3.  Mos Eisley

3. Mos Eisley

A Chapter by Paul Minor

3.     Mos Eisley

 

Major Fambrough:  You wish to see the frontier?

John Dunbar:  Yes sir, before it’s gone.


Dances with Wolves.  Dir. Kevin Costner.  Orion Pictures.  1990.

 

At the airport in Austin before departing, I camped on the floor in a frantic bid to rearrange items in my check-in baggage and carry-on bag.  I had to get the total weight of the checked baggage below the maximum allowed. I was five pounds too heavy. A couple, in their 70s, sat in chairs near me. They noticed the large number of snack bars I was re-packing.  These were CLIF bars -- Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Brownie, Oatmeal Raisin Walnut, and Blueberry Crisp varieties.  I felt ridiculous for bringing so many…approximately one CLIF bar for each hour of planned ride time.

            “Those are a lot of snack bars!” the man said.

            “I’m on my way to cycle 500 miles in Spain,” I explained, still furiously relocating snack bars and now self-conscious and sweating from the unwanted attention I was getting. I was running out of time to get to my departure gate.

            “Oh, we know someone who walked the Camino!” the woman responded.

            “There are snack bars in Spain too, you know.” the man added.

            I changed the topic to ask about them. As I yanked on the zipper of my carry-on, now bulging with additional poundage, they explained they were retired and on their way back home to the Philippines after visiting a daughter in Austin.

            As we parted, the woman bowed and with hands in prayer position said, “May you find peace.” I took a deep breath and let my agitation melt in the face of this stranger’s kind words.  I departed Texas with her blessing in my heart.

 

            Joseph Campbell, the renowned mythologist, refers to a smoky cantina in the movie Star Wars as the “jumping off point” to adventure.  Early in Star Wars, Luke Skywalker and his small party of comrades arrive at Mos Eisley, a disreputable town with a spaceport. They spend time in a smoky cantina, a smuggler’s den, looking to hire someone who would provide them transport off world. Luke has never been off the planet. An assortment of alien characters inhabits the cantina.  The air is thick with danger.  On a small stage, a live band of short guys with hairless dome heads and big black eyes plays a lively jazz tune. Little did I know that upon arriving in Barcelona I would soon be smack in the middle of that cantina " actually several cantinas " feeling like I was about to go off-world. 

            It was morning when I arrived in Barcelona.  I checked into my hotel and spent the afternoon napping.  Afterwards, I inspected the bicycle and various provisions.  Everything survived the airline’s luggage handling.  I grabbed a map of Barcelona in the lobby and went outside to begin to explore my “jumping off” point. 

Restaurants in Spain close after lunch and do not open again for dinner until 9 p.m.  However, every bar and pub has food.  I entered a small tavern on a street corner and surveyed the mind-numbing variety of appetizer-sized tapas under a class counter.  A small plate of fried squid looked good.  I ordered, and with calamari in hand, sat in a corner to study the map and eat.  The squid came with a spicy sauce.  The only other person in the tavern was the bartender. 

Later, I walked the neighborhood.  It was the heart of Barcelona’s liveliest entertainment district.  Soon, I found a sidewalk café that was getting ready for business for the evening.  The café sat at an intersection, and I settled down to a table with views of the foot traffic along the sidewalks.   

“May I take your order?” the server asked in Spanish.  She was Asian. 

“Let me look at the menu for a little longer.  Will it be busy tonight?”  It was a Sunday, and I was not expecting much excitement -- just a leisurely dinner and then to bed early.  I planned to reset my jet-lagged body for the next day. 

“Oh yes.  It will be crazy since this is a three-day weekend.  Tomorrow is a holiday " the Feast of the Pentecost.”

I seemed to remember something about the Feast of the Pentecost from my Catholic upbringing, something about the Holy Spirit descending upon the Apostles.  I reconsidered my plan of going to sleep early, not wanting to miss a mystical party.  And I was eager to practice Spanish. 

            I learned Spanish by osmosis growing up in Panama with Spanish-speaking grandparents, housekeeper and bilingual friends.  Over the years since graduating from high school and leaving Panama, my Spanish skills faded from lack of rigorous use.  Ordering food at a Mexican restaurant in Austin does not qualify as rigorous use. Neither is conversing with my sister " whenever either one of us can’t think of the right word in Spanish we switch to English and carry forward a conversation that bounces between the two languages.  Spanglish.  I was eager for rigorous practice now, in the homeland of the Spanish language.  Although, I realized that what I think of as “Spanish,” is actually “Castilian” to the Spaniard.  Of the several languages spoken in Spain, Castilian is the widely known -- a reflection of the historical importance of the medieval Kingdom of Castile.  However, Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia with Catalan as its primary language.  I listened in on pedestrians speaking Catalan as they walked along the sidewalk beside my table " it was distinct enough from Castilian that I could not understand a single word of it.         

After eating, I decided I was too excited to go to sleep early.  Instead, I would go on a bar-hopping tour of the district, experience the famous Barcelona nightlife and practice Spanish with the local inhabitants -- the better to get the inside scoop on the city.

It was close to midnight and pedestrian traffic swirled with a festive tempo.  More and more people arrived at the sprinkling of bars and clubs in the area.  I walked to a pub down the street.  The door was open and I ducked in.   A leather-clad grizzled bear of a man sat on a bar stool that was propping the door open.  He had a beer in one hand and a newspaper in the other.  I nodded hello and headed to the bar counter, where I ordered a rum and coke. 

“Tipping is not the custom here,” the bartender informed me as I was about to leave an extra Euro with my change and walk away with the drink. 

I retrieved my change, feeling a little perplexed.  I was definitely not in Texas anymore.

I went to join the grizzled bear sitting on the stool by the door.  He wore black leather pants with a matching leather vest over a white t-shirt.  He tipped his leather cap back on his head as I walked up.  I stood near him where I could watch the sidewalk.

“How are things?” I asked in Spanish. 

“Enjoying the fresh air,” he said.  The only other two people in the bar were smoking cigarettes.  His Spanish had a strange accent.

“How long have you been in Barcelona?”

“About eleven years.  I’m from Finland.”

“What brought you to Barcelona?” 

He smiled, remembering.  “I came to Barcelona to study Catalan, the language spoken in this region.  I am a linguist.  I fell in love with Barcelona and never left.  Catalan shares a common root with Finnish " very interesting.”

“Really, where is the common root from?”

“I believe they derive from languages spoken in the Caucasus Mountains, near the Black Sea.”

“So how many languages to do you speak?”

“Six.”  He laughed when I raised my eyebrows up in shock. 

I looked down at my drink, which was almost finished.  “Hey, where should I go next?  I’m touring the bars in the area.”

Leather Bear looked at his watch.  “There is a fun bar a couple blocks down from here.”  He pointed the direction.  “It should be full but not too crowded.  You need to hurry though, before it gets packed.”

“Have a nice evening,” I waved and took my empty glass back to the bar before leaving.  Only then did I realize that at some point in the conversation, we had switched to English.   So much for a first attempt to speak Spanish with locals.

I walked down the sidewalk and stopped at the next intersection.  Several pedestrians stood waiting for the light to change.  I met Toronto while we were both craning our necks at the intersection and our eyes met.

“We are probably both looking for the same bar,” I said in English. 

“Yea, they told me it was close by here” he replied without an accent. 

It was an instant comradeship.  Together, we found the bar.  Which was impossible not to with the people congregating on the sidewalk and loud music spilling outside.  We worked our way to the bartenders and ordered drinks.  I looked around and spotted a loft upstairs that had a view onto the main area of the bar.  It appeared less crowded.  I motioned to it.  We made our way through the milling people and up the stairs in the back; careful to avoid jostling the drinks we carried. 

            “Where are you from?” I asked.  We stood at the balcony of the loft, with a view of lines of people queued up for drinks at the bar and a jam of people beneath us.

“Toronto.”

“Austin here.  How long have you been in Barcelona?”

“I got in last night.  I thought I would be staying with a friend from Toronto, who said I could stay with him.  But I got kicked out this afternoon.”  

            “Why, what happened?”

            “I went out last night…and did not make it back to the apartment until three in the afternoon today.  It caused a big argument.  My friend’s partner felt like I was treating them like a hotel.  They asked me to leave.  It has not been a fun day.  I was afraid I was not going to find a hotel room vacancy, and the prices are so high.  I got lucky though!”

            “It sounds like it may be a blessing in disguise.  Now you have a real hotel room and less drama, right?  You can always clean things up with your friend later, if you want.”

“You got it!  Hey, I’m ready for another cocktail.”

“Why don’t we check out the bar across the street…they had a big neon sign.” I said.  “I’m headed to the bathroom.  Meet you outside.”  Toronto nodded and we split up.

There was a line to use the men’s bathroom.  I chatted to a slight man standing next to me in line.  He turned out to be a Frenchman on vacation from his university job teaching molecular biology.  Someone else in line was Italian.  He worked on a nuclear fusion project in Barcelona.

“When do you think fusion will work for power?” I asked.

“Never.”

Ok.   I gave up on meeting locals; I was not going to be in town long enough to follow up on “inside scoop” of the city anyways.  At least I was practicing Spanish, with the help of my alcohol-aided chattiness.

            After a bio break in the restroom, I worked my way through the throng of people to the exit and met up with Toronto.  We crossed the street and headed towards another bar " its name, Dietrich, was in neon hanging above the entrance.  We waited for a chance to order cocktails while standing behind a tall dude who looked a little older than me.

“Hey, where are you from?” I asked him.  He looked mixed-race, Anglo/African. 

“Los Angeles” he said.

“Alright, I’m from Austin.  And this one here…” I swung out of the way to make the introduction “…is Toronto.”   We shook hands. 

L.A. said, “What are you guys drinking?  I’ll get this round, you get the next.” 

“Rum and coke.”

“Screwdriver.”

Thick as thieves we North Americans are when we run into each other overseas.  Drinks in hand, we maneuvered out of the high traffic area in front of the bar and found a black and chrome pub table to huddle around. 

“Is this your first time in Barcelona?” L.A. asked. 

“Second night,” Toronto said.

“First time,” I said.

“I love Barcelona.  I come here all the time,” L.A. said. 

“What do you do?” I asked.

“I’m in the entertainment industry…an executive,” he answered.

“So you are a muckity-muck come all the way to Barcelona for a night on the town?”

L.A. laughed.  “I said I loved Barcelona!  Come on, let’s finish these drinks " there’s another bar I want to drop by before going to the Metro.”

“What’s the Metro?” I asked.

“Big dance-club, open late.  Lots of fun.”

 Toronto shared his story with L.A. as our band of three walked to the next stop.  L.A. led the way; he was the perfect guide to the neighborhood and knew exactly where he was going.  I relaxed; glad to have someone else in charge of navigation. 

            At Átame (which means "tie me up"), it took several minutes of squeezing through people to find our way to the bar. 

“Where are you from?” I asked three kids huddled together, tipping back bottles of beer as they looked around. 

“Munich.  We’re on holiday,” one answered.  They looked like teenagers.  But at 41, they were all looking younger and younger to me.

“We are headed to the Metro after this.  You are welcome to join us,” I said.  It seems no matter whom I talked to, I was not going to be practicing Spanish with the mythical local Barcelonan.  I facilitated introductions.  Our posse now numbered six. 

We left Átame with L.A. leading the way to the climactic final destination of the evening, the Metro. The Metro is a cavernous high-energy dance club that was packed. We had to shout our goodbyes over the thundering music. I watched L.A., who is taller than average, make a beeline towards the far side of the dance floor and disappear.  I quickly lost track of the other members of the evening’s fellowship and was on my own.

            I wandered onto the dance floor dodging gyrating bodies until I found the epicenter of the crowd. It had been years since my dance clubbing days. I stood there for a few breaths; eyes closed.  The beat was so loud that it vibrated up my legs from the floor, the same vibration that tied everyone together on that dance floor.  The air hummed with bass.  I started moving.  And nothing else mattered.

            I am a drop in a sea of dancing humanity; heaving and pulsing.  Light strobes and blazes us.  A soaring voice drives a melodic anthem to life.   Eyes flash with shared recognition of kinship.  A kinship imbued by Spirit -- our own Feast of the Pentecost. We connect to crowds dancing in similar temples throughout the world; an ecstatic tribal heritage; like ancient humans dancing in a cave with walls bearing painted scenes of life-giving creatures; dancing with bonfire-thrown shadows that flicker to the drums beating the boundaries of a sacred circle; celebrating a moment of existence. Now.

            I snapped out of my cardio-vascular reverie, sweat drenched and buzz almost gone. My watch read 5 a.m. The dance floor still held a crowd. I ordered a bottle of water at the bar and headed home.

            Luckily, my hotel was just a few blocks away. As I walked past a plaza, I heard a female voice calling me. There were plenty of other guys on the street making their way home, but somehow I knew she was calling to me. I ignored her, kept my eyes forward and walked faster. Apparently, I was being too subtle and I should have been running.  I could hear the fast footsteps approaching and Working Girl caught up to me about a half block from the safety of the hotel and got straight to business.

             “¿Quieres follar?” a big grin flashed against her North African complexion. She was out of breath.  

            Having anticipated the possibility of this solicitation, I had mentally rehearsed the perfect response that would prevent any attempts by her to “convince me” and would have the added virtue of being true: "I’m gay."

            She let out a laugh, covering her mouth, and then skipped off into the remaining night.

            Back in my hotel room, I watched the day break from my window on the fifth floor and finished the bottle of water I was drinking.  A hangover was not a desired feature of my Barcelona initiation.  Once in bed, sleep came fast.

That afternoon, I woke up recharged and ready for food. I got ready and walked to the same sidewalk café I ate dinner at last night.  A young couple sat at the table I had last night.  I took the table next to it.  They carried on an animated conversation.  After ordering lunch, I caught a glance from the young man.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hi.” They both answered.

“Are you from Barcelona?” I asked.

“No, I grew up in a small town nearby.  I moved here last year.”

Finally, a bona-fide Catalan!

“And this is my friend, Lita, from Asturias.  She is visiting.  I am Biel.”

“I’m Paul,” I said.

“Where are you from?” she asked.

“Texas.”

“I lived in San Francisco for a year.  I love San Francisco,” Lita said.  “The weather is like Asturias…on the north coast of Spain.”

“She was in San Francisco illegally,” Biel said.

She glared at him and he laughed.  “It’s true…I went on vacation and overstayed my visa.  And I loved everything about my year there!” 

“What an adventure,” I said.  “The day after tomorrow, I start a bicycle adventure riding on the Camino de Santiago.  I start in Roncesvalles.”

“Really?!”  They both looked shocked.  I wondered about what I had really signed up for.  My food arrived and Biel and Lita got up to leave.

“Much luck to you on your trip,” they waved goodbye.

            That evening I prepared for departure the next morning, readying bike, luggage, directions to the rental car location, and maps for the subsequent four- to five-hour drive to Pamplona. The high speed train from Barcelona did not allow bicycles aboard so I would have to drive. The day after arriving in Pamplona, I would begin my ride. It would be a fourteen-day journey, twelve days of riding with two rest days. My focus shifted to the endurance aspect of what was to come: hydration, nutrition, glycogen stores, and hours on the saddle.

            In the morning, I breathed relief when the enormous bicycle case fit into the trunk of the rental car. I was also grateful that I knew how to drive a standard transmission -- the rental cars were all standard. I drove into Barcelona’s morning rush hour traffic.  By the time I made it onto the highway out of town I was sweating; my ears ringing with the car horns that I knew were blared at me and my tentative navigation of Barcelona roundabouts.  I suppose it did not help that I was simultaneously driving, reading traffic signs, and following my route on a paper map clenched in my right hand.

            I thought about the woman I met in the Austin airport and her wish that I find peace. With my Mos Eisley retreating in the rearview mirror, my thoughts settled on the highway ahead.    



© 2014 Paul Minor


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Added on July 13, 2014
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Author

Paul Minor
Paul Minor

Austin, TX



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