Dès Vu: The Awareness That This Will Become A Memory
I have to reflect on the fact that we returned from this trip on the 25th of September and I am just now on January 16th (a snow day, so no work) posting my first journal of this trip. Why have I waited so long? Well in part, I installed and exhibited photographs for my group show "Esthesia" within two weeks of my return (some of which were madly edited, printed, matted, and framed prints from this trip) as well as preparing for the accompanying lecture and critique at my Alma Matter. I came back to a fast pace at work, a visit from my grandmother, a short trip back to family in Texas, and then the holidays. In essence, I was busy.
The second answer to my delay, was that in a way, it made me sad. Presenting this intimate and long-desired experience meant accepting it as a memory--a thing of the past. I find myself immensely jealous of Europeans because a trip to a vastly different country with different languages, cultures, arts, foods, and so much more is a short and comparably inexpensive drive or plane ride away. For Americans, it's something we have to heavily budget for, request off work for (we don't get as many vacation days), plan for (we likely don't know multiple languages, while many of our European friends are experts from long years of practice starting in elementary school).
I'm jealous because I've had a taste of this traveling life from the ages of nine to thirteen when I lived abroad with my family in the Czech Republic. I've had the best of both worlds, and it makes me hyper aware that Americans don't and can't prioritize travel in the same way other countries do. I am so grateful that I was finally able to take this long dreamed of trip.
This is a trip that I have wanted to take for about ten years. I’ve been infatuated with the culture since my first Spanish course at a high school dual credit program at Blinn Community College in Texas when I was seventeen. Ms. Richarz, our teacher, was in her forties and had adopted her daughter from China on her own, which, in a rural town was noticeable as out of the ordinary--independent. Ms. Richarz was barely 4’ 10”, had delicate silver glasses and dark, tightly coiled hair worn either short or in a bun (either one couldn’t quite tell, or perhaps I can't quite remember), and she always seemed to be wearing the same pale blue mumu. I loved her.
She captivated me with tales of Barcelona, Seville, Granada, Madrid. She introduced me to Antonio Gaudí, Catalonia, the Prado, the Alhambra Palaces, and the lust to travel there. Now, at twenty-six and holding my first job that offered paid vacation, I decided to ransack my savings and to see this country for myself.
I embarked with Umar, my boyfriend of three years. We debated our flight schedule for a long time and finally settled on an eight hour layover in Belfast Ireland. Umar had never experienced the long flight over the ocean as an adult and was at once anxious and curious about the seven hours of captivity as we flew.
I remember Umar being so frustrated that Norwegian Airlines didn’t have TVs--most international flights would. About two hours into the flight previously invisible TVs popped out of the ceiling only to play in-loop claymation shorts about a stuffed bear for the entire remaining length of the flight. Our seatmate, a Brazilian named Gustavo, enjoyed a good laugh at the show while Umar good-naturedly fumed.
Gustavo was backpacking across the world. He had come from North America and was headed towards Israel. He also had a lengthy layover in Belfast, so we decided to explore together. I remember deplaning and seeing the massive literal backpack Gustavo hoisted laboriously onto his shoulders. It was at least two and a half feet high and looked to weigh fifty pounds. Gustavo saw me looking, shook his head, and said he would never again carry an actual backpack on such a trip.
After going through customs, we passed through baggage claim and noticed a girl who had been on the last two flights with us and who also had a significant layover. We approached her about venturing into Belfast by bus and she joined our newly formed exploration crew. Isabelle explained she was taking a year off from NYU and was on her way to Italy for her brother’s wedding. She would afterwards go to Sweden to become an au pair.
We exited the airport to a drizzle that would strengthen to a downpour in the city and boarded a double-decker bus where we had front row seats at the top to see the grey landscape and occasional clusters of wet sheep as we passed by. The airport employee who sold us out bus passes recommended we go to St. George’s Market, a monthly indoor (thank goodness) food bazaar that was taking place that Sunday.
Once inside, we were instantly warmed (the cold was already the first indication that Umar and I had not brought enough layers for our September trip) and visually devoured all the booths and their enticing wares. I settled on a savory crepe and a hot cup of coffee and the four of us enjoyed the all woman band playing in the center of the market. I remember Isabelle pulling out wooden travel utensils from her backpack for the soup she had ordered and thinking, impressed, that she knew how to travel.
When the band finished playing, we approached them to say how much we enjoyed the show. After talking and explaining where we were from and where we were headed, the guitarist admitted she had traveled through Birmingham Alabama once before, but only because their bus from Tennessee had broken down en route to their next gig. They recommended a few bars for us to check out while we were in Belfast.
When we left the market, the rain had stopped and the sun had appeared strong. We walked the few blocks to Muriel’s Pub, scouring each street we passed with curiosity. The inside of the pub was small and dark with expensive bras hanging from string lights on the ceiling. We ordered Guinness on draft and took them to the patio to dry our damp jackets and shoes in the mid-day sun.
About halfway through our drinks, we noticed two women who had just sat at the table beside us whispering and pointing at our table. Eventually the brunette leaned over and said,
“Hello there. I couldn’t help but notice that you have a camera.” and gestured to me. “We were actually supposed to go and get our picture taken today, but didn’t get ready and came to get pissed here instead.” She clasped the stem of a fish bowl sized drink of clear fizzy liquid with chunks of fruit settling at the bottom.
“You see, we run a botox clinic, and we were supposed to get our picture taken for our new flyer. I don’t suppose you could take a picture for us to use?”
I took the picture. They bought us another round of Guinness and recommended we get our pints with a splash of black currant, which upon sipping I immediately remembered with regret having tasted this combination once before on a prior trip to Dublin. It was overly sweet, but we sipped them and scooched our two tables close together. Sophia, the brunette, and Brenda the blond, telling us of northern Ireland, slurring, asking about our trip. Isabelle mentioned she was thinking of swinging by Portugal at some point.
“Ohhh,” Sophia says. “You must. I have a flat there, in Lisboa. You let me know when you’re going and I’ll tell you where the key is. All of you--all of you should go, stay in my flat. You’d love it!”
After we grew comfortable in our conversation, I finally worked up enough nerve to ask them. "Do you know the show Absolutely Fabulous?" They immediately knew where I was going with this and Sophia began scrolling through her phone.
“Honey, we dressed up as Eddie and Patsy last Halloween. We LOVE them.”
We talked for awhile longer and then noted sadly that we needed to catch a bus back to the airport. Gustavo had a later flight but Isabelle, Umar, and I began walking towards the nearest bus station.
We saw the bus pulling up ahead at our stop and, wary of the time, we ran towards it. Upon rolling his window down in the middle of the street to speak with us, the driver explained that this was the wrong bus stop and that ours was in the opposite direction. Now, we really were short for time and ran, crazed, to the next station. We waited anxiously only to realize that the bus would get us there too late, so we hailed a cab.
At the airport, we parted ways with Isabelle and boarded our next flight into Malaga at the South of Spain.
While we waited at the gate, Gustavo sent us this shot from Muriel’s patio: