Nerja

Nerja

A Chapter by Nicholas Andriani
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This is an altered version of a stage shortly after I arrived in Spain--after a month in Morocco.

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I woke to an orchestra of bed noises. A hostellers soundtrack of snores and grunts and none of this played well to the dizzying aftermath of my late night rendezvous with cheap Spanish beer. I sat up on my elbows and turned over to one side, then the other, stretching a knot in my back. I caught the time, a moment of panic, remembering that I planned to meet the Belgians at ten/10 in the lobby. Thirty minutes from now.  


Lying there, I couldn’t help but wonder if their invite wasn’t just some drunken feel-good charity. Despite my hesitation to take this dance with these beautiful strangers I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to break away into the Costa del Sol. So I moved stuffing everything into my rucksack, hot shower, hitting the lobby at 10 sharp. Paul, the Coloradan, cucumber munching hippie had his head down over the bar at a lone stool across the open room. I raided the kitchen of corn flakes and charred toast, a glass of bitter coffee, peeking out in the lobby every thirty seconds so as to not miss the girls passing by. I thought about calling Shay and planned on doing so by the end of the day. It had been so long since we had a chance to talk and I knew I was sabotaging my relationship. What scared me even more was the idea that I could call and she may break it off. It was in that fear I found it easier not to call. Choosing, instead, to drown these fears in the excitement of running off with these women whom I hardly had a chance to meet last night over cans of beer and serrano ham.


At about half past ten I felt foolish to have been waiting for them and when I finally decided to give up they materialized.  

“Guten tag,” I smiled. The taller woman with Oakleys introduced herself as Nadia and the other as Ingred.

“In case you don’t remember,” she said, nudging me. I didn’t. They’re an odd couple. Nadia, all sporty, quick, full of action while Ingrid moved with smooth calculation, inquisitive and thoughtful. (I grew to love the dynamic of these polar opposites.)

“So, where exactly are we going?” I admit to not having the clearest memory of the night before.

“Nerja, you know it?” I shake my head no at Nadia. “the Balcony of Europe. Beaches, caves, ice cream… ice cream.”

“Ice cream,” Ingred responded.

“Ice cream.” I agreed.

“It’s just,” Nadia said, “well absolutely lovely. Sort of an undiscovered coastal village. Like how you would expect to find Spain 20 years ago. You’ll love it.” This excites me considering all the towns I’ve visited in Spain have been beacons on the “radar.” We left our bags in lockers at the hostal and head toward the bus station. Because of all the construction in town they’re worried about our route and if we miss the next bus then they won’t have time to go at all because “Soon as we get back, we’re off to Granada. So, shall we?”


Outside the hostel, the streets are lined with designer shops over glossy marble tile. We measure each other out with jests and prodding questions, laughing about the night before in which we met over karaoke and warm beer.

Bystanders move to the tune of buskers, slowly, attentive under a light shower of Spanish spring. I’m one of them caught of guard by a man all done up like Marie Antoinette, parasol (Ingred calls it a brolly) and oversized lollipop, pseudo-erotic, not quite historical but hysterical. Then again, he’s nothing compared to the pirate toting a one eyed parrot, green, furious, half blind, half mad bird chatting up a storm in Spanish. Squeaky, probably-lewd streams of words ensued that had people laughing as I stood there, laughing along, digging everything around me and in the chaos of it all being separated from the girls for a moment. Ingred yelled my name in her beautiful accent, snapping me out of the spell and before I managed to break the scene something tight gripped my right shoulder--parrot talons. A blurred cloud of red and green surrounded my head and I thought that if I turned to the bird it would peck my eyes out so I stood rigid and, right eye half closed, head tilting away from the bird. All this panic as cameras snap, click, flash around me. Ingred giggling, Nadia off in her anxious way to the bus. I couldn’t care less, feeling little interest in schedules and consequences. Then again, it was my prerogative at that moment to free myself of the bird so I shook and jumped in quick motions sending feathers and a great shree from the half-blind bird into the air. Ingred laughed again, grabbing my wrist like a lost little boy and pulled me to the end of the block where we navigate construction sites, hopping through and around barricades to the bus stop where Nadia waited impatiently with our tickets. We wordlessly catch the first bus out.

“You forgot to tip the bird! This guy--” Ingred gasped, nudging me, “is cheap!”


As Malaga vanished on the horizon, hills rose out of the sea, green with orchards of grapes and oranges. Expansive farmlands give way to fishing villages, the Belgians talk among themselves in Dutch and I give the stinkeye to ugly greenhouses that litter the once broad horizon--dull and inorganic, continuing until rugged low mountains snuff them out. We move to prodding one another again--music, food, politics, nothing too sacred or off limits. The road jolts upwards and outside the Sierra de Tejeda climb into the skies, capped with snow, crawling northwest. Somewhere along the summit stands a tree well over a thousand years old--the European Yew--and when I mention this to the girls Nadia gives me the stinkeye and now I know what it feels like to be a greenhouse. Soon after we reach the seaside village called Nerja.


We pull up to a makeshift bus stop and I stepped off the bus onto a numb leg, having sat in an awkward position to be part of the girls conversation. Around us is a city park, where an old woman with wild gray hair stood in oversized trousers painting a scene with grand movements, strokes of genius, casting shadows of oils over canvas into coherent shapes. She’s painting the colorful city with wonky Picassoesque devotion. We make a circle of the park, taking in street signs, getting our bearings. As I started to open my mouth to suggest our next move, Nadia took a serious tone, gazing down at her guidebook, clutching it like a Bible speaking as if divinely inspired--

“--First, tapas. Then ice cream.” We all agree and take a seat at the first cafe along our route, in the Baroque shadow of the Church of El Salvador, and order a round of house wine. The bottle is strapped within a wicker basket like an old world jug of chianti and it pours dark pink with the strong aroma of berries. We toast to the sea and ourselves. The wine was overly sweet, like lightly fermented fruit juice. Shortly after a plate of tapas is dropped off at our table--sun dried fish over potato chips, drenched in the most pure green olive oil with a sprig of rosemary. We attack the plate without a word. Petit, crunchy bite-sized fish, grassy oil, lightly coating every morsel and it was one, two bites before the plate was a massacre of oil and rosemary. We ordered another glass of wine, polishing off the bottle and with that came a Spanish tortilla (omelette) swimming in oil, pockmarked by garlic cloves and peppers with flaky chunks of cod. Nadia jumped into conversation with the waiter as I smiled at the strangeness of this local delicacy, enjoying the plate. The fish is light, spicy though my senses were a little corrupted by the salted sun-dried fish before. Ingred was humming in pure delight and I told her about a similar dish in Morocco where they lather the tortilla in ketchup and mayo.  Nadia continues her conversation with the waiter and Ingred looks over to me, rolling her eyes, then I notice that Nadia’s flirting with the man (later I find that she’s quick to use her looks to compensate for bar tabs. Clever, insidious girl). I took this time to get to know Ingred.  

“What brings you here, to Spain?”

“She invited me,” she nodded towards Nadia, ”on this trip with her to Granada and that turned into a two-week road trip across Spain. That’s how we ended up in Malaga. Our next and last stop will be in Granada.”

“What’s in Granada?”

“What do you mean, like what to do?” I clarify, asking what’s in Granada for them. “--It’s this ERASMUS… eh, European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students.” I look at her blankly, not really streaming the words together in my head. “Kind of a union for students across the whole of Europe. Nadia is involved in event planning and that’s actually how all this began. Well us coming to Spain… I mean her coming to Spain, and I followed.” I asked if she’s part of ERASMUS or in Uni. She just graduated, a degree in history, following her parents footsteps.

“Beautiful! I’m studying pre-Islamic Arabia. Archaeology, actually.  I’m on something of a transients journey to the Middle East. I bought a one-way ticket to Morocco, sold my car, signed up for an excavation in Jordan and here I am on my way to Egypt/Jordan in  10 days”

“Wow that’s incredible... Are you an archaeologist? My Mum’s done work in Egypt, um, in Aswan. Historic preservation. Papa teaches history and they work circles around each other.” I tell her how beautiful that sounds and we talk about Moorish influence on Malaga and realize that we both took the same tour through the Alcazaba castle yesterday.

“Lovely,” Nadia joins in, the waiter had left unnoticed, “and did you hear about Bill Gates yacht in the harbor? HE wasn’t in Malaga but, still!” This didn’t interest me as much as the interrupted conversation Ingred and I were having. A heat wave began baking the backstreets and the alley in which we sat. Traffic had all but stopped and I realized that we were in the midst of a siesta and the thought made me yawn.


Drunk on indulgence we swayed across the cobbled Calle Inglesia (Church Street)  buzzed on cheap wine and still I wondered what I was doing with these women while thoughts of Shay danced across the back of my mind. A man bellowed out in operatic splendor and the sky reappeared opening to a promenade that is the Balcony of Europe. Palm trees wove a path to the sea, culminating in a lonely scene over the water where a figure looked out to the grey-blue Mediterranean. Pushing against the wind we came onto a circular plaza, flanked by cannons. At this point I could see that the person was nothing more than a weathered statue. Standing there, alone on the edge of the world, we yelled out in our native tongues to the phantoms across the sea and at Africa.

“Africa! Kaif-halak!” My voice broke the wind as Ingred and Nadia yelled out in Dutch.

“Completely wild that you can still see Africa from here…” I cupped my eyes, makeshift binoculars towards Africa.

“You know... that’s not Africa,” Ingred pointed to the purple mass on the horizon, explaining that it must be a ship because “you absolutely cannot see Africa from here.” Nadia chimed in, agreeing with Ingred and I agree, not wanting to argue with my new friends (as it turns out, you actually can NOT see Africa from this point in Spain). Nadia leafed through her trusty guidebook then began leading us through an impromptu history lesson. The Moors built a watchtower on this site in the 9th century to assert their dominance and maintain control over the relative sea. Over time the city fell into ruin, the Spaniards conquered the land and in 1812, over the Battle of Independence, the tower was destroyed by British battleships. The cannons that sit on either side of the Balcony were salvaged from the wreckage and now commemorate the war. In 1884, after a tragic earthquake laid waste to Nerja, the King, Alfonso XII, rode in and claimed this site as being “The balcony of Europe.” Though, the name was used long before this mustache-twirling King came along. When the Moors ruled, the town was known as Nerixa meaning abundant sprint, which is where the current name is derived. I realize that I had heard of Nerixa before in some forgotten Arab chronology of “Al-Andalus.” Despite my love for a good history lesson I was more impressed by the backdrop of mountains and the women in front of me than in the Balcony.


Ingred took to throwing pebbles into the sea and she dared me to jump in.

“Ah, that with cost you. What’s my reward? ‘Cause I can’t be bought like that, on cheap dares or peer pressure”

“Oh, OK, I didn’t know you American’s were such soft-eggs! But that’s OK!” She said with a laugh.

“Soft egg! How dare you!” I huffed, like an offended Victorian making the accusation more comical. “Soft-egg… That’s low, Ingred--”

“--Oh, you sissies!” Nadia cut in. “Race you there!” She bolted towards a stone path that I hadn’t noticed and we followed, taking jabs at each other, placing bets and dares as to who would jump into the water below.


Water, sand and stone meet head-on along the narrow beach. Massive trees and greenery create a canopy over the shoreline that give this place a special, remote feeling. Nadia was already down to her trunks when we hit the sand and it was clear that these women had planned on swimming all along. Ingred followed. I had on a pair of convertible pants and as I zipped off the lower legs it dawned on me that this beach is a European beach… and European beaches are known for topless women. The thought made me blush but they didn’t undress further. As they were getting settled I walked around the cove. There were overturned rowboats caked with dried barnacles and countless lawn chairs. We were the only ones out and it gave the feeling that we were trespassing. At the end of the beach was a cave, plastered white with a blue wooden door hinged to its entrance. And there were cats everywhere, mostly orange tabbies. I watched one run along a wake of water, swatting out little silver fish. Ingred and Nadia climbed one of the boulders below the Balcony and they waved at me to hurry over.


“One, two… three!” We yelled to comfort ourselves in solidarity and I cannonballed into the sea, into a wave of turquoise. The cold swallowed me whole like a giant sea monster. A frigid shock stole my breath and when I came to the surface there were a chorus of shrieks. The three of us crawled onto the beach like wet cats, stretching out across the hot pebbled shore.

“Why did we do this!” Nadia said

“You know, I think that was one of Hercules trials.” I say, absolutely straight faced. “Oh yea, jump into the Andalusian sea in early spring! We’re practically gods by our own right after that.” I laugh to myself.

“Still want ice cream, ladies? I asked, jokingly.

“Ice cream.” They they said with pleasure.

“And a bottle of garnacha” Ingred suggested.

I fell asleep in the warmth of the sun and woke dry, caked in sand in the sort of daze that only an afternoon nap can bring. The Belgians were sunbathing so I stood, stretched, and peeked around the ruined cliff where the old Muslim watchtower once stood to see if I could find anything in the sand. (This is a compulsive habit of mine that never rests when I’m on historical sights--always looking for something forgotten, something newly revealed.) Ingred asked what I was doing, and I explained this to her that along the coast in Texas, we used to go out after powerful storms to sweep the beaches for coins, for any wreckage that may have been revealed.

“Did you find anything,” she asked.

“Me… no not there. But, still it’s not that uncommon! I’ve SEEN plenty salvaged, just not by my hands! Stone tools, yes, pirate booty, no…”


Our place in the sun fell to the shadows so we decided to move towards a beach just to the west. Only, I had the bright idea of circumnavigating the base of Europe’s Balcony. So we set about scrambling over the massive boulders in a spray of sea foam and salt. There was a clear path until we came to a point in which we had to jump down to the beach below as high tide began to set in. Still, there were moments of clarity, 6-7 second intervals in which the water pulled away and that was our window. So we debated, and played rock, paper, scissors which I lost with paper in the first match. I let two passes of waves crash into the beach then jumped. Smack, slurrp, splash--I landed hard in the packed, wet sand. It pulled away under my feet and I froze seconds before the tide crashed in and over me and I was again, just a wet cat scratching for the dry shore. On my back I heard an uproar of laughter. The girls took off their shoes, held them high and jumped into the sea with abandon, laughing all the way (they were so quick to drink in the pleasure of life, in every angle.) The west beach mimicked the east in size but felt even more private. There was a grand hotel built into the cliff that ran the length of the beach and there are again doors and paths that seem to open into the earth itself, all plastered white and blue like the rest of the Mediterranean. We sat there laughing, drying and I thought about how comfortable i’ve become being uncomfortable. My socks, shoes, pants were soaked but it didn’t bother me as I sat there between those beautiful strangers who I followed blindly to this exotic village with a name I had never heard of. Ingred yawned and it caught on to Nadia and myself and one final time we each chirped ice cream like starving little birds.


As it turned out the recommended creamery was only a short climb from the beach. We were still damp and the once hot-box alleys had cooled into wind tunnels so we walked down side streets to avoid the chill. We squeezed back onto the main street navigating lines of laundry and coming out in front of La Valenciana.

“Everybody says you must eat here.” Nadia announces, waving her hands. “La Valenciana, La Valenciana!” The shop could have easily been missed--narrow, set back into a recess within the low Andalusian block of buildings. What it lacked in charm stood no ground compared to the ice creams. Over 40 flavors, lined up neatly, not paired with like colors but in a sort of quilt fashion that made the eyes shift from one side to the other with blind fury. I couldn’t focus and almost ordered on color alone. Nadia ordered in a rapid-fire roll of studied Spanish, Ingred followed and I froze for a moment, not wanting to rush my order. The reds ranged from berries with balsamic to tomato, there were yellows, blues and hues of pastel but I kept resting on the same two flavors.

“Hola,” I said, mimicking the girls, “quiero aceite de oliva y….and lavender. Por favor.” The server packed several heaping scoops of glistening frozen cream into a tiny cup and I covered the entire tab as thanks for inviting me to this village--

“This has easily been the best day in Spain, that i’ve had. So thank you, both of you. And why it had to pass so quickly, i’ll never know, either way about it you’re both terrific women.” They sighed and Ingred looked at me, truly looked at me and for a moment we had this connection that made me at once sad and whole. She looked shyly away and I went back to my ice cream and we began to mosey on to the bus station, with the smooth delayed quality of not wanting to admit that the day was closing in on us. We still had our ice cream though--the olive oil, full, rich with its soothing elixir-of-life mouthfeel as if it could cure all ailments and wrongdoings, a divine freeze of arbequina olives and frozen fat solids; the lavender was a feat of texture with dried flowers folded into the mix. I couldn’t say if it was our infatuation with the ice cream or the sadness of leaving but we were silent on our walk to the Orange Square.


We paid for our tickets at the silly makeshift kiosk where an official for ALSA (Spain’s national bus carrier) was singing to himself in delight. Nadia and Ingred began a conversation with him then Ingred ran off across the square and I assumed to a WC. I scanned over a map plastered on the bus station and toyed with the thought of where I would go next. My eyes were locked on Almeria when Ingred returned with a bottle of garnacha. (bought at La Parada bar)

When the bus arrived we ran to the back like children. Ilsa took a seat on the left and I follow Ingrid to the right, instinctively. I don’t know why. Soon as the bus lurched forward we corked the wine--garnacha is an outstanding, affordable wine pretty typical of Spain. We talk about Ingrid's parents and her plans to travel South America over the summer. It’s a conversation that I never want to end and I was irritated when Ilsa cut in. She made me uncomfortable in all the right ways. Self conscious and curious. When her hand touched mine she was sitting next to me and I could feel her eyes and her legs next to mine. My hands were shaking from the cold and I had only a light coat and she noticed this and a part of me wanted her to notice because I knew what she might do.


She grabbed my right hand and a chill ran through my body--from the cold and from her touch. There was a lump swelling in my throat as she began to rub my right hand between hers. It made me nervous and uncomfortable and I knew I shouldn't let her hold my hand so I tried to say something to break the awkward tension in my gut.

“Ah, so this is the famous Belgian handjob?” Oh you fool… Where the hell that came from I can’t say…

“Belgian-what?” She asked, then thought about it and dropped my hand and my face beamed red in the cold. There’s a period of silence

“OK, mister. ..” She took my hands again and we sat in silence and I could feel myself melt. Being touched by her was like eating an endangered animal. Exciting, but I knew this wasn’t right. But really, was I making a bigger deal of the situation than it was? A friendly gesture is all it was, I tried to tell myself. The rest of the ride we sat in silence and I could feel her leg next to mine, her warm hand next to mine and I looked at her--

“So what next? Where are you going from here?” I ask.

“Granada”


© 2015 Nicholas Andriani


Author's Note

Nicholas Andriani
The chapters and snippets released under the banner of In Another Country are working pieces--not to be taken as solid, finished works. Rather excerpts and articles for review. Please, feel free to express your most honest opinion. I hope to publish this memoir so I need constructive criticism (and praise!). Happy reading.

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You've really captured the nostalgia and whirlwind of traveling. Thanks for sharing!

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Added on March 19, 2015
Last Updated on March 19, 2015
Tags: memoir, adventure, travel literature, travelogue, culture, anthropology, sociology, middle east, arabic, travel


Author

Nicholas Andriani
Nicholas Andriani

Kansas City, KS



About
Nick was influenced from an early age of cultures beyond his own. Growing up in Texas he spent summers with his family visiting the Gulf of Mexico where he learned the legends of Jean Lafitte and late.. more..

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