Sunday, December 26, 2004

Bitter Almonds

Taberna Venencia MadridTaberna La Venencia, Calle Echegaray 7

He taught me how to drink the fino manzanilla properly: place the rim of the glass at the edge of your pursed lips, tilt your head back and let it pass directly to your throat. I wanted it to linger on my tongue, as with most other wines, and failed miserably to keep the sherry from missing the upper and lower clefts of my palate.

Our table was at back of the cramped bar, surrounded by posters of bullfights and enormous wooden barrels that held the dry, golden liquid from Andalucía. I sat across the writer while nibbling almonds and slowly taking in his tired expression. Life had dealt him a sore slap on both cheeks with the death of loved ones and later his own illness – all within a span of three years. His sense of time was different than mine. He had passed beyond death and returned. On this evening, I counted the minutes almond by almond, sip by sip of the fino, carried away by his lyrical cadences on the relative absurdity of our situation.

He tried to seduce me with words, this verbal Don Juan, but I could not play the role of transient muse, for I am also a writer and see through the veil of my circumstances -- two lonely souls sharing half a bottle of fino manzanilla and the bitter taste of unrequited love. We would never be lovers.

We walked arm in arm down the deserted Calle Echegaray, silent and floating. At the corner of the Calle Atocha I realized that my watch, a beautiful, handmade silver timepiece, had unclasped from my wrist.

I wasn’t surprised. I always lose my watch at the beginning of a trip. Usually it makes its way to the bottom of a suitcase somehow, to be rediscovered when I return home. But I knew this watch was lost to me for good, because I had recovered time, his time, the time that neither of us, in transit to death, could measure with the mechanics of a clock.

I kissed him quickly on the cheek just before crossing the stile. The last train to Villanueva was waiting below on the track. He said I was cruel. We smiled knowingly at each other as I passed into the darkness of the night. His muse had become eternal and the taste of almonds had become sweet.

No comments: