I sit and rehearse my line: "Té con hielo como ella," and I nod my head or point my finger (I leave it to the moment of inspiration to decide) to the woman seated directly in front of me who has just ordered an iced tea. Meanwhile the British couple to my left, sitting in mirrored aisle seats furiously discuss what she will order him over the drink cart, her head popping up, a blonde cherubic whackamole, his weighty sullenness annoyed by the exertion. He wants her to order him an Estrella, pronouncing it with no hint of an ultimate "yuh." The flight attendant is typical of the Spaniard women I've seen in the last 24 hours. Something about the eyes and chin and front teeth perfectly formed by the gentle erosion of life long lisping.
I am a slave to Spanish beauty. In no city have I been do I find myself so full of astonishment as Barcelona. The woman washing the street late at night. Do they know they've hired such a gorgeous woman to schlep around a hose dressed in bulky overalls at midnight? Our waitress at dinner. Does she know she looks like a movie star? I follow three women for a couple blocks each, just staring, trying to sort out if they are real.
There are many places for a middle aged white man to feel the full shame of his splotched and flaking pinkness, sloppily thrust forward in a mottled and piecemeal hair suit. For me, most of these places come amidst tropicality and the seal-like grace of sleek almondine bodies. In Barcelona I feel a different lack of measurement: a lack of suaveness, more cultural than physical deficit.
These thoughts tilt my head down for a moment, averting the possibility that the stewardess would read my esteem. While I gather them close, and practice my delivery, I am caught by anticipation, the cart slipping down two rows beyond me, leaving me thirsty and bereft of the script I need to set it right.
I have been in Europe for a week, filming soccer in Amsterdam and visiting friends in Barcelona and London. One can wear a New York badge in Europe that offers entre to conversations one might be sniffed out of hailing from a more quaint U.S. address. There is a respect for New York that perhaps goes beyond its due. Reading this essay in T Magazine by Edmund White I think about how shallow my own generation's aspiration surely is. Laughing at this mess, I shake my head at the realization that my brain plays multiple perverse roles in an ongoing internal tragicomedy.
Granted, when we showed up on the scene we had no idea what the scene was. We only knew we were in New York, on a grimy and dangerous street with an exposed brick wall in our apartment. We only knew we had to pay our month to month rent and find the jobs and plug into the system we'd come here for. And that, maybe, is the downfall. The system was here. We didn't make it, pave it, define it. We stumbled into it and sunk our teeth right in when we knew it was ripe. And it was ripe at the time, full of the necessarily fading but still eerily incandescent lights of those who'd come before.
I will always be grateful for the chance to rub elbows and look into the eyes of these apparitional inspirations. They are leaving by nature and nurture, heading off to the grave or away from it, depending on your point of view.
And we are left behind to scratch our heads and ask "what do I do next?" At least I can still wear my badge.