Sunday, June 9, 2013

Shelf Life

People come to Spain and say they are searching for Hemingway´s Spain.  What exactly are they looking for beyond the bulls running in the streets of Pamplona which really is a fairly silly thing to do and most injuries and death occur because people slip in cow patties and then the bulls run over you.  (something the government prefers not to reveal).

The other day at about eleven a.m. we were getting up late and had just had a pastry and coffee, then decided to stop in a local pintxos bar.   It was filled with morning customers.  Some out on the street, smoking as they sip their coffee.  Which you know they think they should be doing inside.  Inside the room is dark, musty, with sides of ham hanging from the ceiling and little plastic cups stuck into the bottom to collect the dripping grease.  We grab our coffee and head outside and that is when I stumble upon what for me marks the real Spain.

There is a little shelf.  It´s just a small, varnished piece of wood, hammered into the side of the bar.  But this is where you can rest your beer, your glass of txacoli, your espresso as you sip on the street and talk to your friends, make out with your lover, pet a dog, hang out with your father.  It is so simple and yet it´s message is clear.  It says pause.  Take your time.  This is what it means to be alive and in the world.  No one is staring into his laptop.  There is no silence. There are just people, hanging out, laughing, jammering away.  All because of a shelf.

I began to notice them everywhere.  Almost all the bars and cafes have a window that opens to the outside and from here the barista serves you your drinks.  On nice days and rainy days these Basque and Spanish people stand outside, resting their drinks on a shelf.  I have come to covet this invention and I know once I am home I´m going to yearn for it the way I´m going to yearn for the little ceramic cups in which your morning coffee is served and not the take out styrofoam.

What is the difference bt. the culture that offers ceramic cups and little shelves and the one that doesn´t?.  The former implies a place where the goal of all of this is to talk to your friends.  The latter where the goal is to keep walking, don´t delay.  You might be late.  You´ll miss god knows what that probably didn´t matter in the first place.

So I have found my inner Hemingway in the form of this shelf.  Spain exists in its pauses, its sipping, its endless chatter.  In the country where I come from people sit in cafes, staring into their laptops.  Here solitude is for when we are alone.  The rest is for road trips and trysts and insurrections.  And having a beer or two with old friends as you rest your glass upon a little shelf.

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