Saturday, September 29, 2012

The city remembers everything

Back in San Francisco. Three new restaurants on Valencia Street, and the city is rubbing up against all my raw places. Just like home.

It's sunny and perfect and I walk through Dolores Park, everyone seems younger and hipper than I remember, there's a new fantasy of a play structure in the middle of the park, if I was a kid I'd know I'd found paradise. I walk all around the park and see again my other selves, I see the night when I stood at the upper corner and looked out at the city and every bright light was in me, I see the residue of past sins, the park remembers all of it. Just like home.

Like home, this place knows me and all my vulnerable spots, it knows me but still brushes off a seat for me at the bar.

I have my nails done, and the women petting my hands and feet ask where I've been. Tho shakes a finger, says I need to come see them more often. The place belongs entirely to women, even the kid running barefoot on the tile is a girl, it's getting dark outside but in here the lights are on and we compare nail colors or don't talk at all, it's safe here in our single-sex ark.

It's almost a year since I set off on my travels, and I still don't know where home is, unless it's here at the keyboard, there in the darkest corner of my suitcase. My Oxford English Dictionary and my father's artwork and the couch I bought not so long ago wait patiently in storage and I don't yet feel roots sprouting from my feet, but maybe that's because I haven't kept them still.

This place will do for a while. As much home as Barcelona, as Brooklyn, as Middletown, as Tangier, as Peterborough. As much home as Utah, with a memory almost as long.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

From the top

The day begins at the top of a mountain in Andalucia. No, it's already too much. I'm defeated, have been defeated, months now I'm defeated. But I have to begin. Why not on a mountaintop? The village where I've stayed for just over a week, and I know half the village, have finished the draft of a strange piece that's been my companion for many months. Time for something else.

Jose picks me up, then, and we wind down the mountain roads, goodbye to the white village and its Moorish arches, goodbye to the herd of sheep that block the road, the lovely people I've met. Jose soon learns the limits of my Spanish, so we're quiet as we go, quiet for an hour, more, until we pass through Mar Bella, and Jose points at the blackened mountainside. "Fuego," he says. Wildfires devoured these mountains last month, a vast field of black with a single tree, the leaves bright autumnal orange. But as we drive, I see the leaves aren't turning with the season, they've been burned that color. One tree is brilliant rust on one half, a swollen, tender green on the other. Other trunks are black halfway up, then white and leafless.

There's a spill of green down a slim valley between two black hillsides. The green is lush and violent and nearly obscene. 

"Fuego," says Jose, again. "Fuego."

And then and then I'm in Tarifa on the street. I ask someone in Spanish for directions, but he shrugs. No habla Espanol. But I hear an accent. Vous parlez Francais? I ask. He is thrilled to meet someone who speaks French, and he tells me where I can catch the ferry - he's driving onto the same one. I get to limber up my French with Johnny the truck driver on the ferry, and I go outside in the wind and get my first glimpse of Tangiers, my first glimpse of Africa, I feel like I'm fourteen years old.

The B&B is tiny, a dollhouse, exquisite stained glass and inlaid wood doors and rich fabrics. A slot door and a big step down to my dollhouse bathroom. The proprietors are Americans, former New Yorkers and Key Westers, generous and in love with Tangier. They take me on a small walking tour of the city and they know everyone on the street, It's a small town, they say. You almost stop believing that New York exists, they say, and I see what they mean, this city and New York belong in different stories.

I cover my shoulders and walk the city and speak French and Spanish and English and try my two words of Arabic and I follow my host's eccentric directions - turn left at the blue Telebanco, pass the golden door, don't go up the stairs, don't go into the lion's mouth - to wind through the Medina and find my way home in the soft night.