and going in for the kill, I mean, intense bonding. With little coercion, Mark had tapped his contact information into my phone and acquiesced to a photo, which naturally, I immediately Instagrammed.
Oh yah, earlier I’d taken a celeb snap with Danny Michelle, one of the two musicians with us at the winery, the other being Jeremy Fisher. ‘Grammed the Danny photo too.
Mark. Danny. Jeremy… Full disclosure, it’s no coincidence these celebs are at the winery, and I didn’t just happen upon them hanging out. Here’s the skinny.
The PDF I never read when I signed up for Spain? Well, I finally read it.
Seems the Spain trip was auctioned off at a fundraising event in Halifax, which was designed to raise money to support Olympic athletes. Events are held annually across Canada. The trip I lucked into was four days in Barcelona and four days in Mallorca seeing, eating, and touring plus opportunity to spend time with Olympic athletes and musicians at each location.
And just so you know, when I said yes to Spain, I hadn’t read the PDF. The only things impacting my decision were warmth and a week-long hang out in Spain seeing the sights while getting to know someone a little bit better.
The celeb stuff? Geez… it’s just really cool gravy.
1am, the bus back to hotel.
Belly full of yummy food and wine, I lean my head against the window to nab a few zzzzz’s during the hour-long bus ride back to the hotel.
It seems a reasonable expectation. Course, I’ve never been on a bus that included approximately eighteen Maritimers… after an evening of festivities… at a winery.
Just as I am about to drift off, I hear the strains of Bye Bye Miss American pie.
Oh, right… forgot to mention something… about my roomie. Slung across his chest is a magic pouch he brings everywhere, containing speaker and iPad. Yah, he’s kind of a have music will travel DJ guy. Thus far, the mobile sound system had accompanied the Tapas Tour, walk on the waterfront, bike tour, and yes, I have adjusted. Anyway, most of the time he keeps the music quiet enough that chat can still happen.
I’ve figured out his song selection is alpha. Next up is Carolina in My Mind… Danny’s Song… Down on the Corner… etceteras. Eyes closed, I hum melodies, while a few others sing along. On it goes and with each new tune more voices join in song, until by the time we reach ‘G’, the male baritone faction has taken over, drowning out the sopranos and altos. In no time, conversations are abandoned when the music gets louder, and soon, me grabbing a little shuteye is completely out of the question. Oh, and then in the midst of the growing chaos, a sleeve of plastic cups magically appears and makes its way seat to seat, along with, I dunno… maybe a few bottles of wine… maybe a bottle of brandy…
And next, what the????
A new tune starts blasting that, clearly, it is not roomie’s selection. His speaker is drowned out, overruled by a second sound system belonging to someone else on the bus. Aghast at the development, roomie bellows, “Pull the plug,” and someone finds and detaches the obnoxious second speaker from device, silencing the dueling sound system. Roomie pokes away on his iPad and… then… Johnny Cash.
Two songs later, Mumford and Sons trumps the country tunes once again.
“Pull the plug!!!!” roomie screams, quite unlike the quiet fella I’v gotten to know thus far.
Anne Murray starts belting out Snowbird, and ya, he goes rogue and ditches the alpha, and next an East Coast tune erupts at maximum volume, launching every East Coast’er not already singing into loud on and off-key bellows. Arms flair every which way, with the Eastern contingent swaying so fiercely I swear the bus starts to heave side-to-side.
Through the din, a woman screams, “Disco… disco… disco…” and the rival speaker delivers Dancing Queen, and by now, I’m not only done trying to sleep, my ‘Onterrible’ inclinations are full on back because frankly, I’m a little weary of the country tunes.
“Respect by Aretha Franklin,” I shriek at the top of my lungs because when in Rome, or should I say when in Spain with a busload of drunken Easter Coasters… well… you know.
By some miracle, the bus makes it to Barcelona, and when I get off, I spy roomie ahead of me, though meandering in the wrong direction. Before I make my way to him, a woman sidles up beside me and whispers in my ear, “Hey honey… would you like to come to my room and spend some time with my husband and me?”
Rather than answer a question I do not understand, I beeline it for my roomie, link my arm through his, and steer him in the right direction.
Yup, forgot that every now and again, having a fella at your side comes in pretty handy.
Where Barcelona was frenetic city and non-stop action, Mallorca is a downshift into serenity and relaxation. Our new lodgings are up in the mountains, looking down over a panacea of a city, sky and sea.
One day we venture into the village to wander amongst markets and churches and wrangle with street vendors for knock-off handbags. Another day is lost to the terrace and pool and the hot. I eat strawberries that taste of summer and oranges made of sunshine. My body becomes golden.
Another evening, I find myself with the East Coast group, floating on a boat in the Mediterranean, gazing at the striations in rocky cliffs and multi-coloured shoals. I sneak to the back of the boat, and as I watch the churning wake of waves and bubbles, I wonder how it is that I came to be on this boat in Spain with a group of people I’d known for hardly a few days who’d welcomed me into their world as if one of their own.
Truth is, I don’t know.
Saturday, May 20, midnight. The hotel.
Love-struck with Spain and the warmth extended by all I’d met through the week, my wish is that perhaps the Cinderella magic might go on forever, but real life beckons.
I have to be home for my brothers, who will arrive in Halifax in the next couple days for my graduation, and oh yes, there is the Duncan shed leakage to deal with and temperature issues to resolve, and more importantly, the work of finding work, post-graduation. And so it is that I will leave tomorrow morning, a full day ahead of everyone else.
Tonight, like all the evenings in Mallorca, the group gathers en mass for the playing of piano and guitars and to hear voices of Jim Cuddy and Barney Bentall and Tom Cochrane, the musical guests in Mallorca.
Facing this sojourn’s imminent end, I still don’t understand why of all people, I am the one to be in Spain. But maybe that bit doesn’t matter much. Maybe all that matters is that for an entire week everything had ying’d and yang’d perfectly.
My roomie and I had joked with each other about who had taken the greater risk, me in saying yes or him in asking me to go. Really, we’d both set aside logic for a leap of faith and trust in a friendship, barely begun. Whether the trip might be a building block for a longer friendship or whether it ends up a crazy when-I-went-to-Spain story to tell to my future grand-kids, well, if life as a runaway has taught me anything, it’s to embrace what a moment brings, without expecting a single thing more from it.
Sunday, May 21, noon. Barcelona-EI Prat Airport.
Impossible. That can’t be my seat because the one next to it happens to be occupied by a ridiculously handsome man of my vintage who is extremely fit. I double-check the seat assignment on my boarding pass and yup, miracle of miracles, it is.
“Oh, this is your seat?” the man asks, waving his hand to the empty spot, and when I nod yes, he shakes my hand with a two-handed sandwich grips. “I’m Mark. I’ll be beside you for the next nine hours, and you know, we can get to know each other.”
Okay… And then he gets up, grabs my bag and finds an empty spot to stow it while I settle into my seat. Still feeling little bit pleasantly surprised at the situation, doesn’t a second handsome, fit man trot down the aisle and stop at our seats.
“Paul,” says Mark to the fellow, “Meet Karalee. She’s my seat mate for the flight.”
Paul tells me if I need anything at all, just holler, and ya, isn’t there another and another and another and holy moly, the men are arriving like bees to honey. Hello! Did I just fall asleep and wake up as honey? First of all, I have never sat beside a handsome friendly fellow of my age on a flight, let alone been surrounded by a posse.
Before the plane takes off and I have to switch phone to airplane mode, I tap out a quick text to roomie still back in Mallorca…
Me: Boarded the TO leg. Gotta tell you I have been girl blessed for the first time in my life on a flight and just telling cuz it is hilarious. Surrounded by beautiful men who were here for biking tour.
Him: LOL! Enjoy the scenery😊
PS Tis true that anyone who makes their way into my hula hoop risks appearing in a post. I do make this clear at the outset, though I am happy to keep identities on the down-low. My Spain-pal certainly knows of the writing of this missive, but as I stink at coming up with pseudonyms, so I decided to christen him the ever-creative ‘roomie.’
PPS Wanna watch me as I bumble about from adventure to adventure (cuz is never ends)? Follow me in Instagram… at same handle, karaleeofnofixedaddress.
Barcelona photo ops…
And of course… Flamenco dancing…
Mallorca photo ops…
…on the deep blue sea.
One night, listening to the fellas…