The open road


Here we are at the beginning of a new year.  The time of year when plans are conceived and resolutions are made.  We shake off the disappointments of last year and dream of possibilities.

Like a traveler on the eve of a trip, we are full of anticipation.  Our senses are heightened.  We see, hear, smell, touch and taste with childlike intensity.

It is the time of year when courage visits us, kicks the chair from under us and propels us to explore new realms.  Listen to her and travel the open road.

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.”           – Rainer Maria Rilke


The rain in Spain

Several months ago, I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of loud drumming.  My hazy brain still full of dreams tried to make sense of the racket.  Is someone banging on my door?  Did my neighbor suddenly take up the drums? Am I still dreaming?

It took another minute or two before full consciousness set in.  My neighbor wasn’t playing the drums.  No one was at the door. The sounds came from right outside my bedroom window.

Heavy rains rattled against the metal body of the air conditioner like the tapping of typewriter keys. The steady pitter-patter of the rain and the gush of water flowing down the drains hypnotized me.

Last year in April, it rained everyday for almost a week. Every morning, I woke up to raindrops hitting the cobblestone streets of a small village in Andalusia.  After a long and snowy winter in New York, I was looking forward to warm and sunny days in Competa, a whitewashed hill town in the south of Spain. Instead, we were rained out in an ancient stone house with no central heating, 2,000 feet above sea level.

I spent every morning in Competa staring out the kitchen window and wishing away the rain.  Like a sulky child,  you could almost hear me chant, “rain, rain go away, come again another day.”

With barely enough heat inside the house, I whiled away the long afternoons up on the covered roof terrace, where it was warmer during the day.  I read books.  I ate meals. I wrote. I ate some more and wrote some more.

The rain didn’t diminish the view of the mountains that surrounded the village.  On those rare occasions when the skies did clear up, albeit momentarily, I saw the Mediterranean.

Some nights, we braved the slippery streets of Competa to venture down to the local bar. Rainwater flowed from the highest point of the village like miniature waterfalls that followed us down the steep steps to the Plaza Almijara.

Bar Perico became our haven in Competa.  We sat outside when the rain cleared or at the bar next to locals and ate boquerones fritos or jamon serrano topped off with red sangria.

Several rainy days in a row in a sleepy hill town brought on cabin fever.  Driving on narrow, winding, cliff-hugging roads in the rain seemed like a bad idea but one day we braved the slippery roads and drove to the neighboring villages.  We went to the beach in Nerja where we ate delicious seafood and walked along the Balcon de Europa. We also ventured to Frigiliana another mountain village a few miles away.

But, most of the time on those long drizzly days with nothing to do, we stayed put. Up there on the terrace under the tin roof, I listened to the rain.

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

-Langston Hughes

Breakfast at Bar Al Parlamento

This is how you start your day in Venice,  you open the windows and shutters of your rented apartment overlooking the Cannaregio canal.  Sunlight enters the living room and the whirring sounds of boat motors and the clink of cups from the cafe downstairs invades your sleepy consciousness. The cafe aromas seep in, waking you up.

Walking barefoot across the smooth Venetian mosaic floor, you feel the sun start to warm the tiles.  It’s time for your morning café.

You walk downstairs to Bar Al Parlamento.  Inside the small bar, you order café and brioche while the local next to you drinks his glass of red wine.  It’s 9 a.m.  After placing an order, you walk outside and take a seat canal-side.  Sit with the sun at your back and take in the view of the Venetian traffic on the canal.

You’ll see the number 52 vaporetto on its way to Murano, mostly occupied by tourists.  As you watch them return your gaze, you almost feel sorry for them.  They’re about to spend a lot of money on hand-blown glass just as you did the other day.

As the vaporetto passes by, the waves ripple out behind the boat, sparkling as it reflects light from the sun.  As the water ebbs and reaches the edge of the canal, the parked boats sway with the waves. After a few minutes, the owner of the bar brings your café.  You take a bite of the sweet brioche, the perfect foil for the bitter café. You sip your café and watch the world go by.

Cannaregio is a Venetian neighborhood where locals live and work.  Some parts of it far enough from Piazza San Marco and other tourist attractions that you often find quiet places.  In this corner of Cannaregio, locals outnumber the tourists.

A man drives by on his boat, his dog, a spaniel of some sort, perfectly balanced on the boat’s bow.  They stop nearby and begin to back up into a spot that can barely fit his boat, parallel parking Venetian-style. They both jump off and walk away, on their way to do an errand, you suppose.

Across the canal, a man pulls up in his boat stacked with several boxes.  He unloads some and drops them off at the office supply store.

By this time, you realize it’s getting late.  If you were truly a tourist, you would have been out and about standing in line at the Basilica or the Palazo Ducale instead of lingering over your coffee and savoring a slow morning in la Serenissima so, you ask the waitress for the bill, “il conto per favore.”

Then, three nonnas (grandmothers) arrive and take the seats at the next table.  One of them is sporting designer sunglasses.  You spend a few minutes listening to their rapid-fire Italian punctuated with elaborate hand gestures. The more they talk, the more you’re sorry you didn’t learn Italian. Whatever they’re talking about, no doubt it’s scandalous.

Now, it’s time to go.  You pay your bill and start to walk away.  You’re sorry to leave and miss the rest of the nonnas’ tableside tales. You envy them.  They have it all, breakfasts at Bar Al Parlamento, gossiping girlfriends and Gucci sunglasses.

Bar al Parlamento
Fondamente San Giobbe 511
Sestieri Cannaregio, Venezia