Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cadiz *

Dear Reader, I have so much to catch you up on. I have been busily living and experiencing and way over thinking as I am want to do. I have just returned this week from a trip overseas which will be the subject of several subsequent blogs, I am certain. But since I do not want to overwhelm, I will start with one of the best experiences of my single married girl existence. I went on a cruise to Europe; well actually I met the boat in Europe. I made it to the boat only 15 minutes before they pulled away from the dock, but that is another story. But I am going to relate a few tales out of order because my day in Cadiz was such an extraoridnary encapsulation of everything I am trying to accomplish with my new found freedom that I feel it warrants highlighting. This was actually the first time I have ever traveled abroad alone. I was on a cruise so I was with many people but I was traveling alone and so it was a great experiment. I have been attempting to have a solo adventure for three years. I didn’t know how I would feel about it and I was worried that I would be lonely with only myself to occupy my interest. What a silly thought.

Our second shore excursion was Cadiz, Spain. Now I had met a woman on the cruise who had been to Cadiz several times and assured me there really wasn’t anything to see. I’d be much better off taking a taxi to a couple of the nearby villages and doing a winery tour. So I got off the boat with this intention in my head and as I stepped from the gangplank, I thought, “I’ve never been to Cadiz. What’s to say that I won’t find something of interest?” I spotted a Hop On/Hop Off bus depot just beyond the port and made a beeline-this being my only plan of attack for the day. So 15 euro later I am off on my single day adventure in Spain. I toured around for about a half an hour on the bus, when I got the feeling I should disembark at the castle. I don’t know why but I followed my gut to the street. The castle was beautiful with a long walkway which went out several hundred yards into the Sea of Cadiz. To the right, a little seaport of brightly colored fishing boats, to the left, fishermen and swimmers and just below the sea, a Roman street. I walked all the way out to the castle, which was closed for renovations, all the while taking pictures of the water, the swimmers, the fishermen. I caught the eye of a swimmer, smiled and waved and continued on. I got the idea that I wanted to climb out on the rocks and take pictures of myself, which actually turned out better than I expected.

As I sat on the rocks, the swimmer whom I had exchanged a momentary glance with, came over. “Madonna”, he said. Of course I melted at that. “You speak English?” he asked. Upon my confirmation, he offered to take my picture having noticed that I was alone. We struck up a conversation and it turned out he was a stage manager from France on sabbatical in Cadiz. He was in love with the city and all too happy to share with a stranger all the joys of this little sea town. He tells me about the bar I should visit and the restaurant where I can get the freshest fish in Cadiz…he points to the fishermen and says they are fishing for the restaurant he is recommending. We took out my map and he shows me about where the bar is and says they open about 1 pm. It was around 11 am so I thanked him and headed on my way, got back on the bus and continued my little tour.

Lunched back on board the ship, and about 1:30 pm I decided to try and find the bar that he had told me about. I wandered the backstreets of Cadiz a bit lost (which is ok, because I relish getting a little lost anywhere new I go) until I found it. La Manteca. I walked in and say, with my very limited Spanish, “recommendo de Gigi!?!”.

“Ahhh, Gigi,” went the cry. It was like the Spanish Cheers. And in fact it turns out this is a famous bar in Cadiz, owned by a former matador so the bar is filled with bullfighting memorabilia. I order my vino rojo de casa and a couple of tapas off the menu. I recognized chorizo and bonito (it is a fish, though I ordered it because I thought it meant beautiful man and that seemed like a great idea at the time). I also ordered cheese which required explanation and gesticulation since I forgot that queso means cheese.

So I was sitting, enjoying my wine and tapas, and taking in the sights and sounds that La Manteca had to offer when in walks Gigi. The room once again fills with choruses of “Gigi”, “Hola, mi amigo”, Bueno”. I raise my eyes and give a wave. He smiles and walks over and begins to introduce me to everyone in the bar, all of whom he knows.

We sit and chat until I finish my tapas and he finishes his drink and then he asks me if I still want to go to the restaurant for the fish. Well, he has yet to steer me wrong so I happily agree and we set off. The restaurant is but a block away so he says he will walk me over and translate to the owner, who is a friend of his. And then he sits down. We are joined by the famous flamenco guitarist whom I previously met at the bar, his female companion and her angry little dog. The restaurant owner gives a quick chorus of a lovely Spanish strain to the guitarist and they start to talk. I follow much of the conversation until at once they all laugh and look at me. My new acquaintance says he will translate. “My friend says he feels very badly that the beautiful lady is eating only bread and drinking only water because I am too busy chatting to cook her fish.” We all laugh again and he heads into the kitchen returning with the best fish I have ever tasted.

As we continue Gigi looks at his phone, then my watch and asks, “What time did you say you had to be back?” “Five,” I reply. “Your watch is wrong,” he says. I explain to him that I am on ship’s time and he assures me that I am not and that we must leave immediately. In fact, I will not make it if I take the bus so he offers to walk me back to the ship as he knows a shorter route. I apologize for completely disrupting his day and he just laughs and says if I miss the boat we will take his car to Lisbon in the morning. As we continue towards the boat, he stops and says he has a present for me; an amazing feat considering we had met only hours before. And yet, he withdraws from his pocket a handful of sea glass, plucked from the ocean floor that very morning when first we made eye contact. He fills my palm with sea glass and little shells, kisses me on either cheek and wishes me well as he heads back and I run for the ship. It is now 4:15 pm. I spend the last 30 minutes in the port of Cadiz thinking about the serendipity that had to have been at play to make such a day possible. And I hear in my head, over and over, “there is nothing worth seeing in Cadiz.” It is only the second stop of our journey.