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California, New Zealand. Two passports, two homelands. And detours.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

This one night? In Malaga?

Three weeks ago, I was emptying out my hiking pack on a lawn, in front of a hotel room in Manapouri, and I found something I thought I had lost.

It was dark and my pack smelled of garbage juice that had dripped down to the bottom. I ripped my sleeping bag out and spread it on a patio chair outside the sliding door and gave the pack a shake. Plastic mugs with dried coffee grounds stuck at the bottom, a headlamp, a soggy diary and a few other things I couldn't identify hit the ground then fell away into the dark.

I've been back in New Zealand a month now. When I shower I'll still look at my belly and see the sunburn I got that last week on the deck in Santa Ynez - the week that was so hot you just wanted to walk around in a t-shirt and flip flops, and sip gin and tonic with limes in a fold-out chair forever - I'd watch it fade a little bit, night after night.

In the morning I zip up a dirty red down jacket with a piece of duck tape over a rip on the right sleeve. It's dark by 5. What I do see in the landscape is as piercing as ever to me - a wintry overlay on the late summer/early autumn I left behind in April. But since I'd been back here, if I see any magazine covers at grocery store markets with any beach or sun or girls in sunglasses, I turn away and look at something else.

That night inManapouri I felt around on the ground, in the grass and my hands wandered around picking up pens and coins and a few gross, damp, garbage juiced wads of something, and then my fingers roamed across it, and I just sat back on my haunches for a second and thought of course I'd find this tonight. And I even wondered if I should just throw it quickly back in my pack.

But I did pick it up, and I wondered how it had gotten so lost, and I flicked it open, just like I did that one night at a cafe, in Malaga, on the beach, wearing my gold sandals, lip gloss and a silvery summer dress with little pieces of copper embedded in the neckline.

I remember taste of the sweet wine my cousin loved, and thinking how beautiful she looked with her fiance beside her. The warm night air, the bread baskets, the bacarones, more sweet wine that led to morning and me in a churreria, chin on hands, watching the slow delicious drip of espresso filling a tiny glass with gold through red blurry eyes.

There were the days leading up to the wedding - the arrival of guests from around the world, sitting in hotel lobbies with the sea just there, and a drink just here, expressing myself with lots of big hand gestures like I was still speaking another language. Washing out the same dress in the sink of the apartment above the streets and the ocean every night with pomegranite and tangerine shampoo and drying it on the balcony so I could wear it the next morning to sit in hotel lobbies again.

Then those go-to-hell black velvety heels that nearly split my feet as I tried to stride over coblestones to the church on that last evening, then gave up and just ran barefoot up the steps, then slipped them back on in the pews to look tall. And how hours later, my cousin's new sister-in-law danced flamenco in heels twice as high as mine and then my cousin pulled her long white dress over one arm and the two of them dragged everyone out onto the floor and the music changed and suddenly we were all doing the electric slide to Friends in Low Places.

And getting off a bus hours later: my aunt, mother of the bride, still stunning as she took my uncle's arm as the sky over the streetlamps exploded in streaks of pink as he took off his cowboy hat. My other cousin held the bouquet; her boyfriend loosened his bright pink bowtie and I walked in front of all of them down the street, walking backwards, looking at them and thinking this was just like Christmas dinner when we were kids, except better and in Spain, and I was carrying my heels in one hand and a fluttering red fan in the other hand...

I flicked the fan shut.

In Manapouri it was beautiful, starry winter night - you look at the sky here and you just think lonesome. I dropped the fan in the pack and drew it closed; put my gloves back on and pulled my hat down almost to my eyes. I headed towards the pub to check the weather report on the news even though I knew it was going to be gloomy.

But that fan. It was like a love letter you keep finding and stashing away somewhere weird to surprise yourself when you're lonely.
There is no comfort for the cold and endless darkness here now except hot water bottles.

But there was this one time? In Malaga?...

A traveller's blessing: From a bleak, cold place, I wish everyone a hot-blooded, wild red Spanish fan falling out of your garbage-juiced, half-frozen hiking pack this winter.